Many of those who hold the fatalistic outlook that the art world is a closed system for a select few that has no real social effect seek a way out. In 1971, Allan Kaprow argued that anti-art in the provocative Dada tradition had become 'nullified' when everything ('even murder') is an admissible artistic practice' (Kaprow 2003: 109). In response, he called for a rejection of the artist label and championed the fusion of a playful creativity into all aspects of life. Paraphrasing Karl Marx, he declared: 'Artists of the world drop out! You have nothing to lose but your professions!' (ibid.). Ever the iconoclast, Jean Baudrillard eventually turned on his artist followers and proclaimed that art had become ‘empty', 'null', 'void' and 'insignificant' (Baudrillard 2005: 27). He argued that all critique is co-opted, marketed, and neutralised and that the only solution was the death of art. Meanwhile in the foreword to the 2012 Berlin Biennale, Artur Żmijewski’s proclaimed that 'Artists, as well as the theorists and philosophers gravitating in their world, have become "practitioners of impotence"' (Żmijewski 2012). Considering such calls, is it possible to envisage a valid artist exodus?
The recent curatorial turn in contemporary art towards displaying non-art and the work of outsiders appears close to realising and institutionally legitimising Joseph Beuys's infamous declaration that 'everybody is an artist'. This tendency is perhaps most famously exemplified in Massimiliano Gioni's recent curation of The Encyclopedic Palace at the 55th Venice Biennale. As artistic director, Gioni presented work by 158 producers, many of whom were entirely unknown or long forgotten. For Gioni, this was an attempt to blur 'the line between professional artists and amateurs, outsiders and insiders' (Gioni 2013). Is this celebration of non-art, the naive, and the outside a regressive turn that is symptomatic of a wider twenty-first-century cultural malaise or is it the first stirrings of the emergence of a democratic mode of display that operates against the glorification of a select few market-friendly artists? In this exposition, I argue that the current tendency is indeed symptomatic of a wider malaise and yet it is also perhaps the necessary, temporary turn in contemporary art and wider society.
This exposition builds on my practice-based research at the Glasgow School of Art, which sought to discover a potent artist exit. Inspired in part by the Italian autonomist strategy of exodus (Virno 1996) and Robert Smithson's search for an art 'outside of cultural confinement' (Smithson 2002), it addressed the artist exit from the artworld, society, and authorship. The thesis concluded by calling for the negation of conventional authorship alongside the affirmation of an expanded creativity. On a practical level, this could manifest in exhibitions in which anyone can exhibit. However, while stating this, the thesis must in turn be negated to avoid slipping into the affirmation of a dogmatic abstraction. This use of recurring negations derives from applying Theodor Adorno's non-identity thought to the research. This exposition will delve deeper into this controversial and timely debate on the death of authorship and shall argue that it is in fact not a death but potentially a form of rebirth.
Legacy of the avant-garde
In 2004, Marcel Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the twentieth century by a group of leading British artists, dealers, curators, and critics. To understand the ramifications of the work and its legacy, it is important to place it within its historical and institutional context. Under the pseudonym R. Mutt, Duchamp anonymously submitted the readymade to the New York Society of Independent Artist's inaugural exhibition in 1917. The society was established on the principles and motto of its Parisian forebears – participation is open to everyone and there is 'no jury and no awards'. The Société des Artistes Indépendants emerged in 1884 out of frustration with the aesthetic conservatism of the official government-sponsored Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, then the leading art exhibition in the world. Through displaying the work of Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Seurat, and Signac, among thousands of others, the alternative salons operated as a potent negation of the staid art world of late nineteenth-century Paris. In so doing, they were integral to the birth of the avant-garde and the emergence of modernism, alongside functioning as a model for true democratic governance within society.
As an émigré vanguardist from war-torn Europe, Duchamp assisted in the foundation of the emergent New York Society of Independent Artists in 1916. The infamous art historical legend tells that, following Mutt’s submission, a heated debate developed amongst the committee over whether Fountain was or was not art, after which the board contradicted their egalitarian ethos of no jury and no awards and rejected the submission. In protest, Duchamp resigned from his position as a founding member. A truly dialectical work, Fountain was the negation of the Independent Society’s negation of the official sanctioning of art. In doing so, it revealed the hypocrisies of their proclamations. Despite apparently being destroyed, never publicly discussed at the time, and only known through reproductions and a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz, it has nonetheless become the pivotal work of modern art.
