Ranting About Sincerity
Why is sincerity and love the antithesis of art? That is not a rhetorical question. Contemporary Art™ is supposedly defined by a spirit of critical distance to the subject matter, but I’m not particularly convinced this is the case. You want actual critical distance, you go into the sciences (I’m including social sciences and even philosophy in this case) where objectivity is demanded. Is it just a matter of finding a place to ask uncomfortable questions which stem from subjective interpretation? Or perhaps it’s the use of sensory engagement to ask questions that defines Contemporary Art™ and thereby inducing a visceral type of criticality in the viewer rather than a simply intellectual one. In any case, why does the love of the maker for the subject automatically place it in the realm of the amateur? No artist picks their subject at random (unless randomness itself is the subject matter), and frequently there is some sort of great passion guiding the choice, be it anger or sadness or whatever. Is it simply that most people can’t love something without coddling it or inspecting the object of that love?
Perhaps I (and others) are simply confusing correlation with causation. Works done out of an abundance of fondness are simply less likely question what they love in a productively uncomfortable way. Or so I have gathered. I know my parents love me, but they certainly didn’t take a bunch of shit from me simply so that I wouldn’t get my little fee-fees hurt. They held me accountable because they loved me. So I can’t really believe that it is love that keeps art from happening. I’ll go as far as to say it lessens the chances of something hitting critical territory, but is not inherently limiting.
Ah, the problem must be the “spirit of self-gratification” under which the making activities are conducted, and not the love itself. The love for the process must be the problem, and not undertaking it for the sake of critique. I get it; my hobby IS critiquing things, whilst yours is knitting, ergo I are a SERIOUS ARTISTE and you just aren’t refined enough to understand. For fuck’s sake, does nobody involved in the art world actually think about what they are saying? With vanishingly few exceptions, the pay for art is shit, and artists carp on and on about how they couldn’t possibly do anything else because they are just driven to create. We aren’t overrun with lunatic stamp collectors, so perhaps this kind of drive is key (though there are all kinds of professional hobbyists).
Sure, I understand how doing something because it feels good is different than being driven to create something with broader repercussions, but both things are satisfying (to different degrees) the same human instinct. If we are perfectly honest, it is the difference between masturbation and procreation. One has a greater long-term effect than the other, but they spring from the same source and we do our society exactly zero good making people feel shitty about one or the other. And our choice to take genuine joy out of the equation? What is this, some sort of art version of The Handmaid’s Tale?
Look, I get that the nuances of why and how people make things are worth inspecting. Absolutely; no disagreement here. Knowledge is power, and it is only helpful to have a greater command of the emotional palette people work from. But all this hierarchical business, and the idea something has to be one or the other and some things can’t be a part of a theoretical discourse? Consider it an invitation to make some art when I tell you to go fuck yourself.
Written in response to Glenn Adamson's Thinking Through Craft, Chapter 5: Amateur. The directive "go fuck yourself" is not actually aimed at Mr. Adamson, who is quite delightful, but rather a response of general frustration.