[-empyre-] poets patrons and the word academic

Johanna Drucker drucker at gseis.ucla.edu
Sun Jan 3 12:52:08 EST 2010


Many interesting new ideas today in response to other postings.

Of course an artist, poet, anyone can make art without attending to  
all this cultural scaffolding. I wager none of us here are really  
outsider artists however much we may scribble in the corners by  
ourselves, but  we are quite aware that only certain work gets  
critical attention and acclaim, much of it really good, some of it  
kind of puzzlingly not so, and much that is derivative as well as much  
that is mediocre or wonderful or fashionable or enduring. But so what?  
I'd rather see good money go to bad art than bad causes.

But I'm intent on addressing the rhetoric that accompanies the high  
art high stakes game--because that's where the greater disconnect  
occurs between what I perceive as good faith and bad (faith, not art).

I use the term "academic" to suggest a critical practice based on a  
set of teachings that are passed through the academic environment as a  
kind of consensual code that cannot be questioned. I don't mean it to  
refer to scholarship or all critical study, but to a particular vein  
of belief premised, in this specific case, on a 19th century analysis  
of capitalism and its cultural manifestations (Marxism), revisited  
through a particular set of ideas about the demonic effects of mass  
culture and the necessity for art that resists that culture through  
difficulty (that, in a nutshell, is the Adorno position). I'm all for  
alternative spaces, for the creation of possibilities of thought,  
expression, experience, that the mass culture by its industrial nature  
rarely offers, but the attachment to an aesthetics of negativity and  
resistant difficulty seems counter-productive when produced for its  
own sake and on claims of serving a political end. I think GH makes a  
good point -- who outside the academy cares about Agamben and Adorno.  
Who, indeed, inside the academy? And why? I can't read Agamben. Sorry.  
I haven't the patience for the convolutions of his text. I spent a  
summer reading Adorno's aesthetics and translating it into the  
vernacular, distilling and paraphrasing, to get at the ideas, knowing  
full well that this was heretical practice to the critical community  
committed to expression as substance. But remember, I come from the  
realm of Language Poetry, was schooled in its teachings, and so know  
up close how close the relations of self-justifying obscurity and  
imaginative experiment can be.

Artists should make what they want. But when we get to the critical  
discussion of the cultural role and function of aesthetic objects, the  
claims for the work often come out of a need for critical discourse to  
find suitable objects rather than out of an engagement with the work.  
I don't mean this to sound reactionary. I think it is radical to  
suggest that art has a purpose own its own terms, and that the  
engagement with those terms might unseat some critical assumptions  
that have held sway for a long time. My favorite example? Anish  
Kapoor's Cloud Gate, which I think is a splendidly complex and  
inexhaustibly interesting aesthetic intervention in communal civic  
space. Complicit? Kapoor has no conflict with being a crowd pleaser.  
Why should he? If an essay appears in a critical art journal  
discussing Cloud Gate as a work of negative aesthetics, I think only a  
fool will take that stance seriously. What I think is useful to learn  
from Cloud Gate is the way an aesthetic artifact succeeds by not being  
difficult and by sustaining a complex and open-ended experiential  
relation to viewers.


More information about the empyre mailing list