December 31, 2008

The "Obscure Aartist"


Before 2008 ends, in anticipatory celebration of an anniversary, I want to publish a paper I wrote in 1979 . “Aart and Obscurism: First Arguments” outlines a view of art and art making informed by conceptual art and seeking to advance its tenets. Of necessity, this theory of art was sub-cultural and germinated outside of the established “art world.” My personal position in the established art world at the time was that of “outsider,” and that perception obviously colored the tone of my paper, which moves from accusatory statements about commercial galleries to an exposition of my theory concerning a mode of art practice I called “aart.” My terminology reflects artwork made “outside the realm of the prevalent system” without “artistic validation” provided by the dealer-collector-museum hegemony.

As contestable rhetoric, the paper is still a fair read, and re-reading it thirty years later, I am struck by a couple of revelations, one of which is that not all that much has changed in the accepted marketing practices of art and artists. The dealer-collector-museum hegemony is fully in place, and art historical authentication methods still stubbornly ignore originality until it is “validated” by significant curatorial practice.

My firm commitment to supporting “the unknown work of obscure ‘aartists’” continued in 1980 with my alternative art space in Los Angeles. Yet the “prevalent system” of commercial galleries has survived the encroachment of alternative, co-operative galleries and artists’ collectives. Globalization and the international art fairs have only magnified the problem of aesthetics tainted by commodification.

In posting this paper here, its first major publication, I am renewing my belief that art, as presently constructed and maintained by the art world, is in dire need of reassessment and reformation. As stated below, a consideration of artistic “value” is currently clouded by commerciality as it ought to be measured by the concepts. Our visual art world is becoming a crowded and distracting mess – it is time for a re-affirmation of “visual principles,” time for originality and social consciousness.

Two final notes: I transcribed the original paper exactly as it was first written in 1979 – I did not edit or make any revisions. This will undoubtedly surprise regular readers of this blog who are by now familiar with my usual and frequent footnotes. And, finally, expect to hear more about “Aart and Obscurism” in the coming year as we begin recognition of its 30th anniversary.


“Aart and Obscurism: First Arguments”
Through several years of reading mistaken and ill-formed criticism of art and observing artists reducing their creative intentions to mere apologetic attempts of success within the present cultural system I have become increasingly suspicious of these artists and critics and with the prevalent system for artistic validation. The crude and banal criticisms affect a survival mentality among those artists determined to compete in the “art world,” and yet the validation promised by the current system lacks meaning in arenas controlled by corrupt and aesthetically prejudiced dealers, collectors, critics and directors.

The present system dulls the sense of uniqueness possessed by each artist as they struggle for acceptance within a defeating system, producing a state of obvious detriment to their creativity. One of the many purposes of art ought to be the exchange of ideas and emotions within a supportive and beneficial framework that is nourished by the cultural system, and yet the reduction of art to investment for profit and artists to pawns in a financial strategy serves only to subvert this purpose. To assume artists can continue in their creative and social functions under such conditions that deny their aesthetic rights is an absurd conclusion.

These arguments form the necessary means by which the creation of an alternative system of aesthetic validation can be proposed. This alternative system, having no “values” under the present system, will be in direct contrast with art as presently known, therefore the new system will be called “aart,” defined as containing aesthetic characteristics not recognized or acceptable under the prevalent system.

Under the present system, work is that exhibited within the cultural spheres of influence is supposed valid and recognized as art. Such simplicity has very little to do with a real consideration of definition. Art is not defined by what is acceptable or saleable by this fallacious system. Art should exist independently of all corrupt spheres of influence and ought to remain free from control by any one system. Artwork termed as valid under such conditions is questionable.

Under the prevalent system, artists seek outlets through which their work can be exposed to an audience of receptive and aesthetically aware individuals such as critics, historians, collectors and fellow artists. This outlet usually is a privately owned gallery and this avenue of exposure is the one most often taken by artists and the one most upheld as the direction associated with genuine artistic concerns and issues.

The cultural relevance of these privately owned galleries as aesthetic arbiters is seldom questioned by the artists who compete within the present system. The assured success of the gallery owner rests on his ability to sell artwork to coterie of collectors and exposure through the gallery means possible sales to the artist. Unfortunately exposure is misinterpreted as artistic validation also.

These dealers or gallery owners seek work that appears respectable under the contemporary theories espoused by influential critics and through this inter-locking set of conditions and connections a network is formed for the assimilation and eventual success of the initiate artists.

