Saturday, August 13, 2016

On Being a Professional Artist

First off, let me write that this is not a how to guide about how to become a professional artist.  There are hundreds, if not thousands of those out there, most of them geared toward commodifying the artist personality and by extension the artwork.  I’m not sure if following those guides actually help or not, just like I’m not sure whether my two years in an MFA program actually prepared me for a life of a professional artist.  What I can say is that after the MFA professionalism is something that is not given over by a degree or title but acquired, and even if one doesn’t sell the work they make, does that make them a lesser artist?  I suppose that to be a professional in western culture means to make money off of what one does, but does that immediately negate all the artists that slave away in and out of their studios daily who do not have gallery representation or sell their work, do not appear in flashy magazines, do not get to exhibit in the art fairs and biennials around the world, do not have long write ups on art blogs and are generally ignored? 
For me to believe that I am a professional artist I have to have certain criteria met.  I have to be able to make work, which means that I have to have a space to do it, preferably a studio.  I have to be able to communicate with the people I know like and enjoy my work and to get it out to those that may one day like and enjoy my work.  Easy enough I suppose, I have a studio and a computer.  But sending off random emails to curators and galleries is like knocking on a stranger’s door, first you don’t know if anyone is home and second what do you say if they open up?  The elevator speech? The ultimate in self-presentation and commodification?  Give me a run-down of what you do and what you are about in 30 seconds. Go! Fair enough, even I understand the merits of this type of presentation.
The road to being a professional artist is a long and arduous one.  But the question is what is wrong with just calling oneself an artist and leaving the word professional out of it?  Some people get there by walking over others, by screaming the loudest, by kissing enough ass along the way.  It would be naïve to think that those people do not exist.  Those artists are not bothered by ethics or common decency, or the dignity of those they callously throw under the bus just so they can get a short step ahead.  But for myself I have to be somewhat naïve to think that those artists will one day end up in the trash heap of history, that their behavior will get them excommunicated, because the reality is that the artworld is filled with people of the most terrible sort, many of whom are at the top of the pile, but just as many are the rank and file, waiting to fill the few spots that might one day become available at the top.
My naiveté is that I believe that the alternative is also possible, that the alternative to the commercial artworld is not only the academic profession, where you have to watch what you say and how you say it. My advice, if one can call it that, is to read whatever you can and listen to whoever you can about being an artist and as soon as you do that, forget everything you read and heard, because those people don’t know shit.  Only you know how to make your work and what’s best for you.  Professionalism destroys art.  An artist has to be first and foremost, free.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Made In LA

I can’t stand the word archive anymore.  Every curator is an artist and every artist is a wannabe curator.  The tables have flipped almost perfectly against the artist in every imaginable way when it comes to vanguardism and edginess.  No longer, it seems, does the average artist work with any complex issues, though they may appear that way at first. The artist of today is content with towing the line of populist sentiment, pop and pseudo-philosophy, not even commenting on these issues as much as simply cleverly regurgitating what everyone already knows.  The archive is just one of these recent developments that the artworld better soon forget because it is fucking up a whole generation of artists that could have otherwise been helpful in other lines of work, like the food and service industry.   The ridiculousness of the archive is that as a term it has the right tone and desirability for the elite.  It reeks of academicism, and importance.

But this importance is also very tenuous, for not every archive is necessarily equal in importance to the next, especially when considering the varied nature of archives such they are found in libraries, museums, or the Vatican.  The body as archive is a bullshit term made to inflate the importance of any mediocre performance art and artist. The artist as curator and archivist is another delusion favored by many in the artworld in “this most foul year of our lord,” 2016.  No longer has the artist make anything or have anything made for them.  The artist as archivist needs only to select existing objects with added importance and provenance in order to make a work and by magic the meaning is extracted via various juxtapositions.  This method ought to work even if supposedly all the objects on display have no intrinsic provenance, description or when nobody really knows what they are as is the case in the work by Gala Porras-Kim. Not only is this approach not new by some 100 years, or conceptual, or even interesting.   Duchamp routinely selected objects for display in the early 20th century, with a major but important difference, he did so in order to upset and disrupt the status quo. One could always call a Duchampian ready-made into question, but it was far from bullshit and did not conflate itself with false importance.  Duchamp was much too aware of the false position of the elevated artwork and artist. In the 1970s, the conceptualist’s approach to objects and indeed the archive would have been their total dissolution.  Here in Made in LA, an archive of questionable provenance is presented via a few selections by Porras-Kim who then attempts to pull some sort of immanent meaning out of their choices, or perhaps the audience is meant to do the pulling.  Either way, the false import of most of the objects presented, seem to want to force a meaning, indeed any meaning at all, even if as the review in LA times suggests, “the show shrugs its shoulders,” and the resulting reaction is a so what?”

