Archive for April, 2011

Not A Business Contribution

April 30, 2011

            This past week the local tea baggers sponsored a candidates’ forum for the upcoming mayoral primary in a nearby town. “I look at the city as a large company, and the mayor is the CEO of that company.” was one candidate’s promotional shtick. This brought to mind a post from March 4, 2010 (Well, Who Ya Makin’ Art For?) and Morris Berman’s Dark Ages America. The disparity between CEO’s and the average worker didn’t seem like a desirable rhetorical angle to my simple way of thinking. But I’m often wrong. Making the trains run on time has always been an attractive pitch for voters. It could just be me who’s noticed that we don’t have any trains here in the heartland.

            On a statewide level the issue is education, the educational liability of the state and its funding. Teachers have become the scourge of this inadequacy. Conservative wrath has come down on them as overcompensated and inept. Education should be run as a business. If the employees cannot produce results, they should be thrown out and replaced by others (You’re Fired!). The governor has sent in the white Stetson-ed cavalry by legalizing Teach For America as an acceptable professional replacement.

            In previous posts I point out the ascendency of the business model within visual arts and culture, from arts/entrepreneurial programs at undergrad/graduate levels to marketing and promotion now being “naturally” subsumed in artistic critique. “Good business is good art” is quickly becoming good art is good business since the good is now defined primarily in terms of economic viability. Want to develop a blighted neighborhood? Send in the arts!

            Sports news is now also business news (and vice versa). LeBron’s business savvy, to cash in on his brand and his franchise-ability, is on a par with his athleticism. That the NFL is in a contractual dispute is likewise considered a good thing because it is keeping football before the fans during the off season and fueling desire. Amateur athletics (university) require “playing” according to certain economic policy rules. Transgress and a foul will be called, penalties assessed. Olympic venues are determined by economic viability with winter sports scheduled where there is small chance of snow and summer sports in Dubai.

            The paradigm of the business model as being good for whatever ails you is now hegemonic. Fifty years ago the Soviet Union could always be counted on for lots of yucks with their science, art, and economics all embracing the accuracy of Marxist Leninist directives. After all, THAT paradigm was reasonable, logical, inevitable and irrefutable. The 4/22/11 Need to Know on PBS had Anatole Kaletsky speaking of Capitalism 4.0. 1.0 is handy Adam Smith. 2.0 was the organized labor/industry of the 1930’s. Ron Reagan’s ostensible putsch warrants 3.0. 4.0 will be a checks and balances interaction between government and business. Strange, he neither considers that for Capitalism anything can become a commodity, including government, nor does he bother to specify what kind of government will manage to “check’ business folly. Was he perhaps thinking of the successful Chinese model? Unlike the planet during the Soviet era, today we have no “Other” to provide us with comic relief and a sense of superiority. It is only through being critical that we even notice the hegemony, the reliance on the “one size fits all” solution. Critique is considered counter productive within the business paradigm. It is not positive, promotional, not a business contribution.


April 22, 2011

            The heartland spring this year is conducive to fungus. It has been wet with temps neither too hot nor too cold, like in the story about the blond home invader- “Just right!” I stumbled on some morels the other day, literally almost stepped on them (Excuse me). This morning, in the rain, I went out looking for more. Not a one to be found. The old saw is that you don’t find morels, the morels find you. I talked with a woman once, who recounted a morel hunting experience. She had been looking and was coming up dry. This irritated her, questioned her competence, etc. She thought maybe it was because she was preoccupied with other concerns and worries and wasn’t focused on what she was doing. She wasn’t “centered”. She decided to sit on a log and meditate deeply (what that is, I don’t know), clear her person and give the morels some space. When she got up, she moved with an urgency and determination to a spot where the little spongy fungi were hiding, almost as if drawn there by them. She described it as pretty frightening, so primitive and primal, a single purposed kind of tunnel vision.

            I wonder whether this is what Zmijewski alludes to with his repeated use of “intuitive” in association with art (see previous post Zmijewski In The Heartland). The Eastern European tradition has a rather extensive and involved history of this kind of “intuitive” disposition regarding art and religion (with its mysticism, Rasputins, and icons). Zmijewski offers art as a counter to the effectiveness of science in the service of politics and religion. He cites art’s reticence to claim any effectiveness on account of the uncertainty of its outcomes (akin to the uncertainty of finding morels). He likewise promotes art’s uncanny ability to be appropriate and effective based on “intuition”, something that has led it to regret some of its intuitive certainties, and added to its reticence to act consequentially. Uncertainty, saying “I know that I don’t know”, absolutely is something to feel guilt and shame about within our market driven culture. An out of work artist “certainly” wouldn’t want to put that on their job résumé today, now would they?

Zmijewski In The Heartland

April 15, 2011

            This week there was the opportunity to read (and re read) Artur Zmijewski’s Applied Social Arts ( Like the tsunami debris that will take years to wash ashore on the US west coast, this document from 2007 found its way to the US heartland. Old news for some I’m sure.

