NB. This post was prepared before the essay was published. It was even more fun than I expected, with lots of people joining in the discussion — this archive is totally unrepresentative of the event. But I’m out of time and energy to edit this, so I’ll be updating a fuller archive of the conversation, with more reflections, tomorrow.
State of the Arts is an annual conference that “brings together a wide range of creative voices to debate issues around resilience, audience and the value of arts and culture.” #SOTAflash is a distributed response/participation in SOTA, organised by artist-curators, asking anyone to contribute in a simple, direct and free way.
The following essay was published for #SOTAflash on Twitter between 11.30 and 13.30 on Thursday 10th February 2011. It was intended for that form — a live, tweeted essay — and so this is an archive of a live event (with “live” being a deliciously problematic condition in this Age) rather than a reproduction of that essay. A version of this piece intended for print publication is forthcoming in Silent City’s “Arts & Activism”; a third version will be published online soon after.
I insist on the pieces being different events/essays because in each case the form so utterly changes the content: this is by now an old saw, but it’s still cutting. Rewriting the essay for Twitter was fascinating: ultra-concision was required (due to hastags, I only had 120 characters to play with), and this led to using an active, first person present voice, where the original essay was passive and reflective, using a third person conditional. That’s simply because first person present is the tense which uses the fewest characters, but it’s interesting to note that that grammatical fact has hugely influenced how Twitter feels in general. It is a first person present medium. Another aspect of rewriting for Twitter was that I knew that not everyone would be following the essay from start to finish: a reader had to be able to arrive and leave at any moment. Each aphorism had to stand alone, and be a suitable introduction or conclusion to what it followed or was followed by. The thoughts are therefore more generalised and elliptical than in the essay for print publication: to me, they’re somehow more artistically satisfying, but less journalistically and politically useful.
I’m interested in how the essay will be received by my followers, by folk participating in #SOTAflash, and by folk at SOTA itself. I’m writing the introduction to this archive two days prior to publication, so I have no idea what will happen. It may be entirely ignored except by those regular followers it annoys, or it may (some hope!) be a surprise hit. Either way, it will be part of the geographically and intellectually distributed uprising of thought that #SOTAflash, I am sure, will be — I’m excited to find out how it fits into that ecology, what responses it will receive, and what else folk are planning to produce.
Enough of the intro: here’s the essay.
* * *
I’m answering the State of the Arts flashcon callout for crowdsourced contributions with a Twitter essay.
The following 40 tweets are a Twitter essay called #GiveUpArt – condensed from a piece in Silent City’s coming ‘Art & Activism’
In 99, in J18’s aftermath, ‘Give Up Activism’ was published, generating much discussion & debate http://bit.ly/ebm85j
What follows is ‘Give Up Activism’ hacked into tweet aphorisms in which ‘activism’ becomes ‘art’; activist, artist; &c.
A problem in art now: the artist mentality: folk see themselves as artists, part of a wider community of artists.
The artist mentality problem is particularly obvious precisely when folk involved try to push beyond its limitations.
I mean not to criticise folk who try to push limits, but to provoke thought on problems if we are serious about it.
Artists identify with art: it’s a role in life, a job, not a thing they just do but a vital part of self-image.
To see self as artist: to feel advanced in seeing the need for & how to achieve art, to lead struggles to create it.
Art, like all expert roles, has its basis in the division of labour: it is a specialised separate task.
Experts jealously guard & mystify the skills they have, keeping people separated and disempowered.
Artists assume other people don’t do anything to make their lives creative, & so feel a duty to do it on their behalf.
Artists define their works as those that count as art, disregarding the creative struggle of thousands of non-artists.
The harder we cling to the role of artist, the more we actually impede the creativity we desire.
Real creative revolution means breaking out of preconceived roles & destroying all specialism, reclaiming our lives.
The passivity of the spectators lies in their ability to assimilate roles & play them according to official norms.
The repetition of images offers models from which all must choose: thus the ultimate conservatism of the ‘artist’.
The supposed creative activity of artists is a sterile routine – a repetition of actions with no potential for change.
Artists would resist revolution: it would disrupt the easy certainties of their role & the niche they’ve carved out.
Like union bosses, artists are eternal representatives and mediators.
Easy to be the ‘artist’: art doesn’t challenge society, is an accepted form of dissent just as it’s not revolutionary.
Even if we do things that are not accepted, the way art is like a job means that it fits in with our upbringing.
The artist role is a self-imposed isolation from all the people we should be connecting to.
The artist role separates you from the rest of the human race as someone special and different.
Artists tend to think of their own ‘we’ as referring to some community of artists, rather than a social class.
Some folk have the strange idea that all must be persuaded into being artists & then we’ll have creative revolution.
Specialists recruit to their own tiny area to increase their power & dispel the realisation of her own powerlessness.
The political party substitutes itself for the proletariat: its own survival & reproduction become paramount.
In political parties revolutionary activity becomes synonymous with ‘building the party’ and recruiting members.
Art is like a Party: people’s primary loyalty becomes to the community of artists and not to the struggle as such.
Art is an illusory community, distracting us from creating a wider community of creativity.
In Marxist groups the possession of ‘theory’ is the all-important thing determining power.
In Art, power is the possession of the relevant ‘artistic capital’ – knowledge, experience, contacts, equipment, &c.
Art reproduces capitalist life: the basis of alienation is that we live in service of a thing that we have created.
If we reproduce capitalism in the name of art that declares itself revolutionary, we’ve lost before we’ve begun.
We should develop means that are adequate to our radicalism. I have no clearer insight into how than anyone else.
Arts-activism: a valiant attempt to get beyond our limits that has made clear the ties that bind us to the past.
Art is a form partly forced upon us by weakness: radical art is often the product of mutual weakness and isolation.
It may not even be within our power to break out of the role of artists.
Maybe when struggle is weak, those working for creative revolution become marginalised, seen as that special group.
To escalate creative struggle we must break the role of artist, try to push at the boundaries of our constraints.
The artist role in itself must be problematic for those who desire creative revolution.
This concludes the #GiveUpArt Twitter essay for #SOTAflash. It can be read in the archive now live at http://wp.me/pgMJK-5w
Thanks for reading #GiveUpArt for the #SOTAflash conference, whether live or archived. Apologies to all who’ve been feedspammed!