a 'vertical' schism
at the core of the art world's strategies for success
responsible for the hollowing out of art
In matrix 1 on the previous 'strategies of the art industry' page we have shown how almost all works which today dominate the contemporary art world / the public realm simply follow a pattern / recipe the exclusive purpose of which is to facilitate this industry.
Here we are looking in detail at the 'art market strategies 1 A / B / C' shown in matrix 1. To recall:
ART INDUSTRY STRATEGY 1:
The contemporary art work illustrates one extremely simple thought by being a SPECTACLE and by creating an AIR OF GRAVITAS for itself. It does this through:
1 A merging of art and everyday life
1 B political / social / sexual content
1 C reference to art from the past
Within this strategy the illusion of apparently opposing positions is created - the illusion of an opposition between pure spectacle and gravitas - resulting in a deep confusion regarding the definition of what constitutes a work of art and of what it means for a work to be real, effective, universal, truthful and/or autonomous as art.
This confusion of terms and their subsequent redefinition, or fluidity of definition, according to a separation into two apparently opposing sides which in some cases can also be conflated (which heightens the confusion), is an essential tool of the Culture Industry.
None of this has got anything to do with an attempt or desire to define what art is or might be through the work. Instead it is a hollow activity which empties the above terms of meaning and accounts for the critical silence on the part of art professionals and audience alike who have consequently lost any sense of a standard within art, and with that any possibility, any necessity, any desire or ability of making a judgement.
(Before considering the detailed matrix below we highly recommend looking at its simpler version, matrix 1, first which gives a general overview of the art industry's strategies. It can be accessed here.)
ART INDUSTRY STRATEGY 1
THE CORE OF THE CRISIS
the creation of the illusion of a schism or dichotomy
within strategy 1 A / B / C
The idea that art is at the forefront of our time with the power to drive, examine and express our understanding of the nature of reality has been abandoned by both sides.
Intellectual rigour, ambition and, with these, true individuality is suppressed by both sides.
It is no meaningless coincidence that the dynamism of the avant-garde exhausted itself at exactly the point in time when some of the most powerful innovations in art ('everyone is an artist', ready mades, serial production) were usurped by the simultaneously emerging art industry (roughly around the 1960s), and subsequently became standardised and fully institutionalised. Their original success as art works has over time become completely confused with their overwhelming success as art industry strategies, thus numbing their original power as art works. These strategies -by now impotent as art- are now the dominant and valid definition of art.
A SPECTACLE &
AIR OF GRAVITAS
embraces 'real world' content
political / social / sexual themes
Reference to art of the past which is regarded as
so here mainly reference to / copying of strategies used in the recent past such as provocation, super-sizing, serial production, ready-mades etc. which help to create a spectacle.
These works express no interest in the history of art before the 20th century (as earlier art is less effective as art industry strategies.)
Some artists, who are firmly rooted in the use of this strategy also (ab)use the traditional medium/quote historical works. When acting on both sides (traditional/non-traditional) the power of the work as an art market strategy increases. The quoting of historical artworks by the art industry's most successful 'megastars' reshapes and defines the public's perception of these works, overwrites and smothers their original value and power by redefining them through the art market's own logic.
The traditional medium of painting can also be used to create a spectacle when filled with contemporary content (1 A political/social/sexual themes).
merging of art and everyday life /
replacing art with everyday life
( democratic / non-elitist / relatable / not intimidating )
( anyone can do it / anyone can 'get it' )
Problems (and objects) in/from the external, 'real' and everyday world are seen as the ONLY possible reason and content of art / 'real' is defined as 'everyday'.
The everyday person replaces the artist. The art industry declares the social worker, the political activist, and the ordinary person using everyday objects 'artists', thus ensuring its own maximum spread and efficacy.
The turning away from art itself is justified by the demand for political correctness and democratisation.
These works purport to carry the 'truth function' of art by purporting to be active social/political agents in society. They have NO actual efficacy as socio-political agents.
'Politically correct' work and democratisation are accepted -and act as- exchange values themselves on the art market, ensuring that this type of work can play its role and be commodified within the art world/market.
