John Dewey via Giles Gunn - Everyday Art as Generative Context - Gianfranco Baruchello via Michael Principe

In the edited volume The Aesthetics of Everyday Life, Michael Principe, in his essay "Danto and Baruchello: From Art to the Aesthetics of the Everyday," uses Gianfranco Baruchello's farm (this is described in the book How to Imagine) to compose a rejoinder to Arthur Danto's apocalyptic tale of art-as-pluralistic morass in The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art. It is a subtle argument that needs to be read in its entirety to appreciate fully. The gist of the position is that Danto argues that we have reached the end of art history and that this leaves us lost in the "age of pluralism." What Principe points out is that Danto's reading mimics a complaint Danto makes of Plato - that he too banishes art from the world:

"But art history can only end, in a context where history does not end if art is separated off from the world in a crucial way, that is, precisely in the manner Danto shows has occurred in the history of aesthetics from Plato onward."

Ultimately, Principe argues, Danto offers only the possibility of the everyday entering the artworld and not the reverse. What Principe sees in Baruchello's farm-as-art, is precisely the implications of allowing for the latter. Of particular interest to us is Baruchello's conceptualization of art as context-making. As Principe puts it, "For Baruchello, his farm is crucially both a context for generating works of art, and as such a context is itself a kind of artwork." He goes on to note Baruchello's analysis of the importance of Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel as "a context for further work." This work is not confined to the art world, and thus we see that Baruchello's farm, like Duchamp's readymade, is imagined as "a resource for all kinds of creative activity...that Baruchello's aesthetics of the everyday is connected to the ability to see the world as such a resource, for example, as the appropriate sort of context for creative thought and activity." Or even more directly Principe summarizes, "That is, his art [Baruchello's] is a context for speaking and acting in the world."

Art as context-making moves art out of the confines of art history as imagined by Danto and art "...no longer finds direction qua art, but only insofar as it aligns itself with other nonartistic projects." Thus we find art that has made its way off the pedestal and re-connecting art history with history nullifying Danto's negative position as Principe notes, "The end of the history of art only leads to directionless pluralism if the artist is forbidden from entering real history."

The notion of art as a context for imaginative practice, or even imaginative practice as art dovetails nicely with Giles Gunn's reading of John Dewey in Thinking Across the American Grain. Once again, we can only provide a cursory summary here [a specialty of ours!]. Gunn quotes Dewey:

"The history of human experience is the history of the development of art. The history of science and its distinct emergence from religious, ceremonial and poetic arts is the record of a differentiation of arts, not a record of separation from art."

The implications of this view relative to the art history vs. real history conflict outlined above should be obvious. But it might be less obvious how this radically opens possibilities for an aesthetics of the everyday. Gunn's reading of Dewey situates his aesthetic theory of being wholly synchronous with everyday concerns. The site of imaginative activity, of meaning-making, of creative engagement with the world, and of creating further contexts for these various activities, is not confined to the art world, but squarely placed within our day to day milieu. Gunn again quotes Dewey:

"[aesthetics should seek to restore]...continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience."

This is precisely the sort of integration Baruchello was exploring within the context of his farm. It is a claim, as Principe puts it, for "...an aesthetics of the everyday where the world becomes an occasion for speaking, acting and imagining[emphasis ours]." Dewey's radically inclusive aesthetics supports such a project, one that is conceived as a site of the endless and critical production of contexts, or as Gunn describes it, "...culture is, or should be, comprised of forms not only critical of previous cultural closures but also potentially creative of further extensions and realizations of experience itself." This is a living aesthetics, one that sees its power drawn from everyday life. Gunn summarizes how art may be conceived within this framework, "Works of art constitute what might be called, if we can dissociate the word 'art' from its honorific connotations, the fullest possible appreciation of the processes and possibilities of ordinary existence..." This leads us back to Principe's concluding remarks concerning Baruchello, "...an aesthetics of everyday life need employ no particular or special way of seeing an environment that is out there and separate, but rather aspires to find a context for living that promotes speaking, acting, and imagining [emphasis ours]."

An addendum to our addendum.

Mikkel Bolt has a long and differently oriented critique of Hardt and Negri in the essay 'What is to be Done?' - Approaching the task through Debord and Negri. There is some overlap of our concern regarding immaterial labor to be found in this quote:

"...it is astonishing how easy it is for them to filter out all the specificities and discriminants within the multitude, keeping only their common attribute as embodiment of immaterial labour. Their analysis is grounded in dogmatic axioms that are positivistic reifications of Marxist theory, which it is hard to defend. Notions such as ‘class’, ‘worker’ and ‘state’ becomes uncritically accepted abstract categories which hide the present in theoretical garments of yesterday [empahsis ours]..."

