Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rhetorical Maneuvers in Contemporary Art, Part 1, by Chris Gehman

"After minimalism, conceptual and performance art, the idea of the artist as someone in a skilled and thinking occupation, engaged with a particular set of materials and visual ideas, has been thoroughly suppressed in favour of the idea of art as mainly an intellectual activity. The artist as thinker, manager, intellectual rather than maker, worker, craftsperson. In other words, the artist as bourgeois – but apparently a radical, critical bourgeois. At the same time, there are other contradictory trends that move partly in a different direction, but are partly complementary in a way seldom acknowledged. For example, young artists are also aware of a legacy of political art, art emerging from 'identity politics,' from feminism, queer liberation and the utopian aspirations of postwar avant-garde movements like Fluxus and the Situationists. What the post-conceptual, post-minimalist high art strain and the politically engaged strain share is an emphasis on context, concepts and language. Minimalism and conceptualism established their importance by invoking ideas and philosophical questions in a condensed visual form, leaving art writers with plenty to say. The artist was allowed to provide less and less, while the significance of the gesture appeared to grow and grow under the lens of critical discourse. Politically engaged art, on the other hand, emphasized its connections to power struggles taking place in the larger social context, and intended to support progressive social change. But this kind of art tends to date quickly — it loses its currency as society changes, even when those changes are exactly the ones sought by the political artist. What is left of this today is an art that is seldom politically engaged, but carries a residue of expectation: the expectation that the artist is motivated by a critical politics, however removed artist and work may be from concrete political struggles."

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