Lebenskünstler

Whereas art has become as obscure and reliant on specialist knowledge and infrastructure as physics, aesthetics is more akin to ecology, based more in an experiential and observation based rubric.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/08/2016

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#soilpractice #socialpractice

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A continuum along which soil practice and social practice occur

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/27/2016

Screenshot 2016-02-27 at 10.15.10 AM - Edited

From notes today:

the art system has become industrial agriculture
aesthetic ecology as gardening – learn from your grandmother and your neighbor, pick up some magazines or books, watch some YouTube videos and get growing, no gatekeepers, no degrees required

the art system says the only real gardening is done by experts

seed saving (AE) vs. industrial ag research (AS) – person to person innovation (AE) vs. institutionally controlled validation (AS)

museums, galleries, and universities act much like Monsanto taking up vernacular practices, formalizing them, squeezing the living core out, and controlling their distribution and viability

aesthetic ecology favors diversity – formal, institutional practices, but also backyard gardeners, community gardeners, homesteaders, etc

The electric prod of professionalization

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/22/2016

The terrain of aesthetic experience: a magic square for social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/01/2016

magicsquare

thee myths ov MFA conspirators create occult circumstances in which art is cursed and infinitely esoteric

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/17/2016

pyramid_manipulationmod

a wholly incomplete fishbone through which art must pass on its way to becoming social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/31/2015

fishboneart

somewhat conventional understanding of social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/31/2015

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Where is the magic? Art as a social practice and the intellectual cult of the MFA.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/02/2015

James Tufts, in 1903, already knew that all art is (a) social practice:

Art has its origins, almost without exception, in social relations; it has developed under social pressure; it has been fostered by social occasions; it has in turn served social ends in the struggle for existence. In consequence, the values attributed to aesthetic objects have social standards, and the aesthetic attitude will be determined largely by these social antecedents. Or, in other words, the explanation of aesthetic categories is to be sought largely in social psychology.

And:

…art has its origin, not in any single impulse, much less in any desire to gratify an already existing aesthetic demand for beauty, but rather in response to many and varied demands, economic, protective, sexual, military, magical, ceremonial, religious, and intellectual.

Of course, an explanation of social psychology requires an engagement with many other fields, especially natural history. And the diverse art impulses Tufts identifies are expelled from the homogenized intellectualist academy.

I am for an art that needs no manifesto

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 07/22/2015

I am for an art that tackles the problem of writing.
I am for an art that wages war on words.
I am for an art that stands mute.
I am for art on panels, and not panels on art.
I am for an art that pleads for linguistic absolution.
I am for an art that talks, laughs, or stutters, but spits on the page.
I am for art as the statement, not the artist’s statement.
I am for an art without crutches, without critics.
I am for an art that is nothing but words, yet not “writing.”
I am for an art, any art that puts needles in the eyes of professionals.

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against art historical noodling or why social poiesis is more interesting than social practice especially if by social practice we really mean social practice art – Even more stuff I said in blog comments with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/02/2015

I often quote IC-98 on this matter:

“…as a reaction to the restrictions of academic writing…In practice, the world of contemporary art has proved to be the most flexible environment for diverse projects, being a free zone of experimentation within the society at large…[it] offers possibilities to put forward ideas without the preconditions of academic work …the market…or activism…the projects are labeled art only for strategic reasons – the strategy works as long as the concepts of art do not come to dominate the discourse. The same applies to the individuals working in the group: you call yourself artist, just because it is institutionally convenient, [emphasis mine] because the very concept of ARTIST is obscure.”

These “strategic reasons” are part of what ***’s investigation of “practical consequences” would help illuminate. I am extremely sympathetic to this pragmatic (rather than ontological) engagement with categories. But I remain interested in social practice to the degree that it remains social practice, rather than social practice *art*. So when we inquire into the aesthetics of participation for instance we don’t get bogged down in all the art historical noodling that paralyzes so many critics from the old school. It is important to emphasize that all kinds of “problems” are solved by recognizing that art [frieze/e-flux/triple canopy type art], is just a highly specialized and mostly pointless parlor game played with, and within, aesthetic experience. If we remain attuned to aesthetics and aesthetic experience (especially from an embodied, phenomenological point of view) or to “the arts” or “the art of” or “the artful” rather than to Art, we increase the chances of having the “dynamic, complex and difficult dialogues” *** seeks rather than the insular professional tiffs of the Art world. Melvin Haggerty (1935) said it much better:

“Art is a way of life” is a simple statement of short and familiar words. It expresses a way of looking at life that is very old in the history of thought. If it now seems strange it is because we have permitted art to become divorced from the ordinary activities in which men [sic] engage and its cultivation to drift into the hand of specialists from whom the mass of mankind is separated as by a chasm. In recent times this chasm has become very broad and very deep. To men [sic] absorbed in the work of the world artists appear to be a cult and their work and conversation seem esoteric and almost mystical. To artists ordinary folks appear ignorant and unappreciative, and very often their thinly veiled contempt for plebeian tastes has led them to caustic expression. This dissociation is artificial; it is injurious to art and impoverishes life.

[art as a way of life] sees that as the experiences of life multiply, new and varied purposes arise that call for the invention of new objects and new forms of expression and that these, in turn, vastly increase the possibilities of enriching life…This elemental reality that binds into a single pattern all the varied arts is more important for the philosophy of education than is the stress so often laid upon the differences that superficially separate one kind of creative work from other kinds.

We have assumed a way of looking at art that permits no gulf between the simple arts of life and the so-called fine arts. It sees all as man’s [sic] more or less successful efforts to create things that increase the comforts, the efficiencies, and the pleasures of living…This view cherishes not even the ethically tinged distinction between good art and bad art.

The distinction between creation and appreciation is not one between activity and passivity but rather one among different kinds of activity. The realization of this fact should emphasize the essential unity of art experiences.

*** – Long time no talk. I have to call you out though about what a mess you’re making! You keep conflating art and aesthetics. To call something “not art” in no way reduces its aesthetic dimension. And your understanding of what treating something aesthetically does – “increases distance” – is but one (dominant) idea of aesthetic experience. Berleant’s “Art And Engagement” makes all this talk of participatory aesthetics a moot point (not to mention Dewey and the pragmatists among others). All aesthetic experience is participatory, engaged.

*** – although I quoted IC-98 for one reason (the tactical employment of art as a descriptor), I actually agree more with David Robbins in this quote:

“All the time, though, my sensibility pointed toward and yearned for an imaginative Elsewhere. I became increasingly dissatisfied with the narrowness of art as a formulation of the imagination. This will sound preposterous to many people, I’m aware, given that art offers and represents extraordinary behavioral freedoms, but in “making art” I found an ultimately enslaving formulation. How so? In art, you can do, yes, anything you want so long as you’re willing to have it end up as art. That isn’t real imaginative freedom, in my view. Inquisitiveness of mind will carry you past art, and apparently I love inquisitiveness of mind more than I love art.”

So again I hope social practice delivers us to this imaginative Elsewhere, but art has an insidious ability to capture its escapees…

*** – since I’m in such a quotey mood, I think these snippets from Carl Wilson might get at some of the spirit of criticism I am after (but I am totally down with your criticism as aesthetic experience bit). It’s just that I’m not as fired up about judgment and evaluation as you seem to be:

“What would criticism be like if it were not foremost trying to persuade people to find the same things great…It might…offer something more like a tour of an aesthetic experience, a travelogue, a memoir.”

“…a more pluralistic criticism might put less stock in defending its choices and more in depicting its enjoyment, with all the messiness and private soul tremors – to show what it is like for me to like it, and invite you to compare.”

Re: Meta-experience – I find the discussion around this a bit condescending…it implies that people outside art somehow live their lives unconsciously, that they are unable to think about how to sharpen experience or how to craft an endeavor.

Re: Critique – I recently chaired a panel called “Critiquing Criticality” (which will hopefully end up as a book) and we discussed at length how art had sold its soul to be taken seriously in the academy. That is, it was so ashamed of all those “fuzzy” romantic qualities that it ended up jettisoning all the things that distinguished it from “real” academic disciplines. I would argue much to its detriment.

*** –  I would ask you carry your pragmatic reasoning further. Let us accept that it is indeed now “meaningful” for Rirkrit to call pad thai his art. What does that designation actually *do?* The consensus so far in these threads is that it might invite a kind of meta-reflection which I addressed above to some degree. But to put it even more bluntly, let’s stipulate that this is art’s province alone, what social value is there in that? Aside from appealing to the sorts of people who enjoy thinking about thinking about thinking? Wouldn’t this territory staked out by art be rather sad? When eating pad thai, asking whether it is art or not or whether it follows from Fluxus more than it follows from conceptualism seems like a hollow inquiry. Does it taste good? Does it taste like my mom’s version? Does it remind me of the time I visited that city? Was this dish my friend’s favorite? Those questions tie the food to life, to concrete experience, to ordinary people and therefore are more pragmatically vibrant. And, all of those questions need art as much as pad thai needs alfredo sauce!

For me, calling pad thai art accomplishes exactly nothing other than connect it to a pedantic, insular conversation (art history/criticism). The question of calling social practice projects art amounts to a pragmatic (of the simple, not philosophic type) question (I asked elsewhere) – Do I show them in an art context, however imperfectly it addresses my concerns and burdens me with a history I’m not particularly interested in? Or do I explore them elsewhere and suffer from the lack of critical, promotional, and organizational infrastructure that the art context provides?

*** – “Does an artist need to call what they do social practice? do they need to call themselves artists?”

To these questions I have posited time and again that social practice is *already* happening all the time, with or without art and artists. I think that art has some very modest things to offer, but I prefer a more bottom up, less homogenous, and certainly more diverse approach to understanding, and engaging social practice. Urban ecology seems like an ideal strand to add to the web, so to speak. Here is my initial stab at articulating a vision for social practice (preceded by a contextualizing rant) that may be of interest to you:https://randallszott.org/2013/01/18/all-we-have-to-do-is-look-around-toward-a-local-social-practice-syllabus-or-an-idiosyncratic-arty-party-field-guide-to-vermont/
*** –

Maybe I could grab your attention for a moment and ask what you think of Larry Shiner’s “The Invention of Art” or Mary Anne Staniszewski’s “Believing Is Seeing” as two examples of the argument that it doesn’t make sense to talk about Greek or Roman “art” or at the minimum, capital A “Art.” You seem to be somewhat sympathetic in your commentary above. And do we sidestep this (in a productive way) by continuing the discussion in terms of aesthetic activity rather than art? And by aesthetics, I do not mean exclusively the philosophic subdiscipline itself…

*** – I like that you bring up phronesis, but it’s funny because I am an advocate of not limiting social practice to the visual and performing arts (and there is discussion of it in a very different way in other fields) and was going to suggest here before your post that “social poiesis” (despite its even more obscure quality) might be a better term. If we don’t limit ourselves to art, social poiesis (nee practice) could be more dynamic and encompass not only art actions and art environments, but also – urban planning, sports leagues, communes, be-ins, residencies, raves, state fairs, theme parks, cults, encounter groups, chautauquas, even nations…and would also apply to a much broader demographic of participants rather than artists and their audiences…

But ***, much like the recent article in the Onion (http://www.theonion.com/articles/artists-announce-theyve-found-all-the-beauty-they,20973/) the *last* thing I want to do is to provide a framework for expanding what artists consider their “media.” Rather I am hoping to show that what artists and their supporters wish to claim as an exclusive territory, or what they reserve some claim of special ability at, is already done, by all sorts of folks from all walks of life. And, yes I believe that Dewey (and many contemporary scholars developing his work – but NOT Rorty) can be read (in fact *should* be read) as seeing aesthetics as an integral feature of everyday life – “through and through” as you say.

Gregory Pappas (Dewey scholar):

“The intelligent and aesthetic characters of democracies are mutually dependent. The community most capable of learning from experience is also the one that has all the features that define aesthetic activity, which for Dewey is the most inherently meaningful type of activity in experience. The democratic way of life is able to maintain the kind of balance and rhythm in its everyday doings and undergoings that, for Dewey, characterize aesthetic experience: a balance of tensions with rhythmic variety. Ideal activity is a merging of playfulness with seriousness that allows richness and flexibility without sacrificing stability. Democracy signifies for Dewey this possibility at the social level. The democratic community is also the aesthetic community because it is constituted by relationships that are neither fixed, routine, or mechanical, nor anarchical, capricious, or arbitrary.”

And:

“Dewey’s work…affirms the potential of ordinary experience (concrete life) to be the source of amelioration, admiration, and inspiration. His metaphysics reminds philosophers that the tangled, complex, gross, macroscopic, and crude things we find in everyday life are real, for example, vagueness, ugliness, fantasies, headaches, illusions, spark plugs, a conversation with a friend, parties, diseases, stones, food, tragedy, a conflict with a roommate, a joke, playing backgammon with friends, measles, and marbles. His aesthetics is a philosophical reintegration of the aesthetic with everyday life that is, in effect, a celebration of lived experience…his ethics is an affirmation of morality as experience.”

Dewey:

“When the thought of the end becomes so adequate that it compels translation into the means that embody it, or when attention to the means is inspired by recognition of the end they serve, we have the attitude typical of the artist, an attitude that may be displayed in all activities, even though they are not conventionally designated ‘arts.’ “

Sorry I’m back to being quotey, but this nugget from Dewey in 1891!!! cuts to the heart of the matter:

“If the necessary part played in conduct by artistic cultivation is not so plain, it is largely because ‘Art’ has been made such an unreal Fetich [sic] – a sort of superfine and extraneous polish to be acquired only by specially cultivated people. In reality, living is itself the supreme art…”

Living is itself the supreme art – social poiesis?

re: politics and aesthetics – I included a quote (from Gregory Pappas) on the other thread that addresses this exact point. The more expansive notion of aesthetics that I think we share (and Dewey et. al. have developed extensively) is inextricably linked with politics. In fact, that is why I am mystified by Claire Bishop getting as much attention as she does as her theoretical house of cards is so flimsy – relying as it does on such a misguided interpretation of the relationship between ethics and aesthetics.

re: pleasure – Richard Shusterman is my go to here (although I go to him for many other insights as well!) There is a link to his piece before the quotes I’ve culled: https://randallszott.org/2012/12/30/adorno-the-grumpy-puritan-richard-shusterman-on-art-and-pleasure/
“With these authors you get all modes of social practice: antagonism, pedagogy, community, the dialogic, ethics, morality, the relational, and the political.”