            The reading of this manifesto was unusual in that from the very get go, Zmijewski emphasizes the place of guilt and shame within the discourse of contemporary art practice (whether actual or projected). He returns often to this throughout. This reader’s intuitive response to “guilt and shame” as being integral to the document was “what is he talking about?” (Zmijewski puts a lot of weight on the intuitive, at least in terms of it being a defining characteristic of the uniqueness of art) Other artists I spoke with also did not associate “guilt and shame” with art, art production, or the history of western art as such (as experienced by them). A Freudian slip? An (Eastern) European exclusivity? Whatever. (there is meaning here but “That is for the viewer to imagine”)

            In discussing Zmijewski’s referencing/reasoning of the source and centrality of “guilt and shame” (the trauma of fascism/Stalinism and its evolutions), the term “propaganda” surfaced rather quickly. Unspoken was any American version of propaganda within our culture, of our culture, on our culture (unlike what is readily admitted as exported). My guess is that because everyone buys blue jeans, we feel no “guilt or shame”.

            In an archival post (Good Business Is The Best Art, December 20, 2009) I ask “Could it just be possible, even probable, that Warhol will follow the same course as Social Realism did in the states of the former Soviet Union?” Many young artists claim not to care for Warhol. Unbeknownst to them, the emphasis of their art practice and aesthetic appreciation bears the indelible tattoo stain of Andy’s influence. Recently, at an end of the academic year student art show opening, I surveyed responses to the graduating artist’s oeuvre. Of course, the de rigueur response was “I really liked her show.” When pressed, the response became “I like what she did with the space, how she arranged the gallery and directed the viewer’s attention.” In short, how she marketed and promoted her(self) works. There was never any talk of the individual works or their impact on the individual viewer (or “a” viewer in general).

            Impact is central to Zmijewski’s treatise. Yet here, at this annual rite of spring, the concern is with promotion and presentation; i.e. marketing. As alluded to in the previous post (The Don As Art), process has been such an integral part of studio art pedagogy (and aesthetic cultural interpretation) ever since Warhol left Pennsylvania, that it has become an assumed, unquestionable given. It is only “natural” to read, interpret art through the process that makes it possible (Kudos to Zmijewski for dwelling on the significance of reading). Currently, the capitalist marketing of art (individual or collective) has become subsumed within the process of art, one of the more important parts (since many of the material processes cannot be attempted without exceptional funding). Appreciation of art (“a term in relationship with viewers” Rosalyn Deutsche) now includes appreciation for the marketing and promotional abilities of any given artist, of which the individual works essentially become consumables (see Charlie Sheen reference, previous post). This practically precludes consideration of art within the “theoretical” considerations preferred by Zmijewski.

            Zmijewski posits “guilt and shame” with politics and religion, attributed to their power to name. The post-Warhol emphasis on entrepreneurial enterprise, marketing and promotion, the art “process” that continuously re-imagines and reproduces this, could be called “propaganda”. Without the naming, who’s to feel guilt and shame?

The Don As Art

April 8, 2011

            Part of the noose that is knot this week is the Meredith Vieira/Don Trump extravaganza that took place on The Today  Show, April 7th 2011. Poor Meredith was dumped on for being preoccupied with packing her golden parachute while the Trump grandstanded over a non issue. Hearing that an epitome of the American entrepreneurial spirit, vested casino owner, pillar of skyscraperdom, and presidential wannabe has doubts was like hearing a Catholic priest wannabe question her faith. Although not mentioned, Meredith’s interview hearkened memories of Katie Couric bamboozling Sarah Palin. By those standards, Vieira certainly came off as unprepared and unarmed. But she was none of the above.

            Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. is an essay by Bruno Latour that appeared in Critical Inquiry 30, no 2 winter of 2005. Reading this in the light of the Vieira/Trump interview makes finding fault with Meredith totally off the mark. As Latour points out, the Don simply employed methodologies and strategies of critique that have been championed for their incisiveness and originality. These methods and strategies were a stable of the pedagogy molding and forming cultural workers for the 21st century, eventually becoming part and parcel of our culture. That we don’t like the message, or the bearer of the message is one thing, but we certainly are enamored with the process by which the message is being delivered. Besides, the message is irrelevant. The Don got media attention, created buzz, acquired political capital, and promoted his “Already A Successful Celebrity” Apprentice show. Recently, after a Charlie Sheen performance, in a “how was the show?” man-on-the-street interview by a Columbus Ohio TV station, the attendee gushed with praise for what a genius of marketing and how brilliant a promoter Mr. Sheen was.

            How many times have you been to a visual art showing where the artist “interrogated” some commonly held cultural notions or practices, “questioned” given interpretations of reality? (The interrogation’s response- “That is for the viewer to imagine.”) How many times have you left such an art show thinking “Anyone can ask the questions. It’s a little more difficult, and requires some commitment, to provide an answer.” How many times have you seen associations made, juxtapositions of total fabrication, inappropriateness and inaccuracy portrayed as Art, justified by their being meant to jar the viewer and startle them into considering alternate realities? How many issue related works of Art have you pondered that righteously “made the point” that something was questionable or wrong with regard the environment, “human rights”, global economics, genocide, etc. but left you totally irritated and frustrated because the artist exerted absolutely no imagination or creativity in seeing through their banal article of faith declaration and dared not present how it could/should/ must be (all the trappings of critique without being critical)?

