"[...] refuge [...] at that moment when refuge no longer exists." T.W.A.
„Du schaust umher und siehst nicht, wo du stehst im Üblen,
Nicht, wo du wohnst, und nicht, mit wem du lebst –
'Weißt du, von wem du bist?“
– Sophokles: König Ödipus
The Artistunderground Academy creates and provides the URGENTLY needed neutral space for art students strictly outside of art market mechanisms and forces.
a new art- and art school utopia
developed in response to the existential crisis which today engulfs culture and nature
-eviscerates art, undermines the self-determination and freedom of individuals-
and threatens to destroy both realms
a quest and proposal for a radical & collective departure from the current status quo,
a template and trigger for a fundamentally renewed approach to
art production, art discourse, and art education
In order to create a fresh point of departure for our discourse we offer a new standard for the judgment of contemporary art in the form of a matrix: a summary and overview of the small number of readymade definitions of art / the strategies which today homogenise, standardise, dominate, stifle, control and effectively censor contemporary art and artists, prevent their development, and undermine the autonomy and self-determination of individuals. To view this matrix, click here.
We categorically reject these readymade definitions of art and any works made according to them. As tools (and the effect) of mass manipulation, we regard them not only detrimental but outright dangerous for societies globally.
We fundamentally oppose the use of political/social/sexual themes in art, which today function primarily as click-bait. They merely guarantee a work's functioning within the Culture Industry, reducing works to being mere signifiers of art without any actual power and agency - they are impotent as political/social forces and are impotent as art.
We categorically denounce works that illustrate the daily news; they are not only obscene and impotent as political/social tools but, devoid of an art intrinsic problem, they are from the outset also impotent as art.
(An art-external problem, such as the refugee crisis, is not solvable through art. The contemporary artist (ab)uses the emotive spectacle of these themes in order to attract attention and to distract from the vacuity of his/her 'work'. This kind of activity -labelled 'raising awareness'- is today widely accepted as the purpose of art - and expresses an ambition of the lowest level. Does anyone really think that we need to 'raise awareness' of the refugee crisis beyond the devastating facts which are presented on the daily news?)
We radically denounce and fundamentally oppose art that is focussed on / has been absorbed by entertainment, spectacle, and celebrity culture.
We categorically reject works that equate art with everyday life, sociopolitical activism or commerce/luxury goods.
We sharply reject the Culture Industry's demand for 'political correctness' in, and a 'democratisation' of art. In the realm of art and culture they have -paradoxically-become deeply destructive forces which undermine the self-determination, autonomy, and freedom of artists and individuals. Art is the only realm in society, which for this reason must be free from the demand for democratisation. Democracy must be fought for in every other realm in society - except art.
We categorically reject biennials, triennials and art fairs.
We reject the Culture Industry's narrative of the so-called art world boom and contemporary art world stars.
We regard the decades since the late 1960s as a completely dead time for art during which hardly anything of lasting value has been produced. We take control of this intellectual vacuum / of the narrative of art since the 1960s.
Any attempt to formulate an art theory based on content produced during this period is futile. Equally, progress in art cannot be made by taking cues from the excessively shallow content that has been produced.
This eliminates a majority of contemporary artworks from our view and discourse and creates a radical and powerful Tabula Rasa situation from which we can depart with freshly sharpened vision, agency, and power.
We take control of the narrative of the history of contemporary art.
We ask whether some of the artists and artworks in the 20th century whom/which we celebrate as some of the most radical and revolutionary, were perhaps in fact already deeply 'contaminated' by and -inadvertently- compliant with the Culture Industry's standards.
We believe that in the light of this question a fundamental reassessment of the key ideas and works by Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and John Cage is long overdue. While some of their works and ideas were extremely powerful, new, radical and provocative positions within the context of art at the time, the combined impact of their works also had absolutely devastating implications for art and culture over the decades that ensued. "Everyone is an artist", the idea of 'social sculpture', the de-hierarchisation of sound and artistic material in general, the introduction of readymades, serial production, commercial objects, and pop culture into art, and the 'cleansing' of language of traces of the poetic (Brecht) helped to obliterate the distance between art and everyday life/everyday objects and introduced 'democratisation' as an absolute and unquestioned standard at the heart of art production and art reception into art.