Made in LA’s affair with the archive continues with a vitrine display of hundreds of images collected in three ring binders.  Again the question comes up, so what? Another archive was Daniel Small’s installation of artifacts of a Cecil B Demille’s film The Ten Commandments. Though this was a pretty interesting part of the show, its hidden meaning is of obvious self-referentiality. Where else but in LA could we get a museum display of fake Egyptian artifacts, excavated from a film from the 1920s for which they were made and that depicted a more or less fanciful and faked Egypt, and presented as the real thing in a sacrosanct way, with tags that spell out descriptions like “circa 1923?” The display is actually quite fetching and funny, though I’m not sure that this is the point.  The exhibit of artifacts is also complemented with drapery paintings from the old Las Vegas Luxor Hotel.  On the back of the disappointing Matthew Barney Geffen show, where the artist coopted Egyptian themes of alchemy and gold making for his brand of art made from cash, Small’s show is much more complicated, even self-reflexive, aware of the tenuous line between art and farce. 
I cannot even fathom what is the current state of painting in and around Los Angeles, if the paintings that are now being show at the Hammer Museum are some sort of a representative sample, but I will venture a guess that all is not well in the painting world.  The paintings in this show are far from good or interesting.  Anti-aesthetic, maybe, but aligning oneself with a once-over fashion because the 1980s are so in right now shows only the regressive nature of the paintings rather than their edginess.  Like the archive, the paintings do nothing else other than reference themselves and this is what makes them boring and unneccesary.  What is the purpose of a painting of a home page other than superficially raise the importance of one of the most superficial of mediums? To comment on the now or the medium?  So what? Too much bad art was already made in the service of raising up a lowly practice into the exalted and noble realms of fine art.  It seems as though the exhibition was made with an assumption that the general visitor to the show is either an art tourist or an idiot because neither takes actual history into account.  Stealing, appropriation, wordsmithing, these are the tools of the modern artist and curator because it does not matter whether someone actually did the same exact thing before, what matters is the renaming of a practice and framing it in contemporary terminology, perhaps as unintelligible as possible, with enough pomp to embarrass even the most staunch Marxist cultural critic and the public will believe that what they are looking at must be important. 

Made in LA suggests that it is a platform for “emerging and under-recognized artists” and for the most part it delivers, but what part of emerging and under-recognized does Sterling Ruby fit?  If there was one artist in LA who needs less exposure and validation, it would have to be Ruby. His selection in the show is almost obvious from the standpoint of a representative LA artist and his installation of welding tables is quite nice, not amazing or mind-blowing, but nice.  

On the other hand, Kenzi Shiokava’s selection can only serve as a good omen in the way that art in LA could be heading or be seen.  Shiokava’s totemic sculptures are substantial and engrossing, suggesting a long term engagement with assemblage and art from trash in the vein of Noah Purifoy.  At 78, I wonder how long he’s been making the kind of work that is now getting public attention through artists like Theaster Gates?  Skiokava’s work deals with the sacred and the absurd at the same time.  His is a work in which 20th century existentialism goes out to dinner with the newly refound 21st century spiritualism and the meal is on the house. 

Other notable hits of the show are Labor Link and Fred Lonidier’s video installation, a much needed antidote to the ultra-right wing saturated presidential campaigns and their obsessive media feeding frenzy.  And then there is Kenneth Tam’s funny Breakfast in Bed, a video of a small group of men, all strangers who answered one of Tam’s Craigslist ads, participating in strange games and horseplay, lots of times naked from the waist up.  The video is shot in a 70s style small wood paneled studio, immediately bringing up comparisons with exploitation videos of the most terrible kind, but what happens on screen is nothing of the sort.  During most of the filming the humanity of the men is what is palpable.  The film never resorts to a wanton ridicule of the participants.  Why would it need to?  The participants are all men between 20 and 50, mostly white, but they never come off as anything but, even if the activities they engage in are completely ridiculous. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Repeating History: A Nostalgic Perspective 

A typical critique of nostalgia has the same overtone of a cliché as does the sentence ‘when one does not know his history, one is destined to repeat it.’ This sentence seems as true as it is patently false in the same way that nostalgia, still a dirty word in our so called post-modern culture, seems to be a word that describes a true emotion, longing, but at the same time keeps its distance by suggesting itself to be a delusion, a sentimental longing for a simple past, a home.

