26 January 2009

After the bubble

There have been several articles recently about why the financial crisis/recession/Even Greater Depression will be good for the art world (see here and here). These tend to take the same form: the art world has got bloated and decadent, and the recession will get rid of the dead wood and make it all strong and pure again.

As a somewhat extreme counterexample, take the Weimar Republic. It was also portrayed by conservative critics as bloated and decadent, what with its cabarets and jazz and modern painting and all. Then came the Great Depression, and people found out what getting rid of the dead wood and making everything strong and pure again really means.

Sure, there is a good case to be made that the recent art market has been a classic investment bubble. Clearly, regardless of the recent record prices for contemporary art, we haven’t been living through a golden age of art. How anyone ever thought the market value of an art work is in any way related to its (for want of a better term) aesthetic value is beyond me.

However, the idea doing the rounds seems to be that, if a strong art market equals lots of bad art, then a weak art market equals lots of good art. This is ludicrous.

There is no guarantee that tough times equal better art. Only breezy columnists with a deadline too close for considered thought would suggest so. Tough times guarantee tough times. The good artists went their own way when the art market went mad, and they’ll carry on going their own way now that it’s gone bad. It’ll just be harder.

22 January 2009

A resolution

I don't usually do new year's resolutions, but this year I resolve to not go on about what sad-arse cunts the Barrs are.

I tend to buy books from Quilters in Lambton Quay. My advice is, if you're going to sell books to a second-hand dealer, either remove the name from the front page or rub out the nong underlining you've done on the wrong bits of the text, you fucking twits. We know you're stupid.

Okay, that's the last of it. Honestly, it is. Honest.

Aleatory art

So I've been thinking about artists' intentions and the illusory nature of the self, and then I read The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. Now, this is one of those books that I've been meaning to read for 20 years or so. Friends have raved about it, and The Fall wrote a doozy of a song about it.

I quite enjoyed the book at the start, but then it paled. But first, some background.

There are several arguments for why neither the world nor the self exist. I'm not going to go into them now (though I do quite like this one). The Dice Man recognises this, and comes up with a method for allowing what he calls the minority selves to come into their own by giving over his free will to the dice.

The philosophers of art reckon artists' intentions are important. It's another complicated area I won't get into in any detail now. Basically, for example, an allegorical painting can't be allegorical unless it was intended to be allegorical. But if the artist's self is illusory, who or what is doing the intending?

There is a good tradition of randomness in art. Hans Arp ripped up pieces of paper and dropped them on to another piece of paper, then glued them where they fell. Tristan Tzara applied this idea to poetry and pulled words out of a hat (which was then ripped off by Billy Burroughs to become what he called the cut-up method). Duchamp did Three standard stoppages, where he dropped three metre-length strings from a metre's height and glued them where they lay, to use as measurements (ye gods, he did do some shit work, didn't he!?).

In each of these cases, randomness, rather than the artist, determines the work. Intentions don't come into it (well, directly at least).

So is the answer simply to randomly determine the form and content of art work?

I'm afraid the answer is no. This is the problem I had with the Dice Man. Replacing the dictatorship of an illusory self by the dictatorship of chance is no advance at all - you're still suffering under a dictatorship. A system based on randomness is still a system.

I'm not sure what the solution is.

13 January 2009

Chucking in my job

Yesterday, I told my colleagues I’m chucking in my job to go to art school (at Massey no less). Yep, the start of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression is just the right time to give up your relatively safe public service job. The course starts at the end of Feb, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve had an amusing range of comments about it. The answer to ‘I hope you know what you’re doing’ is no, but that’s nothing new.

In other news, my brother got married the other day. This involved a cruise up the Whanganui River on the Wairua, which was built in 1904 and spent 30 years at the bottom of the river before being restored (which took another 18 years). Jo has put up some photos here.
visitors since 29 March 2004.