Friday, May 3, 2013

This Is Unsupportable

I have maundered on, on these pages, about how important it is not not let process tell us how good the work is. We must not elevate someone's art because they use salt, or film, or wet plate. We mustn't give people credit merely for hard work.

This remains firmly my opinion and, in fact, most people will tell you this is how they feel.

I am reminded of my own industry. Pundits, in fact everyone, agrees that the status quo is completely unsustainable and Something Must Be Done. Nothing is done. The industry exists because another industry generally does a shoddy job. This shoddy work, distributed broadly, enables a multi-billion dollar industry (where I work) in not doing very much effective to mitigate the effects of shoddiness. Despite the drumbeat to the contrary, it is manifestly clear that nothing whatsoever need be done in my industry. In fact, if something were done, then quite a lot of us would be out of work.

It's not that anyone's scheming to prevent progress, it's simply that human institutions don't generally solve the problems they are intended to solve. Instead, they tend to perpetuate themselves.

In some ways that are roughly similar, the art world exists as a completely artificial economy. Received wisdom about goodness of art is repeated faithfully, and then ignored. None of this stuff has any intrinsic value. All of this stuff is assigned values on a purely arbitrary basis by what are basically emergent gatekeepers. It is painfully clear that hard work is a significant input into the value-assigning process.

Given two randomly selected artists who produce work that is adequate, that is marketable within the current milieu, made by artists capable of producing more related work at a desirable pace, the artist selected for the gallery show will tend to be the one who simply works harder. If one fellow makes wet-plate objects, and the other fellow uses Ilford paper, the first chap's getting the show. This has, partly, to do with marketability. The harder work certainly supports the illusion of greater value. Still, part of it surely has to simply be that it's merely a criterion which can be used to winnow down the altogether too enormous field.

This doesn't mean that you and I should judge work by how hard it was to make. It's just that the rest of the world will tend to. Which sort of sucks.

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