This statement is barely true even with this correction:

“With these authors you get all modes of social practice [art]: antagonism, pedagogy, community, the dialogic, ethics, morality, the relational, and the political.”

If social practice aspires to be anything more than another entry in the art historical ledger rather than say the historical ledger, *** reading list is the *last* place to look. Sadly it is all too reflective of the inbred nature of art discourse (embodying Kaprow’s “artlike art”). I think *** is dead on, but I would add another cautionary note (as I linked to in another comment) – developing a reading list should be an extremely low priority. A looking/experiencing list might be better. My mom ain’t gonna read Claire Bishop and she sure as hell isn’t gonna read Ranciere. But my mom engages in social practice (but has no need to call it that or study it as such) via her gardening club, and her volunteer activities. I love Fritz Haeg, but Crockett’s Victory Garden is more her speed and I would hope we’re not trying to build a field reserved for grad school types or urban hipsters (of which I am or was).

*** – I misunderstood you. I took you too literally when you said “all modes of social practice.” Believe me, I’m all about cutting slack (just ask google).

*** – where is the damn “like” button on this page? Your response itself was “smartly dark!” There is no denying of course (in fact my wife made the same comment) that reading is an experience. So yes, I should have said something more like “a (nonreading) looking/experiencing list.” It is also true that for many people (particularly of an academic persuasion – and I know, not exclusively) reading and looking are deeply symbiotic, but for many other folks they are not, or are dependent on entirely different sets of “texts.” I do disagree that I am over estimating/underestimating anyone – I was not clear in communicating this though. Because it is very much the latter of your propositions that I support. I do not oppose Crockett to Haeg (as I said I love Haeg!!!), but was pointing out that there are people doing social practice beyond art world/academe/activist circles. And trying to suggest that I think developing a robust idea of social practice needs to be inclusive of those folks. So when you ask “is anyone actually saying that?” I think you mean is anyone privileging the art/activist crowd over the PBS gardening crowd…to which I answer emphatically yes! I’ve been to panel after panel, read book after book, essay after essay, seen show after show, attended conference after conference, read syllabus after syllabus, and there is a clear canon established that charts an all too familiar course. Very rarely is anyone included that isn’t part of the dominant or emerging activist/artist circuit and even then they are usually included as material for, or in “collaboration” with an artist/activist. How do we get out of this? I’m not exactly sure – maybe get more ethnographic (with all its ensuing baggage)? I think *** is suggesting something similar (but in a much less grating tone than mine). As far as understanding/thinking about/experiencing social practice I’ve said before “all we have to do is look around.”

suffocated by art – Nik Kosmas on escaping the art world

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/17/2015

Q/A NIK KOSMAS – Why did you decide to end your career as a young and successful visual artist?

At some point, I had the feeling that I couldn’t explain what I was doing, with conviction, to a stranger. The subjective nature of making “work” in a field where basically anything goes: critical or non-critical, aesthetic or conceptual, material or dematerialized – as long as you want to call it “art”. I felt suffocated by potentials and missed having a method for evaluating options. Possibly I was also suffering from some kind of imposter complex, where I felt like anyone at any time would notice that everything we were doing made no sense. These deep-seated anxieties probably reflect the fact that art is no longer very relevant.

I just didn’t think there was a point or a respectable future in endlessly critiquing or arrogantly joking about innovations coming from other fields.

To continue making art after you reach a certain level of success, you have to have a mixture of talent, ego, and pragmatism. You have to suspend the disbelief and doubt about your self-centered and marginal mini-territory of custom-made industrial process hacks, and “themes”, all the time struggling to stay relevant and inspired while the upper-class gallerists and collectors – who are your only real support system – make the magic happen…You can survive if you stay inside the art bubble: writing grants, teaching, getting the odd public commission (especially if you come from one of those small, rich, socialist European countries that pay artists ridiculous amounts of money to do things that are questionably useful :)). I wanted to engage in the “real” world, where things are much more competitive, and also, yes, dumbed down for a more general audience (and for that same reason so much more effective and important).

… it was supposed to go around creating value through abstract financial art-world machinations. Anyways, I became totally disillusioned that this was interesting at all. It felt very easy and parasitic and had unclear metrics for success. Martin’s project was random but had clear metrics for success: units sold, growth rate, five-star reviews. Martin was “doing” what we were joking or commenting on.

My long-term goal is to supply concrete niches with products that “affect” a huge amount of people (this is about the body): from tea to shoes to food, eventually to architecture and beyond. I am training and studying all the time, trying to remain passionate and excited about what I do.

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Understanding Gregory Bateson Chapter 5 – “Aesthetics, Ecology, and the Path Toward Grace

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/18/2015

Understanding Gregory Bateson: Mind, Beauty, and the Sacred Earth – Noel G. Charlton

…Firstly, he [Bateson] was linking the aesthetic, the beautiful, in “nature,” and in human art, with the possibility of enlightened ways of living.

…For him, life is a matter of patterns within patterns, all beautiful and hence aesthetic, arranged in levels and differentiated into logical types of lesser and greater generality.

…the aesthetic dimension of living, is able to enhance the possibility of our refinding grace, specifically *because* art is not subject to purposeful, language-bound, conscious rationality.

Poetry, he says, is not distorted prose. It is the reverse of that: prose is poetry that has been subjected to logic…We cannot expect to bring artistic or creative process wholly within the world of conscious purpose and description.

…Our limited, language-mediated consciousness, unaided by art, dreams, poetry, and other aesthetic practice, can no longer appreciate the systemic nature of mental process…As societies and individuals, *we* are dynamic patterns within the patterned world. *Love* can only survive if *wisdom* (recognition of the fact of circuitry) has an effective voice. Engagement with the aesthetic and the beautiful is a way to reclaim such wisdom

Later in the week, he was asking whether any social system could be viable “with only laws and ethical principles and no play, no art, no totemism, no religion, and no humor”

An “ecology of ideas” may be a close synonym for aesthetic sensibility.

…”Gradually the realization came that they were choosing their integrity over their existence.” It would be nonsense to sacrifice integrity in order to save a religion “whose only validity – whose only point and purpose- is the cultivation of integrity.: Bateson’s point is that the validity of our mental processes is imperiled if we breach “the fine lines dividing the sacred from the secular, the aesthetic from the appetitive, , the deliberative from the unconscious, and thought from feeling.”

…to experience an aesthetic response is to recognize a fellow mental process.

…It is, claimed Bateson, the organism *in relationship with its environment* that is the unit of survival [rather than a mere individual organism or a species]. From his earlier statements, it is clear that he sees aesthetic recognition of relationship as a necessary aspect of survival.

…Here he is beginning to emphasize that aesthetic process – the production and recognition of beauty – *is a feature of evolution.* Evolutionary creativity is mental in kind. it is analogous to, and is a special case of, mental creativity and artistic process. The products of evolution become examples of art. The artistic products of humans are similarly “marked by the evidences of that mental creativity.” We can now search for the “criteria of mind” among all the products of mind: evolutionary, environmental, natural, and artefactual.

…[re: Wordsworth] “This something more is self-reflexive recognition. The primrose resembles the poem and both poem and primrose resemble the poet. He learns about himself as a creator when he looks at the primrose. His pride is enhanced to see himself as a contributor to the vast processes which the primrose exemplifies. And his humility is exercised and made valid by recognizing himself as a tiny product of those processes.”

…As explained earlier, information is not, for Bateson, just data or words about facts or things in the world. It is any “difference which makes a difference,” [cf. Derrida’s “différance”] any item of “news” – novelty, change, contrast, comparison, growth, evolution, symmetry, asymmetry, similarity, or dissimilarity – that is relevant to the relationship in which it is perceived. Bateson says that the understanding of the “deeper symmetry of formal relations” is basic: “Never quantities, always shapes, forms and relationships..” There is always connectedness.

…It’s not a new idea that living things have immanent beauty, but it is revolutionary to assert *as a scientist*, that matters of beauty are really highly formal, very real, and crucial to the entire political and ethical system in which we live.

…Mind, learning, evolution, rigorous art, and loving science are one.

grace as that which enables the recognition of our relational embeddedness in the living world

all organisms, not just art critics and philosophers, rely on aesthetics all the time.

what do we gain by calling something bad art? – stuff I said on Bad at Sports with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/02/2014

FORGET THE OLYMPICS. WHAT THE SECOND CITY REALLY NEEDS IS FIRST-CLASS ART NEWS

AFC’s post was hardly a “takedown,” more like a differing opinion. Paddy is smug, snarky, and elitist, in other words a typical art blogger. Note that my merely asserting that doesn’t make it so any more than her asserting something is “bad art” makes it true.

What do we gain by calling something bad art? Especially if non-art people like it? Paddy hyperbolically mentions “cigarettes and candy” not being good for you, but please provide plausible evidence of the harm so-called bad art inflicts – actual harm comparable to diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, etc.

One person’s “spectacle” is another’s “value.” There are plenty of folks who haven’t been *trained* to see Jeff Koons’s puppies or his Macy’s balloon as any less spectacular or insubstantial as Johnson’s piece. In fact the question of “value” in an art critical sense is mostly irrelevant to the entire discussion, except of course, for the small group of people who like those sorts of conversations. Why is the Tribune obliged to have paid staff to address them?

I’m not sure I even understand what the complaint is. Not all art requires a “rigorous discourse” does it? Does this piece? If not, why lament the coverage?
It’s “not newsworthy?” Here again, I have to wonder – says who?

The complaint I hear all too often is that ordinary/non-art people don’t “properly” understand art. Art world folks seem to think that a critic can help educate the public and “draw attention to bad decisions and art world folly while at the same time placing new developments within a larger cultural and historical context.” Surely there is truth to this, but it seems to me that the situation is backwards – rather than try to have ordinary folks understand the art world, the art world should try to understand ordinary/non-art world people. Why is it exactly that people like this sculpture or the singing cowboy? Is using the buzzword “spectacle” the best answer? Why not go out and actually ask people – the ones whose reaction is being dismissed as being wasted on “bad art?” I suspect (and will gladly wager with someone)that the word spectacle would rarely be used.

Let me leave you with Carl Wilson:
“The kind of contempt that’s mobilized by “cool” taste is inimical to an aesthetics that might support a good public life.”

Enough with the snarky my tastes are more informed/sophisticated/smarter/cooler/complexly articulated/ stuff. How about a little more humility, a little more curiosity about what makes others like the things they like?

Or quoting Wilson again (regarding music) “I would be relieved to have fewer debates over who is right or wrong about music, and more that go, “Wow, you hate all the music I like and I hate all the music you like. What might we make of that?”

Yes you were implicated in my comment, but the buzzword comment was directed more at the AFC post that you seemed to endorse – perhaps only in spirit and not in tone. And you’re right, spectacle is hardly an intimidating word, but I stand by my speculation that few would cite it as why they like the sculpture. I’ll gladly go down to the site and talk to an agreed upon number of people to count how many times the word is used.

Of course art people interact with non-art people. I never meant to imply otherwise. When looking at this coverage, and the negative reaction, it is clear that either huge assumptions are being made about the subjective experience of others or that experience was being dismissed as “bad taste.” Your implication was that if someone “qualified” had the opportunity to write about the piece they either wouldn’t (the mere fact that people *actually* like it not being newsworthy) or they might be able to contextualize it (explain why it is in bad taste or superficial to “qualified” tastes).

I don’t want to get in a tit for tat thing here but, “entrenched” is a bit strong. More importantly, ask any of the people I’m “entrenched” with how often I talk about art with them. Art is hardly the basis of the relationship. And don’t forget that I literally spend half of my life living with non-art people from all over the country. Granted they don’t live in Chicago, so maybe the point is moot, but they’re not clamoring for more or better arts coverage. In fact, the only people I ever hear clamoring for it are art people. And to this question of yours, “And for that matter, why should you assume the opinions and curiosities of non art world folks would be so radically different?” As above, it is simply my experience. Maybe this is a class and/or urban/rural thing. My small town parents certainly don’t approach art with a “probing” or “critical” mindset and neither do the guys on the boat. It doesn’t occur to them that either of those things have anything to do with art. When it comes to art, they like pretty things. They have “bad taste.”

The fact that your urban “culturally savvy” lawyers, p.r. people, social workers, and stay at home moms do bring those qualities to their art viewing experience doesn’t do much for me because that just means they already share some basic assumptions with you and the capital A art world about what features art should have. For them, you’re probably right that a Christopher Knight sort of critic might serve their interests.

My central question was never addressed – what do we gain by calling something bad art? And to follow up – What does “art” gain by dismissing the taste of people like my parents? Rather than condescendingly attempting to educate them, isn’t it humbler to assume you and I, might have something to learn from them and their taste for “pretty bad art?”

PS For the record, I did not find your post to be snarky, but you did cite two rather snarky sources for your feelings of embarrassment at the Trib’s coverage. If anyone should be embarrassed it should be Johnson and Knight.
PPS Here’s hoping this doesn’t affect Halloween – wink!
PPPS This is too much work. Hopefully nothing egregiously provocative will be said so that I can avoid responding any further…

Thanks for the suggestion ***. Now here’s some suggested reading for you that might “educate” you regarding your, to put it charitably, questionable assertion, “Art is by definition not a matter of taste…”

P. Bourdieu – Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste
AND The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field
Carl Wilson – Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste
David Halle – Inside Culture: Art and Class in the American Home
Lawrence Levine – Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America
Howard Becker – Art Worlds
Herbert Gans – Popular Culture And High Culture: An Analysis And Evaluation Of Taste
Peter Swirski – From Lowbrow to Nobrow

As to the perspective offered by calling something bad art, there is no doubt that *a* perspective is offered. The question is *whose* perspective? And what does that perspective bring to public life and what does it exclude?

You are also tautologically correct that there is a difference between Britney (not Brittany) Spears and Beethoven. Unfortunately, yes, I would argue that it is largely a matter of taste (and power). Although we might disagree on what might replace it/them, isn’t the rise of the “consensus curator” precisely about the imposition of and/or blind adherence to, a certain taste, a taste saturated by power and the pursuit of cultural and social capital? Obviously you still believe in art’s autonomy and obviously I don’t which may be the crux of the disagreement…To you perhaps, not believing in art’s autonomy means not having any conception of art whatsoever?

