Posts Tagged ‘Art After The End Of Art’

It Takes Place In Real Time And You Can’t Control What You’re Going To Say

October 28, 2013

Sherry Turkle, clinical psychologist and MIT professor amongst other things, was interviewed by Bill Moyers on the 10-18-13 Moyers & Company. The emphasis of their exchange was on how the self has been re-identified as one dependent on the mobile device – smart phone, laptop, etc. “You begin to feel yourself as you mesh yourself with the means of communication.” A resulting outcome is the inability of face to face conversation, resulting in one excuse for its avoidance being the title of this blog posting. The mobile device over determines exchange; “The sweetness of something new that’s coming into us on our phone.” or its anticipated promise. Conversation becomes torn, “Attention divided between the world of the people we’re with and this other reality.”

Arthur C. Danto passed away on 10-25-13. It would be pretentious to write an elegy or obit. Perhaps, especially within the volume of what Arthur Danto left us, it would be better to consider what is not found, what was missing. AP presented an elegant report by Hillel Italie with quotes, counter opinions and a brief history (Groundbreaking art critic Arthur Danto dies at 89, 10-27-13). That should suffice for reference and context. I would like to consider two areas of exploration left open within Danto’s contribution that are pertinent and relevant to understanding the art (and culture) after the end of art – the technological reproducibility of next to nearly anything today, and the “rhizomatous” aspect of art production (conflating the scientific and philosophic meanings) and how little this is valorized in our culture.

Hillel Italie gives some intriguing quotes: “”But now I have grown reconciled to the unlimited diversity of art. I marvel at the imaginativeness of artists in finding ways to convey meanings by the most untraditional of means. The art world is a model of a pluralistic society in which all disfiguring barriers and boundaries have been thrown down.”” Danto, of course, was most instrumental in the shift from the hierarchical, progression interpretation (of Greenberg) to one of no end (of art). “”From my perspective, aesthetics was mostly not part of the art scene. That is to say, my role as a critic was to say what the work was about — what it meant — and then how it was worth it to explain this to my readers,” he wrote.” reflects the innate conversational approach that he imagined his work to be about. And “”When I became a critic, I met everyone under the sun. But I knew very few artists when I was an artist. Some printmakers, some second generation Abstract Expressionists. … They were the great figures of my world, like Achilles and Agamemnon in ancient times,” he wrote in a 2007 essay about his own work.” reveals more than its brevity suggests.

Contemporaneous with Danto’s contribution and thinking were the works of other thinkers and critics, events and developments. Some of these appear within his work. Some are never referenced. Although this pluralistic society for which the art world is a model produces work in which performance, installation, ready-mades, found objects and collaborations are ubiquitous, what happens when one cannot distinguish the hand of creation, what produced what, because of the seamless incorporation of technological reproduction (what Benjamin had adumbrated)? Along with the end of art was the death of the author, but when authorship becomes usurped by technological virtuosity, what then? Is this as Turkle describes that “You begin to feel yourself as you mesh yourself with the means of communication.”? Though Danto thought that with the end of art, art’s interpretation likewise differed (no longer seen as a Greenberg progression), he never confronted the dissipation that this produced – that a work’s understanding now hinged on what was not art, what surrounded the artist (“I knew very few artists when I was an artist.”). This horizontal interpretation (of all outside what is the artist’s discipline having a bearing on “what the work was about — what it meant — and then how it was worth it to explain”) introduces rhizomatous considerations associated more with Deleuze and Guattari than Danto. This enmeshed, artist identity produces “Attention divided between the world of the people we’re with and this other reality.” The notion of art as conversation was prevalent before the end of art. It was implicated by the artist’s awareness and reference of what went on before the work at hand as well as after. Contemporary culture disrupts this by “The sweetness of something new that’s coming into us on our phone.” This sweetness is not necessarily in real time (nor referential to anything that went before or to come), but of an “other reality.” – acceptable to technologically driven art but not to conversation (which Danto imagined his own work as a critic). Art after the end of art just may involve a heavy emphasis on what is not art!

