Friday, January 20, 2017

Jacques Racière y el régimen del arte

Jim Drain AIDS-a-delic (2005)
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Aprovecho la obra de Jim Drain (arriba) para comentar el discurso de Jacques Rancière en su reciente libro Malaise dans l'esthétique (2004), traducido al inglés como Aesthetics and its Discontents (2009).  Sabemos que el arte y la política no están separados. El arte, como práctica, tiene que ver con otras disciplinas. El artista no es un ente aislado de un contexto político y social específico. Luego el arte mismo está conectado con otras disciplinas, particularmente desde la revolución estética de fines del siglo XIX, el llamado esteticismo, con figuras como Mallarmé, Baudelaire, el Arts and Crafts Movement, etc. 

Comencemos con la dicotomía ranciereana entre "política" y "policía".

La segunda refiere un sistema de organización que establece ciertas leyes que atañen lo sensible (entiéndase por lo sensible el campo de la experiencia en general). La función de "la policía" es distribuir, separar. En este caso a la sociedad: en grupos, posiciones sociales y/o funciones.

Comisión Nacional de Alfabetización, Cuba, (1961)

La política tiene como función interrumpir la distribución de "la policía" digamos esos miembros que no son parte de las coordenadas de la percepción de dicha sociedad). 
La comunidad política es en efecto una estructuralmente dividida, no ya entre distintos grupos y opiniones, sino dividida en relación ella misma. El todo de la “masa” política no es nunca igual a la suma de sus partes, sino como una simbolización suplementaria.*
La política tiene ese efecto estabilizador homogenizante, digamos, las divisiones sociales bajo una identidad es decir, el ciudadano, la nación. El conflicto por el poder político es atenuado por medio de actividades sociales y económicas de trabajo y ocio. Rancière argumenta que siempre hay una "reducción" de lo social por lo político siempre que la unidad nacional se utilize para protegerse de los conflictos de división social. Por otra parte, la reducción de lo político a lo social ocurre cada vez que la promesa de desarrollo económico o de progreso se ofrece como una solución al conflicto político. 

 Wade Guyton, Action Sculpture, (2006)

Ahora bien, ¿qué es lo estético para Rancière? "Una forma de pensamiento en que se problematiza la naturaleza del arte". 1 Ocurre cuando se desglosa un cierto "régimen". ¿Qué es un régimen? "... la relación específica entre prácticas, formas y modos inteligibles [del arte], que nos permiten identificar ciertos productos específicos como pertenecientes -o no- a eso que llamamos arte". 2 

Eduardo Marín, Mearte, (2006?)

La revolución estética que comenzara a fines del siglo XIX y se extiende hasta más allá de la segunda mitad del siglo XX, inaugura un período de "desorden" de lo estético si se entiende como una forma histórica que responde a los retos que este trastorno plantea. En el siglo XX, pensemos en la escultura que abandona la solidez en favor del volumen, la pintura que deja la representación en favor de lo abstracto, la irrupción de la fotografía como híbrido entre tecnología y arte, en la música el fenómeno del atonalismo, etc.

Gabo, Linear Variation No. 1, (1943).

"La estética" se convierte en el pensamiento de este nuevo (des)orden. En consecuencia, la jerarquía antigua de los sujetos de estudio se vuelve borrosa. Por ejemplo, en el caso de la separación entre el régimen clásico (siglo XVIII) y el romántico (siglo XIX), la obra de arte ya no se refiere al prestigio de los mecenas, sino que se relacionan con el "genio" de los pueblos. 3

Para Rancière, la estética surge con el reconocimiento de que no existen reglas "preexistentes" que puedan distinguir rigurosamente la presentación de los objetos o situaciones dentro del contexto del arte (este cambio entre régimen y régimen nos recuerda a Thomas Kuhn y su Estructura de las revoluciones científicas).4  
  
 Ana Mendieta, Sin título, (1972)

El trabajo del especialista no es inventar nuevas formas de relación, sino hacerlas inteligibles: investigar qué ha desaparecido, qué da lugar a lo próximo; por ejemplo, la distincion que aparece entre "naturaleza humana" y "orden social natural" acompañando la explosión de nuevas formas de experimentación y creatividad desde fines del siglo XIX. El autor se ha referido a esto como la "democratización del arte". 

 Auguste Rodin, Las puertas del infierno, (1884-6)

La identificación estética de las artes no es simplemente una manera de explorar lo ya pasado lo que Rancière llama "régimen de normatividad" sino también de lo que vendrá. El pensador toma el famoso tratado de Las Cartas estéticas sobre la educación del hombre  de Friedrich Schiller (donde el poeta introduce la idea del Spieltrieb), síntesis pre-hegeliana entre dos momentos: Formtrieb (juego de la forma) y Sinnestrieb (juego sensual), que para él significan eso que llamamos "lo bello". El Spieltrieb es una especie de fuerza liberadora que tanto Schiller como Rancière ven como la potencialidad de la educación etética,  
... proceso que representa una promesa para la comunidad; ya no es tan solo arte lo que habita este espacio, sino una forma en la cual no hay separación entre ambos estados de experiencia [forma y contenido]. Es un proceso que transforma la soledad de la apariencia en realidad vivida, cambiando la pasividad estética en la acción de la comunidad viviente (AP, p. 36).
Partiendo de esa premisa, puede comprenderse el realismo socialista como una manifestación de este principio llevado al extremo. 

