Although I felt that our conversation today brought us (or me, anyway) very close to the core of a set of problems that feel central to art and inquiry (i.e., to the center of the center — How do you like THAT!?), I must say that the task of recovering, in this mini-essay format, the arc of our discussion seems, this week, especially daunting. I have looked over my notes. I have reviewed the passages from our reading on which we focused. I have even spent a little time looking at the (especially cryptic) glyphs that ended up on the blackboard. But I am not confident I am going to be able to map the movements of thought that occurred as we talked, or reproduce the miasmatic “mood” within which those movements took place (that mood, of course, itself having been constituted by the conjunction of those movements — and here, recalled for a moment to the problem of the figure-ground relationship between ideas and environments, I am reminded of Wallace Stevens’ exquisite formulation in the poem “Loneliness in Jersey City”: “Well, the gods grow out of the weather. / The people grow out of the weather; / The gods grow out of the people. / Encore, encore, encore les dieux …”).
Anyway, here goes:
We opened the seminar by rolling up our sleeves on Howard Singerman’s really superb (in my view) Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University. We set ourselves to the task of simply resumeing the arguments of the book and sketching/recalling the history that it tells. As far as the actual history went, there was much to admire: the emergence of art in the (male) environment of American higher education required a demonstrable deprecation of the (feminized) “fine arts,” and a corresponding elevation of a “design” sensibility that focused on form and matter in ways that were consistent with the industrial aspirations of a suitably virile and modern political economy. Gender work, both discursive and embodied, was essential to the early twentieth-century realignment of art and education in the United States. Seeing was central to the new identity of the industrial age artist. Inspired and informed by the Bauhaus, those training artists emphasized the distinctive visual acuity that characterized their pedagogy (and their understanding of what being an artist meant). Importantly, Singerman identifies two very different registers within which the artist’s eye worked: on the one hand, “analytic” seeing was key (the capacity to decompose, schematize, and discern characteristic patterns/forms); at the same time, however, the eye of the artist was also the eye of a child, indeed of an infant (always capable of seeing everything as if for the first time, and thereby unconditioned, spontaneous, and primordial and/or extravagant).
As Singerman would have it, the tensions inherent in this account of the antimonies of art-sight more or less “gave rise” to the particular self-consciousness of the abstract expressionists. They found themselves confronting a conceptual paradox that they thematized — simultaneously fetishizing and eliding what it was to be an artist. Singerman might say that they “painted the problem.” And putting aside whether they did or they didn’t, they certainly performed the problem in their pedagogical activities, which were considerable (the stuff about “Subjects of the Artists,” the failed art school founded in 1948 by Motherwell and Rothko and their buddies, together with the very interesting material about Ad Reinhardt’s teaching at Brooklyn College in the 50s — all this was especially informative here).
By chapter 6, language comes to be seen as the most effective medium for articulating the general problematic (language being very good for articulation), and the “postmodern” artistic condition is born, exemplified by the art-school visiting artist whose work inevitably involved repeated statements along the lines of “I am here.” This is what Rosalind Krauss has called the “terminology of the index.” New art came of this tendency and its situation, and one can have different views of its quality and character. But one cannot deny that it was the increasing institutional dominance of this sort of work that explains why Singerman himself, doing an MFA in sculpture in the 1980s, learned neither to sculpt nor to cast (the biographical fact from which his study departs). In some sense, he didn’t learn how to “make” sculpture (in any traditional sense); rather, he learned how to think about and articulate his position in relation to the history of the activities that have been called “sculpture,” and the theoretical/aesthetic principles that grounded those activities.
And here we find ourselves on the threshold of Singerman’s valedictory chapter 7, “Toward a Theory of the MFA,” in which he delivers himself of a pretty large argument: to wit, that the structure of “art” at this point has effectively become “disciplinary.”
We spent a lot of time on this proposition.
