I am listening to a the fabulously generative podcast Game Studies Study Buddies – in particular the episode on Surrealism.
It is making we think about art, individuality, the unconscious and perhaps Walter Benjamin. I am into the first three, not so much Walter.
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Is art that prioritizes self expression still art?
Photography is the beginning of art as self-expression which is a rupture from traditional art as a mode of communal participation and perhaps self transformation (feeling and integrating new feelings). At this moment art becomes about the decisions or mind of the photographer (ie the artist), what photo do I take, rather than my technique in creating art. Art becomes about personal expression, rather than universal participation. It also becomes about selection, ie decision making ie taste, and is the beginning of the curation as art / the mixtape/ sampling (perhaps brilliantly temporally locally realized by Hans Ulrich Obrist).
The work of art in the of mechanical reproduction, Benjamin’s work, only makes sense in the context of capitalist culture. The “value” of the work of art only makes sense in this context. How value changes between cardinality and multiplicity (or mass production) only makes sense in a society with use value and exchange value and commodity fetishism. But lets play along, what is art in the age of mechanical reproduction, well everything becomes aestheticized (such as politics), because it becomes personal and perspectival rather than embodied in a medium. We could also say this is the beginning of conceptual art because art is about decisions or instructions. Even in the case of abstract expressionism or mediums that look more traditional, the value is always in … look at this new way I the artist am expressing myself/reinterpreting this thing etc. There is now value in doing this first.
Now I am jumping the gun. Walter attempts to ground some real value in the original vs the mass produced object in the notion of aura. This seems metaphysical – I’ll talk about this later. But in an attempt to stay grounded with Kant in the Island or reason, or land or reason, I forget in the geography of Kant if speculation is an island or the water, but I digress. Back on reason, the original work of art has original spacial and temporality that make it Art, rather than the spacial and temporal coordinates of the reproductions. Expanding this to modern art, we now have one dimension, temporal. All that matters is that you are THE FIRST.
I do think by going radically into the personal we can get at something universal. I love rich artist works by people with a fully developed personal mythology – I think of Jacolby Satterwhite, for example. And there is something universal in the complete realization of a personal mythology. As if, the entirety of a personal mythology achieves something universal. If we look at ART of the past there is a participatory aspect, there is an embodied aspect, there is a communal aspect (thinking of lascaux and the sistine chapel, or even bardic oral traditions like Homeric epics or Icelandic sagas), I have also experience Satterwhite’s work like this at Pioneer works and The Rubin Museum. Benjamin’s concept of aura maybe is trying to capture this idea of participatory and embodied art, I really I am not into this cartesian/kantian Time/Space analysis. I want to lean into the metaphysics of what aura can actually be.
So back to listening to this podcast, and surrealist tools to get at the unconscious, is this just radically personal? Is the unconscious or obsession with the unconscious radical narcissism? I would say the unconscious or connection with the unconscious is the most universal part of a human. I would say perhaps neurosis is personal and what happens when neurosis is removed is something universal. Like all happy families are the same and all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way – to paraphrase Tolstoy. Surrealist games and a deep communication/connection with one’s unconscious would perhaps connect not only with the particulars or uniqueness of each individual, but also with the universals of all humans. Surrealist games are participatory and communal. What is revealed in a surrealist game is not the product of one artist -but of the group playing the game. The creator of the game gets credit, perhaps because someone needs to get paid, in money or cultural capital.
So what is Art in the age in mechanical reproduction, if art is not some fetish created by capitalism, but a participatory experience that provides something like connective tissue for the world (humanity, nature etc)? I have no idea, it cannot be just the individual ability to make a unique or idiosyncratic decision but for universal decisions and visions revealed. Perhaps it is something coordinated and emergent. But yeah photography is the beginning of our individualistic culture – realized in instagram – and perhaps TikTok – which I don’t understand AT ALL.