Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brass in Pocket : Open Thread

In response to yesterday's thread, a commenter wrote:
I moved out of the US and found better opportunities as an artist elsewhere. The artist/collector divide is so wide also because in the US the collector is like the lifeline that artists deeply resent to have to depend on. In a way, I think there is a big lie that post-war american art has posited, that art is somehow "autonomous". It is not. It is circumscribed to contexts and it fits into a political and economic paradigm.

One the one hand it does appear that collectors - the ones who basically feed the successful artists who sell their work for a living - make seemingly bizarre choices for picking artist A and B to patronize. On the other hand, there is math - there are only so many collectors, and frankly, there are what, 300,000 artists in New York or something (that's what it feels like).

On a personal level I feel that the object-based model (artist makes object, collector buys object), leaves something away from the experience. Art needs to re-enter life and to affect people at large as gestures, as life choices, NOT just as objects. "Art" is too concentrated in the small confines of the artworld and let's face it, not everyone will fit that mold. "Art" needs to step out of its specialness and to re-enter the world as something more mundane.
I've been hearing sentiments like this for some time. It was a fairly common refrain during #class, and at least a few of our artists have expressed similar ideas to me as well. But somehow, I resist it. Not sure why. One knee-jerk (meaning, taking no time to consider seriously) answer would be that it's not profitable, but very little about many of the projects we support are profitable, so I sincerely don't think that's it.

I suspect, though, that this sentiment (art as experience, art as life choice, art as noncommercial) is correct for certain artists and not at all for others. Meaning, that art might need to step out of its "special," object-based model for some artists to feel good about their practice, but that other artists would feel lost if they took that approach. The object-based model is right for them.

And so I'm torn. I appreciate that the number of people for whom art is important could be larger, but I think some of that is where I reside (in the United States). Art does seem more important to people in some other countries. I also appreciate that much of Modern and contemporary art is seen as purposely difficult or transgressive (a legacy of the avant garde's success), as opposed to reassuring and easy, but we already have a thriving, if not virtually suffocating, pop culture. Art-like offerings for the masses are hardly in short supply.

But the part of that statement I keep coming back to when thinking about it (and I do appreciate the commenter's sharing it) is this:
"Art" needs to step out of its specialness and to re-enter the world as something more mundane.
I'm truthfully not sure what that means. I guess I'm not sure at what point "Art" was ever "mundane." Even if you consider folk art or the craft-oriented objects created by nomadic tribes and such (groups with no means to store/preserve their treasures as we do in museums), it seems to me that these things were always something "special." The ceremonial headdress wasn't worn every day, but carefully packed away for special occassions...the good earthenware, too, was reserved for holidays. I know art was once meant to impress vast numbers of people (back when it was only lords, or kings, or popes who could commission it), and perhaps in that sense (its power to awe the masses) it was intentionally created with wider appeal, but none of that accounts for the idea of being "mundane."

And yet, I hear echoes of that all the time. "Art is too elite. Art needs to be accessible to more people. Art should be something everyone can afford." But that sounds like previous calls for wider television or internet access to my ear. That sounds like we're attempting to reduce art to just another channel for information distribution, rather than some vessel for a hard-fought battle to transcend the mundane.

I don't know...I guess I have enough mundaneness in my life already. Consider this an open thread on whether or not art should be special.

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21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been noted on posts here the last few months this idea of the swelling number of artists and the swelling number of people attending art school, yet when I think back on my tenure in art school 10 years ago and what my fellow classmates are doing now, I do feel that a big part of the reason more people are attending art school is because there are more creative professions for which this type of education would be advantageous-- web designers, animators, graphic arts of all kinds, fashion designers, and until recently, even architecture, interiors, furniture design, t-shirt making, letterpress card shops, etc., etc., etc., and the number of these creative professions keeps swelling as blogs, youtube, social networking, etc. keep growing.
Many of my art school classmates have taken advantage of these creative fields and are doing well and being creative, but what they are doing in these fields is distinctively different from creating art. None of them feel that what they are doing is creating art, but for many of them, being an artist for art's sake was never really the goal.

So this idea of expanding art, making it mundane, I wonder how you can accomplish that and still call what you are doing art? Simply doing away with object making won't accomplish it, in fact, to me that makes art less accessible.

It seems like increasing art accessibility and education would be better ways of expanding the role of art. I think in the accessibility arena, the US has a different challenge than Europe or other countries simply because of it's shear size-- meaning that it's easy to make art accessible somewhere that is densely populated like NY or LA, but in smaller cities or communities, it is hard to get the critical mass and funding to make quality art and art education readily available.