You’re right, the difference between art and craft is important here, especially how the two notions are situated hierarchically within and across different social classes and cultures (if the distinction exists at all in some of them). The great variability between cultures appears to be an argument for the inextricable link between art and taste. This is doubly so if you look at how popular/low works morph into “high/fine” ones over historical stretches (See Levine’s (above) analysis of Opera’s transition to “high art” in the 19th century U.S.).
Finally regarding anthropology and art as it pertains to this discussion, James Clifford’s The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art is crucial. See especially the essay “On Collecting Art and Culture” which address the West’s appropriation (while “searching out the origins of modern man” as you put it) of artifacts from other cultures and contextualizing them as art.

This diagram of his gives a quick and dirty guide to the fluidity of the categories as he sees them:

Thanks for actually addressing my question, albeit in a snarky, err, *** way.

I am going to skip my disagreement with what you’ve said and focus on our common ground as I’m one of those boring types “attempting to coexist peacefully” with others.

Yes tacit and explicit knowledge. I have a great deal of interest in this. I hate to be rattling off even more reading, but Polanyi’s Tacit Dimension is central here. I even wrote some sloppy blog posts on the notion:
http://leisurearts.blogspot.com/2006/03/mathematics-practice-abstract-systems.html
http://leisurearts.blogspot.com/2006/04/wildenbateson-tacitexplicit.html
http://leisurearts.blogspot.com/2006/04/takeuchinonaka-social-ecology-of-art.html

My thinking has changed a bit as I unfortunately gave explicit knowledge a bit of the upper hand in art practice which you will immediately see is a mistake. I have become far more pragmatic (as in the actual philosophic tradition) since initially writing those posts so let me throw out some “chum” from that school for you that we can also agree on (especially with regard to your de Kooning comment):

Any idea that ignores the necessary role of intelligence in the
production of works of art is based upon identification of thinking
with use of one special kind of material, verbal signs and words.
To
think effectively in terms of relations of qualities is as severe a
demand upon thought as to think in terms of symbols, verbal and
mathematical. Indeed, since words are easily manipulated in mechanical
ways, the production of a work of genuine art probably demands more
intelligence than does most of the so-called thinking that goes on
among those who pride themselves on being ‘intellectuals.’
— John Dewey, Art as Experience

Amen. I would add to that – dialogue that is *only* critical and only takes place among “scholarly chroniclers” and insists that being “deep” is of utmost value, then that too is a problem.

I would take more time to address your thoughtful comments, but I have to go make jambalaya for my crew (jobs – ugh!)

*** – thanks for wanting me included. Given I’m the soft hearted, populist, egalitarian, inclusivist that you suspect me to be, it means a lot.

You seem to have one misperception though. I actually don’t care all that much to write about art and really don’t (care to) know much about it, especially the kind that makes its way into galleries. Aesthetic experience, on the other hand, I have a great interest in. Being the slacker I am writing about it is just too much work.

Allow me an analogy. I see you as an old line Catholic dispirited at the direction of the church (artworld). Angry at the Protestants (post-conceptualists, “bad” painters, etc.) and their heretical relationship to god (art). Now perhaps the consensus curators and the neo-cons are far more deviant to you. So maybe they’re more like Scientologists from your theological perspective. Maybe *** is Episcopalian – a dissenter, but still sympathetic to Rome in form at least. Come to think of it, maybe you’re more Pentecostal, wanting to throw out all of the middlemen (curators, critics, gallerists) between the believers and god. In this ridiculous analogy I would say I’m an apatheist – dismissing the very question of god (art) as irrelevant altogether (but no atheist). Now I must admit that I’m trending toward a more searching relationship with god (art) and maybe I’ll soon be a Unitarian Universalist an appropriately pluralist and personal faith for me. A faith rooted not in the formalities of dogma or ritual, but in personal experience.

So yeah, thanks but no thanks.

Damn you ***. I really thought I might get a chance to watch a romantic comedy tonight and now I find myself responding…

Don’t be so quick to assume my endorsement of solely crowdsourced criticism. My advocacy of pluralism is not a knee-jerk relativism nor is it to say that there are people’s opinions that aren’t worth more than others.

Earlier I was warning against throwing out data (the aesthetic tastes of others) too quickly. Being a pragmatist, it is also important to contextualize epistemic claims, and to weigh their effects – thus questions like what do we gain by calling something bad art? So I always look to see from what position a claim is being made and what how that claim might operate. Of course this is not just something from pragmatism. I also look to feminist theorists like Harstock (standpoint epistemology) and Haraway (situated knowledge). I swear I’m going to stop the name dropping!

To get back to the “worth” of opinions…If your car is broken you will likely trust the opinion (another way of saying a hypothesis) of your mechanic as to its underlying cause over the opinion of your dentist. The value of the mechanic’s opinion will be tested in experience (a pragmatist touchstone) when you authorize them to fix it. If they turn out to be wrong, the value of their future opinions may very well begin to “fade away” like the font mentioned above. In my example we have a relatively easy test of a problematic situation. In art criticism things get messier no? What is the problem we’re trying to solve when we turn to critical writing? Some possible problems:

1. I have a limited amount of time. Do I want to take the time to see this exhibition?
2. I saw this exhibition and I’m looking for some help making sense of what I experienced.
3. I will be unable to see this exhibition. Can someone give me a reliable account of what it was like?
4. I’m researching “x” and I need some useful thinking on it.
5. I am looking to be made aware of new and interesting things.

There are clearly more. If you break it down in this pragmatist spirit it becomes clearer to me what “quality” is and it also becomes easier to square the two notions you ask about ***. The “quality” of an idea is its usefulness in carrying one through a problematic situation (any of items 1-5 for instance). In the case of criticism, quality can largely come to mean trust – “I trust that Richard Shusterman will provide me with an analysis of a book that will serve my ends.” So *** just hasn’t found Knight all that reliable (despite being a mechanic) in assessing what’s broken with his car, so maybe he’s found that his neighbor (who is a “mere” tinkerer) has done a better job. The neighbor produces higher quality repairs. Of course if the neighbor does this just for *** and can’t do this for anyone else, then the quality is greatly diminished. Correspondingly, if the mechanic fails only ***, but satisfies most other, over time, the quality of his work will reveal itself as tested socially (see below in re: personal truth too).

There are also some forms of crowdsourcing that are better (again meaning more reliable at “solving” something problematic) than others. Amazon reviews are fine, but the structure is difficult to establish trusting (quality) relationships with reviewers. Delicious, Goodreads, and LibraryThing incorporate a social networking aspect that allows you to aggregate and follow a person’s reviews/annotations of websites and books respectively. On delicious for instance you can see everyone that has saved a particular link you find interesting and then you can look at all of their other saved links to determine if this shared interest was an aberration or if there’s a pattern of congruity (also quality). You can then add that person to your network thus adding another curatorial filter (had to make the reference).

Sooooo…one can certainly make claims about quality in my pluralist vision. it’s not the chaos you seem to imagine. It’s just that it limits one to small , not sweeping assertions. To be a properly pragmatist aesthetic populist ones claims must be fallibilistic and meliorist in spirit. The truth of a judgment is determined by a highly contextualized set of qualifiers. That truth is not merely personal however as experience is always part of a social context and will be tested over time. Let’s not forget that human culture has been crowdsourcing a very long time – that’s what capital C culture is right? the judgments of millions of people, some experts, some not coalescing around a set of ideas and practices to create legacies. It’s just that as post-colonialists, feminists, this process is suffused with power and a history of exclusions, thus the need to examine how “expertise” is determined and who is included in the process so that we know how much quality our quality truly merits versus obliges from us out of the laziness of consensus…

Sorry to the two of you still awake after reading my ramble!

I will concede the existence of masterpieces, but let’s not clink our champagne glasses just yet because I do so in the same spirit that I concede the existence of UFOs. That is, there certainly are flying objects that remain unidentified and those UFOs are real in a qualified sense. Masterpieces certainly exist in that there are cultures, and groups within those cultures that discuss and identify them. However there are cultures and groups within cultures that do not. So once again, context is of the utmost importance, you happen to be native (I think?) to a language and culture that has a (constructed) conception of the masterpiece and thus they are quite real to you and whether you accept it or not, I would argue that you have been trained to make the distinction between “schlock” as you called it and “genius.” I prefer Madonna to Bach, and given a certain set of values I can determine which is a masterpiece. The key being what values do I judge by? If you say a masterpiece is something that makes the dance floor fill up consistently and inspires dancing then Madonna’s oeuvre (you must be wincing at seeing those words next to each other) wins. In fact, she now has two decades of the evidence of her “genius.” Again, this leads me to ask though what do we gain by declaring something genius or a masterpiece beyond the emotional satisfaction of declaring our affection? Perhaps in the cause of preservation it is useful…but making these categorical proclamations seems counterproductive unless the ability to exclude some people from recognition is a desired end, which for me is not urgent at all!

Errrgh. Running out of time, so I’m not sure I said this exactly as I’d like…

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Six

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/13/2014

What is more, each of us inherits and is partially constituted by a number of sociocultural scripts authored by those who came before us. As roles to be acted out in everyday life, these at times conflicting scripts – for example, of daughter, sister, mother, lover, wife, woman, teacher – can be exceedingly difficult and painful to rewrite, especially for those persons (like “Phaedrus”) who have been relegated to the margins…As even Dewey fails to acknowledge sufficiently, they inevitably constrain the possibilities of personal renewal in very significant and consequential ways.

…Thus begins the process of education between a text-as-friend and the reader wherein the text (as the reader’s unattained but attainable self) calls the reader to his next self.

[note 18]…[Dewey] “poetry teaches as friends and life teach, by being, and not by express intent.”

Like the figure of the poet-as-midwife in romanticism, the text-as-friend strives to arrange a conversational rather than authoritarian scene of instruction. It invites the reader to find that distinctive path to self-realization that the linguistic community he shares with others makes possible for him…we are all educators for ourselves as well as for one another, We are all partial representations of some greater common-wealth.

…in synthesizing human activity through flexible adaptation to the environment, the body’s natural structuring agencies are highly subject to the sense-making structures of the culture it inherits; which is to say that culture, with its complex symbol systems, ideals, values, beliefs, and customs has its roots in the lived body. And as Michel Foucault forcefully reminds us, this makes it a malleable site for inscribing social power.

Whether we like it or not, the body is considerably more than a shadowing “giant” whose agencies can be substantially divorced from the art of living wisely and well. The habitual body, the primary medium of meaning in Dewey’s pragmatic naturalism, is prefigured in every mode of human behavior and expression, including linguistic activity. It conditions and is conditioned by our ability to negotiate successfully and act intelligently within all kinds of cultural space, those of work as well as of leisure. To fail to recognize this is to suppose the body to be little more than the intractable vessel of our mental life. To fail to acknowledge it is inevitably to impede the cause of personal renewal.

What kinds of environments and activities are most likely to expand the self and its capacity to find an make meaning in the world?

…In its configuration as a tentative but relatively stable organic unity of many and diverse habits, the poetically fashioned self achieves a balanced movement of energies and impulses. Yet at the same time it also eschews the prospect of any final endstate or absolute perfection. In going forth to meet new situations that present new demands, each stage in its growth becomes as much a stimulating disturbance toward the new as an achieved ordering of the old. The poetic self is, in this sense, both medial and media.

What is more, the poetic structure contributes to the self’s ability to negotiate everyday experience in a meaningful and satisfying way. The breadth and vitality of the poetic self’s working capacities make it especially well equipped to receive, respond to, and integrate imaginatively the meaning-enhancing possibilities of the present moment. Its capacious array of habits provides increased opportunities for finding and creating meaning in the world. In addition, the poetic self has the ability to solve problems in ways that maximize self-growth, establishing new avenues for richly funded experience. But more than that- and I want to underscore this point – it will sense as problematic situations that would otheriswe seem in good order. That is, it will experience some degree of disequilibrium where others likely will not. Vague discordances – such as Pirsig’s increasing awareness of “Phaedrus’s” ghostly presence or his intimation of a slight misfire in his bike – can more easily be detected and brought to consciousness by the poetic self. Its world is one of multiple and intersecting horizons of meaning, ever pregnant with freshly emerging problems and possibilities.

…The other-directed dimension of Emersonian perfectionism is oriented toward self-reliance through our shared linguistic resources. But Dewey’s poetics look to harmonize regard for the self and its internal others with flesh and blood other(s) in the world. The end-in-view of Deweyan dramatic rehearsal incorporates the environing community with its immediate deliberative horizon – looking in to the self and out to the world are not discrete activities, but elements of one continuous process. This means that the questions “Who am I?” and “Who am I to become?” do not arise independent of the question “How should I treat others?” In addition, we have seen that self-perfection through linguistic activity, while indeed a valuable means of personal renewal, can never be an adequate substitute for more overt democratic praxis. We greatly risk falling into a debased perfectionism if we do not remain alert to the fact that undertaking dialogue with internalized others does not guarantee our being answerable for this dialogue in concrete activities of public life. Yet Dewey stresses that it is through such praxis that we best come to understand that we inhabit the world meaningfully only with and through one another.

1. art as experience makes possible the reconstruction of habits (and hence the self) in ways that significantly alter and enhance the potential meaning and value of things;
2. art as experience, in contributing to a poetics of the body, improves both the aesthetic quality and use-value of somatic activity, in addition to the physical culture of our everyday environment;
3. as a form of deliberation or “dramatic rehearsal,” art as experience utilizes the agencies of aesthetic discrimination and poetic creation, conceiving, in imagination, hitherto unrecognized possibilities for thought and action;
4. the procedures of “dramatic rehearsal” assume a narrative structure that helps reveal the shortcomings of our habits of deliberation, furnishing a valuable kind of self-knowledge;
5. the poetic self resulting from artistic engagement in diverse contexts acquires a broad array of habits that presents increased opportunities for finding and creating meaning in the world;
6. the many and diverse habits of this poetic self foster a heightened ability to engage with and liberate the meaning-making capacities of others.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Five

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/10/2014

…To “unweave a rainbow” and treat its components as ontologically superior is, within Dewey’s and Pirsig’s metaphysics to commit *the* philosophical fallacy.

[Martha Nussbaum] Philosophy has often seen itself as a way of transcending the merely human, of giving the human being a new and more godlike set of activities and attachments. [An] alternative…sees it as a way of being human and speaking humanly. That suggestion will appeal only to those who actually want to be human, who see in human life as it is, with its surprises and connections, its pains and sudden joys, a story worth embracing. This in no way means not wishing to make life better than it is. But…there are ways of transcending that are human and “internal” and other ways that involve flight and repudiation.

…If human inquiry is conceived as a natural event- something that goes on in nature – there is not ontological division between self and world in which the skeptic can open a radical cleft of some kind.

