The idea and definition of artistic freedom, self-determination, autonomy and autonomous art, have become deeply confused over the last few decades. As the culture industry's readymade definitions of art have been cemented into public consciousness as absolute standards which shape the production and reception of art, this industry has at the same time also -tacitly- redefined the idea of freedom and autonomy.

The media in the UK seem to have embraced the culture industry's definitions and standards with particular enthusiasm and predominantly focus on -and promote- works which are politically correct, provide spectacle and shallow entertainment or define art as a currency. Whereas in Germany the increasing absence of 'autonomous art' from the contemporary art world is at least taken note of by journalists and critics, the debate in the UK seems completely disinterested in or oblivious of this fact. However, even when the question of Kunstfreiheit/the freedom or art and the absence of autonomous art is the focus of the public debate in Germany, this situation is very much assessed and judged using the culture industry's own logic, vocabulary and pre-defined standards. Thus a critical distance is not only diminished but has become close to impossible. 

The following is an attempt to clarify what substantiates freedom and autonomy in art and to highlight the vacuum that is produced by the absence of autonomous art from the public realm.

The definition below is naturally incomplete and under continuous review.


'works of art which are not art'

  1. Autonomous art is art which has, and seeks to solve, an art-intrinsic 'problem'.

  2. The 'problem' is not art-external.

  3. The 'problem' is unique to the individual.

  4. It is not shared or shareable or collective.

  5. It is not a common property or idea.

  6. The 'problem' cannot be chosen at will.

  7. The 'problem' is self-emerging/not constructed.

  8. It has its own 'inner logic' which the artist tries to unfold, reveal and understand.

  9. The 'problem' protects the work from manipulation by external forces.

  10. Pre-defined standards, by the nature of the self-emerging work, cannot come into play in the radical pursuit of a 'problem'.

  11. The 'problem' itself is radical and uncompromising.

  12. The art intrinsic 'problem', discovered by an individual -through the work itself- creates difference.

  13. The exploration of a 'problem' is a quest for 'difference' and 'the new' which are essential features specific to Western art.

  14. 'The new' and 'difference' emerge within the context of the history of art.

  15. The 'problem' presents an ultimate challenge and difficulty.

  16. It is never easy. 

  17. The 'problem' is unsolvable.​

  18. The artist attempts to 'solve' and explore the problem with each of his/her works.

  19. Each work is necessarily only ever an approximation to an ideal which only the artist can sense. 

  20. The notion of failure plays an essential role in the artistic enquiry into the nature of the 'problem'.

  21. The work itself is a constant (re-)construction of and attempt to define the 'problem'.

  22. The 'success' and relevance of the artwork is measured against this problem itself. The 'problem' contains, or is, its own authority and critical judgement.

  23. The work necessarily and unavoidably leads to humility.

  24. (In contrast, the contemporary culture industry promotes pride and ego.)

  25. Without being guided by a 'problem', the artist's choices are necessarily arbitrary.

  26. The 'problem' leads to necessary decisions - the antithesis to arbitrary choices made according to a limitless 'anything goes'. 

  27. Without an art intrinsic 'problem' there is no freedom and no potential for real discovery. 

  28. The 'problem' is the root, cause and foundation of the potential, autonomy and freedom of artist and art.

  29. The 'problem' is equivalent to a boundary/the discovery of a new limit which the work itself seeks to define.

  30. Whereas the question "Can one make works of art which are not art?" has been answered by the culture industry once and for all with an affirmative 'No', the work of the autonomous artist seeks to answer this question with a radical 'Yes'.

  31. The nature of the 'problem' is paradox: at the moment of its emergence and manifestation it is not art, and only if it is not art it may be(come) art.

  32. Autonomous art is essentially defined by that which it does not do.

  33. The autonomous artist is concerned with making works of art which are not art. 'New' means 'not art'.

  34. (In contrast, the artist in the culture industry is exclusively focussed on 'making art'. Works are art by default.)

  35. This can only be achieved within the realm of art (the problem is art-intrinsic). It is not achieved by leaving the realm of art behind.

  36. What is new does not simply replace or leave a previous notion of art behind but instead IS the manifestation of this abandonment itself.

  37. The freedom and potential of the autonomous artist are rooted in the very discovery of this hitherto unknown boundary/'problem'.

  38. The manifestation of a new 'boundary' is an expression of the freedom of the artist from pre-conceived ideas and standards.

  39. The self-emerging logic of the 'problem' is a highest form of self-restraint which safeguards against arbitrariness and empowers and directs the quest. 

  40. Art can only produce, address and seek to solve problems defined in and through art itself.

  41. A common misconception is, therefore, to regard autonomous art or the 'art-intrinsic problem' as a pursuit of merely aesthetic and formal notions (particularly associated with the medium of painting), concerned with the exploration of materials and visual perception only.

  42. We reject this as false.

  43. (Adorno, whilst having analysed the culture industry with unparalleled poignancy, has however essentially contributed to this misconception.)

  44. Autonomous art, whilst concerned with a notion of reality that is distinctly separate from the everyday reality, does however not exist in some sort of esoterical and merely formal 'otherworld'.

  45. On the contrary, the art intrinsic 'problem' is deeply embedded within the context of its time.

  46. The demand for 'relevance', a utilitarian concept, is promoted by the culture industryWorks expressing views regarding political, social or gender issues, for example, whilst framed within the industry as 'relevant', are however merely a superficial commentary. On close examination it is clear that these 'works' are impotent; they have neither any efficacy as art nor as tools for social change. 

