Posts Tagged ‘Warhol’

La Boheme and Warhol

December 27, 2009

            “Good business is the best art” changes the face of art.  The best art for the late 19th, early 20th century was that which offered an alternative to the hierarchical representation of what had been called academic art. If you were any good at that, you would be included. Later, the best art was … art that was expressionist, or non objective, or abstract, or minimal. If you were doing that, you showed. Now, good business is the best art. If it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t show. Ranciere writes that what becomes visible within the visual arts cannot be there unless it has already been included within the distribution of the sensible. The revolutionary aspect of the art of Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, etc. only presented what was already in play because of the social/political upheavals of the 19th century. The many and various opera’s written or presented at this time exemplify this quite nicely. Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme would not have been possible without the previous Parisian upheavals and resultant communes. Much American abstract, non objective, minimalist art of the middle 20th century would not have achieved visibility if it were not for the equalizing imperative put forth by the country’s social movements of the 1930’s through the 60’s. What does this say about the best art of today and its visibility? What does this say about the artists, the makers and doers?

            In La Boheme, Rudolfo describes his poet/artist’s situation as being one of living “in cheerful poverty.” This image, or caricature, of the artist, as living in a loft, scraping to get by, continued well into the late 20th century. Vestiges of it can still be found in TV ads for “Starving Artist” sales at interstate highway motels (“nothing over $50”, the perfect venue for cheap quickies!). Living in cheerful poverty is the last thing any current aspiring artist would want to admit to, let alone be seen as. What is aspired is to be a professional, like a dentist, lawyer, doctor, or engineer. Today’s professional artist must be able to be plunked down anywhere on the planet and produce art, much as an architect or veterinarian would be able to function. The economics of such mobility implicates business acumen, for without it there is no globalization. Louis Armstrong may have been described as America’s goodwill ambassador during the cold war but this was only because, at the time, such a performance schedule wouldn’t exactly have been described as good business. Having a great paying, steady gig in Vegas, LA, or New York would have been. The difference of note between La Boheme and Warhol is not that of economic status, of poverty or wealth. Rather, it is difference itself. It is the status or place of alterity. La Boheme embodies an alternate imaginary and considers its possibilities, outcomes, consequences, sustainability, viability, value and worth. There is an “other” to what is the presumed or accepted status quo (just as Armstrong’s art provided an alternative). With Warhol, there is no alterity. All is simply subject to the studied principles of good business. “Good business is the best art.” Bad business, or no business, is no art at all.

            There is another, even more subtle undertow here. One that sheds light on the best art of today more than it does on its producers. It could be said that Rudolfo embraces an idealistic positivism. Warhol, on the other hand, embraces a pragmatic positivism. Is art just about maintaining a positive attitude? That rich or poor, it really doesn’t matter as long as the art embodies a cheerful outlook? Maintaining a positive presentation is fundamental to marketing. Such art would not be visible (as the best art) if it weren’t for the dominant omnipresence of marketing over the past half century.

Good business is the best art.

December 20, 2009

            An acquaintance stopped in to visit. He was in the states from Tokyo where he is living, studying Japanese and traditional wood block print making.  The few prints he brought to show were gorgeous, a step up from what I had seen the last time he was by. We talked of what life in Tokyo is like. I asked about the art scene, whether he was showing anywhere. He looked at me quizzically. He couldn’t afford to show, he said. In addition to paying a hefty commission if the works sell, the individual artist must pay the gallery in order to show. Few artists can afford that, he said. Like in the states, most producing artists work at some day job. In Japan, art, as an avocation, is seen more as a “hobby” than as a calling or occupation. People produce, they just don’t show. Only the “recognized,” successful artists show. Here in the states, there is an entire population of art producers, who consider themselves artists, hidden in plain site. They show, extensively at that, from community organized events and co op galleries, small “for profit” gallery venues to larger, not for profit juried exhibitions that have corralled upscale venues like art museums and public buildings. The “recognized,” successful artists are never seen in conjunction with this shadow contingent, never shown on the same stage. Their light shines too bright.

            I suspect that all may be changing in the direction of the Japanese model. I was considering a recent “call for entries,” you know, the application that is the first step for the unrecognized to get their work “out there”. The “call” application specifies the entry fee for consideration, the commission terms of the gallery/event, as well as the criteria by which work to be included will be selected. This “call” was put out by a “not for profit” community arts organization. They have just completed building a new arts center in their upscale suburb. Now they would like to line up showings and events for this building’s main gallery and adjacent spaces. There was a new criteria for selection included that I had never seen before, at least not with a not for profit sanctioned show like this. The application wanted to know whether the prospective artist will supply marketing resources, and if so, how much and what kind.

            This just in: The celebrated art school in an adjacent city (with a century of experience) has just announced they will be offering an MFA program in the upcoming year. Part of the required curriculum is, you guessed it, courses in marketing. “Good business is the best art.”

            Warhol’s imperial grip on 21st century American visual culture can best be summarized in his oft repeated quote: “Making money is art, and working is art, and good business is the best art.” Aligned with the market centered, market driven political economy of the last 10 years, it is no wonder that BFA programs now shepherd aspiring artists in the intricacies of business management and entrepreneurship, and MFA programs are now poised to hone their marketing skills. Is it too early to speculate on Warhol’s place in art history? Could it just be possible, even probable, that Warhol will follow the same course as Social Realism did in the states of the former Soviet Union? After all, those works and that style maintained a hegemony on visual art for some 50 years primarily because of their intimate affiliation with the political economy of that time. Portraying the best art as good business promotes the same sort of social engineering agenda that portraying larger than life stereotypes as citizen worker heroes does. There is a distribution of sense in both that restricts the capacity of imagination and restrains its expression. What could post Warhol visual art be like? Dare we even imagine it?