Performance Art

January 8, 2016

For the Associated Press, Wilson Ring and Jill Colvin report on presidential wannabe Donald Trump’s latest campaign promotion in Burlington. Vermont (Protesters interrupt Trump Vermont rally despite screening, 1-8-16). The national media has focused on location and the number of folks who lined up (“Thousands of people stood in line for hours waiting to get into the Burlington event after the campaign distributed 20,000 free tickets to the Flynn Center for the Performing Art, which has just 1,400 seats.”). No one seemed to focus on the actual name of the space, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, nor the last part of the name, Performing Arts. D. Trump has been labeled a huckster, a P.T. Barnum, a Wild Bill Cody for his use of the stage, social media, and traditional media. Recently, many sources are analyzing campaign expenditure on advertising, noting that traditional TV ads are still king, with most of the other “lesser” candidates on the slate spending heavily to try to stay relevant. Trump has only begun to advertise within this framework. It appears that Donnie Trump is truly ahead of the pack, not only in terms of the polls, but in understanding the aesthetic of today’s culture. Jacques Ranciere may have theorized about the politics of aesthetics (the traditional take on culture as pertaining to art – architecture, dance, visual arts, music, etc.) as well as the aesthetics of politics (how politics is done) but Donnie Trump actually employs it. He may be one of the first to understand, through utilization, the effectiveness and viability of performance art. Within politics, this is a staple of South American democracies. In the US, it has been neglected primarily through regulation of the constitutional right to assembly (designated protest sites removed from the source of contention and debate). Mr. Trump has utilized the power of performance art to run a campaign without reliance on advertising. With the Burlington event we have his campaign manipulating the populace in order to produce the art (20,000 tickets for a 1,400 seat venue. Apparently Donnie has no regard for fire code). The ticket holders show up, forming a line, creating a news event. Like with open carry gun laws, it is impossible to tell which of the ticket holders in line are the good guys, and which are the bad (for or against the Trump candidacy). As with the performance art of the visual arts, no advertising expenditure created a spectacle, a sensation, an event or happening, whichever you prefer. In crass art terms – he got the message out. Performance art has a long, involved and rich history in American art dating back to Allan Kaprow’s Happenings in NYC (amongst others). Now it has finally entered the lexicon of America’s political aesthetic. Unfortunately, for most of the American public, it is a novelty that doesn’t have a name.