…a nonskeptical attitude necessitates that we relinquish the idea that our primary relation to the world is one of knowing or not knowing. The world’s contingent presentness to us, the way it is disclosed to us…is not principally a matter of knowing. Rather, it is a function of those immediate meanings emerging from our shared forms of life…”attunements” or “alignments” – and the intrinsic significance that people and things come to possess over time through the part they play in various life activities.

philosophy is much more a discourse about culture, about the funded meanings of everyday life, than about knowledge per se…these thinkers [Emerson, Dewey, Pirsig, etc.] all perceive the emptiness or even danger of continuing to wrestle with the problems of epistemology, and so they work to undermine the attenuated (skeptical) picture of human experience that helped give birth to, and in some quarters continues to nourish, the convention of asking questions about foundations and certainty. In other words, they do not so much evade what Dewey calls “the industry of epistemology” as attempt to undercut “the claims of its questions.”

Marriage, for Wordsworth, is foremost a way of being in the world. It entails a continuous (re) affirmation and (re) acknowledgement of the conditions of our humanity, something more pervasive and primordial than a scripted rule – or precept-bound relationship. This marriage is not so much an event (like a wedding ceremony) as an attitude toward events – an attitude of care, mindfulness, fallibility, and adventure. And here we can detect strong resonances with Dewey’s and Pirsig’s accounts of artistic engagement…resonances suggesting that aesthetic or high-quality experience is a prominent and recurring feature of this Wordsworthian marriage. It represents the possibility of an ever renewable intimacy with an infinitely meaningful environment, a revitalizing devotion to the everyday. With it, Dewey says, we shed our indifference to the qualitative uniqueness of things. We begin to crack the shell of mundaneness that often accrues around everyday objects so as to “share vividly and deeply in meanings to which we have become dumb.” Such experience also calls attention to the fact that this marriage requires emotional as well as intellectual responsiveness ( a “feeling intellect), and therein it reminds us of the skeptical withdrawal or torpor that can very easily make us feel as though we are not at home in the commonplace world.

…”Ultimately there are but two philosophies,” Dewey concludes, “One of them accepts life and experience in all its uncertainty, mystery, doubt, and half-knowledge and turns that experience upon itself to deepen and intensify its own qualities – to imagination and art”. In short, it takes the limits and liabilities of the human condition and turns them into poetic affirmations. The other philosophy is that of the Cavellian [Stanley Cavell] skeptic.

If this journey is to consist of more than observing, redescribing, and mapping from a distance, it must be an adventure in living no less than thinking, and a personally challenging one at that.

…Thoreau, however, understands reading (as well as writing) as the demanding process of engaging with the complex energies and movements of language.

…Thus do we see the Emersonian poet-philosopher alluding to great scholars, writers, and artists. But they are to be taken more as inspirational progenitors than models to be imitated. Their creations are to be appropriated and put to work, used to expand our present and future horizons of meaning rather than passively assimilated. “Around every circle another can be drawn,” runs the Emersonian credo.

Dewey holds that unimpeded participation in social activities, shared interests, and open communication are the basic ingredients of democratic life, More than that, they are inherently educative. Common, community, and communication are inseparable in his view. A critical-creative culture, along with supporting institutions – educational institutions chief among them – are crucial to obtaining and safeguarding those goods amidst the precarious struggle for a meaningful existence. Taken together they share the responsibility of nourishing and sustaining the conditions necessary for cultivating ***the art of experience*** – the principal measure, as I have suggested, of Deweyan democracy. This means that it is the frutiful practice of democracy in the everyday that Dewey holds most dear, not a specific set of institutions or political arrangements. Deomcracy, he says repeatedly, is something continually to strive for, a never-ending experiment in associated living rather than a static achievement or legacy to be bequeathed. As such it requires strong, educated, imaginative individuals. [Democracy as a way of life – Art as a way of life]

Dewey’s conception of individuality differs frome Emerson’s and Pirsig’s in that it rejects *in principle* the prospect of individuality without sociality…He claims that individuality can only be actualized through a sustained period of overt participation in social life, whether in the form of active approval or disapproval. This means that Emrson’s so-called original unit is really a product of years of varied association. As Dewey argues in Individualism, Old and New:

moving and multiple associations are the only means by which the possibilities of individuality can be realized..To gain an integrated individuality, each of us needs to cultivate his own garden. But there is no fence about this garden: it is no sharply marked-off enclosure. Our garden is the world, in the angle at which it touches our own manner of being. By accepting the…world in which we live, and by thus fulfilling the pre-condition for interaction with it, we, who are also parts of the moving present, create ourselves as we create an unknown future.

***1. art as experience holds out the possibility of an ever renewable intimacy with an infinitely meaningful lived world;
2. the creative impetus of art as experience imbues the things of everyday life with enhanced meaning and value;***

3. in cracking the shell of mundaneness that often accrues around the things of everyday, art an the aesthetic reconnect us with those objects and people that we have come to take for granted, renewing our appreciation for their significance in our lives;
4. the feeling intellect of art as experience allows us to turn the limits and liabilities of the human condition into poetic affirmations;
5. art as experience helps us to explore the creative possibilities of our inheritance in culture, developing new ends and goods (or values) of our own design;
6. in utilizing a both/and logic, art as experience overrides inherited dualistic patterns of thinking, acknowledging the reality of irony and paradox, the contingency and fluidity of boundaries, and the possibility of alternative – though not always valuable perspectives;
7. the general prospects for art as experience provide a measure of attainment of democratic forms of life.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Four

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/09/2014

…Moreover, we must recognize that poetic quality “exists in many degrees and forms”. In an effort to drive these points home, Dewey takes the time in Art as Experience to quote verbatim an actual weather report…Dewey freely admits that almost no one would call these lines actual poetry. Yet without modifying it in any way, he presents a bit or ordinary prose as “something poetic” found in an “unexpected place”.

…shared life and experience is for him the great miracle of human existence. The democratic attitude is the religious attitude; democratic values are religious values…The substantial emancipation of the religious from religion, he firmly believes, is the only way to heal this destructive and unnecessary chasm between “the live creature and ethereal things”…

to emancipate the aesthetic, as an adjective, from the artworld’s acquisitive treatment of art as a noun substantive. Both the aesthetic and the religious are to be interpreted as qualities of a larger experience, latent in any number of situational contexts.

****…For all of these figures [Wordsworth, Emerson, Dewey, Pirsig] the aesthetic and the religious are variations of a common theme – the ideal of life as the realization of the poetic possibilities of everyday experience.****

…Dewey locates imagination not in the mind or some other part of our intellectual equipment, but rather in the dramatic field of self-world interaction. Imagination is a way of being oriented toward things, seeing and feeling them, as they constitute a unified whole…[imagination is not an individual possession] it is a phase of natural events capable of extracting from existing conditions unrealized possibilities for meaning.

Aesthetic experience for Dewey, culminates not so much in vertical movement – transcendence to a higher level of being through a tighter and more comprehensive unity. It is instead better described as horizontal – a movement outward toward an ever-expanding horizon of meaning and value.

Aesthetic experience emerges with the aid of intelligence from the manifold rhythms of everyday life, wherein all things pass ineluctably in and out of existence. This is the sine qua non of Deweyean pragmatic naturalism. There is no hidden and self-identical “higher” reality to be unmasked, no permanent haven for which to strive; there is only the body and mind working together in and through the natural and sociocultural environment to create and recreate meaning.

…A metaphysics that increases our understanding of the possible relationships between our sociocultural practices and the various traits of the lived world is, from this perspective, indispensable to philosophy as criticism.

1. both aesthetic and religious experience are latent in any number of situational contexts, and not exclusive and autonomous things-in-themselves;
2. the aesthetic and religious, taken together, manifest the ideal of life as the realization of poetic possibilities of everyday experience;
3. expressive (or aesthetic) meaning is wholly inseparable from its conditioning medium – there can be no such thing as “impulsive expression”;
4. all forms of expression are ultimately as much a function of the body as of the mind;
5. the self or its emotions are not what art expresses, but rather the sensed meaning arising from purposeful interaction of self and world;
6. the goal of interpreting an art object is not simply to “get it” by reading the artist’s mind – there is considerably more meaning to be gleaned from openly exploring the expressive potentialities f the object and its medium;
7. the aesthetic imagination is fundamentally intentional rather than free floating or disinterested;
8. imagination is not a discrete faculty or power, but rather a whole contextual orientation toward things capable of disclosing alternatives to present conditions;
9. art does not reveal the essence of things or achieve higher levels of being – it is a means of expanding one’s everyday horizon of meaning;
10. a unified experience should act as much as “a stimulating disturbance toward the new as an achieved ordering of the old” – to strive for a perfectly harmonious, inclusive unity is inevitably to stifle growth and possibility.

David Granger’s “John Dewey, Robert Pirsig, and the Art of Living” – Chapter Three

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/08/2014

…The more the meaning of an experience is carried through its immediate qualitative dimension, Dewey argues, the more conspicuous the limits of language become.

this separation of art from the objects and events of everyday life have very profound, and often very pernicious, consequences.

[footnote 4] Aesthetic attitude theories maintain that a person must be essentially unconcerned with the practical utility of an object if this object is to be experienced aesthetically or as art. [<—note distinction between the two!] In short, they view instrumental and intrinsic meaning as inherently opposed. Commentators on Art as Experience tend to overstate the extent to which Dewey accepts this idea.

"Tangled scenes of life are made more intelligible in esthetic experience: not, however, as reflection and science render things more intelligible by reduction to conceptual form, but by presenting their meanings as the matter of a clarified, coherent, and intensified or ‘impassioned’ experience“. This is one of many statements of Dewey’s belief that in human life knowledge is largely subordinate to the direct qualitative meaning of things. As a matter of tracing out existential relations, its value lies primarily outside itself, in some external end. The intelligibility that it provides is meaning “for” rather than directly “of,” we might say. Nonetheless, the desire to treat art as if it were a mode of knowing or an embodiment of the “truth of things” has long been a prominent theme within Euro-American aesthetics.

Thus conceived, art is eminently practical; it is about refreshing and enhancing everyday lived experience, not escaping to the pristine sublimity of theoretical abstraction or disinterested beauty

…the aesthetic suffers immeasurably when cognitive meanings are granted a monopoly in experience.”

…Add to this the idea that art is a mode of practice, he [Dewey] continues, and “the only distinction worth drawing is not between practice and theory, but between those modes of practice that are not intelligent, not inherently and immediately enjoyable, and those which are full of enjoyed meanings“.

…[Richard] Shusterman contends that Dewey’s use of “aesthetic experience” can help us to remember that qualitatively enriched experience, and not national/class privilege or the collecting of precious objects, is what makes art an incomparable source of personal and cultural renewal…The more we learn, and then teach others, how to fashion life itself into art, as Dewey says, the less we will feel the need to treat art as “the beauty parlor of civilization”.

What then is artworld art? As the term is used here, it refers to art that is largely created to respond, either positively or negatively, to the particular concerns, values, and practices of those institutionally enfranchised persons who constitute the artworld. This means that its audience and presumed context of interpretation are more or less predetermined.

They tend to promote the creation of reflexive art-about-art, art that demands that its audience be familiar with the specialized and routinely abstract discourse(s) circulating within the artworld

…Treated in this autonomous fashion, the artworld is effectively removed from any wider normative context from which its values and practices might be critiqued and reconstructed…That which is not accepted by the artworld as a candidate for appreciation is unceremoniously dismissed from the “family,” enabling the possiility for art to become “increasingly alien to the lives and joys of most people.” [<–Shusterman] With this we can imagine Dewey, a tireless proponent of shared experiences and practices, being greatly disturbed. His guiding concern is to direct us toward more and better aesthetic experiences, not legislating as to what is and what is not a “genuine” art object.

It is crucial for Dewey that the parameters of art be neither definitively marked off within the aesthetic dimension of lived experience nor limited to certain prescribed institutional or cultural contexts.

Dewey and Pirsig would, I think, join someone like Wittgenstein in having us question whether we ever can or need formulate any such conditions (especially outside academe). [necessary and sufficient conditions for what constitutes art]

“The intelligent mechanic engaged in his job, interested in doing well and finding satisfaction in his handiwork, caring for his materials and tools with genuine affection, is artistically engaged. The difference between such a worker and the inept careless bungler is as great in the shop as it is in the studio.” [Dewey]

Unlike the dualistic posture of the disinterested spectator, this mindful, “feeling intellext” is invested emotionally in its affairs, like a mechanic who is “caring for his materials and tools with genuine affection”. There is a fullness of participation and sense of purpose that is, again, receptive without being passive. What is undergone is experienced in all its fecundity.

Then we are led to ask not only “Does it work?: of a given technology, but also, “What kind of experience does it afford?”

1. aesthetic experience is a human achievement involving intelligent thought and action – it is not a spontaneous, unguarded event;
2. aesthetic experience, qua aesthetic, is an enrichment of the immediacy of experience in which knowledge plays a chiefly instrumental role – it is neither a mode of knowing nor an embodiment of the “truth of things”;
3. aesthetic experience is marked by its own individualizing quality and self-sufficiency and is composed of an organic unity of interdependent parts;
4. aesthetic experience is not predominantly mentalistic, but is instead rooted in the biophysical rhythms of the lived body;
5. a mindful “feeling intellect,” rather than a restrained posture of disinterestedness, facilitates the cultivation of aesthetic experience;
6. any distinction between the aesthetic merits and use-value of things is ultimately a relative one in experience – the two are not inherently opposed;
7. experiences involving some degree of pain, loss, or even the conventionally “ugly” can have palpable aesthetic quality insofar as they heighten our appreciation of the intrinsic meaning and value of those things that make up our everyday lifeworld;
8. art objects are frequently a potent and ready source of aesthetic experience, but not the sole or even principal medium of the aesthetic;
9. the arts can be of deep moral significance inasmuch as they help to reeducate and enhance our habits of perception.

The audacity of participation: another art/food manifesto

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/01/2014

1. Figuring out what is or isn’t art is like pondering what is or isn’t “authentic” Vietnamese cuisine – a hobby of pedants and thought police that usually just gets in the way of a pleasurable experience.

2. Conflating art with aesthetics is like conflating French cooking with the entire culinary universe, or maybe even haute cuisine with the totality of what constitutes food.

3. Molecular gastronomy might be the cooking equivalent of contemporary art, not only because of its rarefied nature, elevated ambition, and intellectual bent, but also because it is elitist, full of gimmicks, faddish, and dying a well deserved death.

