Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Disconnect Between Art and Life

I've been thinking a good deal about this idea the past few months: that art is not reflecting life. I've wondered whether or not it was simply my aversion to the mountains of pointless, truly dreadful political "art" being served up in response to 9/11, Iraq, global warming, etc. Or perhaps it's my aversion to the truly insightful political art being served up in response to 9/11, Iraq, global warming, etc.

I've never considered myself an escapist, but I have realized that I've limited my outrage about how screwed up things are at the moment to certain contexts (like blogs, or debates over margaritas, or studio visits). The rest of the time, I've simply gotten on with things. (UPDATE: OK, so I've gone on marches, and worked to get out the vote, and voted myself, but I mean really put my money and effort where my rage is...it's not proportionate at all).

Perhaps suggesting only synchronicity (but I suspect suggesting an open dialog on the topic) critics Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz have both recently commented on the link (or lack there of) between art and life.

Smith:
The link between art and life is a given, but its configuration can vary. The
connection may be roundabout and hidden, or direct and fully exposed — like a live wire. That’s when things start to sizzle.
Saltz:
There’s a new psycho-social space, mainly American, that increasing numbers of artists are probing. Painter Charlene von Heyl has put it this way: "While almost everything in the outer world feels messed-up our inner lives aren’t altogether messed-up." This paradoxical disconnect is neither a state of denial nor one of enlightenment. It is extremely palpable, however, and may help explain why so many Americans are taking prescribed psychoactive drugs when, really, they’re only having reasonable reactions to the echo chamber of information and images that reduces everything to a squalid pseudo-narrative of garbage. Whatever’s happened, Robert Rauschenberg’s famous "gap between art and life" has turned into a new vividly dissonant gap between inner and outer life.
Peter Sloterdijk offered an exhaustive (and exhausting) examination of why this disconnect exists in his 1983 tome "Critique of Cynical Reason." Focused on what he calls "enlightened false consciousness," Sloterdijk explained how sensibilities changed after the 1960-70's (when the collective belief had been "you can change the world"). His argument (grossly paraphrased) is that some point after the 70's, it sank in that knowing things are screwed up isn't the same as being able to fix them, that it's impossible to continue to fight the good fight endlessly. Life itself interupts such efforts (bills must be paid, children must be raised, sleep must be had).

Sloterdijk asserted that we settled for a sensibility in which we're “well off and miserable at the same time,” able to function in the workaday world even though we're still aware that so much of what's going on is wrong. We have comfortable SUVs that carry us to comfortable homes with a whole arsenal of comfortable distractions. If we stop to think about the civil war in Iraq or the genocide in Dafur or global warming, we're enlighted just enough to know what stand to take, but we're simply not able (willing?) to devote our entire lives to changing them.

But that enlightened arena...that's where Art is supposed to thrive (because that's where the "truth" lies). This disconnect is actually more problematic to my mind than escapism, which at least admits it's given up the fight. I'd argue more strongly that it's wrong, but, you see, I have a million things to get done today.

UPDATE: Hmmm...amazing what a jolt of java will do to help one realize you're not making sense. Re-reading this, I see that I've equated making art with activism. Not my intended message. Perhaps what I meant (who knows if I don't, eh?) is that maybe art (the art Saltz is critiquing) actually IS reflecting life, in that we're very much living in that state of enlightened false consciousness it seems to be exploring. Whether that's good or not may be beside the point.

30 Comments:

Anonymous bnon said...

If you expressed this "disconnect" in political philosophy, something I know just enough about to mangle, couldn't you say that it's the conflict between the interests of the individual and the group? By which I mean, each person's conflicting desire to help others and look after the group in general or to look after one own interests. Is solving the disconnect making a choice between some form of socialism and free-market capitalism?

To put it in artist's jargon instead of philosophical cant, it's a struggle between form and content, formalism versus engagement with the world and people, Duchamp versus Norman Rockwell, to exaggerate it to the max.