The dealers attempt to demonstrate their worth as significantly important artistic outlets by pointing out known artists that have succeeded within the prevailing system but every artist that has managed to profit by that system symbolizes at least a hundred others that have not. This renders the dealers and their galleries as dubious in their practices and most debatable in terms of importance.

The dealers will further expound on the quality of their artists, stating that the success of some over others resides entirely on aesthetic merit, artistic accomplishment and determination. With some exception, most aspiring artists possess these traits, but how one presupposes any artistic worth or aesthetic validation under the ambiguous considerations outlined above is not clear.

A final deciding factor of an artist’s worth by the present system seems to rely upon a previously verified “status” as evidenced in the critical theories of certain writers. Various aesthetic styles, deemed as tenable positions by these influential critics, provide the artist with “cultural safety” in terms of a historical validity through which the artist can now join the ranks of aesthetic verification. These critical theories, formed no doubt through a logical thought process, are worthy of note but are not an absolute guarantee of validation and definitely cannot exclude other artists who, for no reason other than obscurity, remain outside of the prevalent system.

To remain free of the corruption that is rampant within the present system, “aartists” will function outside of that system. To retain aesthetic value and integrity, “aartists” will remain obscure to the prevalent system of supposed validation. The new theory of “aart” that promotes the unknown work of obscure “aartists” takes as its main assumption the relative obscurity of the “aartists” and will encourage and preserve that obscurity. This theory of aesthetics that supports all forms of creativity not recognized by the present cultural methods will be called “Obscurism.”

To work outside of the existing system will be attacked as “anti-creative” and “anti-social” by the proponents of the prevalent system but in actuality the “obscure aartist” will be protecting his “aart” from corruptions imposed by commercialism and deceptions promoted by false validation. The “obscure artist” will preserve his creativity as well as a new definition of cultural relevance within the social framework. To remain “obscure” is to remain pure in intention and direction.

At this point we must ask if aesthetic validation is necessary and by what criteria an “aartist” is determined a valid practitioner of “aart.” The necessity of aesthetic validation is only important in the context of individual interpretation by the “aartist” of his own worth. Any significant criteria for aesthetic validation in that situation have to concern a subjective analysis of the “aartwork” by the “aartist” alone.

A true subjective analysis of one’s work is not possible in the sense that an examination of the work would have to be influenced from exterior references such as contemporary art history. The formative and creative development of each “aartist” cannot exclude outside sources but these influences should not be the only causative factors of validation. A working blend of a subjective perspective with an objective overview in relation to proven aesthetic principles will be the approach toward determination of “aart” and validation of “aartists” as practitioners.

Given the situation that original visual principles have been demonstrated in the past, we can predict with a certain degree of logic that new visual laws will be revealed in the present. With an awareness of these principles that have been proven, an “aartist” can use the aesthetic information to offer new theses to the visual knowledge if the principles are original. If one has no original visual ideas then the exposure of work is meaningless.

In terms of realizing an idea, work becomes real or assumes a substance that is tangible for demonstrative purposes, to illustrate an aesthetic principle. The “aartwork” then functions as an example of that aesthetic idea. It is important to expose the idea for public scrutiny only if the visual thesis that is presented is a new one, otherwise the work is exhibited futilely as mere extraneous matter. The exposure of the “aartwork” is necessary in that an “aartwork,” by definition, always demonstrates an original aesthetic principle that enhances the proven knowledge.

Conceptual art was characterized by a stress of idea over object, in other words the essence of a concept was given priority over form. The form that a work assumed became less important as the concepts became the main issue. The relevance of the conceptual art is now based on the fact that the ideas of “aart” aesthetics are elevated to new plateaus of knowledge. No longer enough to make objects of “beauty,” “aartists” must now support the form with the essential content of an idea concerning the various assumptions of each discipline.

Conceptual theory has moved us consciously toward “aart” via the emphasis of ideas. The present state of affairs yields an anxious importance to the proximity of relevant “aart” goals. The main aspect of “obscurism” and “aart” is to return the aesthetic emphasis to the issues and real visual concerns, and to affect nothing less than a resurrection of purpose in all things aesthetic and creative.


© Copyright 1979 / 2008 by Mark Cameron Boyd.

Image: MCB, circa 1979, in Los Angeles; photographer unknown.
© Copyright 2008.

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