Open Letter To David Brooks

January 3, 2016

After reading The Road To Character by David Brooks (2015) this essay response would not be contained. Mr. Brooks associates character with morality, and (for Mr. Brooks) morality implicates repression. In 2013 The Philosophy Of Dreams by Christophe Turcke was published. Mr. Turcke is catalyzed by Freud’s connection of dreams with repression (as manifestation, enactment, return, etc.) Turcke takes this as a vestigial remnant of the primitive psyche, akin to the human skeleton’s “tail bone” (coccyx). For human primitives trauma was frequent, baffling and totally beyond control. Turcke hypothesizes sacrifice as the primitive response to occurrences of trauma and the ensuing PTSD. Sacrifice in turn creates its own localized and limited kind of trauma, analogous to the bloodletting Brooks describes as being perpetrated on the young Samuel Johnson which was intended to cure while inflicting what was considered to be “minor” damage. For Turcke, repression became part of the evolution of the human psyche in terms of coping with trauma, and the trauma of sacrifice that evolved. After arguing for this, and referencing the discomfort produced not only by trauma and sacrifice but also repression, Turcke links the development/evolution of western culture with repression. For Turcke, Modernity’s entry through Romanticism’s portal of reflexivity spawned the desire and belief that humans could be free of repression. Turcke considers this belief (and the capacities that ensued) to have facilitated the innovations (technical, organizational, economic and ideological) that produced the culture of Big Me which Brooks alludes to. Big Me negates repression through automation (“hi tech”) that provides memory, does the hard work of number crunching, research, enables instantaneous communication (both linguistic and data as well as physical relocation), etc. This may or may not be a Copernican Revolution, though it took the Roman Catholic Church 400 years to admit that Galileo was not immoral. Morality may not be rock solid, fundamental, immutable as the offspring of Plato and Abraham may have us believe. On page 208 Brooks writes a brief segment entitled Humble Ambition in order to “recapitulate the Augustinian process”. It is curious to note that substituting the word “dark matter” for “God” doesn’t significantly alter the meaning of this segment, and is just as consistent. Here’s the end summation utilizing the substitution: “The genius of this conception is that as people become more dependent on dark matter, their capacity for ambition and action increases. Dependency doesn’t breed passivity; it breeds energy and accomplishment.” The God of Abraham and Plato may have been unfathomable majesty, ultimate virtue. The God of the Renaissance/Reformation may have become a patriarch, a father figure. Of the 19th -20th century, a Daddy Warbucks personality morphed with the Law. Morality, what it is to be moral, may likewise evolve along with the human psyche and the knowledge of God. Pre Samuel Johnson, in Bakhtin’s World of Rabelais, homelessness was not an issue. The Industrial Revolution of Johnson’s time methodically drove people from their “homes”. In the world in which most of Brooks’ “characters” formed their morality, the production of food was a challenge, an uncertainty. Today, distribution and waste underlie hunger, not production. Juxtaposing The Philosophy Of Dreams with The Road To Character leads one to justifiably question whether sacrifice and its accompanying repression are integral to morality, being moral. If morality evolves, then perhaps active goodwill and mindfulness (the antithesis of repression), located within the “outside”, external elements of the bifurcation Brooks employs (such as social organizations and institutions), are more important and on the rise. If morality doesn’t evolve, then we can only anticipate a return of the repressed.

A Philosophy Of Emptiness

November 6, 2015

This is a short review/commentary of A Philosophy Of Emptiness by Gay Watson (2014). Early on Watson points out that she presents only a marginally academic work. This would be in keeping with the subject matter given that in the analytic tradition it would be difficult, if not impossible, to account for emptiness. Gay also describes this as lack, nothing, openness, the void, etc. Watson does a great job at attempting to suture western and eastern forays into this gap between priorities. In the end one is convinced that there is more than just the lily pads upon which the frog jumps. There is also the inky stillness in between. Although not an academic exegesis, Watson does favor a certain bent or partiality which sets the tone for the entirety. Inattention to this personal preference may account for one of the “gaps” of her study. Nowhere is mention made of one of the great TV comedies of the late 20th century. It is almost legendary that Jerry Seinfeld originally pitched his idea for a show as a comedy about nothing. Watson traces western culture’s interest in emptiness through to the end of the middle ages/start of the renaissance. She claims that accounts of lack, emptiness, nothing, etc. ceased and then reappeared with the Romantic of the 19th century. Had she not been so focused on a preference for the “great” thinkers’ accounts of emptiness, lack, etc. she may have been charmed to discover that emptiness, nothing, etc. is likewise found with the popular, like Seinfeld. According to Ranciere’s version of art history and the representative regime, dominant during this period when the “greats” did not focus on nothing, what was portrayed/communicated within art needed to be appropriate to the subject matter represented (a king was magnificent and detailed, a pauper just a quick sketch). As has been pointed out by many art historians/theoreticians, during the Romantic 19th century (when the “greats” once again took an interest in the void) landscape painting came into its own as representation, subject matter. Previously it had appeared only as background to some specific representation of a person, event, etc. If one follows Ranciere’s thinking, what was not the subject of a representative work would have been considered as nothing. So the background of pre-Romantic works would have been a “nothing”, much like Seinfeld’s hit show. Indeed, one finds this inky darkness in the background of artists such as Rembrandt or Caravaggio. So it is that many current historians/theoreticians are studying what was not the focus or priority of art (or great thinking) during the period that Watson claims emptiness vacated western culture. Cervantes’ Don Quixote could, in theory, be likened to a story about nothing! Another aspect that Watson did not consider (at all) was the many anecdotal accounts of the exchange between novitiates and the newly enlightened. These are found in both the Chinese Chan tradition and Japanese Zen. The novices are in awe and wonder of the achievement by the just enlightened monk. They ask the monk what it is like. “No different” is the reply. The author of A Philosophy Of Emptiness would do well to heed this. The tone of her account is very much liberal and progressive. One is left with the sense that learning to appreciate, include, allow for, etc. emptiness, openness, nothing is liberating; that somehow it will make a difference. This quest for liberation and a commitment to what the “greats” had to say about it does make all this out to be somewhat akin to Don Quixote, a comedy about nothing.

