Relational Aesthetics, or A Tangent on What I See to be the Problems in Art Today

When I think about art today, I think about the commercialization of art. Where art has reached the rank of a true commodity. A commodity that signifies both status and culture. To have art, to know about art is to be privileged. However, increasingly, it seems to make art, and to show art is also to be privileged. In a time, when time itself is money (or at least of significant value), the ability to have time to make art is itself a luxury. Especially in a city like New York where rent is sky high, because space is also a luxury. So, in order to be an artist, one needs, beyond knowledge and creativity, also space and time. It’s no wonder that galleries tend to be owned by wealthy individuals who treat art as a social opportunity, confirming their rank in society. Also, the artists they represent are (usually) wealthy and apart of the same social sphere. Not to drag what has become “art” through the mud too much, but it is a world that is very self-selecting and self-absorbed. It is only interested in the outside world for affirmation. This is particularly clear if you attend any of the art fairs: Basel, Armory, PULSE, etc., where collectors go en mass to spend millions on art at what essentially amounts to a glorified trade show. What is this? In my opinion, the art world is an example of everything that is wrong with the world we live in today. Marx’s theory of capitalism at it’s best. Nothing is outside of the system, even if it appears to be “challenging” the system, it is dependent upon that system for it’s survival.  I have a friend who has said, “when the end comes, the only art that will be worth anything, is that which will make a good sail for my boat,” but I digress…

The art that I have always been interested in is connected to true radical movements; DADA, Bauhaus, the Situationists, Fluxus… From groups who set out to live in a radically different way, a way that was deeply connected to both politics and aesthetics. Where the concern was never to get rich or famous, but to offer the masses something different, in the form of a graffiti slogan or a public performance.  Art that rejects the dominant culture. Perhaps part of the problem then becomes a sense of oversaturation of these things in our society where punk is now glamour, and words like “revolution” sell products. The average individual can’t discern art from chaos or advertising.

However, at the same time, the world that we have come to inhabit increasingly discourages any radical thinking. It is chaotic, but also sterile, and the sterility of it seems to nicely coincide with the kind of art that is being made. Even when art is made with the intention of being a beacon of inspiration, a new way of seeing, it already exists in a fragile space, surrounded by those who wish to turn it into another commodity with an exchange rate. It is this precise world, that the poor, the uneducated, the “others” are not apart of. Sure, they can attend the galleries and museums to “enjoy” the art for themselves, but this seems to be an increasingly alienating way to experience art. It seems fundamentally flawed to me, as the space itself further pushes these ideas, objects, films into a space further away, on a pedestal (so to speak).

It is distracting to believe that art is outside of the dominant capitalistic society when in fact in represents the absolute heart of it. This is not to say, that to create art, and to be creative are fueling the fire, but maybe. We live in a world of collective consciousness, and it seems that it is only a matter of time before good ideas are appropriated and construed as bad ones. Just how Sam pointed out in class tonight the hipness of the Situationists, it would be truly amazing if their ideas were pursued. I think that is exactly what they wanted – not to start the revolution, but to inspire it. However, unfortunately, we live in a fast paced world devoid of fact checking, and it is easy to take a good idea (the Situationists) and glean from it something flimsy yet still get artistic or theoretical recognition.

Stephanie Kauffman

One Response to “Relational Aesthetics, or A Tangent on What I See to be the Problems in Art Today”

  1. I’m with you; and while I completely agree with your diagnosis of the art world and your frustration at insatiable drive of the system of capital and commodity to eat up creativity and spit it out in digested/digestible, defined/definable categories—here’s the next art star, the next great literary talent, but hey, their second novel was not as good as the first, so rather than support their development let’s move on to the next dazzling risen star (who can rise if they are already risen?)—I imagine Deleuze would say, “and?” Here we find ourselves, and?

    And we must work and continue to be inspired and create, create, create. We don’t have time or space but we do. Everyone doesn’t have access but let’s those who do or can make new spaces and try and open up spaces with and for others. And most of all, let us create new ways of seeing and also new ideas of what it means to see and understand, even in a world of saturation. To this end, I find Jacques Rancierre’s idea of the emancipated spectator inspiring and potent. In The Emancipated Spectator, Jacques Ranicerre says (excuse the extensive quote):

    “In effect, the procedures of social critique have as their goal treating
    the incapable: those who do not know how to see, who do not
    understand the meaning of what they see, who do not know how to
    transform acquired knowledge into activist energy. And these doctors
    need patients to look after. To treat incapacities, they need to
    reproduce them indefinitely….To escape the circle is to start from
    different presuppositions, assumptions that are certainly unreasonable
    from the perspective of our oligarchic societies and the so-called
    critical logic that is its double. Thus, it would be assumed that the
    incapable are capable; that there is no hidden secret of the machine
    that keeps them trapped in their place. It would be assumed that there
    is no fatal mechanism transforming reality into image, no monstrous
    beast absorbing all desires and energies into its belly; no lost
    community to be restored. What there is are imply scenes of
    dissensus, capable of surfacing in any place at any time. What
    ‘dissensus’ means is an organization of the sensible where there is
    neither a reality concealed behind appearances nor a single regime of
    presentation and interpretation of the given imposing its obviousness
    on all. It means that every situation can be cracked open from the
    inside, reconfigured in a different regime of perception and
    signification. To reconfigure the landscape of what can be seen and
    what can be thought it to alter the field of the possible and the
    distribution of capacities an incapacities…This is what a process of
    political subjectivation consists in: in the action of uncounted capacities
    that crack open the unity of the given and the obviousness of the
    visible, in order to sketch a new topography of the possible…I believe
    today there is more to be sought and found in the investigation of this
    power than in the endless task of unmasking fetishes or the endless
    demonstration of the omnipotence of the beast.”

    Perhaps we can’t and shouldn’t look to the “art world” for art. And we know that the bill of sale is never equivalent to the work of art, a true work of art exists on a different plane than the scale though they intersect. Perhaps that’s just not where it’s at, and anyway that’s not where we find Rimbaud or Van Gogh, they write and paint for the people to come, and we must believe in the capacity of people to actively see and transform. The innovators and seers are out there/in here, and while the system does not support or make it easy for them, it never has. The speed and the greed increase, but as Sam has pointed out, it didn’t take long for Duchamp’s toilet to be another delimited work in the museum or Surrealism to become a style. But we know this is not a failure of the work, it’s a symptom of the system. The works can and do still inspire, even as they spawn empty imitation. The drive to commodify will never stop, yet neither will the creative forces of making and seeing that are our responsibility and honor to join our own drives to. It’s easy to say and it has to be done.

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