The Walter Darby Bannard Archive

Letter to the Editor (1968)

Artforum, Vol. 7, (November, 1968) p. 4.


"Systems Esthetics" (Sept. 1968) is not worse than other articles like it, but it is typical and pernicious. The word-use and imagery are congested and lack logical integration. In the land of Systems Esthetics, needs revolve around concerns, priorities revolve around problems, transition expresses state, a viewpoint is focused, a set arises, judgment demands, evolution embraces, grasp is ever-expanding, there are parallel illusions, a striking parallel exists between a new car and a syndrome, vast crises are precipitated by product design, a sense of radical evolution looms beneath the surface of a dichotomy, and a long-held idea is situated between media and vandalism. All this and more can be had on the first page.

The miserable writing gives away the thoughtlessness of the piece. Specifying every fault would be interminable. What's wrong is expressed by the notion that pervades every sentence: there's a good new modern revolutionary systems esthetic way to make art and it is beating the dickens out of the bad old outmoded establishment formalist way to make art. Whatever art has got that human beings want can only be obscured by this semi-literate nonsense. There are a few things about art that art writers ought to learn.

New methods are not better than old methods. New materials and forms are not better than old materials and forms. "New Esthetics" are not better than "Old Esthetics." New art is not better than old art. Newness is a fact, not a virtue. Nothing available to art is better than something else available to art. Nothing going into art is automatically, intrinsically, good or bad.

Nothing existing prior to the making of art can guarantee the quality of the art it enters. The use of something unusual for art is just fine. The use of old-fashioned or traditional things is just fine. The use of anything for art is just fine. Materials and forms and methods and ideas are not better or worse, they are just different. No preferable ingredient for art exists until an artist prefers it for his own art. The artist chooses what he thinks is best for his art. When he is through he has good art, bad art, or middling art. Art quality is provided by artists making art, not by externally specifiable things, processes, ideas, forms, agreements, methods, materials, connections or "esthetics." There is no way art should be. It is what artists make it, and you either like it or not. That's the way it is and that's the way it always will be.

Until art writers give in to this, art will continue to smother in this kind of execrable verbal smog.

Darby Bannard
Princeton, N.J.