[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 13

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Wed Jan 13 04:59:08 EST 2010

You are right, Gerry, in a sense.  Artists, like anyone else, should
not simply carry water for causes or movements that are defined by
others with no room for reflection, inspiration, interpretation,
criticism, etc.  I think most people would agree, that say, a whole of
of "commercial art" and "propaganda art" carry this in common.  The
artist is more or less a hired gun, paid to make ideas that cannot
easily be adopted on their own merits appear sexy and fun.  (Has
anyone played America's Army?).  Maybe there are artists who make ads
for Shell....  who really do believe that Ken Saro-Wiwa got what he
deserved...  but my guess is that most people making ads for Shell
don't know who he is, don't care to know, and if they do care, figure
out some way to disconnect their job from Shell's actions in the Niger
River Delta...  because at the end of the day, they want to get paid,
quite possibly need to get paid.  (It's not really for me to say
whether or not they are "good" or "bad"...  but if they haven't
thought it through, they probably ought to.)

On the other hand, I don't see why it is necessarily destructive for
an artist to say, "I want to make something that reflects my
values....  and my values circulate around concepts like 'justice' and
'truth'....  and might find their purest expression in representing
the ways that injustice or dishonesty is expressed in our world..."
Or, maybe the internal dialogue isn't even like that....  maybe they
think, "Critics are assholes....  I am going to make something for
them."  (Which is also a political stance).

I think what a lot of people refer to as politics is really another
way of talking about how a preferred form of social connection with
others is expressed in the public sphere.  If it hurts an artist to
think this way....  then the artist should do something else.

BUT....  you cannot expect everyone else to stop caring about how what
you do effects them.  I wouldn't say that people should censor
artists...  but I do think that people have a right to criticize works
of art, especially if that art is made in ignorance of how it might
impact their lives.  A good example of this "public" obligation is in
the Tilted Arc case:
http://www.cfa.arizona.edu/are476/files/tilted_arc.htm  In particular,
I direct you to the words of Danny Katz: "I didn't expect to hear the
arrogant position that art justifies interference with the simple joys
of human activity in a plaza. It's not a great plaza by international
standards, but it is a small refuge and place of revival for people
who ride to work in steel containers, work in sealed rooms, and
breathe re-circulated air all day. Is the purpose of art in public
places to seal off a route of escape, to stress the absence of joy and
hope? I can't believe that this was the artistic intention, yet to my
sadness this for me has been the dominant effect of the work, and it's
all the fault of its position and location.  I can accept anything in
art, but I can't accept physical assault and complete destruction of
pathetic human activity."

And, here, I think is where the question of art, theory, and politics
collide.  In the case of Serra's work, Art and Theory exclude
politics.  But, to what end?  To make a point, which is itself
political.  I'm not going to say whether or not the Tilted Arc should
have been destroyed....  I only want to highlight what happens when
you remove the burden of politics from the mix.  It just becomes
another species of politics.


On Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 11:25 AM, Gerry Coulter <gcoulter at ubishops.ca> wrote:
> When we attempt to task art -- as artists -- it ceases to be art and
> declines into politics. Art makes itself manifest through us -- we are its
> vehicles, it is not ours.
> best
> g
> ________________________________
> From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> [empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of David Chirot
> [david.chirot at gmail.com]
> Sent: January 12, 2010 8:04 AM
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 62, Issue 13
> Thinking more on the question of art being tasked--or not--with being a
> moral conscience--for anyone--
> Yeats wrote that out of the quarrel with others, one makes politics; out of
> the quarrel with oneself, poetry.
> Thinking of this, i have actually asked myself for ever it seems if there is
> not a certain form of amorality no matter what the "quarrel" when it comes
> to being an artist, a writer--how many times in observing an event has one
> not found oneself being at least two beings-if not, often, several
> more---one who is more or less "involved" and another who is "recording,"
> "documenting, making inner observations of details, tones of voices, the
> physical background to a space--they way a person looks at such a such time,
> allusions which arises in one's mind which little or nothing to do with the
> situation at hand but everything to do with the manner in which one may make
> use of the 'amterial"--not necessarily as direct "reportage" but as that act
> which is a form of transmutation, of a transference,a transpersal, a
> transposition, a shifting of emphasis from one level of detail another while
> at the same time erasing,deleting, disappearing another part--for the
> purposes of emphasis or "aesthcics' in the sense of the form one would like
> to frame the incident in . . .
> Or--how one may present alongside or mixed among each other the documentary
> and the "fictionalized"--
> "Reporting" itself as form of ficton and vice versa, or the two shot through
> with each other--and rhe same regarding
> "theory" or 'criticism" in which one essays a form not unlike that
> "poemcritique" of Mallarme's--
> is there not a sense in which an artist, a writer, "rises above the law" or
> places oneself "above, outside"--"beyond" or even "in the back of the
> beyond"-- the better to observe IN A CERTAIN STYLE--the events--without
> passing a "judgement" moral or otherwise, yet not being "neutral" either in
> that the very choice of words, of what is present and what is not--in
> presenting the situation, the various "evidences" which flicker in the eyes
> of a dying person--in thatal of these present "a point of view"--which may
> not be ideological or moral or asethetic, but simply as it were an
> investigation into the presentation as being part of the event itself, an
> event which includes the writer, artist--and in turn is affecting the
> observer and the manner of observation--
> Who tasks oneself in these situations for the artist--but the artist
> themself, perhaps in observance with ideas and demands not yet even
> necessarily all that "clear" yet which it is hoped will emerge, "if one is
> able to do as well as one hopes"--and in turn, for whom are these "amoral"
> observations intended?  if often not oneself--in relation with the way one
> essays to finding out how it is one may work with the words, colors, sounds,
> the evidences real imagined, of memory, of dream--or of testing out various
> methods one has not essayed previously in comparison, as experiment, with
> others one has tried and plans yet to try--
> In a sense, as one works, the work is working with/on oneself also--finding
> that which emerges and at each instant is shaping, reshaping, finding its
> way as it finds one finding one's way--in this conversation among artist and
> materials--is an unvcanny enoucnter and recognition of an Other--at once
> "oneslef" and not--at once "Outside" and of a part, not apart from, an
> interior--which is shared in the act of conversation of working withthis
> Other--so what emerges is something "different"--at each instant--than that
> which had immediately preceded it--a language at once entirely new and yet
> not unfamiliar--
> In this sense perhaps it is not morality which one is working, nor a space
> freed from morality--but simply something Other--which is not imposed--but
> which, emerging, "develops" as it were an "exposure"--
> On Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 3:36 AM, David Chirot <david.chirot at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> I don't really think of what i am questioning as being part of a "moral
>> conscience" per se--i think of it as a looking into the functions and
>> functioning of language, which might include also a language which is in
>> itself a form of silence.
>> An area which i have been writing about in the last couple of years more
>> and more is that of the Literature of the No. This involves several writers
>> and several examples of methods and "appearances" of the No. These are
>> unwritten works which in themselves refuse to be written, while creating a
>> space which nonetheless exists as a an area in which the writings while
>> unwritten have effects in their own of writing--this is just one aspect--
>> In a sense, i am concerned, interested in a way with the call to the
>> spaces of art which claim with some degree actually, paradoxically, to a
>> morality, of a moral nature--to not be concerned with being the moral
>> conscience of a culture--
>> The political analogy is not necessarily silence at all, but on the
>> contrary, a continuing functioning of writing which claims to a certain form
>> of "moral high ground" as/for art in that it is in a sense "above" such
>> questions--
>> What interests me are the questions which Pierre Vidal-Naquet raises re
>> language and other issues within a culture's existence which are effected by
>> the practice of torture (in his case)--when it is practised by a society as
>> it is now by the American society.  How has this affected the language
