. Image:Detail from Gustav
Klimt’s Tragoedie (1911) .
Originally posted on Bret Schneider’s website, quaquaqua.
Some “minor” artworks seem especially indifferent to society. Doubtlessly, it is this affect which exclusively distinguishes them from other artworks, and the idiosyncratic reflection in which this indifference is formed determines their quality. Rather than see indifference as nihilistic, it is a form of apperceptive reflection that is especially insightful, though, towards nothing in particular. This “nothing in particular” is what rubs people the wrong way, but for what reasons? Virginia Woolf’s theory of modern fiction, as well as the essay claimed that there is no detail too insignificant to include in the totality of the work. The philosophy not explicated further in this claim is that we do not know what our values are in the modern age, as everything is free-floating and now yet to be determined. Analogous to film, which Benjamin observed was able to focus on the marginal things which are assumed as materially constitutive of subjectivity, but not recognized as such, literary inclusions of meandering thoughts focus on those things that we know that we know, but don’t know that we know yet. Apperceptive artworks propose that the way to properly perceive the world is no longer dependent on the direct act of standing in front of a painting and straining one’s eyes out the front one’s head, which is a type of muscular reflection obstructed by obsolete moralistic efforts. Rather, apperceptive modes of reflection refine this by an almost peripheral vantage point, postulating that in order to experience something properly, one must not even really look at it. It is a form of indirect experience. Certainly, there is an element of “trying” that is required to train the mind for this type of viewing, but it is a type which doesn’t try to “get it,” or to “experience it,” or “love it,” etc., but a type which is geared towards the development of a second nature of reflection that would render these bourgeois concepts as obsolete as they have truly become, if only in ideal. The development of an adequate apperceptive faculty resides in the self-understanding of one’s perception as not merely watcher, but also watched. That is, reflection imitates the particularly modern condition whereby one is both subject and object, and in which the differentiation from mere objects is in the midst of being processed, so to speak. One grows eyes on the side of one’s head, like a fish, or develops a form of cognition like a fly’s refractive eyesight that takes in ever more distracted objects. The metamorphosis from human to insect is not entirely barbaric — it is a type of second nature. Beckett’s transfiguration of human to static object is not merely a critique of passivity and so forth, but indicates a real perfectability of reflection to a state where it can take in those aspects of nature that are denied to otherwise affirmed humanistic principled. Furthermore, the ability to perceive oneself as an object is a precondition for constituting projected forms of subjectivity.
A young Virginia Woolf
The grand excavation
The broad field of human life turns into a grand excavation, the means of which are brought about by a particular form of insight that is indifferent to, and a development out of, the obsolete forms of perceptive and logical thought. A vulgar analogy comes out of detective stories: the modern detective is contrasted in his peculiar attention to details that would otherwise be overlooked by traditional methods of investigation. At times, it appears that the detective isn’t even paying attention, or is indifferent to the serious matter at hand. In pop culture, this is chalked up to a merely eccentric personality, whereas in truth their indifference is at the avant-garde of distant criticism. An immersive, immediate form of investigation into the object at hand would be hindered by standard forms of perception that take grip of the one who is critiquing the situation. In an indifferent form of cognition, there is a distance from such immediacy, almost as if the indifferent thinker has never once been privy to the laws and rules which seem to apply to everyone else. This sort of character is sanctioned and developed as an anomaly — the anomaly being a result of social refinement. Continue reading →
The “death of art” has been a recurring theme within aesthetic and philosophical discourse for over two centuries. At times, this “death” has been proclaimed as an accomplished fact; at others, artists themselves have taken the “death of art” as a goal to be accomplished. So while this widely perceived “death” is lamented by many as a loss, it is celebrated by others as a moment of life renewed. For them, art is all the better for having disburdened itself of the baggage of outmoded modernist ideologies. Insofar as the “death” of longstanding cultural traditions has in the past typically been understood to signal a deeper crisis in society at large, however, the meaning of death necessarily takes on a different aspect today — especially when the tradition in question is modernism, the so-called the “tradition of the new” (Rosenberg). Because the very ideas of “death” and “crisis” appear to belong to the edifice of modernity that has been rejected, these too are are to be jettisoned as part of its conventional yoke. Modernity itself having become passé, even the notion of art’s “death” seems to have died along with modernism.
