Give up art and save the starving?

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Feb 18 2009 08:50
Give up art and save the starving?

Give up art and save the starving?

If art and design is understood as the expression and reflection of a particular set of values, systems and interests, then most artistic practice today tends to express the interests of the class that controls and profits from society — the bourgeois or corporate class and their markets. It is these interests that dominate and control the standards of value in art — that defines its emphasis, and excludes its more subversive, egalitarian alternatives. Likewise, when our society places so much importance on the individual, technical virtuosity of an artist instead of the social motivations and commitments of that artist, one doesn't have to look much further than the world of art and culture in our society to see where fascism breeds.

These are heavy and rather confrontational definitions of mainstream art, but one only needs to experience the fishbowl of a typical art opening to take them as truisms.

But what of alternatives? For practitioners of a completely different kind of art, these dominant understandings make using the term 'artist' rather problematic. Are we artists, or something else? Should we separate ourselves from the term 'art' altogether — or reclaim it for an entirely new set of standards and values, values in tune with our political, social and economic realities? Or, do we completely destroy the separation of art and everyday life, as the Situationists tried before us? Do we take it one step further, to 'give up art and save the starving', to 'paint all the paintings black and celebrate dead art', as Tony Lowe would have us do. And why not? Capitalism and the global financial crisis continues its drunken march of exploitation, playing havoc with the millions of working people who always suffer the effects of the hangover while never being invited to the party. For practitioners truly willing to empower more than just themselves — the barricades — and not the gallery, may be the new canvas on which to create.

Of course, practitioners with any kind of decent analysis should already be 'on the barricades'. Cultural production plays an integral role in the current way of life — it is the means by which a monopoly of content and control by a few over the many is kept in check. Consumption, and the spectacle of consumption, contribute to the alienation and social poverty we currently experience. And yes, that includes hip, avant-garde, 'edgy', political work supposedly with 'something to say' while continuing to hang upon the white (or brick) walls (or pages) of our capitalist utopia.

If we decide not to leave art for dead, and instead embrace its omnipotent potential for radical, social change — it will be important to collectively create perspectives and values which clearly illustrate the realities of everyday, working life, and the possibilities of libertarian alternatives. Rearrangement of our institutions — cultural ones included — is simply evasive. A tree that has turned into a club cannot be expected to put forth leaves. Any artistic practice short of advocating the abolishment of capitalism and replacing it with logic, frankly, should be left to die.

Jared Davidson
Garage Collective

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garage collective
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Feb 18 2009 08:54

I should say that this is the intro to an upcoming zine of mine (RIVET), and hopefully the A Fed publication (if its accepted, of course). Its kinda scathing, and was fun to write!

Jared

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Feb 18 2009 10:49
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If art and design is understood as the expression and reflection of a particular set of values, systems and interests

I think a critique of art as it is now would be interesting, certainly the rants of a mate of mine who works in an art gallery are vey illuminating in this regard, however, surely in reference to your article one has to start with a critique of the profesional art world before looking at the ideas it expresses. One would need to look at the continuing ideas of patronage and the influence of ''national or cultural heritage''; the development of cultural capital is a very interesting one, since on the one hand, art prices have gone through the roof in recent years, contemporary art is a very controlled and sponsored environment, art schools and universities remain aloof and predominant, government funding and financial privilige effect the underdevelopment of art, amd yet on the other hand art galleries are free and their is supposedly more access to art. The gap between the self expression we are ideologically supposed to have and the reality in which working class self expression is repressed is a fundamental aspect of our culture which is well worth addressing.

Unfortunately though this is a critique that would not be allowed by the following statement:

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Any artistic practice short of advocating the abolishment of capitalism and replacing it with logic, frankly, should be left to die.