The consensus today is to admire Duchamp's radical aesthetic and to denigrate knowingly the conservatism of the committee. And yet their apprehension over the submission is understandable. If trolling involves making ‘a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013), then Duchamp’s anonymous submission can clearly be interpreted as such an act, albeit of the pre-digital age. Nevertheless, while his Trickster-like gesture was an insult of sorts with clear scatological undertones, it has marked a Copernican shift in aesthetics that has yet to be resolved. It is feasible to argue that Fountain has both instigated the death and birth of art as we know it. Today, art is anything and nothing. For Thierry de Duve (1996: 329), art has become 'the reign of the whatever' for the public, while the art world strives 'to prove to the public, or to itself, that this whatever is not just anything whatever'.
While the urinal has generally been interpreted to signify that the artist can now designate anything as art, the iconoclastic object can also be read as suggesting that high culture is an elitist myth and that an everyday mass produced object initially formed by an anonymous artisan has as much merit as a painting or sculpture by one of the great masters. This interpretation is genuinely radical and troubling as it deeply problematises the identities of the artist, the critic, the curator, and the collector. For what is the purpose of such professions if everything is potentially art and everyone is potentially an artist?
In his analysis of Fountain, Thierry de Duve acknowledged that Duchamp would have dismissed this egalitarian interpretation of the readymade as he 'was never a Utopian' and would 'utterly reject universal creativity' (De Duve 1996: 290). However, like any artist, Duchamp had little control over the interpretation of his art. Indeed, he personally argued that the viewer created half the work. My reading of Fountain follows De Duve's analysis, which derives from its historical and artistic context. Along with Francis Picabia and Man Ray, Duchamp formed New York DADA. Though less overtly political than their transatlantic cousins, their thinking cannot be ostracised from the general anti-art tendency. European DADA was a vanguardist assault on conventional art and culture. Disgusted by the imperialism and capitalism that they believed had instigated the war and was perverting wider society, they sought to negate the accepted conception of art and artists and thus instigate the emergence of an anarchic, egalitarian spirit throughout society. In 1920, Richard Huelsenbeck wrote:
DADA is German Bolshevism. The bourgeois must be deprived of the opportunity to 'buy up art for his justification'. Art should altogether get a sound thrashing, and DADA stands for the thrashing with all the vehemence of its limited nature. (Huelsenbeck 2007: 66)
De Duve placed Fountain within a lineage of experimental avant-garde art production that he traced back to the political ideals of the French Revolution and the art of German Romanticism, describing how the poet Novalis was the first to proclaim that 'every man should be an artist' (1996: 288). Such egalitarianism, De Duve asserted, was developed by the rejected artists who formed alternative Parisian salons (the Salon des Refusés and the Société des Artistes Indépendants), and it crystallised in the utopian experiments of the spiritualists Kandinsky and Mondrian and the materialists Tatlin and El Lissitzky. De Duve emphasised that such production ultimately sought to embody an aesthetic revolution that would prefigure a political revolution (1996: 290). He wrote:
Since their time, the main thrust of virtually every avant-garde or modern Utopia has been that the practice of professional artist’s was to liberate a potential for art-making present in everyone individually and shared by humankind as a whole, a potential whose field was aesthetic but whose horizon was political. (De Duve 1996: 289)
At the age of 36, Duchamp infamously gave up producing art for public display. This realisation of his wish to be a 'non artist' has cast a long shadow over modern art. During an action in Düsseldorf in 1964, Joseph Beuys polemically scrolled 'the silence of Marcel Duchamp is overrated' onto a wall. This act was an explicit accusation that Duchamp's departure forsook his political, social, and artistic agency. In contrast, Beuys insisted that he was developing Duchamp's legacy through his expanded social sculpture, which involved an expanded creativity that developed from thought, discussion, and drawing and created an opening for people to work towards a holistic, harmonious society. Of Duchamp’s urinal, Beuys confidently declared:
He entered this object [the urinal] into the museum and noticed that its transportation from one place to another made it into art. But he failed to draw the clear and simple conclusion that every man is an artist. (Beuys quoted in De Duve 1996: 285)
Be it a nation, a social class, a profession, a style, a school, a neighbourhood, a sex, a sexuality, an ethnicity, a language, a religion, or a favoured football team, we are all identified and bracketed as different from others as we grow. While this is often healthy in forming our identities and creating communal bonds, it also engenders alienation and divisions. In Karl Marx's early writings, he argued that the hierarchical division of labour between classes following the emergence of capitalism created antagonisms that ruptured social cohesion (Marx and Engels 1978a: 133). In contrast, the anthropologist Christopher Boehm (1999) has described how early hunter-gatherer societies, over 12,000 years ago, were broadly egalitarian in nature. In a similar vein, ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl has claimed that there were no clear divisions of labour outside age and gender in such early societies. He stated that music was communally performed and there was 'little specialisation in composition, performance and instrument making' (Nettl 1956: 10).