Universality is here degraded to / defined as an everyday theme and activity.
Total ignorance of art history is required by the art industry as only in total oblivion of the highest standards set by art in the past can today's lowest level artworks be tolerated and accepted as belonging to the realm of art
'Real', 'reality' or 'meaning' are terms which are now exclusively defined by works following art market strategy 1 A / B / C . 'Real' here is synonymous with 'everyday'.
The contemporary artist STAGES work / the contemporary artist PLAYS.
These works are neither art nor 'real world' as they MUST ONLY PURPORT TO HAVE MEANING / EFFICACY as agents in the real world.
They have NO ACTUAL EFFICACY OR MEANING - which is an essential requirement ensuring that the work continues to belong to the realm of art.
Here it is this very IMPOTENCE itself that is the ONLY hallmark of the work belonging to the realm of art.
SPECTACLE only is achieved through:
D many of the same object,
E mega size of the art object or
F obscenely expensive materials
(D serial production itself now functions as a mark of art)
(E / F are the contemporary / capitalist version of 'elitist' art; only those with success in the (art) world can make E / F)
The air of gravitas and the spectacle distract from the vacuity of the work.
reference to art from the past
two different (ab)uses of / broken relationships
with art history
AN AIR OF AUTONOMY &
AIR OF GRAVITAS
(distancing themselves from spectacle)
turns away from 'real world' content
themes are traditional/historical categories
still life, portrait, landscapes etc.
Reference to art of the past through the exclusive use of traditional media (painting, sculpture). The medium itself is the reference to art of the past.
Here works show no interest in art that lies outside of the traditional medium.
The traditional medium itself is associated with and understood to express a withdrawal from the 'real' world and its questions/issues.
The complete withdrawal into pure formalism and aesthetic considerations are regarded as a hallmark of 'autonomy'.
The traditional medium acts as a reference to /
is a sign for the AUTONOMY associated with art of the past and thus creates an air of gravitas for the work.
setting the work apart from everyday life
( slight air of elitism through association with art of the past/conservatism - which is here considered an asset- yet relatable: nice, decorative, pleasing.
(not necessarily anyone can do it -a hallmark of the work being made by an artist who is thus distinguished from the ordinary person- but anyone can 'get it' as there is not much to get. )
These works express the notion that the real world and its questions and issues are irrelevant to art.
They express the today widely held and promoted assumption that artists in the past acted in total oblivion of the context and central questions of their own time- and therefore it is deemed ok for the contemporary artists to be ignorant, too. The artist here is understood to be existing as if in some sort of otherworld. (The fact that, for example, a composition by Schoenberg, or a painting by Jackson Pollock, is the quasi-logical direct and highly specific expression of the essence of each of their time - and could not have been conceived of at random during other periods in history- is disregarded."As if in art the sensory were not the bearer of something intellectual [...]" T.W.A.)
The turning away from the essence of our time and its central issues in art is here justified by this ignorant assumption/lack of understanding/misinterpretation of the 'truth function' of artworks and artists of the past and is in itself a break with the past.
The Kantian dictum that works of art are purposeful in themselves and that aesthetic judgement is defined by means of the exclusion of cognition and moral worth seems to tacitly come into play here in order to excuse the contemporary artist's total ignorance of their own time- which disregards Kant's essential demand for universality. (see: 'The Fate of Art" by J.M. Bernstein)
Universality is here replaced by purely decorative formal considerations - as some sort of formal anything goes.
Artists themselves welcome the abolishment of knowledge of art as it makes art production easy, and only in oblivion of the highest standards set by art in the past can they believe that their own work has any value or relevance. The artist today seeks and receives validation of their works exclusively by the art market; artists no longer measure their achievement against a problem itself that has been developed and discovered from within the work itself.
Questions regarding 'reality' in ANY form are here side-lined and avoided altogether. The complexity of art in the 21st century is simply too challenging and difficult for the contemporary artist.
The artist chooses to HIDE behind the traditional medium.
Here it is merely the traditional MEDIUM itself that is seen as the (only) hallmark identifying that the work belongs to the realm of art.
Neither do they take the content of art in the past into account (instead just use the form of the traditional medium), nor do they take the wider context of the artwork within the present time into account.
These works are IMPOTENT AS ART as they are completely devoid of any innate reason/problem/ driving question and context within art history.
The air of autonomy and air of gravity -by way of reference to art of the past- protects the work from being accused of vacuity / distracts from the complete vacuity and impotence of the works.
the content of the art work
works which create
relationship of art with
'reality' / 'everyday' / 'real life'
the truth function of art
As the distinction between art and real life has been eradicated, the IMPOTENT and hollow treatment of sociopolitical content filters into the realm of politics.
The make-belief spectacle-based treatment of real-world issues in the realm of art is now purely entertainment of 'the masses' - which in turn has a dramatic and negative impact on the treatment of these issues in the media, thus in turn shaping and lowering the standards not only within art but also of the political discourse itself.
With the levelling out of standards the contemporary art world -with global impact on an unprecedented scale- has a NUMBING IMPACT on the realm of the political.
This is one of the most dangerous forces in our time.
Art has surrendered its role and agency of being at the forefront of our time and culture. Artists have surrendered their power to drive, examine and express our understanding of the nature of reality to the art market, allowing art to sink to the lowest level ever in the history of art.
These works are regarded to have
a highest level of
WHEN DISCONNECTED FROM ART
to a maximum possible degree.
These works are regarded to have
the highest level of
WHEN DISCONNECTED FROM THE 'REAL WORLD'
to a maximum possible degree.
The content that is avoided, actively pushed into oblivion, confused and rendered impotent by the art market strategies outlined in this matrix comprises the real, most serious and pressing questions of our time. THIS content IS the realm of autonomous art.
ART INDUSTRY STRATEGY 2
The contemporary art work illustrates one extremely simple thought by being a SPECTACLE and by NOT creating an air of gravitas for itself:
G infantilisation of artist, art object and audience
H explicit emphasis on entertainment / having fun / making a joke.
completely devoid of content
total congruence of art industry and leisure industry
the art work is a toy, the audience plays 'art'
( democratic / non-elitist / relatable / not intimidating )
( anyone can do it / really anyone can 'get it' / use it as a leisure activity)
These works do not purport to have meaning
or efficacy but emphasize that the work is looking
stupid and simple intentionally.
The vacuity of many of these works is treated as ultimate and meaningful.
These works can be seen as the culmination of the combined effects of strategies 1A-F.
These works are now portrayed
as having an
ULTIMATE AND ABSOLUTE
LEVEL OF MEANING AND AUTONOMY
AS THEY ARE TOTALLY DISCONNECTED FROM ART, HISTORY AND REALITY.
None of these strategies has any means of progress. The contemporary art world IS the end of (the autonomy of) art. By losing this expression of our autonomy we lose our most potent and powerful means and instrument, our most radical and fundamental connection to (as well as our essentially human ability to assess) what is real.
"The commercial character of culture causes the difference between culture and practical life to disappear. Aesthetic semblance [appearance] (Schein) turns into the sheen which commercial advertising lends to the commodities which absorb it in turn. But that moment of independence which philosophy specifically grasped under the idea of aesthetic semblance [appearance][German 'Schein'] is lost in the process. On all sides the borderline between culture and empirical reality becomes more and more indistinct. [...] With the liquidation of its opposition to empirical reality art assumes a parasitic character."
from: "The Culture Industry" by T.W. Adorno,
a reader's comment
“Reference to art of the past which is regarded as non-traditional: so here mainly reference to / copying of strategies used in the recent past such as provocation, super-sizing, serial production, ready-mades etc. which help to create a spectacle. Here no interest is shown in the history of art before the 20th century (as earlier art is less effective as art industry strategies.)”
One crucial characteristic of this ‘earlier art’ is precisely that it does not appear to ‘include,’ within itself, any art market strategy at all. It is not simply that this work is not produced according to a strategy (although we would have to admit that a landscape, or still life, was and is still produced according to certain constraints, rules, traditions, et cetera), BUT that it does not INCLUDE any strategy within it.
