Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Commodity | Ideology

While watching Zizek + Fiennes' The Pervert's Guide to Ideology (full version available here) in the studio today, something came about that further complicates my understanding of capital (manifests as the art market for me, but also in the fact that, in terms of the art market, I am a producer of capital), consumerism, and my own views against these as priorities for living.  In talking about Coke, Zizek states:

"It was Marx who long ago emphasized that a commodity is never a simple object that we buy and consume.  A commodity is an object full of theological, even metaphysical, niceties.  Its presence always reflects an invisible transcendence."

And later, in talking about Starbucks, Zizek references the perfection of it as a commodity--that we are buying an ideology when we purchase a cup of coffee.

I drink Starbucks like its water, but I'm also aware of its implications: not purchasing something that benefits local business owners (forget localism for coffee--its just not grown in large quantities anywhere in the US besides Hawaii--interesting to think what that implies about the US's relationship to the Island-state), something that is from a large corporation (though I am generally supportive of some of the priorities the corporation has for its workers, including health insurance for part time workers), and that I am supporting Starbuck's mission.  What its mission is--its ideology--is incredibly complex and can be seen in a variety of forms, including its Consumer-Philanthropist* ideal (in that we can purchase a cup of coffee and, in doing so, donate to a cause, as Zizek states in the film), its posters describing "the good life", and all of the other manifestations of it as a brand--including affluence and privilege, something that I can not often be accused of espousing.  

All of this, though, becomes incredibly interesting and worth thinking about in terms of art as a commodity.  I know I've stated that we as artists can resist the commodification of art work to some extent, but it is admittedly idealistic; we are producers/workers making capital within a part of the economic system in which we live (in the US, anyway).  Is art, then, a "perfect commodity" in the ideas of Zizek?  Though it will take longer to figure out arguments of why it is not, I plan to do so.  Some statements that support the concept of the perfect commodity of art are listed below:

+  The "perfect commodity" allows the consumer to purchase the object and also purchase its connected ideology:  its funny to think of the art world having an ideology, because the surface reading is that it transcend ideology (and I might have even stated things that reinforce this before!), or that it has so many ideologies that it can't be linked to just one.  But here goes a simple ideological read of art (including the world, market, history, etc):
     a) Art is expression and communication
     b) Art prioritizes the "new", particularly through the concept of the avant-garde.
     c) Art is necessary to culture
     d) Art is a representation of culture
     e) Art is a privilege**

+ Does everyone who purchases art know about the ideology that is purchased with it?  Of course not--but neither does everyone who purchases Coke or Starbucks.

+ Transcendence is another aspect of the perfection of art as a commodity: in some ways, this might be the use of aesthetics and discourse around works of art these days, but the idea that one person will find on work of art particularly "moving" while another might find it drab points towards Zizek's (and Marx's) idea of transcendence.

This could go on forever--even flushing out the ideologies of art could be the start of a much longer text, particularly for a profession that sees itself as so multifaceted, accepting, and enlightened that it would deny the existence of any ideology in art.  I highly recommend watching the film.  A bit of what I am working towards is covered in Zizek's read of The Sound of Music in which he talks about the message (ideology) of the film is often read as the oppression of the church (as the main character is a free-spirited nun that is sent to live with the Von Trapp family) and how individuals can transcend this oppression; yet, in actuality, Zizek reads the ideology of the film as being the church's support of being free, finding love, pursuing your passions.

Similarly, I think art passes along the ideology that art is ideology-breaking, and has no agenda, when in actuality, we all have a number of ideas that are, in fact, ideological (and, in this sense, prevent true avant-gardism, original thinking, and personal work).  I'm going to need more than this one post to justify this idea, so stay tuned.

*See also Geoff Schullenberger's article "The Rise of the Voluntariat" on Jacobin's blog.  Slightly different concept, focusing on work and workers, but I think it can be linked to a rise of justifying consumption through charity (or perceived charity).
**Though I think the inverse, the idea that everyone should have access to art, is also an ideology of the art world.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Materiality, physicality, and abstraction

Most often I read and hear about abstraction talked about in terms of materiality, but I have been thinking most about physicality (particularly relating to the human body) as of late.  I think the historical texts and analysis of abstraction, particularly abstract painting, have often defaulted to materialism as a means to understand what is going on in a painting--we can't see a subject matter or are told that it is up to multiple interpretations, so we must then talk about the materiality--particularly in gestural and painterly paintings.