In medieval Europe, artists were skilled artisans who worked anonymously in groups and produced work for rich patrons or the church: as in ancient Greece, there was little status difference between an embroiderer and a painter (Shiner 2001: 30). The notion of an individual author first emerged during the Renaissance. Learned in literature, mathematics, and rhetoric, during this period the great artists sought and achieved a social status above the producers of crafts. This shift was illuminated by Giorgio Vasari's description of the 'divine' Michelangelo in 1550. Roland Barthes (1977: 142–43) claimed that our modern conception of both the individual and the author emerged 'from the Middle Ages with English Empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the Reformation'. Soon after, the Enlightenment heralded the birth of private property, salons, critics, nation states, and representative democracy.
Etymologically an author is 'an originator of a plan or an idea' (Oxford English Dictionary 2004: 88). To deem authorship is to determine ownership for what is created. The concept is closely related to authority: 'the power or right to give orders and enforce obedience' (ibid.). In 'What is an Author?' Michel Foucault claimed that the author's role is intrinsically bound up with the individualism and private property of the bourgeois, capitalist society of the eighteenth century (Foucault 1984: 119). However, he argued that the author’s ownership of the discipline and their role as 'the regulator of the fictive' was not inherently stable:
Given the historical modifications that are taking place, it does not seem necessary that the author function remain constant in form, complexity, and even in existence. I think that as our society changes, at the very moment when it is in the process of changing, the author function will disappear. (Foucault 1984: 119)
Foucault was tentative in approaching the radical perspective of a total renunciation of authorship, arguing that it would be ‘pure romanticism’ to ‘imagine a culture in which the fictive would operate in an absolutely free state’ (ibid.); however, he nonetheless called for 'a form of culture in which fiction would not be limited by the figure of the author' (ibid.). He foresaw an alteration of the 'author function' in historical terms, believing that it will change as capitalist society mutates. Likewise, G. S. Evans argued that the emergence of a capitalist commodity-based culture in Europe and North America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries fundamentally altered the production and consumption of art. He claimed that 'the art-commodity came to replace participatory-art in most people's lives, and art increasingly became a source of alienation' (Evans 1989: 2). In response, he called on us to reject the fetishism of art products and overcome our artistic alienation through producing our own art.
Conflicting emotions have engulfed me in the past when observing an exhibition, football match, film, or concert. Although often enjoyable and informative, I also felt a sense of dissatisfaction at times. Upon reflection, I realise that such sensations derive from the distancing of the performance and the manner with which it reminded me of my failure or inability to act or realise my agency in art or life. While these emotions are negative, they are entirely human and not uncommon. In Friedrich Nietzsche's analysis of the master-slave relationship, he described the emergence of a slave morality steeped in what he termed 'ressentiment'. He described such a morality as 'emerging from those denied the potential for action and who respond with an imaginary revenge' (Nietzsche 2007: 20).