The sum of these ideas thus provided the perfect ideology which helped to usher in a new phase in the Culture Industry's own development and unleashed its exponential/rampant and global growth. The call for a democratisation came to serve as a justification for the now widespread and widely accepted excessive lowering of all standards in art to the most infantile base level. This apparent democratisation -a"triumph of repressive égalité"- has enabled the standardisation of art and individuals on an unprecedented scale. The fact that this situation has so far received no critical attention shows that the industry's standards have by now been imbibed by artists and critics alike.
The success of the above works as art within the context of art history is muddled and confused with -and must be separated again from- their success as art market strategies (with the latter completely having distorted, if not replaced, the former). This muddle shrouds and prevents clarity in contemporary art.
Retracing this development is of crucial relevance for a renewed and clear discourse about contemporary art.
The emergence of the idea of political correctness in the late 1960s coincided the emergence of profession of the 'cultural critic' (Kulturkritiker), concerned with the study of everyday objects and -life (who over time came to replace the art critic), as well as with the delayed acceptance of Duchamp's readymades and the invention of the first art fair.
In order to counter the negative backlash and -the paradoxically anti-democratic- impact of the introduction of political correctness into art, these coincidences -and the social, political and cultural conditions at the time of their emergence- must be urgently be re-examined and understood.
RE-INSTATE THE 'ELITIST' APPROACH
The apparent democratisation of and political correctness in art ('art for all' and 'art by all for all') has sidelined the art professional, intellectual and knowledge-based approach, which is now branded 'elitist' - and therefore today tacitly obliterated from the public realm (and from curricula at schools and art colleges). Artistunderground reclaims and seeks to re-establish, the elitist/professional approach to art.
RE-INSTATE THE QUESTION 'WHAT IS ART?'/THE NOTION OF A BOUNDARY
We root the question 'What is art?' and the notion of a boundary in art -which have been obliterated from contemporary art- at the absolute heart of our artistic inquiry and discourse. Both are intrinsically connected to the possibility of freedom in art. Without them, development and freedom are impossible - as is evidenced in the stagnation in contemporary art over the last few decades. Autonomous art is portrayed by the Culture Industry as art that is limited to purely aesthetic and formal considerations. It is therefore deemed to be boring, irrelevant and obsolete - as opposed to contemporary art that is seen as more relevant as a result references to daily political events, or issues of gender/racial equality etc. "[...] The ideal of the autonomy of art has been surrendered. One sees the promise of more relevance by linking art with other areas which will enrich art through the social functions of those fields. [...] Autonomous art in comparison appears as a mere euphemism for impotence which one can dispense with [...]." Wolfgang Ullrich)1 The -false- narrative of the superiority of contemporary art over autonomous art, perpetuated by artists, art critics and journalist alike, is used to justify the sidelining and effective censoring of autonomous art. At the artistunderground academy the question 'What is art?' and the notion of a boundary of art is essential.
CLARIFICATION - WHAT IS AUTONOMOUS ART?
The (ideal) relationship between art and 'real'/everyday life, between the artist and the essence of his/her time in the contemporary Culture Industry, has become deeply confused. This confusion about how art and artists should relate to 'real'/everyday life, to the essence of his/her time is linked to the confusion in the contemporary discourse about what 'autonomous art' is.
In the contemporary Culture Industry/ in the contemporary discourse the relevance of an artwork expressed and measured in its proximity to everyday life. The autonomy and freedom of the contemporary work is a 'freedom of opinion/freedom of expression'.
In contrast to the Culture Industry's definition, we define autonomous art as work which has and seeks to solve a 'problem' that has been discovered through the work itself.
The nature of the 'problem' is to be unsolvable.
The problem presents an ultimate challenge and difficulty;
It is NEVER easy.
The 'problem' is unique to the individual.
It is not shared, or shareable/transferrable;
It is NOT a common property or idea.
Only true individuals -absolutely self-determined/autonomous/unmanipulated- can find a 'problem'.
The success of this work is measured exclusively against the problem which the work itself has produced and which the artist seeks to solve.
The 'problem' is not art-external.