4. Art is a cancerous cell in the body of aesthetic practices, attempting to replicate itself at the expense of the larger body, crowding the diverse, multi-cellular ecosystem with its one dimensional excesses.

5. Eliminate all art departments and replace them with aesthetics departments (but let’s eventually dismantle them too).

6. Art departments have actually become Art Department Studies, mistaking the problems of art students, professors, and the educational edifice with the problems of art. They also forget that their professionalizing practices (the critique, baptism by theory, the artist statement, etc.) do not serve art, but serve only to beg for disciplinary approval from the corporate university.

7. Art, then needs audacious cooks, perhaps some of which have gone to school, but many that have not, who are not cooking to impress their instructors, but to make tasty food. Art needs the audacity of participation, not led by art world facilitators, but by upstart food truck ventures, by home cooks, by all the people who are bold enough to believe that they are already participating if the so called experts would just get out of the way.

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Art is an unmade bed: a normcore aesthetics manifesto

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/25/2014

I don’t want art to ask any questions, unless it is “what would you like for dinner?” I want art to be predictable, like a romantic comedy that leaves you crying on the couch even though you knew they would end up together. I’d like it to sit in your lap and purr. Art should be like a mailbox – mostly junk, filled with ads, scams, bills, and the occasional birthday card. I don’t want art to teach me anything, unless it is how to make compost or how to organize my closet. I want art to be happy with what it has, I don’t want it to try to get ahead. Art ought to be gossip magazines in the waiting room. It should be a doily on your grandmother’s dresser. Art ought to be a cup holder in your car or the wrappers in the backseat. Or maybe art could be an armrest or bath mat. Art should be like a GAP ad. It should be paint peeling from a barn. I think art should quit being art, should change its name, go into the witness protection program. Art should be your new neighbor and wave to you from their driveway. I want art to be normal. You never have to know the crimes, the dirty deeds, or its sordid past. Art should be an unmade bed that sometimes gets fresh sheets when you’re having a party.

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“I really despise the strip mall/corporate chain mentality that says – in every city a Project Row Houses, in every syllabus a Grant Kester, in every program a critique…” – Even more stuff I said on facebook with the really challenging, thoughtful, responses removed

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 12/11/2013

The material below stemmed from this (January 2013):

Morning rant:

So, yesterday I saw a status update soliciting ideas for a social practice syllabus and it continues to blow my mind how unbelievably predictable the suggestions were. Foucault, Bishop, de Certeau, Nancy, Mouffe, Jackson, Habermas, Rosler, yadda yadda yadda…

What does it say about the state of education that there is such homogeneity? Sure, we can agree on some common/core texts,but isn’t *anyone* else suspicious about this? Can we really believe that the same laundry list of thinkers passed around from grad school syllabus to grad school syllabus enriches our understanding of social practice? Is everyone so (ahem) lazy? And how can academics otherwise inclined to be critical of universal narratives so readily agree on one for social practice? The global sameness of suburbanization is problematic, but reading (always *reading*) name brand theorists from school to school is essential?

I meet person after person in the field that have a really narrow point of reference clearly gleaned from “syllabus syndrome.” And why is it almost always readings? Or activist and art projects? Why not parents, neighbors, bakers, mechanics, baristas, programmers, bar tenders, clergy, restaurateurs? Do non-academics (that are not activists) have *anything* to offer social practice (other than as a grist mill for “collaboration”)? Should we tell folks to just read through AAAARG.org, check out the Creative Time Summit videos and call it a day?

And ultimately resulted in this: All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus – Or, an idiosyncratic “arty party” field guide to Vermont.

…being versed *academics* is part of the problem I’m trying to describe and I’m not sure I buy that social practice is not a “medium”, or conceived as such, or at least desired to be so by said academics.

“A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action, and towards power. That means the empiricist temper regnant, and the rationalist temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality and the pretence of finality in truth.” – William James on philosophy

Kaprow and Dewey (but Jane Addams would be even more instructive than Dewey)are near and dear to me (I’ve written about them incessantly), but mostly for the orientation they offer – Dewey pointing away from *school* and toward education as a way of life and away from *government* and toward democracy as a way of life. Kaprow for constantly pointing away from art and also for saying don’t look at my pointing finger!

not suggesting either/or…I very much believe in the value of theory, but only inasmuch as it *actually* clarifies practice. Too often it is regarded as an end in itself, and always threatens this when it becomes “essential” reading. And amen to looking at other cultures – I might offer that a visit to two week visit to Thailand would be as (and yes I admit my bias, I really think *more*) valuable as 15 weeks of readings and critique.

AMEN sister. Discourse is *one* thing, but often presented as the *only* thing. Starting with texts muddies those waters immediately and, I think, sends another message – the (extremely narrow) verbal-intellectual slice of human experience is all that is acceptable in the arts these days. Mystical experience? Nonsense. Emotions? Well, we can sneak those in by calling them “affect.” Love? Compassion? Humor? Cloak them in irony or make them “revolutionary” and we will abide.

Sticking with my James (I’m re-reading), social practice needs to widen the search for God [pardon in advance his gendered language] :

“In short, she widens the field of search for God. Rationalism sticks to logic and the empyrean. Empiricism sticks to the external senses. Pragmatism is willing to take anything, to follow either logic or the senses, and to count the humblest and most personal experiences. She will count mystical experiences if they have practical consequences. She will take a God who lives in the very dirt of private fact – if that should seem a likely place to find him.”

I have no idea whether anything has “backfired” or not. On one hand I want say there is nothing wrong with being “comfortable” and that tying growth to discomfort is an old saw of the avant garde, but then again students *can* be outright lazy, and worse, completely ungenerous with their attention…never talking about the term social practice is probably a wise choice (and one I wish I was better at)…

I might agree ***** if I knew how to tell ahead of time whether such uncertainty was exquisite or not. Sometimes students find only fear/alienation…I have been thinking about social practice (the field) today as a building without an architect, vernacular architecture…and I see academia resisting that, wanting to bring in the professionals and make sure everything is built to code, properly licensed. I’d like to stick closer to the approaches of Freire’s and Horton’s “We Make the Road by Walking” or “Mercogliano’s Making It Up As We Go Along”…

And yes let’s not get stuck with the same old examples either. Being a hardcore localist (and anti-globalist), I am puzzled by people that appear to understand the value of such a perspective when it comes to food or retail/small business, but abandon it in the name of “cosmopolitan” education. This isn’t to say we can’t or shouldn’t learn from outside perspectives – but shouldn’t a San Francisco (social practice) education be distinct from a Chicago one or a NYC one? Not just in terms of faculty, but in terms of who is read and what projects are considered? I really despise the strip mall/corporate chain mentality that says – in every city a Project Row Houses, in every syllabus a Grant Kester, in every program a critique…I thought people took diversity seriously!

*Some* rural areas are conservative, and what exactly is wrong about being conservative? You seem to equate conservative with “racist, bigoted, sexist and homophobic” and that, of course is a highly contentious characterization. And if homogeneity is a problem, one would think my criticism would resonate. Obviously, we disagree about how heterogeneous the suggestions were. This would stem from my academic “privilege,” I suppose, given that there was almost nothing suggested I hadn’t seen dozens of time before. The funny thing about “privilege” though is that almost *anyone* is privileged from one perspective or another. And I find it as a rather lazy (ahem) way to try to negate someone’s point of view. You are “privileged” to have internet access so, let’s just ignore? Funnily though, my rant was directed not so much at privilege, but at a variant – exclusivity. I am in the middle of putting together a “syllabus” called “All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice” and the first part of that title sums things up nicely. The idea that we need academic gatekeepers, curators, artists, academics, activists, etc. to understand social practice is troubling. Or rather what your criticism (thank you) and some comments above remind me of is that I need to be clearer about my “either/or” tone – I am not proposing an end to those suggestions that you find value in, but want very much to supplement it with the stuff right in front of us, beneath our feet, right where we are, by non-academics and non-artists. I want a broad, messy social practice, not just the tidy intellectual/political baubles of academe (oops fell back into that tone again – I’m working on it. I swear.).

I keep finding myself thinking/feeling that all of the things that distinguish an art project from some other thing/experience in the world are all of the things that make it less interesting, not more, that make it less vital, less luminous, less magical. – Why I wish art was more like National Lampoon’s Vacation – some sh*t I said to someone way more interesting than me

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 11/07/2013

[an excerpt from a conversation with Sal Randolph that will some day be made public in full – along with a bunch of conversations with other folks on art/life]


Randall:

As usual Sal, you’ve made an eloquent defense of art’s ability to create meaningful experience(s). Although I would say you’re cheating just a little bit with Mildred’s Lane as the “art” part of it is way too messy to fully claim credit. My problem is that I find life so full of amazing poetic moments that I don’t need or want someone to go about trying to create them for me. Aesthetic experience is everywhere and I’ve found that art is too often about pointing to that experience, describing that experience, dissecting it on the latest critical altar, documenting it…

I mean, take your commentary about the “impoverished” descriptive language for social practice – I think we are getting dangerously close to agreeing here! I would argue that it is precisely to the degree that social practice tries to generate “project statements” and “proposals” and that it tries to adapt itself to the “historically familiar” art practice of making claims by which it can then be judged in some intellectual way, is the degree to which it fails to become anything other than another genre, another art fad waiting to fade from the limelight…

It is indeed the VAST “chasm between the lived experience of works like these and the constricted voice of their own PR” that is the very structure of contemporary art itself! Art has basically become a truth in advertising test – Did the ad accurately convey the experience of using the product? Did the advertiser make false claims about the product? Is that all that is at stake?

I keep finding myself thinking/feeling that all of the things that distinguish an art project from some other thing/experience in the world are all of the things that make it less interesting, not more, that make it less vital, less luminous, less magical.

To invoke Kaprow again:

“I would like to imagine a time when Tail Wagging Dog could be experienced and discussed outside the arts and their myriad histories and expectations. It would be a relief to discard the pious legitimizing that automatically accompanies anything called art; and to bypass the silly obligation to live up to art’s claim on supreme values. (Art saves the world, or at least the artist.) The arts are not bad; it’s the overinflated way we think about them that has made them unreal. For activities like Tail Wagging Dog, the arts are mostly irrelevant and cause needless confusion.

But in the foreseeable future, complete detachment from art culture is unlikely…It can’t lose its parentage so quickly. The best that can be hoped is that a gradual weariness with the art connection will naturally occur as it appears, correctly, less and less important.”

Maybe it is like National Lampoon’s Vacation, in it, Chevy Chase is determined to get to Walley World, along the way a series of mishaps occurs. These mishaps are all of the things beyond Chase’s control, and they are the things that make the film comedic, the vain attempt to stay on course, to stick to the plan, while life gets in the way….If art’s failure to fully control experience, to meet its own demands in the face of a recalcitrant life, were more like Chevy Chase forgetting to untie the dog from the bumper of his car before leaving the campground, then maybe I would find it more engaging. Instead, I’m left feeling sorry for the (tail wagging) dog.

Criticality as rearguard defense of capital – The “purity” of critique is the metaphysics of irrelevance

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/28/2013

Hal Foster’s Art and Architecture Complex – Stephen Horne

The Art – Architecture Complex is a book concerned with contemporary architecture and design, a subject I am vastly underqualified to critically pursue. How I could venture into this task without the requisite specialization is best explained by my conviction that marginality with respect to such specialization is sometimes preferable to expertise. And it may well be that both art and architecture are fields too important to be left to their professional defenders. And anyway, if Foster’s observations are accurate, architecture has itself been dissolved, our ways of building and dwelling transformed into cinematic encounters under consumer media’s management.

With this title, The Art – Architecture Complex, Foster invokes that sense of capitalist conspiracy first expressed in the 1960’s phrase, “military/industrial complex.” The book is massively informative but characterized by the author’s trademark polemic with regard to the pluralism that is post modernity in general. Foster has long made clear his preference for purity over plurality…

This metaphysics, the foundation for Foster’s criticism in general, is oppositional in form. He typically opposes resistance and transgression to complicity, outside to inside, the real to the illusory, and the virtual to the actual. This marks a limit to his analyses, and for some would render his conclusions helplessly conservative, even when his objections to “capital” might seem necessary. This is the crux of his situation; critical for his historical consciousness, conservative for the same, his oppositionality leaving him without traction with regard to a historicity of experience now re-composed by way of electronic “abstraction.” In this new situation, Foster refuses to acknowledge how antiquated his use of “the image” and “spectacle” has become, clinging as this does to some notion of an objective foundation, a reality that would offer an external standpoint from which critique proceeds. His fervent conviction that there is an “outside” from which criticism can orient itself and from which critical attacks may be mounted, that distance is definitive of criticality, fails to account for and integrate the pluralizing impact of electronic communications media with which the post modern is to be identified. Even a likely sympathizer such as Bruno Latour asks, “Are we not like those mechanical toys that endlessly make the same gesture when everything else has changed around them?”

…Baudrillard, informed by the media theory of Marshall McLuhan, developed a more “performative” vision of architecture’s relationship with new media. Although the literary character of his thought has often been anathema to traditionalists such as Foster, his observations are acute if expressed in apocalyptic language. His willingness to embrace the media as environment means he spends less time spinning his wheels on a positioning of critique now no longer available as it was in the nineteen eighties.

Perhaps what is needed, following Foster’s denunciations of design as mere consumerist manipulation in the service of greater efficiencies for capitalism, is recognition of a more general outline. That would be one that attributes the root of the problem more deeply in a description of the rationalist prejudices that dominate our thinking and being. For the style of critique demonstrated by Foster and his colleagues this would be bad news, leaving them revealed as a part of the problem in so far as their project is itself inextricably dedicated to the founding of criticality in a modernity already itself a practice of instrumental rationality. In this sense, the critique mounted from Foster’s “leftist” optimism has become a rearguard defence inevitably and finally supporting and requiring those elements of purification and linearity so essential to the drive of technics (including capital) for ever greater efficiency.