Which is just plain hyperbole and has little bearing on reality. It sounds more like socialist realism or lenins assesment that he didn;t listen to music because it wasn't ''revolutionary'' than any real love for ''art'' so to speak. I mean i got up early this morning and put the kinks on and then listened to some pavement, I don;t think ray davies or stephen malkmus had any intention of ''abolishing capitalism'' yet that doesn;t make their art of any less value to me.
Perhaps the strangest element of this is article is the fact that the viewer/reader is nowhere to be found, art is seen as a thing produced by the social consciousness of the artist with no dynamic of its own. In contrast for example one might read Lukacs take on Dostoevsky http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/1949/dostoyevsky.htm , in which he looks at dostoevsky's take on the new emerging urban society. This doesn't make dostoevsky a ''revolutionary'' but it demonstrates that art has a value independent of its conscious construction. For example Turner painted light because he beleived in the pseudo-religious concept of ''the sublime'' ; a hundred years later we do not share his ideological baggage yet his paintings are still an awe inspiring sight.

Boris Badenov
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Feb 18 2009 16:17
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Likewise, when our society places so much importance on the individual, technical virtuosity of an artist instead of the social motivations and commitments of that artist, one doesn't have to look much further than the world of art and culture in our society to see where fascism breeds

.

social motivations do not necessarily mean good art, unless you think socialist realism basically a good idea, and claiming that technical virtuosity breeds fascism is simply ridiculous.
Other than that, ok, I get your point, but what you're saying is that capitalism is bad and it's ruining art; that is pretty much a truism, imo.

Quote:
Any artistic practice short of advocating the abolishment of capitalism and replacing it with logic, frankly, should be left to die.

what does "left to die" mean? It's obvious that most commerical art is not anti-capitalist, and that is precisely why it thrives. How do you leave it to die, when it's part and parcel of "the spectacle"?
But even if you leave that minor point aside, cantdocartwheel's point is a valid one: not all good art is self-consciously revolutionary, and not all revolutionary art has good politics.

David in Atlanta
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Feb 18 2009 17:41

Too much of this reminds me of a well intentioned band who shall remain nameless, associated with the north american "riot folk" scene, who seem to think refusal to tune their instruments makes them more authentic or some such nonsense. If the current art schools and gallery scene are props for capitalism, intentionally making bad art is insulting to the working class and counter-revolutionary.

If by "left to die" you mean you want artists to abandon commercial production, say so in plain words.

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Feb 18 2009 17:56
weeler wrote:
Really? You think this is worthwhile?
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the barricades — and not the gallery, may be the new canvas on which to create.

Its deep on sentiment, if not any actual substance.

Quote:
Any artistic practice short of advocating the abolishment of capitalism and replacing it with logic, frankly, should be left to die.

Art is an irrelevance to revolutionary movements, for the most part. Lets not get pretentious here, the situationists weakest point was their critique of art. I don't even understand how one replaces a social relationship with 'logic' either.

Actually, I think their insistence that radical artists and academics are part of the problem is pretty good.

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Feb 18 2009 22:30

There's some discussion of this piece at Aotearoa Indymedia too, for anyone interested.

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Feb 19 2009 00:42

Art is an important part of life and one that will increase after a revolution. In uprisings in the past people have taken advantage of the opportunity to create. I think that this statement seems to place far too much emphasis on the importance of art in the modern world.
In my opinion art is art, and it's political content is unimportant. For example two of my favourite books have terible politics. The Roland is racist, misogynistic and religious. Dostoyevsky's The Devils presents a deeply negative and caricatured view of all revolutionaries and broadly supports the autocratic ideas of Dostoyevksy himself. I love both of these texts, in part because they undermine the ideologies that they try to uphold but in all honesty the politics are irrelevant, it is the fact that the texts engage with what it is to be human.

If you want to make something make it, do it because it makes you happy or because it makes others happy. We all want to make beautiful things and hoepfully we'll all get the chance to.

Dannny
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Feb 19 2009 10:46
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Or, do we completely destroy the separation of art and everyday life, as the Situationists tried before us?

I don´t know who the "we" is here but I think it´s fair to say that the separation of art, however defined, and life is an ideological one that could not be supported by a classless society. In my opinion it is barely supported by capitalism since it´s obvious that people draw pictures and make music regardless of their circumstances and always have done....

Quote:
it will be important to collectively create perspectives and values which clearly illustrate the realities of everyday, working life, and the possibilities of libertarian alternatives

But this is hardly just a project for artists?
cantdocartwheels

Quote:
Perhaps the strangest element of this is article is the fact that the viewer/reader is nowhere to be found, art is seen as a thing produced by the social consciousness of the artist with no dynamic of its own.

