A hostile comment to me, on this blog, the other day, crystallized something. Rather, it was this specific idea in the diatribe against me, and defending a certain anti-artist (according to his interpretation) that stood out in particular:

He is deflating the significance of the artist

Deflating the significance of the artist is a good thing, an important thing, and a necessary thing, apparently, in the social evolution of our species.

This suggested a connection between anti-art, and anti-artist. I’d accepted anti-art as a style, and a movement, spawned by Duchamp, and carried on through the likes of Warhol and Koons into the very present. But I hadn’t linked it to a concept of anti-artist. I had a suspicion, and I did some research on anti-art, and it turns out that it is synonymous with anti-artist, and this has become the dominant paradigm in the contemporary art-world today.

I’d wondered why my ideas about art are so offensive, and why I get banned from online contemporary art forums. when I am always less combative and insulting than the people who disagree with me, and try to stick to objective standards of debate (especially avoiding the personal attack, which I get volleyed at me incessantly). People who love contemporary art and art theory hate my views, and hate my art, and say so. The reason is that I am pro-art, pro-artist, pro-painting/visual art, and pro-history of visual art. Much of the contemporary outlook is either a direct war on those things, or a not-quite-conscious, indirect opposition to them.

If I were to ask the average educated person on the street to name a living artist, they could probably come up with Banksy, or Jeff Koons, or Damien Hirst. If I asked them to name a contemporary painter, they might be able to name David Hockney, but he’s over 80 years old. Living painters are virtually unknown outside of the art world, and not that respected within it. Deflating the artist (every example my would-be nemesis provided were of painters) might be as difficult as culling the pesky flocks of Dodo birds.

Let’s visit the Anti-Art entry of Wikipedia, which is sympathetic to the anti-art movement. Here are its outstanding attributes:

  • An aim of anti-art can be to undermine or understate individual creativity.
  • Duchamp compared art with religion, whereby he stated that he wished to do away with art the same way many have done away with religion.
  • Rejects prior definitions of art and questions art in general.
  • Where art was concerned with traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics completely. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend. Through their rejection of traditional culture and aesthetics the Dadaists hoped to destroy traditional culture and aesthetics.
  • May express an outright rejection of having conventionally defined criteria as a means of defining what art is, and what it is not.
  • May reject conventional artistic standards altogether.
  • May reject “universality” as an accepted factor in art.
  • Some forms of anti-art reject art entirely, or reject the idea that art is a separate realm or specialization.
  • Anti-artworks may also reject art based upon a consideration of art as being oppressive of a segment of the population.
  • Anti-art artworks may voice a question as to whether “art” really exists or not.
  • Constructivism rejected art in its entirety and as a specific activity creating a universal aesthetic in favour of practices directed towards social purposes, “useful” to everyday life, such as graphic design, advertising and photography.
  • Maciunas strived to uphold his stated aims of demonstrating the artist’s ‘non-professional status…his dispensability and inclusiveness’ and that ‘anything can be art and anyone can do it.’
  • Fluxus artists used their minimal performances to blur the distinction between life and art.
  • According to the philosopher Roger Taylor the concept of art is not universal but is an invention of bourgeois ideology helping to promote this social order. He compares it to a cancer that colonises other forms of life so that it becomes difficult to distinguish one from the other.
  • In 1919, in the Berlin group, the Dadaist revolutionary central council outlined the Dadaist ideals of radical communism.
  • Surrealist praxis looked to overshadow both the arts and politics. Politically, Surrealism was ultra-leftist, communist, or anarchist

Wow! It’s all there. I can see the incipient justification for all the political art, the art that prides itself on being offensive, and ongoing attempts to be radical and reject the past…

My favorite part is the opposition to creativity. The rejection of individuality comes in second place. If you can’t use creativity to express your individual existence, that pretty much makes art, in the traditional sense, impossible. And all this is in the service of usually radical, revolutionary politics, with communism in particular cropping up all over the place. We even arrive at art being a “cancer”, in part because it is a supposed bourgeois conception.

Shit, there’s just no room in any of that for an artist to use his or her imagination to make a visually coherent and captivating image, especially if it requires a certain amount of skill and/or talent to do so.

Then I realized this isn’t just a movement against history, but also against a kind of person. This person may not be an artificially-propped-up category of people, or represent a privileged role, as they’d have us think, but might just refer to people with certain abilities, orientations, proclivities, and interests, as broad as, say, “musicians”. Anti-art and anti-artist rhetoric and sensibilities are the visual equivalent of being anti-music and anti-musician.

If you are going to attack the individuality and creativity of artists, are you not attacking everyone’s individuality and creativity? If we reduce art to indistinguishable from any other kind of “making” or “doing”, as Duchamp would have us do, are we reducing all other human activity to equally, and equally meaningless endeavors? Or are we only shitting on artists, or only on visual artists?

A very curious aspect of contemporary art history I’ve caught on to recently is that painting — which is seen as synonymous with visual art proper (making imagery, wether abstract or representations, using visual language) — is now understood not as a genre, like music, but as a style in a linear history of art, which has been superseded by conceptual art, and is now as backwards, irrelevant, and redundant as a pre-copernican paradigm in which the Earth was at the center of the universe.

My unforgivable sin,which makes me a pariah in the art world, is to assert that visual art is a timeless genre, a primary mode of human communication (visual language), and that there’s not only nothing wrong with being a visual artist, or of an individual visually manifesting his or her inner life, it’s a very good thing, and an essential one.

~ Ends





5 replies on “If You Are Pro-Art, Pro-Artist, and Pro-Painting, You Are A Pariah

  1. Hi, Eric.
    I once took a ‘deep relaxation’ courselette and one thing stuck therefrom in my ol’ mind is the saying, “Hatred floats on a sea of fear”.
    You’re dealing with purveyors of or believers in the emperor’s new clothes who fear your ideas and speech. Of course, I don’t believe you need me to tell you this, I was just struck by the usefulness of an old learning.


    1. Thanks Ficus: There’s might be some truth in that. I imagine that these people really believe the whole anti-art, postmodern paradigm, and I’m guessing some of them learned this in college, in which case, if it’s ultimately really overrated and the truth is somewhere on the other end of the spectrum, or even in the middle, they may have wasted a lot of time and money, and in the prime of their lives, at the most critical period. It happened to me! Much of what I write about if a rejection of my education.

      I do think if people take Duchamp’s urinal as some great work of art, and not as a cute prank, than, yeah, they might be skating on really thin ice, and might be defensive about that. The people who defend Sherrie Levine’s photos of Walker Evan’s photos, or Martin Creed’s crumpled pieces of paper might suspect that they have a tough case to make.

      I am criticizing their beliefs, and that’s not going to go over well.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  2. Not just you my frend. I was one asked to leave the opening of a new exhibit in the austin museum of modern art. There was a half used box of prismacolor pencels on a pedestal and I asked the docent how much it was worth because I have the same peace at home on my work table. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sometimes a box of pencils is just a box of pencils. I wonder if the artist tossed it into the collection just to see if they would actually display it.

        Liked by 1 person

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