The Philosophy Of Dreams Re-Visited

August 10, 2015

Shortly after the last post (The Philosophy Of Dreams) serendipity found me overhearing a radio interview. It was a doctor/psychiatrist/researcher (Dr. Rachel Yehuda speaking with Krista Tippett “On Being” NPR). The doctor said something along the lines of people say they are a changed person after a trauma. And in a way they are. Although genetically they are unchanged (DNA), how their genes interact changes noticeably (what On Being describes as epigenetics – “genes can be turned on and off and expressed differently through changes in environment and behavior”). Originally from Cleveland, Dr. Yehuda returned to study the holocaust survivors she grew up amongst and their offspring. She discovered epigenetic changes within the offspring that expressed the original survivor’s disposition. Studies done of pregnant women who survived 911 found the changed interactions carried over to their infants. These studies would support Turcke’s assessment of the physiological connection of the experience of trauma and the psyche. People don’t “bounce back” but rather replay under changed conditions. A different consideration was expressed with a more recent interview (David Freudberg’s “Humankind” NPR). A writer named William Powers, former staff writer for the Washington Post, was making the rounds for the release of his new book “Hamlet’s Blackberry”. He said self-contradictory things that he wasn’t aware he was mouthing (in light of Turcke’s insights). Powers repeatedly advocated for a digital Sabbath, a time set aside for shutting down the screens so folks can reflect, do the “homework” (Turcke references Benjamin as saying was needed in the age of technical reproduction), refresh and restore their “persons” (in terms of experience). One proposal was from Friday through Sunday, etc. Powers claims large corporations have recognized this need and already are implementing such policies (he referenced Intel as being one). Powers glibly says that people need to rediscover this space (of reflection, homework, replay – what Turcke bases as foundational to the ability of the psyche to defer and repress, an ability developed over millennia that made human culture possible). The vast majority of current college students starting back in a couple of weeks will have been born during the Clinton presidency. All will have grown up with the concentrated distraction Turcke describes as becoming increasingly pervasive, directly or indirectly, cultivated or initiated on their own. What Powers said sounds comforting (that we can draw upon a time of experience that is non-digital). He references a bunch of his favorite philosophers, saying enthusiastically “we need to remember” that ultimately this is about us, who we are, etc. Hearing this, these same students, who have never known a time of non-digital experience, will immediately reach for their ever present smart phones. If Powers says “we need to remember” something, they will look it up on their phone. This existence of a function or work of the psyche being done better by a machine than the humans who created it is what makes for the radical change in culture and the de-evolution of human psychology that Turcke writes of. To remember is to recall. Plato’s Socrates considered knowledge already present, to be a function of recognition, recall, replay much as the way memory operates, which presumes a functioning repression or deferral. All of which a machine can now do faster and more efficiently. This underscores what Turcke points out, that what took millennia to achieve can be undone within the next hundred years.