5/11/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Great topic, Ed! I really enjoy your posts. I was also wondering about this comment yesterday when I read it, and now you give us an opportunity to discuss!

I think there are a few issues here, and it's hard to know exactly what the poster meant initially, but you are also mentioning this topic comes up in other occasions. I ask myself the same questions, am looking for answers too.

First: it seems the poster moved out of the US in order to be less dependent on collectors, to be depending more on government-based sponsorship for art? Otherwise, I doubt there is any other country with such a vast private-collector based art sponsorship as in the US, which is the reason why NY is still the Mecca for artists from all over the world.

Second: I doubt it is only collectors that make the choices about who to sponsor. Many or most collectors, or rather as many call them 'investors', base their purchasing decisions on the recommendations of 'experts' such as critics/advisers/curators/dealers/other artists etc.. so, the resentment mentioned before is probably felt towards this whole army not only the collectors.

Thirdly, regarding art stepping out of specialness, and being not just object based - there are a few issues here. I believe art that is not object-based already exists today, in a way taking a philosophical role that is similar to the one religion took in the past, and in a way continuing the close connection between art-spirituality-religion of past generations. This type of art is mainly sponsored by government institutions, non-profit, or private sponsors (like galleries, who make no profit from sponsoring it, although there are exceptions). In that sense, art "stepping out of it's specialness" means it becoming more missionary, reaching out to the masses, proliferating it's message.

The other issue is what Ed mentioned "I hear echoes of that all the time. "Art is too elite. Art needs to be accessible to more people. Art should be something everyone can afford."" that is a question of education and openness, IMO. We are living in a culture that appreciates and sponsors, as you mention, pop culture, but part of the reason for that is the inaccessibility of art to the public. People are used to see it in museums or as reproductions while there are masses of talented artists producing original, brilliant art, and starving for bread. If there was more awareness and more support for emerging artists, the market would grow and thrive, and transcending the mundane by experiencing art will not only remain a privilege of the wealthy. I think this goal could be reached with better education for art appreciation, but also with support by the driving forces of the art market (critics, curators, dealers, other artists etc...). I'm sure part of the public at least, would gladly support the arts if they knew they could afford it, and with better education even a bigger part of the public would be willing to do it. I don't mean for those huge 'brand name' artists to lose their importance in 'High Art', but opening up the world of art to the rest of the world, not just a privileged few, providing access, permission and greater awareness to a wider audience can only help art to thrive. I can only remind you that if Picasso or any other successful, iconic 20th century artists lived in the 12th century, they would either not make art at all or make totally different art, because the openness - the fertile soil - did not exist for their art to thrive. If we do provide a fertile soil for more art to thrive these days, who knows where the road will take us?

In addition, it is true that we live in economic hard times, the spread of wealth is probably not what many people want to hear about, but perhaps that is exactly what might actually bring us forward and out of these challenging times. However, that's a totally different issue, has to do with politics, economics etc, I will not claim to know much about these.

5/11/2010 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I suppose I prefer the tensions "between" - the object and the conceptual, the mundane and the (whatever is its opposite), the elite and the accessible - to any/either of the oppositions. I love making and viewing and talking about work that is performance-based, object-less, discursive and unprofitable, but I also love the objects I can take home. The tension between the two (four, six), in my practice, in the gallery, in the museum, in a home, in the academy, makes for beautiful things - and I don't use that phrase lightly here.

The mundane quote really made me think, and so I'd like to propose an analogy: love. Love can be amazingly profound, and at times, a lot of hard work; but it's also in the mundane details of the everyday, in making coffee and taking out the trash and doing the dishes. I like to think of Art as a gift not dissimilar to Love - and so the mundane and the fantastic, together, make it all that it is.

I mean this in all of Art and its discourse, but it can exist in individual works as well. An example of that kind of tension which comes to mind first (perhaps because he is sometimes mentioned on your blog) is FGT's Untitled (Perfect Lovers). What, after all, is more mundane than two ticking clocks, and more devastatingly powerful than that which they signify?

5/11/2010 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I (and I think most of us) actually crave something unique/special/profound. Exhibits of hands-on, "leave them with a message" art(?) are just god-awful. Too may galleries have turned into fun houses/playgrounds for the Bourgeoisie.

