28 June 2006

Individualism Is Dead!


There are grand thoughts out there about craft, the NYC Board of Education and its scattershot approach to teaching art (although from personal experience I know that art should not take this personally... science is equally dismal), and these thoughts are stacking themselves into a great hopeful shape that points upward and asks, "What is my role here as an individual? What can I do? What is this art thing for?" Most recently from Speaking of Ashes:

The writer for the New York Times is unable to process that such sturdy attacks, body blows from both left and right, come about because it's language is based in the same nothing-reality of the adolescent's notebook filled with scrawled AC/DC logos and 4-wheel drive trucks. That is to say, it is a language based on the narrow drive of the individual stringing thoughts together
in succession, unable to allow thoughts to come up, through language, to describe situations WITHOUT moral judgement.


This statement (I think) makes an enormous cognitive leap: it supposes that the individual can choose how to organize her thinking so that her relevance to the larger culture is either maximized or minimized. Holy shit! That's power, unassailable and integral. And it's a great doorway into why contemporary art is so aimless. And it gives some insight into how to reinvest contemporary art with relevance and direction. The AC/DC logos say it all.. well, Ashes could have said pentagrams or unicorns or any other lameass teenage icon that thoroughly infested Chelsea a year or two ago. And while this fad mercifully passed, the fads that replaced it tend to function similarly:

When I go to Chelsea, I see a world full of crap/icons/material that is shuffled around to maximize one artist's individuality at a time. This can take many forms, from the obsessive documentation of some artist's private experience to the showcasing of some artist's "obsessive research interest" (art as term paper), to an artist thinking that they own a way of working or worse, a whole medium.

This obsession with the indivudal is a zero-sum game. It flattens the experience of art into party banter:

Artist: "I am obsessed with coming-of-age films. Aren't you?"
Viewer: "No"
Artist" "Well, then, you won't understand all the layers of meaning in this piece, which culls its iconography from the very important movie, "Poltergeist III"

This impulse to maximize individualism is exactly what I learned in school, too. These artists are following a sincere, necessary impulse in the easiest way. They want to get to the unknown, and in a world where everything is a freaking mouse click away, they are mining what should be forgotten and creating an echo chamber.

Maximizing relevance to the larger culture requires a different approach. It involves sharing oneself with the rest of the world and ceasing to worship oneself as an individual. I think that many artists still think of themselves as uncharted water that is interesting for others to sail. I don't blame them for falling into this "Pollock said it, I believe it, that settles it." trap, but the world has changed. Individualism is turning into its own strange tyrrany. It's being used to convince poor people in red states to vote against their own best interests, keep the kids I taught in Crown Heights last year lusting after bling even though they don't have any money, and keep global warming a political ("personal virtue") issue, and not a scientific fact. Individualism leads to Frank Rich's Truthiness. It is actively being used to turn us into easily mollified sheep who care more about the sense that their Tivo and amazon "knows who they are" than the fact that we are totally fucking up the whole middle east and killing thousands of people doing it.

Individualism is distorting the social and political landscape in absolutely monsterous ways.

Artists who reinforce this obsession with individualism are not just being useless and stupid, not just being behind the curve. They are actively working a culture-machine that they might even mistakenly think has long forgotten them. This is good news because for the first time in years I have convinced myself that art has any power to do anything at all.

4 Comments:

Blogger DilettanteVentures said...

Amen sister.

28 June, 2006 10:11  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

My blog crush continues...

28 June, 2006 15:23  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Do you think abstract art is dead?

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

28 June, 2006 17:35  
Blogger Ashes77 said...

abstract art isn't dead, it's just impossible.

28 June, 2006 20:10  

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