In the future, as texting becomes more ingrained into everyday communication, people gradually lose the ability to speak. All language is mediated and monetized via sms technology. For the first time in human history, access to words is no longer only regulated informally by social capital, but literally by fee for access: words cost money, and emoticons cost even more. Consequently, only the affluent are able to speak literally, which they see as a privilege. The poor must resort to metaphor, and rely on complex and nuanced syntax to communicate indirectly. Consequence: the poor, by virtue of their limitations, have access to art in everyday life; the rich, by virtue of the tools at their disposal, lose the ability to invent, and live in a world in which their every thought is programmed.
— william s. burroughs, from ‘the ticket that exploded.’ (via heksenhaus)
I was thinking about what you wrote after I read it yesterday morning. Particularly in relation to what you said about the utopian promise in what I had written. English teachers tell us not to write in the passive voice. But there would be no philosophy, and no religion (nor law, nor science) without it. Paradoxically, the passive voice is a proud, unrelenting voice that speaks as though it stands apart. ALL CAPS as a matter of principle. In Nietzschean terms, it is the voice of resentment. It is the alienated, power mad avatar of the powerless, arrogating authority with regards to what IS. And its projects always fail. Look at the later Wittgenstein (or the later Johns). Like them I believe (in ALL CAPS) (masochistically) in lowercase specificity and the value of being situated. Philosophically speaking, I believe philosophy, in its own terms, is an error in our thought process and a flaw in our character. Yet I also want to see flaws as a matter of perspective. As a matter of practice I would like to maintain a pragmatic and compassionate tolerance towards my own philosophical impulses, because for better and worse, they are my situation.
"Educational institutions (I’m speaking here of the United States at least) are increasingly corporatized in their organization, goals, and language. The utilitarian and public (as well as the declarative and spectacular) are emphasized over the speculative or private. This can affect the kind of creativity that doesn’t work on a metronome or a meter.
The corporate atmosphere of educational institutions is usually not fully transparent to the student, yet it is part of the infrastructure for the economic stresses they face: student loans, job and art market pressures. In that geopolitical/economic matrix, it is no surprise that the schedule of the traditional two-year MFA Fine Arts program is as rigidly timed as a military quadrille. Speaking as a participant, I can say that this is necessary in order to pack as much real instruction and experience in as possible, but it also ensures the appearance of instruction and of money’s worth.
Between the first few weeks of sheer shock when students experience an overwhelming exposure to a bewilderingly vast amount of diverse new artists, ideas, theoretical languages, art styles, aesthetic and political criteria (many of these contradictory), and the pressure in the second year to come up with a streamlined package of thesis work, there are literally only a few weeks in the two years when experimentation can take place with some knowledge and some momentary freedom from expectations.
Students are expected to produce work regularly for critiques and discussion with teachers and visiting artists. This is why they have come to graduate school, but, in this atmosphere, it is unfortunately also the case that doing work whose meaning you might not have a ready explanation for, work that is transitional, even work that is a “failure,” is a terrible risk.
This enforces the current dominance of intentionality. Even though many art faculty still express a mid-20th-century rhetoric of experimentation and discovery through studio practice, there has been a radical shift in the past thirty years from the mix of formalism and subjective expressionism that characterized art education in the wake of Abstract Expressionism, to a type of conceptualism that, at least on the surface, seems to reward rationalized concordance between visual appearance and verbal articulation, a to b. An artist today is unlikely to start a work without knowing exactly what it’s going to look like and to mean. Appropriation and sampling give you the basic elements; a catalogue of tropes and recipes provide methods and styles for their assembly. Students are encouraged to research the subject of their work, consider their audience, and have all elements in place before they proceed to execute the work accordingly.
Here Walter Benjamin’s conclusion to his 1928 essay, “Post No Bills: The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses”—“The work is the death mask of its conception”—should be a cautionary precept. Benjamin’s interest in the “unintentional truth” carried within the dust and debris of early consumer capitalism reminds one that a contemporary artist’s intentions cannot determine what mark of its time the work will ultimately carry into the future, intention notwithstanding.
Here the artist’s encounter with (an expanded notion of) materiality takes on new importance, transforming the linearity of intentionality. Experimentation with time, chance, language, even research, as well as with traditional media, can bring the artist to an expression that tells the artist something beyond the already previsualized, audience-tested, executed idea. Some works of course require planning, but even then the task of the artist is to be extremely alert to his or her own reaction to elements that may seem like surplus in terms of the initial intentional program but feel the most alive, however illogical at first glance. Political art is often criticized as didactic, even when it’s only meant to be accessible to a targeted audience. Perhaps that’s because some (though not all) “political art” works may neglect the unexpected power that can be released by something seemingly peripheral to a political or didactic program: a color, the angle of a shot, the small gesture of a performance that speaks volumes, in an allusive poetic register. Even just for a nearly imperceptible moment, a work must be allowed to become unmoored from its initial premise.
To get around the rigid confines of intentionality and self-commodification, I have another assignment I’ll just sneak in here, another path in the same direction as Fail! To help students to access the unknown within themselves, I ask them to write a detailed description of the visual appearance of a work they would never do, to convey through language both the work and the reason they would never do it. I always say, you’ve already pictured something the minute I said this. What did you picture? The result, often enough, is a description of an interesting work that they obviously should try to do. Here language has been the experimental path to an extremely important realization for an artist: that what you dislike passionately is in part something that is within you.
Finally, writing the present essay, I thought about one other possible assignment. I’ve never tried it, and in the current system, it would perhaps be radical to the point of insubordination. Since necessity is an ineffable yet crucial factor in what makes a work interesting, this assignment would be to experience the world but NOT make any art, for an hour, a day, a month, a year. You do not have my permission to make art. I forbid you to make art.
What creativity might erupt from this suppression?”
I WILL SPEAK IN THIS FUNNY VOICE. I WILL SPEAK TO YOU IN THIS FUNNY VOICE. MY WORDS WILL NOT FLOW. I WILL CHOOSE THEM. AS I WRITE THEM I WILL BE DISTRACTED BY ALL OF THE THINGS I THINK OF SAYING AS I SPEAK THE WORDS I’VE CHOSEN. I WILL MAKE MISTAKES, JUST AS I DO WHEN I SPEAK IN MY REGULAR VOICE. THE MISTAKES I WILL MAKE WILL BE EASY TO CORRECT. SOME OF THE MISTAKES WILL BE EASY TO SEE, AND THEREFORE EASY TO CORRECT. OTHERS WILL BE TOO DEEPLY EMBEDDED TO BE SEEN UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE. ALLEGEDLY KAFKA SAID IMPATIENCE IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL. WHAT DO YOU THINK? BAUDELAIRE WROTE A BOOK OF POEMS CALLED THE FLOWER OF EVIL. WHEN I SPEAK, I SPEAK IN FAVOR OF LIMITS. I SPEAK IN FAVOR OF THE REED THAT BLOCKS THE AIR, PRODUCING THE TONE. I SPEAK IN FAVOR OF THE SCORE THAT IMPEDES THE SPONTANEITY OF THE PERFORMER, AND THE RESISTANCE OF MATTER AND TIME TO ALL OF OUR THOUGHTS AND DESIRES. BUT NOW THAT I AM USED TO SPEAKING IN THIS FUNNY VOICE IT NO LONGER LIMITS ME SO I WILL SOON NEED TO CHOOSE A LESS FAMILIAR VOICE, SO THAT I CAN SPEAK TO YOU MORE FREELY.