Throughout the 20th century, there was a powerful idea that there could be a homogeneous experience which would culminate into a revolutionary 'working class culture.' Whether represented through the USSR's Prolekult during the 1920s, the Mexican muralists and American Artist Union in the 1930s, or by the artists associated with the Art Workers Coalition in the 1960s-70s, each movement sought to create artworks which would transcend the decadent forms characteristic of bourgeois culture. However, since the variety of revolutionary aspirations of all these groups ultimately failed to transform society in an emancipatory direction, the merits and potentiality of a coherent working-class culture have been thrown into question. This panel seeks to explore the concept of working-class culture, its history, and what it might mean today.
A talk and guided discussion held at Left Forum 2013, at Pace University, on June 8th, 2013.
If it is true that the 'commodity-structure' (Lukacs) is the defining feature of modern capitalism down through the present, then it stands to reason that it has no less impacted the way art is produced, consumed, circulated, and exchanged. This shift in art's character happened both objectively (e.g., as in an article produced for exchange on the market), and subjectively (i.e., as a kind of experience and form of expression for the social and individual body). However, art's relationship to its status as a commodity is an ambivalent one: Art has become at once more free from past forms of domination, but its freedom is constrained when subject to the dynamics of capital. Art as a commodity is both its cure and poison, and has become a social problem for its practice. Since becoming aware of this problem, artists, philosophers, curators, and critics have taken various approaches in seeking to overcome it. How has art under a capitalist society changed from its pre-capitalist practices? What is the commodity-form, and what is art's relationship to its logic? Must art seek emancipation from the commodity-form, or is it at home in it? In what sense does art take part in the Left and emancipatory politics -- a practice also seeking to overcome the commodity-form -- if at all? By asking these questions, this panel seeks to reinvestigate art's relationship to the commodity form, and make intelligible how this problematic relationship still sticks with us today.
1. How do you define the terms ‘art,’ and ‘commodity?’ In what ways does art in capitalist society differ from art in precapitalist society? How would you posit the relationship between art and the ‘commodity-structure’ of capitalism? Is art already a commodity from the start, or does it get ‘commodified’ only when integrated in the market? Are there ways that art can resist its commodification, and if so, how?
2. Acknowledging that the issue of art and commodity is not a new question, what troubles this discourse today? How has art’s relationship to the commodity-form changed over time, and what does it look like now? Do we understand the problem better than our predecessors, or are we in a worse mode of understanding?
3. If emancipatory politics is the objective, does overcoming capitalism necessarily follow the abolition of art’s status as a commodity? Do contemporary attempts in ‘dematerialized’ or ‘process-based’ art practices (e.g., social practice, pedagogical projects, or institutional critique) challenge the commodity status of the art object, and if so, how? Should art even seek emancipation from the commodity? In what sense does art take part in the Left and emancipatory politics -- a practice also seeking to overcome the commodity-form -- if at all? 4. How do you position yourself as cultural production within this dialogue? If this is a question about the work of arts’ mode of production in society, and opens up the question of class, then in what ways specifically does your work—or other contemporary art work—respond to class consciousness? What role does criticism or art play towards an emancipatory politics?
In the mid-19th century, Marx and Engels famously observed in the Communist Manifesto that a specter was haunting Europe: the specter of Communism. 160 years later, it is Marxism itself that haunts us.
In the 21st century, it seems that the Left abandoned Marxism as a path to freedom. But Marx critically intervened in his own moment and emboldened leftists to challenge society; is the Left not tasked with this today? Has the Left resolved the problems posed by Marx, and thus moved on?
With Platypus Affiliated Society member Chris Mansour.
A panel discussion organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society, held on March 19, 2011 at Left Forum, Pace University.
Panel Abstract: This panel will focus on the aesthetic tropes that activists use to express political dissent. Theatrical gestures such as street art (e.g., glamdalism), dance parties (e.g., Funk the War), or costumes have found their way into protest tactics. Simultaneously, many contemporary artists create 'activist' or 'social' art by pulling off media pranks against the government or corporations (e.g., Yes Men), reenact past protests (e.g., Mark Tribe or Sharon Hayes) and other forms of public performances. What are the historical roots that contribute to the use of current aesthetic interventions in political protests? In what ways do they expand or limit the possibilities for protests to transform the social order? How does experimenting with aesthetic and artistic sensibilities influence our political consciousness and practice? Political thinkers and art-activists will address these questions in order to make sense of the various forms of protest today.
Chris Mansour - Parsons School of Design, Platypus Affiliated Society
Jamie Keesling - 491
Laurel Whitney - Yes Men
Marc Herbst - Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, Reclaim the Streets
Stephen Duncombe - New York University
An all day symposium, "What is Critique?" was held on Nov. 20th, 2010 at the New School in New York City. The first video is from the afternoon panel, entitled The Art Critique: Its History, Theories, and Practices. This panel consisted of Tom Butter, Simone Douglas, and James Elkins; it was moderated by Laurie Rojas. The second video is documentation of the evening panel, entitled The Relevance of Critical Theory to Art Today. The panel consisted of J.M. Bernstein, Chris Cutrone, Lydia Goehr, and Gregg Horowitz; it was moderated by Chris Mansour.
Abstract: What is Critique? is an all day symposium that consists of panel discussions with artists, critics, teachers, and students city-wide that investigates the role that art critiques and criticism play in art production. The first half of the day will focus on the nature and function of art critiques as a form criticism and pedagogy. The latter part of the day will be a panel discussion addressing the relationship between critical theory, art production and art reception.
The Art Critique: Its History, Theories, and Practices
The Relevance of Critical Theory to Art Today
James Elkins grew up in Ithaca, New York, separated from Cornell University by a quarter-mile of woods once owned by the naturalist Laurence Palmer.
