Stephen Wright - Spy art - Escape artists

The following excerpts are from Stephen Wright's essay "Spy art: infiltrating the real" in Afterimage Sept-Dec, 2006. For those very few regular readers of this blog, the connections to our writing/thinking should be obvious. For those who have somehow stumbled here, the quick and dirty parallel is to be found in this mention of the figure of the escape artist: Escape Artistry - Richard Roth - LeisureArts. The much longer parallel can be seen here: Allan Kaprow - Refusal/Un-Artist - Keith Tilford.

"I am referring to an art without artwork, without authorship (not signed by an artist) and above all without a spectator or audience. It is visible, public, and indeed, it is seen--but not as art. In this way, it cannot be placed between invisible parentheses--to be written off as "just art," that is, as a mere symbolic transgression, the likes of which we have seen so often, whose principal effect is to promote the artist's position within the reputational economy."

"It is on this basis that I feel art needs to avoid artworld framing devices. I also sense that many artists today feel that intuition, although many shy away from taking the necessary steps toward a genuine stealth art practice--one that requires forsaking artwork, authorship, and spectatorship."

"Stealth art is a clandestine border crosser, like the secret agent. So why then does art so adamantly refuse to forsake its artistic visibility--even though doing so would have the explicit advantage of giving it more use value and even make it better art (providing adequacy between form and content)? I suspect it is because the reliable signature (attesting to the artist's occupational identity), and the artworld recognition it provides, is the ultimate art commodity still valued by enterprise culture."

"There are more stealth practices going on than the artworld ever acknowledges, or even knows about. This is for the self-evident reason that they are, by definition and by design, hard to see let alone recognize, but also because they subvert mainstream artworld values, for there is nothing to exhibit and thus, nothing to sell. Stealth practices tend to be written off as non-art, if not quite nonexistent. The art-critical challenge is to draw attention to them in an appropriately elusive way, both for their intrinsic worth and because they obey a certain art-historical logic. Stealth and spy art practices have become a viable way of pursuing art at a historical moment when art has withdrawn from the world--though that may appear grossly counterintuitive to anyone whose only sources are the official organs of the artworld like Flash Art or Art Forum. In the face of the omnipresence of the cultural and consciousness industries, art has withdrawn from the world and has hidden before our very eyes--the only place it is safe from artworld recuperation, the only place left where the artworld is not looking for it."

Art world snobbery at its finest

Item one in Tyler Green's recent post Five things I think I think deserves attention for both its brutal honesty and sadly elitist attitude:

"1.) If I hear one more museum podcast feature visitors to the museum and what they think of ______, I'm going to delete them from my feeds. Museums all employ armies of people who do interesting things: conservation, research, building, installing, curating, and so on. Podcasting was made for telling us what cool things those people are up to. Instead we too oft get Joe Schmoe saying that the comb in a Magritte looks soooo reallllll."

How dare a museum provide a venue for "Joe Schmoe" to engage in art dialog! Apparently, museum patrons are a necessary evil that art professionals must merely tolerate in the course of their "interesting" lives. Museums, or at least those with podcast feeds that Green subscribes to, need to keep the great unwashed masses (with such lowbrow tastes that they might actually experience a sense of wonder at trompe-l'œil) from wasting the time of those with more sophisticated art perspectives - the ones who are up to "cool things." You've got to admire his unadulterated disdain for the plebs - Roger Kimball would be proud.

Recent Reads/Micro-Reviews

We wanted to mention a few books we read in the past month or so. These micro-reviews may be useless, but for what it's worth:

John Dewey and the Lessons of Art by Philip W. Jackson - Decent enough, but a little on the art education side of things for our taste.

Prescribing the Life of the Mind by Charles W. Anderson - A political philosopher thinking through the purpose of liberal education, and along with it, the university. The cultivation of what he calls "practical reason" is ultimately the aim for both. Practical reason is largely a re-working of pragmatism - "...thinking need not be shown to be irrefutably true to be considered rational. It just has to be shown to be better than the evident alternatives in pursuing some particular human purpose."

Philosophy Americana: Making Philosophy at Home in American Culture by Douglas R. Anderson - An outstanding book, not only for its content (which is engaging mind you), but especially for its approach. Anderson broadens the range of philosophy without dumbing it down. He writes about Dewey and James, but also Tammy Wynette and Hank Williams. It's good stuff, especially the material about Thomas Davidson's education/learning as "world building."

John Dewey's Theory of Art, Experience & Nature: The Horizons of Feeling by Thomas M. Alexander - A solid philosophical book. To be honest, it was exactly the sort of technical, tightly argued and subtle book that we usually avoid. Highly academic (in both the laudatory and pejorative sense), but if you enjoy that sort of thing read it all the way through. If not, skip to the last chapter "The Art of Experience" to see why Nicolas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics is much ado about nothing in our opinion and about 60 years late.