That history repeats itself because we are not aware of it is a simplification, a sounding board for generations that grew up with false wisdom masquerading as studied fact. What if it is precisely the opposite that is true? What if it is because we know our history that we repeat it again and again? The nostalgic knows this and therefore she yearns for a time when this was not the case, which is of course never. This case in point was well put in the short mini-series A Young Doctor’s Notebook. Based on a book by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov, it follows the protagonist as he is guided through his early adulthood by his older ghostly self. He knows he is talking to his future self and knows exactly the outcomes of his actions in advance as he spirals toward morphine addiction, yet every time his future self warns him against a specific action, the young doctor does it anyway, usually with a sense of personal or moral justification, because the weight of the moment is greater than the supposed abstract and inconclusive future.

This is of course a contradiction from the standpoint of the young doctor that points to Mannoni’s dictum ‘I know very well, … but nonetheless’ which also points further to Zizek’s critique that sums up ideology as a fetish object of desire. Zizek describes fetishism in three forms. First is ‘co-substantial with the symbolic order’ meaning that I know very well that there is nothing behind mere appearances and that the appearances are more powerful and yet I continue to act as though the true core behind those appearances is somehow inherently powerful, I show my father respect even though I know very well that he is a ‘corrupted weakling.’ Second is the ‘cynical-manipulative distance’ meaning that when I know there is no Santa Claus, I nonetheless feign belief for the sake of my children. Third is fetishism proper that Zizek claims needs no ‘but nonetheless’ because the fetishist knows how things really are and ‘the disavowal of this knowledge is materialized in the fetish,’ he chooses the fetish rather than real love because the fetish truly arouses him. The young doctor knows very well that his future is very grim, should he continue on the road toward self-destruction as outlined by his future self, but nonetheless decides to follow that very road not because he does not believe his future self, but because the momentary morphine-induced escape from the brutality of his all too sober reality is more appealing and perhaps arousing, substituting his momentary lapse in reason with pleasure derived from his fetish.

Is this not exactly our current predicament, with thousands of books, television programs, films, and internet articles on history, all pointing in the same direction, toward a knowledge of that history, that at the end of the day we are simply not smart enough, did not learn enough, and cannot overcome a simple tendency toward parroting ourselves and repeat our same mistakes even though we knew what they were going to be in advance? Those on the left and the right have this argument at their disposal and they use it with equally zealous audacity and authority, apparently neither willing to learn its message. The nostalgic knows this also and this is why she spends so much time in quiet solitude.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Back from the (almost) Dead

It has come to my attention that The Gutter Art Critic has been dormant for a long time, over two years to be precise. I am not sure why this happened. Maybe it was because I got into graduate school, maybe because I was busy with making work and residencies abroad, maybe it was life and maybe I couldn't bring myself to write anything sensible other than complaints about the fucked up things I saw around myself. Whatever it was.... today is a new beginning, a rebirth of The Gutter Art Critic. I hope that two years of graduate art school has given me a new perspective, I also hope that living near Los Angeles, the supposed new capital of the art world (whatever that means) has given me a new impetus to write about art and culture from ground zero. Ok, maybe not quite ground zero, I don't actually live in Los Angeles, maybe ground five and a half, because I am pretty close, as close as I think I can stand it. But don't get me wrong, I actually like Los Angeles, well, parts of it anyway. I also hope that you, my readers, wherever you are and whoever you are, will find the new blog interesting and worth the effort. Since I started GAC there have been close to 10K hits, which is way more than I would have every predicted. Ok, I realize that GAC has ten followers right now (thank you wherever you ten people are right now!) and that in the scope of real readership for mainstream blogs 10K is like a drop in the ocean, but GAC is not concerned with numbers. I couldn't give two shits less about the popularity contest we call western culture right now. What I want is to put out something that is real, authentic and that has feeling. This stuff comes from the heart! For the past two years I've been writing academic theory papers and working on a thesis using peer reviewed materials, primary and secondary sources, and on and on. Much of the time I don't know where my theory begins and someone else's opinion ends, or vice versa. The new GAC is hopefully going to meld the shit I learned in grad school with the real world shit I experienced, without the ridiculous opinions of others who think that I'm either not going far enough or that I have already gone too far, even if it concerns the same piece of work or writing. That said though, I want to say that I enjoy reading the comments left on GAC, I do read them and I look for them. If you read this and want to comment, do it and I thank you for it! I may respond but I also may not. Grad school definitely taught me that everyone has an opinion, but opinions are like assholes, everybody has one. Stay tuned!!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Killing and Painting