Last unrelated thought. There's a hint of piety in Saltz and Smith that I don't really like, although I can't put my finger on it, either. I could be the insistence on politics I think I sense. Ed, I prefer your insistence on truth, which seems like a little more open-minded pov.

11/29/2006 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Is solving the disconnect making a choice between some form of socialism and free-market capitalism?

That is a fascinating (and to my mind highly probable) analysis, bnon. The rise of free-market capitalism (against Communism/Socialism) has paralled the rise in enlightened false consciousness. Capitalism, as currently practised, is so indistinguishable from materialism (which erodes the soul, IMO) that the two might as well be considered one, and while capitalism enhances room for freedom of thought (so long as one can resist the barrage of messages posing as one's own thoughts), it shifts the focus to the needs of the invidiual to the exclusion of anyone else to such a degree that, even as an individualist, I'm generally alarmed and offended. (IMO, individualism is not about "Me" ... it's about you and you and you and you and me.)

There's a hint of piety in Saltz and Smith that I don't really like, although I can't put my finger on it, either.

I had the same thought, I must admit. I assumed it was a nostalgia-driven sense of how things should be. Although that strikes me as bit ungenerous. I look forward to more of their thoughts on this topic.

11/29/2006 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Bnon:
>>>>it's a struggle between form >>>>>and content

Right. And I was going along a similar sentiment earlier in that other thread when I meant to separate aesthetic with communication.


To me art is entertainment (oooh...aaahh....) much more than it is communication. I'm definitely an escapist. If I read a love poem I'm interested in the ways that it's being spread out, right? Not quite...Not "exactly" the essence. Hmmm....

Because frankly a love poem or any other artistic endeavours is all but fla-fla when you can just go and tell right in the neck of people that you luv them.

Honestly, what piece of paper prose in the world could be better than the warm human whispering close to one's ear? "I luvvv youuu..".


Incidentally I think the same of political art. The real stand occurs when you take actions, the rest remains opinions that you are merely "embellishing" or making more "solemn", like earning a school diploma (paradoxical for cases when you're Beuys planting 7000 trees, but...).

Communications, right? Yeah well don't kid me, that's entertainment. And I actually love IT !!! You wanna know why? Cos I'm having a blast !! Because it's real darn FUN!. Yes !! Even when it makes me cry to bleeding tears or makes me seriously consider to think about the harsh problems in this world, it's always presented in a form aimed to entice my pleasure, either intellectual or visual or visceral or lyrical or... any sentiment that hedonism can borrow (including pain). That's mostly what art does to me.

Even when art tries to bring me back into the real there is a distance, it's a theatre, I'm at a gallery or in a cinema or watching Burden nail himself down or reality tv. If I use art to soothe me when I'm sick or depressed it's still escapism, i'm replacing pharmaceutics. I really see art as a form of thinking or senses-tingling pleasure (questioning the (ethic of) tagging of "art" in the case of strict documentaries) and frankly guilt should not be forcefed to escapists but to those who are truly making the outside world into a nightmare that really has no reason to take place.


Cheers.

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

(now I sound like the most superficial being on earth but please consider seriously the reasons you fell back into art in the first place)

(...or you might say it's because you aren't able to express yourself in the real but...oh..you're actually bored by the way it's done in the real, darling, you're just being eccentric on me)

11/29/2006 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

what piece of paper prose in the world could be better than the warm human whispering close to one's ear? "I luvvv youuu..".

Depends on the person, I'd say.

I can't reconcile these ideas, though, Cedric...help please:

Communications, right?

and

I really see art as a form of thinking

How does one "think" about the world around him/her in any meaninful way without communication tools?

11/29/2006 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous bnon said...

Cedric, I think you're saying that one of the fundamental things art must do is give pleasure. This can often be at odds with communicating something, I suppose.

Ed, do you have an opinion on the relation between truth and the giving of pleasure in art? It seems to me that when one recognizes truth in art, what one most gets from it is...pleasure. I guess I'd contrast pleasure with moral enlightentment, which reminds me of Saltz. His often seems to be saying that we shoud pay attention to art because it can improve us, which is kind of churchy, and, to me, a little off-putting.

