01 November 2006

Fear The Lameness


Photo Credit: Dash Snow

HighLow has a good post about the latest Saatchi effort, USA Today, and sews it up with a quote from reviewer Adrian Serle of the Guardian:

It may not be great art, but it doesn't need to be. That's the problem. I want an art more powerful - not just loud, not just blunt. Most of art's audience already know what they think about the state of America and the war on terror. The job of artists, novelists, film-makers, musicians and playwrights demands that they go further than stating the obvious. USA Today is an expression, more than anything, of impotence.

And well, yeah. I'm right with you, Adrian. Politics is about positions, is about right and wrong. left and right. CNN and Fox News. Hannity and... oh, you see my point. This kind of binary, oppositional thinking is exactly what leaches art of its power. Powerful art makes the beautiful ugly and the ugly beautiful for a second. Powerful art fucks with your head. It confuses you and makes you feel all Whitmanesque, you multitude-containing motherfucker!

This drive to bothness and complexity that characterizes powerful art is antagonistic to politics. Politics is about selling a position that jibes with what is already known. Art, when it is powerful, moves beyond what is known and into the realm of what is possible. Powerful art dreams. Much American art sells, and is therefore political even when it is not about a specific political topic.

Why do we do this? Why do American artists obsess over our inferior selves and collapse into the well-worn path of the known world, when we could be pushing out that space between what we believe and what exists in a way that makes us huge and powerful? Why not go further than Lifestyle Propaganda? Why not make complex images that open up the collective American Mind to the idea that we could overcome this amazing mess we find ourselves in?

Why not do more than capitalize on despair?

It's not like Marianne Boesky or Dash Snow's parents or Saatchi himself wouldn't be thrilled to back a work of art that really takes some chances and doesn't resolve itself into an easy sales pitch, right? That moves beyond regurgitating talking points and lameass exercises in art-school-stylization that conflate dirtiness and progressive thought, right?

Right?

I mean, if art is supposed to be a rather raw expression of intellectual and financial power, then wouldn't the market drive us all not to the safest, most conservative art that cashes in on what we already know, but to art that truly has the power to uplift and expand our notions of who we are and what we can accomplish?

Enron, WorldCom and the Bush Administration's pandering to Halliburton aside... don't you trust American-style capitalism to priviledge the best products available?

4 Comments:

Anonymous jl said...

oppositional thinking is exactly what leaches art of its power

But I thought you liked the work of the Yes Men? Surely their work is intensely political, designed for one specific oppositional purpose (anti-globalization), preachy and teachy ... and they often show in art museums. What gives?

01 November, 2006 11:34  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

Yeah, but the thing that makes the Yes Men work is that they are doing a funny jujitsu on political, oppositional thought. They become the enemy, and that is complex.

01 November, 2006 12:08  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

I have been thinking about this, and it deserves its own post... but I would argue that the Yes Men are, paradoxically, much less political than Dash Snow, even though they have a much more CNN-oriented agenda.

There is a difference between the content of work and its structure, and I would argue that the Yes Men, while they have explicitly social content, do not depend on the political structure of thought (the way we think that keeps things the way they are) in order to get their point across. Dash Snow, on the other hand, is only meaningful in the context of this existing class structure, which is explicitly political. There is no way to understand his work as meaningful except as a function of hegemony, and that he is an active player in creating and maintaining hegemony.

This is why a room full of undergraduate non-art majors will totally understand what the Yes Men are doing, even if they don't know what the WTO is. And this is also why the same room full of students will get very resentful when presented with Dash Snow's work. They are, IMO, reacting to the politics.

02 November, 2006 08:53  
Anonymous Eric Larsen said...

To Deborah Fisher,
You wrote "Why do American artists obsess over our inferior selves and collapse into the well-worn path of the known world, when we could be pushing out that space between what we believe and what exists in a way that makes us huge and powerful? Why not go further than Lifestyle Propaganda? Why not make complex images that open up the collective American Mind to the idea that we could overcome this amazing mess we find ourselves in?"
And I say, kudos to you, brava, and yes. Why NOT? If that last two-word question could be answered, and acted on, just IMAGINE the potential results. Ours could become a real world with real art.
A hard, hard, demanding thing to do, though. Still, the only real thing to aim for.
Yrs., EL

04 November, 2006 23:05  

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