It is difficult to define art, yet it is necessary for artists and the intellectuals who think about art to strive to do so. Defining art is a quest to be taken beyond merely asking the question with a flippant shrug of irony and sarcasm as if to answer ”nothing and everything”, the paradigm of anti-art, neoliberal post-modernity and elite vanguardism.
Trying to define art becomes impossible in the forever nuance-seeking language of academics, scholars and activists for social reparations.
The language of the art-world today consists of the same catchphrases and technical abc’s given to the young, ascendant ruling elites who have paid irreparable tuition fees and have been bred in the great capitalist compromise, the new paradigm of financial ambition of the 21st century pragmatic intellectual. Their schooling invests in a compromise between awareness and self-critique of the brutal nature and history of capitalism, and their personal need for advancement within it. Power’s new language includes critical theory and deconstruction, post-structuralism, gender and subaltern theory and the elite-anti-elitist aesthetics of the social sciences. Despite claiming a posture of radical opposition to capital, the new, dead language is dead and faceless, just as capital, and similarly attains its self-reproduction and multiplication despite being dead. This might have been how William S Burroughs warned that ”language is a virus”, an almost dead, self-reproducing organism, and how many writers who were masters of language, such as Goethe, saw language as a dangerous force that needed in itself to be transcended. Jargon is not anti-language, it is the reinforcement of language that is not to be transformed, dead matter. The jargonauts, the masters of jargon, float about in the spaces of postmodernity–which, as argued by Frederic Jameson, is a landscape in which there is no time, but only space, time having been transcended in favor of clean, static space. Such spaces as exist in timeless, frozen postmodernity are a close relative to the monumental, empty spaces of 20th century Fascist esplanades and Fascist art and architecture–despite that postmodernity, based on historical misconception, in essence justifies itself on a rejection of the ideologies that culminated in mid-20th century Fascism. The most rejected ideology on whose elimination postmodernity based its triumph was the postmodern (really post-war) repudiation against romanticism and against neo-romanticism. Postmodernity attacked these ideologies, and favored relativism, glib sentimentality, the sociology insisting art can at best only be handicrafts to repair wounds in a community, while the university lecturer must have the envied glory previously known only to the Author and the artist. Postmodernity is post-war, politically correct mercantilism and the stuttering of cowards who fill their deep pockets while spouting shallow theories to a French ear (the way Dali’s fetus spat blood and ejaculate into the host–Dali’s fetus prophesied the lecturer on literary, critical theory)
Critical Theory, Gender Theory and Creative Writing can be abbreviated as CT GT and CW, to place them in a rubric as the Occidental, Western variant of the Oriental, South Asian disciplines of IT (Information Tech) Gender Tech, abbreviated into GT, also places it alongside its older sisters such as General Motors (GM) and Hewlett Packard (HP) (the latter two are sporting tough, strident female CEOs interviewed in Forbes magazine’s frequent lists of women chief executive officers to look out for)
The ownership of degrees in the theoretical arts vastly increases a young graduates’ future likelihood of exorbitant salaries, employment in high posts of power in the financial and ”humanitarian” institutions.
Leading universities, those between UCLA on the Pacific coastline to the European Institute in the Swiss mountain enclosure –where they begin to truly think about gender and justice on the banks of the lakes of Evian–ready their pupils into an official work of apology-maker and advocate. The educational system has built a new liberal priesthood, a class that is oratorial and devoted to the making of ”Discourse” which in the Roman empire was called ”Rhetoric” or the work of rhetoricians, who entered into a gladiatorial rivalry with the poets–Rome’s rhetoricians were more often well-paid, whereas only some of the poets could compete on the strictly financial and property-owning terrain with the rhetoricians. Today ”poetry” in the imperial society, becomes a prestigious form of recreation, and a credential for the young rhetorician, the one who writes for the establishment newspapers and political, legal and financial journals also practices poetry as a form of exercise, to be exhibited in the literary journal like a trophy awarded to the winner of a national fencing league competition. Poetry has become a credential for the powerful rhetoricians. This is why the dominant aesthetic, as the literary critic Anis Shivani pointed out, is one of an imperial sentiment of grief within the strict form of a politically correct poem that quickly resolves its formal crisis in an Epiphany. To his diagnosis, can be added a comparison to another late imperial form, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: one of grief while being Stoic, chaste, repressing emotions and daimons, sexless and in a searching for New Age-like reflection or epiphany. In poetry, the imperial form is simple and seldom too mysterious, unless its mysteries are cerebral, seeking resolution to crisis in practical quotidian Illuminations that arrive to the highly domesticated, hyper-rational person. This movement in the history of empire’s poets as if Minerva, the sexless goddess of Wisdom, in the goddess’ old age and senility resulting from too many wars of counter-insurgency, was returning to the mouth of the imperialist in the form of a fly, laying its last eggs before dying in glucose. The widely published MFA poets are seeking a momentary pause from a chosen life of constant regularity and consumption and want to share it with you, there medium would be more justified in the hospital bed greeting card than in the literary journal whose editors they possess on a leash.
