Artist, writer, curator, and now the person behind art residency Cannonball Miami’s new school, Gean will be in NYC from Miami, and will visit with us for the first half of class. He’s going to talk about his ongoing study of the end of alternative spaces and the usefulness of think tanks. (Gean directed Locust Projects so he has some inside knowledge.)
Gean also wants us to read this text written by the head of Zaha Hadid’s architecture studio. We can discuss in class!
Public funding for art, including public funding for art schools is an indefensible anachronism. Schools of art are not justifiable by argument, because contemporary art is not justifiable by argument, i.e. art is itself indefensible. Art is pure provocation. However, public funding should require rational justification in terms of determinate purposes and benefits. It should not be able to rely on a traditional, anachronistic reverence towards “art”. Public funding decisions should not rely on an unexplained sense of art’s “value” that lingers on even after 100 years of avant-garde efforts to debunk it and laugh it out of existence. Art schools and art academies made sense in an earlier epoch when the arts had still a determinate instrumentality and unquestioned serviceableness. This determinate instrumentality and serviceableness did not only pertain to the societal institution of art as such but to each individual work of art. For instance a portrait served the service of preserving the memory of an important person for the sake of those who are associated with his/her legacy. Today the former purposes of painting have been taking over by the mass media with the aid of professional disciplines like graphic design, photography and film-making. A painting commemorating an important political event was educational and gave a solemn character to the city hall in which it was placed, together with the sculptures and architectural design features that serve to mark the designation and importance of the space they create and adorn etc. Here public funding and arguments about whether a particular work of art was fit for purpose were appropriate and indeed called for. Obviously art does not function like this anymore, and any attempt to argue for or against a particular work’s functionality or instrumental value wholly misunderstands the institution of contemporary art. In fact the institution of contemporary art excludes all objects and communications that have a determinate functionality and succeed in fulfilling a function. Art now excludes the instrumental and recognisably useful from its realm.
This exclusion relates to the latent societal function of the institution of contemporary art. Yes, contemporary art in its totality does have a societal function, although no specific work of art has. What is the societal function of the art world? My theory of contemporary art proposes the following answer:
The societal function of the art is provocation. Art supplies society with provocative mutations, i.e. the art world institutionalizes a necessary evolutionary mechanism for the ongoing cultural evolution of world society. Dysfunction is an essential feature of mutations. Given functions needs to be rejected in order to give new functions a chance to evolve. Mutations are random, and as such mostly exaptations (rather than adaptations), they are pre-adaptive advances, if they turn out to be advances at all, against the odds. Ex ante they are unjustifiable, and only a small fraction will come to having been meaningful ex post, i.e. in retrospect mutations may turn out to having been useful by pointing the way towards a useful innovation. The art world is society’s brain storming arena, where all rational filters and controls must be suspended, in order to fulfil the brainstorming function of generating genuinely new ideas. Again, we must expect the vast majority of contributions to remain “off the wall”.
Because it is a logical impossibility that public funding be “allocated” as an undifferentiated total to be spread indiscriminately across the inherently open-ended field of self-appointing artists and art institutions, any funding decision about necessarily specific allocations involves discrimination that in turn call for rational arguments about relative merits and/or cost-benefit considerations based on accepted, conventional purposes and standards. Therefore all public money interventions into the art world are inherently going against art’s raison d’être and can only serve to distort and corrupt its crucial societal function. The same goes for schools of art which serve to restrict the supply of potential artists that can act as mutants on the social body, because only those who can pass the muster of art professors have a chance. The supposed academic teaching and professorial expert examination of art students’ contemporary art practice is nothing but a pretence that inherently runs counter to the societal raison d’être of art (as proposed here, in my theory of contemporary art). Public funding and publicly funded art schools cannot help but corrupt art’s crucial societal function. Contemporary society needs contemporary art in its function as utterly unfettered arena of brainstorming and experimentation.
The art world is a platform for radical experimentation. As such it serves as a conduit for innovation. What kind of innovations? There are as little restrictions on the type of innovation that might be inspired by a work of art as there are restrictions on the work itself. Radical openness is the hallmark of the art world. I am talking about innovations that might be inspired by works of art rather than talking about innovations that are manifest within the work of art as understood within the art world. This distinction is important. The art world itself selects its winners and losers in rationally impenetrable ways. The art market’s evaluations have virtually no grounding in “fundamentals” and are accordingly volatile, driven by hype and internal feedback mechanisms. Its selection processes and funding mechanisms through high net worth collectors are radically subjective, irredeemably intuitive, and indeed recklessly wilful. Selection/funding mechanisms are thus ultimately quasi-random. As such they are congenial to art’s function as mechanism of mutation. Of course there are institutional structures that try to constrain the utter, unconstrained openness of art, in order to gain a certain measure of predictability: For instance art works are usually part of a “professional” artist’s oeuvre. There are organisations that seem to have stabilized a certain market making power and reputation, e.g. museums like MOMA, artists like Jeff Koons, festivals like Documenta, art fairs like Frieze, galleries like Gagosian, and last but not least art schools like London’s Central St.Martins. But none of these are safe from new challengers and unpredictable upheavals. (And there is no art theory that can predict or safe-guard art’s evolution.) Reputations are made and lost. There is only one necessary (but not sufficient) condition for something to be art, i.e. it must be a public exhibit (object, event, communication).