And we weighed Singerman’s treatment of the sociology of disciplinarily — its relationship to “professionalization” (he distinguishes between a “client-model” of professionalization, like medicine and law, and a model of professionalization rooted in the ideal of “independent research within [a]… field defined by formal, theoretical discourse”; interestingly, the former domains have come largely to be regulated and administered by imbricated relationships to the state [through licensing and accreditation]; the latter have tended to find their home in universities).
Art, Singerman believes, has bought its universitarian position at the cost of a substantial reconfiguration of itself into an enterprise that can be assimilated to something like what he cites Sande Cohen calling the “bureaucratization of the concept of research in the nonscientific disciplines of the high university.”
It isn’t completely clear (to me) that this has been good for many of those disciplines — and I would include history and the study of literature in that criticism. Or, to put it another way, there have been enormous costs to reconfiguring those enterprises as primarily or even exclusively programs for producing knowledge.
Among other things (and this is what is going on in the imagery on the board above), we noticed that collective knowledge-producing enterprises organize themselves and their activities in relation to a large domain of MYSTERIES or UNKNOWNS which are configured as lying out ahead of the dynamic of the community and its labors. The unknown becomes an orientation for motion/movement/progress. Unknowns are alienated and rendered as teloi.
This works fine for lots of things. Thermodynamics, say. Electrochemistry.
But there are unknowns/mysteries which are ineluctable components of our experience of being. These must be lived with, not reconfigured as targets or objectives. One might argue that the humanities and the arts (in the absence of religion) offer a repository of best practices and sources for managing this very serious challenge of our individual and collective lives.
And when these activities assimilate themselves to knowledge-producing enterprises along the lines of disciplinarity in the modern research university, it is not clear that they can continue to serve in this capacity.
Here is Singerman on (something like) this question — at least as far as the arts are concerned:
And it’s that last line that kicks: “This university science precludes the otherness of the work of art.”
I think each of us has to weigh if that gets it right. If that is the problem.
It might be. Or we might want to rephrase it like this: “This university science precludes the otherness of ourselves — and that is one of the things that both art and the humanities must continuously engage, manifest, and permit us to accept/manage/survive.”
The final movement of our discussion took us into a turn though Irit Rogoff’s “Looking Away,” Jan Verwoert’s “Passion of the Pedagogical,” and finally Rike Frank’s “When Form Starts Talking: On Lecture-Performance” — each of which can be read, I think, as addressing the very problem Singerman’s text brought us to consider. Verwoert, paraphrasing Rogoff, offers the following:
“Addressing this question of how to imagine a different mode of exchange in the space that art and education open up for discourse, Irit Rogoff argues that hierarchical structures of authority may be invalidated by a mutual commitment of all those who find themselves in a given situation — be that an art project or seminar — to confront the challenge this situation implies, together.”
I felt, for a moment, that we were striving, together, as a class, to achieve something like this in the collaborative work we are doing on the final project — the task of designing a way that we can all, together, “be responsible” to/for a critical text in space/situation that stretches the standard discursive/pedagogical norms of the disciplinary humanities. Are we seeking a new kind of “Space of Appearance” (the term of art, borrowed from Arendt, that is very important to Rogoff in the “Looking Away” essay)? As we talked, it seemed not impossible. I think I can speak for all of us in the class when I say that we felt sympathy for the ambition and mood of these pieces.
Who is the “we” in that sentence above? Well, “us” — HUM 598. But Rogoff has a very quotable proposition on this head:
“In the contact of this particular writing the ‘we’ I have in mind is designated through recognition of shifts taking place in the project of ‘theory.’ A shared transition, albeit expressed in different ways, that the project of theory has moved on from being a mode of analysis by which you understand what lies behind and beneath the workings of knowing and representing. Instead, ‘theory’ can become a space of making, or remaking, of culture, of envisaging further possibilities rather than explicating existing circumstances. Those who agree to a suspension of the purely critical, to momentarily shared imaginaries, to a bit of groundlessness, lost and regained — that’s us, that’s who I mean.” (emphases added)
Achieving this, Rogoff suggests, requires the “looking away” of the title. Requires a (temporary?) suspension of commitment to authorized auratics — and a willingness to reorient around(?)/within(?)/to(?) Agamben’s quodlibet.