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2013 Must Reads

March 15, 2013

The 2013 MIT Press New book catalog arrived today. A little later than Burpee Seedy’s but just as necessary for a rich and diverse cultivation of the mind. Let’s look at some of these great titles waiting to be tenderly nurtured:
Page one headlines with Adhocism by Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver [a propitious way to start things off wouldn’t you say?], there’s The Art School by Steven Henry Madoff [maybe we’ll learn something], 101 Things To Learn In Art School by Kit White [missed that one], and The Last Art College by Garry Neil Kennedy [better hurry I’m running low, besides, I need to go in the worst way]. Brand new is What Was Contemporary Art by Richard Meyer [can’t remember], Forgetting The Art World by Pamela M. Lee [now it’s all coming back], Darby English’s How To See A Work Of Art In Total Darkness [much clearer now] and The Absence Of Work by Rachel Haidu [beginning to sense a theme here?]. There are, of course, Words To Be Looked At by Liz Kotz and When Marina Abramovic Dies by James Westcott [certain to be the performance of a lifetime!]. Rosalind E. Krauss proffers Under Blue Cup with Milk And Melancholy by Kenneth Hayes along with I Am A Beautiful Monster by Francis Picabia [a very early GaGa afficionado]. All of which may find one with DaDa In Paris by Michel Sanouillet, DaDa East by Tom Sandqvist and Women In DaDa edited by Naomi Savelson-Gorse [DaDa sure knew how to get around!]. Such strenuous study probably will leave one with Body Sweats by Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and longing to know Where Art Belongs by Chris Kraus. We could finish off with A Little-Known Story About A Movement, A Magazine, And The Computer’s Arrival In Art edited by Margit Rosen [and we all need a good movement, every day!] leaving us at the end with nothing but a History Of Shit by Dominique Laporte.

A Tribute To George

November 27, 2012

George Bogdanovitch passed away at the end of October. George was an arts educator and artist, a painter. George’s background was rather unusual by the rigors of today’s economics. His undergraduate degree was in Philosophy, with an MA in Art History and finally an MFA in painting and drawing. He also studied with Hans Hofmann and Allan Kaprow.  I enjoyed many conversations with George, mostly about art and culture. In the latter part of his life, George had some difficulty coming to terms with art, and the new arts educators supplanting the usual university turnover. It is difficult to decide whether they couldn’t talk with George, or wouldn’t. George was opinionated and outspoken. He didn’t cotton bad art (or educating). He began to be regarded as a curmudgeon, almost a pariah by some. Part of this had nothing to do with either George, or the new arts educators. The post modern didn’t dwell on good art/bad art. It was concerned with exploding what art is, finding it on the margins, in the street, on the packaging of fast food. For George, the post modern was new. Aggravating this all was popular culture; the capitalist culture that worshipped and demanded ever more new. His was the generation that established the preconditions of this need for the new.

Once again I had the good fortune of spending some time conversing with an arts educator before the resumption of classes post holiday break. She recounted shows she had been to, both in NYC as well as central Ohio. One NYC show she could describe the work presented. The others were mainly endorsements or descriptions of the artists’ outlook, without a clue on my part as to what she had experienced. Oh, but you must go see them, she has such a weird take on what it is to paint, etc. Attempts at synthesis with current culture or the arts curricula, student work, etc. led nowhere. Connections of this with that were untenable as it was all deemed fractious, fragmented, diverse and incoherent. What a person did to earn a living, the odds of any art student doing such from their art, the reasons for making art, and what is accepted or embraced as such were not considered parts of a continuum. All of this eventually left the arts educator realizing it was time to move on (talking art and culture leads nowhere), and me rather flummoxed. Later I thought of Pinchevski’s insights (previous posting), that the nature of technology has a bearing on the “discourse network” also described as “writing-down system”. Pinchevski approached it from the latter aspect in terms of the difference in archives. But I thought of it in terms of the former, of discourse as conversation. Maybe the arts educator could not describe the works she experienced but only her own response to them because any description or representation would have best been done through a digital imaging technology, like a cell phone (camera) or video recording. Thus, as Pinchevski points out, the works presented in the show could have been described or represented immediately through such performance, or (continuous) re-performance. What I took to be an inadequacy, a loss for words (over the description of the works presented at the various shows), could likewise be considered as a quite natural and acceptable no-need-for-words (you can see them online!).

During our conversation I mentioned George’s passing. A curious connection results from remembering George, his finding himself more and more at odds with the new(er) art faculty, and the loss for words that our conversation revealed when it came to describing the art witnessed. Some of the discourse concerning art after the end of art involved Kant’s aesthetic, especially that regarding the sublime. Kant’s sublime is, by nature, contained, limited, occurs within an envelope of space and time – yet it cannot be explicitly, completely, precisely or adequately defined. Skip the what came first, chicken or egg debate (theory or practice). Suffice it to say post modern art (and beyond) began more and more to be such that it could not be “explicitly, completely, precisely or adequately defined.” Enter video. Video gave credence (and sanity) to such an art (and culture) through the reassurance of continuously accessible (re)performance in place of words (and text). It provided a “discourse network” that elides reliance on the spoken word (conversation). Why should I tell you when I can show you (over and over and over)? For George, part of the delight, the pleasure of art, was in being able to talk about it, critique it, say it is bad or good in relation to the culture, the economy and politics. Unfortunately, George’s passing may also perform the passing of such conversation.

