Posts Tagged ‘Economics Of Contemporary Art Making’

Romantic Sojourn

June 20, 2016

People used to write long texts. They were called letters. The exchange between reader and writer happened mechanically, over distance and time. Twitter, Instagram, I phones changed all that. Today I froze 21 packages of sugar snap peas, planted back in March. Back in March, a fluke occurred of 70 degree weather, pre-mature summer. This, after an exceptionally mild winter where my bee colony losses were likewise exceptional – around 15% instead of the previous years’ 40 – 60%. So the bees all responded as though it was late spring instead of early. Queenie laid a lot of eggs, obliged by the colony itself which was exceptionally strong after a southern U S winter. But wait, the plot thickens as we had freezes in April which killed off a lot of what would have been flowering. Enter May with overcrowded hives and little resources in the environment (remember the freeze?). So everyone decided that an overcrowded hive in the midst of scarce resources called for the reproduction of more of the species (a logical solution, never conceptualized by humans as they reproduce). So it has been a swarmy time from late April through early June. Some context from the political desk. Though most still imagine farms and markets as quaint places where bumpkins gather or toil, in actuality they are more akin to the New York stock exchange. Yes, that is a market which at one time belonged to Dow Jones, (GOK owns it now – gawd only knows who owns it now). Ditto for today’s marketing of farm produce. To sell means to belong (and adhere to the regime of standards, investments and acumen). It was once attractive to produce honey in that it could be marketed without restrictions like apples. Today, both are inspected, detected and rejected unless they meet rigid market requirements (posited by the owners of the market, who else?). But I digress. A plethora of riches, one would be wrong to assume, all these swarms gathered, all these hives surviving the mild winter – in theory producing the riches of a bumper crop of honey. But wait, unless you belong and your operation is detected, inspected and rejected, not so. And so it was for the last six weeks. Like a sailor sailing close to the wind, it was an adrenaline rush to understand what is taking place within the environmental milieu called nature and to run with it, gathering swarms of bees, making new bees (through nucs generated by all the queen cells produced) and providing space for the honey to be deposited. Wrong. Without belonging it was nothing but experience. As Andy Warhol famously said “Good art is good business” (or was it “Good business is good art.”?). Without the marketing, it was all akin to scaling El Capitan at Yosemite without the requisite Nike sponsorship that LeBron assumes as totally natural. Indeed, most athletes assume sponsorship as totally natural, part of the enterprise (ever check out a NASCAR driver?). So it has all come to a low roar now that the need to reproduce has subsided and I have kept up with the flow and have healthy hives. But alas, I kept up a little too close. I got too close to the wonderful rhythm usually called nature, when one “lives” (understands, sees, feels) what is taking place all around one. In one respect it is terrible in that one loses one’s being, one’s identity, and only functions because that is what is required, what is called for. On another hand it is quite the rush in that one senses, one “knows” what is coming down and can respond accordingly. Yet all the same, as Warhol pointed out, it is not much good unless one can make business of it. And that’s the gist of this missive, that there is so much more, so much vital expenditure and commitment that doesn’t involve capitalist requirements, and that it all goes by the way for reasons of capitalist economics. How much of this is truly vital for the evolution of the species, to adapt to what lies ahead, and is being denigrated and negated for the expediency of the market? And how much of this is simply a romantic sojourn?

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.