And then, suddenly, everyone is talking about love. Sigh.
Verwoert ends on a text from which we began: the Symposium:
And Frank invokes Guillaume Désanges’ posture of the “amateur” — he/she who is “motivated by love” — in the course of a (sympathetic, if not un-wary) discussion of the ways that “affective attachment” and “‘personal’…relations” can “take up a position directed against forms of fixation, standardization and closure.”
But it was in Frank’s block-quote from Rorty that I found (in the words of Kenny Loggins’ Gambler) the “Ace that I could keep”:
This really resonated. And it seemed to stand in a very useful relation to the “Singerman Problem.” Edifying philosophy? Might this be part of what we are hoping to achieve in our final performance?
PRE CLASS NOTES
Nathaniel Whitfield & Lucy Partman
Just to get y’all in the swing of this weeks readings…also…
“who gives a fuck about Michael Fried when you are desperately scouring job listings for any job that pays more than $12 an hour”
Just to complicate, Hennessy Youngman aka Jayson Musson “studied at the University of the Arts, receiving a BFA in Photography in 2002, and at the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated with an MFA in Painting in 2011.” (Read about Musson’s presentation at PAFA in 2011-12 called The Grand Manner). Does this complicate the message/position/situation? Or is it a matter of institutional critique?
DGB: From here below, am I right that this is both LP and NW depending on ink color?
INDEED! (Trying it out) How come you two get exciting colours, I wanted orange or blue!
Just a few links (that came / were thought of during the reading) in case anyone is checking on here this early…
Jerome Bel’s Veronique Doisneau (2004) – a short clip – was also mentioned in the reading we did for the very first class…
Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (potentially may have been mentioned in class before)
As Rosler states about her piece, “An anti-Julia Child replaces the domesticated ‘meaning’ of tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration.” Why not take a look at Julia Child preparing boeuf bourguignon for the hell of it! The dissonance is resounding.
Tris Vonna Michell’s work is veyr interesting and relevant…
[( please note that these are opened but do not close at any point on the page… ( DGB: Is the “veyr” a grammatological gesture that I am not understanding? [wink])
Related article on Dan Graham that incorporates some FRIED! John Miller, “Now even the pigs’re groovin'” (2001), Dan Graham, ed. Alex Kitnick, MIT Press, 2011.
The inimitable A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) by Manet is mentioned in the above article in relation to Graham’s use of mirrors. I am reminded of a recent passage at the end of art historian Richard Schiff’s introduction to the collection of essays/perspectives by different scholars in Twelve Views of Manet’s Bar (1996). He proposes that”Modern or postmodern the contemporary historian’s critical method seems to mimic the problematic of modernity as it was once addressed by Manet’s art. You approach modernity by probing your vision, your own perspective, the moment that belongs to you. The writing we call ‘history’ therefore becomes artistic, like Manet’s Bar—a matter of historically contingent, self-reflective expression. Has it not always been?” (p. 19). Are art historians (historians) also artists (creative writers…)? I question this often, and lean more and more to an emphatic yes. But – and a big but – this seems utterly hidden amid the academy’s objective positivism. Such deception, I think, is intimately related to the “problem” of artists in the university and how art is positioned as a discipline within the academy.
Tadeusz Kantor’s (theatrical impresario and artist) The Dead Class (1975) came up recently in a discussion I had with Chiara. “In this harrowing performance, live actors carried effigies of their younger selves, an evocation of the tragic history Kantor lived through during World War II.” Considering the classroom as a “theater of memory”(concept related to this exhibit) positions the classroom closer to the studio, incorporating history and (artistic) fabrication. Is it possible to connect the “impossibility of returning to one’s past and childhood” in Kantor’s performance to Dan Graham’s attempts to create a childhood (experience, environment) through many of his glass/mirror constructions?
