The Benefits of Doubt
Arthood wants to improve its marketability and at the same time veil its own commodity character which, in keeping with one of the fundamental contradictions of the system, would jeopardise its own success if it were to appear on the market undisguised.
A proposal, as a work in its own right, offers an opportunity for engaging with output and its distribution on improved terms. It prioritises working theories and arguments. As stated, a body of output that will have been worked on over a long period of time, collected together and distributed in the form of a proposal for an extraneous exhibition – an unrealised exhibition – seems at the current time more productive than a cynical retraction. It is the equivalent of an argument or theory, though not an argument or theory used simply to aggrandise a realised work, but rather to keep the practice going by locating problems and tentatively testing solutions. The proposal as a work renders the necessity of doing exhibitions redundant.
The current proposal plans out a potential exhibition of the body of drawings we are currently working on. The proposal functions as an attempt to support the work done in pencil with a practice that allows us to deal with problems of distribution without engaging in distribution. This seems the most viable way to deal with the problems of distribution without having to actually distribute the work. It seems that we have to engage with the problems in some way to allow production to go on, as if engagement with the problems of distribution helps to stave off distribution as shaped by administrators.
Where production is hamstrung by the looming opportunities of distribution, the intention is to produce in a way that is not. Practice should function in a way that locates problems and tests solutions. There is an opportunity to engage in exhibitionism at the level of a proposal because it becomes useful in terms of falsifying claims made towards solving problems.
This proposal is an attempt not merely to register an observation, but an attempt to try to solve practical problems. We shall avoid our constant reflexive positioning. Due to its circularity it leads to covering the same problems and ground anon: a philosophia perennis. But, we will make progress only if we are prepared to learn from our errors. Hanging on the waistcoat tails of Ronnie O’Sullivan, we must accept our ‘alliance with error’.
Focusing practice around trial and error allows us to question our theories and hold them to task from a position of not knowing. It imposes a discipline on art practice that is resistant to its relational and speculative inclinations (which in the field of arthood are liable to lead us into the sphere of metaphysics). It forces us to try to submit theories to standards of clarity and practical application. Arthood’s output, specifically when it nears or becomes subsumed by the relations of its distribution, has a habit of conveying the impression that its production and display is done from a position of knowledge.
Any given theory is meaningless without an initial problem. A theory is required only to solve a problem. Arthood is consumed by a surfeit of theories but a dearth of attempts to solve its inherent problems. In the face of a problem a theory can be formulated. By working at refuting that theory, solutions to problems are tested to some extent and further problems emerge. An approach to working to solve problems can be done only by trying to solve a problem and failing to do so. Only working to overcome problems makes a work significant.
In a situation of public display, in order to get our work comprehended as distinct from contemporary arthood, our work needs to be somehow separated from those relations of distribution that influence the production of contemporary artworks.
We draw a distinction between roughly two aspects of our practice: 1/ what we consider actual artworks – in the current context: pencil drawings on paper that we intend to be artworks in the traditionally excepted sense. 2/ &, anything else that constitutes the stuff of practice, including writing, talking, publishing, exhibiting and any attempts at engaging with distribution, all of which we consider here to be second order or peripheral. Is this distinction meaningful or even useful?
In this sense, when we discussed the exhibition proposed previously as extraneous, we are proposing that there is a distinction between the work as the work being art and the exhibition of the work as not art. In terms of the current conditions of art, when N. Goodman asks when is art? We would say: when it isn’t exhibited or any time it isn’t involved in distribution.
Arthood draws no distinction between what is and what is not art; anything can become art. As stated above, we draw a distinction between two aspects of our practice: the works (so far pencil drawings), which we will consider artworks; and everything else associated with the practice that is generally connected with distribution. The output that we are labelling ‘peripheral’ could effortlessly constitute artwork. It is this area of output that has specifically engaged in distribution that defines it as peripheral to art objects proper. Another way to state this is: those elements of output that are distributed do not constitute art by nature of the fact that they are distributed, and those elements that remain undistributed retain the status of artworks by virtue of not having been distributed. This is another way of stating that the drawings are artworks; if they enter into the relations of distribution and become consumable in a public situation, such as an exhibition they cease being artworks.
We are back with Goodman’s question: when is art? This at least offers a working definition for us of what does and what does not constitute an artwork. Although it is useless in formulating a criteria for judging between good or bad art. In giving a criterion for judgment it also draws a distinction between a potential body of output harnessed in the relations of production and a predicted body of output contingent on the relations of distribution of art as they currently operate, and begs the question: can artworks be relegated, in comprehension, to the status of other peripheral objects?
Throughout the proposal we will have to simplify so as to bring the problem into some range of cognition. It may also save us from the grandiloquent verbiage of the careerist and their attendants that render this suspect.
How do we rid ourselves of the habits of exhibition that undermine our subjunctives, confusing wish, intention, imminence and doubt?
How do we sustain a practice predisposed to undoing the assumption of its use-value? How do we produce a body of work but pay scant attention to its content and appearance? How do we pay attention to facilitating conditions that encourage the observer to hold the work as distinct from the current output of arthood. How do we allow ourselves to be preoccupied by what appear to be obvious questions, normalised and taken for granted: Why exhibit? Why produce art? Why maintain a practice in the first place? An artist can produce with assurance as long as the artistic institution itself is considered to be unproblematic. If it does become problematic surely practice becomes troubled with self-doubt. What is the alternative to producing work contingent on some potential opportunity to exhibit? Is a criterion for judging artworks, based on a firmer footing than subjective persuasion or adherence to the notion of the artist as a self-affirming producer of remote erstwhile meaning, which is now only meaningful in the internalised logic of the system itself, at all possible? Is it possible to carry out a practice that distinguishes itself from this system?
And our justification…? Though not a claim that the theory is true, can be a claim that the theory is a strong indication that this inchoate, nascent theory is a better approximation to the truth than any competing theory so far proposed; that there is a better opportunity for verisimilitude in trying to test the theory by trying to falsify it.
Is it possible to maintain an art practice without holding the individual art object as absolute, and consequently remain distinct from the logic of the current art system that prioritises the reproduction of the system above all else? Is it possible to produce beyond the parameters of the system?
Is it possible to carry out a practice that does not prioritise the individual art object as absolute?
Could a solution to this problem come from artists themselves co-opting their own disregard for the absolutism of individual artworks; of art automatically constituting affirmation of something worthwhile?
By a disregard for the individual merit of artworks and of forgoing practices living off the drip-feed of contingent opportunism, could artists challenge the logic of the system of art and somehow produce outside of its boundary as opposed to contributing to its internal logic of affirmation and reproduction?
Not a shift towards some transfigured realized future ... b-b-but it could be a shift towards a de-legitimizing of the present order that thinks of itself as an unalterable given.
Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock