Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Art after conceptualism

I’ve wanted to comment to comment on the last few postings for weeks but been too busy. However the mini debate on TAL has prompted me to pull my finger out. Reader, I’m not in any way opposed to theory in the broader sense i.e. thinking and writing about what you are doing and your understanding of what you are doing. But I think the most pertinent quote was Raymond Williams in which he expresses the complexity of the interaction between theory and practice. Nonetheless it boils down to the realization that changing the world or changing your understanding of the world is a false dichotomy because there is an interaction and I’m always amazed at the ability of academics to dress up a truism like that as some sort of profound and original insight. As reader says, the guys gotta make a living.

The problem I have with the great god “POMO Theory” as it has developed in the art world over recent decades is that it is both narrow and shallow. I have a passable knowledge of a whole range of other type of theories (pattern languages, for instance) that can be applied to art with equal relevance and I’ve never come across anything in pomo theory that I hadn’t already found in some types of Buddhist theory written over two thousand years ago - that makes you realize how ethnocentric and fashion driven most of this discussion is.

In the end it all boils down to power relationships. There are more stakeholders in the art world than artists who are merely the worst paid stakeholders, and powerless because they are constantly competing against each other. No matter what artists think they are doing, and no matter how good they are at doing it, their conventional success is entirely in the hands of the other stakeholders and they are almost powerless to influence that except by signing up with one of those other groups of stakeholders. Each group then promotes and supports the art and artists that support them. Academics support artists who illustrate theory (e.g. the lovably incompetent Sunday philosophers of Art & Language) because that makes academics look important, commercial galleries support artists who manufacture easily handled saleable objects (the art equivalent to the glowing red but flavorless supermarket tomato or perhaps the fifty different varieties of water that are all just, errrrr... water, with fifty different labels), collectors love fashionable art because first you look cool then it can be turned over for a quick profit (you know whose work I mean), institutional galleries support BIG ART because that justifies BIG GALLERIES and run by directors on BIG SALARIES, curators and artists both love installation and performance art designed for events like biennales because it can justify and pay for lots of free travel to install/perform it, and so it goes on and on.

So what is to be done? Well, you just try and survive and swap your art works for Italian villas if you can (actually it was just a very small farmhouse of a few rooms in very bad condition) and enjoy life, as Kosuth does. Important as Kosuth was, he had pretty much used up his only idea by the mid 70s. The Art & Language group in general had the same problem, their theory did not allow much room to manoeuvre and the interest since then has been in seeing how they could play it out once the group collapsed in the mid 70s. Burn made a smart move in latching onto the more lively and radical Sydney activist political art scene and Mel Ramsden did equally well in developing a viciously witty line in art world self satire. Kosuth has been left slowly foundering with a product line of over produced neon light quotes, an over blown rehash of his early work that adds nothing to it although the installations are usually beautiful and impressive.

So when I say theory is just another word for doing nothing I mean that it is very easy to theorise change but extremely difficult to bring it about. Can it be done? Yes, but it means giving up, permanently, any expectation of conventional art world success, in fact it means giving up most conventional ideas of being an artist. How many people who enter the art world are really prepared to then risk their entire identity as an artist by operating in the multiple complex, demanding and unglamorous roles necessary to create real change? Very few as far as I have ever been able to see although there is a thinly spread community of them across the whole world.

16 Comments:

Blogger mayhem said...

Dear Ian

Nice comment.
I amy be blonde, but I don't rekcon I'm reall dumb and yet I CAN BARELY UNDERSTAND A WORD OF WHAT THE READER WRITES

I have done research on art education philosphy, history of art education and ethnography of art schools and sociology of art IN TWO LANGUAGES - and I'm writing a doctorate on the topic - and I'm a pretty involved and passionate teacher in different bits of art and design - so , you now - its kind of peturbing.

so reader, fess up. Are you a 20 something angsty boy with aspergers? are you trying to prove your intellectual superiority? or is your writing style up there wiht my proofreading ability?

I reckon the first key to open source art school would be intelligible, CLEAR SIMPLE writing. you know? with practical examples - and clear discussion of some of the GREAT ideas. (so yeah - onya mr millis - even tangential references to the good old days at least tie in with some life exerience/arthistory)

I'll probaly get hate mail/male for this. Oh well. thems the breaks.

7:25 pm  
Anonymous fanciful said...

You're not getting any hate mail from me, Mayhem. I just wish books like A Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense was widely read ten years ago (instead of keywords by Raymond Williams). I've seen it at Basement Books at Central Station Sydney. It was the How To Lie With Statistics of the mid-nineties.