Being that they form a clerical class, in their nonfiction and apoetical intellectual language, that of Discourse, there is a reliance on a dead language, a language of obscure monk-like scholasticism and nominalism. The monastic dead language of Critical Theory, conceptualism, gender and post-structuralism serve to inaugurate the sciences of social control and repression as if they are uplifting, saving, emancipating.
Their studies are part of a political Telos, a goal and historical movement from the vast elites towards the humanization of the ruling financial order. They produce the sub-languages of the humanitarian institutions and the transnational Non Governmental Organizations, the ”non-profit” which is the ultimate tax-skirting profit-seeking firm, the tongue of the battalions of ”gender studies” and ”subaltern studies” which have absorbed the majority of the youth of the middle classes and serve to confuse the origins and nature of social oppression. Thereby they make make themselves competitors and enemies of any revolutionary art, despite that their language of scholasticism and nominalism is spoken by the art world, by the majority of curators, by the departments of literature that teach anti-literature.
A dead language, spoken by the intellectual of the autumn-struck imperial society and by the establishments who claim to be vanguards, is a sign of an era of rampant genocides resulting from the imperial warfare of counter-insurgency. The topic of such wars and genocides are forgiven by the vanguard intelligentsia who have served to either obscure the order and power relations or have constantly changed the subject to the superficial totems and narcissisms of skin-color, and genital-shapes as politics in order to postpone any genuine or intellectually mature confrontation of the system. The speech of trailblazers seeking to make their way in Washington’s lobby industry or in the international network of Non Governmental, for profit organizations, is a richer yet familiar cousin of the dialects used by the curators and presenters of the conceptual art scene, and to the language of the departments of literature and of ”cultural theory”. The art objects in conceptual exhibitions are no longer portals to other worlds–they are instead affirmations of the need to have a brain-exercise to increase musculature and self-esteem for those who want to further control this world. Conceptual art is one of puzzles, mind-games, brain and word games. The puzzles are a discipline far removed from painting or novels, not merely in their underlying theory. The idea-based art, getting its ideas parasitically from mechanically-produced academic literature, is one where the viewer exercises her mastery of the concepts taught in masters programs of critical theory, which are part of international relations studies and the sciences of management. The conceptual art pieces, unlike the works of Caravaggio and Monteverdi, cannot possibly humble the viewers and listeners. The conceptual art, as mental jigsaw, is exercise, training, to reaffirm mastery of the dialects of Boston, Washington, the esotericism of the Pentagon and New York political and thinking, gaming-class. Conceptual art, if it has a parallel in any pre-existing figurative medium, can be compared to the game-pieces in which painters made technical drawings of the hunting tools and trophies of the land-owning, reflecting a physical achievement, a mental and physical exercise in the land-owners dexterity. The game-piece was an unfree form, making it difficult for the painter to subvert the rules of the commissioner, for unlike in a portrait-drawing it did not allow the artist the opportunity to mock the vanity of the future owner of the painting. With all but immaterial art made unfree and isolated, there is a transplantation of the post-literary concept about Death of the Author, Birth of the ”Reader (or the one giving ”close readings”) from the literary into the visual art world: the death of the artist and the birth of the curator. Here the curator again is one of the rhetoricians, like those in Rome–they were called orators, mastering the skills of sculpting oratory, which today is dubbed creative writing craft. To curate, as to speak as maker of immaterial art, is oratory, valid in the pits of the senate and of political and sales congresses. The curator is also an editor, organizing existing and refining existing knowledge more than creating the crude matter of knew knowledge: it is as if libraries were filled by books that had editors and no writer.