Mikhail Nesterov, Retrato de Ivan Shadr (1934) 

En el contexto de la política del arte soviético durante los años 30, la obra de Nesterov (arriba) compite y desplaza la obra que mostramos abajo. 

  Kasimir Malevich, Suprematismo, autorretrato (1916)

Algo que a mi juicio Rancière no ha explorado lo suficiente, ¿existe acaso un discurso estético privilegiado? Si es así ¿en virtud de qué? ¿Qué ocurre cuando aparecen discursos paralelos que se delegitiman unos a otros, como es el caso de el llamado arte "degenerado" (en la Alemania nazi) o "diversionista" (en el bloque soviético o en China)?


Rancière diría que aunque el arte siempre mantiene una estrecha relación con "la vida", el arte hoy por hoy es autónomo. Dicha autonomía del arte es otra manera de nombrar algo básico: la heteronomía del arte. Schiller ilustra cómo la experiencia estética es siempre heterogenea. El arte crea divisiones y destruye jerarquías ontológicas entre categorías.5

¿Es dicha propensidad del arte intrínseca? Estimo que Rancière diría que no, puesto que la propia idea de régimen indica que el arte no siempre ha sido autótomo. Entonces la cuestión es, ¿hay vuelta atrás? ¿Puede el arte perder su autonomía? 


Desde el punto de vista de Rancière, esta clase de experiencia (en Schiller) es parte de una relación estructural que gobierna la sociedad humana. Este mensaje de Schiller funciona hoy por hoy de una manera post-utópica, en que rompe con el estereotipo de la división del trabajo entre explotador y explotado, o en el arte propiamente dicho, entre "artista" y "público". Lo estético para Rancière viene siendo un espacio de comunidad práctico/conceptual.6


Tonico Lemus Auad, Retrato, 2003  

A la estética le toca analizar la diferencia entre lo que es arte y lo que no es arte. Por ejemplo, ¿es Fat Chair de 1964 arte? Olvidemos por un momento que la pieza es conocida y que haya sido hecha por Beuys. Una pregunta más interesante es si existe un régimen actual en el que Fat Chair no es considerada arte. La respuesta es afirmativa. Rancière diría que en tal régimen no se consideraría el arte como una esfera autónoma, sino subordinada en término Schilleriano a "la vida". 

Joseph Beuys, Fat Chair, (1964)

Debido al estado de heterogeneidad, la estética debe evitar caer en los extremos. ¿Cómo ilustrar esta tensión? Insistir demasiado en la autonomía sería excluyente de la vida (un ejemplo sería el arte de Beardsley  a fines del siglo XIX en Inglaterra). Aunque Rancière no diría que este dibujo (desechado en la versión final de las ilustraciones para Lysystrata) no es arte, sin duda no hubiese sido considerado arte para el público inglés victoriano conservador de la época.

The Lacedaimonian Ambassadors, (circa. 1896)

Por otra parte, denegar las diferencias propias del arte convertiría la experiencia del arte en mera "vida". Este es el peligro que Bataille hallaba en el espectáculo totalitario facista, que se aviene tanto a lo estético en su variante futurista.

 Desfile de Nuremberg, 1933 (en Olympia de Riefenstahl)

 Iofan, pabellón de la URSS, (Expo de Paris, 1937)

Le toca a lo estético mantenerse justo al borde. Este aparente (des)orden propio de lo estético no significa caos (el autor se aleja del discurso normativo postmodernista relativista). Y si bien Merda d'artista de Manzoni es arte, ¿qué tipo de arte?

 Piero Manzoni, Merda d'artista, (1961)

Lo que nos lleva directamente a la pregunta sobre la relación entre el arte y la filosofía. Comentando la diferencia entre abstracción y convencionalismo en el arte, Rancière nos recuerda que el paradigma anti-mimético de la pintura no puede entenderse simplemente como un "destierro" de las imágenes, o de la representación o el redescubrimiento de una esencia perdida entiéndase esto cargado del término tal como es usado por Platón en el capítulo X de La República.


 Sudarshan Shetty, Six Drops, (2009)

En el caso de la pintura moderna, por ejemplo, se trata de una afirmación de ser concebida y practicada como superficie plana, bidimensional, cuya forma deviene en su propio contenido (su materialidad). Rancière escribe: "Se trata de una nueva forma de pintar que se ofrece a los ojos entrenados que pueden verla de manera diferente". Es decir, se requiere a un cambio que es percibido por una nueva mirada. Ambos, obra y mirada, se encuentran felizmente en esa complicidad o "régimen".

 Barnett Newman, Ornament 1, (1948)

Sin embargo, el nuevo régimen estético no rompe completamente el vínculo entre pintura y discurso. Es decir, siempre hay una relación de oposición dada en este caso por la crítica sobre cuál es el lugar propio de cierto arte. Por ello Rancière expresa que en lo sucesivo, "el poder de las palabras ya no es el modelo que la representación pictórica ha de tener como norma" (estado que es posible en tanto no se produzca un próximo régimen).

