Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Daily Art Nag for June 15, 2011: Art Must Be Revolution

by Kevin Freitas

The French philosopher Alain Badiou said the other day in a lecture at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, “Art must be revolution.”

The topic, in which Matthew Barney also headlined, was billed as Can Art and Politics Be Thought? I immediately misread the topic as Can Art and Politics Be Taught, which, to this writer, is an infinitely more interesting question. Helas, I agree with Badiou and feel any sort of revolution (if not activism) in art would be a welcome one. I would be happy to throw a few pavés in the general direction of change.

In a separate article, Sebastian Smee, art critic for the Boston Globe and this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for criticism writing on the Venice Biennale, commented, “Contemporary art likes to pretend it has no past. Every year, artists shamelessly recycle conceits that established others’ reputations mere decades earlier. Aging geniuses are relegated to the history books well before their time is up. Amnesia reigns.” More importantly, though, he made a comment about how the "gesture" in art these days has replaced the idea. “The received wisdom is that contemporary art is mostly about ideas. In truth, however, it’s mostly about gestures. Sustained engagement and the kind of mental activity that generates actual ideas are rare. In today’s art world, one gesture is completed, and a new one must be dreamed up.”

I also agree with Smee. There’s a certain level of comfort knowing that gesture has to some extent replaced any real meaning or ideas in art; it helps one to accept the inadequacy and quality (the missing content) of a lot of work I see these days – especially in San Diego.

It might also be a convenient label I can slap on any work that doesn’t meet my approval. Who's to say? But there is a fine line between "gesture" as a means to an end, a sort of justifiable irresponsibility in an artist’s intent or production (the artwork), and "gesture" in the form of, say, personal investigation, which might have more to do with ideas and a process (method, technique, material) fueled by a passion and the resulting fruitful labor of its outcome.

And so while we can pretend to effect change within our cultural ranks – for the good of the cause – there are those who gesture and leave us rotting in jail and those who point decisively. I much prefer the latter and artists who can do so with works that can lead the way.

Article first published as Art Must Be Revolution on Blogcritics.


  1. I am hoping to gesture enough that it builds into an idea....but do you show those gestures as process or wait until the ideas surface. Good food for thought.

  2. This from my blog, The Art Whisperer, on, seems to conincide with what you are saying....

    Is Art all over?
    Posted on May 16, 2011 by carole Laventol on "The Art Whisperer"

    Every day I receive a “pile” of e mails from various art news letters, magazines, galleries, artists, and art consultants.
    I see the same kinds of art every where. I see the same art that I’ve been look ing at for decades. Is it true that nothing is original? Are new, and younger artists just repeating what has gone before?
    Is most of the art in today’s world derivative? Where are the artists that make us think? Where are those that explode what has gone before, into art explor ing new direc tions, and new ideas? Has the art world become just another place where hype is empha sized, for greed?
    It seems to me that there is a lot of what I call “art polu tion” in the world today. Why do it, if you have noth ing to say?

    If you feel gen uinely called to be an artist, why not stay very still for a very long time, and lis ten to your soul. Lis ten to what it is inside you that has some thing authen tic to say to the world. Keep away from muse ums and gal leries and art peri od i cals and inter net art. Just make what expresses that which you need to say, truly, from deep inside you.
    This is what makes the Mozarts, the De Koon ings, the Jaume Plensas in our world:
    true authen tic ity and a vision to cre ate out side the accepted, con trived, media seen every­where in our world. Dear Artist, please be your true authenticself.