Monday, April 14, 2008

Response to Clayton Eshleman's question

What might a responsible avant-garde in visual art today include?

1. Radical, investigational image making that is raw, often wayward, in process: art as an intervention within culture against static forms of knowledge, schooled conceptions, cliched formulations (both inside and outside of art itself).

2. Art that evinces a thoughtful awareness of racism, imperialism, ecological issues, disasters, and wars and wants to do something about it.

3. Multiple levels of language--the arcane, the idiomatic, the absurd, the erudite, the vulgar, the scientific; relentless probing; say anything once, but say it a second time only if you believe it; not just "free speech" but freed speech, taking the consequences of its freed-om.

4. Transgression, opening up of the sealed sexual strong rooms; inspection of occult systems for psychic networks; the archaic and the tribal viewed as part of everyone's fate.

5. Treating boundaries like stage scenery, necessary but illusionary and not permanent.

6. Exploring what it means to be fully and deeply human.

7. Seeking out mystery and its rewards.

8. Living the consequences and responsibilities of the avant-garde.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The failure of contemporary art

In the beginning of the 20th century, art had the hubris to plunge into the chaos of a world in transition. It thought about the mind, about space-time, about power and energy and about the human condition. But science moved on, changing the world at every turn, while art moved inside the white box of its own concerns. Progress in science is in the access it gives us to new mysteries. Progress in art is in its discovery of the profound. The purest science is measured by the kind of answers it brings and questions that tumble from them.

The purest art can be measured by the same standards. In art, like science, true beauty is elegant and deep and so endures. The rest is just pretty. Art that endures as part of the experience of being human in the universe must ask profound questions, embrace mystery and never back down.Too much of contemporary art lives by the white box, feeds on its own self, asks small questions, offers only entertainment and comfort, believes cleverness is enough, is self-congratulatory, and views spectacle as depth. It's not humble, and doesn't stand in awe before anything.