The apparent endurance of artistic thought


Beyond the confines of 70’s minimalism and further into conceptualism there lies this thing behind, and within all art. The artistic thought. Whether this thing, this thought arrives at a thing of beauty and craves to document, capture or represent it in any clear or abstracted ways, or if that thought desires to analyse, dissect and represent the political, social or economic, or even something else entirely, for which there may be no words, the thought exists. The thought endures.


Is the artistic thought the reason for my approach to the world, to art and life (as though they could be separated). The artistic thought provides a particular level of flexibility, a license almost to do anything, or at least to explore every possibility, ever medium, as many or as few of them as you like. And to use those mediums in a way that explores the medium itself.


This is not to say that everything that is done or thought, is art, but rather that it is approached artistically. 

Recently I’ve been reading Pierre Bourdieu and Andrea Fraser, sort of simultaneously, though I started with Bourdieu, and then onto Fraser, where I discovered Fraser’s propensity and affiliation with Bourdieu, an act of ‘beautiful synchronicity’ I suppose. But they have both got me into a reassessment, or a reposition or adjustment of my position, my ‘work’ even, if I dare call the little I make work, but definitely my thought.


I find myself trying to understand and position in relation with/to/from/or against Fraser’s, which is certainly quite specific, maybe solid, certainly (enviously) ‘accepted’ position. Oriented in a kind of into-extro mirroring. Self and surrounding reflected. 

Art has failed. Art has failed to achieve anything. In my attempts to see the world through artistic eyes I have failed. All I’ve uncovered is a dystopian reality in which we already live. A dystopia of what art is, and what art does. Within a dystopia. Art fucks. Art fucks like Alex DeLarge. It fucks itself for pleasure, and it fucks everything else simply to screw them over and lord it over them. This might appear bitter, crass and unexpected in tone, but that’s path of the course. The are no reasons. There are no excuses, there is only realisation and experimentation of thought.

Why did it take an art world that prides itself on criticality and vanguardism so long to confront its direct complicity in economic conditions that have been evident for more than a decade now? 

The system that supported the arts now supports the artists.


The bourgeois system. The system of competition. The system of profiteering.


A neo-liberal free market fuckonomy.

The bourgeois system that funds the arts has now trickled down to the artists themselves, whose ranks have become ever more dominated by the bourgeois. Its no lie that the bourgeois have forever and always made up a large proportion of the artists in this world, but never before has this same bourgeois been simultaneously considered the




for progressive change. Art at the forefront of cultural exchange is populated by bourgeois conservatives whose only aim is to maintain the system from within, in order to ensure continued support for themselves. By supporting neo-liberal agendas, even if that is not intentional, or even consciously understood, artists are undermining a system that got them to the very place they now find themselves, and without even thinking about it they are setting fire to the bridges that have taken them there. Private funding, as Andrea Fraser points out, invariably comes from the tax relief providing such funding itself provides, thus removing funds from the public purse. The rise of crowd funding works in a similar way, even a worse way for those people that actually give. By removing the need for artists to seek money from the public domain, governments begin to lose the need to even think about putting money aside for the cultural institutions, expecting that they will constantly be able to ‘self-fund’, through these crowd funding type activities. Those that pay into these funds are, in effect, paying an extra tax: they are not paying any less in their normal tax bill than they were before, and now they are paying something extra through their well intended, philanthropic acts of giving.


People feel good when they give, and those that have asked for funds feel good too. Everyone feels better, but the situation is worse, because this feeling of ‘doing good’ is entirely superficial. Its chief result is the dwindling of publicly available funds for the support of the arts. It may be that the idea for all this was first sown when a museum decided to ask the public for a donation on entry. Initially these funds were little bonuses, extra for the museum to use for good, to heighten and improve offers to the public, but over time this method has led to the institutions, the arts and the artists becoming reliant on support from the public directly, feudally, not through public funding brought about by allocation of tax revenues. Revenues that have now been appropriated for bailing out banks, which are then sold back to the private sector at a loss. The arts are the poor, waiting for Robin Hood to come galloping along, all the while King John is building his walls and defending himself against Robin Hood more and more effectively, making Hood’s visits to the poor less frequent, and less fruitful. Eventually the poor start to hate Hood.


But what has happened here, these times beyond metaphorical saviours, is something a little different. If we go back to Fraser’s comment, ‘…the enormously successful culture war … has effectively identified class privilege and hierarchy with cultural and educational rather than economic capital, and … has facilitated the success of right-wing populists in convincing this population to vote for its own dispossession and impoverishment.’.


That’s it, that’s the thing. There in clear words, the hierarchy is now one where those that can afford to be artists are, those that can’t aren’t, simple as. The middle-classes are artists, but the middle-classes do not make up the majority of the voices. The majority of artists live in free thinking leftist city societies. But the majority of society, of people, don’t. Artists, myself included, have been living in a bubble, and we are not aware of, or receptive to, the needs and wants of a majority public who, for the most part, don't actually look at, care for (or crowd fund), art.  There might be more artists than ever before, but more of those artists than ever before don’t represent, come from, or even want to be a part of the society that makes up a majority. Even when they do come from it, they aspire to become like their idols; high on up the art ladder. They don’t aspire to change anything, they only dream of escape. If they escape, they feel great, they keep making work, but the work becomes staid, stagnant or unduly preachy (most of the time). If they don’t, they can’t or don’t keep making work. And if, on the off chance, they keep making work, it’ll stay locked up in the attic because no-one comes to visit an artist in their bedroom, and there aren’t a lot of publicly funded, even philanthropic, art studios out there for them to populate.


Art schools increasing with focuses on social, political, critical and communal agendas, yet charging the highest prices for tuition.

We have seen art magazines take up apparently radical political theory and even a critique of the art market – while weighted down with advertising for commercial galleries, art fairs, auction houses, and luxury goods.

Inflammatory Institutional Creep

At their extremes, participants in these subfields may indeed escape some of the art world’s contradictions, although certainly not those of the world at large: there are those who feel at home with wealth and privilege, from whom art is a luxury business or an investment opportunity and perhaps not much more, as well as those who see art as a purely aesthetic domain in which the political and economic should play no part. And there are those who see art as social activism and who have nothing to do with commercial galleries and art fairs, society openings, gala benefits, and privately funded museums. Most of us, however, and most of the art world, exist uncomfortably and often painfully in between these extremes, embodying and performing the contradictions between them and the economic and political conflicts those contradictions reflect, unable to resolve them within our work or within ourselves, much less within our field. 

The result has been an ever-widening gap between the material conditions of art and its symbolic systems: between what the vast majority of artworks are today (socially and economically) and what artists, curators, critics and historians say that artworks – especially their own work, or work they support – do and mean.

All vertical columns are quoted from Andrea Fraser's There's No Place Like Home

we may also collude in the enormously successful culture war that, for a wide swath of the U.S. population, has effectively identified class privilege and hierarchy with cultural and educational rather than economic capital, and which has facilitated the success of right-wing populists in convincing this population to vote for its own dispossession and impoverishment

Art discourse no longer speaks of the social and psychological world as if it did not speak of it. It speaks of that world incessantly, especially in its economic aspects: financial and affective. And yet, it seems to me, to a very large extent, it speaks of that world so as not to speak of it, still, again in forms that performa negation in a Freudian sense quite specifically – and not only of the economic.

Much of art discourse, like art itself today, seems to me to be driven by the struggle to manage and contain the poisonous combination of envy and guilt provoked by that complicity and by participation in the highly competitive, winner-take-all market the art field has become, as well as the shame of being valued as less-than in its precipitous hierarchies.