[-empyre-] poets patrons and the word academic
Sally Jane Norman
s.j.norman at newcastle.ac.uk
Sun Jan 3 20:30:01 EST 2010
thanks and happy new decade all, lots here to mull through;
where and how do/ can we draw the line between bad art and bad causes?
From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Johanna Drucker [drucker at gseis.ucla.edu]
Sent: 03 January 2010 01:52
To: empyre at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] poets patrons and the word academic
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.
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