The Philosophy Of Dreams

August 3, 2015

Christophe Turcke’s The Philosophy Of Dreams (2013) tackles the age old mind/body problem head on (no pun intended) only within the parameters of a very systematic approach founded on Freud’s The Interpretation Of Dreams. The mind is that of the human psyche which Turcke expands to include all its manifestations, social and cultural. The body is neurological, founded on the nervous system and its operation, from the most primitive organism to the most advanced – the human whose physiology incorporates the largest brain proportionately. Originally Freud determined a relationship of dreams with sex. The end of the great war (WWI) found returning veterans reliving their horror in repetitive dreams. Freud recognized this and reassessed his interpretation to consider this traumatic repetition compulsion. For Freud Dreams likewise were a manifestation for what he considered to be the vestiges of primitive thought process. Turcke seizes on this, hence The Philosophy Of Dreams. Language, visual art, architecture, etc. are evidence of a developed psyche and culture. No empirical evidence exists of how primitive humans, Neanderthals, pre- homo sapiens, etc. did anything (the Foreword is subtitled the Early Stone Age in Us). In the tradition of European speculative philosophy/reasoning Turcke meticulously considers the evolution of the psyche and its evidentiary culture, from “pre” to contemporary, in three chapters entitled Dreams, Drives, and Words. Within these three chapters contemporary culture is practically not. It, however, is the focus of the Afterword: High-Tech Dreamtime. My inadequate synopsis fails to convey the complexity of this book intended to weave traumatic repetition into an integral part of the functioning of the psyche and the consequent development of culture. Students of contemporary culture would benefit from a full reading. Some lack within the work begs to be addressed. Turcke’s presentation is very authoritative with frequent use of “it cannot be denied”, or “it cannot be otherwise”, or “is conclusive that…”, etc. No physical evidence can be produced to substantiate such reasoning (lacking a “way back machine”, Lucy’s bones tell us little of her thought process, went to the prom, etc. That is, had a social existence/non-existence). Turcke’s position of authority lies with his speculative reasoning much as that of economists since Adam Smith. And we all know how well that has gone. Which brings out a basic unsubstantiated assumption (of that very reasoning) critical to the entire work – that early, early humans/pre-humans were social. Turcke criticizes early cultural history assumptions based on current practices but never considers his own propensity. Perhaps early humans/pre-humans were not necessarily social but solitary, each for themselves like bears or groundhogs. If this is considered, much of what he reasons from falls apart (the centrality of human sacrifice as trauma repeated compulsively). To go from the solitary to the social is no small feat in itself for the evolving psyche. For Turcke an organism recoils from unpleasantness encountered in the environment. The unpleasantness is detected through a stimulus experience. Humans, being the most sensitive in terms of nervous system development, continuously must process and dispose of/deal with countless stimuli, internally as well as externally generated. This results in the working behavior of the human psyche, accounting for the exceptional significance of traumatic repetition compulsion (instead of recoil, there is replay). The brain has to “do” something with all this stimulus, get rid of it or diminish it, integrate it (stimulus flight). Turcke’s description of the brain’s synaptic activity is practically analogous to one of sex at the cellular level, in terms of ejaculation and reception (a Freudian slip?). Freud himself maintained the primacy of the sexual within dreams even after his traumatic repetition assessment. Turcke finds fault with this but himself fails to consider the relationship of sex to the development of the social. He simply assumes social cohesiveness without establishing physiological ties. No account is given of what makes for the development of the solitary to the social. His model of an organism’s neural activity in response to outside stimulus limits, displaces, or denies any physiological link to the source of that stimulus within its environment, i.e. what is not the organism itself (outside the organism proper). Standing within the vicinity of a robin’s nest or near a mother grizzly and her cubs reveals a quite different scenario. The behavior of these creatures will yield a response quite different than that of an isolated robin on the lawn or a bear splashing for salmon. The former response to the stimulus of the close proximity of an other is in terms of a threat to something outside the organism proper, something which is not a physiological part of the organism itself, attached to its neural circuitry. The latter would be along the lines of what Turcke bases his reasoning on re: individual psyche assessment of stimulus from outside the organism. The threat to the “social” of nest or cubs argues for a response connection not restricted by the organism’s inherent physiological make up itself but to a link to something greater, outside itself that it considers part of itself or itself to be part of (so the robin feigns injury to distract, the bear charges). This would account for Freud’s insistence on the primacy of the sexual as a “pre” of the social, facilitating the psyche’s evolution from solitary to social. This would, however, disrupt Turcke’s account of traumatic repetition as central to the development of thought and culture (the raison d’etre of “human sacrifice”). The Philosophy Of Dreams provides invaluable insights and reasoning for much that affects the contemporary though some of the omissions and assumptions show there is more to the story than an authoritative account. A like exposition could theoretically be made for euphoric repetition compulsion (if there is such a thing) and its workings within the parameters of why pre-humans turned over rocks in search of…, and otherwise interacted with their environment as well as migrated for a “better life”. How would they know “better” was possible if it wasn’t a repetition compulsion?