Against (only) epistemological art – Sue Bell Yank’s The Constructivist Artwork

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/03/2013

“We must shift from a vision of intelligence, as a basically neutral cognitive ability, to a holistic vision of intelligence as an ability that nurtures the human spirit and enables a person’s full realization. Intelligence and love of life in this vision go hand in hand.” – Ramón Gallegos

“As Dewey says, ‘It is not experience which is experienced, but nature – stones, plants, animals, diseases, health, temperature, electricity, and so on.’ My valuing experience of an act of injustice as wrong is about value that I find in the same world where I also find plants and stones. To dismiss the importance of valuing in inquiry because it is merely subjective or a mere psychological reaction is to assume a dualism or to presuppose the supremacy of the theoretical standpoint in revealing what is real.” – Gregory Pappas

So much can be said about Sue Bell Yank’s post The Constructivist Artwork that it is difficult for me to address everything. Her piece is quite welcome as it raises many interesting questions. The quotes above hint at the crux of my response. Pragmatism, in many ways nullifies many of the “problems” posed by Yank. To start, the distinction between idealism and constructivism can be pragmatically useful, but the pragmatist believes that ideas are things, so they are as much a part of the world as ice cream. Pragmatism also preaches meliorism (which is essentially the belief that life can be improved) so it is not truth in any final sense that is sought, but a truth that “works.” Pragmatism, as William James describes it is “radical empiricism.” In his pragmatist version of empiricism, contra Locke, and Plato, the fact/value distinction (like so many others) dissolves. So if we apply some of these points of view to the piece by Yank, we see that she is correct that “constructivism is inevitable.” But, so is idealism, because the two epistemological nodes are part of a continuum.

This requires a holistic point of view to adequately address and leads to one of the difficulties with this piece. It suffers from a one dimensional understanding of what knowledge is and mistakes education as being solely concerned with this limited (intellectualist) notion of knowledge. As Gallegos points out above, knowledge and intelligence needn’t be the purely cognitive type of material Yanks seems to imply. She says, “But often, experiences that are novel and rich with ideas have an educational “potential” and therefore a position on how we acquire knowledge and what that body of knowledge is.” Note that she describes experiences rich with ideas. This point of view is similar to the proponents of academic standards in schools (which functions in somewhat the same way as Yank describes “museums, art spaces, and funding entities” engaging in.). It mistakes that which can be measured for that which is valuable. So I’m left with making two suggestions – one, is to expand what counts as knowledge, or two, advocate for art practices that do more than engage the mind. Holistic educators are a rich source of guidance here (see Nel Noddings, Ron Miller, etc.). Without this adjustment, we’re stuck in the art world academics want – one that cultivates their own specialist skills and interests rather than an art world that cultivates thinking, yes, but also joy, love, and the soul.

“Loyal to our critical principles, we can barely squeak out the slenderest of affirmations. Fearful of living in dreams and falling under the sway of ideologies, we have committed ourselves to disenchantment…What we need, therefore, is to rethink our educational self-image and subordinate the critical moment to a pedagogy that encourages the risks of love’s desire.” – R.R. Reno

Claire Bishop and Nato Thompson as two sides of the same art worshiping coin – Some notes on a review

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/19/2013

Social Works – Sara Marcus

It goes by several names and takes a range of forms, but as with so many protean phenomena, we know it when we see it. Participation-based art, social engagement, social practice: Art that takes relations between people as its medium is currently ascendant, with specialized MFA programs, new social-practice art prizes, and biennials all attesting to its rise. This past spring’s Berlin Biennale, which gave the city’s Occupy activists free rein over an exhibition hall in the Kunst-Werke, is only the latest prominent example. Works like Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave, 2001, a weekend-long event during which historical reenactors and Yorkshire locals rehashed a 1984 clash between police and striking miners; Phil Collins’s They Shoot Horses, 2004, in which a handful of Palestinian teenagers in Ramallah danced to Western pop hits for eight hours; and any number of arranged social interactions by Tino Sehgal have for some years been staples of museum exhibitions and art-magazine exegeses.

Yet if we’re now several decades and theoretical upheavals too late to still be asking whether or why these projects are art—embedded as they are in the networks, conversations, and institutions that make up the art universe—discussions about how they are art, and what this means, are arriving not a moment too soon. They have surfaced most recently in a pair of divergent yet overlapping books, a quasi exhibition catalogue and a scholarly volume, that illustrate some of the tensions and problems that this kind of work brings up.

[Asking *how* they are art is just another way of sneaking in the question of *whether* they are art. This, of course, is the least interesting question one could ask. The notion of these activities being art-embedded is odd, as the very notion that something is a “project” and not say, a mode of living (living as form), indicates immediately that they are merely art after all.]

The former book, Creative Time’s Living as Form, is a kitchen-sink survey of art and activism, profiling over a hundred social projects, from canonical artworks (Francis Alÿs’s When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002; Suzanne Lacy’s The Roof Is on Fire, 1994) to those whose status is more contested (Women on Waves, a group that sails a mobile abortion clinic around Europe) to, most provocative of all, projects that seem to have never made any bid to be included in such a context: WikiLeaks, Pirate Bay, the Tahrir Square demonstrations. The idea here is not so much to expand what can be considered art as it is to think beyond that category altogether: “If this work is not art,” Nato Thompson, who edited the volume and curated the fall 2011 exhibition of the same name, writes in the title essay, “then what are the methods we can use to understand its effects, affects, and impact?” He has described this project’s approach as a “cattle call” and quotes Donald Rumsfeld: “If you have a problem, make it bigger.” In other words, if artworks that look a lot like activism continue to give some people pause, then, Thompson proposes, we should bring we should bring projects that look even less like art into the mix, and see what happens., and see what happens.

[Thompson is given way too much credit here: “The idea here is not so much to expand what can be considered art as it is to think beyond that category altogether” Living as Form, barely pushes beyond art. When it does, it stretches ever so cautiously into art world comfort zones of activism. So Thompson makes an elitist form of culture making *slightly* more inclusive and for that he gets credit, but he falls far, far short of articulating a vision of cultural production that makes more than a cursory effort to include “projects that look even less like art into the mix, and see what happens.”]

The Living as Form project seems tailor-made, at first glance, to get art critic and scholar Claire Bishop’s eyes rolling. She is an integral participant in the conversations this book seeks to register and advance—in fact, she spoke in the program’s lecture series last year and contributed an essay to the present volume—but her approach differs dramatically from Thompson’s. For while Living as Form is largely celebratory and expansive, preferring to pose enormous questions rather than suggesting how to answer them, Bishop’s new book, Artificial Hells, takes the field to task for a certain critical and aesthetic sloppiness she sees arising from a reluctance to draw aesthetic distinctions, articulate a critical framework, or venture to discuss matters of quality. For the better part of a decade, Bishop has been arguing that a great deal of the art that travels under the label “social practice” (or other related designations) is neither politically efficacious nor aesthetically compelling, yet is given a sort of pass—exempted from critical rigor because its heart is in the right place. “It is . . . crucial,” she wrote in a much-debated Artforum article in 2006, “to discuss, analyze, and compare such work critically as art.” This is a 180-degree turn from Thompson’s gleeful aside in a Living as Form–connected talk he gave last year: “We’ll call them ‘artworks’ for now; we will destroy that as we go.”

An expanded version of Bishop’s Artforum piece serves as the first chapter of Artificial Hells, her bid to introduce precision and skepticism into a conversation that frequently tends toward the impressionistic and the utopian. It’s a capacious book, organized around a general argument that will be familiar to anybody who has read her major critical writings: Discussions about social practice tend to reject individual authorship too reflexively, while overvaluing collectivity and consensus; art that is antagonistic, that provokes difficult feelings (“unease, discomfort or frustration”), often yields a richer experience for viewer-participants than works that solicit cooperation; the failure of much social practice to attend seriously to the aesthetic experience of secondary audiences, who are not present as the work initially unfolds, is a grave liability.

[Bishop though, is especially useless and conservative. She is one of the last great dinosaurs of criticality. You have to respect her, for she is absolutely shameless in seeking to cling to the last vestiges of the academic aristocracy. One of the delicious ironies of her position on social practice, her fetish for antagonism, is that the work that seems to *actually* make her uncomfortable is work that is too nice, friendly, or uncritical. So while she allegedly favors work that provokes “unease, discomfort or frustration,” what she really means is work that provokes those feelings in a comfortable (intellectual) way. She too, it seems, wants to stay within her comfort zone.]

Although Bishop’s and Thompson’s books are plainly in conversation, they also talk past each other, the authors attempting to cast the discussion in their own preferred terms. Living as Form is interested in social and political intent, while Bishop focuses on “participation”—a term that overlaps significantly, but not entirely, with the purview of Living. Bishop wants to talk about durable artistic “results” over ephemeral “process,” while Thompson is invested in how to change the world—the less said about art qua art, the better.

In Artificial Hells—the title comes from Andre Breton and refers to the difficult works Bishop favors—she develops her argument against an “ethical turn” in art criticism, in which artworks are judged based on how much they involve and empower non-artist “participants.” Empowering participants sounds far less stirring than changing the world, and her choice of the former wording highlights what she identifies as a constrained, NGO-ish cast to discussions about social practice. Such discussions, she argues, too often reflect the positivism of impact statements and grant proposals, social sciences and community development—angles that are not necessarily compatible with memorable art or radical social change. Bishop’s approach draws on the work of philosopher Jacques Rancière, particularly The Politics of Aesthetics, in arguing that since the realm of the aesthetic is inherently political, it’s misguided to think art must be directly topical or model inclusive democratic activity in order to be engaged in politics. Throughout Artificial Hells, she offers a welcome dose of theoretical seriousness to the field. But her rhetoric occasionally distracts from her argument. At times, she frames issues in a way that nobody could agree with without sounding naive—she suggests, for instance, that certain (unnamed) politically minded artists are “upholding an unproblematised equation between artistic and political inclusion.”

Would the guilty artists please stand up? Those readers who already find social practice wishy-washy or tedious will likely nod in assent, but anybody who needs convincing—which will no doubt include much of this book’s audience—may be as skeptical as Grant Kester was of Bishop’s 2006 article on social practice, to which he retorted, “One would be hard pressed to find many contemporary artists or critics involved with politically engaged practice who would espouse such a simplistic position.” Yet in the best-case scenario, this approach will goad people who believe in social practice and its transformative possibilities into clarifying their own views, if only to free themselves from the positions Bishop sets out for them.

[This reading of Bishop takes us deep into the theoretical funhouse. Here we have Bishop using Rancière to argue about the inherent political nature of the aesthetic – fair enough. But most of the force of Bishop’s position rests on the inverse – failure to recognize the inherent aesthetic properties of the political. She also fails to see that meeting her demands with regard to aesthetic properties therefore forecloses certain types of political possibilities. That is certainly “an unproblematised equation!”]

In Artificial Hells, she pieces together a history of twentieth-century artworks that have employed participation for a variety of purposes: support of state socialism in the public pageants of the Soviet Union, proto-Fascist bellicosity in Italian Futurism, the promotion of individual experiences of privatized consumption in later Communist bloc settings, dramatizations of autocracy in Argentina under military dictatorship. She aims to show that participation and democracy are not eternally linked, and furthermore that feel-good social art is not the only option. But to claim that participation is a valuable way to make progressive art, as many advocates do, is hardly to deny that it could find a place in other projects across the political spectrum. Still, such a prying apart and opening up of concepts and conventions is undeniably helpful, and the history Hells traces is an interesting, if only seldom galvanizing, patchwork of projects. Proposing that participation-based art has periodic heydays at times of political crisis and transformation, Bishop focuses on three such moments: 1917, the lead-up to 1968, and the aftermath of 1989. Her examples range from the well known (Dada, Happenings) to the more specialized (confrontational art events in Argentina, whimsical street art in Paris) and extend to recent formations such as the Artist Placement Group and the community arts movement in the UK.

Bishop’s overall schema opposes “a realm of useful, ameliorative and ultimately modest gestures,” preferring “singular acts that leave behind them a troubling wake.” (Who, after all, would opt for art that could be described the same way as flossing one’s teeth?) Confrontational art, Bishop argues—such as Christoph Schlingensief’s 2000 Please Love Austria, in which detained asylum seekers were boxed up in a shipping container, broadcast via webcam, and voted out of the country in pairs—does valuable work by making abstract oppressive social and political forces immediate. Moreover, she asserts convincingly, the tooth-flossing stuff is easily folded into the Western status quo, since art that aspires toward social problem-solving risks simply “mopping up the shortfalls of a dwindling welfare infrastructure”; and the network-based, volunteer-dependent character of this art reflects, rather than challenges, contemporary capitalism, which feeds us precarity dressed up as freedom.

[“Who, after all, would opt for art that could be described the same way as flossing one’s teeth?” – Well, I would. And so would Allan Kaprow. See: Art Which Can’t Be Art.
And maybe I’m reading a different Bishop, but it seems like she once again smuggles in a position to support her point of view that, if applied to her own position, actually undermines it. She faults social practice for reflecting rather than challenging capitalism, but surely in all the time she spends in the library she must have stumbled across at least one article/book detailing the relationship between ideas of the avant garde and capitalism. Isn’t guerrilla marketing’s raison d’être in capitalist society to create “singular acts that leave behind them a troubling wake?” Or, shock and awe anyone?]

Self-styled progressive art is an inadvertent running dog of the neoliberal state? These are fighting words, and one might have hoped Living as Form would come out swinging. But that’s not what the Creative Time book is up to. Primarily it’s a sourcebook, a starting point for further research, and a snapshot of critical conversation about the field. Its optimism can be infectious—look at how many different ways there are to do this stuff!—yet it’s a compromised vehicle. Many of the project descriptions that constitute the bulk of the book speak in vague grant-proposal language about mission (“doual’art invites contemporary artists to engage with the city of Douala in order to mold its identity and to bridge the gap between the community and contemporary art production”); often we must read between the lines to get a sense of what relations, or forms of living, come out of this work.

Meanwhile, the book’s images—which occupy nearly half the real estate in the “Projects” section—run the gamut. Some canonical works, such as Deller’s Battle of Orgreave and Alÿs’s When Faith Moves Mountains, are represented with expertly shot photographs of striking acts; at the other extreme, photos of Tania Bruguera’s Immigrant Movement International, 2011–, merely show a sign hanging by some elevated subway tracks, dim placards on an indoor clothesline, a clutch of people standing near a table. Allora and Calzadilla’s Tiza (Lima), 1998–2006, falls somewhere in the middle: In the photographs of the massive sticks of chalk placed by the artist duo outside the Peruvian Municipal Palace of Lima, of the political messages people marked on the plaza, and of the impromptu protest that arose, we can see something of the openness and expressivity of the action. Yet the photos carry little aesthetic charge.

They’re not meant to, of course. Much social practice is geared toward resisting a hypertrophied art market that commodifies everything it touches, and these artists rarely seem to prioritize the visual impact of the documentary traces their activities leave behind. Still, when Bishop laments that the open-endedness of innovative participatory exhibitions “is frequently experienced by the viewing public as a loss, since the process that forms the central meaning of this work is rarely made visible and explicit,” one can’t help but see her point. Living as Form supports her proposition that as social practice enters the world of exhibitions, books, and documentary websites, the question of how to communicate its essence to secondary audiences needs to be more seriously considered.