11/29/2006 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous bnon said...

PS I don't think I understand the idea of "enlightened false consciousness" very well. It's also very hard to type.

11/29/2006 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

enlightened false consciousness

Here's how Sloterdijk defines it:

"It is that modernized, unhappy consciousness, on which enlightenment has labored both successfully and in vain. It has learned its lessons in enlightenment, but it has not, and probably was not able to, put them into practice. Well-off and miserable at the same time, this consciousness no longer feels affected by any critique of ideology; its falseness is already reflexively buffered."

which may not be any clearer, I realize. My personal-use intepretation goes like this:

The Enlightenment was a collective push to "connect"...that is to see how everything affects everything else, and how one's own actions affect other people. To become conscious of the repercussions of one's actions and, perhaps more than that, of the way things "really are" by looking for "truth" through logic and the continuous search for knowledge...not burying one's head in the sand or accepting mythology or superstition. Reaching that level of consciousness was supposed to improve the world because armed with such knowledge, it was assumed, people would make the right choices and work to prevent/stop the wrong ones.

"False" in this sense means not being true to one's convictions. Being false to one's self. One knows the war in Iraq is wrong and should be stopped, but one doesn't actively work to stop it because one accepts one can't or one simply is overwhelmed by the task or one simply can't be bothered because, really, there will be another crisis tomorrow too, and when do I get to enjoy life?

11/29/2006 11:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

knowing things are screwed up isn't the same as being able to fix them

Agreed. Though in keeping with the definition of "enlightened false consciousness" above, I might have said, "knowing things are screwed up isn't the same as trying to fix them."

Humans are basically lazy and egotistical. People want to believe that they can sit in their bedrooms and end world hunger by scrawling something silly on a piece of posterboard, rather than, say, going to Africa and getting rid of the monomaniacal lunatics who run the countries there. People want to think that making an ironic image of an American flag is somehow going to guarantee liberty.

Capitalism and individualism are best guarantors of liberty we've got. If you hate the Patriot Act, what's your other choice? If humans are lazy and egotistical, then authoritarian systems like socialism and fascism rely on both [leaders being egotistical, the followers being lazy at first, then frightened later]. At least capitalism rewards non-laziness.

And people want to believe that by creating or purchasing unnecessary superficial aesthetic objects they are actually solving the world's problems, or worse, that by just thinking about the world's problems -- i.e., engaging in "communication" about them -- they are earning bonus points for signaling their morality to others. Egotism can come dangerously close to narcissism.

Which brings us to the Enlightenment, which was a way of applying "reason" to the world's problems. This doesn't imply science, but more like ideology. It wasn't about "connecting," but about trying to solve problems by thinking about them and crafting logically-sound solutions for them, whether those solutions were applicable to the real world or not. It was great for promoting thought, but it engendered all the ideological battles of the 19th and 20th centuries. Over time capitalism and science will chip away at ideology and "pure reason," but the change will be generational.

11/29/2006 11:54:00 AM  
Anonymous bnon said...

So, does enlightened false concsiousness mean: we know better but go on ignoring the world's ills? It would make more sense to me if it was called "false enlightened consciousness."

And what does Sloterdijk suggest we do? Yes, it's occured to me that it's wrong to just go on taking care of oneself and those close to one. But I often think of the advice they give you on airplanes: place the oxygen mask over your own face before you help others. I imagine I'd have to myself even before one of my children, and more important, that it would be the correct thing to do.

This may be a rationalization, but it seems to me that it's government's role to worry about these things (even as it's the role of citizens to vote for representative who will do the greatest good). I personally am ill-equipped to help people, but I'd be happy to have my taxes doubled if people who were good at helping people could actually do so.

11/29/2006 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

[The Enlightenment] wasn't about "connecting," but about trying to solve problems by thinking about them and crafting logically-sound solutions for them, whether those solutions were applicable to the real world or not.

I would argue that it's the same thing (already have, actually).

Capitalism and individualism are best guarantors of liberty we've got.

