The Thorny Authoritarian Issue : Open Thread
First is a response by my Art World Salon colleague András Szántó to the ArtPrize announcement (an effort that includes a huge cash award based on the popularity of artwork made for just that goal, and something we also discussed here back on Monday). In outlining what bothers him about the award that, András noted:
It is, I think, a measure of our confused relationship with art if we believe that the general public is better equipped to judge the work of artists than professional juries or peers. Would we pick heart surgeons this way? Architects? Firemen?[Sidebar: There's is an interesting response to the post by ArtPrize creator Rick DeVos in the comments there that I recommend reading.]
András' sentiment, however, seems (initially at least) to have been challenged by a recent post across the pond by The Guardian's Jonathan Jones:
The strangest fantasy about art in the 21st century is that of the "power" of so-called art world players. If there's one thing I did NOT think about when I first started to write art criticism in the 1990s, it was accumulating power. Surely that's also the last thing art students think about when they are becoming artists.OK, so parsing this somewhat myself, I can see that Jones isn't arguing we shouldn't have authorities judging art so much as we shouldn't elevate them to star status for doing so, and he goes on to write...
And yet, when the outside world talks about contemporary art, it is almost always in terms of power. It honestly seems that all the excitement, all the popularity art generates – so much more electric than the buzz about, say, books – is really about a cult of power and the powerful. Where does it come from, this strange distortion of cultural life?
My theory is that art in our largely liberal and democratic age has become an outlet for dark fantasies of domination. It must be this, because sometimes it is precisely the most liberal types who are most impressed by the myth of "power in the art world". Denying themselves the least hint of authoritarian sentiment when it comes to politics, it is as if these well-intentioned folk indulge an atavistic urge to worship power when they celebrate this or that art dealer or museum director.
I wish people would choose some place other than the art gallery to satiate their dark appetites. Why not go all woozy about stern chefs or really nasty fashion designers, and leave the mystery and delicacy of art alone?[which echoes many of the sentiments offered in response to the art-based reality TV show ideas also discussed in Monday's post]
...so perhaps he actually sides with András.
I fully appreciate the absurdity of the idea that what's popular should automatically be seen as representing "quality," and I strongly advocate for creating an environment in which artists are encouraged to create truly better art. Still, the unfortunate message I think many outside the art world may take away from both the sentiments above is that the masses are there to revere Art, and not to dare to approach anything as offensive to those in power as a sense of ownership.
Perhaps that's OK. Perhaps a sense of ownership should come only after an investment of time and study, and it's the role of those who have done so already to perpetuate the importance of that process. Otherwise we may end up with offerings like "The Cougar" being all that survives to represent our collective culture to future generations.
Consider this an open thread on the role of authoritarianism in the art world.
Labels: open thread