BT Robinson

Claire Bishop: Reading #1

In Photographic Interaction on February 9, 2011 at 5:44 pm

(Original Article)

The arena of social art has been, as you know, ignored for the most part at UNCG. So, to enter the conversation that writer Jennifer Roche and and art critic Claire Bishop is, to say the least, difficult. You expected this, yet I still feel the need to preamble my thoughts with this warning:

I have no idea what the fuck I’m talking about.

That said, let’s begin.

At base level is this idea that there is dichotomy between aesthetic and praxis, that the two must be considered on different levels, or perhaps even for different projects. Surely, a work that seeks to bring light to, say, a forgotten or unknown tribe, or maybe a visceral response to gender roles in various cultues, does not need to consider how the the performance or show looks. Of course, saying “looks” reduces the notion of aesthetic too simply. Aesthetic is what the critic criticizes. It is the elements of a piece, object- or experience-oriented, that can be addressed, valued, and potentially improved.

In other words, how do we critique something like the Super G? Does it revolve around how much influence it has? How many people show up to the talks, or visit the gallery? Art in the present tense should not play such number games, especially if the idea is to “improve” the aesthetic, or give weights or standards to to aesthetic qualities. Do we discuss the moral implications of the artists’ intentions, or if they seem divergent, place a wedge between the two, in order to evaluate the merits or influence of each?

Perhaps even my understanding of ethics is too generic as I approach this article. Bishop says that this is where the critical examination of socially-engaged art has rested. Perhaps understanding where it has been will help to see where it must go.

They mention the artifice of Dada, which makes sense in showing the relationship between ethics and intentions in the past. For, while much of what Dada had done breeched art boundaries nearer to the cusp of performance art, they did so with the intention to break apart the observer’s relationship to the art piece, to create an unease in the place of passive observation, or simply, boringly, to challenge conventions. But in their meticulous calculations, the relationship is not fostered but only rendered brutally for the sake of shock and the novel. In order for socially-engaged art, art as experience, to carry forward, there must be some deeper level achieved.

The place Bishop looks today for the most hope are the places that bring forward the “contradictory pull of autonomy and social intervention, and reflect on this antinomy both in the structure of the work and in the conditions of it’s reception.” I’m going to attempt to break this down for my own understanding. I invite comments on this, as well as the rest of this entry, if anyone has insight.

Autonomy is the ability of a self to move as a free agent in one’s own desires. Social intervention requires the investment of others outside the self, and creates vision that does not belong to the self alone but to the collective, however great or small. The contradiction is apparent, yet both are equally valued, the former it seems as more of an Art-with-a-capital-A practice, and the latter, a more experiential practice. Yet both exist, as the artist has vision for the direction of a project, yet the most compelling works allow the other to intervene and create a meaning most likely very distant from that of the artist. How do both exist together? What are the ramifications? Though this article was written in 2006, five years later, we’re still working through these murky, unknown territories.

And I have to go to class, so I might look at this more later.

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