Hmmm...I think you can argue that that assertion is a form of laziness, though, Henry. Not searching for a better guarantor (one less reliant on materialism, perhaps some more humane, more workable combination of socialistic/capitalistic ideals) strikes me as having given up to a large degree. Even Fukuyama seems to be re-assessing (or at least admitting confusion on the matter) as to whether neoconservativism (the notion that we're morally obligated [if only to perpeuate Capitalism] to go "to Africa and getting rid of the monomaniacal lunatics who run the countries there") isn't inherently flawed.

I like to believe Capitalism is a means toward an even better means, not an end itself. Finding that better means remains humanity's obligation, IMO.

11/29/2006 12:12:00 PM  
Anonymous bnon said...

henry said, "Capitalism and individualism are best guarantors of liberty we've got"

But isn't liberalism, in the older, more general Enlightenment sense, our best protector? It relies on principles and laws, and not the vagaries of the individual's ability to act on his or her own self-interest or the market's tendency to reward one person over another. That happiness is possible for a large number of people in the US doesn't mean that there aren't huge numbers of people in distress--and that's just here.

11/29/2006 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don’t have the text with me, but I immediately thought of Georges Perec’s Things when I read this entry. Perec writes about a sincere love of objects (things) which I have always thought was what Rauschenberg was talking about in his quote “Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two).” I don’t think Rauschenberg was trying to make a direct comment on capitalism and consumer waste, but his work certainly alludes to such. I think he loved the abundance of things he could easily collect and arrange – his work does not feel like activism – it is reactionary – practically abstract expressionism with objects! Activism is the bi-product of our own revelatory awareness to disturbing living habits.

What happens to my old tires when I replace them? I guess could hide them in the landfill – or I could just dump in the street for a young Rauschenberg to find and make a composition…

I would argue that anything made by humans, besides babies, is in the gap between art and life. After all, art is made of things (usually), inspired by things (maybe people too), but exists always out of its physicality as something that is, well, art. What was I saying?

So that gap between art and life is actually filled with a lot of consumer goods, but different goods than Rauschenberg had. We have ipods and PLASTIC, lots of it. Some of it doesn’t even last very long because it is biodegradable. Objects are very tech, futuristic (in an 80s sort of way), but not modern any more.

I think many artists these days (myself included) are replacing the guilt we feel for being a human with art making, because for some odd reason it still feels good to make things out of things.

ivin

11/29/2006 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

for some odd reason it still feels good to make things out of things

The motto of the post-post-modernist. Nice comment Ivin!

11/29/2006 02:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Edward:
>>>How does one "think" about the >>>world around him/her in any >>>meaninful way without >>>>communication tools?


The misunderstanding is that I never said art wasn't communication, I just claim it is something else "right before" it is communication, and when I say "thinking pleasure" (or intellectual pleasure), than I only mean one of the ways that art can entice but it can be enticing in totally different levels where thinking is not much involved.

If I am the presidetn of a country and I absolutely NEED to COMMUNICATE something I will do a speech. If I do art there is interference at play in what I want to communicate, I am taking a detour.

It's basically like saying that art will likely never hold the monopole on thinking against philosophy (since the Plato accusation it already proved its limits in the field). It is more a lieu, a place where philosophical ideas can be experimented in forms that are meant to titillate or entertain the process of thinking, which often occurs at an extra-aesthetic level that moves beyond the art.

If art was merely communication, than all art planning to communicate the same things would be oh-so-great. But that's not the way we've been evaluating art. We're looking at something else, we're evaluating the ways it can entice us to think through "pleasure" or something similat to pleasure whatever you want to call it. Thinking yes, but thinking as a form of pleasure.

Besides, they are other fields in universities where the real thinking is supposed to happen.

Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

11/29/2006 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Art is "tools" for communication, but it's like saying a fork is a tool for eating, but oh please buy me a Philippe Starck.


Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

(besides a vast majority of art reserve the right to free-thinking (free-interpretation) before they claim having a precise one-way message to communicate)

11/29/2006 04:53:00 PM  
Blogger onesock said...

