[-empyre-] poets patrons and the word academic

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Thu Jan 7 20:13:20 EST 2010


Hi David

I agree with many of your definitions of bad, which basically boil down to
the following. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Exploitation of others is
bad. Not taking responsibility for your own actions is bad. I agree with you
because, like you, I am socialised to agree that these are shared values.

However, these are the elements of a moral framework which derives from and
informs a social system ­ which is a set of contingencies. My argument was
that this system is not absolute. For example, animals often do things which
we would consider bad. They will exploit others and pass the buck. They do
this to survive. When they behave in a manner that we consider ³good² they
do so because it benefits themselves or members of their immediate community
in a manner that enhances their survival. They behave ³badly² for the same
reason. The shared moral systems people have developed are also a survival
strategy. We can dress them up as ³good² and ³bad² - but we should be honest
about why we do what we do and have the values we have. It is to survive,
individually and collectively. It is not because the social mores we share
have intrinsic value. If you entertain that idea then you are into the
domain of faith.

Best

Simon


Simon Biggs

Research Professor
edinburgh college of art
s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
www.eca.ac.uk

Creative Interdisciplinary Research into CoLlaborative Environments
CIRCLE research group
www.eca.ac.uk/circle/

simon at littlepig.org.uk
www.littlepig.org.uk
AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk



From: davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com>
Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Date: Wed, 6 Jan 2010 14:30:12 -0500
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] poets patrons and the word academic

Sorry to take my time getting back to your question, Simon.  I am still
mulling over David Chirot's comment, too (although I think that the question
of "dangerous" poetry hiding code is an interesting and rare official
admission that art is precisely about some of the very things we have been
talking about here.  And that, we should reflect on just why someone might
be hasty to define a certain work as "bad."

I do think that outcomes matter.  But there are many other aspects to
determining whether something is "good" or "bad."  For instance, I think
that the level of ignorance under which a person acts could be considered
"bad," if the person shows no reasonable effort to figure out whether or not
what they are doing is in fact bad.  In this sense, carelessness could be a
kind of badness (I certainly make many mistakes in this way).  If a person
is employing a means that is widely understood to be harmful, with
predictably harmful effects.  Using another person in any way against their
will (or without their knowledge), especially if it is going to determine
their future, is something that is potentially really bad.  Passing the
buck....  letting someone else make a decision which you could have made
yourself is also a kind of badness.  But at the end of all this, I think
that the key factor is the interval imposed on decision-making.  If we take
decisions away from the automatic, impulsive, and assumed responses, and
pause to reflect upon them (the purpose for the action, the means of acting,
the presumed outcome, and the actual outcome) we move from being thoughtless
to being thoughtful, unreflective to reflective.

On the other hand, we have, I think, lost our overall sense of what's
bad....  mainly because we cleave to imposed standards for moral behavior. 
We (and I am speaking especially about the sort of dumbed-down moral
sensibilities that I know best....  the ones that operate in the US) have a
tendency to reach for the sort of shorthand "values" that are defined in
American political life (Do they prefer one set of sexual behaviors over
another?  Do they prefer one set of substances over another?  Do they
support certain types of killing and oppose others?).  You can take this
shorthand even further, and just boil it down to a handful of profiles (Are
they white/other, straight/other, christian/other, etc?) and then you don't
even have to worry about goodness and badness at all.  If you fall in one
camp, you could be helping seniors cross the street, saving kittens from
burning buildings, changing tires for strangers stranded on the motorway...
it doesn't matter... you are generally going to be regarded as "bad" (or at
least "fishy") according to the shorthand.  Conversely, if you fall in the
other camp....  you can get away with a lot of badness provided you regard
your privileged status with some respect.  (Look at Tiger Woods....  so he's
a married guy who had sex outside of marriage....  that's a solid month of
headlines and moral outrage.  But, say, you're a good ol' boy like David
Vitter, and hire a prosititute dress you in diapers behind your wife's
back...  you will remain in the senate.)  But if you put both of these
things in the grand scheme of global badness....  they are trivialities. 
They might be hurtful for the particular families involved....  but they are
not harmful in the same way, that say, Monsanto might be, as the fight for a
monopoly of the world's food supply.  What it means is that we have lost our
ability to even begin thinking about right and wrong. 

To fold this back into a discussion of art, I think art can help us
introduce the interval back into daily life.  It doesn't necessarily tell us
what to do with that interval, but it reminds us that there can and should
be interruptions in what otherwise might be a monotonous, automatic flow of
life.  Even the various "movements" are primarily concerned thinking about
the various aspects of work (the concept, the process, the materials, the
product, the thinking about art, etc).   As "art" (artifice), art implies a
tension with those things that aren't art (the
What-would-have-happened-if-you-hadn't-made-art-or-hadn't-made-it-in-this-wa
y).  It is always a conscious intervention into the non-conscious.  To turn
to skating....  I think that skating would fit in this category as it is
introduces improvisational uses of places that are typically prescribed. 
Going back many years, is the slogan, "Skateboarding is not a crime."  And I
think this is a funny one....  because skateboarding has historically been
quasi-criminal.  Not because it intends to be criminal...  but because it is
defined by using ordinary things in unordinary ways.  Hackers do this with
computers.  Poets do this with language. Artists make us think about the
space, time, and duration of the present...  and I think we experience
exhiliration in this because it reminds us, at a deep level, of who we are,
what we really care about, that we can think, feel, imagine.  And, as a
personal value statement, I like those works which inspire us to think,
feel, and imagine broadly about solidarity, interconnectivity, and love. 
So, I don't care what form it takes, as long as it is there to generate a
social order outside of the imposed social order....  to replace the false
"social contract" (the one that is imposed and enforced) and in its space to
offer the possibility of an actual social contract (produced by the desire
to enter into relationships of with others, and to commit to those
relationships across differences, to sacrifice to those relationships, to
find happiness in them).  In a way, I guess I am saying that "good art" is
"good," not in the conventional moral sense, but because it tends to render
its users complicit with an alternate mode of acting...  that it leads to
reflection, consciousness, awareness.  And bad art tries to distract from
this mode of critical engagement, and preserves the recieved order.

But now that I am thinking about it....  it all strikes me as a lot of
flakiness.  Maybe it's only an idea.  Maybe I just want my artists to be my
heroes.  But even if life is lived as the futile pursuit of a desired
ideal....  it seems, in the end, better than one which is lived in
psychological obedience to the managment.

In any case.... I hope you are having a good day.

