The following is an amended version of a paper read at the Whitechapel Art Galiery on 30th May 1978 in connection with the exhibition « Art for Society». While it contains some observations on that exhibition, the paper was an attempt to raise some more generai questions in the locale of the « ArtintoSociety», « Political Art», «ArtforWhom?» delusion. lt is hard to make sense of the avalanche of « committed » art, the selfrighteous handwringing, the idealist workerworship. The well entrenched « Marxist» culture theory (Benjamin et al, Althusser et ai) is in many respects inadequate to the criticai tasks impiíed. lt is often « soft», in an artIoving way, on venality, opportunism and sheer adventitious nonsense. It is often pessimistic. It is often idealistic. These tendencies have been echoed in the work of ]esser cuiturai epigones, some of whom are (the less repulsive) earnests of committed art. One thing that's needed isa workable, explicit distinction between the curatorial sphere of legitimation and the dialectical process of developing competence in the course of the ciass struggie. Without such a distinction the gougeing of careerists can be launched as progressive activity. Although we do not agree with ali of Mr dei Renzio's article in the « Art for Society» catalogue, we can echo the greater part of his conclusion. What is wanted is the prolonged and deliberate attempt to alienate the bourgeois ideological and productiv aparatuses from the ruling ciass ànd its agents, and this can only be achieved by the technical transformation of those appdratuses. You cannot seli socialism like soap with posters of Ctie Guevara. To change an apparatus of production means breaking down the barriers and surmounting the contradictions that confine intellectual produetion within the constraints prescribed by the burgeoisie. (« Art is Modern, Bourgeois, Conceptual and Marginai » p. 28). The extent to which we do not agree with his final statement should be obvious in what follows. We think that his is the only intelligibie contribution to the catalogue. ]t is also the only contribution which is not flawed with the bruta[, venal halftruth (untruth) of «socialist» executiveese. These flaws have an artistic counterpart in the selfregarding conventional artist who has trotted out a specious socialist theme (in the manner of those who used to trot out Marilyn Monroe paintings for Mariiyn Monroe exhibitions). The same fiaws are reflected in anyone who, in his manageríal or opportunist biather, pins his «solidarity» on an idealisation of the working ciass abstracted from the real proletarian struggie. They are also reflected in a lot of apparently leftwing cuiturai practices in which the proletariat makes only a marginai or eschatological appearance. They are reflected in the «Art for Society» catalogue, in the peans to William Morris, the rediscovery of Walter Crane, the fawning over Trades Union Banners, Murals, PhotographersofWorkingCiassLife etc. etc. A lot of artists reproduce leftwing themes. These are usually arbitrary. Artists and their themes and pseudoprojects are highiy defeasibie, insofar as the rea[ conditions of their production are capabie of being exposed but art management can prevent defeat. Leftwing type art management shares with other managements a set of concrete interests in accordance with which it assigns value, ratifies. These real interests are invariabiy hidden by a legitimatory biather which prociaims maximai or optimai social goals; e.g.: « Art for Whom » should be seen as a touchstone for the aspirations of everyartist who refuses to settie for a function as marginai as those which dominate today. The art of the future must not obsess itself with questions of idioms, cliques or particular media: ali that partisan lumber ought to be cleared away, in order to make a breathingspace for the nondivisive exploration of how a comprehensive people's art might best be evolved. (Richard Cork, Art for Whom catalogue, page 6). lf artists are to exhibit in pubs, factories and community centres, then they wili have to be abie to say something meaningfui to the peopie who go there. Beauty for its own sake is an issue for ordinary people but much more urgent are the problems associated with the way they live. lt is with these problems that the artists at the Whitechapel are beginning to grapple. (D. Logan, « Art, Politics and Social Change», in Art for Society catalogue, p. 36). The ratification of a highly defeaisble « art work » etc. asa curator's object involves a disastrous (or wonderfui) transformation. lt is now insulated from defeat or historical reification (abandonment?) by the cocoon of the bourgeois miscreation. Some artists are selfcurating; some curators ... etc. Most curators are, at best, seifish liberaiutilitarian monsters. There may be some (e.g.) Marxists among some of the artists if there be any who are not entirely self~curating. The mistakes of the curators are obvious, biatant. The mistakes of the artists are also obvious. In the following, we will be referring sometimes to liars and fools, sometimes to those under a misapprehension, sometimes to both (i.e. criticism may overiap them). This shouid not result in too much unciarity. Art is marginai, to say the least, to active politics. ltis not paradoxial, however, to say that the prospect of some art capabie of sustaining a match with reality, which is a unity of theory and practice., can only be a function of a developing