Tuesday, October 23, 2007

WTF is Art? Oh No!!!Oh Dear god no!!!!!!!!!.....

I am having a hard time trying to decide how much energy I am willing to give to the recent Chicago blog attack labelled as an attempt to clarify what is art?

I waited till late in the game to bother weighing in on the whole smackdown months back about how elitist and insulting to middle rural based Americans most Metropolis-centric arts are.

Whereas I believe the sincerity of some of the posts and opinions, I'm not sure it is a conversation I can have with certain people. In a metaphorical way, it is like suddenly realizing a close friend is vehemently in opposition to your position on pro-life vs pro-choice. From an intellectual place you can distance the relationship, but from a personal and emotional place, you begin to have doubts about anothers' core beliefs and whether of not you actually know the person that you thought you knew.

In some instances I actually hope that even if I can't discern it, that there is a place were sincerity ends and provocation begins.

Also, I have to remember the shaky position that a blog post currently has in the spectrum that is our culture. Sometimes a blog post isn't a platform for advocacy (or anti-advocacy which is personally were I believe all these arguments actually lead). Sometimes, one individual wants to share a deeply felt thing with others. Sometimes communicating a personal preference is just that and not necessary a manifesto or a call to arms, etc.

So given all that I'm still trying to figure out how to respond to Don and Tony's recent post. Or if I even should...

I've debating the possibility of bypassing Stelarc as a whole and instead throwing all my rhetoric towards defending Don's Cans of Crap as art...in order to solidify my point. I have thought about expounding about how the eventual endgame in these sorts of arguments are cultural movements that stifle expression. It is relevant and important to ask oneself "if my opposition in the debate were to not only concede my point, but also act and or legislate on said point...what is the end result?"

But instead I'll start by asking a question. When we write these diatribes about WTF is art, are we speaking as audience members or a fellow artists? I think that is a very important distinction.

That's all for now. But Don, Tony, please answer my question and anyone else out there?


GreyZelda Land said...

"I have thought about expounding about how the eventual endgame in these sorts of arguments are cultural movements that stifle expression."


And, if I'm kicking or slapping, as it were, anybody in the balls, it's gonna be a person that's trying to stifle expression. I think it's a really slippery road, as an artist, to start defining "art". And that's why I haven't weighed in on this much either.

I think it's great that such heated discussions are brought up, but sometimes I start thinking that it's a bit, um, fascist to try to draw lines across art and what that, precisely, is. And, you're right, maybe the discussions are coming more from an audience perspective and not necessarily an artist's perspective. I cannot rightly say because I cannot rightly speak for others.

The Stelarc conversation is one I'd like to have over a barbecue and a beer where we can look each other in the eyes, listen to each other's nuances, and either learn something in the end or not, but ... when you place it in permanence on the internet, it seems to take on a deeper, darker spin that has a dim echo of society and its deeper, darker thoughts.

Anyway ... I've been with everything you've said on the blogs.

In other, more frivolous news ... are you coming to our party Friday?



Don R. Hall said...


Nowhere do I advocate that Stelarc shouldn't be free to express himself nor should he be suppressed in any way from creating his strange stuff.

If having a discussion about the defining lines of what is and is not art is automatically fascist, then I would counter that hiding our heads in the sand and refusing to have the discussion is automatically giving up to the idea that art has no value whatsoever beyond what people will pay for it and the masturbatory satisfaction of the individual artist.

As for the question posed, I am speaking as both an artist and and audience for art.

Following up, what difference does that make?

Tony said...

Well, I write as an artist and an audience member.

I am not often able to separate the two. They are connected. What I see informs what I do and vice versa. Just like the work informs theory which in turn informs the work.

I'm pretty passionate about what I do. That probably comes across more than playfulness. WTF is art? was meant with a playfulness that probably does not come across online.

For myself often my posts are as much, if not more, me thinking aloud than as a manifesto. But I stand by what I wrote.

I think the work itself is what matters, not what an artist says or intends. And if that work doesn't stand up, it doesn't stand up. I don't think that saying it curtails expression. (Though a lack of expression in a work itself is one of my main points).

Of course maybe I should also stress that I am talking about specific works not necessarily an artists body of work or entire movements. I think each work should speak for itself.

Devilvet said...

For my own clarification Don re:

"Nowhere do I advocate that Stelarc shouldn't be free to express himself nor should he be suppressed in any way from creating his strange stuff."

is this just a declaration of your intent or a rebuttal to a perceived accusation I made

The reason being that no where in the above post do I accuse you of being a fascist.

