A colleague of mine sent me this article, written by Simon Critchley titled Absolutely-Too-Much. A provocative, well written article that, at its core, has realized a problem with contemporary art—namely that “contemporary art has become a high-end, global culture mall.”
I understand the disgust with the mass commoditization of art. The seamless participation of contemporary art with the globalized market that is consumer capitalism is indeed gripping. I mean, if you are in the camp that believes art should be anti-popular culture, or anti-culture for that matter (or beyond/ahead of/ meta culture), then arts participation in this model is repulsive—at least, art in this model isn’t doing its job.
But I’m not sure pushing art into Kant’s “monstrous” is really a “solution” (that is, if this condition is in fact a problem with contemporary art in the first place).
I’m not convinced the art of tomorrow really needs to be “the enemy of aesthetic experience,” as Critchley states. I don’t think this would “fix” the problem of arts mass commoditization—since I believe the market will shift with what the artists are making. If all the contemporary artists started making disgusting work, then that would become popular and it would sell for millions. I think the problem is more basic than the artist’s participation within this model (that is, that the artist makes decoration for the consumer, a decoration which at its worst is posing as cultural capital. In this way Critchley’s call for “a new art of monstrosity which is able to occupy a certain semi-autonomous distance from the circuits of capture and commoditization” is an interesting solution. But I’m not sure this semi-autonomy is really a solution. It seems like more of a band-aid, or something in place that simply slows down the beast—which I think is a romantic ideal anyway).
More basic in the sense that capitalism is driven to consume. That shit is hungry, dog, and no matter what, it will eat. The “problem” (again if there is one) is that art is seen as cultural capital, in whatever form it takes. Consumers understand this, and want to be a part of this. They want to be cultured, or at least they want to own (or patron) culture.
I don’t think a call like this, to make disgusting art, will change anything—other than what the market wants to buy. And I certainly don’t want to make art that is anti-the-aesthetic experience. The conceptualists already did that, and by God, even their non-objects have been consumed, one way or another.
Maybe we need to embrace aesthetics. Maybe we need to make work that is so fucking beautiful, that fits above the sofa so fucking well that we can’t help but think of it as decoration (and maybe not, of course). If I’ve learned anything from Picasso, it’s that you have to work within the system to change anything. Period. Pushing the brakes by making anti-aesthetic art is not this artist’s answer.
This is an excellent article. Highly suggested. My thanks go to Mr. Critchley for his insightfully critical discourse.