The Capitalist Party

June 10, 2014

“What was contemporary art?” by Octavian Esanu appeared in the first print edition of ArtMargins. ArtMargins sounded so inviting before it came out. It is put out by MIT press, publishers of October. ArtMargins is based on the acknowledgement that art, art theory, and culture are no longer found at/driven by the center (places like NYC, Paris, London, etc.) but are now located on the margins (places like South America, eastern Europe, etc.) The emphasis was to be what is occurring/being written there today. I’ve allowed my subscription to lapse since (in the model of October) the publication (as a de facto center) has manipulated direction and gravitated to special interests. Also, it is mostly art historical, what happened/was written 50 years ago. Sigh. But Esanu’s article was very enlightening and exciting because it was fearless in situating economics with art. He writes of the transition period in Eastern Europe when institutional socialism was being displaced by free market capitalism, and George Soros’s foundations were pouring big bucks in to convert artists to entrepreneurs. Previously, under state socialism, artists woke up in the morning within their domiciles and ate their breakfast and went to their work site knowing that tomorrow they would likewise get up in the morning within their domiciles and eat breakfast before going to the place where they labored as artists. The emphasis in their production as artists was in what they produced, and how it contributed within the framework of the state socialism. Soros lured artists out of this co-op or unionized disposition, outlook, mindset through grant funding. The grants offered emerging artists large sums of money, recognition and exposure. However, Mr. Esanu (who was employed administering these funds) points out that after that, there are no further resources for the “established” (not emerging) artist. The lure is to get artists to strike out on their own and continue after the heady success made possible by the grant award. No longer could an artist concentrate solely on their discipline or craft. Rather, they now had to concentrate on how to fund their domicile and breakfast first, then on honing their art skills. It is a very subtle article but it extends its insight on how the aesthetics, what was considered as “contemporary art”, changed to accommodate the new economics of capitalism (the art produced needed to fit within the criteria and parameters of the grant requirements. The imaginary was dictated by what would promote the aspirations of the grant providers.).

Communist culture was always presented by the west as being driven and dominated by “The Party”. The aesthetic ostensibly revolved around what served, promoted and reproduced The Party’s interest. The west, on the other hand, cloaked itself in a rhetoric of freedom and choice, “free” market and the choice of multi-party government. Never was heard the term “Capitalist Party”. Esanu’s article brings that to mind for unless the art produced serves, promotes and reproduces the tenets and interests of the Capitalist Party, it is not (youthful angst Punk culture aside). This all begs the question “what is art?” though it is only someone on the margins like Esanu who is willing to consider the economic influence on the answer. At the center, it is assumed as a given (that there is art, that there are artists) without any question as to whether it is a means or an end or neither. If art is of The Party, then the artist becomes a mere originator of propaganda. If art is not of The Party, then how is it to be evaluated? Even more pressing is how is it possible if it is not of The Party? Boris Pasternak addressed this while living ensconced in a culture of The Party. His epic Dr. Zhivago is critiqued variously, from the standpoint of Russian literature/poetry, to one of resistance, to one of pure art, to just being a great love story. It does, however, present the picture of folks who live out their lives as who they are within a system that requires justification at every turn. This, I guess is the crux of what art is and what it is to be an artist today, whether Communist or Capitalist, whether to justify oneself through how one is serving the aspirations of the revolution or the market. Those savvy individuals attuned to working within The Party, live comfortably under either economic system. Those who deem poetry and art to have some other abstract value, do not. But they continue to create, without serving The Party. Aside from being masochists, one wonders why? Which again leaves the question of what is art, what is it to be an artist?

Zanesville Ohio’s downtown “Arts District” first Friday gallery hop comes to mind for it seems to cover the entire spectrum of art/artists in one fell swoop. From the university professor “high end” art (why high end? Because it serves The Party?) to primitive and outsider art, it is all there arrayed next to each other at the same time within close proximity. Few, very few, pay for their domiciles and breakfast from their labor as artists; even fewer with any degree of security. So is there a place for art within our society (rather, do we have a culture driven by art) or is it merely a utilitarian expression of a Party function (to serve, promote and reproduce the values of The Capitalist Party)? A good start in answering any of these questions is to admit that, well, there it is in front of us. And that the folks associated with its existence will do so under whatever economic system they find themselves (something Pasternak presents with Zhivago). In that sense, we find ourselves with what the academics describe as “the subject”. Here lies the entire struggle of the artist and art. The subject, independent (not!) of the environment, the economy, or is it the subject transcendent of the environment, the economy (shades of Emerson!)? Or is it possibly the subject bearing witness to whatever it is to be a subject (“I exist. I matter.”)? Witness to whom? And why? What need is there of witness to getting up in the morning in one’s own domicile, eating breakfast and heading off to work?

