The postmodern is not a cure for autism - Some artists are simple people, faithful to one drive and uncomfortable around all others. This kind of temperament feels drawn to the creation of enclosures, in fiction, art, music and social reality. The extreme point of this enclosing tendency represents the ‘minimalist’ repetition of structures that are devoid of any biological human interest. Continuing down this path tends towards an irruption of desire to reincorporate a discarded symbolic language. Synthetic compromise formations comprise the productions of this phase. Through their relative liberation they suggest their own continuance, but a natural growth is not possible due to their maintenance of distinct species of impulse.

Redundancy - Everything from the celebration of narcotic oblivion to the obscure language games of the avant-garde bear witness to the inability of the artist to feel their role to be significant. From the gap where genuine self-worth might once have resided, emerges a desperation to be noticed through deliberate irrationality. Similarly, the practice of solipsistic games of obscure referencing acts as a defensive wall between the ego and the outside world that implicitly devalues the aesthetically serious way of being.

Guston and Thiebaud - We go to Green Park where we are treated to a comprehensive exhibition of Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings at White Cube which shows how much more  than ‘the cakes guy’ he is. The boundaries of objects are painted with a variety of colours, and the internal objects often treated quite flatly, thus attention is thrown away from the banality of the depicted objects towards the visual experience of matter existing in bright light. It shows continuity with the methods and aims of great painters from art history, when their energies had been freed from the necessity of directly representing the ideology and appearance of power. Following on from that, Guston’s ‘Laughter in the Dark’ at Hauser and Wirth, an exhibition of a series of satirical drawings from 1971 and 1975, shortly after his figurative turn, dealing with his feelings regarding the corrupt politics of the Nixon era. Quotes on the wall centralised the importance of drawing and compulsive scribbling to Guston’s way of being. The comparison with the Thiebaud paintings, and taking into consideration the previously mentioned quote, made me see Guston’s paintings in a new light, as coloured drawings. By comparison, Thiebaud’s work conforms more powerfully to the inheritance of painting through Western art history, the fixing of objects in substance, where the content is defined not by the ostensible subject matter but by the way it has been represented. This illustrates the complexity of analysing contemporary painting, much of which has more to do with the inheritance of minimalism, which noted that any object is worthy of philosophical contemplation. Given that the object is already interesting, much contemporary painting exists merely as a kind of seasoning on the painting-as-thing which is the real communicative core of the work. Critical valuations based on intensive observation of artworks have given way under the overwhelming pressure of production.

Statistics - As the integrity of the individual work of art begins to disintegrate under the pressures of modernisation, a natural reactive tendency emerges, which seeks to rediscover completion and the finished, self-contained object in entirely new media, or an artificially limited style. A much simpler observation would note that the distinction between complete and incomplete, finished and unfinished, no longer has relevance to the aesthetic experience of the viewer. The myth of aesthetic finitude wanders in increasing desperation, seeking in advancing technology the broad horizon that has already been destroyed by that technology. The process of production is so overwhelmingly vast that the only possibility for pleasure is in self-abandonment, finding occasionally in the chaotic stream of experience, some fragment or other that briefly appears more significant than its surroundings.

Schism - Contemporary art is defined by two modes, the institutional and the exchange, which are interwoven and co-dependent but also antagonistic, with each trying to obfuscate the existence of the other. This is seen, for example, in the commercial mode’s abhorrence of wall texts and demand for aesthetics and intuitability, and from the institutional side, the presentation of works as if they were purely spiritual objects, detached entirely from exchange. Which mode prevails is defined by the socio-economic context, varying from city to city and from time to time.

Absent critic - One of the difficulties of contemporary art is the lack of solid foundations in value judgment. Much of it relies on the intense experience of encountering objects in the white cube gallery space. The thirst for solidity underpins the strong desire for painting in the current mode, but this cannot escape the consequences of the discovery of art’s dumb objecthood, which propelled the development of minimalism. Hence the obsession, in contemporary painting, with scale and support, not for what they offer the act of painting but for how they alter the experience of painting as an art object within the gallery.

Institutional critique - When art imagines what it could be in a situation where the white space is the only thing that is essential in its connection to reality, it severs its connection to the world of exchange and private ownership of unique objects. The intention to make a form of art that is anti-commercial, that cannot easily be bought and sold, in its rejection of established norms, aims at the establishment of a new kind of enclosure, which process finally mimics the establishment of private property that the intention originally repudiated.