Art can only produce and resolve problems defined in and through art itself.
The artist attempts to 'solve' the problem with each of his/her works; each work is necessarily only ever an approximation.
Failure is thus an essential part of the artistic inquiry into the nature of the 'problem' (- and is largely absent from contemporary art.)
The 'problem' is the root, cause, and foundation of the potential, autonomy, and freedom of art.
The 'problem' is the discovery of something new.
Without it, there is no freedom and no potential for real discovery.
The serious artistic quest which will lead to the discovery and the solution of an original 'problem' requires seclusion and withdrawal from 'the world'.
Retreat, separation and quiet introspection are critical in affording the highest degree of concentration that art/'the problem' requires.
Only the highest degree of concentration will produce 'problems' that will express itself in works of the highest standard - and transfer the experience this concentration to its audience, which is experienced by the audience as being connected to their own self through the work.
The challenge for a young artist is to find his/her 'problem'.
The work emerges within the context of the history of art
The work is driven by a pursuit of the idea of a boundary in art.
The work seeks to define its place within the history of art. Work which fails to make this crucial connection is powerless, without relevance and can necessarily only be mere decor, spectacle, and entertainment.
The majority of contemporary artists have not found a 'problem', which explains the arbitrary and random nature of their 'works'. The contemporary work merely illustrates a simple and quickly conceived idea, the manifestation of which is equally simple and straightforward. We regard the contemporary art- and Culture Industry measures of success -high visitor numbers, (obscenely) high prices and media attention- not only as irrelevant but outright destructive. They only measure the industry's own success and shroud a work's intrinsic success -or failure- as art.
ADDRESSING THE TWO FAILURES OF ART EDUCATION
We reject the current approach to art education on the whole which we regard as absolutely obsolete and even outright paralysing for a meaningful artistic inquiry in the 21st century:
it fails not only to address and reject the Culture Industry and its destructive impact on art
but also operates within an outdated worldview, completely ignoring revolutionary paradigm shifts in the realm of science over the last 150 years which have fundamentally reshaped our understanding of the nature of reality and challenge the possibility of art in the 21st century in a dramatic and unprecedented way.
The intellectual vacuum and crisis in contemporary art have been partly facilitated by the failure of artists, art professionals and art schools (internationally) to take note of and to address the unprecedented rise in complexity, knowledge, and information over the last 150 years.
In the midst of the Information Age art at art schools - as in fact art in any context- has been and is still made and discussed as if none of these discoveries had ever been made. In the realm of art total ignorance is promoted. The artist who is oblivious/ignorant of fundamental discoveries is removed from the essence of our time, and thus from holding the potential for fundamental paradigm shifts in art. Unless and until these paradigm shifts and new knowledge are taken into account on a deep level, art and culture in the 21st century can necessarily only be decor and entertainment.
Fundamental paradigm shifts -art-external themes that challenge and revolutionise our understanding of the nature of reality- express the essence of our time and raise philosophical questions. They form a central part of the curriculum at the artistunderground academy.
COMPLEXITY/THE OBSOLETE MINDSET
Art schools and the contemporary art world, on the whole, are driven by a mindset that is deeply rooted in an obsolete worldview: the realm of classical / Newtonian mechanics, pre- Relativity, pre- Non-Euclidean Geometry, pre- Quantum Mechanics, pre- Riemann, pre- Joyce, pre- Cézanne, pre-Adorno and countless others - and this is so because everything before these discoveries and works was simply much more easy to understand. Art is the only discipline which has been allowed -and been willing- to resist the absorption of complex knowledge and progressive change. Every other discipline -chemistry, biology, philosophy- is evolving as a consequential and continuous effort where each revolution comprises, and has become possible as the result of, a deep understanding and awareness of previous discoveries, experience, and knowledge. Artist and art students must address this unprecedented complexity.
Contemporary art sweeps all of the above, and its own history, to the side and regresses into a mere entertainment and culture. To this single end, it must shun questions that for hundreds of years has been absolutely central to art, science, and philosophy: "What is the nature of reality?" or "What is the nature of our understanding of reality?" The question "What is art?" is this same question. Their abolishment by the contemporary art world means that the essential and crucial questions of our time are today not asked. The abandonment of their pursuit - open, specific and exclusive to the discipline of art and its means only- effects that a whole dimension of our culture has shut down.