5/11/2010 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Mundane: bland, clichéd, common, conventional, cornball, corny, dumb, everyday, flat, hackneyed, ho hum, hokey, humdrum, insipid, old hat, ordinary, pabulum, pedestrian, platitudinous, square, stale, stereotyped, stock, stupid, tired, tripe, trite, unimaginative, unoriginal, vapid, diluted, and wishy-washy.

Art, by definition, is special. Art can use the mundane, by elevating it to specialness.

There is a difference between art and mundane objects as artifacts. Artifacts are saved incidentally as historical samples of early cultures.

Art is preserved because it is special. Art is the technology for making civilization exist and records its own progress over time, it creates history.

Art which fails to achieve specialness, is eventually lost, failing to provide inspiration for future history.

It is the cultural ecosystem, in essence the audience, which is a co-conspirator in the process sifting through the offerings of the artists, weeding out the noise and fertilizing the special. The mundane has a short shelf life and is quickly forgotten. Specialness creates the symbiotic relationship between the artist works and the cultural ecosystem.

In the world of objects anything can become art but only by making it special. What can be considered special exists in the context of its own historical moment and its ability to continue this conceit into the future.

5/11/2010 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Amos said...

I think that when people complain about the art world being elite, they are really complaining about their art work not being favored or trumpeted. It is much easier to blame the collectors, dealers, and other artists than it is to step back and honestly evaluate the work.

Some of this might be attributed to the coddling that people receive in art school. It is a difficult transition to go from an environment, where every project and decision is either scrutinized or praised, into another environment that is largely indifferent. They leave school with a sense of entitlement and they lash out when the world doesn't oblige their grandiose visions.

It's the typical "Don't blame the player, blame the game" mentality.

5/11/2010 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I disagree with specific exceptions based upon taste, such as favoring "hands on" or opposing "leave them a message." The cultural ecosystem determines what will be preserved as art and if it is mundane, such as Duchamps Urinal, then it must be special enough to survive.

There is a lot of earnest hands on painting out there which in spite of being executed in an art medium never makes it past being just another mundane artwork.

At the same time, there will always be artworks which are not considered avant guard but which maintain a connection with the tradition and are considered special enough to preserve.

In the current culture one problem which needs to be addressed is how great art can be be made affordable enough to reach a mass audience. Since most art objects are unique, this implies that some form of multiple may be a potential solution.

5/11/2010 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Several of the above sentiments about anti-elitism, the merging of art with the mundane, etc. could have come straight from the Fluxus Manifesto written by George Maciunas, in - get this - 1963. It is very common for art-worlders, even art professionals, to express these sentiments in complete ignorance of the source material, and praise contemporary works of art as if close antecedents couldn't be found in Fluxus. Most of what gets called "post-minimal" these days would be more properly called Neo-Fluxus and disregarded as a rehash.

Fluxus conflated artistic progress and social progress, a mixture that ostensibly justifies the institutionalization of Fluxus attitudes in the contemporary art museum. Orthodox museums are then all but forced to characterize themselves as progressive and all of their actions as progress, even as they do the bidding of the rich. The non-profit and the non-commodity were made for each other, even as profit motives infect the former and commodification infects the latter. And the facade of progress is so total that you will be faulted for doubting it. "If you want," wrote Jerry Saltz, "you can see [Tino Sehgal's This Progress] in five minutes, not say a word, and view it as a sophomoric recapitulation of sixties performance art, or just phony-baloney b.s." (Emphasis mine.) But if you do, you won't share in Jerry's rapture.

In other words, it's not possible to have an honest conversation about these issues from inside the co-opted Fluxus universe.

5/11/2010 05:25:00 PM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I'm not sure anything above implies ignorance of history, Franklin. Couldn't you have brought Fluxus into the conversation without the implied insults? There's still plenty to say, and work through, in dialogue with history as well as in the new context we find ourselves in, despite that less than 50 years have passed. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how the Fluxus Manifesto might be applied/transformed today, given how much has changed...?

5/11/2010 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Mat said...

If you take away the object and strive for "experiences" than art is also television shows and the most important artists of the past hundred years are Walt Disney and Matt Groening.

Everyone wants to expand the definition of art and decry the masses for their unsophistication but the minute a truly accessible and impactful medium exist, the art wold circles its wagons.
-Mat Gleason, coagula.net

5/11/2010 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Nathaniel, I'm the wrong guy to offer those thoughts - I'm not enamored of the orginal project. Too, manifesoes belong to their time. And with all due respect, conversation about populist mundanity is impossible when the most important contemporary art museum in the country thinks that it's fulfilling its duty to the public by exhibiting yogurt container lids. When Maciunas wanted to promote anti-art and "non-art reality," he didn't have the museums doing his work for him. Now, an entirely different manifesto is called for.

