Thursday, February 11, 2016

Here's a Right Bloody Mess

Lewis Bush over at disphotic cites this piece of shit, unfortunately as "interesting" when in fact it is anything but. This sort of thoughtless dreck is precisely why Art with a capital A leaves a bad taste in so many mouths. First, allow me a summary for you.

We launch right in with a 10 dollar word, "conjuncture" which means "the current situation" but even I had to look it up and I jolly well know a lot of words. Caroline rambles on with absurdities like "pioneers who shaped the field" who died unknown. Actually, if they shaped the field, we more or less by definition know who they are, idiot. There's a little Gender Issues! and Class Issues! tossed around for effect, but to no particular conclusion. Then we get this gem:

We cannot, therefore, understand artworks independent of the context in which they are made.

because this dope doesn't know what "therefore" means. It absolutely does not follow from vague bitching about gender and class that we cannot understand Art independent of the context in which it is made. While it is perfectly true that we cannot, this author has presented no argument to that effect.

Then we proceed to some name dropping and "Thatcherism sucks", with, astoundingly, an actual connection to the next bit which is that Artists are apparently being More Individualistic and feel that Art is a bit of a competition now. To assert that this is Thatcher's fault is absurd, though. Art has always been highly competitive. Are the Medici somehow Thatcher's fault? Was the Renaissance church somehow Thatcher's fault? I think I speak for all of us when I say "what the fuck, lady?" Her grasp of history cannot be this weak, surely?

The implication, unstated presumably because Caroline is an unthinking idiot. is that pre-Thatcher, Art was made in some sort of socialist paradise.

From here we learn that self-promotion is a big deal (apparently this is Thatcher's fault) and that we either should, or should not, delete our instagram accounts. Namedrop a little more (Walker Evans!) and so on.

Then we go on to a lot of rot about crappy jobs and how Artists have them.

And then we wrap up with a violent left turn into a discussion of her own work which consists of re-photographing the castoffs of her students.

Wait, this twit is a teacher? Ugh.

None of this shit makes much sense, and frankly it's not supposed to. This author is engaged in social signalling. She's letting her peers know that she is Down With Gender Issues and is Sensitive To Class Issues, and she Blames Thatcher For Everything. These are all very cool things to do and be. There's no thesis, there's no argument, there's no conclusion, there's just a bunch of dog-whistle phrases thrown out there in a more or less senseless jumble.

If she has an agenda at all, it seems likely that what she probably wants is for a great deal of money to be made available to fund comfortable academic posts for idiots like her where, with no oversight, they can sit around smoking French cigarettes and talking about bullshit. In fact, if push came to shove, she's probably accept a single comfortable berth just for herself, despite her hand-wringing about how artists compete too much.

The cited piece apparently first appeared in some publication, and clicking through to that hot mess we are presented with a pile of photographic tripe made by "lens-based artists" in defiance of the laws of grammar. I suspect that it is the art that is lens based rather than the artist, but the results are childish bullshit either way. You know the sort of thing, out of focus pictures of bricks which Interrogate the Dialectics of Something Weighty. Get it? Bricks are heavy? Weighty?

I have never seen any of this sort of crap hung anywhere, except perhaps in the worst sort of coffee shops. This leads me to suspect that there is in fact an insular community of people, publishing one another's nonsense, getting little grants to show one another's work, and in general patting one another on the back while talking about the Dialectic of Gender and smoking French cigarettes. I assume further that these people are, basically, academics.

I wish they would knock it off, but I dare say they won't.


  1. May I summarize?

    1. Those who can't do, teach.
    2. Circle jerk.

    (As much as enjoyed this piece, I do find it slightly depressing that this sort of piece still needs to be written).

  2. "My work explores the relationship between gender politics and recycling culture.

    With influences as diverse as Kafka and Roy Lichtenstein, new variations are generated from both orderly and random narratives.

    Ever since I was a pre-adolescent I have been fascinated by the essential unreality of the zeitgeist. What starts out as triumph soon becomes corroded into a dialectic of defeat, leaving only a sense of nihilism and the unlikelihood of a new synthesis.

    As momentary phenomena become transformed through emergent and critical practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the possibilities of our future."

    There! Fixed it for you.


  3. In response to your post and in part to Henry, we'll be reading such things again, and again, and again for the next forty years!
    The planet experiences cycles and so does Man.

    I have to smile at the article written by the 'teacher', as I have endured the political system she espouses for much of my life; also Thatcherism.
    Which one has survived?
    Which has been entirely discredited (see the Eastern Bloc)?
    It strikes me that, when such people are not being heard, they form themselves into their little communes, in the hope that others will see their self-importance and self-proclaimed worth.
    For me, it's one more addition to the cycle.

    And I thank the Gods that I have no children to be taught by this person.