The source and potential for progress in art today lie in the continued reflection of the work of key artists and philosophers of the 20th or earlier centuries, and to do so in the light of fundamental developments and paradigm shifts in science (quantum physics, topology, information revolution, string theory and so on).
We believe it to be vital today for the study of the Culture Industry -its history, mechanisms, players, and forces- to be a central part of curricula at art schools - and in fact of any discourse about contemporary art.
It is a catastrophic failure of today's educational system that the implications of the Culture Industry receive no or only marginal attention at art colleges and universities. Only through the study and analysis of these mechanisms can a critical distance and awareness be created and upheld that protects art professionals and students from manipulation by this industry. Students must be enabled to understand the Culture Industry's mechanisms and history before they decide to enter into it - or not.
In this context, the study of critical theory/the writings of T.W.Adorno and M.Horkheimer/The Frankfurt School is absolutely vital for any vision of art and sustainable society of the future and a fundamental core element of art education at the artistunderground academy.
We aim, over time, to highlight, crystallise and develop some of the fundamental questions art faces in the dramatically new circumstances of unprecedented complexity in the 21st century - which are currently completely avoided, ignored and silenced.
We seek an understanding of the Nature of Art in the 21st century / of art in the context of the whole.
AMBITION 'WITH AN APPLE I WILL ASTONISH PARIS'
We pursue art with the highest level of ambition and have the highest expectation of an artwork. 'With an apple I will astonish Paris', 'I owe you the truth, and I will show it to you' is the nature of the ambition we pursue and look for/aim to instil in students.
The possibility for this essential retreat from the world -in today's circumstances- is increasingly diminished and under attack. The physical and mental space which would allow for a highly concentrated and unrestricted pursuit is increasingly hard to find and establish. Generous studio spaces are becoming extremely rare and are largely unaffordable, or only affordable to those who comply with the CI's standard and therefore participate successfully in the art market. These facts urgently require attention. We highlight and address these issues as an essential challenge for artists today, and seek to identify alternative ways, spaces, and support.
"Every advance in culture is, psychologically, an extension of consciousness, a coming to consciousness that can take place only through discrimination. Therefore an advance always begins with individuation, that is to say with the individual, conscious of his isolation, cutting a new path through hitherto untrodden territory. To do this he must first return to the fundamental facts of his own being, irrespective of all authority and tradition, and allow himself to become conscious of his distinctiveness." - C.G.Jung)
THE DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT
The roots of today's crisis go back as far as 17th-century Rationalism and Enlightenment and the subsequent 'disenchantment of nature', the suppression/erasure of the relevance of subconscious, mystical/mythological content.
We are caught up in the destructive powers inherent to the 'Dialectic of Enlightenment', leading to the destruction of culture and Nature - our absolute foundation. Both are driven by the same forces and logic. For a meaningful change in either realm, the Whole/the ailment of the Whole must be taken into account.
We believe that any hope for the future requires -with urgency- an absolutely fundamental change within, or shift away from, this dialectic. The quest for this change is the heart of the artistunderground utopia.
We live in a situation in which neither sole rationalism nor a retreat into mysticism can function alone. Pauli declared that "nothing else remains but to expose oneself in one way or another to these intensified oppositions and their conflicts. Precisely by doing so
The contemporary culture industry one the one hand turns its back on complexity... and at the same time only a vacuous substitute to the mysticism that had shaped earlier societies.
THE PAULI-JUNG PARADIGM
Central to our quest is the close collaboration between the quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli and the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, which we propose as a paradigm/template on which to build. Pauli developed an approach to the scientific method which echoed alchemist practices, embraced fully the subconscious and 'archetypal' content as it expressed itself to him in his dreams, which enabled him to discover solutions to some of the most challenging scientific problems of his time.
Only a new and fundamentally holistic approach which seeks to bring enlightenment/rationalism and myth, science and psychology, our conscious and the subconscious nature, the individual and the whole back into harmony, will be sustainable and protect and revive Nature - and art and culture.