Resentment in itself is an entirely destructive emotion. However, when channelled, it also has the potential to engender social and personal change. In Pierre Bourdieu's analysis of the field of cultural production, he described how the dominant model of art is perpetually negated from below or within. He described how there is a 'continuous [...] battle between those who have made their names [fait date] and are struggling to stay in view and those who cannot make their own names without relegating to the past the established figures, whose interest lies in freezing the movement of time, fixing the present state of the field for ever' (Bourdieu 2002: 1021), and contested that this Oedipal friction is endemic in all fields – be it class struggle or cultural production. For Bourdieu, aesthetic tastes are not always personal idiosyncrasies but are class based perpetuations of social division (Bourdieu 1984). He claimed that the rigid framing of what is considered great art is a form of social domination and control:
Saying of this or that tendency in writing that 'it just isn’t poetry' or 'literature' means refusing it a legitimate existence, excluding it from the game, excommunicating it. This symbolic exclusion is merely the reverse of the effort to impose a definition of legitimate practice, to constitute, for instance, as an eternal and universal essence a historical definition of an art or a genre corresponding to the specific interests of those who hold a certain specific capital. (Bourdieu 1990: 143–44)
Bourdieu insisted that this exclusionary strategy of imposing 'a definition of legitimate practice' had both artistic and political motives, which are imposed on both producers and consumers. Of course, the status quo is never stable as it is perpetually contested by younger or disenfranchised producers. For Bourdieu, these power struggles within the field between the dominant and dominated, conservative and avant-garde agents are maintained and transformed through conflicts of symbolic capital. He took the dialectical conflicts within the art of nineteenth-century France as emblematic of such frictions.
Inspired in part by Hegel's infamous 'end of art' thesis, Boris Groys (2008) convincingly argued that art was radically devalued with the demise of the church following the French Revolution – whereas Christian icons were once venerated, nobody now seeks salvation from modern art. Groys claimed that artists responded to this growing alienation between themselves and the people through developing strategies of sacrificial self-negation. He described how the vanguardists of Italian futurism, the Russian avant-garde, Dada, surrealism, Fluxus, the Situationist International, and Warhol's Factory all sought to 'devalue the symbolic value of art' through negating their 'personal individuality and authorship to commonality' (Groys 2008: 28). To elucidate, he turned to Richard Wagner’s conceptualisation of the Gesamtkunstwerk (the total work of art) in his essay The Art-Work of the Future (Wagner 1949).
Written during the failed revolution of 1848 and 1849, Wagner began the text by negating the egocentric isolated artist who produces goods for the rich before going on to envisage an art of Communism. To realise such an art, he called on artists to reject all stylistic divisions and to recognise that the people, the folk, are the true artists (Groys 2008: 21). Groys described Wagner’s motivation:
People sing, dance, write poetry, or paint because these practices derive from the natural constitution of their bodies. The isolation and professionalization of these activities represent a kind of theft perpetrated by the wealthy classes upon the people. This theft must be redressed, and the individual reunited in order to re-create the inner unity of each person as well as the unity of the people. (Groys 2008: 22)
For Wagner, such self-negation should not result in the death of the author; rather, the symbolic 'self-abdication' that occurs on the stage is an attempt to instigate the multiplication of authors and the realisation of their agency in life. This self-negation became central to my thinking on potent artist exits. A pilgrimage of sorts to Hove music festival on a small island in Norway developed this thought. What resonated in my memory was not the bands on the stage, the film festival, or the circus performers but the primal, rhythmic drumming that emanated from the forest. Over the week of the festival, many people collaborated to create a unique sonic experience. Dozens of drums and drumsticks were attached to trees from which anyone and everyone could perform. There appeared to be no organiser and no publication of the event. Ultimately, its resonance resided in the manner in which the division between artist and audience became neutralised – we were all artists.
In an attempt to open up art and break down the artist-audience divide, collaboration, social engagement, and audience participation have permeated contemporary art in recent decades. Nicolas Bourriaud has famously defined this socialisation of art as 'relational aesthetics'; that is, where 'the artist sets his sights more and more clearly on the relations that his work will create among his public, and on the invention of models of sociability' (Bourriaud 2002: 28). However, as Graham Coulter-Smith (2009) has insightfully pointed out, despite his celebration of the death of the individual genius myth, all Bourriaud's examples of relational producers are recognised individual artists. In a similar analysis, Stephen Wright (2006) has argued that the artist is the 'real winner in this relational aesthetic contrivance' as they are identified and gain symbolic capital for their social commitment while the participants ultimately remain anonymous. In response, Wright has called for the creation of an 'art without artworks, authors or spectators'. He described such a stealth or spy art as visible, public, and seen 'but not as art' (ibid.).