[As mentioned above with regard to embeddedness, social practice (art) does not enter “the world of exhibitions, books, and documentary websites.” It arises *with* them. It seems clear that Marcus is only talking about social practice (art), not social practice more generally (or what I might call social poiesis). In this sense then, social practice is no different than any other art genre. What Living as Form *could* have “seriously considered,” but failed to, was what would a truly expansive idea of social practice look like? What would it mean to *actually* “destroy” social practice as an art genre?]

Commenting on this year’s politically minded Berlin Biennale, its curator, Artur Żmijewski, wrote of his hope “for a situation in which artists’ actions would become not only art, but could also reveal a political truth—something with the potential to change selected aspects of our shared reality, so that art would possess the power of politics but not its fear, opportunism, and cynicism.” This characterization of politics as a besmirched domain recalls Bishop’s astute observation in Artificial Hells that the rise of political art bespeaks “a lack of faith both in the intrinsic value of art as a de-alienating human endeavour (since art today is so intertwined with market systems globally) and in democratic political processes (in whose name so many injustices and barbarities are conducted).” Politics and art are two realms that largely need their constituents to believe in them, and Bishop rightly allows for the importance of continuing to revise these categories in light of such crises of faith. Her call for reconstituting the boundary between them may raise eyebrows among certain radical stakeholders, such as Thompson, who aims to eliminate that boundary entirely. Bishop argues that such an obliteration would leave us barren of evaluative standards, but it could also be argued that her approach limits the possibilities of what the relation between politics and art can be. What we need is a conversation about art and politics that is both rigorous and expansive. Bishop and Thompson each take us only part of the way.

[I would again note that Bishop wants to eliminate the border between aesthetics and politics when it suits her, but indeed wishes to police it vociferously when it sullies her position. A boundary that actually needs clarification though is the one between art and aesthetics. They are often used interchangeably, but dislodging art’s stranglehold on aesthetics dissolves much of the force of many of these “debates.” Thompson is not nearly the “radical” Marcus imagines, or maybe we mean something entirely different when using that word. A more radical exhibition would not have even been one. At the very least, the full title might have been changed from Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011 to something likeLiving as Form: Strategies for Meaning Making in Everyday Lives. In the latter, art is not Art, not merely a profession, but a widely available and employed endeavor of collective human activity. Social practice then is not just more grist for the art historical and curatorial mill, but a vital, imaginative field. One practiced not just by activists, academics, and artists, but by bankers, moms, and mechanics. So yes, Bishop and Thompson take us part of the way, but one wonders if it is the right direction?]

” When art is finally worthless, it will be free for everyone to make and enjoy.” – Destroying art in order to save human creativity

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/17/2013

Creative Tyranny – Rob Horning

[I tend to think of Ben Davis as a useful idiot and this critique of his work spells out some of the reasons for that.]

Artists’ self-important claims for their work makes them worse than useless for political activism

Can you call yourself an artist and an activist at the same time? Or is the artists’ personal brand always in the way? 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, Ben Davis’s new collection of essays, addresses these questions and other similar ones with an admirable clarity that invites debate. In these pieces, Davis, a Marxist art critic and executive editor of Artinfo.com, shows little overt interest in policing the boundaries of art—there are virtually no assessments of the aesthetic value of particular artworks. Yet he ends up preserving a nebulous view of “great” art’s supposedly objective appeal that undermines his apparent political concerns. Art accrues meaning via its audience, which is inevitably structured by social relations. To imagine that its value can come from anywhere else is to obfuscate the centrality of class that Davis is otherwise eager to bring to light.

This makes artists inescapably individualistic, concerned chiefly about differentiating their product. As Davis notes, “an overemphasis on the creation of individual, signature forms—a professional requirement—can as often make it a distraction from the needs of an actual movement, which are after all collective, welding together tastes of all kinds.” Artists must produce their reputation as a singular commodity on the market, which makes their chief obstacle other would-be artists rather than capitalism as a system, regardless of whatever critical content might inhere in their work. When artists patronize the working class with declarations of solidarity, their vows are motivated less by a desire for social change than by the imperative that they enhance the distinctive value of their personal brand.

According to Davis, the artists’ class interest “involves defining creativity as professional self-expression, which therefore restricts it to creative experts”—the artists. Contemporary visual art, then, is a “a specific creative discipline that arrogates to itself the status of representing ‘creativity’ in general.” Rather than being a common property developed by the “general intellect” of workers in collaboration and social interaction, creativity becomes the intellectual property of certified artists alone, who, for their livelihood, administer it for the rest of society. That is, “real” creativity becomes the preserve of a specially trained elite rather than the evolutionary inheritance of the entire human species.

Whether or not it correlates to distinctions in talent, this distinction between the fake creativity of ordinary people working in common and the certified creativity of appointed artists working alone or atop a hierarchy allows those artists to make “artworks” with a value on the market. The point is to give only artists a true property stake in their creative ­activity—only their creative work has inherent value. Everyone else’s creative effort is just plain old “labor,” which is worthless ­until purchased by capital. Limiting authentic creativity to proven professional artists makes creativity both aspirational (it models how nonartists should structure their leisure) and vicariously accessible (nonartists can absorb creativity through awed exposure to properly certified art objects). It is thus that artists “represent creativity tailored to capitalist specifications.” Artists become the designated exemplars of the form liberty can take under an economic system that prizes innovation and glorifies ideologically the dignity of the small proprietor. Though Davis recognizes this, he also tries to give it a dialectical spin, arguing that the artists’ model of freedom demonstrates what autonomy looks like and why it might be worth struggling for.

…The structure of the entire art milieu is meant to forestall the broader appreciation of art and protect its capability to signify status. It is meant to allow rich people to recognize the fruits of their wealth in their exclusive access to the world’s finest things. The glory of the view lies primarily in its being private-access. Ordinary people’s appreciation of art attaches to works like so many barnacles, ruining their meaning for collectors. As with any luxury brand, the wrong sort of audience for an artist can sully their market value completely.

This is why so much of the discourse that surrounds contemporary art is so nauseating. It deliberately aims to destroy the confidence of nonelite audiences in their own judgment; it wants to make their potential pleasure in art depend on a recognition of their exclusion from the realm of art-making. We get the joy of knowing there’s some consumption experience beyond us that can remain forever aspirational, which gives us cause to cherish whatever brief peeks we get over the wall.

The same could be said of the world of literary journals, creative writing, and the “intellectual milieu” in general; each serves as a catch basin for those eager to transcend the ordinary economic relations that largely determine the lives of ordinary people. Often fueled by inherited privilege and a nurtured sense of entitlement, the up-and-coming cadres of the “creative class” seek ways to transform their yearning to be extraordinary into a career, and if that fails, into a politics based mainly on the demand for lucrative self-expression. All the while they imagine themselves exemplars of unsullied, disinterested aesthetic aspiration.

But it’s impossible to say artworks are “great” without also implying that those who can see that objective greatness are in a superior aesthetic position to those preoccupied with consumer junk. In wanting to preserve the traditional transcendental quality of art, Davis is arguing for the very same rarefied aura that critics and collectors and museums and art schools and all the other art-world ­institutions have always counted on and used as an alibi.

Far from working arm-in-arm with workers to liberate them from the forces that restrict their expression, artists are more likely to work to protect that aura and intensify the qualms ordinary people might have about thinking of their activities as art. Creativity must be held apart from consumerism, protected in the hands of a particular elite with the appropriate training to keep expression “authentically meaningful” rather than commercial. At the same time, authentic art production must be left in the hands of the professionals, who have been endowed with unique talent and have made a series of special sacrifices to develop their artistic gift. Ordinary people are endowed only with the ability to consume, and while they may think that’s creative, they’re kidding themselves.

…But that justification hinges on the idea that culturally recognized opportunities to be creative are scarce. It’s not that too many people are labeled artists then expected to work for less, as Davis suggests, but that not enough people recognize the artistry in what they are already doing and live with a sense of social inferiority and self-doubt. If they are to protect their own cultural capital, professional artists (and curators and critics) must endorse the standards that pronounce some people as uncreative.

Who cares about the sanctity of the “official culture,” which has a class-based interest in restricting that endorsement to a select few? The opportunities it provides and the self-realization that might stem from them are already poisoned from a political point of view. Davis won’t surrender the idea that “official approval matters” and that there is an objective basis for determining “legitimate self-expression.” Such official approval may matter to professional artists, because it is the source of their livelihood, and Davis seems eager to defend the right of a select few to make a living through art. To the rest of us, it is the stifling source of delegitimization. It is a reminder of the concrete reality of that solipsistic, insidery “art world” that Davis is otherwise so eager to see dismantled. Shouldn’t those excluded from the official art world create their own opportunities, according to their own communal standards, pitting their values against those of the official culture, and the social order that supports it, if necessary? Shouldn’t they destroy art to save it?

Similarly, in a postscript to his essay “White Walls, Glass Ceilings,” Davis urges we fight for “a world where art’s value escapes the deformities imposed upon it by an unequal society.” Davis wants there to be generalized social practices that can certify art’s value without somehow stratifying a society in which art has economic value. Yet if artistic ability is unequally distributed by nature, that fact alone will generate an unequal society as long as art is singled out for special cultural significance. Art is so complicit in structuring cultural hierarchies, it makes more sense to argue that art’s value never precedes the existence of those deformities and to agitate for a world where art is granted no alienable “value” at all.

In the collection’s last paragraph, Davis comes around to something like this position, that from the perspective of a future communist society, the idea that “great art was something rare and precious, a triumph that had to be scratched out against all odds, a privilege that needed to be defended with boundless righteousness and walled off in its own specific professional sphere will likely seem strange.” There is no reason to regard it as less than strange now. We can start by rejecting the need to identify “great” art and the class victors it nominates. When art is finally worthless, it will be free for everyone to make and enjoy.

“too little time spent on word and theory” – Art history as mere profession vs. contemplative practice – Let us stop building bibliographic tombs and instead cultivate an affinity for present experience

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/13/2013

[Reading through my notes today on Practicing Mortality: Art, Philosophy and Contemplative Seeing. I discovered that one of the authors Joanna E. Ziegler died five years after its publication (at age 60). I read through various tributes and obituaries and this quote exemplifies the scope of her ambition, “The point is not just to teach them to design buildings, but to design their lives.” Her influence was clearly deep, if not broad and although I never knew her personally and her death was three years ago, the news still hurt – so passionate and beautiful was her life/pedagogical/spiritual/art/philosophical practice. If you can’t find time for the book I mentioned, the following essay concerning the Mission Statement of the College of the Holy Cross provides a glimpse of her holistic approach to the art of living.]

Wonders to Behold and Skillful Seeing: Art History and the Mission Statement – Joanna E. Ziegler

For me, that experience epitomized the nature of what this essay is about — ‘Living the Mission’ — especially as it continues to reshape my pedagogy and my professional identity. I wish the story I am about to unfold were seamless and easy, and that the wonderful insights gained at Collegium had been brought home to Holy Cross, yielding the bounty and sustaining the fervor they promised. The reality, however, is that for all my enthusiasm and commitment to ‘live the Mission,’ it remains, three years later, hard and sometimes confusing work. Confidence and optimism mingle with doubt, as the project of linking art to contemporary issues of living spiritually is alternately embraced and marginalized by the academic community.

‘Living the Mission’ affects professional practices and identity, as well, beyond the College’s gates and in the field of disciplinary inquiry. Art history is currently defined as a project to locate history — to locate subjectivity in the past — in quantifiable evidence and hard data, whose footings lie deep in sociology. Thus, any sort of personal, contemporary experience of historical form — the very thrust of my courses regarding art and contemplation — is looked upon skeptically, even censoriously as something better left to personal rather than professional journals. (2)

Part of this story, then, is about the taxing demands of persevering in a relationship of art conjoined to spirituality as a serious academic pursuit — that is, as a matter of genuine and significant intellectual content such as befits an academic discipline. For now, art history (as serious ‘scientific’ study) and spirituality (as religious non-academic experience — as a matter of faith) compete for ultimate authority in their absolutely separate domains. My attempt to ‘live the Mission’ is, in a very real sense, an effort to bridge that separation.

Conceived as something akin to a skill, the art of looking (or spectatorship) can occasion contemplation and mindfulness — inner states that are recognized nearly universally as the true paths toward spiritual awareness. Eastern meditation practices, Zen Buddhism, Benedictine spirituality, Western mysticism, Emersonian pragmatism, and stress reduction exercises, to name but a few, all seek to attain ‘wisdom’ through attention and awareness. Concentration is the cornerstone. As I envision it, then, the study of art — outside the studio — might appropriately take its place alongside other contemplative practices. It shapes contemplative consciousness by insisting on routine physical discipline, which enables readiness, and, in so doing, shows students the spiritual and intellectual depth of artistic creativity — for them as beholders, no less than for the creators.

Faith and creativity share a paradox, as I see it: fidelity and stability, gained through practice, prepare the way to true freedom. Only with readiness can one hope to transcend the constraints of practice (therein lies the paradox) and enter that place which is so mysterious, so immeasurable. The experience is so unlike the routine activity that gave rise to it, that all the names given that experience through time — transcendence, divinity, creativity, performance, ecstasy — cannot begin to capture its true nature.

Perhaps more disconcerting than its supposed similarity with Formalism, is the emphasis I place on the training or practice involved in looking. I emphasize the word training, for what happens in my classroom — and by extension the museum — seems understood as being more in line with studio or fine art, rather than art history per se. Colleagues who paint, sing, or dance embrace the sort of training I offer. Yet for art historians, it can smack of art appreciation and, worse, appear to offer insufficient servings of quantifiable, documentable, ‘hard’ evidence — the currently favored material for serious intellectual content. Too much emphasis on sensory and practical information, too much prominence of the present, and too little time spent on word and theory, is how my approach is seen as differing from current standards in teaching art history.

The joining of faith and spirituality with art — an important element in my approach — is a legitimate and long-standing aspect of art history, to be sure, but only when firmly lodged in period styles, such as Gothic or Renaissance. Professional groups have priorities and, at the moment, for works of art to have religious or spiritual significance, they must be of explicitly religious subject matter or have clearly devotional applications. In this view, the emphasis I place on developing a personal, present-day relationship with a work of art belongs, somehow, in the realm of New Age therapy rather than hewing to the ‘exacting’ professional standards of contemporary art history, which tend to see and contain works of art firmly within the time frame of their production.

