The Artist as a Storyteller!

Installation view of Mai-Thu Perret's "Little Planetary Harmony," 2006, at the Renaissance Society Chicago

I'm going to drop all pretenses that people actually read these, and just write the essay I want to write. Because that's a thing I do, write essays for fun. It's like a sudoku puzzle but instead of a grid you have the landscape of art history, and instead of numbers you have types of art that I like... okay that analogy doesn't work well but we'll move on.

"Texting: The Artist as Writer as Artist" by Daniel Kunitz

The right half of Magid's Epilogue 2009
Silkscreen-on-paper diptych, each panel 34 3/4 x 23 1/4 in.
This is the article that spurs this essay.  Originally I was going to do a podcast, I even bought a fancy microphone. We'd do a little program where I discussed the ideas in this article with other artists that I thought exhibited some of the traits talked about in the article.  Those being:

Kathleen Brennan who was up for it but is now out of reach.

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Mike Vance who doesn't really have the stomach for art talk

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Jordan Elquist which was maybe a stretch but I value his input, unfortunately he didn't think the article merited a discussion.

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The reason I wanted to do a podcast was because I wanted to talk a lot about artist intentions, which is a big thing to step over with assumptions.  Especially when I could just talk to them.  Also I find people are more willing to listen to something than they are to read it.  I also have found that there is a dearth of quality podcasts about art, and if you see something missing content wise that you like, then you should fill the void yourself.  Anyways for all that I couldn't get it off the ground so instead you get this essay.  They'll be assumptions here but I'll just have to hedge my bets, put this disclaimer here and hope for the best.

A disclaimer

First thing to do is break down the article and explain how I interpreted it.  Daniel Kunitz starts off by talking about the weirdness of reading inside a gallery or even a museum.  not name plates, but like essays or short stories.  Kunitz uses examples from the 2010 exhibition "Free" that was hosted at the New Museum in New York City.  He continues talking about writing as a way to subvert the notion of what art is.  When he mentions writing he means discursive essays or narratives, though not specifically textual ones.  I had to look up what discursive means, and apparently it's digressing from topic to topic... so basically a rambling essay, which may or may not turn out what this essay will become.  Anyway this type of art, in his opinion, contrasts sharply with text appropriation, text as image, or the 60's conceptualists who used text as objects.  The 60's conceptualists appear to be the antagonist for this essay.

Kunitz goes on to establish this new art movement or trend as a generational one.  Specifically for those born after 1964.  He states those born after that date grew up in what he calls the "Blur." The Blur being the blending of genres and mediums.  I took this to be just a different name of Marshall McLuhan's idea.  McLuhan's idea being that as information speeds up we're going to find ourselves less specialized because it won't take as much effort to get information, and as such we'll find ourselves spread out across more disciplines.  To state in maybe more familiar terms... more and more art students are taking interdisciplinary studies and the distinctions between disciplines such as painter and sculptor become less and less important.  There is a lot to talk about here, which I'll come back to later on, for now I hope you have the gist of it.

Seth Price's "Essay with Knots," 2008.
Screenprint on high-impact polystyrene, ropes: nine parts, each 48 x 96 in.

Daniel Kunitz then goes on to analyze Seth Price's essay "Dispersion."  Making a specific point to compare and contrasts these Blur artist with the conceptualists from the 60's.  Price suggests that artists of his generation "priviledge framing and context, and constantly renegotiating its relationship to its audience."  Similar to the performances and site specific sculptures of the 60's and 70's that challenged the art context.  Though eventually they were co-opted by institutions through photographic documentation.  Seth Price and to an extent other Blur artists hope to side step this danger by changing how their art is distributed.  Specifically (I'm using this word too much) the internet.  "Suppose an artist were to release the work directly into a system that depends on reproduction and distribution for its sustenance, a model that encourages contamination, borrowing, stealing, and horizontal blur.  The art system usually corrals errant works, but how could it recoup thousands of freely circulating paperbacks?"

"The answer is it can't."  Kunitz goes on then to list several examples of writing artists and galleries not getting along.  The most notable one Magrid can't get a gallery to pony up the $7,000 to get her epistolary novella back into reprint, even though she's associated with top tier museums.  (If you sign up on her websites, she'll email you the book's letters to you.)  This being in the art world where "dispensing tens of thousands of dollars to fabricate an artwork is routine."

We then get to what I find to be the most interesting difference between the blur artists and the 60's conceptualists.  Much of the text-based work of the 1960s, Price says, "was primarily concerned with finding exhibition alternates to the gallery wall and in any case often used these sites to demonstrate dryly theoretical propositions rather than address issues of, say, desire."  In fact the differences go considerably deeper, to the level of form.  In addressing "issues of desire," the younger artists consistently resort to narratives and often to elaborate fictions.  I want to come back to this, specifically that word "desire" I find it fascinating, but lets wrap up this long winded outline of the article.

"dryly theoretical propositions"
Allan Kaprow, Words (detail), Environment, 1962

So in the next few paragraphs, Daniel Kunitz builds up to his thesis.  First explaining a possible way of viewing modernism as the slow leaching of narratives from visual art.  Then going on to talk about how narratives don't have to be text based.  Then he drops Nicholas Bourriaud's name, and we see who Daniel Kunitz thinks these Blur artists are a reaction to.  Kunitz says, "I see the emergence of artists' writing, displaying books, and aggressively adopting literary modes as an effort to protect or recapture originality both from the maelstrom of postproduction that has remade the aesthetic landscape and from the attack on it launched ironically enough by the text-based Conceptualism of the 1960s."  It's a pretty good thesis, and while I don't necessarily like it, he's got a lot of evidence to back it up.  We're going to come back to this also, but for now I'll just suggest another word for originality is authenticity.