I am mostly a materialist, and often find material products that reference non-material ideas (shaker gift drawings, for example) incredibly interesting, but I think there is an aspect of the materials of painting that are important but should not be expected to carry all of the meaning of a work.  Paint is paint, it is itself and nothing more.  

Physicality, however, can reference a broader spectrum of painting's aesthetics.  Paint is physical, but not particularly more or less than other traditional art materials (erasing a charcoal drawing, welding steel, etc).  How a painting--hanging on a wall, either illusionistic or an image in and of itself--interacts with a viewer always has a physical aspect.  Gestural painting can reference movements of limbs, dripping paint can feel like fluids.  Even how the painting enters in to our brain is a physical phenomena as the eyes must interpret, look, and cognitively process a painting with all of these things in mind.

I am not, however, advocating for a reemergence of abstract expressionism as the most important art form.  I often think reflectively about my own work in relationship to this history, and I have a hard time resolving how my work is different or the same as 'ab ex'.  I am, though, attempting to point out something that is overlooked when we start to talk about socially engaged art and public art projects.  Politically and socially engagement is omnipresent in the history of art.  Painting has, for years, engaged viewers and lead non-artists to dialogue, discourse, and theory.  There is plenty of room in this discourse for non-painting, but it seems a bit odd that so many people are abandoning it for quasi-meaningful 'events'.

Below is a recent painting that is three panels stacked on top of one another, hung on the wall but directly on the floor.  The painting, cathedral (bones), is one that I've worked on while also producing a large number of works on paper for an upcoming exhibition in New York.  The painting stands (intentional reference) at 6' tall and 4' wide and has a really interesting scale, even more than I could have predicted--its body size, approximately, and has references to structures within us.  An image of it (and some other works on paper) should be on my website soon.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

emancipation (continued)

A [virtual] artist friend Allison Reimus posted this recently, and I was struck at how dead on it is with my thinking as of late, reading Ranciere.  

"The life of an artist can be a really difficult one. I want all my artist friends to know that I care a lot about the work that you do. I know it feels sometimes like nobody gives a shit. For what its worth, please know that I give a shit and that I admire you for continuing to make stuff regardless"

It made me feel like I am perhaps being too theoretical about some of this studio practice and reflection; and made me want to be more straight forward about how incredible a concept Ranciere's emancipation really is; for artists and for living.  

Now, this will not solve all of the questions regarding the concept, but rather continue to fill in a structure that could be built on continuously, as my interpretation of emancipation is fluid in as much as what we need emancipation from is not always immediately apparent.  What I have thought about lately, though, are these parts of the art world in particular; I'm sure there will be more, and I'm planning on making a sort of shorthand notation for future concepts.  

1.  Commodification of art.  It won't take long to find my previous writings about the market and commodification, so I won't repeat it here, but emancipation from commodification serves as an alternative motivation for continuing to make art, whatever that might be.  

2.  Artists work for gallerists, curators, auction houses.  If we do not work for ourselves, and for the benefit of society and culture at large, we are doing ourselves and our community a great disservice. 

3.  Artists are not workers.  Though this may contradict the second point, I think it is absolutely important to remember and know that we are a work force, and can be organized, and think collectively if it benefits the larger portion of our work force.  

4.  Artists need to make a consistent body of work to be represented or to be considered as having a serious studio practice.  (See previous post) This, often, is a holdover from schooling, and is just plain wrong in my mind.  Freeing yourself from thinking this undoubtedly provides more opportunity for pushing your studio practice into different areas and developing work unexpectedly.   

5.  Public / political / socially engaged art only comes from artists making work about these topics.  This should probably not seem like it needs to be stated, but I can't believe the assumptions I hear on a regular basis about art making and how it does or does not play a social / cultural role.  All art is making some sort of political statement: even a finely painted representational landscape in a gilded frame has some place in the public / political / social, if only a statement of idealism, romanticism; both of which have political and social implications of wealth, land ownership, representation, utopian ideals, and manifest destiny.  I might advocate that the most simplistic and uninteresting thinking being done in the art world right now are artists and curators who don't consider emancipating themselves from this idea.  

I could also put down more lighthearted concepts, too, like Abstraction is oversimplified into abstract expressionism, minimalism, geometric abstraction, conceptual art, etc.  but I'm not sure its worth the time; I think it is important to realize that emancipation should be sought to free oneself from concepts that bind us and prevent growth of ideas, studio practice, and our work.   

some kind, 2014