De ahí que no sea nada raro para nosotros inscribir el trabajo de Lissitzky en un régimen particular que tiene lugar en la URSS durante los primeros años de la revolución y que llamamos Constructivismo.

El Lissitzky, Proun (circa 1920)

Rancière estima que la pintura necesita una nueva forma de visibilidad que se logra a través de una reinterpretación del pasado de ella misma. La teoría viene a jugar un papel importante en el régimen de la estética, pues la teoría influencia la "forma de producción" (mientras que esta forma de producción tiene también sus momentos teóricos). Ambos son modos de hacer, y como tales operan unos sobre los otros. El trabajo de una estética crítica no debe separar estos esfuerzos en campos distintos de especialización, sino redoblar la fuerza de cada uno a través de su combinación en prácticas discursivas.

_______________
* Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics and Its Discontents, (Polity Press, 2009), p. 115. A este respecto, apunta Rancière: "En la clásica definición hay varios grupos opuestos: los incorporados en el estado y la constitución, los que son ignorados por las leyes, y esos que reclaman en el nombre del derecho de otro que aún no ha sido inscrito en los hechos". Es decir, aunque "la policía" pueda verse como un elemento negativo, en realidad ambos, policía y política no pueden existir el uno sin el otro. Se trata de una asimetría estructural básica y a la vez necesaria entre ambos. 1Del ensayo "Aesthetics as Politics", en Aesthetics and Its Discontents, p. 24. 2 Idem. p. 29. 3Rancière trae el ejemplo del famoso texto de 1797, escrito entre Hegel, Schelling y Hölderlin, titulado Das alteste Systemprogramm des Deutschen Idealismus. 4 Thomas Kuhn usa el término "paradigma" para referirse a cada momento específico que trae una nueva manera de "ver" las cosas. Tomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (Chicago University Press, 1962). La autonomía del arte viene precisamente con el tercer régimen (el de la modernidad expresado por el discurso racionalista del siglo XIX), que requiere un sujeto racional "desinteresado". Este régimen estético abre la posibilidad de que se descubra "lo bello" en cualquier parte y lugar, causando una especie de democracia estética. En aparte, debe apuntarse la similitud entrte la idea de "régimen" y el epistémè de Foucault en su Las palabras de las cosas, aunque Foucault se refiere a formaciones discursivas, es posible leer a Rancière con cierta inflexión foucaultiana.  En un post futuro nos proponemos abordar la discusión entre Rancière y Alain Badiou a este respecto. 6 En mi interpretación de Rancière uno puede ver el arte (de una manera vertical) como una disciplina autótoma y a la vez (de modo horizontal) como una disciplina que se alimenta y alimenta otras disciplinas. Otro aspecto del arte es suvisibilidad como espectáculo cultural. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Is it better -in art- to fail miserably than to succeed mildly?

Juan de Alfaro y Gámez, Nacimiento de San Francisco de Asís, 1665 (Gámez is considered a mediocre portraitist)

Monday, January 9, 2017

every work of art possesses its own degree of perfection and its own measure of truth or falsity, triviality or greatness

Clement Greenberg, the paradigmatic American critic 

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Chances are you don't know about Theodore Meyer Greene. Born on 1897, Greene got his A.B. degree in Philosophy at Amherst College in 1918, and received his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh in 1924. After teaching in Punjab, India, he got a position at Princeton University in 1923, and remained a professor of philosophy for 22 years. He wrote about ethics and aesthetics.

I never heard of Greene until accidentally I chanced upon his 1947 book The Arts and the Arts of Criticism —on the 9th floor of the Richter Library at UM, my second home.

Meyer Greene makes a decisive normative point that I wish to pursue:
... every work of art possesses its own degree of perfection and its own measure of truth or falsity, triviality or greatness. (AAC, 369)
Does this make Greene a realist in aesthetics? Sort of,  
Artistic quality, as exemplified in bonafide works of art, has its own essential nature which reveals itself only to the artistically sensitive eye and ear and can be appraised only with the aid of the artistically cultivated imagination. Attention can be directed to the inner formal structure of a work of art, considered generically, and the attempt can be made to discover the chief categories in terms of which this inner structure can most conveniently and accurately be analyzed. 
What does "essential" mean? It depends, of,
... the continued identity of any specific individual will depend upon how the class of individuals to which it belongs is defined, and this, in turn, depends upon the observer's interest and frame of reference. (AAC, 224)
There is a persistent disagreement among aesthetic scholars and critics, concerning the evaluation of artworks  —whether the aesthetic judgement is subjective, affective, expressing non-propositional attitudes, etc. Saying "this painting is derivative" or "Schubert's C Major sonata expresses formal balance," etc, must be taken as projections of feelings and emotions, not as factual claims about the work in question. Preference and differences in sentiment prove that there are no facts of the matter in aesthetic evaluation. Aesthetic properties are not real properties.

