I'm going to write a bit today about a concept that has to do with larger cultural concerns but plays into the art world, particularly with art fairs, commodification, and other issues that many people are discussing within and outside of the art world.
I honestly don't know if I can justify this beyond being a hunch, but I feel strongly that individuals in many historical and current cultures have relied on other individuals to form their identity and morals. Different cultures have different levels of individuality--some have had a much higher need for communal function than others; the United States seems to be one that is frequently pegged as an individualistic society that favors the individual over any community. I don't know if this is exactly true, but I do feel that this is the case, and I often think about self-sufficiency as "good", though self-sufficiency does not preclude community-based thinking. Regardless, an individual gets input somehow--older cultures, I believe, received input from story telling, advice, conversation, discussion, with other individuals to form a network of thinking that, in part, creates the individual's identity (and helps them tend towards certain decisions, encourages individuals to pass along information for others' input, etc). If I had a bad experience planting a certain vegetable or learned of a new pest, I could pass it along to a neighbor or friend who was trying to grow the same crop. If I knew that there was a predator near a fishing spot, I could pass that information along so that others didn't run the risk of being pursued by a predator. If I ate at a restaurant and got food poisoning, I would tell others (and probably alert the Health Department) that I was sick so they would not have the same experience. All of these inputs have a tremendous affect on others.
One important note today, particularly in the United States but in other cultures as well, is the overwhelming influence of media and the vastness of its affect on us. It takes up such a large portion of our input that it is, in my thinking, forming the majority of our identity. There are so many facets of media that it is hard to address them all here, but living in a smaller Midwestern city, many of our friends have smart phones that profoundly influence people's identity. Where I grew up there are far fewer smart phones, but many of those people are influenced by television or newspapers. I might even go so far as to speculate that input of a sensory nature (that is non-media based) makes up less of our input than media-based input, that is to say that the looking that I do with my eyes to determine my path of travel, to avoid obstacles, to learn something new is less than the input that I get from media. One example of this is, of course, from food--I had never cooked rabbit before, and have tried to expand the types of meat that we eat, particularly for more sustainable animals, and when it came time to butcher the rabbit I watched a video on butchering instead of trusting instincts (gained from butchering other animals) and looking at the animal for obvious butchering points. I will not say that I should have just looked--I appreciate the resources available to me--but it is interesting to think about other options. If I had not watched the video, what is worst case scenario?
That is a relatively inconsequential example, but I use it to illustrate my ideas to think about the broader implications in this. What is determined to be valuable in our culture is undeniable influenced (and I might even argue totally and solely influenced) by media because we are using the media as our input in a manner that prevents us from relying on our own, non-media input.
There has been a tremendous amount written about art fairs--I feel like it bubbles up every December during Basel and during other art fairs around the U.S. Many of these articles are against art fairs and some are supportive of them, but I think it is good to think about your own input systems while reading these articles and honestly contemplate what the fair means to you as an artist and as an artist connected to the art community of the United States or the greater art world. Will you refuse to participate in an art fair? If so, why? How are you being influenced in this? Who are fairs for, and what purpose do they serve? I don't think there are easy answers to this question--but I can say, for sure, that if I lived near Basel I would attend to see things. I've attended Expo Chicago (or whatever it has been called over the years) multiple times, and have never purchased a thing nor gone with the intention of participating in the money side of these fairs. I honestly find it an amazing place to see what a large number of galleries are presenting--even if its shit--and love to attend them. Without fairs, the art market doesn't magically become un-commodified, so I don't know if my time is best spent trying to eradicate art fairs or criticize the attendees or artists that participate.
I do know for sure that art is, even if it is influenced by the media, a pristine input that offers solace from the overwhelming amount of media that we encounter. This is probably one reason that I think of, over and over again, for me being invested in painting and abstract painting: media has very little influence on the images that I create, or, probably the more truthful statement would be that my images would still exist even if media did not.
What remains after media might be the kernel of this that I am thinking about in a broader sense. After the end of media, what survives, and how do we go on? I doubt it will ever end in my lifetime, but I'd much rather continue to seek out non-media inputs and experiences because I feel that they contribute to my life in a richer way than media inputs.