The author of this article updates the question about what is art in times in which –more than the intrinsic conditions– the reception, circulation and attribution of value are mediated by the market and social networks with their corresponding automatisms.
- By Riccardo Castellani
- AFP photos and courtesy
Distributed among products, producers, practices and institutions that make up its existence, art is presented as an unapproachable object for any point of view that favors any of its components.
You want to grasp it carefully by one end and you are already in the middle, under layers and layers of volatile meanings.
In his most recent book, titled “Persistence of the question for art”, the Argentine political scientist Hernán Borisonik immerses us in the question through 31 brief chapters but interspersed with references. Distinguishing the extremes where art enters into relation with politics, economy and design, “Persistence of the question for art” explores the limits of this concept, directing the focus to recent works.
As the book runs through limits, if you have your own traces (even vaguely), it is easy to feel part of one side or the other at any time.
Aesthetics, like politics, sports and religion, arouse debates that are configured in the sensitive and actualize unsuspected fervors, appropriate for any “civilized” dinner or social situation.
Leaving aside all categorical reflection, the author tells us, “would make artistic practices surrender to remain solely under the logic of capital and design (something that, according to some voices, already happens)”.
It can certainly be said that art is something different from philosophy, politics, religion and sport. But in the use of these terms, we realize that they are completely contaminated with each other.
To this is added that at this time it is difficult to know if the artistic value of a work is related to its value in the market, the signature, the life of the person signing, their contacts in the environment, the place where the work is exhibited. work or even the day it was exhibited.
There are always exceptions, works that do not seem to be from their time, artists who created their own supports and followed their own canon. But if something is manifested in the history of art –the book tells us– it is that in each historical configuration there are representative creations that serve the prevailing cultural political regime.
“In the Middle Ages, work was done in and for the Church, while in Modernity the creation was directed by the high bourgeoisie. So, it is said that medieval art was religious and modern bourgeois. […] Taking this macro, socio-historical model, it could well be said that contemporary art is financial”.
The commodification of art brought with it a great liberation of themes and styles. Since there is an audience even for the most unexpected, art was generated even for the most unexpected tastes.
Also with this transformation, art fairs appeared with works created for sale to the public and, with them, art as stock.
Today, with the possibilities of technical production and reproduction, it becomes a virtually endless stock whose economic value has proven to offer ample possibilities for speculation.
New institutions in charge of regulating artistic manifestations also appeared, such as museums, critics, the opinion of relevant people and advertising, all of which influence prices.
These institutions still make up the circuit of artistic consecration. They control the way culture develops by modeling it on the industry: bureaucracy, hierarchy, mass production capacity, and thinking tailored to the rules of marketing.
Even if more and more artists are betting on freeing themselves from their tutelage, the already old alternative path, the internet, replicates the operation of these institutions: hacking the system fails because it is part of the same circuit, as we will see later.
When it comes to digital products, the indifference between the original and the copy is perfect.
The aura of uniqueness that characterized works of art of the past cannot be applied to pixels.
Now that the internet has become the place where art production and exhibition take place simultaneously, the aura has shifted towards artists, whose list has never been as long as it is today, so “it seems that there are more people creating images than people willing to see them.
The life of those who dedicate themselves to contemporary art, as we witness on social networks, is a task that takes a lot of time and effort at the service of potential buyers, patrons and subsidies.
Permanently working to be able to work, they create content and document processes in exchange for likes and shares, submitting to the taste of the viewer.
The irony is that ultimately this viewer is not even human. The true judge of the image is an algorithm for which any way of being on the internet is equally valuable.
“Circulating art, looking at photos of food, remembering the past, showing the present, and imagining the future all merge to form part of a picture of seemingly equivalent images in digital space.”
For a platform’s algorithm, the value of an image is related to its ability to capture the attention of certain users, to measure their reaction and better catalog them with a view to selling targeted advertising.
Even works that are literal in their complaint against the system, against its consequences for ecology and life, continue to be at the service of financial speculation, which when buying or financing a work does not even raise the question of taste ; it only calculates the possibilities of increasing its economic value.
“When the institutional opens the door to certain frankly anti-institutional expressions, the question arises to what extent one of the extremes imposes the rules on the other, who benefits more from these exchanges”, the author asks himself.
Many of the problems that afflict artists are shared with the rest of the people, the spectators or the indifferent. Today we could ensure that all communication between real or legal persons occurs regularly through private platforms.
Apps are used to order products and services, collect and pay, even to notify that we are at the door instead of ringing the bell.
Although the Internet creates the illusion of a democratic and immaterial space, the book reminds us that in truth this is largely determined by “the real world”.
On the one hand, the same brands that set fashion standards in analog life carry their halo in collaborations with digital, human or animated artists.
On the other hand, each device uses non-renewable energy in its components, extracted at the cost of the destruction of entire regions.
Each click or touch on the screens implies work on the servers of the companies to which they are connected, leaving significant traces on the ground and in the air.
In addition, we must not forget the invisible precarious work behind each data company.
The ecological and human wear of each action on the Internet is such that “we might think that reducing the attention stolen by apps and influencers would be an ecological measure.”
Comparing today’s art with that of other times is a minefield of prejudices. But considered as stock, the art is certainly not shabby, just better than ever.
Faced with this situation, the author puts on the table the idea that “not updating certain powers can be more creative than updating them if their sole purpose is monetization.”
And we return to the first question, in a landscape so doomed in advance, why would it be worth even entering the discussion?
Borisonik does not stop insisting on the difficulties to define art and multiplies them in each chapter; It seems like a useless search, but it is only impossible.
Governing, educating, psychoanalyzing and making one wish are impossible professions, in a list composed by Sigmund Freud and completed by Jacques Lacan, he tells us in a chapter.
They are impossible in the sense that “they can arouse reluctance, they are actions that it is impossible to fully control or know in advance.”
This very impossibility obliges us to state it in order to bring about precisely what we do not know in advance.