Greene takes a different course. He keeps close to the axiological branch, so to speak, by suggesting a close connection between ethics and aesthetics. He takes Aristotle's idea of the mean to elaborate a normative standard: Just as the extreme of excess and defect comes to define a balance of virtues, "essential nature" can be seen as a function of factors, states, or tendencies which, in and of themselves, constitute moral vice or artistic imperfection (let's add that Aristotle would defend a version of realism in ethics), that is to say, what is right is true and vice-versa (something is true if it matches reality).
... it is quite possible for a discriminating critic to compare two works of art with reference to their measure of perfection, i.e., to the closeness with which each approximates to its ideal of artistic expressiveness... (AAC, 401)
Perfection is a kind of approximation expressed by,
... specific reference to the specific medium, expressive intent, and other essential aspects of each work of art under review. In other words, the relative degree of perfection which any given work of art manifests in comparison with other works of art is an objective fact for artistic perception.
These two points are interesting:
(I) Artistic perfection, like moral goodness, is a mean between extremes. And it is always a single state, whereas the possibilities of artistic defect are multiple. There is in art, as in morals, only one correct solution to any specific problem, but many incorrect solutions.
In art, like in morals there is one state (one shot) with multiple possibilities for defect.1

Even if Meyer Greene's connection between ethics and aesthetics is stimulating, how could one establish the mean (of courage) between excess (rashness) and defect (cowardice)? How could that balance expressed in the art work?
(II) Artistic perfection, like moral goodness, is not a function of mere arithmetical proportion; it is not determinable, either by the creative artist or the critic, in a mechanical fashion by the mere application of universal rules. It is always the unique solution of a unique problem.
What problem? We know that Aristotle's moral mean is found when contrasting the "intermediate in the object," which is "one and the same for all men," with the "intermediate relative to us," which is "not one, not the same for all."

"Rightness" is relative to each individual moral agent and cannot be deduced a priori from abstract rules or principles.Moral balance, according lies between states of excess and deficiency. Aristotle sees courage as a mean between cowardice and rashness, but this middle point may be different for different individuals in different situations.

How does ethics and aesthetic converge? Instead of analyzing character or conduct, artistic perfection is the locus of artistic quality. If the mean (in virtue) is given by the uniqueness of the moral agent and his situation, in aesthetics, it is the specific artwork which determines the mean of artistic perfection. Uniqueness is the frame of reference.
... just as a virtuous action is never precisely the same on two occasions (since the agents and the circumstances in which they find themselves are never identical, however great their similarity), so artistic perfection, despite similarities. (AAC, 395)
 If we go to (I) above, we find an important distinction.
The extremes of artistic imperfection are not in themselves forces with a dynamic power of their own; they are merely states of imperfection. But they possess for the creative artist a perverse fascination, tempting him to favor now one and now the other to the detriment of his art. If he is to be successful in his creative labors, he must exert every effort to recognize them as states of imperfection, and to resist their psychological appeal: he must use all the artistic acumen and will power at his disposal to achieve a clear apprehension of his artistic goal and to translate his insight into the sensuous pattern which it dictates. (AAC, 399)
What is this? Meyer Greene is ready to claim that the more competent the artist, the less will he/she be tempted by the non-artistic extremes "to which lesser artists so frequently succumb."
This conflict of extremes, meanwhile, largely determines the vitality of the actualized mean, for the latter is now seen to be a dynamic resolution of a dynamic situation. As Aristotle puts it, it is because the mean is hard to hit that "goodness is both rare and laudable and noble."
Is the artist aware of the extremes? Well, if he's not he would not be a good artist —Meyer Greene would retort. And yet, is it not a platitude to maintain that Francis Bacon is a great artist because he was able "to use all the artistic acumen and will power at his disposal to achieve a clear apprehension of his artistic goal?"

Meyer Greene presents a novel parallel between Aristotle's contribution of the mean of virtue and aesthetic perfection. Just as the mean of virtue can be discovered (not merely by deductive reasoning) but by practical wisdom and moral perception, artistic quality is discoverable only by artistic wisdom and insight.

However, if perfection is a standard of properties contained in this artwork "X," how am I sure that "X" expresses —all— its uniqueness? How does "X" offers a solution to a unique aesthetic problem? Is it by comparing "X" with other works and measuring formal possibilities of error in lesser works?  
Meyer Greene's Idea of Criticism

Meyer Greene mentions two kinds of critique: historic and recreative. The former determines the nature and intent of works of art "in their historical context." Recreative critique, on the other hand, "imaginatively apprehends" whether the artist has actually succeeded in expressing in a specific work of art.

How does this happen? 

As "a desire to contemplate rather than to achieve the ends which other men are intent on achieving." There is a particular Kantian flavor here. Later in the text, Greene defends imagination as a faculty that illumines the individual's moral realm. A sort of part conceptual/part emotional faculty.

