March 3, 2008

Sham or Success?

“The continued expansion of a globalized digital network is redefining the postconceptual period. It fosters an invasive, but loved stream of super-saturated stimulation that one must learn to live with. The sheer amount of options available to anyone, anytime, has stripped ideas and objects of any proprietary qualities they once may have had. This model suggests that the increased scale in which we interact with the world presents an ethical dilemma for artists. Applied to how one defines art, as either a 'sham or a success,' I suggest that the new form of digital existence has nullified this type of judgment all together . . .

The overstimulation and assault to the psyche of an individual manifests on many levels. By default a person absorbs so much more information than in previous epochs. To provoke shock, stun, confuse, bewilder, or to make one think in the 21st century is increasingly difficult. The atmosphere of our ever expanding and increasingly skeptical community is formed by a cumulative series of world events. With so much stuff happening around us, how is it even possible to determine something as good or bad? While the art world may exist detached from the before mentioned socio-political narrative, history says that the practice of art making will reinvent itself according to these trends . . .

Outside of academic exercise, the objective survey of postconceptualist art theory is a tortuous, contradictory, and little more than semantic dialog which returns overwhelmingly ambivalent results. The advancement of postconceptualist theory and beyond might mean abandoning notions of sham and success all together and reevaluating diluted ethical topics, in turn allowing the constant de /re-generative process that is the art historical continuum a period of passivity and non-critique.”

Excerpt from a project by Nicholas Donnelly (Corcoran '09) currently in development for Theory Now: Postconceptualism.

Image © Copyright 1990 by Bruce Nauman.


Meredith Kitz said...

I am a theater artist, so I humble myself in my naivete to the art world as it relates to gallery exhibitions, and art that has no 'intention' necessarily, perhaps even a rejection of intention or conception. However, this is what bothers me most about artists today. In theater, our work can be absurd, difficult to interpret, but is never aiming towards ambiguity. It's as if visual artists are aiming more to elude art critics than appeal to the senses of the common observer, who looks for art (or theater at least) as a tool to an enlightened state of thought (Even through abrasive means). I understand that an artist may be playing with preconceived notions by leaving his art undefinable, but what then is art but masturbatory searching on the part of an individual? I guess I'm saying, why should art not be critiqued? Why should it not have purpose? Regarding skill or post-medium as well? When we aren't sure of our purpose in theater, we call that rehearsal and workshop - not a final piece.

Meredith Kitz said...

I am not looking to define as sham or success, but rather, know the purpose, and critique how well the artist succeeded in his/her attempt. Artists can't cry autism to say their art is art because it came out of them.

nicholas donnelly said...


I recently saw your post and maybe have a response....

The article, 'Sham or Success' is actually a story board excerpt from a 'documentary-ish' film that I'm making. Although I mainly focus on ethics and authorship in my piece, I would have liked to have expanded more on the questions you asked. Certainly, there is a lot more to this issue than what I'll address but I'll take this opportunity to state my basic position.
What I mean by "non-critique" is maybe better understood as "intentional ignorance." In other words by not paying attention to the sensationalism or *shocking art (*really bad term) that is intended to just get a rise out of us, it'll eventually force art/artists to use more subtle or less aggressive methods of display. As a result I'd anticipate seeing less disparaging/Trash/Shock art and more perspicacious, recontextualized, and even timid work.
As for "why should it [art] have no purpose?" I have several thoughts. All of which basically contradict each other but still somehow reach overwhelmingly the same conclusion. And that is, the practice of art making re-invents itself according to a continuous sociopolitical narrative. I would clarify my definition of sociopolitical narrative as the transient, ever changing, and often arbitrary codes of conduct in any particular society. Here is a more long winded explanation. I strongly feel that I live in era that, as noted above, is nothing more than a "masturbatory searching" for the answers to life's great mysteries. The problem is that there are no more great mysteries in my mind. Therefore, the existence of the 21st Century becomes a narrative about the plight, it's about the struggle and moreover (speaking for the non-elite 99%), it's about an anti-climatic ending. So that even if I do someday achieve a house with the preverbal white picket fence, it'll probably come with such a high interest rate that I'll never be home to enjoy it. The reward for a job well done has been cut from the budget and no-one will likely ride off into the sunset. In other words, the idea of art not having a purpose, actually is it's symbolic purpose. (at least in the context of my film and studio work). Although I seem to contradict myself, bare with me for the point. It symbolizes the existence in which one constantly has to ask "is it worth it" or "what's the point in even trying anymore?" For example, I no longer compete with Bill, Mary, and Joe for the job down at the mill, but now I'm confronted by millions of competitors, all of whom are constantly connected and who never sleep. Therefore, in the face of an inevitable long bitter struggle, the "opt-out" is a rather appealing solution. My film ties this all together a bit better than I can write but I attribute this opt-out attitude / ambivalence to the increased scale in which we exist and some other new variables particular to my generation (I'm 26). Anyhow after a lot of torturous thinking I could only conclude with an every man for himself / ambiguous tone where I say, "I don't care what you do*1, just leave me alone*2...." Hence the non-critique*1 and art without purpose*2.

Thanks for your thoughts on the topic,
Nicholas Donnelly

PS I am by no means an academic writer and I'm sure this is full of contradiction, this project is purely a way to bring closure to my Junior year at the Corcoran, some frustration and a whole lot of contempt for post-conceptual art-speak sham theory!