[-empyre-] Art Funding and Politics

Rachel O'Reilly rachel.a.oreilly at gmail.com
Thu Nov 3 02:33:35 EST 2011

Hi everyone,

It is indeed difficult to entertain the protectionist and short-sighted art
industry notion that the politics of art funding (which I actually
interpret in a lot of this debate as ‘the politics of art itself’) was
'never really a major concern until recently'. The critical awareness of
problems with whichever hand that feeds have always been there, as Julian
so clearly points out. I suggest that perhaps more recently these issues
have been just _more_ obfuscated by art’s own (and very specifically)
'neoliberal' support during boom time.

A key: What is interesting in this discourse of shocked priviledge is how
‘art’ is being made out to feel the effects of the political present last,
when art is normally presumed to grok it first, to lead the way. That’s
interesting no? (It, or artists, do of course, just not within this
discourse, or as disaffected positions are set up to make demands within

Arguably, art industries are perceived as ‘first victims’ because there is
a certain persistently modernist liberalism to the privileges of art work
professionalism, which has enabled them/’us’ to refrain from making the
real political case for our privileging, our 'support' (wherever this comes
from). Now our liminial conception of ourselves as inherently politically
valuable has been revealed to be active only in our own imaginations. In
one sense, yes maybe that is cognitively shocking, but this moment has been
coming and should be held in a much larger view if we are to understand it
in the present.

I’m currently doing academic research (between AU and NL) that is making
aesthetic theoretical sense of how the transition to neoliberal paradigms
actually impacted upon the conception of aesthetic encounter itself.  I’m
basically making the (hardly profound) case that the devaluation of art is
quite clearly written in to the assumptive and often politically
un-conscious liberalism of art industries at the height of neoliberal
transition, pre-financial crash. So as well as theorizing a kind of
neoliberal aesthesis at play in contemporary culture, in the performances
of fine art works and spectators (ourselves) keen for art as experience, in
curatorial texts and reviews, but also, for example, unbounded from ‘art
worlds’ in the reactions of journalists to the “senseless” spectacle of the
London riots and so on, I’m describing how the *enabling* fiction of art
industrial liberalism so easily turns to this historical moment. The notion
of senseless violence or shocking cultural cuts stand in here a product of
the late liberal habitus. And indeed, a dubiously traumatized innocent (the
late liberal spectator) figures prominently in this recent history and
discourse of art that i am writing about.

So going back to the first post, I would say that the notion that art was
finally ‘free’ after 1989 risks attaching art to a very empty signifier
(and a dubious fabulated space of post-violence) and lacks structural
awareness of what historical conditions enabled art to be conceived as
such. Let’s also not discount fine art’s phenomenal imbrication with
speculative finance as also art’s post-89 ‘freedom’. Or media art’s
participation in what Paul O’Neill has framed as culture’s ‘educational
turn’ in which ‘progressive’ practices negotiate the receipt of funding to
pursue the creation of works in a political milieu increasingly dominated
by ideologies of culture-as service, knowledge production, as education
itself is massively privatized and so on.

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