How should one begin when writing about George Zimmerman painting? It might be a good idea to put Zimmerman in a context by which we can judge what he is in fact doing and why is it that this is either accepted or not. George W Bush as we know is painting also, and when he was alive, John Wayne Gacy was painting as well. As much as we would like to dismiss their art as hacky, or worse, let us not forget that it has been decades of unrelenting deskilling of artists, pluralism and appropriation of art for the sake of money and consumerism among other things that have resulted in non-artists claiming the status of artist and non-art elevated to high art. Can we at all imagine a time fifty years ago, when critics like Harold Rosenberg or Clement Greenberg were writing about art and producing actual criticism, which meant that artists had to be somewhat accountable to a de facto higher authority than themselves? Regardless of how wrong or conservative these critics were, in their approach to critique, one thing is certain, and that is that criticism ought to serve as the art world’s peer review, its zero level coordinate, rather than a one way ticket to celebrity status. The lack of real criticism in contemporary art, supplanted with descriptive methods of writing and a lack of interest in the periphery of art making by fringe avant-garde and emerging artists created just such a situation in which criticism’s only function is to create status without judgement. One can argue that such a situation is more democratic, because it allows members of the public to engage in what was once reserved only for those skilled or educated in art and art making. The counter argument is that it is precisely this democratization that destroys the function of what it is trying to democratize. In a recent article in the Guardian (Friday, 13, 2013) the author looked at the impact that smartphones and particularly the iPhone have on photography. While we drown in endless streams of images and while we supplement images for real experiences (people taking pictures of paintings in museums rather than looking at them and so on), photography as an experience is on the rise, but professional photography is suffering. “Kodak used to employ 40,000 people in good jobs. What have they been replaced by? Twelve people at Instagram.” On the one hand we do not have to pay a professional photographer thousands of dollars for a few snapshots of a wedding, we can do it ourselves, but on the other we are more and more giving our power over to technology, which as we well know tends to be (mis)used by governments and corporations looking to protect their bottom lines.

We could also say that perhaps it is payback time, because at the beginning of the twentieth century it was photography that put many painters out of business of painting family portraits. We could argue that photography did not actually destroy painting as a practice as we could say that the iPhone and Instagram will not truly destroy photography as a professional practice, because no matter how many millions of people can readily take a snapshot, most will not go out of their way to stage photo shoots, or create photographic panoramas in miniature. One might say that photography’s salvation can only lie in increasingly obscure methods of shooting or avant-garde methods, pictures might therefore attempt to resist their commodification but also resist the appropriation and democratization process itself, and perhaps the only way to accomplish this is through criticism, which brings us back to George Zimmerman.