Creative Class Selfie

July 10, 2015

Air cartoon: Mr. and Mrs. Rhino taking a selfie with a selfie stick, one that their grandchildren that will not be will never see.

In the mail the other day came the Yale Literature Catalog of publications. There, on the second to the last page under the heading of general interest “new”, was a book we all have been anticipating, needing to see in print. “Culture Crash: the killing of the creative class” by Scott Timberg recounts “A near perfect storm of change has put countless artists, writers, dancers, and musicians out of work.” For Timberg the creative class is not just the professionals – the architects, musicians, graphic designers, photographers, writers, moviemakers, etc. – but also the demos of de facto curators and savants who owned and clerked bookstores, record shops, print media, etc. Timberg finds culture to be created by “the creative class’ which includes everyone associated in any way with art related endeavors – no matter at what phase of its production/reception. He writes “The arts – and indeed narrative of all kinds – can capture a time, a place, and a culture, and reflect something of the inner and outer lives of its people. “But the tale of our times,” Jaime O’Neill wrote in his piece on the silence of the new depression, “is mostly being told by our unwillingness to tell it.” (pg. 22) Timberg introduces O’Neill’s piece on pg. 17 with “Many of us, said Jaime O’Neill, a writer in northern California, are living in a depression. “It’s hard to make the word stick, however, because we haven’t developed the iconography yet.” He wrote in an essay that asked, “Where’s today’s Dorothea Lange?””

But it’s no surprise Dorothea Lange is not to be found. If you argue, as Timberg does, that the perfect storm of technology, corporate capitalism, and an economy of deliberate income inequality is driving the creative class to extinction, then Dorothea Lange also will be located on the endangered species list and just might not be around to create the needed iconography. And for whom?