Speech - Contemporary art is completed by the social and economic activity that surrounds the art works. It operates in the intersection between the sphere of objects and the sphere of social interaction. The gallery is a machine, running on the fuel of capital, that facilitates the circulation of artworks and the presentation and dissemination of artist-identities. These avatars are supported by discourse and are a crucial factor in determining the way that objects are circulated. Comprising social myths about the identity and way of being of the artist, they widen the gap between the perception of the artwork as artwork and the perception of the artwork as mere thing.

Functionaries - The critique of illusionism in art, which lead to the flattening of the picture plane, resulted paradoxically in the increase of the illusions surrounding art. By reducing the relatable content of the work, an increase in intellectual commentary to explain the work’s significance was required. Through the ambiguities of language and syntax, the coherence of these intellectual explanations grew weaker, leading to the current situation where young artists are exposed to a highly complex and ambiguous theoretical apparatus. The ability to distinguish between authentic and pseudo intellectual justifications for art objects is overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of production. In this process, the simple, semi-educated artistic savant is exiled to the realm of ‘outsider’ art, and the recurrent desire towards atavism amongst advanced artists is rendered taboo. Over-education is, therefore, part of the cause for the confusing existence of art objects in the social system of contemporary art. In order for the system to continue existing, which is likely to be the true, albeit subconscious, goal of contemporary artistic activity, artists can neither entirely abandon production, nor indulge in purely egotistic, bodily acts.

Definition - Aestheticism masks the social violence that is an essential element of great works of art and architecture. Compared to architecture, the violence in artworks is more sublimated, kept at a greater distance, and this is why they are more fetishised and appear more transcendent.

Pseudorno - In bad times honest art expresses badness. The results are therefore unenjoyable, and lead to the reactionary development of obfuscatory fantastical artworks, that distort the source of evil, not representing it as positive, but as an unavoidable phenomenon, set inside a magical and fascinating world. This is a symptom of the collapse of imagination and resistance. 

Another impossibility of a critical position with contemporary art - that the critique ought to be concerned with a moral judgment about the influence of capital, but a critique such as this would have to attack the relentless and frenetic activity of contemporary art. It can do this mimetically, by being its opposite, but this would be virtually invisible. Non-participation is the only solution, which is symptomatic of the dying nature of contemplation in contemporary art.

Cheap goods - Art is dead as craft because no-one is educated in that way, and dead as representation because technology has taken over that responsibility. Material art, eternally tied up with the symbolisation of power and wealth, has given the majority of its vital energies to consumer capital’s spectacle culture. Many artists seek to re-incorporate aspects of this culture, simply because it exists, and is ubiquitous, and does not have the bad conscience that is attached to the grand ambitions of previous art. It would be going too far to say it has a good conscience: it simply has none at all. Its products are judged according to whether or not they can briefly illuminate things with the light of novelty, which aesthetic effect, by its very nature, demands constant renewal. The best consumer product immediately extracts a high price, and ceases to function shortly afterwards. The best consumer art runs parallel to this process, but appears more benevolent in that it replaces the extraction of price with an intense stimulation. In appearing to offer a break from the relentless price-extraction that comprises everyday life, it presents itself as generous, though in reality it functions primarily as propaganda for the price-extracting mechanism.  

Judd - The value judgment that places art objects on a higher plane than craft objects, a product of the era when art became a demarcated intellectual entity, was one among many cultural hierarchies to be collapsed in the triumph of global consumerism. Self-conscious paintings expanded from their two-dimensional planes and became objects, and the newness of this operation within art sufficed to make it worthy of attention, hence the maxim that ‘it doesn’t matter if the work is good, it just needs to be interesting’.

Spectacle - Curators are so prominent because they take the exhibition as their starting point, and the exhibition is now the true object of contemporary art. Artists are under such pressure to continue in the cycle of production, that it is harder for them to see this object, which requires them to take a step back from production. As the important developments in science and philosophy become increasingly collaborative, the same happens in art. A by-product of the new centrality of the exhibition is that art remains essentially bound up with architecture, ‘real estate’ and urban planning. The materiality of the art object persists in its architectural container, regardless of any move towards ephemerality, the digital, or performance based artworks. Within this fundamental shift, there remains a space for nostalgic explosions of libidinal energy expressed through materials and crystallising in the form of an object, which reconnects the contemporary with the past and renews flagging energies with a bit of levity. However, if this kind of art comes to take itself seriously, the cultural scene becomes ridiculous.

Technological multimedia - A position that occurs naturally to many artists born after 1980. Involves the use of computers as a creative tool. The idea of specialisation is considered unimportant. The moving image is often the central process or outcome. Usually opposed to making things that run the danger of boring their audience, and comfortable with the idea of using formal excess and overload to comment on the quality of the time as being ‘saturated with information’. Everything is regarded as potential content, and everything as a potential tool. Engagement with the social replaces expressive immediacy.