  47. In contrast, the pursuit of an art-intrinsic 'problem' can lead to works which provide a quality that is non-utilitarian, incommensurable, meaningful.

  48. The question "What is art?" in ever-changing circumstances is at the core of the autonomous work.

  49. Our understanding of the nature of reality has dramatically changed over the last 150 years. Fundamental paradigm shifts in the realm of science, philosophy (and art up to the 1960s) have revolutionised our understanding of the nature of 'reality'. The autonomous artist seeks to answer the question "What is art/what can art be in the context of these fundamental paradigm shifts?" through his/her work. 

  50. The autonomous work, whilst taking into account these fundamental paradigm shifts, at the same time seeks to define its place within the history of art.

  51. The latter can be a largely subconscious process/an a priori knowing/'a given'.)

  52. It is within these two -the context of our time and the context of art history- that the autonomous work (driven by the art-intrinsic 'problem) seeks to manifest.

  53. This defines the scope of the task, the extraordinary challenge and the nature of the ambition required to even begin to attempt to make art in the 21st century.

  54. In contrast, the contemporary culture industry is single-mindedly focussed on distracting from the sheer scale of the task and seeks to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to engage.

  55. The promotion of the lowering of standards to the most base and infantile level ever in the history of art hides and suppresses the fact that it has perhaps never before been this difficult to make art.

  56. This is not to say that it has ever been easy. Yet the complexity of our time and of our history is unprecedented and poses unprecedented challenges.

  57. If the unprecedented scale and scope of the task is not fully understood by the artist then his/her work will from the outset only aim for -and therefore only achieve- a minor purpose or goal.

  58. A truly extra-ordinary vision, ambition and ability are needed to meet this challenge. 

  59. ("With an apple I will astonish Paris.")

  60. ("I owe you the truth and I will show it to you.")

  61. The autonomous artist meets this challenge by engaging on a deep and fundamental level.

  62. Making art in the 21st century is equivalent to attempting to climb a vertical rockface.

  63. The contemporary culture industry, however, has installed convenient ladders and has democratically lowered the summit in order to bring it within easy reach for everyone.

  64. The contemporary culture industry is self-deceit on an industrial scale.

  65. The autonomous artist free-climbs alone and the highest achievements in art of the past provide the oxygen.

  66. There is no heroism - in the studio, all there is is hard work.

  67. This situation in art is directly reflected in a literal/non-metaphorical way by the developments on Mount Everest. Money and ladders enable totally unfit, incapable, and ill-equipped people to scale the highest mountain on earth. Their 'achievement' is as hollow and undignified -and ultimately damaging- as is the fame of the contemporary artist who can achieve superstardom and obscene levels of wealth for having achieved nothing much at all.

  68. The person scaling Mount Everest by ladder literally and voluntarily buys into this industrialised self-deception. The selfie on the summit crowns the self-degrading lie.

  69. Contemporary artists and audience pay with their dignity, freedom and autonomy.

  70. The 'problem' is the work-intrinsic strategy to create 'ground'. This is how the mountain is scaled.

  71. Works which entertain, illustrate simple little ideas or claim to 'raise awareness' about social issues etc. are dead clutter. They numb political autonomy and power and suffocate the sphere of art and culture (  in which -actually- a truly extra-ordinary and ambitious artistic and intellectual quest should take place. 

  72. The essential pressing questions of our time are not being asked and discussed.  

  73. Autonomous artists working along those questions struggle to find their contemporaries and cannot find a discourse that meets the requirements of their own work.

  74. The intrinsic connection to art history is essential to the autonomy of art. (The suppression in the contemporary art world of (the relevance of) art history contributes to the impotence of the works made according to the Culture Industry's standards.)

  75. Freedom in art and freedom of speech are of a fundamentally different nature/they are incompatible. (The contemporary culture industry confuses and equates the two.)

  76. The autonomous free artist is not concerned with the freedom of speech.

  77. Freedom and autonomy in art are not granted by or dependent on external agents or forces but are manifested and come from within - through the work itself and through the individual.

  78. Autonomy is absolute self-determination. It is expressed in the work's/ the 'problem's' intrinsic and self-emerging logic as that which is 'new'.

  79. Autonomous art manifests KUNSTFREIHEIT.

  80. Autonomy is the antinomy to mindless repetition.

  81. The challenge for a young artist is to find his/her 'problem'.

  82. Only a self-determined, autonomous and unmanipulated individual can discover a 'problem'.

  83. A student encouraged and manipulated from an early age to believe in and adhere to the culture industry's standards will be less likely to be able to find his/her 'problem'- and is thus 'disabled' from the outset.

  84. "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. If he succeeds in giving collective validity to his widened consciousness, he creates a tension of opposites that provides the stimulation which culture needs for its further progress." - C.G. Jung, "On Psychic Energy" (1928). The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. P. 111

  85. Seclusion and withdrawal from 'the world' are essential for any serious artistic quest - for the discovery and the solution to an original 'problem'. 

  86. Retreat, separation and quiet introspection are critical in affording the highest degree of concentration that art/'the problem' requires but are increasingly hard to establish.

  87. Only the highest degree of concentration produces 'problems' that lead to works of the highest standard - which will evoke the same/demand the same from its audience. 

  88. The autonomous work -its simplicity- is always complex.

  89. It is never simple.

  90. It cannot be summed up in a few words or grasped at a glance.

  91. It holds inexhaustible potential for exploration - for the artist and the audience alike.

  92. ...




follow artistunderground on twitter

all rights reserved ©artistunderground

  • Twitter