Taking the example of Gacy, let us look at the social and psychological context of Zimmerman’s work. Gacy’s works have been sold for thousands of dollars and the implications are that a work of art by a serial murderer, without any art training, credentials, skill or artistic passion, must rely on the status of celebrity, notoriety and fascination with the shadow side of human nature to create value in a work of art. Zimmerman in this case is a weak example of jus t such a fascination. He did not murder dozens of victims and bury them under his house like Gacy, he was not responsible for the deaths, displacement and ruined lives of hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern citizens like Bush. Yet he did set a precedent with this particular type of work. In the art world, much like in Hollywood, when celebrity no longer has to rely on a particular skill, just celebrity itself, status given over by celebrity is enough to sell work. How much different is the case of Jeff Koons, whose career as an artist was preceded by one as commodities broker? Though he studied art in college, his insider contacts from trading were what really got him started on a career of super stardom since he could use those contacts to peddle his own mediocre art. Is not Zimmerman’s just another case of an individual (ab)using a particular system, in place such as it is, for his own benefit? It would be silly to simply dismiss his work as hacky (it is) or as the worst kind of kitsch (which it is also), anyone with a minimum amount of knowledge knows this. The point is much more radical. In the wake of the Beuysian truism “everyone is an artist”, Zimmerman is doing exactly what many of us would do should the opportunity present itself, by this is meant the unflinching self-merchandising and crass (mis)use of the term. In a typical class of thirty kids, it is usually the biggest idiot who takes the rest of the class down with him, if he is the one disrupting class and does not own up to his own idiocy. The teacher will usually punish the entire class rather than look for the culprit. Does this not seem like the obverse of the situation with contemporary art, where a handful of hacks are able to undermine generations of honest work in a matter of hours on the auction house floor?

Predictably, Zimmerman’s painting sold for $100,000 and Zimmerman himself became an “artist” after painting only a single piece. It is hard to say whether it is time to laugh or to cry.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Of Elections and Their Implications

This year’s election for mayor and city council was one of the stealthiest campaigns that I have ever witnessed. Unless one was an ever vigilant follower or watch dog of the local political scene, all one saw one day were a handful of yard signs and an eerie silence in the press and media. As if the fact that the political arena here as much as elsewhere has become a medley of circus freaks and reality tv-like “celebrities” was not enough, the campaign itself had devolved into a he said she said argumentation about why there is so much debt still in the air when all we have tried to do is to make this place more tourist friendly and more developer happy, a tried and true formula for making money. But is that really so? If anything, recent history has always shown that late capitalism is a process by which individuals are compelled to take as much advantage of a given situation and run as soon as the money is made. Was this not the case with most of the “development” in Asheville? Not to mention that anytime a big corporate franchise opens its doors anywhere, the money made there invariably goes elsewhere? There is a term for this late capitalist phenomenon in Eastern Europe, where the ravages of Communism were followed by further ravages of Capitalism. The term is “tunneling”. When a company is established, or bought, a series of “tunnels”, virtual lines by which money is channeled outward into other corporations or tax havens, is built to suck the body dry of all its fluids and to enrich those who run it. When there is nothing left, the company is either dissolved or sold to the lowest bidder. Tunneling is one way by which debt is incurred by those directly involved with these bodies, because through hikes in prices, fees and service charges, the burden is transferred to the lower strata, while at the same time money flows directly to the top and outwardly, with nothing left for the community.

Now that the election results are in, I have to be honest in saying that I have never seen a more dreary set of gray people with no ideas and no life essence in them running for office. What this year’s election was about were power and name recognition, nothing more, nothing less, because what each and every single candidate stood for is a preference for running things along the same tired train tracks into oblivion, some with a ridiculous sloganist campaign of “change”, the same type of change that will keep everything the same, because it is working out for the corporate structure so that it can keep sucking the life out of the poor and middle class, develop more plots of beautiful countryside into abominable tracts of monocultured wasteland, and above all, feed us all staggering amounts of beer.

Should any of the candidates or for that matter anyone living in this here town take notice, I have developed a set of ideas that could be evolved further through conversation and debate.

-Raise the minimum wage in all of Buncombe county to $15/hr

-Institute a basic income to all Buncombe citizens at $999/month

-Place a ban on all public advertising and take down all billboards within county line (it will be great for our psyche and fun to watch them come down like the Hussein statue)

-Place a cap on the number of new buildings in Asheville to 5 (all buildings will have to be integrated into the community)

-Tear up Tunnel and Hendersonville roads and rebuild using a grid system and interconnections

-Free busses running up Merrimon and Patton, electric rail would be preferred however

-Make golf carts street legal

-Divert money going to utilities companies to create small privately owned startup power stations

-Give money to leftist think tanks

-Create a mobile application and computer program by which every citizen can cast votes on every single issue before the council

I absolutely understand that most of these ideas are going to be derided as unworkable, idiotic, or insane, maybe utopian, but if we do not start talking about even the possibility that something like this can work or take place, we will never get out of the hole we have dug for ourselves. If the city of Asheville had gotten into so much debt as is claimed by the media, through the methods that even today most candidates are espousing, that have been mythologized by the establishment and that clearly do not work for the people, then maybe it doesn’t matter that we will get into more debt as a result of these policies, but at the same time help those that are in most need and make this place into a truly unique place, instead of the Disney version that has been created over the past five years.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On art and artists in Asheville, contemporary art and its implications (Is something rotten in the art scene?)