5/11/2010 09:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Oh boy, a few topics mixed in one big pot:


1) Whatever the path you take as an artist, wrether you prefer to enhance the living experience or more conventionally produce aesthetic objects: this path is a potential for greatness. I'm concerned when the fine art market leans toward the desireable objects, because this influences a cultural discourse where only certain approaches of making fine art are celebrated, but ultimately, if we can learn to balance things, any approach or intention to make fine art is valid. If you produce a luxury bauble and declare it to be fine art, we can judge it as such, and give you a response. Let attempt a Fluxus-ious sentance: it is not because an object is luxurious that it cannot be fine art (argh).


2) Which brings us to the Mundane VS Elite debate. If Fine Art appears in the mundane, I want to be able to notice it. It has to be better than the mundane, or "excels" at doing the mundane. Either it has to expand the mundane aesthetically (I'm afraid that job is harder and harder considering the technological advances the design industry are having in aesthetics over the "povera" medias that fine artists often use), or then, it has to bring me reflections about the sources of these aesthetics,
they have to reveal me something about their significations, force the mcluhanesque messages out of all medias. Frankly, I believe exploring aesthetics is less and less of the fine art's job anymore. At least it is not a realm exclusive to the fine arts.
The power of fine arts over anything else is in how it questions aesthetics. Reveal what their patterns tell about us. Fine Art accuses pop culture very well. But to reject pop culture or the mundane is also a power of Fine Art. Aesthetics for the initiated.
Is it so wrong? If I print a book of crosswords, is it ok that I have a section for children, another for neophytes, one for
devoted amateurs, and a section for advanced experts? I've always been fascinated by people 10 times more brilliant than me. The mundane is MY world. I'm accessible enough to function in the mundane. But when I meet an artist, I like it to seem like I'm being initiated into a world that surpasses me. That's how many of my favorites artists are "hermetic" and I wouldn't want them to change. It really depends also on your intention, and what conception of an audience you hold.
As long as fine art can keep telling people that sometimes things are not so upfront, that one needs to make research
to grasp some understandings, it will be good for us.

3) Making Fine Art widely available is a totally different topic to me than making it mundane, or having it "infiltrate" the mundane. It would be the challenge of "widely available Fine Art" to succeed at enticing people to develop better judgment,
and to learn to reflect about the desires and mechanisms of entertainment, without which I can hardly imagine Fine Art to reach wide appeal.

4) I want to add to George's widely accepted proposal of what constitutes Fine Art, that Beuys had also made a nice counterargument by demonstrating how any piece of Fine Art hides "secret messages" which are the history of the artifacts (materials) that are used in its making. Essentialy, that the mundane history behind the making of any artwork was as important to Beuys than the final art product itself (any artwork being impreganated by an aesthetic and an ethic).


Cheerios,

Cedric C

5/12/2010 01:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Art" needs to step out of its specialness and to re-enter the world as something more mundane.
means something like... I'm sick of seeing all the airbrushing and fake boobs and I just want to see some natural saggy flat tits, that's all. Getting laid should not be a big deal. Not so bad, right?

and the argument against it
... But I like all the make-up, the fake lashes, looking sexy, romantic, etc.

Are we good?

Sorry I am reducing it to this level, but I just feel like people go around in circles on this subject when it's a rather unsophisticated and 'mundane' argument- which is fine, I mean, really, we don't have enough of it. Most art production is meant to be elite (in a good way) but is also really mundane- at the same time the most elitist idea is that you have this thing that stands out from the rest of the art world because it transforms more people and is therefore more significant. Pisses me off.

5/12/2010 03:32:00 AM  
Blogger Stefano Pasquini said...

I agree with Steve Amos on this. Let's face it, if you come from a working class background chances are that you need a dayjob to support your art career, but this doesn't make you less special than someone who can concentrate on his/her artmaking 24/7. However, as much as a little plastic figurine unexpectedly found in the bottom of a bag of popcorn by a child can be a magical experience, I think art should nevertheless try a bit harder to scroll away its "elitism". You guys in New York live and breathe art almost everywhere, but it's not the same in the rest of the world. For example, here on Italian TV contemporary art is totally absent. And Italians watch TV in order to take most decision, but this is another story....

PS. Great post, Ed.