Regarding questions of audience involvement vs. separation from the stage and performance, The Dead Class was an explicitly “closed work.” “In 1978 [Kantor] stated the following in a conversation with Teresa Bętkowska: I believe that an artwork has to be closed if it is to fascinate. A closed artwork forces the viewers to focus. They’re forced to feel like people in the shadow of a huge pyramid, which is inaccessible but has a colossal, not to say metaphysical, influence. However, this pyramid emanates certain vibes. The Dead Class is a closed work, because the idea of open theatre has long since passed.”
OPEN vs. CLOSED Performances
Rike Frank considers the lecture-performance an open system. “Such blurring of the boundaries between production and reception also appears to be relevant for examining the format of the lecture-performance today insofar as it opens up possibilities to experience knowledge as a reflexive formation that is as much aesthetic as social — in other words, as an open feedback system. In this sense, lecture-performances can be seen as picking up on a historical thread that runs from the formal interpretation of a work, via analysis and deconstruction of the circumstances of its modes of production, to a turn towards reception as part of the work’s inherent condition — that is to say, to those time-based aspects that indicate processes of thinking, articulate relationships and ascribe meaning and value” (p. 6).
Another mention of the opened vs. closed concept in Singerman: “The [university] student work is always an open work; it is always on its way to somewhere else. It exists as a place marker, and only in relation to another work produced offstage, or rather, off a number of stages” (p. 179).
Further questions regarding Singerman’s text:
- Can artists and their students be collaborators? (140)
- Did university art programs enable/produce/allow for nontraditional media and performance art to emerge? (157)
- Can artists and their students be collaborators? (140)
- Is there progress in art? (always a question; see especially 209)
- Is language (at the heart of) contemporary art?
Another note on Kantor: He “is widely recognized as one of the most important theatre artists of this century. Critics have ranked him with such influential directors as Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Brecht, and Grotowski.” Check this out: Tadeusz Kantor, A Journey Through Other Spaces: Essays and Manifestos, 1944-1990 (Berkeley, University of California, 1993).
A sculptor who never learnt to sculpt, what good was Howard Singerman’s M.F.A if he did not learn this? Has art education taken us to a place where the true aspiration of an artist is just to be an artist, an artist is the true subject of herself. “Artists are the subject of graduate school; they are both who and what is taught.” (3)
Derrida speaks after Kant on the Parergon: that “outside which is called to the inside of the inside in order to constitute it as an inside.. the limit between work and an absence of work”. Whilst Derrida is in the frame and we in the inside of the inside Singerman points out that language has displaced both manual craft skills and traditional academic ones. What has this new language (this International Art English, some might say) displaced technique within the contemporary university? What, then is the technique of the new art, or is art itself displaced in the practise of criticism.
For it is true, the word PROFFESIONAL has been a chip on the artists shoulder for many a year (here I think of Carl Andre and the Art Workers Coalition campaigning for artists to be paid as ‘art workers’ – and a plethora of new organisations that have sprung up in a similar vein).
Throughout the book then Singerman sketches out the difficulties with making ‘art’ an autonomous subject within the American University and how this led to a production of “liberal artists” – a focus here on Unity being more important than breadth – the ability to have a holistic understanding, to be a humanist (oh yeah, and to be Male, sorry Ladies). “A young man must take from the college of liberal training, the contributions of philosophy, of humanistic science, of natural history and of literature.” President Meiklejohn of Amherst College, 1912. “So far as knowledge is concerned, these at least he should have, wedded together in some kind of interpretation of his own experience” The mission then of the teacher “is not the specialized knowledge which contributes to immediate practical aims, but the unified understanding which is INSIGHT”. But this unity was predominantly understood in visual terms of mastery, where to grasp meant to encapture within the gaze, to control.
