13 March 2008

Art & Political Consequences

Over at Conscientious Jörg Colberg linked to this interview with writer and critic Dave Hickey about whom I do not know much. Thanks Jörg! Hickey seems pretty irreverant and pretty full of himself, but for those reasons also pretty interesting. I really like his views on the role of professors. Here is one part of the exchange that grabbed me:

SH: Why do you think people are interested in art?

DH: I think they want to touch the source of something, you know? It doesn’t make people better. It doesn’t make them happier. It doesn’t make them smarter, and you can’t teach people to do it or like it. So who knows?

SH: Can you teach people how to see more sensitively?

DH: Danger makes us see more sensitively—anxiety—the prospect of the gallows. But you either see or you don’t. I think you want to learn about art because you had an experience of some sort—a totally nonredemptive but vaguely exciting experience, like brushing up against a girl with big boobs in the subway. It’s about that level of intensity. So you want to find out more about it since its sources are so mysterious, and these sources reside in you as well as in the object. But I have no evangelical feelings about art at all. I despise art education. Art doesn’t lend itself to education. There is no knowledge there. It’s a set of propositions about how things should look.

SH: Like an aesthetic proposition?

DH: Yeah. It doesn’t contain any truth. It doesn’t contain any fact. It’s just a proposition to be argued for or against.

SH: There are a number of artists I know who want to make art out of a political impulse, and this impulse seems kind of incompatible with art-making.

DH: The political impulse is fine but moot. Art has political consequences, which is to say, it reorganizes society and creates constituencies of people around it. Miles Davis creates a constituency. Andy Warhol creates a constituency, and any object or occasion that organizes people in terms of what they want is a political constituency. The idea of political content is irrelevant. Content is irrelevant. I always tell my students, “Never forget you’re writing words! You know, word one, word two, word three, word four. The words have to be organized. Nothing else does.”

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Blogger noni said...

thought process...stand by photography. so it come out as nice blog..
a room with various windows....

14 March, 2008 02:24  
Anonymous jason said...

"The idea of political content is irrelevant. Content is irrelevant."

Yeah, and this is where the "pretty full of himself" part comes in. I guess Hickey assumes that whatever's uninteresting to him, must be irrelevant for everyone else too.

"this [political] impulse seems kind of incompatible with art-making,"

I'm wondering if you've now heard this popular art-world refrain enough times as to have an opinion on why it remains so prevalent, and also whether or not it's worth arguing about (the refrain itself, not the reason for its popularity).

14 March, 2008 10:38  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Jason, I actually note in my sidebar a whole bunch of people who depart from the 'official' art-world view on politics. What is interesting is how rarely these views are recognized.

I agree with Hickey that among the things art does is to coordinate constiuencies. This, as he notes, has clear implications for thinking abaout politics. But what the art-world folks neglect to mention is that they rely on art to coordinate constituencies of taste and purchasing power. And they don't find that at all objectionable! They simply want to selecively focus on the sorts of effects art might have.

14 March, 2008 13:49  

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