In the essay 'Give up Activism!', a group of anonymous London anarchists called for a renunciation of the activist lifestyle and label (Andrew X 2001). After reflecting on their activities, they polemically argued that 'the activist milieu acts like a leftist sect' that reinforces 'hierarchical class society' as they 'jealously guard and mystify the skills they have' (ibid.). The authors concluded the essay by calling for a rejection of the activist label to foster a society wherein everyone is an activist. Such an analysis can clearly be applied to the field of art. As with politicians, artists and curators often claim to speak for, represent, or participate with others, but ultimately they invariably guard their precarious positions within the field. While many artists do brilliant work, their authority can function as a divisive barrier to the people and other less recognised artists. Perhaps the field will only ever become egalitarian when producers negate their total ownership of the discipline.
No Jury, No Prize
Paulo Freire believed creativity to be quite ordinary (Pope 2005: 53) and Paolo Virno emphasised that 'humans are linguistic beings: art is anybody's' (Virno, Lavaert, and Gielen 2009). Karl Marx envisaged there would not be artists in the Communist society but people who painted alongside fishing, hunting, and writing criticism (Marx 1978b: 160). As idealistic as such thinking may seem, it nonetheless does not halt the possibility of incremental and practical alterations to the social divisions in art and culture. Indeed, such changes are occurring all around us. In a similar dialectical trajectory to Guy Debord's call for the abolition and realisation of art in order to transcend art (Debord 2006: 106), my research calls for the negation of conventional authorship and the simultaneous affirmation of an egalitarian model of art production and display. This could literally manifest in exhibitions wherein anyone and everyone can exhibit or simply remain a polemical hypothesis to engender further thought on the ownership of the discipline. Inspired in part by Walter Benjamin's 'The Author as Producer', my research seeks to celebrate an art wherein 'readers become writers' (Benjamin 2002).
Sylvère Lotringer called on art to break its ties with the market, become autonomous, and realise the Autonomists slogan 'the margins at the centre' (Lotringer and Power 2009). My proposal seeks to manifest this call and celebrate a truly democratic mode of art production and display. It is important to emphasise that this does not involve the death of artists or their renunciation of art production. Just as the call to 'give up activism' was not a call to renounce commitment to social change, this project of self-negation rather seeks to engender a reflection on the ownership of the discipline through the negation of hierarchical authority and the affirmation of the multiplication of authors. This problematisation of the divisions between recognised artists and others is clearly an emerging tendency in contemporary art. In response to the art world’s overlooking of unrecognised art producers, Gregory Sholette has recently called on the 'dark matter,' that is, ignored amateur and failed producers, to withdraw their support of elite galleries and journals (Sholette 2011). He argued that such strikes or boycotts of specific galleries and publications would threaten an art world that is dependent upon a struggling mass that props up the pyramid.
Notable recent examples of direct democratic experiments that seek to trouble art world framing include Massimiliano Gioni's curation of The Encyclopedic Palace at Venice and Artur Żmijewski's curation of the 2012 Berlin Biennale. Considering this general turn, this proposition is by no means overly romantic or idealistic; indeed, it could be interpreted as pragmatic or even opportunistic. The proposal of curating exhibitions wherein anyone can exhibit resonates with and seeks to develop the display of outsider art, naïve art, community art, participatory art, gypsy art, amateur art, autodidact art, collaborative art, handicapped art, elderly art, children’s art, marginalised art, overlooked art, and so on. Through a strategy of negation of the current conceptualisation of the author and socially engaged art, it seeks to develop the social turn in art through drawing it towards its roots in communal creativity.
