Julian Stallabrass – Art Incorporated: The Story of Contemporary Art

For class Wednesday, read “Uses and prices of art” (chapter 4) – in Julian Stallabrass – Art Incorporated: The Story of Contemporary Art and respond below.

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3 thoughts on “Julian Stallabrass – Art Incorporated: The Story of Contemporary Art

  1. This passage got me right in the gut:

    “Artists are singularly ill-informed about their prospects for success, are prone to taking risks, are poor but come from wealthy backgrounds (an anomaly since most poor people have poor backgrounds, but one does not have to search far for the reason for it), and tend to subsidize their art-making out of other earnings. These factors, claim Abbing, cause the art world to be permanently overcrowded, making the poverty of artists a structural feature.
    -snip-
    Increasing subsidies would make matters worse, since it would merely encourage more to try their hand. What is more, the poverty of artists contributes to the status of the arts, for the few successes should be seen to be picked from a vast pool, and all artists should be seen to risk poverty in their pursuit of free expression.”

    In general, I agree with Stallabrass’s assessment of the state of art regarding sales, wealth, investment, inflated value, and artistic delusion. It seems like the end times through that prism. Within his argument, however, there are the seeds of a fundamental shift that I think we are only just realizing, though it surely has echos from the sixties and seventies, and will be dismissed on those grounds initially.

    Early in the chapter he states “This is the defining characteristic of art as against other areas
    of high culture: drama, the concert, or opera achieve exclusivity through requiring that an audience be present at a live performance (and of course high art can do this, too); other forms—novels, poetry, music, and film—produce objects that are industrially fabricated in large numbers and are widely owned. Only in high art is the core business the production of rare or unique objects that can only be owned by the very wealthy, whether they are states, businesses, or individuals.”

    I am as cynical as possible to the prospect that I will be handsomely remunerated for my efforts at artmaking, specifically when I hold on to the idea that said remuneration will come in the form of monetary gain. I am strikingly optimistic, however, that if the contemporary art community as a whole finally groks this situation, it will start to seek out a different sort of profit from which to exact from the audience. I am speaking of a positive, interactive, and socially aware type of art that, instead of regaling you with bold color or fancy mimetics, seeks a two-way transaction, one designed to infuse the viewer with wonder, joy, and a subtle, non-didactic urge toward the possibility that we can all still work together. What does the artist gain from this? A sense of meaningful work, work done not for the allure of financial gain, but for the lure of a joyous or sublime moment, an elevation of the commons, and the people that people it. We have to redefine what an artist is, and more specifically what his/her function is to be in the future. Artists should not dumb down their practice, but neither should they tailor it to the investment potential of corporate dollars. After a period of goodwill building across society as a whole, we can then trot out the old conceptual models once again, and they may actually be ready for it.

    Witness the recent upsurge in the handmade, the local, the DIY community, and online shops such as Etsy, where upcycling from the waste stream of our culture has become a feel-good practice. The effluvium of corporate production has left all this stuff behind, and we now set about to make beautiful experiences from it, by hacking it, misusing it, etc.

    The regular folks know that they can’t afford high art, so you can watch their faces light up when you tell them that this experience, or this ephemeral object, or this performance is indeed free. Yes, free as in beer. We asked the wrong things from the art audience for a long time, we asked them to cough up the dough for our unsolicited cultural production, laws of supply and demand be damned! To that extent, they (the common people) mostly wrote us off as irrelevant navel-gazers, picture makers, and elitists. We chased the idea that you could trade art for money, and it gave us obscurity and a backlog of product. We know better now, and we know we can find that new purpose.

    Ive heard it said: “Collaboration is the new competition”. I like that. Forget the money. You can’t eat it, and it won’t kiss you back.

  2. I think it is largely the strange distance that art often generates from the society that it is critiquing that creates the black hole of money and few successes. In removing itself, in a less than sober way, from many of the social norms it is therefore monetarily overlooked. In other words if the educated (such as the gallery going population of Europe as mentioned in the article) are the ones to take note of artists, and the wealthy are the only ones to buy the work then we are missing out on the whole sess pool of snuggy buying, trinket collecting, wonder this-and- that purchasing agents that feed off the need to buy non-utilitarian items and generate billions for these oddities. Of course, this would require a nightmarish upheaval of many artists’ practices from the pre-disposed prestige to the fast and grab pedestrian mode that fuels this kind of incessant collecting. There is of course a double standard here. Unlike most art, this kind of trinketry doesn’t require a whole lot of thought on behalf of its audience and is often less than eloquent, but still, maybe we should adopt some of the rules from these irregular fields. How can we create impulse buying for art? Maybe we could offer our work for three easy-payments of such and such an amount. In all seriousness, the continued reliance on galleries as one of the predominant forces for selling art looks more and more like the antithesis to our fast pace, buy-it-online culture. The gallery is like a distilled environment in comparison, which certainly doesn’t play on the impulse methodology of many of the non-utilitarian items in the rest of society.

    The problem with art in conjunction with corporation, or with any means in which art’s autonomy is threatened, is that it seems that the corporations are interested merely in adopting the image of being culturally relevant, rather than internalizing much of what the art is trying to communicate within or about the culture itself, and even if they are genuine I think there is a tendency from many artists to be leery. This almost has the feel of victimizing art, taking advantage of it or abusing it in such a way that the corporation is made to look good, while being disingenuous about its true cultural awareness. I think that this dilemma is part of what cripples art in its monetary status to a large degree. It would be like Echo’s art being supported by BP, because if such a corporation supports it, it immediately eradicates the integrity or purpose of the work. I think that while refusal to “sell-out” (if I may use such a broad term) is part of what gives art its power, and allows it to see through the things that are ignored by others, it simultaneously creates a great deal of friction in terms of obtaining money. Advertisers aren’t choosey, companies don’t care whom they sell to, the goal is the profit, while with art the money is desired but not generally desired as the end result or the ultimate goal. With art making money means that something else can be achieved. Ultimately we are protective of this thing we do, preserving its autonomy, its status, and of course writhing in poverty to do so.

  3. If last weeks reading was a critique of Modernism’s place in the current art conversation this weeks reading asks the same question of Post Modernism.
    I was very intrigued by Stallabrass’ comments on the tensions between art made in an academic setting and work produced for the popular art market. It brings up the idea of culture turning art into a commodity but also the artist.
    I agree with his viewpoint that suggests art made in an academic setting needs an administrator to digest. It seems that there is a whole culture with history and critical theory behind the images that we see in museums and galleries. This idea seems unfair to me. I want to broaden that scope.
    Visual art is a form of communication that transcends the need for words yet art stemming from the university culture needs a story behind it to make it valid. He mentions the lecturing artist as a model; the art doesn’t or shouldn’t stand-alone. It’s like saying that the artist is the art and the object is simply an illustration of their research. He mentions that academia attempts to set apart the weekend artist from the professional by inserting a new language that a small amount of our population can fluidly speak.
    In reference to Liam Gillick’s work, I feel Stallabrass has chosen a good example of an artist who functions within the world of academia versus the popular art market. His work centers around a meta-narrative, or story about a story by making works about short books that he has written. In my opinion it is a bit pretentious and willfully excludes a large section of people from entering the work. The writer is admitting that the audience for work that stems from the academic setting is already limited and narrowed in its scope and Gillick takes it a step forward by requiring the viewer to digest his writing in order to fully engage with his work.

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