How did it end up that most teachers were female yet the mantra “man-as-artist” held so much sway?
What do artist’s do all day? Are they comparable to scientists, researchers in laboratories as Singerman finds as the model for university visual arts (and humanities in general!) programs, thus making them “problem solvers” and inevitably in pursuit of PROGRESS – whatever that means…I feel a rant coming on! Craftsman/technician-artist, production, fabrication driven, in all sense practical, fits easiest into a pedagogic enterprise. Then there’s the peripatetic artist-professor-communicator journeymen type Singerman finds sympotamtic of MFA programs. And of course the Renaissance humanist polymath genius, verging on the looney, manic…ain’t so professional, but eh, the rejoinder: “she/he’s an artist”…not so witty!
Check out the BBC Four series What Do Artists Do All Day? “Film crews accompany various prominent painters as they go about their daily schedules and share insights into their working lives and creative processes.” Part 1 of an episode on artists Jake And Dinos Chapman (2014):
Characters, Figures and Signs – an event at Tate
Lessons In Modesty
Way to go Jan Verwoert for telling it like it is…
“Lets be clear about one thing right from the start: The most characteristic thing about art academies is that no one there can really tell you what they are doing.”
Yes, we do all exist in a state of limbo, and yes, Janitors are popular figures,
In raising the ethics question on page 4, what are the ethical implications when your “work is concerned with the communication or production of knowledge, for how can you ever claim the right to make others listen to what you believe they should know?”
This reminds me of a picture a tutor once showed a group of us in a parody of his style of teaching (shown below) and of course the story I mentioned a few weeks back of Joseph Jacatot that Ranciere conjures in The Ignorant Schoolmaster and summarizes later at the beginning of the emancipated spectator. Which I have actually just re-read and realized how pertinent it is for us. (attached is the entire book in PDF form but if you get the chance the first 8 pages contain everyone barring Fried, but I mean, who even was that guy?)
I would like to hear from Chiara and Graham on this point, your different approaches within seminars and perhaps the struggles you have had with this over your career.
It is this ‘position of authority you inevitably assume when you make others listen’ that will become an interesting standpoint when we take Fried into the Museum, for what does happen when it is subverted for instance when “they who shall not be named” walk in and are able to ‘out-Fried’ us. Indeed our Archimboldian mask will be removed and our status as ‘imposter’ on show for all to see. Perhaps then the entanglement we find ourselves in with the ‘tedious oedipal power games of forced loyalty and adolescent rebellion’ becomes a generative awkwardness, one to work through. But tactics for how to do this must be practised. Indeed in the next paragraph what we are getting at becomes clear “The mirage of authority is bound to vanish when, facing a pressing problem at hand, the teacher or engaged artist has to acknowledge that they know as much and as little as any other person confronting the problem.” It is only from a level playing field that we are able to use our performance to generative ends. Yes Jan we will need to create ‘momentary shared mutualities’ which come ‘into being fleetingly as we negotiate a problem, a mood, a textual or cultural encounter’. Indeed we will have to think about the ‘space of appearance’ we create, but out of a very different situation ththen what Hannah Arednt articulates.
In his work on the history of the Slide Lecture Robert Nelson refers to a ‘performative triangle’ which consists of ‘speaker, audience, and image”.
Speaker / Audience / Image
What are the rhetorical and technological parameters of the lecture format and how are arguments constructed and orchestrated. What is the role of the visual within this? For Didi-Hubermann this visual pedagogical mode is important for ‘its way of discovering and constructing a whole world of hitherto unseen affinities and conflicts’. (Images in Spite of All).
In Irit Rogoff’s Looking Away she mentions the ‘cordoned off’ and ‘barred from view’ spaces of the Courtold Institute. This reminded me of Michael Asher’s 1974 show at the Claire Copley gallery where he removed the wall separating the office from the exhibition space. What did this gesture imply for Asher? It was certainly different to the effect of the Courtold’s exhibition as noted by Rogoff. In laying bare the mechanisms that sustained the gallery he blurred the lines of private and public spaces… this got me wondering what wall are we pulling down (although hopefully not quite as literally) with our performance?