active politics. («Active politics» is opaque and ambiguous. lt wili include, however, many activities consequent upon, or which wili find a match in, Mr dei Renzio's concluding scrictures. A rather less interesting point is that it my well encompass some highiy superstructurai activities,'demystìfications etc; such things as this article even). lt is of some interest that endemic to the art worid and that includes the leftwing art worid is the pretence of perfect selfcertifying knowledge in respect of any « new» position, « development » etc. This charade is important in the defence of executive and managerial territory, in support of the hegemonial self image. A dispassionate objection here to the effect that the art worid doesn't really make the pretence, that it purports to have no more than what is adequate to be goingon with, can be disregarded. The pragmatism of the art world, its venality left and right, necessitates that its « new » fashions be insulated from substantive criticism or refutation.'ln pursuit of its partial and limited pragmatic goals, it therefore instantíates a pale paraoid reflection of ciassical scepticism; viz. that if there is no perfect selfcertifying knowledge in a given connection, then there is no moreorless adequate knowledge or theory to be gettingon with. Absurd parody as this manifestly is, it nevertheless accurateiy represents the « philosophical basis» of many of those pseudoactivities which (e.g.) pass for artteaching. For most, artworld and artschool activity amounts to no morethan an insulated afflicting of others with their own selfesteem. An epistemological mystification more particularly (more embarassingiy) associated with the leftwing curatormanager and hi artistclientcumproducer is that in his progressivist volunteering, consciousness and a unity of theory and practice are given; there are no gaps in his knowledge or practice which are necessitated by the bourgeois parody, only gaps which are contingent. lnsofar as these gaps are contingent, he is sure that his position, his role or function must remain intact throughout the coming social transformation. We take practice (roughiy, and uncontroversially) to be people's moreoriess active selfconscious social conduct in relation to the satisfaction of their needs or in pursuit of their interests. Both mouhtebank and misguided should note, however, that fully selfconscious ciass practice is not given. [t is approached in a sense it is to be grasped through organisation and concrete struggie. The problems of the unity of practice and knowledge áre weli known. (N. B. We do not take « knowledge » as theory not immediateiy anyway). lt is elear no unity of practice and knowledge is at presentpossibie. lt might be thought that this absence of possibility wouid be experienced as a pervasive and pervasiveiy distressing condition of pretransformation existence, but there are many who have heaved sighs of relief on being told of the impossibility and who have then gone off to make « ideological » or « theoretical » pronouncements, atomisticaliv and (in a pejorative sense) harmlessiy. Those who do not know of the impossibility (many cuiturai managers etc.) are afflicted with the same or related idealist prejudices and with concomitant misconceptions about the nature of (their own) agency. The possibility of a unity of knowledge and practice cannot continue being conceived in the norma] ideáiistempiricist way. For empiricism, knowledge and practice are concepts constituted and based in their alleged distinctness from one another. lf anyone tries to have a dialectical unity of knowledge ánd practice with these constituens conceived empiriciatically (or?), he ends up with a nasty tacky mess. lt is too easy however, to object to the unity of knowledge and practice just because you are assuming that the « norma] » notions of these things are what everyone has got to be talking about. What is needed is an objectivism which treats practice as in some sense determining the nature of knowledge. That we don't have such an objectivism by reform, and a fortìori that it wili not be got by referm of culture, shouid be obvious. « Art theorists» are always going on about « reflections» and « reflections of reflections» etc. This is not aiways wrong, if you are trying to deal with the varieties of representation and description in art, but it is sometimes unheipful if you are trying to carryon in the knowledge that «art» is as Mr dei Renzio's titie suggests. Mr Rip Buikeley has suggested (in « A Repiy to R. Norman», Radical Philosophy, Summer 1978, forthcoming) that the metaphor of « matching » is more heipful than that of « reflection » if you are trying to unite the notion of knowledge as a social human activity (and, by implication, some possibie art as at least in the margins of that activity), with the requirement that knowledge be a veridical correspondence between some parts of reality which are peopie (beliefs?) and other ontologically independent parts of reality. In matching, one can unite a moment of correspondence with a moment of activity or practice. «Matching » is associated with repeated adjustment and transformatio ' n or change in the continually renewed relationship between peopie (objective knowing and feeling subjects) and the worid. Itthan settie down to our careers with some sterile (but apparently efficienti «consistency» such as that espoused even by may who see their tasks as « transitional ». Discussion and debate are possibie, art projects of any type are possibie to the same extent that experience is «had» socially. But to say «to the same extent» is to imply real if fluctuating limits. [t may be that we are,just not assiduous enough, or sincere enough, but we simply do not know of anyone who has shown that artists' projects (ieftist or whatever) are not either outside or very ciose to the limits of sociality in respect of any favoured « art for socíety» constituency. No verbal exchange, no horrorshock art work, no imitation of Hertfi eld, and a fortiori no smug managerial distribution of culture to the peopie wili substitute for historical processes. Whether it is knowledge or not (it is not), art of any extant variety is no more a substitute for historical process than is philosophy. [t may heip or hinder in organisation and struggie. lt cannot pronounce that state of organisation and struggie of itself. lt cannot work monolithically. There is good reason to demonstrate within the apparent « space » of art the absurdity and perniciousness of rulingciass culture in ali its guises, and occasionally to utilise a competence in another practical circumstance. But many of those who may believe that this is what they are doing are achieving no more than an insignificant legitimation of that cuiture's favourabie mutations. The varieties of workerworship, massesmawkishness, the fatuous « sociological art » etc. fail to locate the real conditions of social change. The consequence of this is that the cuiturai extraproletarian (bourgeois) lacks a real body to have his solidarity with; and what is the moral force of prociamations of solidarity with fictional participants iii class struggie? Workerworship, workeriovingthroughartioving, etc. etc. invariably reduces to bourgeois hegemony and to the only superficially paradoxical assumption that the workers are doing nothing. So far we have dealt with «errors» rather than «offences». lt is the offence of the curatorial clique that signification, meaning, content, adequacy in performance, etc. have come to reside in the effects of culture as they can be measured by managements. This amounts to the formalisation of oldfashioned artiovers' appreciation. This is, of course, an inversion of practice and frontal attack on the possibility ofpractice. lt is a corollary of bureaucratisatíon, where control passes from the hands of the producers into the hands of the managers. Anyone familiar with it wili recognise the dynamic of modernism here. lt is, of course, simply the dynamic of capital itself. Capital doesn't like real historical activity, ìt likes to controi images of real historical activity. There ' have recentiy been severai exhibitions which modernists might find « awfui » or embarassing. We are thinking of «Towards another Picture» (December 1977January 1978, No,ttingham Castle Museum), «Art for Whom» (Spring 1978, Serpentine Galiery), «Art into Society» (MayJune 1978, Whitechapel Art Galiery). lt is obvious to every medianik that capital requires and encourages images of its own diversity and piurality. This is not practice but its denial. The ratification of reality in consumtion is the denial of its dialectioal volatility at ali points of production; the denial of history, goals and functions of concrete activity. Leftwing art can (some might say must) end up as opportunistically antipeopie, antiunderstanding, and, iust like abstract art, as an excuse for thin research into new curatorial categories. The fact is that a retired miner's painting of miners and a John Hoyiand abstract can be hung « revealingly» next to each other. The trouble comes when we twy to tiw ways to make sense of this (and of other even more daring feats of curatorial juxtaposition). Such juxtaposition, the confiation of everything with anything, simply equals a role or a career for a cuiturai observer. That is, it is the function of such a juxtaposition to legitimate the posiition and status of the detached observer who can « make sense » of such a juxtaposition, in consumption. The dummy power of the consumer over culture (and the dummy power to learn culture as a consumer) is offered as a substituteforthefactthatthe propagation of a cuiturewhich is not hegemonial is only feasibie as a consequence of social revolution. Not only does this excuse the role of culture observer, it encourages others to consider such a role. Are such treats as « Art for Society » índications that art management is catching up? That is, is this present show the result of inexorabie pressure from a body of « socially concerned work », or is it a question of art management renewing its domain of legitimation? The mediocrity and corruption of the English art worid, its absurdity, selfdeception, ersatz thinking and intellectual cowardice are in part due to the enormous number of individuals within it who are doing one thing while in fact «thinking» they are doing another. Most of those concerned in fine art in this country teach. But most of that teaching time is spent avoiding teaching; that is, avoiding the historical condition fo which they are so obviously a part. lnstead, they pretend that they are, you known « artists », that they have a base in more exotic piaces than the polytechnic tea rooms, in Paris, New York etc. Very few of these art teachers understand their liability, their function in relation to students and the academies'. Britain is fuli of teachers pretending to be « artists », « Artists » pretending to be French Philosophers, curators pretending to be revolutionaries etc. etc. Now bourgeois art teachers pretend they are socialist artists feebie work gets a r;ghteous theme and is churned out monotonously bydullards. lt is the same recurring problem: the historical conditions they are really in are ignored in favour of the historical conditions they want, need, believe, feel intimidated into supporting, fee] as though they ought to be in. Recentiy there has been a crop of offensive volunteers to be experts, who wili enabie the peopie to appreciate lefty's art. That such obvious agents of bourgeois legitimation shouid be abie to get away wíth this is evidence of how easy it is to íntimidate the British with art and of how bogus the English art worid'is. Art teachers may achieve quite a lot qua art teachers, but not while they are pretending they are Artists, somehow determined in art history, not as society's alternative ideologists, « imagists», determined by the bureaucratie restrictions of their jobs. The same goes for students. Exhibitions of artforpeopie, lovethepeopie curators and helpthepeopie critics must be seen essentially as revitalisers of bourgeois subjectivist or idealist « discipiínes ». For instance, the organisers and « researchers» of « Art for Society», according to the preface to the catalogue, have learned nothing from their endeavours except how to make more exhibitions of socially radical art. Their support for art into society is to make exhibitions and terefore effectiveiy to rt,move art from a « society » which even they wouid recognise as such. The result of socially progressive art ought to be less not more exhibitions, less not more experts on socially progressive art. The point is this: among the first taks fro anybody who wishes to see the back of the capitalist parody of communìty and communication is to determine what sort of real historical conditions and interests are at work among his « peers » and collaborators, and then to make these clear in arguments, polemics, drawings, àquibs etc. « Leftwing art» is, in generai, not « difficuit to understand». In a superficíal sense it often seems <~easy» and «accessibie» like some popular art and advertising. Uniike these, it is never spontaneous on festive in any that's usefui. lt is, you know, just « understandabie ». Might it be that this is because this work is opportunist and dreary, resting on the halfbaked expectations of art makers (manufacturers?) cossetted by Modernism? « Leftwing art» is tendentiously equivalent to « politica[ art » at the moment. There isn't much explicit rightwing art about. But Art is bougeois. lt respects the system, and that includes political hegemony. Leftwing art (in liberai democracies) thinks art is ever so important, is the shrine of « human values » etc. ]t is, at best, cuituralist; at worst, structurally purbiind. lt wili not admit its marginality and the possibie necessity of this. lt has been said, not very coherentiy, that Fascism aestheticises politics and that Communism politicises art. The Fascist turns the unspeakabie into a quest for purification (therein lies the aesthetic); some « Communists » are enjoined to use past modes to express a vision,of the future (therein lies the politics). Lying uncomfortably between these dummy extremes is « political art », perhaps. The « extremes » don't look quite so much like dummies if you think of one as the Voikische, the other in terms of paintings of Dictator Brezhnev in his medals. One tiresome thing about a lot of recent relevant art is a certain hysteria over art's « audience ». We are increasingiy dissatisfied with the failure of so much contemporary art to communicate with outside a smali circie of initiates.We refuse to accept that art today must inevitabiy be regarded as a marginai, mercantile and misunderstood activity, alienated from most members of its potential audience. (from the coliective statment by the selectors and exhibitors of « Art for Whom»; catologue p. 3). « Art for Whom? » is not mereiy a rhetorical question. lt is the centrai and most urgent challenge confronting artists in our time. Ali other problems, however pressing they may be, must take a subsidiary piace in relation to this one crucial issue. (R. Cork, ibid. p. 5) And the belief is growing, especially among younger artists with no vested interests of either a commerciai or a careerist nature at risk, that they are involved in a ludicrousiy marginai activity of scant pertinence to the mass audience they shouid be trying if they hold out any ambitious hopes for art at ali to reach. (R. Cork « Art for Society's Sake », Art for Society catalogue, p. 47). This ~priggish biather is a direct outcome of a movement away from the dialectical problem of reflections of or matches with productive competences, to ratification in consumption obsession with effect. lt is a mystification by those for whom the object of the whole thing is thattheybeseen asseriousand important or sa intly.,Asking«forwhom» presupposesthat a rtists have a discrete relation to reality and to ali other peopie and can pick and choose whom they want to work for or with. lt presupposes, under the guise of progressive theme, just that which makes art and artists reactionary and often snobbish: that they have nothing to do but drift about in an hiatus worrying themselves silly about what is virtuous. « Society », « the masses », « the pu blic audience », « the working ciass » are ali quantifícations. No amount of guessing and grovelling as to who it is the artist works for wili make an idealist quantification not an idealist quantification. Like exhibitions of art into society, artforthepeopieandthepublic is in fact the removal of realpeopte. lt is a defensibie assertion that this art is more absurd[y idealistic than certain socalied minority art. The panic over art's lack of a mass audience is the same panie as that of TV and advertising executives. As mass manipulators, they seek to protect their interests. The centrai assumption that such peopie make is that their interests are on centre stage front, and that « the audience » sits about and listens. The leftwing artist on centre stage front educates the audience. But this an image of society controlied from ttie top down, and if that isn't elitist, what is? There were 25,000 visitors to « Towards Another Picture », but that is only about half the audience that turns out reguiariy every Saturday to watch a footbali match. (L. Morris, « Towards Another Pieture », Nottígham Quarterly, no. 1 Spring 1978). This panic about audience and effect discfoses the mentality of the gaffer involves a rationalisation quite regardless of the inherent « virtue » of the artist's or curator's theme. This is the continuation of bourgeois reality and a mechanism of ciass domination. ltis also the demonstration par excelience of the practical pusilianimity of virtuous themes. Shouid we ask what art can do? Nothing, without confronting the real mechanisms,of domination. Realism versus Modernism, figurative art v. abstract art are ali otiose (yes) choices.' lt doesn't matter whether one does abstract art or not; the real problem is that artists are educated to have nothing to do except agonise over the amazing virtue of their own cuitured «choices», their dummy ageney in fake reality. Mr. T. dei Renzio remarks in the catalogue of «Art for Society» that what is required is a technical transformation, that Che Guevara posters won't do. lt can be suggested that it is not the relation of fine art to its audience that brings about such a transformation, or even the confrontation of art with its management. The reorganisation of productive circumstances and their pointofproduction collaboration wili mean that the management wili look after itself. lt can join in, it can participate, but onl~ if it ceases to be management. The real problem is not how to make art which is proworkingciass or antibureaucratic, but how to be proworkingciass and antibureaucratic. Fine art has no read history. lt is propped up by metaphysic. Lovethepeopie leftwing fine art is just the same. It has no way of being a technical transformation of the apparatus of rulingciass controi. None of this is addressed to the revitalisation of fine art; rather, it invites the recognition that fine art wili disappear only when the metaphysicians and legitimators of management disappear, and when the grip has been loosened even of those who cling to the possibility of metaphysical sophistication in fine arts as consolation for a lack of community sincereiy lamented. The artist thinks of himself on the centre of the stage, because that is where his management (or he himself as management) has to have him. lt is true that there are many peopie who have no say in the propagation of the dominant« culture». These peopie are not identical with a benighted mass audience, or with a proletariat anxious to receive the handwringing pseudodeference of those who wish to depict some idealised extremity of its life. The benighted mass and the anxious proletariat are m ytho logica I a histo rical. They don't exist. We do not seek an audience. lt must be that we seek and have sought comrades with whom common action may be pursued. A lot of our activity has been organisational and, analytically, antimanagment; that is, not subject to discrete contempiation and measurement. [t doesn't matter if such activities take piace wíth the working ciass (although they may), as long as certain production competences are aggressive to the legisiation and legitimation of the bourgeoisie and its agents. Treating someone as a quantifiable unit rather than a real subject with real understanding is not what we had in mind. There is some work that is not e product of cultura] history, that is itself history which opens production up to the vitality of discussion, laughter and ridicule. For these are Historically powerful more so than discreet connoisseurship, fake research and idie speculation. This work may be sardonic, ironic, vulgar, active, antihegemonic, ha"rd work. lt is not Revolutionary Art, nor is it Mass Art; these ara the delusions (or wo<rse, the mystifications) of the cultura] opportunist, whose most pious hope is the legitimation of bourgeois democratic domìnation. In art for society and its relatives, selfpromotion comes so far before selfcriticism that one is left to wonder if even the trivial adiustment of cultura] directives (which i& its best hope) wili be noticeabiy accomplished. We are nothing unless we are trying to change ourselves as parts of the whole. There are iiiany adepts at using their power to change (or seem to change) bits of the world in order to prevent other bits (themselves) from being changed. These are the ruling ciass and its agents, knowing or not.
Art & Language
(TRA n.6/7 June-September 1978)
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