Next, Greene moves on to what he calls "judicial criticism,"
The task of judicial criticism is that of estimating the value of a work of art in relation to other works of art and to other human values. This determination of value involves, as we shall see, an appeal to at least three distinguishable normative criteria -a strictly aesthetic criterion of formal artistic excellence, an epistemic criterion of truth, and a normative criterion of larger significance, greatness, or profundity.
Now, this is new territory and Greene is going to need to flesh this out. He proceeds to address the subjectivist position, that is to say, aesthetic value is not an objective property out there in the world,
It is possible to interpret aesthetic response in a purely subjectivistic manner by denying that aesthetic quality actually characterizes the object of awareness. The subjectivist admits that aesthetic response has psychological characteristics which distinguish it from other types of response. But he denies that some objects of awareness actually possess in greater or less degree an objective aesthetic character of their own.
The subjectivist denies that there properties out there which elicit the subject's aesthetic response.3

Instead,
He explains the apparent objectivity of aesthetic quality by saying that we unconsciously project our aesthetic feelings into the object of our awareness, and thus ascribe to it a quality which the object itself completely lacks.
This is Greene's more interesting point:
Aesthetic quality is, I believe, as objective as the secondary qualities of color and sound, and may (following G. E. Moore) be entitled a tertiary quality. It is "objective" in the sense of actually characterizing certain objects of awareness and not others, and therefore as awaiting discovery by the aesthetically sensitive observer.
How are these properties "objective"?
It is correctly described as "objective" because aesthetic qualities are apprehended by the aesthetically-minded observer as an awareness of formal organization. The term "beauty" will be restricted to apply only to formal aesthetic quality. (AAC, 4)
Greene is saying that these properties are detected (as opposed to being conferred): it's out there.

How is "formal organization" objective? "Formal" is already a sort of conceptual order, an organizing principle. Howe does "formal" organizes?  Take Convergence (1952) by Jackson Pollock. Is it "formally organized?" Prima facie Convergence looks chaotic.


(to be continued)
__________________
1Aristotle generally describes the mean of virtue an "extreme." That is to say, since the mean is an absolute norm, i.e., the one and only virtuous course of action in any concrete situation, it is impossible to be too virtuous —there is no excess of the mean. In addition, it is impossible to deviate from the mean and still be truly virtuous —there is no defect of the mean. 2 Many scholars eschew this approach. Why? "The blue in that painting is derivative," or "Pat's piano solo was overly dramatic," are good examples. Non aesthetic properties, like "being blue," or the plucking of a guitar has no causal connection whatsoever to "being derivative" or "cacophonous." 3 Objectivism is the school that the object of aesthetic discussion is the artwork. The disagreements is about which properties art works have (or lack thereof). Whether or not a work is "derivative" or "elegant" depends upon objective properties of the work. In addition, there is a requirement of general sensibility, a specific form of education. The properties require a particular discernment. On the other hand, "elegant" ends up being contained in the artwork. Subjectivism defends the view that art criticism is not about facts but aesthetic experiences, emoting propositions, etc, felt by the art critic. The subjectivist club has some famous names: R. Ingarden, B. Croce, J. Dewey, G. Lukacs, R. Scruton, M.C. Beardsley!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

UNIVERSAL (rEaL) BEAUTY?



what you find below is a summary of 40 pt. computer program for a beautiful face. the program presents diverse fixed facial points "ratios." the idea being that the program expresses real beauty.

by "real" the programmers mean these ratios yield an objective ideal (obviously, the larger the set the better the approximation).
This work presents a novel study of the notion of facial attractiveness in a machine learning context. To this end, we collected human beauty ratings for data sets of facial images and used various techniques for learning the attractiveness of a face. The trained predictor achieves a significant cor- relation of 0.65 with the average human ratings. The results clearly show that facial beauty is a universal concept that a machine can learn. Analysis of the accuracy of the beauty prediction machine as a function of the size of the training data indicates that a machine producing human-like attractiveness rating could be obtained given a moderately larger data set.
the programmers make a point about "real" beauty, as a concept, i.e., quantifiable. given a discreet number of variations, the program yields a "standard" of shared attributes. each sample (face) of the set is already picked as representative of its kind.

here is the 40 item-point list (we abbreviated for the sake of space):

1. Face length
2. Face width—at eye level
3. Face width—at mouth level
4. Distance between pupils
....
20. Nose width at nostrils
21. Nose length
22. Nose size = width * length
....
25. Thickness of middle of top lip
26. Thickness of right side of top lip
27. Thickness of left side of top lip
....
38. Ratio of (distance from nostrils to eyebrow top) to (distance from face bottom to nostrils)
39. Skin smoothness indicator (description follows)
40. Hair color indicator (description follows)

do you agree? if not, why not?

Friday, December 30, 2016

DESIGN MANIFESTO



Alfredo Triff

Within the last ten years the phenomenon of design has exploded1. First, there is “the Bilbao effect” and its conspicuous byproduct, the “starchitect” (with brand names, such as Gehry, Koolhaas, de Meuron, Hadid, Libeskind et. al.). They are a galvanizing force behind de$$ign’s vicious cycle of manufacture, distribution and consumption. Articles like Newsweek’s “The Design Dozen” and Time Magazine’s “Design 100” with a list of “virtuosos,” have further legitimized de$$ign’s new stars.


De$ign is presented as business news in Design Week, or as avant-garde cultural activity in Wallpaper. Magazines like Casabella, Dwell, Interior Design and Experimenta, display hundreds of color-saturated photos of the most-up-to-date artifacts and gadgets positioned in sumptuous settings. There is a plethora of TV home-improvement shows representing design as a process of decision-making and implementation. To boot, there are design fairs and car and boat shows, advertising the technological miracles of global post-capitalism.