All Too Human

August 29, 2013

USAToday ran an article on 8-29-13 entitled “Chimps battle to be top banana in art contest”. The Humane Society of the United States sponsored a painting competition to benefit the various primate sanctuaries in the US. The artist entrants were the resident chimps, who painted utilizing techniques employed historically (at one time or another) by their more evolved peers (with their hair, tongue, eating the paint, etc.). Jane Goodall (a non artist herself but considered an “artist” authority) judged the entries. The Humane Society (accomplished “artist” administrators) curated the show. The various sanctuaries consumed the award prizes.

“he [Pierre Bourdieu] defines the field of cultural production as an arena centrally and invariably organized by dominant forms, run “by possession of a determinate quantity of specific capital (recognition) and, at the same time, by occupation of a determinate position in the structure of the distribution of this specific capital.”…Every individual instance is “a manifestation of the field as a whole, in which all the powers of the field, and all the determinisms inherent in its structure and functioning, are concentrated.”” (Wai Chee Dimock, Weak Theory: Henry James, Colm Toibin, and W.B. Yeats, Critical Theory Summer 2013 pg. 734)

Award Winning Painting
Cheetah’s award-winning painting. / Humane Society of the United States

The Pig

August 19, 2013

Saturday mornings find me in our local rendition of Bouville at the Makers Market. Due to the demise of my bees I am resigned to peddling my own wares this year. The Makers Market is a shadow market to the official farmers market run by the Downtown Business Association. It is caddy corner to the Makers Market and is quite pricey to break bread with. One of the benefits of being a spider at the Makers Market is that one gets to observe the flies across the way. Parents bring their kids (of course), some leashed, some not, and some in strollers or belly/back packs. People bring their dogs (yes, more than one); some leashed, some not, some even in strollers and belly/back packs. Sometimes a cat makes the scene. Never a dull moment. This past week end a little pink pig appeared on a leash leading a slender young lady. She was accompanied by a tall man in a bona fide chef outfit that gave him a certain Ramsey-esque authority (crowds parted before him as they perused the offerings). Both wore name tags, “Chef” and “Head of University Dining Services”. The nearby college has recently contracted for locally sourced gourmet cuisine to be served in the dining halls.

The woman attached to the pig wore a long grey dress that brushed the ground. She had only stubble on her head, one step removed from being bald, and she suffered from bad acne. She was barefoot. Health was exuded, head to toe. OK, point made. All the aesthetic markers created by a lifetime (and more) of art history scholars presented themselves. Statement made, performance art, commercial at that. Fifty years ago hooter madchens handed out packs of Marlboros and Virginia Slims on fringes of universities. Today it is acne and a pig.

That evening Moyers ran a rerun with Marshall Ganz on Making Social Movements Matter. The overall theme of the show was How People Power Generates Change. “Change” would be the optimal word, something that ostensibly unites Moyers, the lady with the pig, and myself (without others we cannot be whole!). My résumé having included “swineherd” at one time, a certain peculiar kind of nostalgia swept over me there in our very own beautiful downtown Bouville. For some reason, I did not experience this sense of solidarity; with Moyers, the pig and Sartre’s Roquentin maybe, but not with Chef Ramsey, his ward, and their employer. Within the course of the interview Marshall Ganz iterated: “You know, Albert Hirschman, the development economist wrote this book a number of years ago, I’m sure you know about it, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.” And sort of the idea was, okay, so you got an institution. And it’s screwing up. And so one way to fix it is to exercise voice. The other way is you can exit. The market solutions are all exit solutions.” Followed by: “Well, so you don’t like the way the schools work, exit, make your own over here. And that way you exercise choice. You don’t like the way public health works, exit, over here, make your own. Now the only problem is you can only exit and make your own if you got the money to do it. And so the result is that you create these parallel systems of elite systems that are, you know, that fragment the whole.”