Yes great comment Ivin!
I always thought there is something more to the idea of "making art out of things" other than just a Duchampian tactic. I mean that tactic is valid and I am all for it but added to that is this idea you are touching on that there is all this STUFF around. One can either add more stuff to the world or just rearrange what is already there.

If there is an underlying guilt i dont know, but i like the idea of applying psychology to the analysis. It just seemed clear to me when I stopped painting a while back and started using things that were just lying around that THAT was a way to re-engage with life somewhat. None of it is revolutionary but it certainly is a reaction to a sense of powerlessness in the world. We are inundated by things and sounds and smells and ideas. Artists, formed by society, make whatever feeble attempt to turn that relationship around -even if we are deluding ourselves - and make things happen in the world.
I often ask myself what will happen when my grandchildren or great grandchildren ask me what was i doing while Iraq happened, while Darfur happened, while Rwanda happened, while global warming happened. All i will have to show them is this stuff i make and ,knowing full well that it is not what they will be hoping for , i hope that it will enlighten as much for what it isnt as it does for what it is.

11/29/2006 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous eleventh hour said...

I'm not convinced that art and communication are different. there are an infinite number of ways to communicate, few of which connect people in a larger sense, i mean that there is no universal language. pictures alone are one of our most fundamental modes of communication. even if the message is not always clear, the struggle to communicate has an extremely deep connection to life.

11/29/2006 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

To look at oneself is different from self-awareness. And any act of looking at self in a democracy is political:

1. The act of individual self-awareness in the absence of a political issue (ie, Tim Hawkinson) is political. It's priviledging the actions of a self-aware, existential, thinking body in space; priviledging the individual's role in a democracy; preparing individuals for individualistic thought. Tim Hawkinson is a great example because he has an enormous body of self-exploratory work that is readily accessible to people who do not have an art background. He gets people to think about their selves on many different levels.

How can you think about yourself as powerful without this sustained looking at self?

2. The act of refusing self-awareness (ie, Dash Snow, ie the flurry of pretty things or adolescent things that pervades Chelsea right now) is also political. It is accepting one's role in the hegemony, making art a diversion for the rich, sealing the pact that makes art nothing more than a commodity and an insider's game.

Dash Snow and George W. Bush are essentially the same person... but they are doing very different jobs. I know that Dash Snow has no direct responsibility for the middle east or anything... but IMO they are both potent symbols of Total Domination Of The Rich.

3. And the act of making propaganda (ie political art with an activist agenda) is also a political act. It is telling people what to think, and so I would generally call that well-intentioned fascism.

11/29/2006 06:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

isn't liberalism, in the older, more general Enlightenment sense, our best protector? It relies on principles and laws, and not the vagaries of the individual's ability to act on his or her own self-interest or the market's tendency to reward one person over another.

Yes and no. One must have rational standards, one must protect individual(!) rights, and so on -- anarchy is not on the table here -- but in Barry Goldwater's words, a government powerful enough to give you what you want is powerful enough to take it away. It's a delicate balance between people and government. Individuals must always have power over their destiny. I believe that a large group of unrelated individuals will make better choices in the long run than a small group of close colleagues can make on others' behalf.

Milton Friedman recognized that there are four ways to spend money, using either my money or strangers' money, on either myself or on other strangers. Capitalism relies on the fact that people will spend their own money most wisely on good-quality items for themselves, and governments will always spend strangers' money least wisely on bad-quality items for other strangers. You can extend this argument to a certain extent to other human interactions.

I would argue that it's the same thing (already have, actually).

I guess it depends on whether you think the Enlightenment was a period of history, in which wealthy educated white European gentlemen gently solved the problems of the world by writing lengthy philosophical treatises with seemingly-logical but never-tested assertions, or whether you think it's still the evolving modern political spirit which guides us today. Frankly I thought it was a historical era which ended with the rise of scientific methods, speedy intercontinental travel, photography and instantaneous electronic communications.