The non-conceptual, or pre-conceptual Arts, become the equivalent of a form of handicrafts in the post-industrial society. They stand are under political and economic pressure to prove their utilitarian, rather than spiritual, worth to the community. It is in this situation that a new role arises for the ”minority”. Minority-artist, means the artist whose origins are from the continents on which the world’s teeming majorities live and suffer–that is not enough to make him a minority, however, or we would include Frankétienne, Mia Couto, Doris Lessing, St Jean Perse or the white South African artist whose exhibit in Paris was recently shut down by activists within the art establishment: minority means his origins are genetically, evidently from one of the majority of the world’s resource-providing continents. In the area of arts as handicrafts, the non-conceptual art of the minoritarian is highly prized, if it fits within the format of handicrafts, meaning that it becomes a form of souvenir. Souvenir is to be taken literally, in the imperial semantics: a sentimental memory of past imperial glory, or a token of admission of guilt for one’s having inherited the diamond couch sculpted by ancestral colonialism’ victories. If a tourist wants to own a souvenir handicraft, he might choose the sand-painting by blond-dreadlocked hippies inhabiting Oregon or Cape Cod Massachussettes. But if the curator (as advanced form of neo-colonial tourist) can acquire the more authentic souvenir made by a Guatemalan vendor, sold in Mexico DF or Tijuana stands for handicrafts, or the Medina and Souk in Morocco offering discount sufism, he will opt for these and won’t even be too self-righteous if aware of being ripped off on the price. The masterful creation of handicrafts becomes endorsed and aggrandized as if it is a Unesco or United Nations project, motivated in part by guilt and in part by nostalgia for the radical immoralism of empire. Furthermore, there is a genuine awareness that the post-industrial society cannot give birth to a Caravaggio or a Goya. Caravaggio, Goya and Chagall therefore have to be found in the archaic realms that exist before the death of tragedy, in the Middle East, Africa, Russia and South America, where there is plenty of physical daily evidence that tragedy is alive and well, an ogre impossible to ignore. The films of Michael Haneke stand in radical contradiction to the era of Western forensic voyages into the non-West to find tragedy: his work is concerned with mining the somnambulant German society for its tragedy. The filmic, anti-postmodern project of Haneke perhaps at times meets Gunter Grass’ prophetic confrontation, with a Germany pretending ignorance of its 21st century turn towards irresponsible populism, and its pride in the non-violent colonization and abuse of Greece.
Once the maker of souvenir and exotic handicrafts has been ”curated” and saved, by importation to the Western auction-house, the new native is taught the new language and discipline: that of postmodernity, meaning the achievement the timeless, static spaces, the liquefaction of absolutes, the martial arts of sociology and self-marketing. This process can be renamed The Curating of the Oriental. In the era where political correctness has inflicted academic Anti-Orientalism in the language of intellectual or polite society, there has been a way of compensating for the abolition of Orientalism. The imagery of 19th century romantic Orientalism, whether of the colonial academy or of Delacroix’ revolutionary radicalism, stands outlawed. The curatorial and art establishment, operating on the ethos of liberal guilt and Non-profit rescue missions, seeks to curate the Oriental, instead of the Oriental’s mere objects. This applies whether the Oriental is from the Orient, the Middle East or Asia, Africa or Latin America.
Curating the oriental often results in the artificial, often involuntary politicization of the art made by the Oriental artist who has no choice but to allow an invasive, North-Occidental politicization of the Oriental artist’s work. The Oriental artist, a guest-worker (gast-arbeiter) must tolerate the Deus-ex-machina-like politicization of his work, alienating work from artist, if he hopes to have a chance of survival by selling or by access to funding.