5/12/2010 07:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

the pertinence of art seems to get confused with the access/exclusive/elitist/ stuff.

When art is pertinent, it does aspire to love, in the sense that although everyone experiences it, we each experience it uniquely. And in an epoch of concurrent world views, and pan generational audiences, art's pertinence is not necessarily equal to all members of the audience at the same time.

The themes of bedtime stories may be thread worn, but to the child they hold their magic and pertinence. That they no longer hold the same pertinence to the adult who deems them too old hat and juvenile, doesn't lessen the art forms need to state anew what has already been said before.

The pertinence of art is somewhere in that individual rapport. Since the artist can't dictate who their audience will be or when, we are left with assuming we ourselves are the audience. Is it pertinent to ourselves first and foremost? How does the quote go, the reader can only have tears if the writer has firstly cried ?

5/12/2010 07:43:00 AM  
Blogger zoe teng said...

Art as objects is special because it contains a transcendent spirit of artist, which makes objects art. Objects are metaphors, just like ice can be understood as a part of the journey and balance of H2O. The passage of object is special and important because of the possibilities behind it; we can carve ice, buy ice, sell ice… yet no matter what we do, the spirit melts and evaporates on the way, and reveals its impact, which is the value of art for humankind. Duchamp said artworks have 20years or so of lives, I think the concept of “life” itself is abstract.
“Art” is seen when the so-called artists decide to make them, show them, the so-called art lovers admire them, and so-called art collectors buy them, the so-called art critics WRITE about them. Otherwise it exists everywhere in anytime, even before Allan Kaprow started brush his teeth. It is a little awkward to discuss about it now, when there are already many examples of aboriginal artists in Australia, who live and travel as nobody until few years before they die, they paint for a while and pass away no matter many million the canvases they used to sit on are sold for. Since the works are just conclusions, of impacts they received and made; people want the paintings just like wanting to see photos of the Oscar award ceremony. Have a look at the collective theme and spirit in those “art,” it has been freshly translated into something called art, yet has obviously existed and fermented for a long time, and will still be in other forms. Especially in this “ age of consequence,” when most of us are somehow forced to be “mundane” in many aspects by the environment. For an artist, to make something mundane can be explained as, to practice as a self-aware person instead of as a self-aware artist. For an art lover, art collector, art critic…same thing. However, why would we make something special if we are not artists, if we are nothing special, and how? The youngest generations of photographers are seeking answers in the woods, right now…or they might be just enjoying themselves in it before it’s too late, but who really cares anyway.

5/12/2010 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Jane Waggoner Deschner said...

Frieze: What is art for?
Jeff Wall: It’s for anyone, but not for everyone.

5/12/2010 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

The power of art is not only in stepping down to the mundane, but transcending the mundane experience, as first recorded in cave paintings. Animals hunt to eat, eat to survive, live by instincts. Humans reflect on their experience, transform it - through communication, collective awareness, and solitary contemplation. It's all.

5/12/2010 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I the only old geezer who remembers Gloria Gaynor? "If you want it, you have to do it yourself."
This is always the best advice.

All of this whining and talking is only romance and ego. Just do the work, and that means in the studio and out, and stop all of the bitching and moaning already.

5/12/2010 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger WILLIAM CHESAPEAKE said...

"Art needs to step out of its specialness and to re-enter the world as something more mundane."

I Think what the commenter was getting at is the art world's quest for the next big thing (special).
As opposed to a beautifully conceived and executed piece which is not necessarily on par with DuChamp's urinal.

5/13/2010 09:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Lynn S. said...

The perception or existence of elitism in "fine art" serves, or shall I say, is a beast created by market forces, but that is an old argument. What I took the commenter to mean was that art needed to be brought back to average people so that it could function again as a central and everyday form of communication, (or at least its symbols would, even if objects are set aside with care), with the exception that it would exist independent of commercial interests. However, I wonder as I write this if such a thing is remotely possible any longer.

Pop culture is produced by one set of people and targeted to a broader set or the masses and often as a means to sell a third party's product or services. With a few subtle exceptions, the masses are largely passive in this process. What happens when our common cultural language is produced by commercial artists toiling away in the cubical farms of a few corporations?

These questions informed the thought behind my friend's legacy, a new kind of artist grant that seeks to reward creatives who also labor outside of the commercial art and elite gallery systems and without the intent to sell either directly or as proxy. Generally that kind of support might not be new, but her take on it I thought was special. Her words are posted here: http://garboil.org/

5/19/2010 01:34:00 AM  

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