An art With THANKS

(towards affirmation and celebration as practical sustenance)

IT COULD BE ARGUED that all ‘Art’ in the West (and East) is basically irrelevant to the majority of people in the world (let’s say 99%); people who are simply striving to survive from one day to the next. That it is ultimately and questionably based upon a privilege attained through past imperial exploitation. Whether it is a painting on a wall or an environmental installation constructed for the purpose of communal involvement (for whatever intentional end), an audience’s participation and reflection is almost entirely dependant upon the time that individual or group is willing to give for that process; and that is, more often than not, determined by our education, our cultural conditioning, our financial status and our class. Within this temporal context, I might also dare to suggest that all art objects, situations and processes have an equal power to catalyze an imaginative and hence social response. Our contemporary emphasis on process, relation and situation is maybe therefore based as much in our desire for cultural diversity as it is in a desire for responsible social or ecological relevance and change.

 potential (earth pigments + pva on canvas; pward 2009)

Furthermore I might question the ‘naturalness’ of the ‘phenomenon of art’ that we are presently proliferating. It is maybe more intrinsically human to endeavour to simply survive rather than perpetually pontificate on evolution, or what artistic or political stance for that matter, is ‘best’ for the future. Evolution is a product of our success at survival, and is a measure of our ability to adapt to environmental changes (whether initiated by ourselves or not) rather than our ability to control and manipulate those changes. The majority of people are therefore unlikely to respond to the ecological crisis until it is literally knocking on the door, breaking it down with guns and bombs and floods and hurricanes raging, and then we will simply devise another adequate and temporary means to survive.

But, all this rampaging and raging does not necessarily mean that I believe art to be irrelevant, nor the processes and understanding that its practice or experience might afford, but that I lose my patience with the utter pretensions that a lot of contemporary art assumes; its non-acknowledgment of a relative global context, its self-importance and its primitive historical roots. Maybe if we were to judge art by its relevance to our survival, without self-importance, and through its connection to implied ecological responsibility rather than its comparative imperial cultural context I might be happier. For example, what bearing does much contemporary art have on our sense of community (the quality of our reciprocal communication*), and on the recognition and affirmation and celebration of our ability to respond and survive in the world? Surely an object of beauty or a piece of music, whether appreciated communally or not is equally, if not more, relevant than an anti-aesthetic (an-aesthetic even) experiment into visceral participation or contemplation? The continuation and proliferation of such indulgent, self-referential work founded in imperial privilege merely serves to reaffirm such privilege and dominance rather than actually influencing or catalyzing social change towards its devolution. (This proliferation is however founded, quite understandably and sympathetically, in our quest for security through material remuneration – today’s currency of societal conformity.)

  greeting nature (oil on board; pward 2007)

Thankfully we are at a time when the spiritual strictures of Marxism and empirical materialism are reaching the limits of their efficacy and pertinence, and hopefully entering a time when mystery and faith are becoming emergently and equally well revered. So maybe it is time for our art to reflect this. In many traditional cultures across the world, to question the indigenously acquired foundations for both wisdom and sustenance is tantamount to treason. In such cultures art is often totally embedded and entwined within a way of life. It does not cleverly sit outside, wherever that could be. It takes its part; celebrating, affirming and reaffirming, and ultimately giving thanks for those aspects of life that provide its practical sustenance; those relationships that give meaning and well-being, and warning of those that do not. Not dwelling on insecurity but providing means to safeguard against them. Aiming to communicate and uphold the values that have provided security and strength in the face of adversity for many, many generations. Such laws and such an art do not aim to subdue or restrain its people or their broader relations but engender understanding, practical intelligence and resilience through observation of diversity and endemic process. Their aims are to discover the unique qualities of each individual entity and find a place within the social ecology for each to shine.

An art that aims to reinstate and reaffirm such qualities within the local and global ecologies of which we are all an integral (but not essential) part steps beyond the narrow confines, the dubious intellectual analyses of imperial domination and hierarchical subjugation to a place rooted in the earth, in the animals and plants that live here and in our immediate and temporal sensorial relations between us. It is not an art of pedantic pessimism and intellectually fuelled indulgence but one of shared affinity and animate belonging, of believing we are already complete and safe within the abundant provision of this incredible and unfixable reality. Of course we cannot expect our small actions to change the world, but we can still hope. And we can also hope to believe that the small number of people that our art does reach sense its relevance and energetic potentiality, whether personally or universally, and that through its proliferation we may discover a sense of commonality and thankfulness to sustain us through another day.

 ink-cap landscape (shaggy-ink-cap-ink; pward 1995)

While some of us seek respite from our implied imperial responsibility in the immanently defined predictive certainties of science, and others in the mystical disciplines and possibilities of the equally imperial East, others still are so deeply embroiled in the post-postmodern intellectualities of the contemporary artistic academic institution and the knowledge that such pertains that we maybe fail to distinguish the wood from the trees, if in fact we see the trees at all. So thankfully there are others who aim to forget art altogether and simply aspire to exist joyfully and gratefully in the world. If such actions purposely contribute to the downfall of the dominant connective paradigm then so be it. Rest assured without such intellectually and spiritually detached and delineated monstrosities and ambitions we will continue to assume our intrinsic nature, of which art is an equally natural expression.

And we will somehow continue to survive.

“It is not a question of knowing whether this interests you but rather of whether you yourself could become interesting under new conditions of cultural creation.” Guy Debord, Towards a Situationist International 1957.


* Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community//1986

§ Bibliography: PARTICIPATION Documents of Contemporary Art, Edited by Claire Bishop (London; Whitechapel Gallery 2006)

(PW 2011)


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