Thursday, May 31, 2012


Jerry Saltz critiques and analyzes art for New York Magazine. Here in Kansas City, we rarely read work from a critic like Jerry. We’re nice here and any writing steers one to attend an event and patronize a venue.  Writing about art is not writing anyone cares to purchase or read.

Jerry has a forum for that style of writing about art where art is the centerpiece. What we read about or see about art here is commercial. Of course, Jerry’s trying to sell magazines too. But often writers worry about writing something that will prevent them from ever having lunch again wherever they live.

In 2009 Saltz critiqued a retrospective of James Ensor at MoMA. I liked the article and enjoyed his phrase “fin-de-binge”. I think his phrase means that we’re at the end of a period of plenty when we consumed more than plenty. There’s plenty still out there. The phrase is interesting.

It’s a variation of “Fin de siècle” a French phrase meaning end of the century. When I hear the phrase end of the century I think of the Ramones’ 1980 studio album produced by Phil Spector. Fin de siècle refers to the late 1900’s in France when dissecting the art and the influences of the time.

Saltz suggests we’re in a period of “…starting over, digging deep, and working hard…” and I have the feeling he’s thinking about more than art. We often turn away from critics. Actors receive warning not to believe their reviews. In Kansas City we have few critics who write for a living. One need only a few fingers for the counting and it’s really a stretch to call them critics.

Is the extinction of criticism part of the “fin-de-binge” as we hopefully approach a new  La Belle Époque? People have Facebbok now. Twitter and other other virtual broadcast booths. Blogs. Schmucks like me with a thought or not can think or not and write something, press some enter button and share it with whomever decides to read or not, comment or not. We do it for free on sites making money and you read it for free and get frustrated with the pop-ups. Commenters can comment with short quips or long essays.

From an information perspective it feels like a time of plenty perfect for information binging. I read a lot anyway and it’s dangerous for me to cruise the virtual amazon jungle library with a finger twitching to download. I try my best to select what I’m reading as well as read it closely. Sometimes I skim too quickly or judge writing too often by the opening line, first paragraph or dust jacket.

I’m happy my friend Carla sent me Jerry’s dusty old2009 link about James Ensor (1860-1949). If MAD magazine makes you think and giggle, Ensor will too. If you’re feeling weird about stuff, check out the French. They’re weird and they embrace it. Include the Belgians (Ensor wasn’t French, neither was Jacques Brel). I like the French despite my poor accent which has caused them not to like me in Paris until I learned to speak softly and infrequently and patiently observe. France is more than Paris and pretty mixed-up.

I like the French because they’re by nature non-compliant unlike their and our English cousins. Americans are very compliant. We have lots of rules.

Ensor broke rules. Jerry Saltz wrote a real critique and continues writing. He makes good lunch money and doesn’t care if he offends someone’s sensibilities which results in a broken lunch date. We need lighter lunches anyway. It’s the “fin-de-binge”.

pictured, The Oyster Eater by James Ensor, 1882.

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