The Great Pretender

March 11, 2015

The last thing political rivalry admits to is identity; that there is no difference. Differentiating grounds, no, founds political discourse in the US, grants it legitimacy. Currently, it is to the extent of deep polarization (civil war is being insinuated/rumored to be OK). The relationship/necessity of politics to govern, and whether these are good or bad, are precluded by the interests of this blog. Ditto the relationship/necessity of governance to society (who speaks of society without governance?). Making pretensions to difference seems to permeate the popular news coverage of late, especially that of politics and government. In an ancient tome entitled “The Imaginary Institution of Society” (original French 1975) Cornelius Castoriadis identifies “legein” and “teukhein”, with their intimate entwining, as integral to the institution of society. Crassly and coarsely put “legein” is determining or designating (language) while “teukhein” is making or doing. Immediately their interconnection jumps out in that designating is a making or doing through differentiating/identity (What Castoriadis describes as ensemblist-indentity logic or thinking; i.e. designating this grouping of a set as same, ditto it will differentiate the designated grouping from the rest of the set, thereby in turn determining an “other” than the same). Language determines. Yet since it is all we’ve got, it also can be used to conceal or deny (itself a kind of making or doing). One example of this elision or denial of instituting (while actually actively doing just that) can be found in the ostensible differentiation of the two major parties in US national governance, the culture wars, the future of America as we know it (and maybe civilization itself!), etc. The US President Barack Obama is chastised for being unwilling to determine or designate religious based violence/terrorism by describing it as, well, religious, and the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, authorizes state agencies to not utilize or reference the designation or determination of “climate change” (Science being considered as “secular.” And you always thought religion and science were different, didn’t you?). Religious grounds for making or doing are separated/differentiated from secular ones through the designation/determination of language. During the years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland, the IRA was never referenced as Roman Catholic terrorism. Such differentiation, the originally all too human institution of both (that which creates identity), is conveniently hidden, denied, elided or mystified. By actively attempting to “make” or “do” a differentiation of governing as human instituting and science being about something “not so” (humanly instituted) Governor Scott maintains the hidden, denied, elided or mystified aspect (of science, that it is humanly instituted). In “Pandora’s Hope” (1995) Bruno Latour repeatedly recounts and specifies the political intrigue and machinations of Louis Pasteur’s designation/determination of bacteria. That is, the science was a human institution. Like the US President, the Florida Governor wants to keep something hidden and unsaid while promoting a making or doing through identity with what can be said or revealed. The President elides the very human institution of religion through his determination/designation of terrorism (No Roman Catholic terrorists for him! Through his making or doing he affirms the mystifying aspect of religion’s political influence). The Governor elides admitting the very human institution of science through his designation/determination of state agency protocol (wherebye in actuality his making or doing affirms what Latour pointed out as the politics involved with the institution of science). This elision by both political rivals indicates identity, not difference.

Je Suis Archie Bunker

January 8, 2015

With the conclusion of his essay “On The Phenomenology Of Giant Puppets: Broken Windows, Imaginary Jars Of Urine, And The Cosmological Role Of The Police In American Culture” (Possibilities: Essays On Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire, 2007) David Graeber speculates on the threat posed by puppets (real, imagined or theoretical?). According to Graeber, not only are puppets targeted for destruction by state security forces during demonstrations but pre-emptive operations are executed to exterminate them prior to deployment, during construction. The official reasons given are always ostensible and fictitious. He cites specific instances and events. For Graeber, the police embody the state’s single interpretation of reality which grants them license, authority to interpret individually. Hence, to “question” or appeal to an alternate interpretation is to undermine that authority, outlook or decision on the nature of reality. Graeber claims the puppets do precisely that by actualizing, making real the possibility of some other interpretation. As the police embody the single interpretation of the state, the puppets “embody” an alternate presentation. The police legitimize their violence on the basis of license. Giant puppets license illegitimacy. The puppets perform this without the reliance on or need of any form of dominance. The imagined possible, no matter how ridiculous or absurd, has always been a threat to the single interpretation. In the straight line (no exceptions) logic of dominance, this appears as “See it my way or don’t see it at all.” The appeal to authority, an authority, the authority underlies such rigor. One variation of this theme is that all (and any) imagined interpretation is reserved for the authority itself, arbitrary or not. The single interpretation is the burden of the subjects of that authority (sometimes cynically given as the “privilege”). The State, God, The Prophet, The Law, Buddha, etc. enjoy (within their domain) the richness and multiplicity of possibility, as well as its origination, dissemination, destruction, etc. The subjects of said author cannot operate within the every day amidst such a richness of possibility (hence, the puppets must go). Although such an approach appears quite pragmatic (a variation of Real Politik), it likewise reveals extreme discomfort. It is as though it exposes an almost elementary condition of ordained determination, the lack of ability to handle the conceptual generative capacity of what is termed “the universal and the particular.” If subjects are possessed of imagined interpretation then God, The State, etc. no longer have monopoly over its generation, becoming restrained to just one version. If subjects are possessed of multiple imaginings then God, The State, etc. simply become one of many possibilities. Etc. “See it my way or don’t see it at all” is the violent manifesto of domination. Anything imagined always escapes the interpretation of dominance.


