by lewis levenberg
A few words, this week, on the vagaries of hanging out our shingle once more. We’ve encountered setbacks, delays, challenges, and so on. But we’re still dogging this startup—this conglomeration of our assets into publication, incubation, and focused curation—and it’s time to share what we’ve learned so far. Here’s to the phoenix, in all its flaming feathered courage. You know where to find us with your response—or leave them here, below.
Let us assume, for the moment, that the great movement of twentieth-century art (modernism and its codicils) comprises a vast coming-to-terms with capital.
I will not stress this assumption other than to demonstrate its plausibility. The differences in encountering works of art from 1912 or 2012 remain both vast and mundane, and I do not seek to oversimplify them here. Aesthetic changes over time scarcely deserve more attention, but I wish to point to the development of the production, distribution, institutionalization, reception, and—oh, hell yes—definition of art and its works today. So, for the moment, let us agree that art now enjoys an uneasy truce with capital. We turn to their systemic interaction.
Capital affects the work of (making) art in ugly and definite ways. It defines and structures art’s possible conditions of production, for one thing. In other words, one cannot produce art unless one can afford to. If a person has the time, skills, and resources to engage with art’s materials and practices, whether sanctified or otherwise, they can make some—this is basic stuff. And I’m not suggesting, here that one’s self-naming as “artist,” or the sources of time, materials, training/practice, etc. are fixed. No, but there are some recognizable patterns at play.
This leads me to art’s effect on capital. As work—as labor, if you want—art moves and generates and changes the very forms of capital. Invested in products, the work of art gives artworks part of their value. Invested in their institutional trappings, the artist and the agent and the dealer and the gallerist and the curator and the critic and the teacher and the visitor and the collector and the goddamn subway sweeper pass their judgments, shake their hands and cry the value of authenticity, originality, impact. But as expression, art maintains space to critique capital’s patterns, none the less.
How does our art move now? It moves unashamedly in concert with the capital that sustains it, even when dissonant. Our art does not divorce from business: as the poet says, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man…”, and if we learn nothing else from hip-hop we must learn how hard to hustle. If we want others to see, hear, read, smell, feel our works of art, then we must also work to bring that work to them. Art was never a pastime, or a hobby. To create regularly takes deep investment, and sacrifice. As practice and craft, our art stands unflinchingly before the spectral horrors of income, expenses, cash flows, taxes, and the rest. Fuck bohemian pretension. We’ll stay irrevocably interesting and powerful and affective and beautiful despite our fiscal constraints. Indeed, we’ll stay this way because of those constraints. Our need to sustain art through art means we forsake banal insistence on the authenticity (and thereby value) assigned to the romantic ideal of the lonely genius artist creating masterpieces out of vacuum, inspiration, and sacred truths. Our art does not grow in vacuums. Collaborative work, open source processes and licenses, freemix and converged cultures swing swords. Some art dilutes into Content, into mediocrity ensconced in echo chambers and relegated to the dustbin of Twitter. But networks, institutions, habits deep entrenched in tradition and canon still all quake when other ways to bring art and artists together arise. So we cut to quick: the Circus Book demands art in and despite capital.
This is art as craft, the choice of both our necessary and persistent beauties. When we publish writing, we publish across reading platforms. When we nurture artists’ growth and development, we do so inclusive of the businesses of art. When we root and establish creative communities, we adopt the conventions of the commons, though we do not bind ourselves to commonality. In short, we recognize this movement for its own truths. Between art and capital, we stand together to thrive and create.Tags: Art History, Capital, Craft, Identity, Modernism, Movement