mannerist difficulty

Ahh, art being difficult. As a habit. Doing things the hard way is the center of most of what I get up to. But my guilty fear is that difficult is easy. Cognitive dissonance – “this must be good because it was so hard to get to” – can end up being a crutch or [...]

By Christopher Robbins

Ahh, art being difficult. As a habit.

Doing things the hard way is the center of most of what I get up to. But my guilty fear is that difficult is easy. Cognitive dissonance – “this must be good because it was so hard to get to” – can end up being a crutch or a blind.

Deborah Fisher (yup) calls it the “mannerist reliance on difficulty”:

“We all studied a lot of art that worked to offend and upset and challenge and put us all through the wringer to varying degrees. And we who went to art school fell in love with the way this art fucked with us because it was always worth it. Subjecting yourself to Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman is worth it. You feel confused and manipulated, but you also feel poetry happen to you at the same time. There is payoff.

But you and I can both admit, right, that when this kind of challenge turns into a manner, the result is a bunch of art that is obtuse for the sake of being obtuse, or that is shocking merely because shock is what you do.

There’s often no quid pro quo, no payoff. And when there’s often no payoff, viewers have every reason to be distrustful, and to see nothing but a scam.

I think that you are placing art’s problem (it’s mannerist reliance on difficulty) at the feet of the viewer. I think that art does this a lot. And because of this refusal to admit that the viewer is not stupid if the viewer doesn’t get the inside joke, it is not surprising that art is increasingly talking to itself, refusing to even engage a dialogue beyond it’s own inside-jokiness. “

So, then the question becomes: why are you making it difficult? How is it essential? Perhaps if I treat difficulty like I do any other material: ask why this particular material, ask how I should use it, ask if I should.
So, how about making this specific? Well, it certainly wasn’t something I intended in that invader thing – actually I’m not sure what I intended – a stab at insiderness from a deliberately stubborn and old-fashioned position – but that difficulty does made the flop less flip. Albatross was all about difficulty. But those camo things were easy – would they be better if they covered an entire floor? I really don’t think so. The digging suffered brutally because it was so difficult – though the story really worked because of it.

So, I guess difficulty – like unpainted plywood – should not be a default. It’s got a place, but it is just as self-defeating (in the uninteresting, non-deliberate, actually shitty way) as default irony or craft or mirrors or rainbows. And I’ll end with a contentious Deborah Fisher quote so this doesn’t finish on me:

“But I don’t think it’s important to make other people do difficult things. Or to put it another way, I feel that I do difficult things so that my audience doesn’t have to.”

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