Newness is the crucial driving force. But the internal “professional” perspective of the art world cannot distinguish newness from innovation. However, there are important external observers and utilizers of the art world who can start to make this distinction. These observers/utilizers are crucial for the realization of art’s societal function as conduit for potential societal innovations that are inspired by or evolve from artistic practices. Despite all false and counterproductive talk about art existing for “the general public”, I contend that the primary audience of contemporary art consists in creative professionals. (The “politically correct” falsity of claiming art for all which is a necessary result of public art funding is one more important reason to eliminate all public funding of art.) Art exists for other artists and for professionals from the creative industries like the professionals from the design disciplines (including graphic design, product design, fashion design, architecture), professionals from the mass media including film-makers, set designers, script writers, but also professionals from various engineering disciplines involved with new technologies like computer scientists, robotics researchers etc. I suspect certain art practices also speak to innovators in the field of political activism. This diversity of arenas into which the art world sends sparks is reflected in the diversity of art practices and “media”: visual art (graphic design, photo journalism), installation art (architecture, urban design), sculpture (product design), video art (film-making), performance art (acting, theatre, film), internet art (new media), interactive electronic installations (electronic engineering) etc. This list of categories is endlessly evolving. And what is also important to realize that these types of art are created within the art world but not necessarily by professional artists. It is often young avant-garde professionals, would-be professionals and future professionals from the various fields of the creative industries that utilize the freedom and resources of the art world to conduct raw experiments and explore future oriented research projects that as yet not able to deliver functioning products and solutions. These works are as many proto-designs, proto-movies, proto-architectures, proto-internet services, proto-political arguments, i.e. the efforts of these art works are at best partial solution, or mere hints towards innovations. And yet, they can get funding to realise first proto-types and they get an audience to test ideas, reactions, and an opportunity to be noticed. If they were already fully functional innovations they would not need the institutionalized tolerance that the art world offers. In fact they would not be admitted into its ambit. Many of the “artist” that come from the ultimately instrumental creative industries and use the art world, remain nevertheless part of the discourse of their original discipline in which their careers then ultimately reside. Others become professional artists who themselves never finalize and ultimately utilize their experiments. Again, many or most of these attempts remain failed experiments with little or no real life innovative thrust or impact. But without the investment into potential failures no radical innovation can emerge.
Thus the financial resources and select elite audiences of the art world are not only made available to professional artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, but they are also being utilized by the avant-garde segments of many other professions and arenas of social life: The galleries, museums, projects, fairs and festivals of the art world are also utilized by creative industry professionals of all sorts, from current or future disciplines. That’s not the perspective of the art world itself. If it were, it would have to try to anticipate and estimate the fruitfulness of artistic experiments in terms of future (if not present) usefulness. This very attempt would close down its arena. The art world’s protagonists – the gallerists, museum directors, collectors, and critics – cannot become experts in all the future potentials of all of society’s arenas of innovation. They must remain generalists and recklessly intuitive enthusiasts, and perhaps “philosophers” (another type of enfant terrible that might be theorized in parallel to artists). If there is ex ante rationality in the “artistic” reasearch projects of the creative industry professionals it can only be assessed and validated within their respective fields, not within the art world. The art world itself must remain a place with a radical, implicit, multi-purpose openness – and this can only be operationalized by the seemingly irrational formula “purposelessness”, by an explicit strict taboo against function, purpose, instrumentalization.
Therefore, art’s latent functions and thus the theory propounded here, better remains hidden, because this function would be compromised by becoming manifest. Therefore I hope and predict that my theory of art will not catch on within the art world.
By the way, all the above implies that some parts of “art schools” can be legitimately funded, namely those specialized courses and applied disciplines that are tied to the creative industry professions – like design, fashion, film etc. – because such disciplines can be legitimately taught and examined according to the respective discipline’s determinate purposes, criteria of success and state of the art achievements. None of these categories are applicable to contemporary art proper with its essential nature of agent provocateur.
Patrik Schumacher, London 2015
Here are some of Gean’s writing: