[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 4

Joshua Dienstag dienstag at polisci.ucla.edu
Sat Jan 9 08:56:23 EST 2010

While its right to say that we want art to do doesn’t matter (and here I
would point to the millions upon millions of sources of art rather than
paintings painting us), I would say that its fair to ask what it *can* do
that is specific to it (and, possibly, cannot do, or cannot do well).
Johanna’s earlier comment about the emptiness of artistic self-description
that begins with ‘my work is a critique of
’ has stuck with me.  I was
teaching Dewey this week and I want to remind us of something he says
towards the end of ‘The Public & Its Problems’:  “The function of art has
always been to break through the crust of conventionalized and routine
consciousness.  Common things, a flower, a gleam of moonlight, the song of a
bird, not things rare and remote, are means with which the deeper levels of
life are touched so that they spring up as desire and thought”.


While the ‘always’ is probably not defensible, Dewey didn’t need critical
theory or postmodernism to think about art as something deeply interwoven
with everyday life and yet with enormous critical capacities – capacities
that are nonetheless distinct from the critical capacities of the theorist
or the educator (about which he could also enthuse, but differently).


Joshua Foa Dienstag


UCLA / Political Science

 <mailto:dienstag at polisci.ucla.edu> dienstag at polisci.ucla.edu


From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au
[mailto:empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Gerry Coulter
Sent: Friday, January 08, 2010 9:34 AM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 4


I think what we want art to do does not matter. Art will do what it wants.
When we speak of "wanting art to do something" it probably is not an artist
speaking. If it is, it is probably a frustrated one. Papers write us and
paintings paint us as surely as the television watches us and the book reads


Its nice when art is viral though...








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: January 8, 2010 8:27 AM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 4



These comments, and Cynthia's statement "What do we want art to DO?" seem
really to the point. 


John Haber:

 However, these approaches, like indeed good old 
irony, describe how art by its nature slips out from its apparent or 
intended closed structures.  That describes what went wrong, but also 
offers grounds for admiration and hope.


David Heckman:

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


I have a question for John, re the nice succinct and useful summary of the
history of the 1970s and postmodern critical turns. I share your sense that
the 1970s were a crucial turning point, they even self-identified that way
with the adoption of postmodern as the rubric (I date postmodern art
criticism pretty much from the Pictures Exhibition, the writings of Douglas
Crimp, Craig Owens, and others). But the term in play in that era was
"contingency" -- a way to resituate artworks within their various networks
of signs, power relations, politics, meanings, poststructuralist "play" etc.
This was all extremely useful -- especially realizing that in my experience,
at least, art theory in the 1970s was still being taught as a version of
Greenberg (!) unquestioned, at least in art school (I was at CCAC from
1970-73). But I don't think the word complicit was ever used in those
contexts -- the theoretical discussion arose so much from the
poststructuralist reworking of signs through the Derridian différance and so
on -- and of course the really important feminist theory, queer studies,
post-colonial discourses -- all of which thoroughly dismantled autonomy (and
"purity" -- though these are not synonymous). So I'm curious to know if
anyone can cite a use of the term complicit in 1970s or 1980s literature?
I'd really like to know.


Thanks, again, for all these rich and fascinating and wonderfully varied



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