>> itself?--What do the contradictions between what a culture purports to be
>> for itself and what it actually does open up as spaces of various kinds of
>> silence and writing?
>> What spaces do they open up for forms of invisibility of the most visible
>> events,actions language uses, while at the same time how are other areas
>> made suddenly more visible in order to lessen the visibility of others, and
>> how do these in turn effect the ways the language is used not only towards
>> the events themselves, but towards a continually spreading "cancer" which a
>> society makes invisible to itself in order to focus on other areas which it
>> assumes are 'distant" from the "diseased areas."
>> These questions are not necessarily "moral;" they pertain as much to human
>> psychology --and how humans use language to function psychologically when
>> facing various events, actions, questions--
>> For example, one may examine language uses in terms of constructing
>> denials, or in constructing refusals--and from there, asking oneself what
>> are some of the differences among these--?
>> Art has always had, i think, quite a wide area of its activities taking
>> place in areas in which it has had nothing to do with the moral conscience
>> of a society at all. I think in the last few decades, the question of "the
>> ethical" has been one which as introduced "moral conscience" under a
>> different set of names, words; again this has been area long open to
>> writing, literature, culture--both of questioning the ethical and of in turn
>> shifting this aspect of writing again into other terms which are those
>> considered to be "in our time," whatever time that might be.
>> In a paradoxical way, I have often found that writers, cultural workers,
>> who most often call for art, or areas of art,  not to be a moral conscience,
>> have just as many sets of ethical concerns as any other, and to pass as many
>> judgments as any other--
>> That ethical concern may appear very much as the area which Joanna points
>> to--even the words "being tasked with being the moral conscience of a
>> culture" may also be an expression of a form of ethics, morality, simply
>> saying, that perhaps one need be "tasked" with an alternative "for a
>> change," although the predominate mode today in the US is already really one
>> of this nature. In large part, it might be the attitude in which the most
>> "power" of a kind today resides--
>> I am not interested in "tasking" art to be a moral conscience; what i am
>> interested in simply is asking as many questions possible and learning of as
>> many exaaples of possible, of the ways in which language functions in the
>> society i live in at present, in the situation in which it exists at
>> present--
>> I also very much am interested in spaces which are not "tasked" in the
>> sense that all too often from al too many differerent directions, each with
>> varying degrees of power in varying institutions, one is being tasked to
>> function, think, act, behave, write make art--in short, to live--in a much
>> wider wider variety of ways than one is aware of, so many of them rendered
>> invisible by opacities which in turn demand transparences--and
>> transparencies which are created to enforce opacities--
>> One of the first things noticed as a child for myself was that language
>> and actions are often essayed to be forced to correspond when in fact most
>> of the time they do not--the lives of language and the lives of persons are
>> very often at variance--in order to make them appear to correspond--how are
>> language and action used to make it at least appear so?  Or, if they not
>> appear so, how to justify this--and so on and on and on--inolving all manner
>> of subtractions and additions, appearances, disappearnces misinformations
>> disinformation rebranding all the techniques involved in the study of what
>> Jacques Ellul calls "Propagandes" (singular in the English translation of
>> his classic work on the subject--)
>> For, at what level are not many of the uses of language not variations on
>> "propagandes"--
>> The question of an Outside, the question of the No, of disappearance-all
>> are questions which find one as quickly as one finds them, by "chance"
>> or-vocation--or any way which questions choose to "arise"--via reading
>> Mallarme for example alongside yet another book on the JFK assasination and
>> its myriad conspiracies, solutions, coincidences--and then turning to say
>> Maykovky's How are verse made?--poetries which erupt out of the most
>> peculiar places . . .asking questions, all of them--
>> On Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 5:12 PM, Johanna Drucker <drucker at gseis.ucla.edu>
>> wrote:
>>> John,
>>> Much different. I agree.
>>> I do want to make a space for art that is not tasked with being the
>>> moral conscience of the culture too.
>>> Johanna
>>> On Jan 11, 2010, at 4:09 PM, John Haber wrote:
>>> > The analogy to rebranding is very interesting indeed, in an excellent
>>> > post.  Let me ask more about it, though.  Now, to me it's only an
>>> > analogy, and of course whatever venting we may wish to have about
>>> > torture and Israeli policy aren't instantly illuminating regarding art
>>> > except as a kind of red flag.  (Hey, there's injustice in the
>>> > world, so
>>> > don't let it happen in this realm.)  Indeed, it could actually
>>> > disguise
>>> > the problem, by suggesting distinct realms after all, which the whole
>>> > problematic of complicity in art is supposed to question.  Thus, my
>>> > question would be this:  if the political analogy is silence, then
>>> > does
>>> > that open possibilities for art, in which making visible is part of
>>> > the
>>> > game?  Now, I realize that acknowledging something, as argued well,
>>> > doesn't make it go away.  But it's still different from silence.
>>> >
>>> > John
>>> > _______________________________________________
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>>> > empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>> > http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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