Whereas the postmodern art of the 1980s repeatedly negated the myth of the genius artist, the current tendency of exhibiting the unknown negates the artist myth. In doing so, it fits within the authorial tradition through its negation of a specific aspect of that tradition. In part, it is also an attempt to trouble the market – for what can be reified and commodified if everything is art and everyone an artist? In April of 2013, I curated an exhibition at the London Street Gallery in Derry titled emerge + see. It consisted of artwork by forty-nine local producers, some of whom had never exhibited before. In discussions with the gallery, I emphasised my desire to exhibit as many artists as we could. This outlook was motivated by both personal experiences and discussions with artist peers on the rigid selectivity that permeates contemporary art. The exclusivity in art engenders alienation and divisions within local art worlds that mirror divisions in wider society. This direct democratic experiment was developed later in the year when my research finally approached its practical realisation with the hosting of a No Jury, No Prize exhibition at the London Street Gallery. Running concurrently with and operating in part as a negation of the Turner Prize exhibition (which was being held in the city), the exhibition followed the logic of the Society of Independent Artists by including the work of everyone who submitted. In doing so, it sought to realise Joseph Beuys's infamous pronouncement, 'every human being is an artist' (Beuys 2002). During the exhibition (which consisted of work by almost three hundred exhibitors), we held an open floor symposium with Ken Neil and Francis McKee of the Glasgow School of Art, during which we discussed questions of ownership and control within society.
Deciding which images to incorporate into this exposition has been very difficult. I initially intended to include the work of artists who I have exhibited with in juryless exhibitions. However, this has been rejected as I deem it deeply problematic to incorporate their work into my theorising. It does them and their work a disservice to be but an abstract example of juryless art. Considering this, I have included just one image of work by others – it is by an unknown maker and consists of a stick figure on the wall of an abandoned fortress near the border in Ireland. This work does not enact the research but illuminates my ongoing thinking on sublating authorship. I have also included a photograph of the volunteers at London Street Gallery with our No Jury No Prize banner. The other two images (which depict a forest and a woman) derive from work that I have produced over the course of the research. Suitably ambiguous, they evoke the tentative steps the research conclusions took to emerge.
That the thesis remains deeply ambiguous is not in doubt. One’s perspective of its merits may in part derive from one’s philosophy on quality in art. Some claim that great art holds an inherent universal value that is shared; others believe that great art is a higher discipline only truly accessible to the learned few. And while to some all art is purely subjective, to others it is all a sham or the propagation of control through culture. In discussing my research with other artists and curators, some have suggested that entirely unjuried exhibitions may consist of poor quality art. While this claim reminds me of Hobbes's and Machiavelli’s warnings of mob rule, it nonetheless is valid. Contemporary art is a schooled tradition with an underlying cognitive investigation that many outsiders cannot unpack. However, unlike many other fields, nothing is stable or sacred in modern art. The denigration of taste has become taste in art. The crisis of representation has developed to the point wherein anything is art. The art world arguably renounced its total ownership of a nebulous conception of value through its validation of its antithesis in Fountain – and now it must live with the ramifications of its own logic. Ultimately, there is no a priori art; it is a social and aesthetic construction that has been repeatedly negated from within. Indeed, its negation is intrinsic to its being.
While valid, the 'poor quality thesis' is entirely open to refutation. It is often forgotten that the historic 'No Jury, No Prize' exhibitions instigated modernism through displaying the work of Van Gogh, Duchamp, Matisse, and Monet, alongside thousands of others. Indeed posterity now looks back on the official salons as displaying forgettable academic work. This debate recently emerged following the From Here On exhibition at the 2011 Arles Photography Festival in Paris. The curatorial team claimed that the ubiquity of the digital camera will trouble the author and 'elevate the banal' in the future. Considering this, they exhibited the work of anonymous online amateur producers alongside established photographers. Sean O'Hagan, in his review, was left bewildered and 'longing for more quality control' (O'Hagan 2011). He questioned the curator’s democratic premise, suggesting that they had contradicted their ethos through being the final arbiters of the work. In fairness to the curators of From Here On, they were of course being selective, but one could argue that they were merely seeking to embody the present and foresee the future as opposed to control it.