The Question

For years, Asheville has been seen as an arts destination. The reasons are simple; lots of artists result in lots of art produced which enters the market, which draws in the money, which ultimately draws in more artists and the circle slowly but surely perpetuates itself. Whether or not artists can squeek out a living in such conditions is an entirely different question from the one I will be asking today and it can be found in a conversation, which this article will try to dovetail into, from some two years ago printed in the Xpress. Similar topics have been raised later on Craigslist and Ashevegas. The question that will be dealt with here is the state and nature of contemporary art, its (non)existence, and its representation here in Asheville.

Contemporary art seems to have been largely redefined in Asheville. Whether this is a mistake or a concerted effort is unclear. What is clear however is that within this definition are included various practices such as crafts, pottery, fabrics, performing arts, music, and so on. The term therefore gets rather muddied by a definition which itself is blurred because it does not know what it wants to be. In a typically postmodern pluralistic way this definition could be satisfactory, but only until ontological questions arise. The only way to solve this issue is to truly define what one is talking about. Here we should therefore make the distinction between contemporary craft and contemporary fine art. It is always within the definition of contemporary fine art that contemporary craft is included and ultimately represented. When one speaks about contemporary art, one is really speaking about contemporary fine art, with its tradition rooted in painting, sculpture and the avant garde.

Aesthetically speaking there may not be much of a difference between what one would call contemporary craft and contemporary fine art and that is fine, what one sees however is the implication in the reasoning behind creating it. There the difference is between two types of injunction, that of the struggle and that of enjoyment. Firstly, by and large the history of avant garde art (which unfortunately today is as much a simulacrum as it is a myth peddled by commercial interests in art) is that of the radical leftist struggle directly opposed to the conservative enjoyment (small pleasures, beautiful images which nonetheless result only through chaotic production, the enjoyment is in the making already and not just in the finished product, and so on). Secondly, that same history was split into two independent epochs, that of the early 20th century transgressions of values and the elimination of boundaries of art and late 20th century resistance to its appropriation by the market. It is as if to circumvent the original strategy of defining ourselves and our art, we have accepted the conservative ethos of enjoyment precisely so that we would not have to deal with the burdensome task of having to explain our position and ultimately defending it against possible criticism, here resistance ceded its position to appropriation. This was apparent already in 1985 on the national level, when Hal Foster wrote in his polemic Against Pluralism that “ as a general rule pluralism tends to absorb argument” and that “one can only begin out of a discontent with this status quo: for in a pluralist state art and criticism tend to be dispersed and so rendered impotent. Minor deviation is allowed only in order to resist radical change.”

Art for pure pleasure doesn’t need to be defined, it simply is, and that is why it becomes pedestrian and uninteresting as soon as it is made. It is not wrong to create such art however (therapeutic effects of such art are well known), but it is on the other hand a devious comparison which suggests that art borne out of pleasure is directly synonymous with art borne out of struggle. Here I believe the old Abstract Expressionists (most of whom did not have their first solo exhibitions until they were well into their 40’s and 50’s) would laugh at just the simple suggestion of such a comparison and it could be said that their tendency toward disliking Pop art is rooted in this differentiation between art for pleasure and art as a struggle. It was easy for Pop artists to make art and get famous by celebrating consumerism because of the struggle by the Ab Ex painters that smoothed and paved their way. It is as much a case these days, here and now, in which art for pleasure has largely sidestepped the need for ontological struggle precisely because it was the earlier struggle by serious artists that made this situation possible. This art eventually replaced and devalued its predecessor on the condition that it can use it as its philosophical undercurrent. The avant garde tradition gets espoused no matter how duplicitous the art that gets created in its wake actually is.

