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Career Advice, Come Inside.

At every stage of history our concern must be to dismantle those forms of authority and institutional coercion that survive from an era when they might have been justified in terms of the need for regeneration or economic or cultural development, but that now contribute to – rather than alleviate – material and cultural deficit.


If the suggestion is, as it seems to be, that “the market” is the root of all evil, and that “exceptional art” is somehow free of determination by the market, untainted by commerce, and if this is supposed to hold good of art in a modern sense, we would wish to observe that, while there may be ‘contradictions’ between art and market requirements, it is no more than a silly art-teacher’s idealism and decadence to imagine an art ‘free’ of such requirements when you don’t imagine a capstan-lathe operator ‘free’ of such requirements. In other words, exceptional art is hardly the only area of social activity in conflict with “market requirements". The entire working class is in conflict with “the market” – if “the market” is taken to mean the schemes of manipulators and managers. Otherwise, of course, “the market” is that which a perfumed snob regards as contaminating the ‘culture’ which he enjoys by virtue of his seat alongside those who, in a market economy, are on top.


We’ve previously neglected a distinction; lumping together all that constitutes the market and all that constitutes the institution as marked by the above quotations. The difficulty is made conspicuous by the institution as merely an adjunct to the market. As far as the institution is concerned there are not many artists worthy of attention that are not endorsed by the market.


Decisions regarding the circulation of works such as exhibitions rest on associations with other institutions and networks rather than the merits or intentions inherent in any work, which are no longer discernible. A criteria for judgement does not need to be legible if the relations of distribution would be deterred by the availability of markers to discern what is good from what is bad. Current art has emerged out of a predominance of technical skill as a means of evaluating validity, towards a decline in skill and its replacement, coinciding with greater distribution, with irrelevance of critical discussion and priority of individual production. This is something that the institution has excelled at. Institutions must justify their function. If they fail to adequately do so they must be dismantled and reconstructed from the ground up to serve the purpose of improving art as opposed to the reification of the market.


Theories dredged up and applied to objects serve to embed a subjective position that avoids any confrontation with a search for some sense of objective value; which, in arthood, would coincide with some criteria for qualifying the judgement of something as good or bad. Art’s relation to subjectivity is likely to remain intact, but its acceptance and celebration, devoid of any attempt to produce or judge artwork in some objective capacity, is retrogressive. A concerted effort for such a criteria for judgment would question the doctrine that whatever an individual artist intends automatically justifies the work’s status, and whatever an individual spectator thinks, is as valid as any other diverging opinion including that of the producer.


The problem of distribution in the current conditions of maintaining an art practice spring primarily from the fact that anything can be art and be appraised and validated as art by a community of current art production. But, this appraisal and validation is based on subjective, self-affirming criteria and is not critical. As anything can be art, the question of what constitutes an art object is rendered redundant in arthood’s own terms. All that is possible is something like reflection, reference (if not actual reverence) and description.


Criticism, in the sense of functioning as a means of furthering knowledge, something comparable to the pursuit of objective knowledge does not exist in arthood. Although the use of the word critical in art is widespread. That the word is prevalent in arthood while in the field of art production fails to be in any sense operational, raises the question: what purpose does the word critical serve in arthood? Theory in the theatre is useful in that it deals with problems relating to performance and the stage, whereas theory in art is useless as it does not deal with problems relating to exhibition and the gallery. It might seem reasonable to assert at this point that art is in fact totally distinct from any search for the kind of objective knowledge that might be associated with scientific discovery and that rather art is concerned with intuitive experience. If that is right, then, again: what is the purpose of the widespread use of the word critical in arthood?


Our practice falls under the rubric of careers advice as it is initiated from a question: how do you maintain and continue an art practice in conditions where anything can be done and justified by way of a widely accepted relativism?


