But Given Enough Eyeballs
The distinctive element in a consciously objective approach to practice – conscious criticism of tentative conjectures and a conscious building up of selection pressure on these conjectures, by criticising them, - would be a consequence of the emergence of a descriptive and argumentative language; that is, descriptive where descriptions can be criticised. Given this situation, the theory of the growth of exosomatic knowledge through conscious procedure of conjecture and refutation follows logically: it becomes part of the situation.
…and inevitably the work.
The motive for a change towards art beginning to refer to anything and everything, but internally within its own closed system, was the discovery of antique examples utilised as models. Artists came to produce without referring to the living present or to the infinite distance of God so it could in turn be presumed that perfection had once existed in this world. This notion offered the prospect of recapturing perfection solely through artistic means. Perfection was no longer referenced but aimed at as a pursuit of production. This transition shifted the focus onto the individual that brought it about. Attribution stimulated a discussion that evaluated this transition and elevated the individual. In retrospect we can appreciate these repercussions of the invention of culture and its subsequent foundational distinction between science and art, or objectivity and subjectivity, as first attempts towards a self-description of the art system and the producer as a self-confirming centre of truth. Art eventually ceased to consider itself in terms of reworking or recapitulating classical skill, but innovation and unique accomplishments became conspicuous in contrast with an antiquity that had become increasingly familiar and saturated with interpretation. Mannerism and the Baroque turned deviation and innovation into a programme. This deviation was applied in paradoxical ways, raising the still unresolved issue of formulating criteria for judgment. Knowledge remained focused on truth versus untruth – and eventually art committed to a position of untruth, subjective knowledge and appearances. Its function was to affirm this position in order to distinguish itself from an objective knowledge that conformed to reality.
The general problem, that our practice aims to attend to, is that production – the instance where artworks traditionally emerge – has shifted from the situation of the studio to the site of the distribution and consumption of art. Generally, art practices are primed for exhibitionism. That we, as apologetic artists (no excuse or alibi) are hamstrung by the promise of distribution, cannot be sensibly ignored. Arthood is distinct from, and merely derivative of its historical precedent, where output was formulated within the field of production. The distinction between what art is and was suggests there is zero correlation between them other than the word art, which is almost entirely honorific. Contemporary practice as it stands is preoccupied with maintenance and reproduction at the cost of improvement, and its output remains consistently subservient to the commodity heavy conditions within which it is produced.
The self-initiated and unrequested proposal (this insert is just such a lame proposal) falls flat for the professionalised institutions of arthood. Its existence we can happily report, is as embarrassing as naively turning up at a gallery – portfolio in hand, setting up your own website or organising an open studio exhibition. We are out of step with the orthodox careerist operators, brought up seamlessly on the degree show business card and their bloated production lines – the private view, the artist’s dinner, the post-show party, the ‘in conversation’, the Q & A , the filmed studio visit, the tie-in conference, the research point scoring. (We have found we cannot keep pace with these imposed strictures of exhibitionism.) These are the strictures of the exhibition. The site of production.
It is the unworthy transformation the artist undergoes in moving from the domain of production to the domain of distribution that impacts most heavily upon practice, by formulating it into career. This characterises the majority of art practices that are embedded in and dependent upon distribution as opposed to production, and tending towards affirmation by exposure.
As the ewe lamb is predestined first to the tupping lustful ram then to the butcher and their displays, we recognise the practice’s output is predestined to some form of show. Legs, lights, saddles, kidneys or minced, the body of work comes to some kind of consumption. But given enough eyeballs, all errors will be seen.
Arthood is capable of producing only subjective knowledge. It is not critical of the realm of production as it operates within the relations of distribution that it is part of. It engages with objective knowledge only superficially with reference to it. Generally art practices are satisfied with maintaining production embedded in their relations of distribution and producing finished works as examples of subjective expression. Arthood is not equipped to attempt to discover objective knowledge. This would involve, in addition to producing working theories and working to falsify them, the formation of criteria for judging artworks distinct from subjectivity or relativism and the simplistic branding exercise arthood is compliant with.
The notion of criticality (which suggests objectivity) is applied only in subjective terms. For instance, backing up a claim to like or dislike something with why it is the case does not move the critical response on from ‘I know’ to ‘It is known’. There is no measure for evaluating artistic accomplishments in the relations of production since the demise of technical skill. Commodity value has taken the place of skill. But, it does not follow that a rejection of a pursuit of some form of objective knowledge is inevitable.
The problem for those wanting to pursue an art practice in the current conditions of art production, without resolving to dispense with one altogether, is the current conditions of art production themselves: anything at all can constitute an artwork; in the absence of some form of criterion for judgment, a work’s validity as to whether it is good or bad is unavailable. This problem is ignored. Two things follow from this collective ignorance: firstly: the only possible response to a specific work is subjective or relative to a set of local intentions, and secondly: the system itself is left to reproduce its own boundaries. In other words, the system of art reproduces itself, which ultimately means it cannot be criticised, as any criticism as with any content can only constitute further content.
Any notion of criticism that functions as producing content for the system it proposes to criticise is not, in any meaningful sense criticism. In the current conditions there is no prospect of a critical practice. There is a marked contrast between the wealth of internal content (to the point of distention) and the lack of external criticism that actually holds the system of production to task or at the very least does not celebrate it.
It could be said there is actually a criterion for judging validity, it is just highly complex and vast and it comprises of all the theory, exhibitions, writing, talking &c., that the art system produces, and in fact only the best work survives such rigorous strictures. But what does best actually mean? How much fat’s in the cream? Incommensurable theories may get compared, but they cannot be criticised or validated in terms of a system of common measure, other than the current art system’s only criterion for validating quality – in terms of its potential market value.
Arthood operates by maintaining its reproduction by asserting itself as an operationally closed system. It achieves this in part by asserting and continually reinforcing a collective and insidious form of dogmatism. It consists of the tenet that implies that any criticism that characterises the field of contemporary arthood as, for instance meaningless or feckless is simply reactionary or philistine and that this criticism is easily dismissed as being manifestly ignorant and lacking in any understanding of the prerequisite internal knowledge. Publicly expressed notions like ‘cutting-edge’ are used to assert this dogmatism and a branding project heavy in theoretical discharge, of undermining any actual criticism, the source of which is seen as lacking the cognitive ability to comprehend the significance of this suggested cutting-edge quality. The problem with this collective dogmatism is not so much that it rejects criticism, but more that the rejection destroys the prospect of any genuine critical method. It amounts to a declaration of a retraction of engagement in critical discussion that is genuinely conjectural, that seeks to explore from a position of not knowing what to do, and attempting to learn and understand based on this acknowledgment.
The nature of arthood’s relativism is that it declares as admissible and even productive, contradiction and paradox, as contained within notions such as meaning, intention or interpretation. The problem here for any practice wanting to hold the system in which it operates to task and to resist functioning as merely celebrative, is that if contradiction need not be avoided or rectified as part of an ongoing practice, then any criticism is easily dismissed; as criticism by nature consists of pointing out contradiction either within the theory or work being criticised or between it and some factually relatable experience. The defensiveness of this dogmatic approach can, again, only lead to the destruction of the critical basis of any useful discussion interested in improvement or learning.