However you are doing more than merely stating your opinion. You are attacking not the quality but rather the legitimacy of another individual's art. And by repeatedly doing so, you are appealing to others forming a consensus (all of which are legitmate in a democratic society) that could regardless of your intent inadvertantly affect many would be "artists" out there as well as Starlac if he were an American Artist... BTW how many NEA dollars has he received thus far?

I do believe there is a difference between what the audience member values and what the artist values.

The difference is what one has invested in the arguement and their position. And what one has invested affects their subjectivity.

However, I need more time to formulate this thought and I cant give it my full attention just yet while navigating contracts here at my dayjob.

We used to have wait for politicians to find and ridicule outre fringe experiemental artists, but it looks like we can count on each other to police who gets the label "artist" and who doesn't.

as an audience member I would appauld your freedom to choose, value, etc

as a provactuer(sp) I would tip my hat to you

but as a fellow artist, I find your thought process ultimately defeatist, close minded, and ultimately supressing

Don, you are not the facist, but your argument is fuel for their fire.

Devilvet said...

Tony and Don,

Very basically, I think the reason why it is essential to differeniate between the audience member and the artist in debates such as these is

the audience member uses their discretion about whether or not to support, ignore, champion, etc a work or art or an artist...the ultimate artibitor is personal taste

the artist uses something more, the label "artist" is utilized to lend authority to their positions. the artist does not argue from the position of the lay person...hmmmm I seem to remember a youtube about the capacity of the laypeople to comment on culture...

It is usually a given that artists are more schooled, more exposed, more practiced, and better authorities. One's status as artist is very important to the conversation and the agenda of their points and counterpoints.

i.e. an audience member doesn't feel their potential encome or identity threatened at all or to an equivilical(sp) level.

an audience member would decide whether or not they want to see a given piece of art

an artist is effective psychologically, economically, etc by other works of art...

The agendas are different. So when you say I'm an audience member and an artist...you might feel better enabled, but I would argue that your agenda is muddled.

Devilvet said...

Regarding any work of art, the audience and the artists have very different intentions.

In that also lies importance to my original question.

Don R. Hall said...

you are appealing to others forming a consensus (all of which are legitmate in a democratic society) that could regardless of your intent inadvertantly affect many would be "artists" out there as well as Starlac if he were an American Artist

I look for no consensus, Bob. I'm looking for the discussion.

As an artist, I believe that our fear or outright refusal to openly discuss the legitimacy of this or that piece of art (or at least what some would label as "art") has much to do with our marginalization in society in general. I have no problem with the idea that Stelarc (and like-minded artists) create this stuff and call it art, but to avoid the discussion seems like a circling of wagons.

Further, if we as artists refuse to have this debate, we cannot expect anyone outside of the artistic world to take what we do and its intrinsic value seriously.

Using you comparison to the pro-life/pro-choice debate, anyone who refuses to openly discuss the flaws in either position are braindead and are no longer a part of any solution possible.

Devilvet said...

I don't believe that this is merely discussion Don. Maybe that is the key difference here.

But, I concede the point to you. Welcome to a world without atonal music, without dada, without the sixties art movement, no fluxus, none of it. At least not as art.

What you would give up in order to get Stelarc out of your art camp seems to me like cutting your nose off to spite your face.

When we start finding ways to delegitimize expression that is how we utlimately devalue it.

When only the safest forms of art are legitimized, then anything slightly out of the ordinary is marginized.

Again, not that i think this is your intent, I just believe is it the inevitable result.

Tony said...

But I could also argue that if nothing is delegitimized, nothing has value, and all art is marginalized (like it is in many respects today.)

But then again, I come down very much in the camp that it is the work itself, not the artists intentions that matters.

I would assume that a (good) artist wants to create something better than has been (or they have) created.

For me it's not about curtailing expression, but about judging the work after creation.

Paul Rekk said...

Personally, I think the artist v. audience member perspective is a great question, DV.

I am definitely NOT an artist and an audience member at the same time; and while I don't question your ability to acheive that balance, Don and Tony, I do admit that I don't understand how you can do it.

I'm a notoriously tough audience member -- I'm not as outgoing about it as Don is, but I treat every work I see as if it were my own. Would this be something that I would be proud to have been responsible for? And I've got a very critical eye towards my own work as well, so gushing praise can be a tough sell for me. And I don't settle -- 'good' and 'mediocre' are basically the same thing. I want 'great'.