Today’s News

January 9, 2012

            An article appeared today that generates a lot of speculative questions relevant in an odd way to understanding the aesthetics of visual culture after the end of art. In the “good ole days” it may have been considered as a human interest story. Currently it finds itself as a political news item. Waitress Offers Tip: Trackers Go Away written by Jessica Wehrman appears in the January 8 Columbus Dispatch. While serving lunch to one of the US senators from Ohio, a waitress noticed a man surreptitiously filming the senator as he dined. She tossed him out but he returned through an employee’s side entrance and once again continued filming using his phone (I guess “videoing” would be more accurate, yet this was totally digital, stored nowhere but rather only transferred in code). She confronted him, threatening to call police. In his haste to exit through the door, the waitress suffered an injury.

            Politics as usual. In this day and age of super pacs and lobbies (having the full constitutional rights of any individual citizen), trackers are equal opportunity muck rakers (or rather muck providers). They supply the data necessary for all those ads created in such bad taste. The amended US constitution guarantees the right to publish those ads. What’s questionable about that? No news there. Paparazzi have been sticking cameras in celebrities’ faces for as long as there has been dirt to be dug. Where’s the slant on the aesthetics of visual culture after the end of art?

            Speculate for an instant. Let your imagination roam. Just say that somehow something like this found itself before the US Supreme Court. Clear enough that one can pretty much disseminate just about anything, short of what could be deemed libelous or seditious. But this wasn’t a matter of publishing or distributing. The tracker was utilizing his hand held communication device to produce something, eventually to be reproduced. Consummate contortionist skills would still leave the strict constitutionalists looking like pretzels. Reproductive technologies during the time of the Constitution’s signing were all about printed (and disseminated) text and imagery. Producing the image was much as producing the word. Both originated from the pen of an author. Anecdotal accounts about the life drawing studio art pedagogy of Ingres had it that his students were required to study the live figure model on one floor, then had to go up to the studio on the next floor to draw what they had seen. In short, no recording devices were extensively employed at the time of our nation’s founders. The legalities of all this may be considered obtuse by legal scholars. But for students of visual culture, it is fascinating to grasp the distinction between the reliance on hand and memory with regard the art (and culture) of 200 years ago and the present emphasis on the utilization of reproductive technologies without any reliance on memory, let alone dexterity.  The intricacies (and distinctions in definition) of such cultural designations as space, person, or boundary become readily apparent without ever having to enter into any theoretical discourse.

The Centrality Of Security

December 27, 2011

            An acquaintance sent holiday greetings in the form of a forwarded email. It was from the OP Ed section of the 12-25-11 New York Times. In an article entitled A Victorian Christmas, Maureen Dowd looks at the life and writings of Charles Dickens through a contemporary lens (comparing the insecurity of his childhood “homeless” experience and society’s economic inequities, and the outcome on his writings, particularly his Christmas variations). Christmas for Dickens (according to Dowd) involved a reflection on what could have been, what didn’t occur, and what was. This led me to reflect on the times of Dickens’ writing, and what was contemporary to it. In other parts of the world was social upheaval. Slavery was on the verge of ending while industry was forming a proletariat. Marx was responding to this. Darwin was of that day. Historians like to say that the writings of Melville, Dickens, Flaubert and others give insight into the times, what moved the age, the workings of society and the individuals that comprised it.

            A punch line that arises in many angst permeated liberal discussions is that “the revolution took place, and we lost”. The joke relies on the lead up conversation advocating for some kind of radical social enterprise. To a limited extent, the “failed” upheavals in Europe and North America of the 1960’s lend credence to this form of gallows humor. Though lacking the enormous historic detachment (necessary for analysis) of events from over a century ago, most agree that something took place in the 60’s, that what occurred failed, that what didn’t occur was relegated to utopian aspirations, and that the outcome of failure led to what it is we have today. One could liken the resolution of that upheaval of a half century ago to the Father Knows Best TV sitcom of roughly that same time period. The upheaval was around how society “ought” to be structured. In the end, something in charge of society (father), as opposed to society itself (the family), determined what became priority and policy. The revolution took place and we lost. The outcome was of an accelerated social inequity, in earnings and worth as well as opportunity, resulting in the contemporary situation that Dowd connects with Dickens’ life and writing.