For me, therefore, the message of the Mission poses a dilemma. It asks me to heed its call, when to do so I must step beyond the boundary — to put it bluntly, to write myself out of the norms of publishable scholarship — of the very discipline that brought me to the College in the first place. True, the Mission Statement has inspired and enriched my thinking on creativity immeasurably, but I have had to leave the collegial setting of my discipline to pursue that thinking and to nurture thought into action.

On sabbatical this year, for example, I reflected long upon the contemplative lessons of great art and on the future of putting down scholarly roots among those lessons. I read a broad range of contemplative literature, which led, in part, to this essay and others like it. Meanwhile, my colleagues in art history were off to the archives and conferences in Europe, or reading vast amounts of post-Structuralist and deconstructionist theory. It may seem to them, therefore, that in my current activities I am abandoning the rigors of on-site research and voluminous bibliography-hunting for an apparently more relaxed, home-based form of intellectual pursuit. Such is by no means the case; reflection and contemplation are time-honored pillars of academic inquiry and pursuit. Nor do I want for challenges.

Where are the signposts of the Mission, so visible in campus conversation, as I thrash my way in isolation through the underbrush of this dilemma? The Mission Statement is a demanding document, more so than might appear on the surface. It presents a test of commitment to a purpose that diverges from the one that led me to Fenwick Hall some years ago. When I took my place among the other faculty of my Department, I vowed to be a loyal member of the field by bringing the best and most recent of its scholarly developments to our students. The evolution of the Mission Statement threw this vow into question, asking in a very tangible sense that I reassess and perhaps reorient my understanding of what I do and how that relates to the Mission. This I have done — but now, where am I ‘current’ as an art historian? What is my bibliographic base? Who, really, are my peers? And to what field do I or will I belong? ‘Living the Mission’ has been, in a word, costly.

Why art critics need to be DTF – Or why it is fine if reading e-flux is more like Ok! Magazine or facebook and less like The Book of Mormon

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 09/03/2013

Get Off – Nick Faust

[I think there are plenty of artists that are guilty of the same things he accuses critics of, but he has the spirit right.]

Art criticism, like an upset parent, often passes moral judgment on this promiscuity, scolding, judging indiscretions. There are attempts at keeping art pure, delineating what is what, and who is who, and where the boundaries are. Or in the attempt to redefine the boundaries, there is a tendency to violently sabotage what came before if it doesn’t smoothly fit into the new regime.

But it’s crucial to encourage brief ­brushes, longed-for encounters, and magical moments that pass into the night to be brokenly remembered in the hungover daze of the next morning. Flings, one night stands, and vacation hook-ups are just as ripe. For artists who tie the knot—explosive divorces, whimpered muttering and weepy withdrawals, quiet bitter unspoken tension.

Likewise, art writing must attempt to draw new connections, weaving in unpublished, hushed talk that always gets spoken but generally not on the record. The documentation of the piece, the Facebook posts, tweets, and vines that surround such work, the gossip about the work in the bathrooms of the gallery and outside during the smoke breaks and back in the patios and bars after the opening, the press releases both in unchecked email and listserv format, and the 10,000 art-opening invites that networked artists receive each day on social media, the write-up of the work, the studio visits, the sketching out of the ideas, the conversations that influence and sustain the practices—all these are rich and evocative and can provide tremendous energy and meaning to a work and extend its life out beyond.

I think of people getting made up and fabulous, ready for a night on the town, scoffing at such prudes who advise a more “natural” and “authentic” way of ­representing themselves—their elaborate play and fluidity as they cycle from situation to situation, conversation to conversation, adjusting on the fly and letting themselves take in the experience while also manipulating it.

Instead, the proliferation of work on the Internet makes it easily digestible and citable. New practices, in Sanchez’s view, instantly devour themselves. I think it is necessary to flip the destructive, gluttonous connotations of devouring and focus on the more positive connotations of the word, that emphasis on avid enjoyment. What is so appealing about such fast distribution is how the institutionalized approaches that once suffocated, purified, cleansed, and straightened up the circulation of art are now infused with the chitchat and gossip of social life, and the work is tossed out onto the dance floor, knocked down from the balcony overlooking the frenzy. It isn’t, “Oh my, check out that stoic hottie—that removed, super-distant installation at Kunsthalle Wien. Man, I wish I could ask him if he wants to dance, but I’m so nervous, and he’s so up there.” Instead, in both the quick-feed call and response and riffing and sharing, it is shooting a flirty raise of the eyebrow, adjusting your posture accordingly, and striking up a conversation and making the advance. The stilting and privileging, the attempts to put one group up above another, are falling apart. Everybody is fucking everybody.

Artists don’t have to sign a mortgage with the things they work with, and it is perfectly normal to kind of hate the people you’re attracted to. Gosh, she’s so wonderful and smart and well-read and funny, but she’s a horrible drunk and she farts in her sleep. Or: he’s such a belittling and abusive asshole, but I kind of need that deprecation in my life right now, it is hot, I can’t help myself, I know it isn’t “normal” but it is working so well right now. Please keep the stories coming, and the encounters memorable.

Music hasn’t traditionally been as reliant on proximity to or participation in certifying institutions in the way visual art has. A producer from the middle of nowhere can throw up a track on Soundcloud after being inspired by some other, more-well-connected artist and quickly enter into the dialogue.

Visual art should be jealous of this fluid accessibility, these leveling maneuvers. Kids far from the art capitals can give themselves a playful legibility that is constantly up to be teased out and undermined. It isn’t realistic for young would-be gallerists to acquire a space like the De Vleeshal, but with a little paint and lighting know-how, they can transform their crappy garage, bombed-out basement, or parent’s attic into their own gallery space that is gonna look great all done up and out there.



Why privilege one level of the art speech act over another?
Sure, some work might be underwhelming in person, in comparison to the space that looked so big onscreen, but the work is just as true in the studio as it is in the gallery, as it is on a website, as it is in a book, as it is on a phone, as it is during pedicure and manicure parties, as it is when barely remembered and floating as an example to be used in a conversation that never quite makes it out, as it is in a minuscule press clipping that some art historian will dig up a hundred years from now while writing a dissertation. Each new iteration allows for an unlimited amount of possibilities for artists to use, to extend and pause and speed up and burrow in and rewind and cut and paste and reverse and queer and undo and build upon, and as such, none should be shut down.

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The prison of artlike art – Stephen Wright on Rasheed Araeen’s Art Beyond Art

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/09/2013

The Escapologist. Rasheed Araeen and the transformative potential of art beyond art – Stephen Wright

[To be clear – I love the field Wright stakes out even though I would argue with many of the details. One specific objection would be the idea of art as an inherently “critical” enterprise. This seems to be demonstrably false as a historical matter and an unnecessary notion ideologically. That is, one might ask – “Wouldn’t it be important to escape capture by the empire of criticality too?” ]

…Third Text’s controlled coefficient of specific visibility as a collective, conceptual artwork situated it in the “art-beyond-art” category — that is, of practices whose self-understanding is as art, but which manage to avoid being performed as art, somehow foiling the powerful apparatus of performative capture within what Araeen calls “the legitimising prisonhouse” of bourgeois aesthetics. Though Third Text, as we know, has since been captured by those very forces it had set out to challenge, Rasheed Araeen, we can be sure, eludes capture.

What’s most important about Art Beyond Art, though, is its discussion of the obstacles art faces today, and how it might elude them. Given Araeen’s experience in escapology — not of the Harry-Houdini variety of cuffs and chains, that wouldn’t be his style, but in escaping institutional, epistemic and performative capture — he has some important points to make. Here’s how he sets the stage:

“At the end of the sixties there emerged a concept of art whose true significance has not been generally and fully understood of recognized. Its significance was not in its newness or innovation, but what was conceptually a radical shift from art as displayable objects that can be looked at and contemplated — painting, scultupre, installations, photography, etc — to art as a process of transformation within the everyday. Historically, it was a movement of the idea that entered human imagination with a consciousness that sought integration of art with life, so that it would by becoming part of life’s everyday energy and creativity join its journey towards what for Hegel was its ultimate fulfillment. But this was not to happen. The journey was halted as it entered the cultural citadel of bourgeois capitalist society to seek legitimation. And, as it succumbed and capitulated to the privileges that the bourgeois art institution offered, the idea became trapped with in the logic of the very institutional space it was allowed to enter and occupy.”

“What is fundamental to my suggestion is the idea that it is possible to perceive or produce art in a radically different content, an art which locates itself away from the bourgeois institution and is not necessarily dependent on its mediation and legitimation.” This involves, amongst other things, making theory a practice, wresting it away from the academy: “It is with the imaginative power of art that I want to move forward; with a proposition that may lead to a new kind of thinking and produce a new kind of critical practice, out of which may also emerge a revolutionary concept of art based on the nominalism of the everyday work carried out by people themselves or their material production.” …

art, he writes, “must lead a double life.” “On the one hand, it is a conceptual artwork but, on the other, its material form must become independent of whether it is a work of art or not. Only when it can escape from being merely an art concept or form that it can avoid its reification, and only then can it continue to maintain its transformative function within the productive force of everyday life.”

Although what I propose as a collaborative practice results in a material form — it may be a farm, a factory, a supermarket, a transport system, etc, collectively run and owned by the workers themselves — I continue to call it a conceptual artwork. Why? Because it is not possible to get rid of art as a special category or completely dissolve it in other things so long as there exists capitalism and its division of labour. The complete dissolution of art into life so that art loses its identity as art will deprive it of its transformative function. If it is allowed to become like any other thing, without maintaining its specific non-instrumental imaginative power, art will not be able to act upon those things which are the products of consumer culture and turn them into a critical force capable of confronting the bourgeois society. In other s words, art’s function as a liberating force is dependent not only on its becoming something other than art but also maintaining its identity as a specific material as well as a symbolic practice.”

In essence, art secretes a kind of invisible but conceptual otherness within the everyday life processes that it permeates. Acting as a kind of yeast, the idea of art brings about a minimal shift within sameness. Though its dissolution into life may be impossible, it may act like a solvent upon ontologically stable relations. Like mycelium in a mineral, the idea steadily, “without complaint or resentment,” dissolves the obstacle.

On localization in the arts – Scott E. Walters

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/02/2013

Speak Your Piece: The Extractive Arts – Scott E. Walters

The problem with Kaiser’s argument is that none of the artists he mentions stayed in their community or even in the states or regions where they were from. They all left and went to the “big coastal city” of New York, just as the anti-arts politicians said, where they entertained the elite, also like the anti-arts politicians said. Kaiser hasn’t, in fact, refuted their beliefs in the least. More importantly, while the artists he mentioned achieved renown, many, many others from similar small towns followed the same path and saw their talents go unappreciated and their gifts unnoticed, talents and gifts that would have added so much to their home towns.

This is the extractive creativity economy in action.

Like clear-cutting a forest or blasting the top off of a mountain in order to send wood and coal to urban dwellers, the American arts system extracts artistic resources in the form of talented young people and tells them that the only place they can make a living in the arts is New York City. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a major lie. Let me use a statistic from my area of expertise, the theater, to make my point.

My point isn’t that theater (or dance or painting or music or…) is a lousy way to make a living – why should the readers of Daily Yonder care about that? My point is that, given those dismal facts, shouldn’t we be teaching our talented young people the skills needed to practice their art in places other than New York and Los Angeles, in places that are starving for the arts, maybe even places like their own home towns? After all, the bar is pretty low – if you sold tickets to your friends and family you would make more money than did 58% of the so-called professional actors.

How would interest in the arts improve across the country, and even in the legislature, if performers put down roots in a place they loved, built a life there and created art that reflected the stories, the songs, the dances, the colors, the shapes of their chosen town? What if the arts world was more like a local farmer’s market, filled with products that grew organically from the dirt, rain and sun of a particular place? What if, like local farmers, local artists found a way to make a living within the context of their specific place, rather than within some generic model created for somewhere else that wastes 58% of what it grows? And why can’t those places include rural areas, where people are just as interested in being entertained and enriched?

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Meaningless Work – Walter De Maria (R.I.P.)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 07/26/2013

Meaningless Work – Walter De Maria

Meaningless work is obviously the most important and significant art form today. The aesthetic feeling given by meaningless work can not be described exactly because it varies with each individual doing the work. Meaningless work is honest. Meaningless work will be enjoyed and hated by intellectuals – though they should understand it. Meaningless work can not be sold in art galleries or win prizes in museums – though old fasion records of meaningless work (most all paintings) do partake in these indignities. Like ordinary work, meaningless work can make you sweat if you do it long enough. By meaningless work I simply mean work which does not make money or accomplish a conventional purpose. For instance putting wooden blocks from one box to another, then putting them back to the original box, back and forth, back and forth etc., is a fine example of meaningless work. Or digging a hole, then covering it is another example. Filing letters in a filing cabinet could be considered meaningless work, only if one were not considered a secretary, and if one scattered the file on the floor periodically so that one didn’t get any feeling of accomplishment. Digging in the garden is not meaningless work. Weight lifting, though monotonous, is not meaningless work in its aesthetic since because it will give you muscles and you know it. Caution should be taken that the work chosen should not be too pleasurable, lest pleasure becomes the purpose of the work. Hence, sex, though rhythmic, can not strictly be called meaningless – though I’m sure many people consider it so.

Meaningless work is potentially the most abstract, concrete, individual, foolish, indeterminate, exactly determined, varied, important art-action-experience one can undertake today. This concept is not a joke. Try some meaningless work in the privacy of your own room. In fact, to be fully understood, meaningless work should be done alone or else it becomes entertainment for others and the reaction or lack of reaction of the art lover to the meaningless work can not honestly be felt.

Meaningless work can contain all of the best qualities of old art forms such as painting, writing, etc. It can make you feel and think about yourself, the outside world, morality, reality, unconsciousness, nature, history, time, philosophy, nothing at all, politics, etc. without the limitations of the old art forms.

Meaningless work is individual in nature and it can be done in any form and over any span of time – from one second up to the limits of exhaustion. It can be done fast or slow or both. Rhythmically or not. It can be done anywhere in any weather conditions. Clothing, if any, is left to the individual. Whether the meaningless work, as an art form, is meaningless, in the ordinary sense of that term, is of course up to the individual. Meaningless work is the new way to tell who is square.

Grunt
Get to work

March, 1960.

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