Begging For Answers

February 26, 2013

In 1992 Krzystof Wodiczko premiered Alien Stick, followed by variations and eventually Mouthpiece. These works exploited culture’s fascination with, and preference for, video imagery. Later Al Gore and Michael Moore presented us with film epics, alarming calls to action. Sadly, not much took place. Choose whichever trajectory you’d like, global warming or gun violence in the US, the two epics did not facilitate the needed change. Most of this can be attributed to what Wodiczko’s early work so successful utilized- culture’s fascination and romance with video. Reference Baudrillard on the nature and intimacy of simulacra within culture. Enough said. Though Alien Staff, and Mouthpiece made immediate and material introduction and reference to the subject of their video presentation, Michael and Al’s films did not. For any artist today interested in actual, in our time, change, the challenge seems to lie not in presenting/representing the subject matter in the imagery of film or video, but in calling attention to and embracing the actual subject material of their work, the social utilitarian raison d’etre of their art. Baudrillard’s simulacra is a copy of a copy without reference or need of an original. A gondola ride within the Venice of Las Vegas leaves no residue of the actual Venice slowly being submerged within the rising oceans produced by global warming. The question for any would be socially active artist today becomes “When does a simulacra disintegrate, urgently necessitating reference to the original in order to reestablish stability? What disrupts the simulacra experience, the virtual reverie, so profoundly and in such a way that the original must be resurrected, reaffirmed?” How can this be done?

Some Assembly Required

February 3, 2013

Near the conclusion of his essay The “Return” of 3-D: On Some of the Logics and Genealogies of the Image in the Twenty First Century, Thomas Elsaesser recounts an anecdote of displaying on his laptop old photos of his friends that he had digitized. Looking at the images, the seven year old daughter of one of the couples began trying to “click” on the photos of her parents made well before she was born, rather than ask “who are these folks, when was this, etc.” Seeing that nothing was happening with each click of the cursor, she walked away. Elsaesser uses this to draw out the cultural shift in images. “The idea of a digital photo as a window to view (to contemplate or be a witness to) had for her been replaced by the notion of an image as a passage or a portal, an interface or part of a sequential process—in short, as a cue for action.” (Critical Inquiry Vol. 39, No. 2 Pg. 240-241)
“Before I let this steam drill beat me, I’ll die with my hammer in my hand.” So goes the story of John Henry down in Pence Springs, West Virginia. Of course, in John Henry’s time, tools of hand labor were continuously being replaced by powered tools. The bit and brace eventually were supplanted by the electric drill, hand saws by various electric powered circular saws, etc. These in turn have “evolved” with cordless battery powered models. Likewise large stationary shop tools, originally endless belts systems with power generated by water wheels or steam gave way to large electric models, eventually the smaller portable models of today. The operators of these innovations, the craftsmen and artisans, still needed to rely on their attentiveness and physical prowess (athleticism) to accomplish any work. Their energy was consumed by maintaining attentiveness through the drudgery (and danger) of machine repetition as opposed to the drudgery of repetitive, totally physical exertion. Henry Ford capitalized on and cultivated this shift in culture. Hardt and Negri (amongst others) have adumbrated the shift in the nature of labor today, from the mind numbing but physical engagement of the Fordist era to the physically numbing but mental exertion of today’s service economy. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed the same phenomena occurring analogous to what Elsaesser describes. Students come in to work on their sculpture projects in the woodshop, with earbuds in and smart phones at hand. Somehow the tools don’t do what they anticipate, don’t fulfill their expectations. They walk away miffed, assuming the distorted creation they’ve found themselves with is on account of some software deficiency. After all, the tools of contemporary labor must have the latest software. One wouldn’t buy even a new model car without it. Stationary and powered hand tools, even those with rudimentary supplemental software, don’t respond too well to just point and click—to the operator feeding in the material and expecting the tool to produce the desired results. Save in the totally automated robotic systems, attentiveness and athleticism have not been displaced, even by the new “safe” tools loaded with sensors and brakes. Though the Elsaesser anecdote’s emphasis is on the “cue for action”, the greater concern may be for the loss of the ability to contemplate or witness.