In recent years, the traditional roles and methods of communication and distribution in journalism, academia, politics, and culture have all been radically transformed by new media. While the quasi-autonomous art world has yet to feel the full ramifications of this social turn, it nonetheless cannot avoid the Copernican shift in global culture. While saying this, O'Hagan's apprehension and insecurity is entirely understandable as nobody yet knows how such an art may develop. A number of years ago, I wrote a dissertation that took Beuys's 'every human being is an artist' declaration and asked, If such a statement is true then what will become of the artist? The enquiry derived from the contradiction of holding an egalitarian philosophy while simultaneously developing an individual art practice. It was thus motivated in part by a subconscious fear of a loss of specialism – for what would be my fate if everyone was an artist? Today I realise that the disappearance of the artist as we currently conceive it is by no means a tragedy, as the role or function of the artist would invariably evolve into something else. While saying this, it is not even a realistic possibility. The author function shall undoubtedly remain in some form due to the communal desire for passive entertainment. Ultimately, the thesis is but an experimental hypothesis that may participate in the incremental alteration of a particular tendency in the field.
The contradiction or fear that my thesis and its related manifestations are in fact an egocentric meta-artwork is very real – that participants ultimately function as pawns within a patronising, condescending, or manipulative game. A valid correlation may be the global phenomenon that is the franchised television series The X Factor. While initially appearing as a celebration of communal production, it ultimately reinforces hierarchy through the jury system and profiteering off the participant’s creativity. However, I would argue that No Jury exhibitions function in opposition to this model. This thesis may also overlook that many people do not want status or recognition from the art world and to think otherwise is artworld-centric. The proposal is also open to the charge that previously unseen art invariably becomes legitimised and thus neutralised through the granting of presence to an absence. While this is a given, I would argue that the celebration of wider creativity takes precedence over theoretical debates on the purity of isolated production and that nobody has an obligation to be involved.
To counteract claims of manipulation, all participating artists should be identified with work displayed alphabetically. It is also possible to realise a sustained commitment through the setting up of a Society of Independent Artists. One such model is AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island. Founded in 1985, it is a non-profit arts organisation with a 'vision for a local unjuried and uncensored forum for the arts'. It provides classes, facilities, and services 'to any artist who needs a place to exhibit, perform, or create original work'. Eschewing the conventional gallery model, it emphasises genuine inclusivity that is 'synonymous with an egalitarian, accessible approach to creative community' (AS220 2013).
Following Bourdieu's logic on the process of perpetual negations in art and society, it is near folly to celebrate or over-identify with one tendency in art as all are transitory and will ultimately be replaced. Considering this, I realised that a rigid adherence or dogmatic affiliation to some abstract egalitarian citizen's art was in itself problematic. This outlook was reinforced following my reading of Theodor Adorno's conceptualisation of negative dialectics. Adorno saw critical dialectics with its emphasis on an affirmative synthesis as illusory, reductive, and thoroughly complacent. In 1966, his methodological conclusions were realised in the dense Negative Dialectics (Adorno 1973). The text and method is a negation of post-Enlightenment thought, which he argued had manifested in barbarity through its obsessive identification and instrumental reason. For him, the will to classify, identify, and categorise leads to control and ultimately decay. While acknowledging that 'to think is to identify', he nonetheless strived to problematise and transcend this identity thinking from within thought. While appearing relativist in its renunciation of a set belief, the method is firmly egalitarian in nature and steeped in an awareness of suffering. It does not reject Enlightenment principles outright but the wilful inability or refusal to realise the ideals of freedom and equality. The negative dialectical method is thus continuously evolving, never static and consists of perpetual negations. For Adorno:
If negative dialectics calls for the self-reflection of thinking, the tangible implication is that if thinking is to be true – if it is to be true today, in any case – it must also be a thinking against itself. (Adorno 1973: 365)
The motor of negative dialectics is non-identity thought, which operates 'against itself' to avoid dogmatic identity thinking. In my interpretation, identity thinking is the celebration of an abstraction – be it a political philosophy, an economic doctrine, a religious affiliation, or an artistic movement. It involves obsessively striving to realise or hold some mythic wholeness (whether linguistic, racial, scientific, artistic, political, or religious) while simultaneously conceptualising and denigrating an abstract other. This other is that which we think we are not or perhaps deep down fear to be – a surrealist, a chav, black, gypsy, Jew, Irish, homosexual, English, Muslim, lesbian, minimalist, socialist, and so on.