Few professions in the post-industrialized world have grown in terms of economic presence and cultural import as de$$ign has in the past decade. De$$ign has moved into academia, with scholastic journals and conference circuits, and has shaped interdisciplinary areas where art, anthropology, ethnography and technology converge.2


Let’s put aside de$$ign’s undeniable clout and global mystique. Let’s forget the extraordinary seduction of its cultural rituals and its libidinal enchantment. Why not see de$$ign for what it is: a corporate strategy to plan and execute urban environments, profitable use of technologies and the proliferation of communication information?


CONTRA DE$$IGN

* De$$ign has become surface, its products immaterial, informational and entertaining; a key spectacle to post-capitalist consumption.3


* De$$ign expresses not need but desire = Advertising.4

* We’re living through a de$$ign impasse.5

* De$$ign keeps morphing from “metaphysical” to “symbolic” to “artistic” to “functional” to “spectacle.” 6

* De$$ign’s policy of “planned obsolescence” is obsolete.7

* De$$ign must move away from short-termism.8

* De$$ign discourse -and practice- is viciously circular.9

* De$$ign lives in a constant state of aesthetic fetishism.10

* De$$ign keeps promising what cannot deliver.11 12

FOR DESIGN

* De$$ign can transform itself by piecemeal increments.13

* Design manufactures cleaner, energy-efficient, quieter, safe, lasting, and aesthetically-appealing products.14

* Design has to be sustainable by applying lessons from the biology of natural systems to the design of environments for the people.15

* The design profession needs more women designers.16

* Designers should be proactive and environmentally committed.17

* Design needs to become emotional, diverse and enhancing.18

* Designers can -and should- explore traditional materials intelligently.19

* Design can help consumers alter our present ecological imbalance.20


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1 “De$$ign,” as opposed to “design,” the former a loaded term, which betrays the very principles on which it was founded by the pioneers of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
2 Only in Europe by the end of the 1990’s there were around 62,000 design students specializing in universities where over 900 courses were available. Netherland Design Institute, Design Across Europe (1998). China has seen a 23% increase in enrollment in art and design between 2001-2003.
3To consume: To make away with or destroy; to waste or squander; to use up. The First World consumes 3 times more and 10 times more energy than the Third World. Our appetite for wood and minerals is partially responsible for the clearing of the Amazon forest. Our processed fuel burns ¾ of the sulfur and nitrogen oxides that cause acid rain. Our countries’ factories generate most of the world’s hazardous chemical wastes and more than 96% of the world's radioactive waste. Our air conditioners, aerosol sprays, and factories release almost 90% of the chlorofluorocarbons that destroy the earth's protective ozone layer. Isn’t this post-industrial de$$ign program perverse?
4Advertising (i.e. graphic de$$ign) plays a crucial role in consumerism by mediating between manufacturers, retailers and the public. Advertisements provide goods with a context (usually mythical). Richard Bolton explains: “We’re inundated with a parade of spectacles (…) these do not merely distract us from crisis and conflict: they absorb the conflict.” Richard Bolton, “Architecture and Cognac” in Design After Modernism, 1989.
5In this sense (post) post-modernism differs from its predecessor only in that our present stage is (according to critic Jean Baudrillard) “more obscene.” Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci has a similar point: “The crisis consists in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Perry Anderson’s “Modernity and Revolution,” New Left Review, 144, London, 1984.
6According to Marshall Berman in All That is Solid Melts into Air, the problem with futuristic modernism is that brilliant machines and mechanical systems play all the leading roles so, there is little left to human agency.
7Designer George Nelson pronounced the principle in 1956: “What we need is more obsolescence.” Industrial Design, No. 6 (1956). Harley Earl, father of the “dream car” agreed. His motto: “Our job is to hasten obsolescence.”
8Professor Alisdair Fuad-Luke proposes that de$$ign should temporarily put economic factors to one side while reconsidering the contemporary role of design in meeting the real needs of people and the environment. Fuad-Luke defends “slow design” as a means to refocus on anthropocentric (individual + socio-cultural community) and environmental welfare. Alastair Fuad-Luke, ecoDesign: The Sourcebook (Chronicle Books, 2006).
9De$$ign has gotten so entangled with advertising that it advertises itself. What can be expected of the design practice when after a De$$ign show at MoMA, one can buy the same relic being exhibited at the museum’s de$$ign store? In addition, much of the history of modern design has been written and disseminated to support De$$ign. The heroes (mostly men) create products for a largely uninformed public. Nikolaus Pevsner’s Pioneers of the Modern Movement (1936) established the canon of the discipline. The superstar designers’ profiles we read about in magazines follow this sort of pevsnerist heroic rhetoric.
10In his Critique of Commodity Aesthetics (University of Minnesota, 1986), Wolfgang Fritz Haug argues that artifacts in the market “promise a use-value once they are sold,” i.e., they have to appear useful before they actually are. There is a deeper aesthetic anesthetization when use-value becomes beautiful. Take Philippe Stark’s Juicy Salif, a lemon squeezer, which sells for almost $80, which according to its designer, “is not such a good lemon squeezer, but that’s not its only function.” Juicy Salif’s other -and most important function- is aesthetic fetishism.
11“At present, most Asians see First World technology and consumerism as handmaidens of design and harbingers of modernity: They hope to implement this combination of their soils and achieve comparable results.” This is the impending problem of China’s development and the danger it poses (given its size) for the rest of the world. “Design, Development and Cultural Legacies,” Rajeshwari Ghose, in The Idea of Design, by Victor Margolin and Richard Buchanan, MIT, 1995.
12The major deception of de$$ign lies in the constant deferral of a serious political, ecological and historical investigation of its practice. Can the original idea of design as betterment -not as worsening- be reclaimed?    
13This manifesto sets a midway course between self-indulgence and radicalism. It follows professors Karl Popper and Hilary Putnam’s idea of “social engineering,” i.e., the gradual changing our socio-political landscape by trial-and-error. It seems a better method than Modernism’s grandiose sweeping measures.
14This is the general premise behind books such as E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World and Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility by Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne.
15Sustainable design (which can be applied to any structure) should bring building design, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, material selection; site planning, resource efficiency, and water use to boost energy savings. Sustainable, low-impact materials: i.e., nontoxic, recycled and recyclable, renewable, local, standard sizes, durable, and long lasting. See Chapter 2 of Nigel Whiteley’s Design For Society (Reaktion Books, 1993).
16When women design products, they are sometimes radically different from those made by men. For instance, research done on women’s criteria for car design reveals emphasis on function, ergonomics and safety (this is at odds with the advertised status of the male ego). “The Forgotten Dimension: Women, Design and Manufacture,” Margaret Bruce, Feminist Art News, (December, 1985).
17We face the crime in urban neighborhoods and communities, the loss of biological diversity, the damage to fragile landscapes, urban sprawl, polluted air, acid rain, noise pollution, global warming, the destruction of an extensive national railway system, and distortion of American political life by an automobile lobby, the foreign policy consequences of dependence on imported oil.
18Design is seen here an opportunity to enhance the human spirit. Team ZOO/ Atelier ZÖ: Theories and Manifestos of Contemporary Architecture, edited by Carl Jencks and Karl Kropf (Academy Editions, 1999).
19Here are some examples: The LifeStraw, designed to turn any surface water into drinking water, used in Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda. 2- The Pot-in-Pot Cooler, a small earthenware pot nestling inside a larger one with wet sand filling the space in between, used in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea and Ethiopia. 3- One Laptop Per Child, a not-profit initiative led by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab. Now being tested in Nigeria and Brazil, costing $150. 4- The Global Village Shelter, prefabricated in biodegradable material, shipped flat and requiring no tools to assemble. It has already provided emergency shelter for disaster victims in Afghanistan, Grenada, Pakistan, and for those of Hurricane Katrina in the US.
20200,000 hectares of what used to be the untouched cloud forest of the Peruvian Amazon (once home to a unique highland ecosystem roamed by jaguars and bears), now boasts the herbicide-poisoned heartland of the world’s cocaine industry. “Snorting Peru’s Rain Forest,” International Wildlife, May/June 1990.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Salvador Dalí's verdict of Trump's presidency