Climate Change Problem/Solving Aesthetics or How I’m Tired of Having This Machine Determine How I Think

January 6, 2013

Part 1
The January 4, 2013 Moyers & Company found Bill’s guest to be Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. This appearance was remarkable in that he wasn’t on because of some book he was promoting, or some enterprise or past accomplishment/experience. His reason for being there was totally performative, in the language of today’s aesthetic. The only clue as to how and why he ended up on the show was his résumé position. It was practically a monologue on Climate Change, with Bill asking a few incidental questions as devil’s advocate, etc. From the transcript:
“BILL MOYERS: What you’re saying is that a big powerful industry controls or affects the outcomes of perception in this country disproportionately to what most people think?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: That’s right. And in part they’re able to do that because this issue is a low level issue, because we don’t talk about it and because there is no what we call issue public on the other side.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Okay, so an issue public is basically an organized social movement that demands change, okay. And we’re very familiar with this term. It’s the pro or anti-immigration movement or the pro-gun control or the anti-gun control movement–
BILL MOYERS: The Civil Rights movement–
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: The Civil Rights movement.
BILL MOYERS: –the Suffragette movement, women’s rights, you’ve got to be organized.
ANTHONY LEISEROWITZ: Absolutely. You’ve got to be organized. And what we see, remember that 16 percent I identified as the alarmed? Again people who are very concerned and think this is an urgent problem, but they feel relatively isolated and alone. They say, “I feel this way, some of my friends and family feel this strongly.” But they have no sense that they’re part of over 40 million Americans that feel just as strongly as they do.
They’ve never been properly organized, mobilized and directed to demand change. And I mean, that’s what the political system ultimately responds to. If you basically have a vacuum of people who are demanding change, and I don’t mean that truly. I mean, there are of course many great organizations that have been advocating for change for a long time. But it hasn’t been a broad based citizens movement demanding change. In that situation a relatively small but well-funded and vocal community that says no can absolutely win the day.”

From the entirety of Anthony’s Leiserowitz’s performative address, particularly the line “They’ve never been properly organized, mobilized and directed to demand change.” It’s clear that Leiserowitz imagines organization pretty much in a top down, vertical manner (who is the “they”? and why are they “they”, and not “we” or us?). What just took place this past week end in Steubenville Ohio does not enter into his imaginary (yet the “issue public” actually appeared, almost spontaneously). On the one hand, he articulates, quite eloquently, a very reasoned and nuanced approach to communicating solutions to what appears inevitable (Climate Change). On the other, he relies on the mechanism and methodology that propels and fuels this inevitable nastiness to solve it. Obviously, when it comes to the social/cultural aspect, Leiserowitz lacks imagination much as some of his groupings of people do with regard the consequences of Global Warming. Once again we find an appeal for leadership resulting in an eventual appeal for followers. All this has not been working. How can I say this? The census bureau reported in 2012 that approximately 25% of Americans over the age of 18 (the voting age) have a Bachelor’s degree. The colleges awarding this degree all pride themselves on forming and producing “leaders”. So we have a bunch of leaders out there organizing on the basis of finding followers, but not considering themselves to be one of them? That doesn’t work. “Some Occupy members suggest that the movement is not so much leaderless as leaderful— that everyone in the Occupy movement is a leader. That’s a charming move, but the essential point of course is that there is a horizontal, nonhierarchical, and rhizomic quality to the leadership rather than a vertical hierarchy, a party vanguard, or elected or self-proclaimed leaders.” (Political Disobedience by Bernard. E. Harcourt, Critical Inquiry Vol. 39, No. 1, pg. 38) Steubenville was not an anomaly.