Is it time to wake up from this dream however? No true contemporary art magazines do any reviews of Asheville art galleries or museums (art papers, artforum, etc. I don’t mention juxtapose because street art in my opinion belongs in the streets. By its inclusion in the gallery system its vitality gets completely lots, but this is another conversation entirely). Virtually no great contemporary artists, from New York, Los Angeles and so on, ever exhibit here. The one exception might be Mel Chin, who can however be considered local as he lives not far from here in Burnsville. This however has more to do with access to this artist, rather than the desire by the museum to promote contemporary or conceptual art.

The Response

The concern of the second section, or rather the concern over preemption of the response to the first, is the response itself. There are three kinds of responses to this conversation about lack of contemporary art in Asheville and unfortunately, despite best intentions by all participants, they do not resolve any issues, but rather perpetuate the symptom

First is the conservative, who says that ultimately artists that bring up this issue are just complaining for the sake of complaining, that they should stop looking for a handout, put up or shut up, and that they don’t want to pay with their tax dollars for someone to sit on their ass in a studio, and so on. This reaction is completely wrong and uninformed, and misses the point completely, because it attacks the artists and not the idea originally espoused. It reaffirms its position through the constant negation of a serious problem, by substituting it with the artist and treating it as a symptom. It says, that the problem is only a problem because the artists themselves are the problem. Second is the liberal position, who instead of confronting the issue does what the conservative does (substitutes the artists for the problem), but elevates himself above the rest by giving out “enlightened” advice rather than attacking the artists. This is also completely wrong and uniformed. If we were to look at the two responses, we will see that they are two sides of the same coin, one an obverse of the other, but acting as if they were different. Here a Zizekian example might shed some more light on this issue. It concerns the injunction by a father to his son to go see his grandmother. The authoritarian (conservative) father says to his son “you know that this weekend is your grandmother’s birthday! Go and see her and wish her a happy birthday and it doesn’t matter if you had other plans because she is your family and that is the most important thing!” On the other hand the post-modern permissive (liberal) father says to his son “son, I know that you have some things to do this weekend, but it is your grandmother’s birthday and it would be really nice and she would enjoy it so much if you came and wished her a happy birthday” and so on down the line. The difference here is that the second injunction says that not only do you have to do exactly what the first one proposes, you also have to like it. Similarly, the advice given out by the liberal carries within it this hidden aspect, that not only do you have to listen to what I say, but you have to like it as well.

Both opinions only seem to enter the conversation not to really solve a given problem but to diffuse the situation because they believe the situation is just fine the way it is and it’s the fault of the others that things are the way they are.

The third type of opinion is the complete agreement with all other opinions and as such is useless to propel the conversation further. I believe we need a fourth, critical opinion which never appears and this is the opinion which actually deals with the real problem at hand, is able to understand it, reflect on it and give it a new impulse by creating a reaction to it. The problem with the first and second response is that as soon as the conversation starts, it quickly devolves into personal attacks without confronting the actual issue. This is due to the misreading and misinterpreting of the given problem. If the issue is contemporary art, then because of its broad definition, there is too much at stake for everybody, which gives way to feelings of being challenged.

This challenge is however what could be considered criticism. After all, the word crisis is included in the word criticism, and the main function of critique is to bring a certain crisis to the subject at hand. The need for art criticism in Asheville is long overdue, and I believe that there are two types of responses/obstacles to be overcome. First, which says we need criticism, but only the good kind of criticism. For most artists, critique is harsh and personal and typically recalls the art school style criticism that most students loathe and fear. This type of criticism is too harsh and personal for most artists to take publicly in a forum or in the media. Second, is the belief that criticism is inherently bad and should therefore not exist because it stifles creativity. It is the latter attitude that gave rise to the giving out of E for effort in school and is largely responsible for the elevation of mediocrity to the level of high art, and ironically is itself responsible for stifling creativity because it disperses the potential rather than concentrating it.

The Afterthought

Just so the above are not just empty words, I propose a few steps that we as artists can take in order to counteract the pluralistic tendency toward art and hopefully recover its true center, which is inherently anchored in philosophy and polemic, rather than cheap entertainment and consent.

Start a radical left think tank about art and philosophy

Set up philosophical symposia and presentations during exhibitions, at your studios, your houses that deal specifically with art and cultural critique

Start writing and publishing a zine with actual art criticism, a blog like this one might do, and I am open to having others publish their ideas, opinions and criticisms


(to be continued)