Review Of A Review

Here are excerpts from a book review by Robin Adele Greeley that appeared in the Summer 2016 Critical Inquiry. The book is Art beyond itself: Anthropology for a Society without a Story Line by Nestor Garcia Canclini.
“Artistic practice, once object-based, is increasingly founded on contexts; artworks are being “inserted in the media, urban spaces, digital networks, and forms of social participation where aesthetic differences seem to dissolve”. This “de-defining” of art throws into question long-standing analytical concepts such as Pierre Bourdieu’s art field that still depend on some idea of national cultures and distinct spheres of aesthetic production or (at the other end of the scale) on postmodern nomadism with its illusion of a world without borders.”
“Our trouble in providing a cogent storyline for contemporary art, Garcia Canclini insists, is of a piece with our vacillations about how to confront a post 9/11, post-2008 world in which conventional categories no longer explain contemporary experience, economics and politics have become “an unconvincing display,” and coherent narratives founder on the “barely explicable ruins of what globalization has destroyed”. Yet it is precisely in contemporary art’s ability to capture this state of incoherence that Garcia Canclini situates its capacity to address our present condition.” [!]
“Garcia Canclini argues that what defines contemporary art’s persuasive power is its “imminence”: its ability to “[insinuate] what cannot be said,” to “[say] things without pronouncing them fully,” maintaining them inventively unsettled. Art’s imminence is “the place where we catch sight of things that are just at the point of occurring”; it produces a “zone of uncertainty…suited not so much for direct [political] action as for suggesting the power of what hangs in suspense”. Art’s ability to critically embody that constitutive indeterminacy is what allows it to confront the bewildering splintering of competing or unconnected narratives.” [we’ve seen this movie before]
“If, for Ranciere, art’s politics resides not in giving marginalized social groups a means of representation but in introducing between the work and the spectator the paradox of the unanticipated, then Garcia Canclini rethinks this model, giving light to art’s current postautonomous condition.” [Didn’t anticipate that one, did you?]

So, next time you encounter something (“just at the point of occurring”) labeled art that makes no sense (“in which conventional categories no longer explain contemporary experience”) and is totally incoherent, you’ll have a handle on how to articulate what it is you are looking at and its significant imminence. Or not. Either way you’ll be able to say “that’s art!”


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