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A blog focused on photography, poetry, and politics. Twinned with the website www.thegreatleapsideways.com / @grtlpsideways
I often think artists and people who write about art place way too
much importance on the appearance of novelty and obtuse sound bites, but if they really did their homework they’d see relationships and historical precedents all over the place. Arbus and Lisette Model, Robert Frank and Walker Evans, etc. are obvious examples. No one works in a vacuum; there is precedent and dialogue in every medium and expression and those relationships can be really interesting. (“Tradition and the Individual Talent” by T.S. Eliot should be required reading). The uniqueness or particularity of serious work is often in more thoughtful, quieter differences – all of which have to do with our own biography, experiences, and the world that we’re faced with at any given time.
I could give you a very long list of artists whose work I admire, and an even longer list of writers and film makers that have influenced my work. But I really like what Robert Gober said: “Whenever I give a talk about my work I am invariably asked who my influences are. Not what my influences are, but who.. As if the gutter, misunderstandings, memories, sex, dreams, and books matter less than forebears do. After all, in terms of influences, it is as much the guy who mugged me on Tenth Street, or my beloved dog who passed away much too early, as it was Giotto or Diane Arbus.”
If you were to walk through the aisles of any one of the dozens of art fairs that now take place globally on an almost weekly basis, you would get the sense that the art world is a happier place than Disney World. Big art, big artists, big dealers and big money play their roles in a hypnotic and well-rehearsed production, and toothy smiles abound. Yet this intoxicating spectacle is just the most public manifestation of a problem in the art world that has become increasingly obvious over the past decade: more and more, the cart is pulling the horse.
The horse in question is, of course, aesthetic production and the individuals and institutions that assiduously guard its sanctity. The cart is, at least on the surface, money - and lots of it. Or is it? After all, money does not have motivation or intent, people do. I would argue that the cart is actually the insidious forces that have, over several decades, narrowed the gap between art and financial instruments, and in doing so have forced art to submit to criteria once reserved for commodities. Money is simply the scapegoat for a problem that is pervasive and systemic.
There was a time when art critics, art historians and curators held substantial sway as to what constituted significant contemporary art. They rode the horse, and collectors and art dealers happily went along for the ride. These days, curators are too often hamstrung by the demands of museum directors who are focused on attendance figures, and board members, who can have very real (non-aesthetic) interests in seeing that certain exhibitions take place. Critics have suffered an even worse fate. Those that are left have been neutered, and can seem more like public relations specialists than critical thinkers. (…)
The art world and the art market are not the same thing, even though the general-interest press now, tellingly, uses the terms interchangeably. The latter should be subject to the former, but somewhere along the way there was a coup. When the public now thinks about the art world - if they think about the art world at all - the first thing that will likely come to mind is the unfathomable sums of money spent for a painting at the latest auction. I don’t think there is any way to overstate the exclusion that this narrative creates. It moves art closer to commodity status in the collective consciousness, and in doing so, effectively tells the 99% that there is no point in thinking about the art world, or art itself for that matter. The message is clear: If art equals money, and you are not wealthy, then art is not for you."