Una polla xica, pica, pellerica, camatorta i bequerica, va tenir set polls, xics, pics, pellerics, camatorts i bequerics. Si la polla no hagués sigut tant xica, pica, pellerica, camatorta i bequerica els polls no haguessin sigut tant xics, pics, pellerics, camatorts i bequerics.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

David Carrier's faux pas on readymades


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David Carrier, on Jeff Koons, for Art Critical. Carrier enters the stage defining readymades:
A ready-made sculpture has an essentially ambiguous, philosophically fascinating double identity: It is a work of art; it is a functional artifact, a tool. 
Now he asks, how can they also be works or art?
Because ready-mades literally consist of commonplace objects, understanding why the artist selected them, when—after all—there are so many artifacts available– provokes commentary. And because our styles of toolmaking have changed drastically, the history of the ready-made provides an historical perspective on our culture.
Wait, Putin's personality, dog grooming and alien abduction also provoke commentary. & the history of the ready made is not why readymades have a history.

Readymades are not EZ, the reason being that they thrive precisely at the limit of the made/non-made distinction —so valuable for art and art history. But that has nothing to do with why they make it to the class of art/objects (& this is not the moment to settle the issue).

Sometimes one writes as disjointed as geiger noise pouring from a radioactive box.

I value Carrier as a writer, having enjoyed his Principles of Art History Writing (professor Alan Goldman at UM introduced me to it) and his better book on Poussin.

The reason of why art is art can withstand loads of (generally redundant) deductions, however, Carrier's brief cogitation on Kuns & readymades is bunk.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Whitney Biennial's Castor Oil criteria of art inclusion

Susan Cianciolo's Untitled (2000), watercolor on paper (a chosen artist for WB 2017)

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The paragraph below is taken from Brett Sokol's recent article for the NYTimes entitled Whitney Biennial to Miami Artists: It’s Not Us, It’s You. Throughout Sokol's piece Miami curator Gean Moreno basically explains why no Miami artist has been chosen for the Whitney 2017 Biennial.
They simply didn’t fit into the curators’ vision of engaging the social moment,” he said. “It’s not that there aren’t good Miami artists, but the determining factor was art that addressed the social upheavals of the last six years, from Occupy to Black Lives Matter to all the thinking around climate change and sea-level rise.
Isn't it essentially conflictual for art to have to express "X" or "Y" social issues to be selected for a Biennial?