Davin



On Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 5:23 AM, Simon Biggs <s.biggs at eca.ac.uk> wrote:
> One could argue that the primary value of art is not in its outcomes, whether
> an artefact is good or bad, but in how it operates as the ³dark matter² that
> mediates our social contracts. In this respect one can consider art as folded
> into creativity per se and not privileged as it has traditionally been.
> Skateboarding culture binds people together as much as the opera. The creative
> forms that are skateboarding and opera are incidental to the social operations
> executed as creativity.
> 
> In this context what is good or bad? Can one conceive of bad social contracts?
> 
> 
> Best
> 
> Simon
> 
> 
> Simon Biggs
> 
> Research Professor
> edinburgh college of art
> s.biggs at eca.ac.uk <http://ac.uk>
> www.eca.ac.uk <http://ac.uk>
> 
> Creative Interdisciplinary Research into CoLlaborative Environments
> CIRCLE research group
> www.eca.ac.uk/circle/ <http://ac.uk/circle/>
> 
> simon at littlepig.org.uk <http://simon@littlepig.org.uk>
> www.littlepig.org.uk <http://www.littlepig.org.uk>
> AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk
> 
> 
> 
> From: davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com <http://davinheckman@gmail.com> >
> Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> <http://empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au> >
> Date: Mon, 4 Jan 2010 12:37:25 -0500
> 
> To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> <http://empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au> >
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] poets patrons and the word academic
> 
> Simon,
> 
> I agree with your post, wholeheartedly.  But would add an extra
> emphasis to your statement and suggest that it might be a "bad" idea
> to deny the contingency of relative axes of value.  Sometimes, there
> is a tendency to push art into purely aesthetic or purely moral scales
> of relation, and I think there is something important about evaluating
> the relationship between aesthetics and ethics.  It is find to impose
> a separation between form and content, as long as people acknowledge
> that this itself is a word-game.  The beautiful and the grotesque are
> never purely aesthetic, but they are expressions of ideas, social
> relations, philosophies, etc.  I think there is something great about
> engaging and arguing over questions of values that can lead to
> progress, provided, of course, there are certain values to which
> people are going to accept (either willingly, by hammering out a
> minimal sort of social contract, or through coercion, simply imposing
> them).  It is a hard-handed approach to social existence, but social
> existence is what we make it, and if we don't make it widely
> agreeable....  then it will be, as it is today in most parts of the
> world, increasingly disagreeable (and even murderous).  The disengaged
> view (which says there is nothing to agree upon, so just worry about
> yourself) is increasingly ugly.  There might have been a time when
> being venal and trivial was considered brilliantly clever....  but
> today it just seems obvious.  Early on these moves might have conveyed
> an unpleasant truth about art's complicity...  but I think this is
> something that most people kind of understand (that artists, styles,
> ideas are promoted by institutions in accordance with market logics).
> And I think this is why you see such a bloom of great works that
> convey such a strong desire for sketching out and cultivating a social
> consciousness, that might start with a foot in the art world, and
> might make use of those institutions, but which yearns for something
> else (see, for instance,
> http://vectors.usc.edu/index.php?page=7&projectId=57).  In some cases,
> this desire for social existence is not even political in the
> conventional sense (I recently sat in on a children's workshop
> sponsored by the Minnesota Center for Book Arts
> <http://www.mnbookarts.org/aboutmcba/aboutmcba.html> and spent some
> time in the Robot Store in Michigan <http://www.826michigan.org/>,
> both of which are examples of a wider interest in teaching communities
> how to make...  More importantly, they teach people that art is not
> something you appreciate....  it's something you use.
> 
> Take care.
> 
> Davin
> 
> On Mon, Jan 4, 2010 at 5:06 AM, Simon Biggs <s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
> <http://s.biggs@eca.ac.uk> > wrote:
>> > Good and bad are relative concepts, being the poles of an axis of value.
>> > That axis might be personal or public but it is always contingent. It does
>> > not exist as an absolute geometry but is variable, depending on context.
>> > That context is prescribed by other values of equal contingency.
>> >
>> > Art is a relative concept. Some people consider something to be art, others
>> > do not. There will rarely be agreement and it will not include everyone. >>
You
>> > cannot please all the people all the time.
>> >
>> > It is only a good idea to get into arguments about relative concepts if you
>> > enjoy interminable word-play and the ultimate outcome of agreeing to
>> > disagree.
>> >
>> > Best
>> >
>> > Simon
>> >
>> >
>> > Simon Biggs
>> >
>> > Research Professor
>> > edinburgh college of art
>> > s.biggs at eca.ac.uk <http://s.biggs@eca.ac.uk>
>> > www.eca.ac.uk <http://www.eca.ac.uk>
>> >
>> > Creative Interdisciplinary Research into CoLlaborative Environments
>> > CIRCLE research group
>> > www.eca.ac.uk/circle/ <http://www.eca.ac.uk/circle/>
>> >
>> > simon at littlepig.org.uk <http://simon@littlepig.org.uk>
>> > www.littlepig.org.uk <http://www.littlepig.org.uk>