    Now then, here's a thought:what if Donald Trump was a photographer/artist??
    Imagine the comments then!

  4. A curious reaction (yours) to what is an interesting piece, albeit expressed in the complacent cliches of bien-pensant artspeak. Your outrage seems factitious to me. I like the idea of "zero-hours creativity", for example.

    Her worst crime in the piece -- for me -- is not knowing the difference between "complimentary" and "complementary", but then I'm a card-carrying pedant.


    1. I'm probably most annoyed because gender issues, class issues, and Thatcherism are real things. There's a bunch of genuine problems here, real issues, and Caroline had nothing to say about them. She's using them as slogans to indicate her status.

    2. Well, maybe. Artists are never very at home with words or concepts, though it seems they feel obliged to grapple with them. But her actual argument with regard to social media is not entirely dissimilar to your own in the recent post "Capitalist Inversion".

      Yes, it is annoying when people airily appropriate real issues that you care about as mere ornamentation, but if you're a campaigner you'd better get used to that... Watch Bernie Sanders's supporters melt away after he loses the nomination.


    3. To be honest, I couldn't make much sense of what she's saying about social media.

      She seems to suggest that artists are being forced to participate, by austerity? So that dropping out of social media might be an act of rebellion, a revolutionary act?

      I'm not sure if that's where she's going, and if it is I'm pretty sure it's wrong. I mean, it might apply to her and her friends, I suppose, but as a generalization it is at best far too broad.

      I think there a category of successfulish artists who are embracing social media, not under duress but because it comes naturally to them and because it works, for some value of 'works'.

    4. You may be right, I have as little to do with social media as possible, but my feeling is that they are a sweet-tasting, habit-forming poison, which most creative people would be better off without. Daniel Milnor had some interesting things to say about the liberating effect of just saying "no"... Sometimes a refusal to take part is a revolutionary act.


    5. I suppose there's a broad spectrum of use cases for instagram etc? I know I haven't any interest in it. I've got a pretty good idea of the kinds of things I could accomplish with it, and I don't want to accomplish any of those things, so, phew.

      On the other hand, there are people for whom one or more of those things are quite desireable!

      Probably there are a few people who have the idea that their jobs rely on being able to generate and maintain a following?

      Obviously there are those people with 100,000 or a million followers who are getting work based on that. If you're at that scale, you probably don't have to worry much about maintaining a following. You just keep doing what you've been doing, which is probably just to be a famous someone.

      There are also people with 10,000 followers who are selling books or whatever to those followers, they've built a sort of personal niche, which they do indeed have to manage with a bit of care. A medium sized following can definitely implode.

      A very small following doesn't matter.

      Are there people with really bush-league jobs who have medium-sized followings that they need to manage and massage in order to maintain their jobs? I dunno. It's plausible, but I have no exposure to it at all.

      If these people exist, Caroline might be talking about them. Maybe she's one of them?

    6. True, my daughter has a friend who is in this league. Unfortunately, her followers are all 12-14-year old girls, which she was when she started. Now she's 21... Problemo.

      Are you a Wondermark fan? It has a way of being uncannily relevant. See the latest:


    7. My business plan! Now everyone knows it!

  5. This, however, is genuine young-person arty bollocks. I won't cite the source:

    "I aim to investigate surfaces, but my gaze is bounced back or slides down, at other times it is sucked in revealing little. But what lies beneath? The attentiveness and rigidness of the process within which I work corresponds with the physical and psychological structures I am exploring. The mechanical eye follows the instructions... almost always. Rarely, when an accident happens, the machine surpasses itself and divulges its own limits."

  6. Without googling, can you tell which of these is fake?

    "For a few years I’ve been collecting lumps of concrete, dug up in the London streets outside my studio, by-products of the ongoing construction boom in the city. I’m interested in the relationship of these human-made rocks to weight and (de)materiality."

    "A dead chicken obligingly seasons itself with canned peas in an ad for Bonduelle vegetables; a black cat gets masturbated by an electropneumatic sex machine/scratching post; a Third Reich–looking Minnie Mouse pulverizes a little boy’s ass with a nightstick near a sign that reads WE WANT MOTHERS."

    "If a protagonist were to be located in all three installations, it might be montage itself, which is problematized by the very fact that it meanders continuously across each triptych’s components, making discrete visual elements share space. To adroitly scan this sublime footage won’t feel unfamiliar to a contemporary viewer: In their shift toward digital images and multichannel installations, the filmmakers seem to acknowledge cinema—that boxed enclosure lit by a single screen—as an outdated site of entertainment corresponding to the very modes of industry and labor from which their work offers recourse."

    The answer, of course, is none of them - they all relate to "real" artists and "real" shows.

  7. @milldave:

    Imagine if Donald Trump was a photographer, you say:

  8. I truly loved this. Brilliant and oh, so true.