Part 2
“If in “painting like a camera” Richter attempts to render the author-function passive – “letting a thing come,” as he put it, “rather than creating it” – the effect, present in Atlas snapshots and the large, mechanically generated abstractions, is intensified in the overpaintings, articulating an ethos of production fundamental to the critical value of Richter’s greater body of work. Here photography, as avatar of the unforeseen outcome, is a radical palimpsest for the artist as a producer outside both ratiocination and imagination, a model for critical art production in its mechanicity, its contingency, and its other-determination. By Richter’s own estimation, “I’m often astonished to find out how much better chance is than I am.” (As Photography: Mechanicity, Contingency, and Other-Determination in Gerhard Richter’s Overpainted Snapshots by Susan Laxton, Critical Inquiry Vol. 38, No. 4, pg. 795). Maybe it’s time to question the actual value (critical or otherwise) of “the artist as a producer outside both ratiocination and imagination”, as a “model for critical art production”. Picasso used to boast of how he and Braque had created camouflage, eventually used by most armies (and now by a lot of fashion). Art, within culture, was not only a determinant and creator of culture but also of political economy. The Suffragette Movement (Feminist), Civil Rights, Chavez’ Farm Workers movement, Black Power and much of the other social organized change referenced by Moyers and Leiserowitz had artists as a major contributor of the movement’s created imaginary (without which the morning after would not have been possible). The artist functioned as a producer within both the ratiocination and imagination of the actual culture and political economy of which she/he was a part, a member. Post Modernism claims that Art has reached its end, no longer functioning within such a role, now independent of its ties to shared ”reality”. Recognizing that machines are creations that in turn also create, artists as diverse as James Brown, Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter (with his machine process of “painting like a camera”) have decided to emulate this mode of creativity. It sells. Considering what Anthony Leiserowitz has to say, one wonders about the value and benefit of being “astonished to find out how much better chance is than I am”. I don’t believe this is the time for “letting a thing come”, “rather than creating it”.

A Tale Of Two Cities

October 13, 2012

We all know about the polarization in contemporary American politics. But could this be symptomatic of a deeper split? Delving into Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire and Multitude, Slavoj Zizek writes:

“This immaterial labor extends between the two poles of intellectual (symbolic) labor (production of ideas, codes, texts, programs, figures: writers, programmers…) and affective labor (those who deal with our physical affects: from doctors to baby sitters and flight attendants). Today, immaterial labor is “hegemonic” in the precise sense in which Marx proclaimed that, in nineteenth-century capitalism, large industrial production is hegemonic as the specific color giving its tone to the totality – not quantitatively, but playing the key, emblematic structural role: “What the multitude produces is not just goods or services; the multitude also and most importantly produces cooperation, communication, forms of life, and social relationships” (HN’s Multitude, pg. 339).  What thereby emerges is a vast new domain, the “common”: shared knowledge, forms of cooperation and communication, and so on, which can no longer be contained by the form of private property. This, then, far from posing a mortal threat to democracy (as conservative cultural critics would have us believe), opens up a unique chance of “absolute democracy”” (The Parallax View, pg. 262)

This is the stuff of MFA graduate schooling with networking, working collaboratively, and so on. Indeed, in his essay entitled Art and Democracy: People Making Art Making People, Peter Weibel writes:

““Art is a form of action,” he [Rothko] wrote, or to be more precise: “Art is not only a form of action it is a form of social action. For art is a type of communication, and when it enters the environment it produces its effects just as any other action does.”” (Making Things Public pg. 1030)

This week the Columbus College of Art and Design (which recently added an MFA program) sent out an invitation for an upcoming event with the following itinerary:

“Saturday, November 10, 2012: Art and Entrepreneurship in the Creative Community

8:00 AM          Check in and complimentary breakfast

9:00 AM          Keynote address: “The Economic Value of the Creative Community,”                                                                                                                                                                                            Bill Strickland, Manchester Bidwell Corporation

10:00 AM        Choose of one session: “Enhancing Your Creative Studio-Life in the Studio,” Rebecca Ibel, Pizzuti Collection; or “Enhancing Your Creative Design Practice – The New Entrepreneur,” Beverly Bethge, Ologie

12:00 PM        Break

1:00 PM          “Understanding the Value of Intellectual Property,”                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Jonathan Politi

2:30 PM          “Management and Leadership – Take Charge Collaboration,”                                                                                                                                                                                              Elaine Grogan Luttrull, Minerva Financial Arts

3:30PM           “Entrepreneurship – Taking Your Creativity to Market,”                                                                                                                                                                                                         Kevin Gadd, Venture Highway

5:30 PM          Open – Studio Reception”

Were not this duality thoroughly engrained in our everyday psyche, were we from another planet (or civilization), we would quickly remark how this is certainly indicative of two completely different states of art having cultural capitals with totally dissimilar polar coordinates.

Why Write?

