top of page

The Kind of Scum Rising

How will I know when I am a good artist? When I am a wealthy artist, because Wealth is the clearest index of quality. Thus (a significant amount of) Wealth is only transferred to the producer if her/his art is good.


Unapologetic artists have been willing to forgo any attempt at maintaining a criteria for judgement that opposes the market. They have devolved any judgment of the validity of their wares to ‘higher’ authorities of distribution in favour of greater variety, novelty and distribution. This has been done under the misconception that their work transcends any effect of the market. Every opportunity of exhibitionism diminishes a practice by an equal measure of failure, insidiously nudging it towards careerism, as the presumed success, artists suppose, improves their ambitions. Avoiding exhibitionism at least tests practice. Whether the test is accepted or ignored it draws a distinction between criticism as dressing or pseudo-criticism, and criticism as a means of learning. It is in this sense that we prefer to think of all our statements as conjectural and apologetic.


Artists need to forgo the pseudo-critical practice and proceed from a critical view of art, of what art unfortunately is, and what is ought to be.


We intend the word arthood to refer to strains of art best well versed by their proximity to the institution, career imperatives, distribution, exposure &c., and generally a non or pseudo, or even anti-critical disposition by default, in favour of celebration and maintenance. There are innumerable practices that populate arthood without ever engaging in what arthood’s proponents would consider successful exchanges. But their unquestioning commitment to the established conventions of arthood renders their compliance wholly servile to the institution. The use of the word arthood is intended to reflect the equivalence of the contemporary artwork and remove the presumption of an ineffable status that the word art supposes. The use of the word art without our suffix bestows importance irrespective of any checks and balances that would have been operative when the content of previous revolutions in art were brought about. The presumption of ineffability in current artistic output is really the presumption that a correlation exists between current art and past art. The presumption of art’s ineffable status results from conditions that render the function of the word art wholly honorific.


Arthood references subjects outside of the boundaries of arthood. It is equipped to reference anything internally or externally from the point of view of its own system. Any subject can be rendered relevant to arthood by the system. But this does not mean that anything arthood references, after having been subsumed has any bearing on the subject of the reference. If arthood does constitute a closed system, capable of reproducing and maintaining itself then it can have no impact on anything beyond its own boundaries. Practitioners might operate under the notion that their output can contribute or even initiate a wider social effect, but how can it if all its operations constitute the system itself? The price paid for operative closure in the reception of the wares of arthood is an operationally closed system and consequently irrelevance beyond that system’s boundary. All action constitutes the system. With regard to an operationally closed system action constitutes the system from which it is initiated. Contrary to the notion that art can influence any area beyond its own parameters, anything it influences immediately becomes internal action of the system. For arthood to maintain any influence at all, beyond its own context then it would be required to cease functioning as an operationally closed system which, would require a criteria for judgement in place of its relativism and the accumulation of purely subjective knowledge. What could constitute such a criteria for judgement? How could such a criteria be initiated?


If we consider that a distinction between subjective and objective knowledge does not exist it suggests that arthood has relied on and built itself on a spurious notion. Subjective knowledge has long been a major factor in the production and consumption of cultural output but prior to the onslaught of full-blown and overblown arthood its purpose was never the means in which validation was established. It makes little sense to conceive of subjective knowledge without being somehow connected to reality. Equally it makes little sense to conceive of objective knowledge as anything more accountable than mere conjecture. As opposed to polarity, objective knowledge and subjective knowledge appear to amount to more or less the same thing.


The distinction between subjective and objective is adduced to show that since science progresses while art does not, judgments of scientific truth are more objective than judgments of artistic rightness. We are not suggesting that rightness in art is less subjective, or no more subjective, than truth in the sciences but only that the line between artistic and scientific judgment does not coincide with the line between subjective and objective.


The kind of scum rising in exhibition appears as the necessary product of a certain fermentation. If we are to explain the froth we must explain the nature of the fermentation.


It was the Eighteenth Century that saw the emergence of originality of individual works as an intentional aim in addition to highly advanced technical skill, the decline of copying by hand, due to the invention of the printing press, and the rise of novelty and greater distribution. These developments made it difficult for reflection on art to sort out criteria for evaluating its output. It became virtually impossible to distinguish art criticism from the mere assumption of reputation or association. One praised works that went against the established rules in favour of representing their subject matter in an agreeable manner. But, it was not clear how one could derive criteria if art was intended to please and everybody knew what, on an individual subjective level, pleased them.


Criteria for establishing what constitutes art (good or bad) have been obscured historically by the concept of culture. The invention of culture in the Eighteenth Century – of a form of reflection upon objects that subsumed, under culture, everything that was not nature, and by being attributed to individuals, presupposed the current conditions of arthood’s relativism. Previously, despite its comparative relativism, culture remained an object of essential propositions that could be either true or false, such as figurative depictions. Truth was previously bound by expectations of a proper interpretation of the world (of reality), which included not only explanations of fact but also fictive representations by way of accurate proportions or historic detail and demonstrative value judgements. It was assumed instead that the real natural world does not always appear in its most perfect form. One needed to remember originating ideals that define the essence of things, or to observe nature empirically in its perfect forms rather than in its corrupted forms. The meaning of art came to reside in a corrective imitation that directed the awareness of the observer towards the essential, and purged it of imperfections and defects. This situation would eventually separate demonstrable knowledge from visual appearance, such as beauty constructed from technical ability. This essentialism formed the foundation for the current situation of artistic production: a system of self-description generating its own internal identity and validity. This self-describing system functions regardless of what the external observers of this process think of the innumerable descriptions of the system by the system. In current arthoodistic practice this situation has developed to such internal extremes that we wonder if the system of art requires any external audience at all, for it to continue to reproduce the relations of its reproduction. What its production consists of is met with ambivalence, so long as its reproduction is assured. This assurance functions as a significant motivation for the system. Initially, the solutions proposed, however, made no claims for an autonomy of art, nor did they maintain that art was a value of its own. Art did not yet find meaning in itself as a realisation of its own value.

Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock
bottom of page