Object centered multimedia - Bears witness to the fragmentation of media as a consequence of the decentralisation of painting, but retains a core belief in the necessary objecthood of art. Infinite series of works on paper act as a receptacle for expressive immediacy that no longer has a home in the production of the finished artwork. The central objects often bear connections to the whole spectrum of non-art design objects, from abstract decoration through architecture to vehicle design and other applied forms. Approaches production from an oblique angle in order to remain interested by the results.

Fetishisation of material - A reaction to the technological and social complexity of the time remains within expressive immediacy, though replaces the quest for representation with the drive to produce commodities. By fully internalising the logic of the economy it is permitted to experience a simulation of the historical lifestyle of the modernist artist. A process that embraces organic impulse, accepting whatever consequences follow from them.

Conceptual Art - A materially reduced form of art that wants to signal its awareness of its own lack of immediacy and its embeddedness within a complex institutional and economic reality. Accepting in advance that its outcomes will be displayed, described and represented by actors with dense ideological structures, to an audience working under similarly dense ideological structures, it inserts textual elements to muddy the picture from the beginning, putting the artwork on a self-reflective, self-referential plane. The loss of expressive immediacy is accepted as fact and held up as a central principle of how to make art, and how not to.

Body centered performance - This eludes the grasp of the forms of production by removing the gap between the artwork and the human body that is its necessary precondition. It aims directly at the increasingly event-based nature of contemporary art. Standing outside the traditions of the museum, it ostensibly opposes itself to the logic of collection of material objects, but in reality calls for an expansion of the kinds of material that can be accepted into the archives.

Stakhanovism - The core of contemporary art is a celebration of production, of finding new ways for cultural activities to occupy a productive space within the economy. The artwork is no longer the material residue of the process of attempting to attain significant representation, and in this sense the gap between the materiality of the artwork and its significance has decreased. As the object has lost some of its capacity to communicate, the distance between it and any other commodity also being decreased, artists are faced with a choice between various ways of dealing with the diminished power of the object as artwork. Increases of scale, use of different media, production of time-based events and spectacles, are all attempts to mitigate the decreased communicative potential of art in the society of the expanded economy. Modernist avant-gardes maintained a level of innocence within this process of expansion, where innovation as an end in itself was seen as a way of overcoming the stagnant traditions and outdated mores. Innovation is now lauded as the central goal of the economy, as the path to success and the possibility of breaking out of the financial pressure that defines the life of the subject embedded in a world where everything, from public utilities to education, have been offered up to free-market forces.

Apparently endless quantities of work - The art of immediate expression, which reached its ideal in the second half of the previous century, was built on a notion of creative freedom that diminished and simplified the role of construction within the production of artworks. What this freedom really stood for was the freedom to infinite labour without critical reflection, and represented the unrepresentability of the new kind of society that was evolving. Art making was no longer the mediated construction of aesthetic experience, but became a formalistic circling within activity that had no goal other than its own continuation.  A partial nostalgia for this kind of activity is a ubiquitous component in the current fetishisation of creativity. This illusory nostalgia wants to be able to act without thinking, to experience reality in an immediate, unbroken way, without any renunciation of attachment to objects and relationships. Its antithesis is the documentary mode of art-making made possible by photography, which came to maturity as an art form through the abandonment of stylisation. What both modes of art-making share is the possibility of infinite repetition without mutation.

The object, again - Painting, within the Western tradition, once occupied a privileged position at the top of a relatively fixed hierarchy of artistic media. The process of flattening the picture plane registers the increasing consciousness of the objective qualities of a painting, not as an object representing a depth and a beyond, but as a wall-mounted thing filling a certain amount of space, and communicating, not through its depicted content but through its mere existence, an idea of the values attached to the architectural container in which it is displayed.  The dissolution of the represented object within painting took different amounts of time depending on what the object was and how it was represented. The libidinal attachment to the representation of the body was the slowest impulse to decay, and went through a longer period of sickness before abandoning the struggle. The final stages of the process of dissolution were manifest through the immersive and repetitive strategies of minimalism. From this emptying out and dissolving, emerged the artwork as object, which collapsed value distinctions between the various media. Currently, the artwork as object has far more varied competition from other objects for the attention of an audience. It maintains relevance through the culture of contemporary art, which combines elements of tourism, urban exploration, celebrity, unimpeded free-market activity, a spiritualised form of consumerism and the fetishisation of the embodied human-being as opposed to the cyborg. The relation of this culture to the history of art is increasingly complex and difficult to articulate.

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