The Crisis - Overview
Over the last few decades art, and the experience of looking at art in galleries or museums, has dramatically changed. The forces that are driving this change have by now distorted art to a degree that we feel compelled to urgently call for a dramatic and fundamental revision and rethink of art in every area of its agency in the context of developments on the whole in order to not only avert its own complete obliteration, but also to highlight the dangerous implications this crisis has on individuals and society on the whole.
The utmost level of complexity, depth and intellectual poise which characterises many art works made in the past, which still offers the audience a seemingly inexhaustible potential for exploration, nourishment, sense of meaning, and food for thought for a life-time, has been replaced in museums and galleries today with only a fast-food equivalent. Art has completely lost its role as a leader of avant-garde thought and practice. The idea of art being at the forefront of our time with the power to drive, examine and express our understanding of the nature of reality has been completely abandoned. Intellectual rigour, true artistic ambition (not to be confused with today's career ambitions) and true individuality is suppressed.
Whilst the last three decades have been characterised by an unprecedented rise in complexity and access to information, the contemporary art world responds by completely turning its back. Art must now be excessively simple and simplistic in its form, content and intention, and must, first and foremost, be easy to get, provide entertainment and headline-grabbing spectacle. Excessively infantile, low-level and vacuous work has become the new standard. Museums and galleries resemble playgrounds and mere social venues for adults as they attract and cater for ever growing numbers of visitors -and buyers- who increasingly show a complete lack of interest in, and lack of knowledge of, art. Art is marginalised in its own domain.
The sidelining of art itself / the sidelining of complexity and in-depth knowledge of and interest in art, is the core feature that has made the boom in the art market over the last few decades possible. The requirements of the art industry now act as a new form of censorship, controlling art not by silencing it, but by promoting it on a global scale, perpetuating the same vacuous formulae and strategies worldwide.
Art-internal forces and standards have completely been replaced by art-external forces and standards. The very source for art -in order for it to be deemed 'relevant'- must today be external to artist and art. Market mechanisms, together with 'the media', are now the main force driving this Culture Industry and determine exactly what kind of art is produced and shown. Art is, and must be, reduced to amusement / entertainment and spectacle. Powerful and all pervading mechanisms exclude any work that does not comply with its own requirements and definition, and dangerously attack and pervert the very core of artistic freedom.
On the surface of things today it appears as if artists enjoyed limitless freedom and seem to be able to do whatever they want as there really are no rules left to be broken. Any standards for measuring and assessing a work of art have been abolished. Literally anything goes. In this Culture Industry freedom is confused with arbitrariness / arbitrariness is disguised as and made to look like freedom. Being able to do anything whatever, and potentially even to become successful and famous for actually having achieved nothing at all, makes this arbitrary and shallow work the preferred choice, thus distorting and forcing art into a role where it has completely surrendered its own significance and power.
The question whether something is art or not has been abolished altogether. The very notion of art and what it is to be an artist is under attack. Art students are tacitly fed the contemporary lie and insistence on the idea that no definition of art is possible, desirable, or even necessary. High- profile award schemes ensure that only those receive attention and develop a career who work according to the dictates of the market. This cements this low-standard work in the public consciousness as the acceptable definition of what art is.
As increasingly external criteria shape the art work, intuition -the most fundamental source of artistic freedom and of art- is neglected and under attack. The artist who is not guided by intuition will find it impossible to crystallise his or her real problem in art. The work cannot find its strength as it does not know of its boundaries. Without this inner guidance the artist is left to an arbitrary, random and thus utterly weak and empty pursuit - and only this empty pursuit is rewarded in the contemporary art world.
Art critics and art journalists have conveniently and dramatically lowered their own standards to the same lazy, shallow and entertaining level as the art works on show, and now focus almost exclusively on superficial, entertaining or spectacular works. Excessive and repeated coverage of the same substandard artists over and over again promotes them at the expense of any work of complexity and depth, and thus manipulates the public perception of art. Museums and galleries, ever under pressure to increase their visitor numbers and profit, and for this reason increasingly emulating the fashion and entertainment industry, need the media and art critics to perpetuate this particular narrative of art in order to feed this by now vast global culture industry. The artists themselves do not seem to be able, or even want to, resist the lure of celebrity-style fame and the near obscene financial rewards which are now within relatively easy reach with work that achieves nothing much at all.
Complex work, knowledge-based, ambitious only with regard to the problems which have arisen from within the art work, made by artists who develop and follow their own unique inner vision of how a problem could be formulated and addressed whilst taking into account the unprecedented complexity of our time is sidelined from and excluded from the public realm and discourse. The contemporary art world does not receive or represent work which takes into account the unprecedented access to knowledge, as well as fundamental paradigm changes in science over the last 150 years in particular, whilst at the same time measuring itself against the highest standards set by art in the past and which consequently must develop extraordinary strength to avoid failure.
Art which is not reproducible, which is developed slowly over decades in a life-time of dedicated and focussed work - and so on - cannot feed and meet the demands of this market. Serious artists worldwide, in order to protect themselves and their work from this completely contaminated art world, are driven underground and work in isolation. The absence of these artists, art works and their discourse from the public realm dramatically distorts culture on the whole and creates a dangerous vacuum.
This situation, which can only be described as crazy and dangerous, is consequently - and obviously- met with a disturbing critical silence. Today we find hardly any voices of dissent, let alone art works which intrinsically resist. The Culture Industry has now fully succeeded at "removing [any] thought that there is any alternative to the status quo."* As if under a hypnotic spell, curators, gallerists, art critics, artists, academics, star architects, art students, investors and journalists today, with docile enthusiasm, comply with, perpetuate and promote the industry's standards, nodding with approval in front of spectacularly vacuous and outright stupid works. Together they weave an ever thicker cloak of cultural amnesia, drowning out any serious discourse and obscuring art that might present any challenge to this new status quo. Globalisation and information technologies co-produce and exacerbate the reach and all-pervasiveness of this total standardisation of culture.
The contemporary Art and Culture Industry, under the banner of political correctness, equality and democratisation, today is one of the most dangerous forces, not only obliterating the discipline of art, globally undermining, perverting and destroying democracy and true freedom of individuals at their very roots.
How can artists continue to work despite, let alone against, this overpowering force? Where is there a space that is as yet untainted by the industry's all-pervading powers? How can we create it? Keep it safe ? Where are the people and the works which resist? How can we find them? What does a work of art which resists look like? How can we protect ourselves and our artistic practice from the ever deeper reach and impact of the Culture Industry / i.e. capitalism? Is this possible at all? How can we initiate a meaningful discourse about art in the public realm when that realm is completely controlled by 'the media' which are largely fully compliant with the industry? Can we affect and change the public discourse? What are the actual pressing questions in art in the 21st century which are silenced and sidelined in the current climate? What is the essence of art / of being an artist ? Or, much more fundamentally: What is the essence of being human?
"The effectiveness of the Culture Industry depends not on its parading of an ideology, on disguising the true nature of things, but in removing the thought that there is any alternative to the status quo."
- J.M Bernstein in the introduction to 'The Culture Industry' by T.W. Adorno