            Presently there is social upheaval recurring almost globally, with slow but continuous frequency. We do not have the luxury of chronological distance to assist us in grasping its significance or character. In an essay entitled What To Do With Pictures (October 138) David Joselit likens formatting to the art medium of today. Unlike the material mediums of previous art (paint, metal, paper, etc.), formatting permits digital operations in terms of actions and activity through the use of data. Underlying this insight is the consideration that the art of the last 50 years has shifted and become entwined with the market political economy of today. With the end of art, the “romantic” notion of ideas and utopias has been eschewed for the “realism” of economics. Folks created art for the Medici’s, the burghers of Antwerp, and the European bourgeoisie because ultimately it paid the bills (and sent the kids to college), not because it created new forms of knowledge (which version one subscribes to becomes a matter of formatting the data!). According to Joselit, omnipresent is current art’s involvement with market culture. One would look in vain today for writers or artists whose works reflect the “spirit of the age” (in the manner of the 19th century), in contradistinction to the driving force of the age. But then again, maybe that very collaboration is indicative of the spirit of current social upheaval. Analogous to the grammar of nouns and verbs, the art before the end of art was more concerned with nouns, the subjective elements. The art after the end of art is more concerned with the verbs, the action words that predicate a service economy. Perhaps the upheavals of today are about the disappearance of the subject, the emphasis on the predicate, the ultimate mobility and fluidity of labor totally and solely determined by market force. Symptomatic of this is the increasing pressure to always be connected via an individual mobile communication device, so that anywhere, at any time, the bearer is prepared to accommodate any needed change in activity or action required by the market (always available to be accessed or appropriated). A perfunctory review of some of the issues precipitating upheaval- job security, health care, housing as a “home”, reassurance of retirement consideration, the uncertainty of the everyday ecological environment, etc.- reveals the centrality of “security”. For the limited 1% determining priority and policy, security against terrorism and financial chaos supersedes the “security” issues of the 99%.

The Road Goes On Forever And The Party Never Ends

March 29, 2010

            Late modernism lapsed into the Post Modern with a flurry of talk and writing having to do with the end of art. Arthur Danto and his essay, The End Of Art, immediately spring to mind (included in an anthology of like essays by others aptly entitled The Death Of Art). He also writes Art After The End of Art, and even one entitled The Wake of Art! The meaning of “end” slips and slides with many of these writers. It squirts across the spectrum, from being like Jim Morrison’s The End to being construed as a conclusion, rationale, or goal (such as “does the end justify the means?”). At the time, most of the essayists who covered this territory pretty much claimed that the “end” (or ends) of modernism had been achieved, that we were now in a different phase (post modernism).

            Such thinking doesn’t appear to contribute to any speculative understanding of Post Warhol art, at least not with “Everybody knows this is nowhere” (see previous post “making the art”). There is no apparent end to “Everybody knows this is nowhere” (especially given the need to continuously make the signifier through the next, still to be experienced, event). Green art (by definition) is partial to recycling and reuse, so no “end” in sight there. Yet the number of art practitioners receiving degrees in art (BFA, MFA, or even the new European model of a doctorate in art) also seems endless with each passing year. As mentioned in “What Could Post Warhol Art Really Be Like?” (March 8, 2010), not all of these folks can get jobs within the arts, or become artist/entrepreneurs. This, coupled with the apparent endlessness of “Everybody knows this is nowhere”, suggests a commodification of artists. Within the current global capitalist economy, most commodities are now controlled by a limited number of mega corporations (soybeans are controlled by a cartel of less than 10, metals by like numbers, beer, etc.). Indeed, T Magazine doesn’t refer to the video’s originators as artists but as “creatives”, in line with the folks at the Apple store. It isn’t a stretch to consider that a similar fate awaits this burgeoning population of “creatives”. They may become ubiquitous, interchangeable, and expendable, like the office temps that Art Work: A National Conversation about Art, Labor, and Economics speaks of. This all may call for an update on what Danto and the other essayists wrote. Now, perhaps, The End Of Artists would be more in keeping with the trajectory of contemporary art.

            There is a bit of irony stealing into all this. With no “end” in sight for Post Warhol art, and a seemingly endless supply of new artists, er, “creatives”, continuously able to meet the “challenge” for new art (fresh meat), the words of Mr. Balasubramanian Muthuraman, vice chairman of India’s Tata Steel Ltd, provide a fascinating perspective. “You have to realize one thing — in the U.S., the consumption of steel per person per year, is more than the consumption of food per person per year.” With no “end” on the horizon, Post Warhol art (green art included) appears rooted in, and perpetuates, a culture of consumption. More art please, with a side of stainless to go!