This opinion piece was originally published on Leigh Blackall’s blog, as both notes from a conference in DSC and an opinion to offer and connect with people in the School of Art. It does not necessarily represent the views of Digital Learning or the College of Design and Social Context.
I attended an open forum at RMIT called Contemporary Art and the Mediasphere. It was a thoroughly interesting day full of presentations and discussion on the limitless possibilities of art. I was a little disappointed that the event didn’t have a website, hashtag for similar way for ongoing discussions, a list of the speakers or their summaries. For me, an outsider to their world, I really felt like I needed this, as I madly Googled all the interesting things that were being mentioned and discussed. An audio recording of the day was made, I guess for archival purposes, but I don’t know where it will go.
I went along because I am curious about art, and was anticipating a raft of provocative ideas to consider as possible methods and connections for my work in education. Similar to when I found ideas around situated art and situated learning back in 2011.
What is “new” about art?
The prevailing topic being discussed this day seemed to be, what is “new media art” today? There was a dissatisfaction with the apparent need to fit such forms into the gallery or museum frame, and discussion revolved around all the compromises and losses in that transference. There was the provocation that “new media art” was not engaging with its “natural” space – the Internet. My complaint about the set up for this forum seemed to demonstrate that point well.
A categorical problem
It seemed to me that the problems being discussed at this forum were primarily around categorisation, and the conceptual frameworks that make audience and reception possible. Where does “new media art” fit in the gallery and museum context? Why is it not “mainstream” in the schools of art? Why does it struggle to fit in the public funding application streams?
There was an anxiety about the political, institutional and corporate establishments removing what little audience has been developed, and limiting the prospects of it growing any further. This tone was set by an early presenter looking at the statements of the current Federal Minister for the Arts and his withdrawal of key sources of income from the Australia Council for the arts.
George Brandis quoted in The Australian 2014
Included with this concern was some discussion of the corporate ideology that is relentlessly sweeping the university sector – institutions that play a significant role in nurturing, harbouring and propelling contemporary art practice and audience in Australia.
While I agree it is disappointing that the Minister and the Council for the arts are shunning expressions of contemporary art, and that academic capitalism
is eroding the universities where contemporary art as a discipline can be studied, what is more disappointing to me is that contemporary artists agree to categorise their work at all, or allow their art to become reliant on an audience and infrastructure that is too easily disrupted by corporate ideologies, government agendas and institutional dogmas. It is obvious to me that art, real art, exists nowhere near these venues. But what is (real) art, and where can it exist?
Art is a state of mind
What if we reconsider our propensity to think of art as object or a place or a thing? What if we recount the idea that art is not a thing, a profession, a category or location? What if we held it to be entirely a frame of mind? Aesthetic, theoretical, critical, philosophical, divergent. As a mental state, it potentially exists everywhere. It can be taken into any situation, projected onto anything?
Yes, I know this is a 100 year old idea credited to Duchamp
, but readymades are still a fixation on an object or material thing and location, aren’t they.
With artistic thinking, anything, everything, everybody and everywhere is potentially art. New media art, contemporary art, art objects or even categories of art become insignificant – art becomes metaphysical.
If an object, situation or event is created or considered with an artistic frame of mind, over time it’s moment of artistic relevance or significance changes. It may simply become an historic object with perhaps little or no artistic resonance to the now. It may re-emerge with an entirely new artistic meaning, as does happen. What is consistently present is art thinking.
A definition of art, from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics
It’s akin, or even made up of other types of thinking, used at different levels in different situations and contexts. Design thinking, musical thinking, business thinking, strategic thinking, critical thinking and so on. Artistic thinking is valuable in many different settings and is across all other ways of thinking, as each other is across all others. Most obviously artistic thinking is prime in “the art world” – that being the institutions and gatherings that concentrate on artistic thinking above others. But it can be less obviously found in the corporate world, educational world, family life, politics, and other possible categories of being.
Someone who has been afforded some time and support to develop an artistic appreciation of the world, can use this frame of mind in any number of settings. Their ability to think artistically may help generate ideas, innovation, solve problems, uncover problems, communicate, create value, think otherwise or to challenge preconceived notions, be different or make apparent things that are difficult to recognise. They may even find a way to exist as an artist in their own right.
This way of understanding and approaching art – as a way of thinking, seems resilient to me. Resilient to the problems and issues discussed in the forum, resilient to the fickle government funding, relentless corporatism, and dogmatic institutions. Once developed, artistic thinking survives unemployment, family life, retirement and any other situation in life that presently confounds the professional artist. It can now exist and be valued in all aspects of life and circumstances. Art becomes necessary to everything.
Acknowledgement, links and notes
A big thanks to Ian Haig
for organising the forum and opening it up to the public.
HEXEN 2.0 drawing
I met Ceri Hann, a conceptually wide and deeply thoughtful artist and teacher working at RMIT. He and I hit it off with all sorts of talk about “conspiracy”, power, hegemony, the role of artist and art education in an unequal singularity, and where the new aesthetic might lead us. Ceri recommended an over whelming number of sources, HEXEN 2.0 drawings for a start. He pursues some of his ideas through the Public Assembly projects.
Tara Elizabeth Cook graced the stage with the ominous yet impressive presence that I imagine Ayn Rand may have had in the mid 20 century. Tara offered a manifesto of sorts, a rapidly read and extremely dense speech called The New New Media, and referencing the phrase New Aesthetic. I was very attracted to her proposition, forward thinking and adventuresome, destructive yet nurturing. Of course, it didn’t take long for the older audience to assert some sort of dominance through their questioning – all respect to their wisdom and insight, but I do wish they would let the vigour last a little longer, maybe even just join in for some fun if nothing else. There is a new-ness in the Internet, and there’s nothing wrong with borrowing on past ideas to try and find a way through bewilderment. Just because Marxism “didn’t work” before (did it not? I thought it was still too early to say), doesn’t make it a useless framework with which to see and understand the world today.
Korean group Heavy Industry
The Death of the Author