By contrast, contemporary art has built into it from the very beginning, a strategy of some sort. The strategy is not merely ‘behind’ the work, producing it, but it is a part of what the work is, an element of its structure as well as a part of its meaning. The strategy itself is visible as an element in the work. The contemporary work participates in the contemporary art world not simply by its having been made according to a (recognisable) strategy, and thus immediately and easily fits in with the strategy-oriented marketplace, but it carries this strategy within itself as a part of how it produces meaning. It promotes the chosen strategy itself. It has been ‘signed in’ to the art world through its agreement to abide by the art world’s rules, and it does so by announcing those rules, or some of them, as a part of what the artwork itself is.
Perhaps, in earlier art, it was simply not possible to assert an agreement of this type. The painting of a landscape would seem so normal that it would not manage to signify an agreement with any traditions. These traditions would themselves have appeared to be invisible. Anything of that kind would be overlooked.
The contemporary artwork appears to advertise and promote a strategy which is a part of what it actually is. Like advertising, in a way. The artwork is an advertisement for the mechanisms which have produced it and the mode by which it will be consumed. (An analogy could be made with Jeff Koons’ work with Louis Vuitton, for example - the strategies might as well have their own logos). A strategy, in this sense, works in the same way as a sponsor, but as a sponsor whose name appears in the artwork, like the name of a company on a footballer’s shirt.
So production folds into reception, with the one generating and engineering the other, seamlessly, endlessly. But still, there must be some form of separation between these two. One is, after all, an activity and the other is a reception mechanism for that activity. (One comes from one place and the other is 'universal', one from one person, and the other from multitudes. At least in theory…). The folding in makes it very difficult to understand who is to blame in it all, who is guilty, who complicit, but there are still these two things which fold into each other. So neat is the folding that it can appear to be one thing.
In a sense, this is also a ‘vertical’ difference, an illusion of a schism, but more like a mirroring, a reflection, or, perhaps more accurately a deeply dependent relationship, like an addict and a dealer, but one in which sometimes the dealer is the addict and vice versa.
A symbiotic relationship between two terms, in which it is impossible to say which has priority, which came first, which drives the other and so on, but where there always must be these two terms. The impression of a dichotomy must be upheld in order to distract from and hide the total agreement.
This must necessitate a ‘guarding’ of this vertical line, not only between the two modes of art production, which you outline in the diagram, but also between the activity of art production on the one hand, and the reception mechanism, on the other. Both, or rather: all seemingly opposing parties have a vested interest in maintaining this division between the two terms, at all costs, yet the opposition itself is today clearly a fabrication, a lie, a division created where none actually exists.
Any suggestion that there is not a clear distinction to be made between these two sides is a danger to both camps. The illusion of independence, for both parties, must be maintained.
The artist must perpetuate the notion that the work is created ‘by them,’ autonomously, and the art world must perpetuate the notion that it is neutral, scholarly even, a mere mechanism designed to find the best artists and promote them in the best possible way so that their work reaches the widest possible audience. The more successful an artist becomes, of course, the more difficult it will be to see what the role of the market will be in their work, for the emphasis will be on the artist. And yet, in this extreme case, the market appears to dominate as never before. We should find this very strange, but we don’t seem to. For all the apparent power and independence Jeff Koons, or Damian Hirst must have, their work actually is dictated by the market.
Meanwhile … at any time the art world can resurrect some artist and promote them, in order to re-establish the appearance of the art world. (I see this in the recent case of Phyllida Barlow and the older woman who just won the Turner Prize. Suddenly the art world looks like it is interested in 70-year-old women ! ). In the case of such a reinvention the nature of the vertical division is made to appear to be different, although, of course, it stays the same. I imagine that there are many tricks of this nature in play in the art world all the time.
When the art world comes across the Underground Artist then this vertical division is shown not to exist, or cannot be installed by the art world. The mirror-relationship cannot be established. Dependency - that of addict and dealer - does not hold. The art world backs away, for it cannot function as it would like. Its pretences cannot be established and maintained…. Rather than a false schism being installed a real schism is shown to exist. No good!
The fabricated schism must be a functioning lie. It is, probably, just one aspect of Guy Debord’s ‘spectacle.’