Hmmm...I think you can argue that that assertion is a form of laziness, though, Henry. Not searching for a better guarantor (one less reliant on materialism, perhaps some more humane, more workable combination of socialistic/capitalistic ideals) strikes me as having given up to a large degree.

I never said it's the best we'll ever have, I said it's the best "we've got," a position you apparently agree with anyway:

Capitalism is a means toward an even better means, not an end itself.

Ultimately either individuals have power, or small groups have power. Maybe someday we'll find a way for everyone to have equal power, but it will evolve forward from capitalism, not backward through authoritarianism or oligarchy. When you talk about humanity's obligation to "find better means," I believe one must solve the world's problems with the active participation of the world's individuals, and the benefit of competition to validate those solutions, or one is going down the path of authoritarianism. If we evolve beyond capitalism eventually, then hurray for us, but we mustn't go backward.

And I'll also warn you to heed the story of Procrustes.

11/29/2006 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger marseye said...

Art reflecting life? For a moment,
take a mirror to tis question.....
? Life reflecting art.
What now if these few words could change the sense of our world?
I personally can see and feel more
depth, in all those living, our manner speaks and spells our future. Awareness brings us closer to the place for which we use our talents. Concousness wakes our intelligence to touch that with respect. Enlightinment shines through difficulty in growth, and the truth in all actions will be revealed. So isnt it always better to be a beautiful individual? And all craft we do, logically and well. Art will once again reflect the love of life. And Edward, my guess is, your life is reflecting art. Thank you.

11/29/2006 09:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Young bourgeois men and women make most of the contemporary art we see in Chelsea today. Everything is about and looks the same. Maybe 1 in 100 understand where they come from and consciously go further than communicating their experience.

Most are living in permanent adolescence.

11/30/2006 12:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

I would re-word the sentence that art is not reflecting life to art is privelidging a point of view that is unsatisfying and only makes claims to universality through tenuous means. In chelsea you witness the fruits of academic achievement. I suspect to Saltz and a host of others, seriuosly challenging ideas havent emerged from America (or anywhere else) since the 60s. And the current vastness of the artworld is the morphing of art as religion into art as entertainment. Maybe its just harder now to spot the good stuff.

11/30/2006 01:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

eleventh:
>>>I'm not convinced that art and >>>>communication are different.

I'm sort of trying to cancel out this equation by pointing at that art can be something other than communication, and also by pointing out the detours and language (aesthetics) that it takes and the paradoxes they can lead to cognitively.

Most art is communication, even self-communication. I just don't like the equation art = communication. In many cases I don't think communication is being optimized. I need the goddamn press release to understand it, so what is reaally the point of doing it? What is the artist truly after?

Can I make art that truly means to NOT communicate? Can I intendedly be obscure, hermetic, abstract, and have it really be that?


I love this idea of permanent adolescence. I think a lot about art has to do with bleaching your hairs green or blue and showing off.

A lot of it is self-obsessed.


Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

11/30/2006 01:53:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

The best art (for me) is pillow talk, shared intimacies, and I don't mean that sexually. Studies of the brain have shown that we experience the greatest pleasure with the new, not radically new, just new enough to be unexpected. And that also is what we expect from art - the unexpected that was of course so obvious shared with us visually.

I try not to beat myself up over the condition of the world. Part of our awareness issue is that now we know what's happening everywhere. Darfur, villages in Iraq, Pakistan, northern Ireland, fair trade for coffee beans in Africa, you get the picture. There are so many issues and an awareness of so many issues that it is almost paralyzing. I do truly believe that the best way to make the world a better place is to be the best person you can be - and that includes donating time, money, thought to causes which mean most to you.

11/30/2006 11:41:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

To look at oneself is different from self-awareness. And any act of looking at self in a democracy is political:

It's possible to look at anything from a political perspective, but I don't think that makes it political. If everything that can be looked at politically is political, then what isn't? If everything is, the word becomes meaningless.

11/30/2006 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

It's possible to look at anything from a political perspective, but I don't think that makes it political. If everything that can be looked at politically is political, then what isn't? If everything is, the word becomes meaningless.

OK, let me clarify.