>> > AIM/Skype: simonbiggsuk
>> >
>> >
>> > ________________________________
>> > From: davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com <http://davinheckman@gmail.com>
>
>> > Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> <http://empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au> >
>> > Date: Sun, 3 Jan 2010 19:13:43 -0600
>> > To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> <http://empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au> >
>> > Subject: Re: [-empyre-] poets patrons and the word academic
>> >
>> > Maybe bad art is art that does a "bad" thing.  There is art which
>> > tries to make a moral evil look like a moral good (take, for instance,
>> > nature photography that is used to give a notorious polluter a
>> > positive reputation....  or, say, propaganda which seeks to convince
>> > people that a human rights abuser is a human rights defender.)  Yet,
>> > even art which seeks to tell a lie, at least has the good sense to
>> > know that the fictional utopian world is preferable to the grim
>> > realities that they mask.
>> >
>> > Then there is the kind of badness is that which wants to wash its
>> > hands of ethical considerations, altogether.  I would argue that works
>> > that aestheticize violence might fit into this category.  There are
>> > plenty of games, for example, which have no content beyond the
>> > representation of killing as fun.  But I would also lump purely
>> > capitalistic "art" into this category....  think about high-concept
>> > movie merchandise (novelizations of films, picture book adaptations,
>> > direct to video sequels, coloring books, soundtrack theme songs,
>> > etc.).   For every dozen crap trinkets, the manufacturer could
>> > concievably hire an actual artist to make something meaningful....
>> > but instead they choose to flood the world with garbage, made in
>> > sweatshops, that hurts the minds (and sometimes the bodies) of the
>> > people who consume them.  (But you could argue that the mindless
>> > acquisition of tripe represents a different utopian impulse, working
>> > in an archival/d-base aesthetic).
>> >
>> > And then there are those works that are productively complicit....
>> > that exist in the zone between two worlds...  the kinds of things
>> > which might fit into one system, but which create change in another.
>> > I think of the many movies that actually do make me think, but without
>> > the heaviness that comes with message films... (I think that Where the
>> > Wild Things Are, for instance, is a great movie that goes beyond
>> > simply cashing in on children's desire).
>> >
>> > As always, where somebody begins is an interesting thing.  But where
>> > people are going, or trying to go, is much more so.  It is always
>> > fascinating when someone betrays their narrow interests in favor of
>> > broader ones....   Or when someone unexpectedly questions their own
>> > biases.  Even if people end up in the wrong place, there is something
>> > to be said for effort, intention, affect, etc.
>> >
>> > Happy New Year!
>> >
>> > Davin
>> >
>> > On Sun, Jan 3, 2010 at 8:40 AM, G.H. Hovagimyan <ghh at thing.net
>> <http://ghh@thing.net> > wrote:
>>> >> gh comments below:
>>> >>
>>> >> On Jan 3, 2010, at 4:30 AM, Sally Jane Norman wrote:
>>> >>
>>>> >>> where and how do/ can we draw the line between bad art and bad causes?
>>> >>
>>> >> gh comments:
>>> >> Bad art is an aesthetic decision that is subjective.  I've seen in my
>>> >> lifetime art that was considered bad to become re-evaluated as good.
>>> >> Actually I think the aesthetic kick is in playing with that
>>> >> contradiction and skating close to the line of bad art and bad taste.
>>> >> Otherwise good taste and good art turn into so much decoration.  I
>>> >> don't know what you mean by bad causes but in terms of art I would say
>>> >> that when you make art as a political statement its propaganda rather
>>> >> than art.  If you make art to make money it's commerce rather than
>>> >> art.  If you make art to illustrate a particular theory or piece
>>> >> demonstrate a piece of software it's illustration.  I think the only
>>> >> proper cause for making art is to advance the art discourse or
>>> >> critique it or expand the aesthetic milieu.
>>> >>
>>> >>
>>> >> G.H. Hovagimyan
>>> >> http://nujus.net/~gh <http://nujus.net/%7Egh>
>>> >> http://artistsmeeting.org
>>> >> http://turbulence.org/Works/plazaville
>>> >>
>>> >>
>>> >>
>>> >>
>>> >>
>>> >>
>>> >> _______________________________________________
>>> >> empyre forum
>>> >> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au <http://empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
>>> >> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>>> >>
>> > _______________________________________________
>> > empyre forum
>> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au <http://empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
>> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>> >
>> > Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number
>> > SC009201
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> > _______________________________________________
>> > empyre forum
>> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au <http://empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
>> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>> >
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au <http://empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> 
> Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number
> SC009201
> 
> 
> 
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre



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