            C’mon folks, we love this stuff. As Latour pointed out, we’ve embraced this critique so intimately that we’ve lost the ability (or commitment) to imagine otherwise, to articulate a definitive and determinate meaning.

The Trope Of Meaning

April 1, 2011

            In the essay Now Man’s Bound to Fail, More (October 135), Robert Slifkin quotes Bruce Nauman from decades ago saying that they may need that some day (“and I thought they shouldn’t be so hard on him, because they’re going to need him.” “They should really hang on to Henry Moore, because he really did some good work and they might need him again sometime.” “And I also had the idea that they would need Henry sooner or later,” Pg. 61). Moore’s dominance was being assailed by the contemporary sculptors of that time. Slifkin’s claim is that Nauman’s defense revolved around the nature of figuration. In a sense, Nauman didn’t wish to toss the baby out with the bath (figuratively speaking).

            Jacques Ranciere expends considerable energy in describing/defining the nature of art over the last 200 years. This analysis even produces a unique spelling- Art (in the singular with a capital). The determinants of what becomes Art are various and facile. They are likewise political (within the Rancierean definition of the political as dissensus).  Anything can be everything and vice versa. Juxtaposition and association is not bound by any genealogy.  Whether a porcelain urinal taken out of context or a porcelain figurine of Michael Jackson with his chimp, subject matter is both fluid and not definitive. Something else is going on, something separate from the everyday but very much only found in the everyday.

            Now folks, we all know this has been going on for quite some time. By Ranciere’s account, at least for the last 200 years if not more. In a mature, practiced sense it has been going on for at least 100 (you know, once you learn the basics of a musical instrument or machine, the interaction changes and becomes more “mature”). Recently I came across a poster for an artist who works in wood. The pieces were polychrome cut outs and scraps reassembled to make them appear as though they had some specific purpose or organization. They embodied recognizable shapes, like a funnel or sphere or stringed instrument, but they were not. That is to say, what was present was shapes and colors which had to be embodied in some medium (in this case wood) but were necessarily about nothing.  The forms themselves suggested (evoked) some specific utilitarian or aesthetic history but, like the enormous flotsam left after the recent tsunami, there wasn’t any connection or necessity between the associations and juxtapositions other than that they appear to have all originated from the same source.

            It is the “necessarily about nothing” that becomes critical, and curious (and brings Seinfeld to mind). In similar situations, the artist or her advocate will stress the colors, shapes and arrangements as being something, hence not about nothing. The nature of the something or nothing is of no consequence to this investigation. That this evolution of Art has reprised the conditions of the Abstract, played out so passionately in the middle of the 20th century, is. The social, “networking” justification for the value (and validity) of the works hinges on the craftsmanship, the years of schooling, and the academic recognition. When pressed further, the artist will usually utter something like “the actual or metaphorical meaning is left to the viewer’s imagination”; in short, anything to elide the figurative in terms of conception and execution, and leave the meaning to someone else’s making or doing. This lack of commitment recalls Slifkin (Pg 50 “In his work from the 1960’s Nauman repeatedly employed figuration as a way to test the waters, to see if such apparently outdated and problematically humanist concepts as “commitment,” “expression,” and “metaphor” still had a place in a world where referential certitude, subjective sentiment, and immediate and universal communication were deemed increasingly problematic if not impossible.”).  The aesthetic justification, which can only be found with the “experience” of the work (sans artist’s statement, intent or history), turns on the conditions of abstraction laid down a half century earlier. Retro or renewal?

            It may be a generational observation, or indeed a cultural characteristic, but for many of the artists/art of the “never experienced anything but digital” crowd, meaning itself has a curious connotation. To speak of the meaning of a work may find one mouthing terms of communal and personal relativity. Many times this conversation takes on an almost quasi religious temperament. “It is of the moment. If the attentiveness to the moment produces an art(sy) experience, then the individual(s) is(are) functioning as artist(s), producing art” (so very Kaprow, and so un-Weiwei). Within this “maturity” of Art, of the Art practice, meaning itself has slipped into becoming just another element of the abstract composition. To paraphrase what was stated above, the meaning itself suggests (evokes) some specific definition or history but, like the enormous flotsam left after the recent tsunami, there isn’t any connection or necessity between the associations and juxtapositions other than that they appear to have all originated from the same source. In a sense, meaning has become a trope; not a trope of something, but the trope of meaning. “Whatever.” Well, there is some meaning to be found there but what it is, is not worth the time and effort to elucidate or commit to. That is for the viewer to imagine. Besides, it differs for everyone as well as differs temporally and with any given situation. Etc. Taking into account the descriptions of Art by Ranciere (and others), it is not difficult to imagine the trope of meaning taking its place alongside the colors and shapes of contemporary work, analogous to that of the poster artist described above (Yeah, I put some meaning in there. There’s also some blue and a pyramid). Given such a quasi religious disposition for recognizing meaning only as a trope, dissent may necessarily involve something like saying “they may need that some day.”