I think that´s a very good point. I don´t know if I´ve thought this through very well but how do you think this relates to your feelings of "awe" when you look at a painting by Turner? "Awe" is, after all, what he wants you to feel. Would we feel awe if we saw the same painting outside a gallery, say on a postcard? Do you feel awe when you listen to Ray Davies´ depiction of a sunset? I suppose the stratification of culture has been done to death and isn´t the most important thing in the world but I think it´s nevertheless legitimated by the supposed separation of culture and life.
I´d be interested to know in what sense you mean this jef costello?:

Quote:
Art is an important part of life and one that will increase after a revolution.

ta

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Feb 19 2009 10:49
Dannny wrote:
I´d be interested to know in what sense you mean this jef costello?:
Quote:
Art is an important part of life and one that will increase after a revolution.

ta

I mean that if we have a revolution then we will all have the chance to express ourselves. I imagine that they'll be so much more music, theatre and art of all kinds. I think that people need to be able to express themselves and art is one of the ways in which they can do this.

Dannny
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Feb 19 2009 11:00

Do you mean because we´ll have more time or because people will want to do it more after a revolution? I´m new so I don´t want to have a go or anything (!) but I reckon that´s questionable. The implication is that there is something more valuable in creating "art" as opposed to creating anything else. Will there be more football after the revolution, for example? How could there be? The season´s practically chocka as it is! I really would fucking love to experience communism but I wouldn´t try and second guess how our liberated creativity would express itself. But to immediately contradict myself I´d imagine the key differences would be in how we experience creativity and its manifestations rather than in their quantity.

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Feb 19 2009 12:14
Dannny wrote:
Do you mean because we´ll have more time or because people will want to do it more after a revolution?

both.
I don't think that there is anything inherently more creative in 'art' and I think the idea of 'art' would radically change into something everyday and part of our existence.
They'll still be loads of stuff after the revolution, like football, toblerones and whatever else we feel like we need.
I don't really have a thought out plan but I don't suppose that is likely to be a problem, it's hadly a pressing issue. smile

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Feb 19 2009 12:19
Danny wrote:
I don´t know who the "we" is here but I think it´s fair to say that the separation of art, however defined, and life is an ideological one that could not be supported by a classless society.

I think "art" is an ideological category and a product of specific cultural context within European capitalism.

I mean "art" was as we understand it was nonexistant until a few hundred years ago, an "art" was just a skilled discipline and prowess within it. If you asked Michaelangelo about his "art" he wouldn't know what you were on about. But if you asked him about his painting, sculpture, architecture etc he would. And a bit earlier than that shoemaking and painting were on the same plane as "arts".

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May 14 2009 09:43

Art doesn't have to function within capitalism. Artists don't have to sell their work, they choose to, there's really no need unless you're an artist motivated by money and fame, becuase it's widley known that nearly all artists (unless your Damien Hirst) have day jobs, art is in addition to this.

Artists don't have to exhibit their work in galleries owned by the rich or funded by Unilever. They can and do exhbit in their own spaces, in group exhibitions with other people.

I think artists are nessecary interpreters of society, it gets us to reflect and engage with the world in other ways than what we're used to. It definately has value but it's up to the artists to determine that value and stop selling and exhibiting to the rich and for the rich

Art isn't a product of european capitalism. Art has forever had the same role of interpreting society, since the beginning of art, since the art of now distant cultures. I definately think that the producers of art are the ones who have the power to change art's status, they need to refuse the cult of celebrity. To have honest motivations in creating their art, not so they can be famous and have retrospectives at the tate but becuase they have a genuine interest in art and what it can do or achieve

In addition, there are many artists who work to remove the commodity element of art so that it cannot be bought or sold but only documented, so that all that can be bought are documents which everyone can own really not just Charles Saatchi.

Also, there was a book published called Relational Aesthetics in which I think artists aimed to change the way a gallery space was operated among other things one piece included cooking for everyone attending the exhibtion or another artist who pushed a huge cube of ice around until it melted- this cannot be sold. However someone pointed out to me that what's happening now is that people are buying performance rights. It seems quite confusing! grin