But when I've got the artist hat on, when I'm in the middle of a project, there's no time for theory or contextualization -- I gotta do what I gotta do. If it feels right, it's probably right. If it doesn't feel right, I should probably look for another solution. Again, there's no room for settling.

And so now I've talked myself in a circle. I guess I am artist and audience member rolled into one, but rather than tempering my artistic side with an audience perspective as it seems others do, I approach my role as an audience member with a large helping of an artist's instinct.

And I don't know what any of that means towards the discussion, but it was a great line of thought for me. Thanks, DV!

Devilvet said...


"For me it's not about curtailing expression, but about judging the work after creation."

If you jusge it to a poor work of art, or a bad work of art, that's no thing...but to deem that it is not a work of art at all is too much.

Crossing that line doesn't make you a facist, but it enables the facists. Crossing that line doesn't make you an advocate of the censor, but it enables the censors.

Devilvet said...

Tony, I also believe that the kind of deligitmatizing of the artwork we are talking about and engaging in is not as audience members, but as artists. And that the utlimate reason why any artist would delegimatize anothers art is for 'gain'.

Art it self and the audience are just fine with art as it is. It is the artists who have something to gain or loose by who they let "in".

If audience members decry work it is commerce

If artists decry anothers work it is more often that not something much uglier.

Tony said...

Ahh, but I don't think it is a zero sum game. It's not all or nothing. I don't think its a question of who is let in. Because I don't think one work by an artist is art, that does not mean nothing that artist does is art.

Every work is different. Some succeed, some fail. To my mind "bad art" is not art. It may be a noble attempt, but the attempt in itself does not make it art... But that's where we differ.

Don R. Hall said...

But, I concede the point to you. Welcome to a world without atonal music, without dada, without the sixties art movement, no fluxus, none of it. At least not as art.

Wha?? How did you get from "Stelarc's work is not art" to "Therefore atonal music, dada, fluxus, and sixties art isn't art"?

Dude, your position on this entire discussion/debate/argument is far more close-minded than my own.

Instead of manufacturing a far-fetched dystopia in order to avoid the discussion/debate/argument at hand, why not actually consider that Tony and I might not be damning the entire world of experimental art but are looking for a substantive back and forth on what defines that which is artistic and that which is art?

Devilvet said...

Don, I can not believe that you don't see the parallel I'm drawing. All the movements I mentioned are quite often attacked as either not being art or being merely art for arts sake (an intellectual annoyance to most laypeople bordering upon intellectual crime to quite a few preachers and politicans out there).

My point is that once we (being "artists" not "audience") can "objectively" point to a specific creative expression and say this is not art, we enable those who would silence us.

I do believe that there is an effort on the part of the govt and big business to silence dissent in this country and that the butterfly wing flap of your arguement enables a mighty wind down the line.

You think it is a far fetched dystopia? ask the folks who answered questions for the McCarthy Cronies. Ask the NEA 4.

Hell, it seems like every week I bump into another producer here who scapegoats their own failure to get audience on a lay-perception created by other artists. I see parents who don't want science taught in classrooms. I see govt suggesting way to curtail hollywood, I see middle american businessmen and politicans do everythin in there power to make sure people cant see a michael moore film, I see most americans watching Bill O'Reilly and agreeing that the media is too liberal and something ought to be done to stop it...and it is all connected. You dont see that? Well then all I can do is shrug and move on.

Most people in the country fear not their own freedom, but the freedom of their fellow man, what that freedom enables in thought and speech.

I also believe that you dont see it that way. That you view my caution and disgust as a misguided
attempt to shut off yours or others voices of criticism.

Deep down in my heart I guess this whole conversation puts me in a place where I really do believe it is all or nothing.

I love you dude, but I really cant talk about this anymore online. It gets me in an rageful place, that to be quite honest I can't stay in.

When people claim that something the individual says is his/her art is not, and when those people themselves have the label "artist" it brings back ghosts of every person who told me that what I make has no value. I dont think that you're sitting there in your office laughing at me, but there is a part of me regardless of how irrational it sounds that is picturing that.

I got to handle the paperwork in front of me. I'll gladly talk to you via email, on the phone or over a cup of joe but I believe we are engaging in something a little more than a tet a tet, more than a interesting notion.

and most of all I'm mad at myself over this, I knew I would feel this, this anger, this sense of alienation from my fellow artists, over this point etc.

If people want to talk about this I'll be glad to do so privately, but I'm done doing so at this blog. Any further comments to this specific post will be deleted.

Maybe sometime in the future I will attempt this again in another post, till then, let talk about something else at this specific blog.