Related happening: Slavs and Tartars gave a performance (I have some hesitation about “performance” at present…) lecture this evening
(Image from discussion following lecture)
Some overarching concepts presented:
- Religion/mysticism is vinegar in the oil of contemporary art (my phrasing, still pondering) and modernity—consumed in a “secular rage”—in general
- Art as contemplation in action
- Religion, action, and art on a continuum
- How can we understand modernity otherwise, eg. through the mystical, metaphysical, irrational, bewilderment, “beyond sense” (“Beyonsence”…yes a picture of Beyoncé did grace this presentation!)
- Historical resuscitation
A few points from the discussion:
- Catalogues are insider trading in the art world
- Liberating ideas can also be prisons
- Books as evidence of research vs creations (commissions) / works of art
- One of the interlocutors asked if “conversation” was a thread through their work.
- Creating a space of culture in the form of a white cube is horrible (experience of the body), we are forgetting basic stuff, how to create a space that is conducive to contemplation and thinking
- How to inhabit “incompatible” identities, to keep separate but perceive how they resonate [hmm, implications re: acting?!]
- I was considering the aesthetic of the artist lecture. Is a professional, highly polished look too “theatrical” to be a “lecture”? Would such an aesthetic be an inherent critique of the academic lecture format.
- A lack of “finish” relates to the “deskilling” of contemporary practice (?)
- Throughout the lecture, a continuity was maintained from one subject, object, or idea to the next, yet there was also the sense of “free-association” and the ability to pull from any time, place, discipline, etc. Is this the particular “allowance” offered to the artist in the realm of academia? Kentridge’s Six Drawing Lessons (2014) also seems to be dream-like, yet “contained” (given a composition), in the array of associations, allusions, and symbols the artist (is allowed?) to wield. (why is this the case?) It certainly smacks of Benjamin’s constellation and Foucault’s interventions on history. Returning to the dream state in which transitions are illusive, I felt a kind of trance-inducing movement from concept to concept.
How is knowledge foregrounded in and our presentation method? What does the role of conversation as medium have for us. Falke Pisano suggests “the act of speaking about something or someone, in the cultural field as much as in other fields, necessarily involves reflection on one’s own position and consequently on the conditions in which the utterance is made”. Her artists books (again why do we feel the need to put the word ‘artist’ here – denoting it as different somewhat from a plain ole’ simple book) mix sculptutre, illustration, her utterences all making the way into her piece Sculpture Turning into a Conversation (like the way we are heading, substituting Sculpture for Fried and bracketing [somewhat scripted] before conversation).
Toastmasters: an American organization promoting arts of public speaking (for businessmen). Carey Young’s Speechcraft picks up this model…. Which reminds me of course of The Yes Men and they’re wonderful lecture ‘performances’ in which an artist does become a professional, but only for a few minutes, enough time to destabilise whomever may be their target.
After today’s intense discussion of the readings, particularly the Singermann, I wanted to share the following narrative-essay, which is a bit long and winding in its story, but is about precisely this divide within art departments, between the discipline and the profession, that we’ve been worrying over and struggling with. I don’t agree with everything in it, and it certainly comes from a different time (and place: a lot of Californian, or rather Nothern Californian, artists that one hasn’t necessarily heard of), but it’s also worrying about I think a lot of what we’ve been thinking over and might be interesting to read as a complement to the Singermann.
I’m not totally clear on why the text seems to be in a not quite finished state, but luckily the typos aren’t too inhibitive to the understanding; I should also note that it’s by my grandfather. I feel slightly weird about sharing it, but I stumbled across it a little while ago and realized suddenly in class that it was talking about, in a microcosm, exactly what Singermann is concerned with.
DGB: this is quite an amazing piece of family lore — strikingly on-point.