[-empyre-] art and ethics

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Tue Jan 26 08:29:50 EST 2010


I finally feel like I am beginning to understand the various positions
being sketched out.

G. H. Hovagimyan writes, "I think being an artist is about arguing
above and beyond the current intellectual and
political millieu.  Optimally an artist liberates themselves from all
of that. They find a place that is actual freedom, perhaps poetic and

And Gerry Coulter adds, "It is rather the same for art is it not? Art
thrives not because of the art world or public or private institutions
but in spite of them. And art, like politics, is today, the recipient
of mass indifference. Pretty soon about the same number of people who
attend one art show per year will be the equivalent of those who vote.
The numbers are not so far apart right now."

I get the impression that sometimes we are talking across each other.
On the one hand, I do believe that art has a social role and
obligation.  On the other hand, I do not think that artists should
feel obligated to look to "politics" to find their vocabulary.  I find
that I share your sentiments in regards to mass indifference....
until I think about how the very political structures that we use to
interpret art (the galleries, the lectures, the collectors) should be
interpreted as the true targets of indifference.  Art can be found
just about everywhere where you can find people (Check out these kids
playing ball....  if this isn't art...  I don't know what is:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgIi7sycfmk )

I think we are really talking about the role of artists outside of the
established discourse of the day, the potential that a work of art can
project new forms of knowledge, outside of the artist's intention and
the social/political/critical sphere's capacity to anticipate it.  Art
is always a speculative endeavor, it never existed before
representation, so it is, at some level, silly to endow it with a
presence....  except to say that the intrinsic qualities of the work
are inherently representational.  They do not so much represent
reality as reality, but represent reality as representational (if that
makes sense).  And, while I would be reluctant to tell people what
"street basketball" means, I would say that it contains the elements
of performance, virtuosity, and improvisation.  It plays with
expectation and while there are clear objectives that are structurally
determined (taking it to the hole), such play is entirely about HOW it
is done.  On one level, such play is the furthest thing that I can
imagine from any sort of clearly defined political discourse, but I
think you'd do violence to the work to separate from its context
(which, in a sense, is what I am doing by presenting a youtube video
packaged by an apparel manufacturer). So while art necessarily exceeds
the mundane, its excess is also produced by that banality, and that
the force of a work can be lost when it is robbed of its context
(cleaned up, placed in a gallery, collected).

When I speak of the social obligation of the artist, I really mean
that art does not belong to any individual.  Rather, it belongs to
whoever encounters it.  We make art.

It is interesting that, for all the controversies about the
relationship between art and politics, even those who are opposed to
this relationship seem to come back to the point that political
discourse is debased, a lost cause, a sinking ship that threatens to
drag everything else down with it.  Yet, we are really talking about
historical specificities here.  That "politics" reminds us of
baby-kissing assholes or zealous blowhards does not mean that
politics, at its root, is destined to be synonymous with its bastard
offspring.  Politics means nothing more than the social relationship
with power.  If art is "beyond" the power of temporal authorities,
then it exists in a social relationship with power.  It might be
something of a hermit.  But even a hermit is marking off a space and
time in relation to the dominant order.

Having said all that, not all artists are called to be hermits.  Not
all art is alienated.  Rather, it is inherently speculative.  It is,
in the here and now, an alternative to the here and now.  Which does
speak to this desire to see art as apart from the dumb realities of
daily life....  but it is apart only insofar as it is within.  It
marks off a zone of autonomy in relation to various threats to that
autonomy.  Maybe I am way off the mark here.  But I remain reluctant
to draw lines between categories of human expression and social

I guess I'd like to imagine that we are all artists.  Or, at least, we
could all be artists.  And that there is a utopian potential tucked
away in there somewhere... that at some point, art IS a social reality
in competition (and sometimes cooperation) with many competing
notions, and life is a struggle to realize that our lives could be
much more than they are.  It could just be wishful thinking.



On Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 4:32 AM, Gerry Coulter <gcoulter at ubishops.ca> wrote:
> I appreciate your post and would make a link to the chatter we endured about the US Supreme court's latest decision...
> It doesnt matter which rich people choose which pack of lawyers to run government as it does not matter (Bush the Son is a good example) who leads a country. Look at the pack of idiots who have been President of France for the past 50 years. Nations thrive DESPITE politicians not because of them.
> It is rather the same for art is it not? Art thrives not because of the art world or public or private institutions but in spite of them.
> And art, like politics, is today, the recipient of mass inidfference. Pretty soon about the same number of people who attend one art show per year will be the equivalent of those who vote. The numbers are not so far apart right now.
> Maybe, I hope, in fifty years, we'll hold a major election in a Western country and only the politicians, their friends and families will turn out to vote. Or perhaps a blockbuster with no lines...
> best
> Gerry
> ________________________________________
> From: empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of simon [swht at clear.net.nz]
> Sent: January 24, 2010 8:44 PM
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] art and ethics
> Dear Empyreans,
> Having just picked up a copy of Philosophy in the Present (Polity,
> 2009), from its pages Alain Badiou announces incommensurability as
> constitutive of the philosophical situation, the situation in which
> philosophy can create problems (or concepts). This would seem to be
> pertinent to the turn this discussion has taken, to the potentials for
> complicity between the corporation and art - perhaps I am reading it
> wrongly. But then again perhaps this turn can in turn be characterised
> in terms of its Kantian inflection, specifically an inspiration to
> consider ethics as a shared ground upon which complicity eventuates: on
> the Law. So, then, just asking for it, for a critique that goes to
> unground this implicit and unhappy co-incidence of art and ethics by
> this simple and easily repeatable formula: the time of art is not that
> of power; the ethics - on which, the Law or from which, the Law - the
> rules - of the power are incompossible with those of art - with those
> little laws of difference, that immanent Rule, which in making art is
> the only one worth listening to - and may just as soon make us outlaws;
> in short, what we are dealing with here are incommensurables. So,
> Badiou, invoking Mizoguchi's /Crucified Lovers, /particularly the
> lovers' "withdrawal into the smile" as they are led to the punishment
> which the law against adultery has conferred upon them - crucifixion -
> says:
> "Well, in these magnificent shots, Mizoguchi's art not only resists
> death but leads us to think that love too resists death. This creates a
> complicity between love and art - one which in a sense we've always
> known about." [trans. P. Thomas & A. Toscano]
> He is led here himself by Deleuze quoting Malraux to the effect that art
> is what resists death and in this situation will not give that the
> lovers are happy to meet their fate but that in a sense they have
> already overcome it. So in a similarly philosophical situation - one in
> which disinterest can possibly prevail - Badiou relates the story of
> Archimedes's summons to the Emperor Marcellus's court; wherein the
> soldier sent to collect the great scientist on behalf of the great power
> of the victor is ignored and eventually takes his sword and ends the
> former's life: Archimedes has asked for time to complete his
> 'demonstration,' a drawing in the sand of geometrical figures. Badiou
> glosses this confluence of incommensurables in terms of time: the
> impatience of the Emperor's emissary and the artist's time's otherness,
> an internal time, created with the problem in the act of describing the
> problem, or in the act of the problem's expression.
> However, I have followed this discussion with interest, because of an
> experience of a complicity which I haven't yet found here, and which
> I've ever since thought of as the complicity of the artist... with the
> destruction of the institutions on which the artist depends. In the
> early eighties in New Zealand theatre workers went out on strike,
> nationally. All seven professional theatres closed. Actors had voted to
> back technical and backstage workers, against the management, at that
> time a loaded word. And words, it must be said, were at the cutting
> edge, not of the dispute, but of the problem: the co-option of the
> language of the artform by the language of industrial relations.
> Productivity replaced productions. Industry displaced theatre or art.
> Artists redesignated themselves workers, workers all. The unforeseen
> outcome was that the formerly egalitarian theatres were stratified:
> where pay parity had existed between backstage and acting company, where
> in fact unity of the company had been the unofficial prejudice as it
> included back- and front- of the house, on-stage as well, demarcation
> made it thereafter almost impossible that an actor might, say, hang a
> light, and the theatres slipped back into star-systems, into British rep
> style hierarchizations, into, therefore, older formations. One step
> forward, two back. Could actors have envisaged that by their industrial
> action, by their complicity with, well, their ideological complicity,
> they would reposition themselves at the top of the industrial hierarchy
> and of the pay scale? positions of which the industrial action was
> intended as abrogating?
> And, to clarify what may appear a contradiction: yes, the actors top the
> payscale, but professional theatres as institutions bankrupted -
> ideologically and fiscally. Who are here the artists? Theatre is
> possibly not an indicative demonstration or example; but it surely goes
> to illuminate something in the sense that collaboration has been talked
> about, particularly online?
> I present this sense of complicity for interest and diversion only.
> Best,
> Simon Taylor
> www.brazilcoffee.co.nz
> www.squarewhiteworld.com
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