Sounds an awful lot like the rear-view mirror...

An addendum to our previous post - immaterial labor as epiphenomena

This quote from Giles Gunn's Thinking Across the American Grain: Ideology, Intellect, and the New Pragmatism provides another lens through which to view our concern about theory that takes itself to be the horizon of thought, that fails to properly historicize itself:

"Theory of this sort is always in danger of reifying itself - or, what amounts to the same thing, of treating everything it touches as mere epiphenomena of its own idioms. [emphasis ours]"

Immaterial Labor - Scholz/Krysa - Rear-view Mirror of Theory

Theory through the rear-view mirror of production?

This title-as-question cuts to the heart of some recent concerns we've had after reading Trebor Scholz's What the MySpace generation should know about working for free and Joasia Krysa's Curating Immateriality: The Work of the Curator in the Age of Network Systems. Both essays are emblematic of the problematic embrace of the notion of "immaterial labor" as developed by Michael Hardt, Paolo Virno, Antonio Negri, and others.

The discourse around immaterial labor strikes us as a perfect example of Marshall McLuhan's insight about using the rear-view mirror to describe current phenomena:

"When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future."

In this vein, using "immaterial labor" to describe current networked environments is as inadequate sounding as calling automobiles "horseless carriages." Rather than developing new theoretical language, the antiquated vocabulary of Marxism is re-deployed in the service of an alleged radicality.

This leads us to the origin of the latter half of our title - Jean Baudrillard's The Mirror of Production. In this book Baudrillard describes how Marxist theory exists as a "mirror" of the capitalist order. And he could just as easily have been writing about "immaterial labor" when he notes:

"The critical theory of the mode of production does not touch the principle of production."

So when Scholz paraphrases an old saying - "The greatest trick that capital ever pulled was convincing the world that labor didn’t exist.", he misses the mark. He falls prey to the Marxist "trick" of seeing the world as nothing but labor.

Or as Baudrillard bluntly puts it:

"And in this Marxism assists in the cunning of capital. It convinces men [sic] that they are alienated by the sale of their labor power, thus censoring the much more radical hypothesis that they might be alienated as labor power, as the 'inalienable' power of creating value by their labor. [entire quote in italics in the original]"

Joasia Krysa repeatedly invokes this rear-view mirror view of labor as well, or what Baudrillard might describe pejoratively as the metalanguage of Western critical abstraction. We see again and again in the discussions of the horseless carriages of the networked economy a failure to critique the universalism of labor itself. In immaterial labor we find a merely functional critique, one that Baudrillard might note:

"...deciphers the functioning of the system of political economy; but at the same time it reproduces it as model."

Or to put it more bluntly:

"Failing to conceive of a mode of social wealth other than that founded on labor and production, Marxism no longer furnishes in the long run a real alternative to capitalism."

We can extend this to apply to Marxism's latest variants that invent, again within the already given "rear-view" structural limits of political economy, yet another ghost - that of immaterial labor. Failing to challenge the very notions of production, labor, and value, these theories and those that uncritically adopt them leave us once more heading into the future with our eyes locked in the rear-view mirror of production...

An addendum


An addendum to our addendum

Also see: Horseless Carriages - Theoretical Fundamentalism - Immaterial Labor

Hey Allan Kaprow! [for Douglas Coupland]

Art is nowhere
Art is now here

Aaron Tippin [for the crew of the D/V G.E.]

You get up every morning 'fore the sun comes up
Toss a lunchbox into a pickup truck
A long, hard day sure ain't much fun
But you've gotta get it started if you wanna get it done
You set your mind and roll up your sleeves
You're workin' on a working man's Ph.D.

With your heart in your hands and the sweat on your brow
You build the things that really make the world go around
If it works, if it runs, if it lasts for years
You bet your bottom dollar it was made right here
With pride, honor and dignity
From a man with a working man's Ph.D.

Now there ain't no shame in a job well done
From driving a nail to driving a truck
As a matter of fact I'd like to set things straight
A few more people should be pullin' their weight
If you wanna cram course in reality
You get yourself a working man's Ph.D.

When the quittin' whistle blows and the dust settles down
There ain't no trophies or cheering crowds
You'll face yourself at the end of the day
And be damn proud of whatever you've made
Can't hang it on the wall for the world to see
But you've got yourself a working man's Ph.D.

Now there ain't no shame in a job well done
From driving a nail to driving a truck
As a matter of fact I'd like to set things straight
A few more people should be pullin' their weight
If you wanna cram course in reality
You get yourself a working man's Ph.D.