Wayne Myers on Fri, 6 Sep 2002 15:38:00 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> reaction to DXI-review reactions

> It started to look like art was (?) going to be
> defined by ideology almost completely

By whom? By ideologues? Ideologues define everything in terms
of ideology. Artists, by contrast, hopefully don't. It is not
possible to operate in any kind of artistic medium as an artist
without realising that art is defined by nothing other than
the brain of the beholder. In practice, of course, certain beholders'
brains - especially those involved in the curatorial or critical
side of things (in the widest possible sense) - may fall into the
trap of bigheadedness and the hubris of thinking that there is
some strict definition of what makes something art than can be
clearly laid out in a few bullet points, especially if said
beholders happen to have those bullet points to hand - *or have
written them themselves*, or if holding down tenure, continuing
to get published, sell work, etc, is contingent on the maintenance
of that bullet point hegemony. Anyone with any sensibility knows
that is simply nonsense, though, even if continued employment
requires a certain amount of lip service to certain things. We
can be ideological about *that* if we like, but as regards the actual
content or context of the art itself, ideology is the death of
sensibility. The only good thing that can be said about periods
of heavily ideologically charged views of art is that they are
inevitably followed by a backlash of intense creativity and freedom.
Freedom is good for artists and good for art. Ideology, and
didacticism, with which I am deliberately conflating it - isn't.

(This isn't to say that God's in his heaven and all's right with
the world, but as I may have said once before, people primarily
interested in politics should go into politics and leave the
arts to the artists. Don't know if anyone's noticed, but politics,
having been abandoned by the politicians (all of whom seem to
want to be artists these days, for some reason) appears to have
been taken over by the lunatics and the marketeers. That's not just
bad for politics, it's bad for all of us. Please, if you want to
change the world, go into politics. It needs changing.)

Bullet point delineated definitions of art get acted on in order
to reward those artists who happen to produce work that falls within
the always narrow bounds of such bullet points, and they never delineate
more than a set of things that only occasionally intersects with
what art actually is. The struggling artist, meanwhile, is forced
either to limit their work to whatever happens to be considered
acceptable within these boundaries, or, hopefully, to paraphrase
William Carlos Williams, to do what the fuck they please, how the
fuck they please, when the fuck they please, and either starve,
or get a day job and merely starve for recognition, while waiting
for everyone else's definitions of what is good to shift in order
to accommodate them. Either that, or they deliberately try and
do some stuff within the bullet points to earn a crust, and keep their
real work for themselves. That's really playing with fire, though, as
any musician who has deliberately tried to 'do pop' or whatever, can
attest. (This is really going to annoy anyone who is starving while
they try and produce work strictly within the set of bullet points
currently considered worthy, but that bothers me not one whit. Art
should come from the heart or not at all, you know what you like
when you experience it, not everyone likes everything, and the only
reason that isn't the end of the matter is a whole 'nuther - and highly
political - subject, which has little to with art, net or not.)

There is no history of art, as such, on this basis, merely a
history of misdefinitions of art, in which we get to see who happened
to be considered successful, was recognised and encouraged in any
given generation, as seen through the distorting mirror of all the
subsequent different misdefinitions of art backwards through time.
Manifestos and movements and all that nonsense are just practical
means of getting the bullet points moved in order to have *your*
stuff be considered good.

(Consider the following 'Law Of Fives Art Manifesto':

1 - The only real art is based on the number five.
2 - All true artists have five letters in their surnames.
Joyce led the way in literature. Degas led the way in the visual arts.
Weber in music. Etc.
3 - Art is made with the hands. Count the fingers on your hands. See?
4 - Art is perceived with the senses. How many senses are there?
5 - There are five kinds of art: literature, visual art, music,
performance art, and knitting.

Actually, all art is knitting.

I have five letters in my surname, and I support this manifesto. I bet
Heath Bunting doesn't though, unless we change point two to 'All true
artists have five letters in their *names*.' mez and jodi won't like
it, but I bet NNNNN does. Etc.)

My serious point is that I have never come across any artist or critic
originating or supporting a manifesto that excluded them, with the possible
loose exception of Otto Weininger, a German Jewish anti-semite who eventually
committed suicide - *because he was Jewish*. Weininger only survives because
the story is so tragically funny, though you really don't want to look into
him too deeply; he was a raving misogynist as well as a racist proto-Nazi,
and... I digress.

Now - the act of *defining* art becomes political when you look at who
is or is not excluded by whichever definitions, and I am not in any way
denying that there are all kinds of ideologies that might follow from
*that*. But allowing any ideology or definition to limit your view of what
is or isn't *art* itself, what should or shouldn't be produced, or whatever, is
intrinsically bound to put you in the category - sooner or later - of
'just not getting it' when someone - as they inevitably do - manages to
produce something that demonstrably moves people, says something, and
is art, yet which falls outside the given boundaries.

It's the cultural equivalent of the Epistle to the Paranoids from the
Principia Discordia, which goes something like - 'Lo, ye have locked
yourself in a cage of fear and now do ye complain ye are lonely.'

This is all just a long winded way of saying 'I might not know much about
art but I know what I like' but then I don't have a problem with that. Of
course, I'm only saying this because a) I might not know much about art but
I know what I like, and b) my own work is so *highly* unfashionable
I don't even get to be an 'Outsider' artist. Either that or it's just crap,
I don't know. It doesn't matter. Thank heaven for day jobs. Anyway, I've
developed this theory that you can't possibly *be* a full-time artist and
produce work of worth, because you get disconnected from the real world.
Naturally, I plan to abandon that theory the instant I can afford to be a
full-time artist.

> (the definition of net art has for a
> long time been : art which criticizes and de/reconstructs internet
> technology and internet culture, a very limiting definition in my eyes.
> Software art is in danger of sharing the same fate).

If that's been 'the definition of net art' for a long time, then it's
been wrong for a long time. Any definition is going to be limited, er,
by definition. Defining art is about as fruitful an occupation as defining
God, both in the sense that it's a complete load of crap and in the sense
that there are whole squads of people who make careers out of doing exactly

Meanwhile, the artists carry on getting on with it, the lucky ones get
recognised by whatever arbitrary set of bullet points guide the fund-holders,
the determined ones plot and scheme to get the bullet points shifted in
their favour, and the unlucky ones gravitate, eventually, to sculpture,
if they have any sense, on the basis that bloody great lumps of stone are
likely to survive long enough to be fashionable *some* day in precisely
the way that ephemeral web pages, texts, or bits of daubed linen, or whatever,

> I have been wondering the last two weeks whether I should maybe
> apologize for the way I wrote the DXI review.

I didn't read it, nor did I follow the fall-out from its premature
release, but no, Josephine, you have nothing whatsoever to apologise for. If a text
you wrote got accidentally released by someone else before you were
finished working on it, the only apology required (which I'm sure I did see) was
from the accidental releaser *to you*. Anyone attacking the text did so in the
full knowledge that it was a *work in progress*, and anyone attacking the author
of a text in progress - on whatever basis - will have that attack
thoroughly undermined by a simple 'hmm, yes, I'm still editing that bit.' You were
still editing every bit, as far as discussion of said text was concerned,
and a priori, without having read a single word of any of them, any attack
on you yourself on the basis of words you were effectively *still thinking about*
can and should be rejected.

I don't care what you are purported to have said or how people have
misinterpreted it - there can be no way that anyone should ever have to
apologise for a text they were still editing, especially if its release
was someone else's mistake, not theirs.

I, by contrast, should apologise, for waffling, which I shall now stop.

Cheers etc.,


Wayne Myers

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