In contrast to my celebration of an expanded creativity, Adorno held to the potency of singular vanguardist artistic production. He celebrated the 'truth content' of art that he saw manifested in the dissonant work of Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett, and claimed that their work instilled an anxiety in the viewer that drew them to consider the alienation and exploitation of modernity (Adorno 1998). Ultimately, however, my application of non-identity does not concern the aesthetic, be it singular or plural. Negation and non-identity have been applied to the figure of the author and the wider research as a tentative theoretical and political strategy of emancipation. As I drew towards the conclusion of the research, non-identity operated to rupture authorial authority through fostering a non-identity conception of the author – where conventional authorship challenges itself and affirms a universal creativity. However, settling on this hypothesis was itself problematic, as non-identity demands repeated negations. To illuminate – though he was an egalitarian, Adorno emphasised that we have to transcend egalitarianism to realise it. Therefore, negation must in turn be deployed to the project of authorial self-negation and to the affirmation of communal creation. For this reason, non-identity art is not realised within communal exhibitions wherein anyone can exhibit. Indeed, it would be presumptuous, inaccurate, and a form of identity thinking to seek to define wider communal or outsider art manifestations under some tenuous totalising concept. There is no pure physical embodiment to the conception of a non-identity art. It would contradict the method to claim so. The conceptualisation of non-identity art is thus forever non-aligned and exists purely on a theoretical plain – hence why I wrote of striving 'towards a non-identity art' within the research. This towards is pivotal because such an art is perpetually beyond reach. As such, non-identity art ultimately remains a theoretical challenge to engender thought on identity and ownership within the field.
Without an essence, there can be no negation to non-identity art. Nevertheless, I seek to negate my affirmation of self-negation and communal creation through continuing to produce my own work alongside working with others. Negation is also applied to the thinking through seeing the thesis as deeply ambiguous. This scepticism is ultimately maintained through acknowledging that non-identity art can never be realised. Despite this emphasis on the theoretical nature of the inquiry, throughout this exposition I have repeatedly discussed and celebrated exhibitions in which anyone can exhibit. Approaching an alignment with theory and practice invariably problematises the thought, yet I would argue that such egalitarian manifestations do not seek to embody non-identity but are inspired by it. As this is practice-based fine art research, I felt the necessity to draw the thought towards some form of real-life artworld significance. This was inspired in part by the Autonomist call to draw 'the margins to the centre'. The emphasis I have placed on the exhibition as the ideal location to approach a non-identity art is not set in stone but arose initially because it remains the primary site of experimentation for many. The exhibition is of course not the sole arena wherein non-identity experiments on authorship can be developed; indeed, some may argue that it is overly connected with the market. However, I would argue it is difficult to commodify such an art as there is no beginning or end to it – it is ultimately the people's creative energy. Non-identity art research could be explored, developed, and applied in various forms. It is worth noting that it has been applied to various fields of endeavour. To take but one apt example, Marilyn Neimark and Tony Tinker applied non-identity in an attempt to realign the dominant model of identity thinking in management and corporations (Neimark and Tinker 1987).
The Journal for Artistic Research operates as a platform within the field where producers and consumers affirm and negate various propositions in a perpetually evolving process. In effect, it can thus operate as a non-identity arena or site of non-identity experimentation. Ultimately, the thought holds the same resonance whatever the field of endeavour – it is a push against ownership, rigid self-identification, and self-belief within the field – which in turn negates itself and is thus ever evolving and elusive. As a process of recurring negation in perpetual motion that strives towards freedom, the method is firmly idealistic yet grounded in material reality. At this moment I foresee the research developing through raising the question, If anything is potentially art and everyone is potentially an artist, what is art and who is the artist? I may also seek to ask if the declaration that everyone is an artist may in fact have become an order within a user generated digital age. Following Hegel and Baudrillard, it could be titled The End of Art? However, as Peter Weibel claimed after the subversion of the author, the artwork, and the viewer (the three constants of classical art) in Fluxus, happenings, actionism, and performance – 'the iconoclastic hammer does not destroy art, instead, paradoxically, it creates new art' (Weibel 2002: 632). Ultimately, the theorisation of a non-identity art is a polemic to engender further thought and debate on the authorship and ownership of the field of art – a debate that of course goes well beyond the specific discipline.