We thus ask our panelists not merely whether art is at present “dead,” but also if traditions are even permitted the right to perish in conservative times. If some once held that the persistence of philosophy indicated the persistence of obsolete social conditions, does the persistence of art signal ongoing social conditions that ought to have long ago withered away? If so, what forms of political and artistic practice would be sufficient to realize art, and in what ways would realizing art signal something beyond art? Marx felt that the increasing worldliness of philosophy in his time (heralded by the culmination of philosophy in Hegel) demanded not only the end of philosophy, but also that the world itself become philosophical. If avant-garde movements once declared uncompromising war on art in order to tear down the barrier between art and life, would the end or overcoming of art not similarly require that the world itself become artistic?
“Best of Chicago Art Magazine” re-post. Originally appeared in Chicago Art Criticism on 2/28/10, and then subsequently on Laurie Rojas’ excellent blog.
German artist Joseph Beuys’s work appears unfathomable: his entire oeuvre engaged drawing, sculpture, performance, pedagogy, and political activism. Art critics and art historians have admitted the difficulty of placing this enigmatic artist within the modern or postmodern lineages of significant postwar artists. In the foreword to Joseph Beuys: The Reader, Arthur Danto argues that Beuys (1921–86), like Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, is one of the artists who one must turn to in order to understand contemporary art. Danto believes, however, that unlike Duchamp and Warhol, who are frequently discussed and shown, Beuys has faded from contemporary awareness. This is both true and not true.
Beuys is famously remembered for two things: the theoretical hypothesis of “social sculpture,” and the statement “everybody is an artist.” A close consideration of the relationship between these two concepts reveals Beuys’s program for art and his historically motivated vision for society. Both concepts have influenced participatory, socially engaged, and relational art today and provide a vehicle for unraveling their historical significance, even if they claim to detach themselves from Beuys’s historical moment. Perhaps of even more significance, then, is what aspects of Beuys work seem to have — somewhat suspiciously — faded.
Danto suggests that perhaps the fading interest in Beuys lies in the fact that both the subject of Beuys’s art and his own personal myth are bound up in World War II and the period of German reconstruction. It is possible that the fading of Beuys is due to the inability to digest and resolve the problems his work raised in the aftermath of World War II. Our historical moment, almost five decades later, inherits that history and those desires, even if a certain metaphysical strain of postmodernist thinkers have incessantly argued that such a moment has irretrievably passed. The analysis of the influence of Beuys on contemporary artists, specifically those engaged in relational aesthetics, in this essay is to argue and demonstrate that the moment has not passed, but changed. The difference in our historical moment is that we are less conscious of — and less interested in — the social conditions that produced and re-produces the political disillusionment and aesthetic desires and needs that emerged after WWII. Continue reading →
Just a few prefatory remarks for what follows. The collection of quotes assembled here is by no means exhaustive, nor even definitive. Some figures, like Hans Sedlmayr, are decidedly overrepresented here. This is perhaps because he is so woefully underrepresented elsewhere, and because of the way in which his reactionary (but fascinating) viewpoint is symptomatic of the age. Other figures, like Hegel, are underrepresented, because they receive so much coverage and attention. (Although much of the original force and emphasis of his “end of art” thesis was edited out by his student, H.C. Hotho).
Nor should the quotes from these authors be thought to provide some sort of indisputable proof that art is, in fact, dead. Whatever authority these authors might individually possess, or even collectively pooled together, I doubt that it would be enough to confirm art’s death once and for all. Quite the contrary. If anything, the variety of quotes listed below should demonstrate the obscurity of the notion that art is dead. Despite their abbreviated appearance here, it should be clear that these authors mean quite different things by the “end of art.” The motto has been fashionable for some time now, and much of its provocative character has worn thin. My friend and fellow member of Platypus Bret Schneider pointed out to me recently that
the death of art and the ‘post’ condition is theorized everywhere in unfruitful ways. I’m not sure if we can make it fruitful, but we can at least try to push theorists on this. Mostly, it’s important not to assume too much about the ‘death of art’, which ought to be registered as in part just degraded to mumbo-jumbo, but perhaps in meaningful ways. I can’t help but feel the whole ‘death of art’ thing is a ruse, and it is an older theory of art inadequately applied to new forms of culture that are not understood as new, specifically for this reason.
In any case, these quotes are for the most part lifted from texts in which they comprise some part of an argument, and because of the fragmentary form in which they are presented, that context is largely lost. It might be possible to construct a narrative out of it by piecing together little snippets of each (and believe me I have), but that is not at all the intention.
Finally, the topicality of this subject should be noted. The debate over whether or not art can continue on or if it has nothing left to offer is far from settled. Even recently, Paul Mason wrote a widely disseminated article, “Does #Occupy signal the death of contemporary art?” Dear readers (hypocrite lecteurs!), what do you think? Continue reading →