art neutralizes

Back on the catching up with Deborah Fisher and others who actually read art magazines tip, but not explicitly responding to the Claire Bishop and Grant Kester kerfuffle, (because, really, do we need anoter voice in there?) I’m a talk about art’s seemingly contradicting power to free and its tendency to neutralize. First, a quote [...]

By Christopher Robbins

Back on the catching up with Deborah Fisher and others who actually read art magazines tip, but not explicitly responding to the Claire Bishop and Grant Kester kerfuffle, (because, really, do we need anoter voice in there?) I’m a talk about art’s seemingly contradicting power to free and its tendency to neutralize.

First, a quote from IC-98 (Iconoclast 98) found on the LeisureArts blog

“Though the label ART has an enormous power to neutralize any message, and regardless of the fact that art world increasingly resembles the high fashion industry, it nonetheless offers possibilities to put forward ideas without the preconditions of academic work (rules, objectivity), the market (surplus value, capitalist modes of distribution), or activism (the threat of dogmatism). In fact, in IC-98′s idealist-pragmatic programme 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…”

Leisure Arts notes: “Like IC-98, I suspect there are many people operating in the domain of art discourse because they have nowhere else to go, even though their interest in connections to an art historical lineage is ancillary at best.”

Put simply, the quandary is this: Art has a freedom that science, activism, and academics do not. This gives it power to explore society in ways no other field can. However, the art context neutralizes the power of that work.

So, as Grant Kester asked most concisely: “What is to be gained by defining this work as art?” Or, can we have our cake and eat it? Can we get the freedom and institutional support of the “Art” label without the impotence?

My answer is a big, enthusiastic, earnest but somewhat devilish Y.E.S.: Just don’t tell ‘em its art.

Sure, it may need to be “Art” for funding, and for self-respect or identity, and the remnants may need to be carted to some gallery or park as a hopefully not too didactic proof-of-concept cum marketing, but the act itself is most powerful as real life. The carcass can be dressed or digested within the aesthetic, ethical, or who-knows-what context after the fact, and that cannot take away from the effect that incognito Art had on the people involved.

I generally find the what is art question to be one of the most tedious questions possible, but I once came up with an answer I actually liked: art is… everything else.

Naive? Better than jaded.

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