Last Thursday, the New York Times published a well thought out argument about art in the current economic melt down by Holland Cotter. Jerry Saltz, an art critic posted an inflammatory remark on his Facebook profile ("Jerry is disgusted by self-appointed Savonarolas demonizing the art world as if it were one thing; demanding that artists get SECOND jobs (and work in hospitals"). and quite a little kerfuffle ensued. I love the drama.
Cotter's points are well taken in my opinion. Artists do shape the game. Always have and always will. Reality and how we live is often the trickle down affect of artists imagining. My thing has been artists making a living. It isn't easy but it is essential if we are to live in a humane world. Artists humanize us and show us our best and worst aspects. The gallery system and museum world provides a view of a tiny sliver of art activity. The current crisis provides the opportunity for huge breakthroughs to happen because that is the result of crisis. Artists can become visible in the world now.
"And in every case it has been artists who have reshaped the game." Speaking to the shift.
"At the same time, if the example of past crises holds true, artists can also take over the factory, make the art industry their own. Collectively and individually they can customize the machinery, alter the modes of distribution, adjust the rate of production to allow for organic growth, for shifts in purpose and direction. They can daydream and concentrate. They can make nothing for a while, or make something and make it wrong, and fail in peace, and start again." My particular favorite idea in Cotter's thesis. I believe the artist must be engaged on production. When art is produced and distributed by the artists, its very nature changes. Dealers, critics and curators no longer power the expression. The artist has control.
"Such changes would require new ways of thinking and writing about art, so critics will need to go back to school, miss a few parties and hit the books and the Internet. Debate about a “crisis in criticism” gets batted around the art world periodically, suggesting nostalgia for old-style traffic-cop tastemakers like Clement Greenberg who invented movements and managed careers. But if there is a crisis, it is not a crisis of power; it’s a crisis of knowledge. Simply put, we don’t know enough, about the past or about any cultures other than our own." I love this and it is absolutely true. We know nothing! We are learning, at least those of us paying attention to those talking all over the world. We are learning so fast, relative to the near past, that we can barely keep up. The revelation that we are as ignorant as we are is shocking, to me at least. But from here I can proceed hopefully with a little humility, and continue to pay attention. That is the job at hand.