May 27, 2012

            May 24,2012 AP article by Travis Loller, DNA Study Seeks Origin Of Appalachian Melungeons reports on a “scientific” account of a separated group of Americans. Melungeons, like various other separated groups (“In recent years, it has become a catchall term for people of mixed-race ancestry and has been applied to about 200 communities in the eastern U.S. — from New York to Louisiana.”) strove mightily to distinguish themselves from African ancestry, primarily through creative narratives, historical accounts of their uniqueness. “Estes [Roberta Estes, lead researcher] and her fellow researchers theorize that the various Melungeon lines may have sprung from the unions of black and white indentured servants living in Virginia in the mid-1600s, before slavery. They conclude that as laws were put in place to penalize the mixing of races, the various family groups could only intermarry with each other, even migrating together from Virginia through the Carolinas before settling primarily in the mountains of East Tennessee.” Legal cases (both before and after the elimination of institutionalized ownership of people), intent on establishing distinction, are cited by the article. Ultimately, a present day Melungeon is reported to have paid for three separate DNA tests in order to negate the results of the study. He was very surprised that they all came back the same.

            “Separate but equal” was a big part of the warp and woof of the writers of the Federalist Papers, the framers of the US Constitution, the early legislators and jurists who established our country’s outlook on democracy (and the laws “put in place to penalize the mixing of races”). Property ownership was fundamental to that separation. Every school child knows that the US bicameral legislature came about to reinforce and underwrite the priority and precedence of property ownership within our representative democracy. The recent Citizens United ruling certainly maintains that original intent. The Melungeon myth making allowed folks access to capitalist enterprise that otherwise would have been denied them. On the other hand, Jim Crow laws, in the north as well as in the south, maintained the sanctity of the myth built up around the authors of the Federalist Papers, the US Constitution, and early amendments and laws. “Separate but equal” has never left us.

            In What Was Contemporary Art (ArtMargins vol. 1, issue 1) Octavian Esanu writes about the impact and influence of institutional grants, residencies and fellowships in forming the characteristics and quality of what we’ve come to know and recognize as contemporary art. He describes the role of the Soros Centers for Contemporary Art network as moving art away from the Modern, to the post modern “democratization” of art. Anyone could apply. Those granting the funding were not necessarily practicing or accomplished artists (being instead professional institutional administrators). The end result was Beuys’s, “everyone is an artist.” Esanu describes the funding grants as financial leverage. Although always far short of any kind of individual sustainability, they are used as leverage to form the present day artist entrepreneur (written about too often in this blog). A small amount of financial commitment yields enormous ideological clout. Within American culture and governance, this same outlook could be broadened to include the many “service oriented” involvements meant to address community problems throughout the US. A large bank, energy company, or retailer can boast of its substantial and significant contribution to some food bank or summer camp program. The funding is never large or significant enough to even cover the program’s yearly administrator salary. But the goodwill certainly is leveraged into generating a belief that the capitalist enterprise is genuinely interested in addressing and solving this problem, this need within the community. As Esanu points out to be the case with the SCCA funding, it ultimately creates a “separate but equal” situation within the arts – those generating art independent of any institutional funding, and those reliant on these resources to generate art. “Everyone is an artist.” Within the “service oriented” approach (the one lauded by all the current crop of graduation commencement speakers) the same “separate but equal” culture is promoted and reproduced regarding food, shelter, health care, education and self governance.

            In today’s Newark Advocate (May 27, 2012), Rental Registration Committee Seeking Feedback From Renters, Ann Sudar reports: “An ad-hoc committee is looking for more feedback on the possibility of bringing a rental registration system to Newark [Ohio].” “Although several landlords and property owners attend the meetings to voice their opinions, more participation from those renting properties is needed, said Lesa Best, committee chairwoman.” “Renting properties is one of Newark’s biggest businesses, and more than 42 percent of the city’s housing units are rentals, Best said.” “At the end of each meeting, there is a half-hour session for public comments. About 90 percent of the people who speak at the meetings are landlords, Best said. “I understand we are talking about landlords’ livelihoods, (so) of course they are coming,” she said. “Landlords are vital to the economy of Newark. That’s why we always want their input.” Best said she has not heard many comments from people who are renters. She encouraged more people to attend the meetings.”

            Why write?