It comes down to how to maintain a practice. Cosseted in a comfortable institution it is easier in practical terms. But beyond that how to continue? And if being able to continue is an option, does one fully embrace arthood? Does one compliantly engage in the formation of a career and live with the contradictions of such a position: that art is founded upon suppositions of progressiveness whereas it actually functions as a compliant tool. Or does one pursue a practice that is critical of the system of art and the institution, and in arthood’s terms carry on unsuccessfully? This is a question of careers advice over theory but they coincide. A commitment to pursue a career in arthood’s terms cannot in any way be critical, any notion of criticality carried out is only contributing content and celebrating but not testing the system of art critically. To pursue a critical practice means paying little attention to the physical production of work and acknowledging anything done within the work cannot seriously question the context in which the work is produced and distributed, this can only be attempted externally.


We have tentatively come to the realisation that the situation of maintaining an art practice should be one of abandoning attempts to justify theories, that justification leads arthood only in the direction of metaphysics. A theory can never be justified. Preference for a particular theory could potentially be justified but this would be dependent on the state of the critical debate, which with regard to arthood is problematic. A particular theory could stand up to criticism better than a competing theory, it could be significantly criticised by exposing an unexpected contradiction. But a theory proved to be more resilient to criticism and so better than its competitors can never be decisive. Previously claims for rationality in art have tended towards justification of subjective intention or interpretation with regard to producing or apprehending a work. This is rationality linked with a notion of final, demonstrable knowledge. In contrast we’re thinking of our rationalism as rational criticism of our own work or competing works; with maintaining a practice aimed at conjectural knowledge, working towards a better approximation of truth or verisimilitude.


The distinction between truisms (or Balzano’s ‘statements in themselves’) and something, such as what is contained within arthood, of the notion of subjective thought processes might be useful. Truisms can stand in logical relations to each other; they can be logically compatible or incompatible. Subjective thought processes on the other hand, can only stand in psychological or metaphysical relations. The content of arthood can be characterised as constituting subjective thought processes. The problem arises with arthood when the word ‘critical’ is applied. There can be no criticism in a system of subjective statements or actions in themselves. Subsequently there can be no distinction that is secure, between an amateur practice and a professional career. From the point of view of our practice amateurism looks like a preferable position. The hierarchy that imposes a distinction in this respect is meaningless. Arthood’s line of defence here tends towards protestations of originality. The point is that ‘original’ or any other platitude needs to be defined operationally, or arthood deceives itself when it thinks it can attach meaning to statements that claim originality. If it cannot be operationally defined it is useless.


The nature of an operationally closed system means all action is subsumed internally. That art once maintained, as its most rigorous criteria for judging and maintaining a set of established standards, requirements associated with skill and excellence, suggests that art’s manifestation as an operationally closed system has been relatively recent. The consequences of this for a practice wanting to operate distinctly or externally from arthood, is that considerations of a return to any of art’s past modes of production is not possible. Skill, as any other trope would constitute internal action compatible with any other, such as an intentional lack of skill and be subsumed accordingly, perhaps preserved as indifferent. Arthood as a closed system subsumes skill as any other internal action, as an action within its own boundaries.


The art system maintains itself by sublimating the communication of knowledge in a subjective sense. It labours under the notion that prerequisite conditions for judging the validity of its objects are located in distended concepts like intuition or disposition. Knowledge in the subjective sense of a disposition or an opinion is prevalent, but it fails in any actually critical sense because it does not offer any criteria for judging objects that can be qualified. But an absence of demonstrative criteria is not a problem for a system that operates by circulating as varied an array of material as possible of ever-greater internal complexity. Arthood flourishes irrespective of marginal and largely ineffectual attempts to impose constraints, in the form of a criteria for elaborating what does and does not constitute art.


Theories constructed towards what should constitute art need to be tested by way of a critical disposition. But the critical disposition, critical discussion or rational consideration, is not capable of establishing sufficient reason to claim that a theory for a criteria for judging the validity of an object as an art object is correct. It cannot justify a claim to objective or demonstrative knowledge.


The realisation, as it is played out by contemporary arthood, of creative or artistic freedom; of a totalised resistance to the imposition of criticism coincides with a bathetic impotence with regard any engagement with reality. The problem comes down to the question of whether to continue with an art practice or to terminate all productive engagement. Even the most committed attempts to engage with, for instance a wider social context is hamstrung and capable only of enacting and accumulating ever more diverse points of reference. Whatever is referenced may well exist beyond the parameters of arthood but the instance of reference is confined within the system’s boundaries.


Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock

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