Art is an expression of the power to do nothing--the power to be abstract, the power to be useless, the power to do/think about something other than survival, the power to be self aware, the power to create meaning. Because art is a throughly bankrolled, full-on codified expression of these specific kinds of intellectual power, it is inherently political in a very real way. Who gets to think and create meaning? Who gets to "get it"?

The question for the artist becomes:

How do I wield my intellectual capital as an artist?

IMO, to not use this power (make art that turns away from life, in the parlance of this post) is to make an expressly political pro-hegemonic decision. And to use this power to tell people what to think is to make propaganda.

And to give people things to think about is, in my opinion, the wisest and most democratic use of artistic capital. A thinking populace rules its leaders thoughtfully.

11/30/2006 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

f6: And the act of making propaganda (ie political art with an activist agenda) is also a political act. It is telling people what to think, and so I would generally call that well-intentioned fascism ... to use this power to tell people what to think is to make propaganda.

But what if the activist agenda in question is to promote the ideal of non-injury (e.g., in the example of anti-war art), is this still fascist? Doesn't authoritarianism require that "telling people what to think" be backed up by the threat of violent force? Even coercion carries with it the threat of violence. Denunciations of militaristic oppression are anathema to fascism.

Also, what if the "activist's agenda" is to educate, or raise awareness of an issue (as most so-called political/activist art seeks to do)? Are you now saying that pedagogy is the same as propaganda, and, according to your line of reasoning, fascist?

Fish, you must have a rather nuanced definition of what it means for an artist to have an "activist agenda," because I still don't see how you can reconcile these comments with your advocation of work by groups like the Yes Men.

11/30/2006 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Perhaps it is nuanced... perhaps the Yes Men are nuanced. The Yes Men are not telling you what to think.

Do the Yes Men have a point of view? Sure. Are they mining the WTO and CNN for material? Absolutely. Are the Yes Men a good place to find out more about what the WTO does?

NOOOOOOOOOO! Because The Yes Men are lying and fabricating and making art! If you believed what the Yes Men told you about the WTO, you would believe the man in the gold penis suit and poopburgers!

Honestly, I have tried this... show The Yes Men movie to a room full of ninteen-year-old accounting majors and make them write a paper. They will all get it--they will understand the prank of it, the representation issue, how easy it is to simulate someone else's identity, the amazingness that they get away with it, how it works across social spaces (they will be particularly interested in moving from a faceless webpage representation to the high stakes of an actual conference)

They totally get it as art.

Then ask them to tell you what the WTO is and what it does, and what the Yes Men's relationship to it is. They cannot tell you, and will often guess incorrectly that the Yes Men are pro-WTO. I don't understand this one... but it's true in my limited experience.

Then ask them what larger issues it brought up for them. They will talk about inequality, their credit cards, how small they feel in relationship to the capitalist machine... how cool it is that these men made themselves so much bigger and more powerful than they really are.

See, so even though they don't get any of the WTO content, these students almost to an individual get the deeper meaning of what the Yes Men are doing and can quickly apply it to their own lives.

I would definitely argue that The Yes Men work on that existential, intellectual level that art is so good at and ask the viewer to think--and that they do not waste much time at all in a didactic/activist stance, and that this is what makes their art so good. Does their work have an activist side effect? Does it mobilize and inspire activism? Are The Yes Men activists in their lives? Sure!

But they are not the same as Billionaires for Bush. They are not doing street theatre... they are pulling off a much more sophisticated Eleanor Antin trick of actually becoming that which they despise, over many mediums, and doing so in an absolutely empowering, transcendent, meaning-creating way.

11/30/2006 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Young bourgeois men and women make most of the contemporary art we see in Chelsea today. Everything is about and looks the same. Maybe 1 in 100 understand where they come from and consciously go further than communicating their experience.

Most are living in permanent adolescence.


++++I forgot to signed++++

mls

12/01/2006 08:26:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Most are living in permanent adolescence.

I assume that my adolescence could end at any moment, so I'm trying to make the most of it.

12/01/2006 12:11:00 PM  

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