We measure art, and our own ambition as artists, against the highest standards achieved by artists/art in the past (however, we do not base our approach on a conservative definition of art). The contemporary Culture Industry suppresses and obliterates the crucial role of art history and the knowledge thereof by framing both as 'elitist'. Dispensing with knowledge and the need to study art in order to comprehend its full complexity is framed as democratic and a liberation. This has allowed the art world/art market to grow to an unprecedented/industrial/global scale: art by and for the masses. Only in oblivion of the highest achievements of art made in the past is it possible to accept today's vacuous, highly standardised and repetitive content as (innovative) art.
ABSOLUTELY UNMANIPULATABLE AUTONOMY AND SELF-DETERMINATION
A fundamental review of the role and nature of art education in the 21st century is urgently needed.
The tacit implementation of the Culture Industry's standards into school curricula is one of the most alarming developments over the last few decades. Instead of nourishing the individual's pursuit of creative imagination, artistic freedom and autonomy, art lessons at primary and high schools promote and lay the groundwork for mass manipulation by homogenising the creative output of children at a young age. High school art teachers in the UK pride themselves on having achieved an excessive degree of standardisation of the pupils' artworks which allows them to define, measure and judge 'quality' as the degree of the pupil's compliance with the predefined standards.
Art colleges and universities have equally fully imbibed the Culture Industry's standards as absolute norms and undermine the student's artistic freedom, true self-determination, and autonomy. They seek to immerse art students as quickly as possible within the art industry's mechanisms, and measure success as the smooth functioning of the student and his/her work within the 'creative industries'. High-profile award schemes are in place, rewarding those who are most compliant - which in turn cement the Culture Industry's lowest standards as definitions of art into public consciousness.
We seek to highlight and expose this institutionalised mass manipulation and bring it to the forefront of the discussion about art in the media. We seek to trigger a public debate about the role and content of art education at schools and universities. Our long-term aim is to influence/change government policies and guidelines regarding the goal and content of art education.
We seek to establish art education as the primary force in society, responsible for and focussed on the ongoing task of examining, guarding and nourishing the autonomy, self-determination, and freedom of individuals.
We seek and support artists and students who seek to make work that does not function within the Culture Industry, but radically and intrinsically resists and withstands it.
The exploration of the question whether it is at all possible to create difference within 21st-century circumstances, and an exploration of the criteria that might characterise work which resists, form an ongoing and essential part of our discourse. An in-depth study and review of Modernism in this context is essential.
Artistundergound allows artists who work 'underground' -outside of the public realm, thus protecting themselves from the Culture Industry's mechanisms- to find each other.
We oppose and seek to expose the media's compliance with the Culture Industry's standards and their control over the public art discourse. The media's excessive focus on sensationalist content and shallow entertainment and perpetual coverage of the same artists over and over again is a driving force in the distortion and degradation of art and culture and effectively acts as censorship. We aim to expose some of the most prolific art journalists for their compliance with the industry and excessively lazy and superficial coverage. We seek to hold newspapers to account for their role in today's crisis in art and culture.
We are not 'attached' to 'art'. Our quest, analysis/self-analysis is uncompromising, and focussed on subjecting art per se to the most rigorous questioning, taking into account the fundamental paradigm shifts in our time and history, in order to find the shape 'art' takes when accounting for these changes - to find out what -if anything- may be 'left' of 'art' as a result of this questioning. This is what Cézanne, Malewich, Duchamp and many others did; only because they pushed art to its absolute limit they were able to make art. We stand in the tradition of those artists - humbly aware that we "stand on the shoulders of giants".
We seek and invite art professionals and students worldwide
to get in touch, join our debate and contribute to the development of this academy in order to push art again to the very edge of our understanding and knowledge where -perhaps- one day fundamental discoveries, worthy of being passed on to future generations, can once again be made.
Education at the artistunderground academy is free.
My research proposal is driven by a very practical factual need and
I believe that art and culture are in a deep crisis which is hidden as if in plain sight. As an artist and previous art teacher at the Udk Berlin
"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
"[...] take the quote by Picasso: '
The purpose of art is not to decorate our houses, but it is a weapon against the enemy.'
The question is:
Who is the enemy?"