I recently finished reading Resistance Anew: Artworks, Culture, and Democracy. While I enjoyed the book, it could be summed up as a lot of pontificating about what art is, or can offer, in a time of crisis—especially as the elite, capitalism, and their ‘art markets’ largely control the field. Within the 142 pages of theory, there was a whole lot of this—
Now, it is in this field of disorganization, in this breeding ground of virtualities, in this implosive void, in this deposit of signifiers in search of signifieds, in art, to say the least, that verbal thought revitalizes itself, while at the same time disqualifying itself. How do we otherwise explain that, since the Renaissance, or already since classical antiquity, since the sculptural premises of anthropocentrism, art is prophecy, that it is regularly one step ahead of events and thought? And, in addition, how do we explain the silence of the great thinkers and the great philosophers on this subject? They are not aliens who could have cogitated their discoveries autistically. Would they want to make us believe that they neither saw nor heard anything about the art of their time, even though the relationship to the inspiration is obvious? One could say, paraphrasing Edgar Degas, that some of them, starting with Plato, shot the artists, and that they picked their pockets—at least, for the most part, they were reluctant to reveal their sources.
—Michel Thévoz, “Sensure”
I’m not trying to trash on art theory or what Thévoz is saying, as I rather enjoyed his essay. But as I made my way through the book, time and again I found myself thinking, This is why everyone hates contemporary art.
The language used to describe and debate art now is rooted in academia and philosophy, not the basics of human expression. This foundational issue is easily seen across the ‘culture’ of the ‘art world,’ when one can’t just have a conversation about a work—one must be able to understand what it means through the eyes of one philosophy or another. A person’s opinion about any work of art should be considered, regardless of if they’ve ever read fuckin’ Deleuze.
It’s reflective of how just 8% of working artists come from a working-class background (this is a 2022 study in the uk). Of course so few write in the straight-forward manner of, say, famous working-class texts, when they want to be taken seriously by a group with a barrier of entry provided by post-graduate language.
GROSS: And don’t ever say your car is broke?
ISBELL: Right. You should know what’s wrong with it.
GROSS: I suppose that’s as opposed to broken? Oh. Oh. Oh.
ISBELL: No. No. No.
Gross couldn’t wrap her liberal mind around the idea that the lyric—“Don’t call what you’re wearing an outfit / and don’t ever say your car is broke”—was earnest sentiment and not grammatical scolding, even though the entire song is a love letter from father to son. (Isbell, college-educated with a degree in fiction, doesn’t speak down to his southern roots the way certain northeastern media types might.)
It’s the exact kind of academic sentiment that distances the ‘educated’ from the idea art can be made by ‘everyday people.’ To my mind, that is the crisis art is facing right now, and exactly why books like this can’t offer any idea on how to solve it.