Karaoke Nights: An Ethnographic Rhapsody by Rob Drew - Henry Jenkins characterized this book as a rare "academic page turner." We couldn't agree more. If you hate karaoke or look down on it, read the book to see if you might be persuaded to reconsider. If you love karaoke, read the book to see a smart ethnographic analysis of the culture of U.S. karaoke.

Shusterman - The "linguistic turn" - Guattari

This post (Guattari on Postmodernism) from Larval Subjects, which we discovered via Metastable Equilibrium, had us looking back through Richard Shusterman's Pragmatist Aesthetics to find this quote which seems to resonate nicely with Guattari's own suspicions regarding the linguistic turn in theory/philosophy:

...[the linguistic turn] has come to seem more like a sophistic paradox about talking without language than a deep truth about human experience and the world. Surely, once we have to talk about something, even merely to affirm or deny its existence, we must bring it into the game of language, give it a linguistic visa or some conceptual-textual identity, even if the visa be one of alien or inferior linguistic status like "inexpressible tingle" or "non-discursive image." But this only means that we can never talk (or explicitly think) about things existing without their being somehow linguistically mediated; it does not mean that we can never experience them non-linguistically or that they cannot exist for us meaningfully but not in language.
We philosophers fail to see this because, disembodied talking-heads that we are, the only form of experience we recognize and legitimate is linguistic: thinking, talking, writing. But neither we nor the language which admittedly helps shape us could survive without the unarticulated background of prereflective, non-linguistic experience and understanding. Hermeneutic universalism thus fails in its argument that interpretation is the only game in town because language is the only game in town. For there is both uninterpreted linguistic understanding and meaningful experience that is non-linguistic. They reside in those unmanageably illiterate and darkly somatic neighborhoods of town that we philosophers and literary theorists are occupationally accustomed to avoid and ignore, but on which we rely for our non-professional sustenance and satisfactions. p.128

An initial stab at a semiotic square [David Robbins]

This is our first sketch of a semiotic square illustrating ideas from our previous post Art/Life - David Robbins - LeisureArts:


Art/Life - David Robbins - LeisureArts



The old art/life distinction.





The "triangulation" theory of David Robbins.


This notion is worked out in various ways throughout his book The Velvet Grind, but the essay "On Talent" spells things out pretty directly:

That something might stand outside art and report on it, comment on it, editorialize about it in an iconic language of its own - this was, and apparently still is, disorienting. The reason, I submit, is that it instantiates a complication of the modernist dialogue between life and art. Talent suggests that the old binary model has been superseded by a triangulated model whose points are life, art, and entertainment - a competing communication system no less madly self-sustaining, self-referential, and self-celebratory than art. "Showbiz" adds another category that's neither Art nor Life. pg.24


Robbins's triangulation is an important step to finding new forms and languages for what he calls "imaginative practice" - creative, funny, thoughtful forms of invention that are not art. We at LesiureArts find Robbins incredibly useful [We hope to write more, but being the slackers that we are, this might be as far as we get]. He also writes about inventing experience which he distinguishes from producing culture. This is a welcome relief from all of the talk about cultural production, as invented experience resonates nicely with John Dewey's aesthetic theory which is in dire need of being read by the legions of curators and artists who are reinventing the wheel of experience based practices.




The LeisureArts modified model.


As we mentioned, the triangulation theory is an important step, but LeisureArts is interested in expanding the terrain of inventive practices and theory to cover a host of other activities that Robbins's triangle can't account for. That leads to the above modification. In leisure, we have a broad field of activities that fall in between the various oppositions, some closer to one vertex or the other, but the field itself exists in a kind of equipoise (ideally). Adding leisure to the model allows for the inventiveness of car customizers, tea cozy makers, coat hanger collectors, home cooks, and others to mingle on equal footing with so called "high" forms of culture be it entertainment or art.

David Robbins - The Velvet Grind

Some excerpts:

...the pertinent question is no longer "what infinite variety of materials, strategies, concerns might we include in the context of art?" It isn't "what might we map onto the coordinates of art?" These were the questions of modernism. The more contemporary question - tomorrow's question - is "who are we when we pursue a larger field of production, some of which is art?" (p.29)

The maximum site of invention, now, is one that forces the culture of criticality into direct and continuous contact with its strongest and most radical cultural alternative, the culture that thrives despite art's low regard for it, the culture, ladies and gentleman, that actually expresses respect for lives conventionally led, the culture that doesn't need art: entertainment. (p.167)