Not to take Moreno's words as litmus test (Moreno is a personal friend whose instincts I trust), but isn't "social moment" arbitrary as criteria for art selection?

Here's Whitney's mission:
As the preeminent institution devoted to the art of the United States, the Whitney Museum of American Art presents the full range of twentieth-century and contemporary American art, with a special focus on works by living artists. The Whitney is dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting, and exhibiting American art, and its collection—arguably the finest holding of twentieth-century American art in the world—is the Museum's key resource. The Museum's signature exhibition, the Biennial, is the country's leading survey of the most recent developments in American art.
Is the word "social" or "political" anywhere in the mission?

Isn't the Whitney Biennial supposed deliver the most relevant trends in contemporary art in the United States?* And by which criteria one defines "contemporary trend"? 

Back to Sokol's article:
 “Who are the artists in Miami working on these issues?” Mr. Moreno asked. “It’s been taken up by the scientists at universities here, some journalists are addressing it, you’re seeing civic responses from some mayors. But I couldn’t name one local exhibit that has taken climate change seriously.”
Why would artists have to address "climate change" as a topic?

As anyone knows, artists work in their particular themes, be it political or social or formal, as a result of years of development. Changing one's language, style or topic, is complicated —and just to fit a museum's criteria, may seem even opportunistic.  

Is climate change an aesthetic property?

It's not news that The Whitney is perceived as partisan, a fact which Sokol recaps:
In years past, many critics of the Biennial have felt that agitprop has dominated at the expense of truly transcendent artwork — so much so that the Whitney’s own publicists embraced the controversy and once cheekily promoted the Biennial as “the show you love to hate.”
Is The Whitney not perversely revisiting an American version of Socialist Realism?

Chemi Rosado-Seijo’s Salón-Sala-Salón, 2014 (a chosen artist for WB 2017) 

For example, one of Socialist Realism's influences is Narodism, the populist land movement of end-of-Nineteenth-Century Russia. Here is a quote from apparatchik Georgi Plekhanov (an important ideologue behind Social Realism) addressing the artist:
... (he) strives to alter the social relations…he is a protester and fighter by virtue of his position. His attention is totally absorbed by struggle…therefore in his case social interests dominate all else…purely literary questions are of little concern to him…He is concerned not to give artistic form to his works, but to grasp and convey the social meaning of the phenomena which he depicts. There can be no doubt that art acquired a social significance only in so far as it depicts, evokes, or conveys actions, emotions and events that are of significance to society.
"Social" and "political" concerns remained the favored criteria for art under Zhdanov's reign in the USSR.

Why is this comparison between Social Realism and The Whitney's social criteria relevant?

Polish art theorist Stephan Morawski in his Inquires into the Fundamental of Aesthetics mentions Zhnadov as responsible for the evolution of social realism towards what he calls its "institutional version" around 1936, with the publication of "A Chaos of Sounds instead of Music." Morawski writes:
What strikes us in this article is that instead of entering into a discussion with the artist, it simply pronounces an anathema permitting of no appeal. The principles feasible and discussable were offered without an offer of justification. It was official now that socialist realism was the only permitted current in the Soviet Union.  
Back to our present, The Whitney's extraneous criteria remains inappellable in the sense that curators already entertain their choice based on institutional consensus —which (as we'll see ahead) they refer to as "the conversation."

I don't want to get too much into this theme of ideology vs. the arts, which also has counterparts in the Nazi's Reichskulturkammer and Fidel Castro's "Palabras a los intelectuales."

On the other hand, a Whitney advocate may argue that on the contrary, the institution is not imposing anything on American artists, the institution and its curators merely decide what topics are relevant for inclusion—given the constantly changing social contexts. Let's not forget that The Whitney was accused as being "too white" during the 1990s, a perception that this more recent consensus is set to change.

But that's a naive assumption. The Whitney advocate may retort that no matter how inclusive the institution is, people left out always complain. Point taken. Social or political straight jackets don't represent artistic merit, a deserving aesthetic property successfully expressed in the art —whether abstract, formal, conceptual, social, political, or whatnot.

The Whitney is the foremost American Museum to show American contemporary emergent talent. One thing is to be inclusive, the opposite is to stereotype standards of inclusiveness as implicit forms of exclusion.

More worrisome: is The Whitney not stirring art tendencies by telling artists what to do if they want to be paid attention to? Isn't this a form of art depletion? 

The disconnect is more pronounced when Sokol brings the voice of The Whitney's chief curator Scott Rothkopf:
“I don’t want to say what Miami’s artists are doing is irrelevant. They just weren’t the artists our curators were most interested in bringing into the conversation,” he explained. “Because I’m involved in the process, what I’m aware of is that as much as the curators hope to represent the breadth of the country, the diversity of different art forms and art makers, at the end of the day, with 63 spots, some boxes will be left unchecked.”
The statement in yellow above is a sad case of curator hubris, what I call Whitney's Castor Oil criteria of inclusion. 

My advice to Miami artists: No matter what you do, be true to yourself. That's success enough.

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* If an art trend is a fact of society, what needs to be done is to show it, not to stereotype it and enforce it into a overarching criteria.