He stayed on in Ithaca long enough to get the BA degree (in English and Art History), with summer hitchhiking trips to Alaska, Mexico, Guatemala, the Caribbean, and Columbia. For the last twenty-five years he has lived in Chicago; he got a graduate degree in painting, and then switched to Art History, got another graduate degree, and went on to do the PhD in Art History, which he finished in 1989. (All from the University of Chicago.) Since then he has been teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently E.C. Chadbourne Chair in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism.
His writing focuses on the history and theory of images in art, science, and nature. Some of his books are exclusively on fine art (What Painting Is, Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles?). Others include scientific and non-art images, writing systems, and archaeology (The Domain of Images, On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them), and some are about natural history (How to Use Your Eyes).
Current projects include a series called the Stone Summer Theory Institutes, a book called The Project of Painting: 1900-2000, a series calledTheories of Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Art, and a book written against Camera Lucida.
He married Margaret MacNamidhe in 1994 on Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands, off the West coast of Ireland. Margaret is also an art historian, with a specialty in Delacroix. Jim’s interests include microscopy (with a Zeiss Nomarski differential interference microscope and Anoptral phase contrast), optics (he owns an ophthalmologist’s slit-lamp microscope), stereo photography (with a Realist camera), playing piano, and (whenever possible) winter ocean diving.
Tom Butter has been exhibiting sculpture, drawings and prints in NYC and internationally since 1980. His work is included in several museum collections in the United States, and has been reviewed in many art publications. Recipient of 3 NEA Grants and 2 New York Foundation for the Arts Grants, Butter has taught in many east coast fine art programs, including those at RISD, Tyler, Yale University, Harvard, University of the Arts, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, MICA. A member of the faculty at Parsons the New School for Design in the Fine Arts Department since 1986, he was recently Director of the MFA Program ’06-’07. Currently adjunct faculty at Parsons and Brooklyn College (CUNY), staff writer Whitehot Magazine, website:www.tombutter.com
Simone Douglas is the director of the MFA in Fine Arts at Parsons. She works across photography, video and installation, and has curated numerous exhibitions. Her works have been exhibited internationally at, and are held in, collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney; and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Additional exhibitions include at the Photographers Gallery, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. She was project director and curator for Picture Sydney: landmarks of a new generation at the Australian Museum, a Getty Conservation Institute Initiative. She has been a guest scholar at Koln International School of Design, and initiated the international art and design collective Conjecture and served on the Board of Directors at First Draft Gallery, Sydney. Most recently, Simone is running an international visual research project, The Exquisite Corpse. Before joining the faculty at Parsons, Simone held faculty posts at the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW; National Art School, Sydney; and Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney (tenured) where she is currently an honorary faculty member. She holds an M.F.A. and a Grad. Dip. Prof. Art Studies from the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW and a B.A. in Visual Arts from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney
Gregg M. Horowitz is Chair of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. He works on the philosophy of art and art history, political philosophy, and psychoanalysis. He has special research interests in the relation of aesthetics, cultural theory and art criticism to critical social theory.
Horowitz is the author of SUSTAINING LOSS: ART AND MOURNFUL LIFE (Stanford University Press, 2001), and, with A. Danto and T. Huhn, THE WAKE OF ART: CRITICISM, PHILOSOPHY, AND THE ENDS OF TASTE (Gordon and Breech, 1998). More recently, he has authored “The Residue of History: Dark Play in Schiller and Hegel” in GERMAN IDEALISM – AN INTERNATIONAL YEARBOOK (Walter de Gruyter, 2007), pp.179-98 and essays on Andreas Gursky, Tony Oursler, and Wallace Stevens.
Lydia Goehr is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. She is one of the 2009-2010 recipients of the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for exceptional teaching in Arts & Sciences. In 2005, she received a Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching and in 2007-8 was recipient The Graduate Student Advisory Council (GSAC)’s Faculty Mentoring Award (FMA). She has also been a recipient of Mellon, Getty, and Guggenheim Fellowships, and in 1997 was the Visiting Ernest Bloch Professor in the Music Department at U. California, Berkeley, where she gave a series of lectures on Richard Wagner. She has been a Trustee of the American Society for Aesthetics. In 2002-3, she was the visiting Aby Warburg Professor in Hamburg and a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. In 2005-6, she delivered the Royal Holloway-British Library Lectures in Musicology in London and the Wort Lectures at Cambridge University. In 2008, she was a Visiting Professor at the Freie Universität, Berlin (Cluster: “The Language of Emotions”) and in 2009, a visiting professor in the FU-Berlin SFB Theater und Fest. She is the author of The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (1992; second edition with a new essay, 2007); The Quest for Voice: Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy [essays on Richard Wagner] (1998); Elective Affinities: Musical Essays on the History of Aesthetic Theory [essays on Adorno and Danto] (2008), and co-editor with Daniel Herwitz of The Don Giovanni Moment. Essays on the legacy of an Opera (2006). She has written many articles, most recently on the work of Theodor W. Adorno, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Arthur Danto. She offers courses in the history of aesthetic theory, the contemporary philosophy of the arts, critical theory, and the philosophy of history. Her research interests are in German aesthetic theory and in particular in the relationship between philosophy, politics, history, and music. With Gregg Horowitz, she is series editor of Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts, Columbia University Press. She is presently writing a book on the contest of the arts.
Jay Bernstein is Chair and University Distinguished Professor in Philosophy at The New School for Social Research. He received his BA in 1970 from Trinity College in Religion and his PhD in 1975 from the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of numerous books and articles on philosophy; his recent books on art include The Fate of Art and Against Voluptuous Bodies: Late Modernism and the Meaning of Painting.
Chris Cutrone teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago, where he is completing his dissertation on Adorno’s Marxism. He is the original lead organizer of Platypus.