3:39 pm  
Blogger Ian Milliss said...

mayhem thanks for the comment but I think now is the good old days. Do you realise the comments don't work on your site. fanciful, I remember seeing the Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense but I never read it, sounds like I should.

10:45 pm  
Anonymous fanciful said...

Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense certainly dumbed down dumbing down for me. A selection of it can be found on the net.

I'm somewhat out of my depth when it comes to serious intellectual debate, especially anything like Barthes or Bordieau or Derrida or Benjamin. The way I'd interpret those sorts of writers now would be, to use the TAL's(?) expression, non-pedagogitive, rather, a huge mass of information which the student is forced to exercise their judgement about.

In other words theory is about critical thinking in a razamataz kind of manner.

11:27 pm  
Blogger Ian Milliss said...

I found some quotes here http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/
which looks like an entertaining site if you are as interested in human stupidity as I am. I particularly liked the definition of fashion as a moral principal, that certainly applies to the art world.

12:46 am  
Anonymous fanciful said...

If I can think up a uhhh, culturally aware expression for Pontious Pilate I will offer it by email it to the authors.

1:41 am  
Anonymous fanciful said...

Although lately I've been thinking that blogs in general and certain art blogs have all the fashionability that hip hop will after a couple of months or so.

3:57 pm  
Blogger mayhem said...

DEar Fanciful

I'm happy to give a glib, misspelt guide to: Barthes or Bordieau or Derrida or Benjamin - or all of them if you like.

If I had a bit more time - I could do a kind of internal search engine - coz I usually do bits or rants about all of the above in my various blogs. I DO REALLY enjoy theory - vairous books have changed and o change my life, and I do believe quite firecely that thery can and should be made accessible and relevent to the way poeple experience their lives.

In fact - probably the real basis for my beef with the Reader - was that unlike TAL (i.e.: http:artlife.blogspot.com)- there are no links to finding out what he's on about!

OK readers can all go on wikipedia and do a search - but sticking in a link - or some online reference - or even a descriptino off where we come across hard copy stuff - sneds out an overt message to readers that you give a shit that they can follow what you are saying.

ps sorry for uncommentability of my blog. I'lll try to fix it. otherwie sned me an email

7:14 pm  
Anonymous fanciful said...

Mayhem, my beef with blogs starts with Helen Coonan et al deciding that there is less need for control of media ownership now that we have blogs, the supposed panacea that will substitute for diversity of opinion. I think even the daggy ABC is vital, can't be replaced by everyone with a blog thinking they're EMINEM and DRE.
P.S. Wikipedia gets some trolls, I've just experienced.

9:18 pm  
Anonymous fanciful said...

I don't get to hear your show. Wish 2SER would start streaming!

9:33 pm  
Blogger the reader said...

mayhem,
thanks for being a bit more specific with regards to your problem with my writing. the aspergers angsty boy comment didn't really help me a whole lot in terms of working out what i might do to make my rants a little more accessible or perhaps useful to those who might read them.

In the spirit of the sort of link mentioned by Mayhem, here's a one for those who are interested in what hip hop has to offer beyond the bling and violent cliches that sell so well to young boys who are a little more angsty than myself. this is pretty much the antithesis of Eminem etc.
Check out Saul Williams
http://www.saulwilliams.com/

12:01 am  
Anonymous fanciful said...

I'll give it a read, but before I do, you've got to know that Lydia Lunch is the antithesis of Emin-em.

12:21 am  
Blogger Ian Milliss said...

Last Poets revisited?

1:18 am  
Anonymous fanciful said...

"Where tracks is, money ain't" by Archie Shepp? Mingus was into spoken word and poetry as well.

I'll keep reading it, The Reader.

1:40 am  
Anonymous fanciful said...

Mayhem can you please do glib Bordieau? I'd come to the conclusion that he was a lost case on non-Francophones like me, but if you think you could do it it would be much appreciated. I read somewhere that he was basically saying "stay at school kids" which didn't impress because John Dawkins and Paul Keating used to say that (except when students protested), then there was Ghassan Hage with "White Nation", using B's Cultural Capital, simple stuff, how much did he simplify it?

2:32 am  
Blogger mayhem said...

My understanding of Ghassan and Pierre is glib - so I'll preface this - and I haven't got a round to reading distinctions in French yet....... so my knowledge is probably as good as farmer joe's.

I'll give it a go on the minoumayhem blog coz I reckon the 3 people who read it are probably a taddish sick of hearing about my tragic love life.

Ian, can you send me an email? I've got a favour to ask

cheers


mayhem

7:35 pm  

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