December 26, 2014

We were in the man’s apartment. The walls were covered with paintings, prints, and drawings created by him as well as others – abstractions and figurative representations of people, places and objects. There were also sculptures and found objects, knick-knacks and fragments along the same lines. My friend asked if the man had any photos of his family, past, etc. There was not a photograph to be found displayed anywhere. He was surrounded by family and past. Each of the works resonated with what had passed, was gone – never to be retrieved. His memory must not have been digital or in color, Kodachrome or even black and white. Yet living vibrated there through these disparate creations. While there I noticed a nuthatch had landed on a feeder outside the window. Seen head on, its “face” appeared as some carved image on a Northwest Native American totem. These massive objects pre-date photography, let alone digital. Those carvings that have survived continue to resonate an affect. What is to be done with affection? It is not a document, so how could it be a memory? Are memories documentaries? Perhaps the document is the 21st century version of a fetish, an idol set aside (and above) to insure that a specific outlook continues homogenously throughout; an ideological ADT guaranteeing the security of interpretation from intrusion or tampering.

It is said that capitalism always eventually appropriates and subsumes everything, for which there is no alternative. The plethora of global struggles to elaborate an alternative (“As we walk we dream”) rely heavily on an appeal to what folks like Jacques Ranciere and others elucidate as “capacities”. Here was a man who managed to not be identified by a photo ID. Like the nuthatch outside his window, identity was created through his vitality, moment to moment.

A Question Of Unity

August 31, 2014

There she was at the outdoor arts and crafts show hidden behind her work (the only shady spot to be found). Not a pretty woman, with bad teeth wearing overalls and work boots, she displayed portraits of exquisite detail featuring various animals, wild and domestic. She was literally behind her work.

Dorothea Lange was featured on a PBS American Masters episode. Of particular note was that Lange had been laid off by the FSA around 1940 and this completely disoriented her. Prior to this, though not well paid, she and her work had the connection of support that allowed entry into migrant workers camps and entitled her to photograph their conditions and inhabitants (for which she became famous). After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lange was picked up by the WRA to document the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. Her work proved too good and was impounded by the Army that had hired her. After the war she went on to document the conditions of sharecroppers in America’s south through various impromptu, on site portraits.

Today’s artist is not found behind the work but rather is contained in the surface of the work (“if you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” Andy Warhol). Lange’s legacy is tainted by the question of whether the haunting portraits of Americans (as Americans) were unified by Lange herself (ala’ Woody Guthrie) or whether the unity had to do with the political economy of the time, which gave her a job, a purpose, cover and a mission. Would Lange have done what she did without taking a position with the FSA (and the WRA)?

Today, though not in the form of the outdoor arts and craft exhibitionist, the contemporary artist is expected to initiate and take ownership of an enterprise such as Lange had formed organically through her job involvement and the passage of time. Not only is the exceptional artist expected to have the “vision” of all the implications of their work, but they also are expected to obtain all the necessary connections and funding to bring it to fruition. Alternately, the subjective individual artist not pursuing such a socially visionary route is expected to draw from their own personal archives for portrayals within which they can be found, neither behind nor solely on the surface.

In either case, the unspoken question is where does the unity lie? As so many of today’s “social events” verify, unity is found through the discrete portrayal of the event’s participants themselves (through the near instantaneous documentation appearing on social media, etc.). This further implicates the contemporary social documentarians, along with the visionary arts entrepreneurs and subjective artistic interpreters, as discrete units within an abstract cohesive entirety entitled “Art”. This coordinates well within the operational determinants of a contemporary capitalist political economy that emphasizes personal choice and the freedom (and responsibility) of “rugged individualism”. The conditions of Lange’s pre-existing unity, promoting and spurring her creativity (and outcomes), as well as the pre-supposed unity of the subjective artist, with her viewer audience supporting her individual personal statements, are long gone. Today’s American culture emphasizes continuous discrete differentiation from any singular unifying definition.