For all that build up, Kunitz goes on for another two paragraphs clarifying his point and at the very end suggesting a type of art that I have only dreamed about.  Basically artists replace the context of the gallery with the context of their narratives.  Kunitz sums it up nicely in his last paragraph.  "The story as generator of objects is a reversal.  For Magid, Price, and the others, it was the art world context, filled with objects, that opened to admit their narratives.  In a sense, the objects -- whether shelves of books, neon words, video screens, or vitrines [Duchamp reference.. nice] -- were the soft spots in the gallery context that allowed it to expand.  Now Perret is importing objects into the world of her stories.  And it's only within the context of the story that the objects she creates, such as dresses for nonexistent commune dwellers, will be seen as art."

Awesome . . .

Now would be a good time to stretch your legs, take a bathroom break, or just close the browser window if this isn't your idea of a good time.  Because I'm going to go back into this article and nitpick at this perfect storm of ideas to talk about what I found so fascinating and how it relates to much of the work I saw when graduating from Montserrat College of Art.

Let me explain something first.  Whenever you're reading/talking/writing about art, the key to understanding is using a shared vocabulary.  You'd have to know what "the search" means when talking to a Harney-ite or they would just sound crazy or slightly poetic.

For the most part I don't follow the international art scene because of this problem.  I hardly ever pick up a copy of Artforum and feel like I'm on the same page as the writer.  This isn't a problem if you're just flipping through looking for pretty pictures.  In that care the overstuffed with ads magazine seems like it is brimming with content, but for me, who actually enjoys reading about art it can be frustrating.

Part of the problem is how I've assembled my art vocabulary.  While I've taken art history classes the vast majority of my foundation of knowledge comes from conversations with friends and teachers.  Salted with a few books that I deemed relevant to my meager artistic practices.  Then add a healthy does of theory-crafting that I had to do my senior year to justify to myself a critical practice of installation art.  All together it makes my vocabulary rather unique.

Or so I thought.

Time and time again Kunitz's article touches on ideas that I have previously encountered, and uses it to build to a conclusion I've been heading to for a while.  But I've been moving in this direction by myself for a while, with only a few touch stones to let me know I'm not a crazy hermit living in the middle of no where.  Here Kunitz gathers all those points and walks down a path that's almost parallel with mine.  I expected this to happen eventually.  I take the whole story behind "Einstein's Dream" pretty seriously.  You can hear the story here to get what I'm talking about.  This phenomenon doesn't have a name, which makes referencing it rather frustrating.  The idea is two scientists on separate sides of the planet reach the same conclusion without consulting each other.  Alan Lightman the scientist who experienced this, finds it deeply demoralizing and goes off to become a writer so that he can call his work original.  (Sound familiar?)  For me personally I find the phenomenon life affirming.  Perhaps it is because in the art world, there's not many ideas that you can take as solid (best word I can come up with, since i can't use the word fact).  Mostly because the art world is so subjective and pluralist.  However, here I have someone else who has reached the same conclusion that I have and it comes as this great relief.  I interpret it as yes there is this pattern out there that I've been seeing, and yes other people see it too.  It also means that I've done all the research for this essay before hand without even meaning to.

Act 2 begins as we return to the subject of the Blur. I don't know how much more I can go into Marshall McLuhan.  The guy basically predicted the internet and its effects on our culture.  Oh yeah he did this way back in 1970s twenty years before the internet was a thing.  I got most of these ideas out of his book titled, "The Medium is the Message."  Reading that title you might be wondering how the book promotes the blending of genres and mediums.  What he means by that title is one should avoid blindly picking a medium because you are skilled in it.  Realize that each medium is a way of delivering information and each way of delivery has an effect on how that information is perceived.

If you don't believe me that interdisciplinary arts are on the rise I'll throw this little statistic your way.  Out of my entire senior class at Montserrat there were only 2 students declared as painters.  Even though there was atleast 10 and probably more students actually producing paintings.  Everyone else was declared as interdisciplinary and was trying to incorporate painting with other disciplines.  Then one of the students declared as a painter, Jordan Elquist himself, decided his senior year to be more interdisciplinary, including a sculpture, sound piece, and some interesting installation elements in his senior show.

Jordan Elquist's Studio

Daniel Kunitz then does some interesting linking between interdisciplinary arts and attitudes towards art.  This sounds obvious when written out, but we'll continue on anyways.  He first brings up the autonomous art object, which as far as I can deduce was an idea invented, or coined, by Clement Greenberg.  The idea of the autonomous art object goes like this. (my interpretation)  At some point in history (I think around the time that perspective was dropped) modernists (paintings made between 1900s to 1960s) changed their priorities from pleasing the viewer to making a better piece of art.  They sought to transcend the relationship of an object in service to a viewer.  They intended to free the art object of obligations to anyone outside of itself.  Making the art object independent, or autonomous.  One result was the white walls that came to dominate galleries, seen as the best way to present the art without context.  (more on this later)

Installation view of Walker exhibition, Duchamp’s Leg (November 5, 1994-March 26, 1995).

The effect that I had most experience with was that communicating with the viewer was strongly discouraged.  Sure a piece of art could "speak" to someone, but that shouldn't be the objective of the artist.  The artist should focus on "develop[ing] what is most intrinsic" to their art.  In someways privileging the act of making art over the time it spent in the gallery.  Let the viewer take care of themselves.  They have a piece of constructive criticism for people who fail to do this.  It's called being didactic.

The way this is all relevant is that Kunitz goes on to talk about how the Blur artists privilege framing and context, and are constantly renegotiating their relationship to their audience.  "The modernist critic Michael Fied calls "theatricality" by which he means the exhibition event becoming as important as the objects within it.  These artists take as axiomatic that context creates art."  Here the Blur artists have switched everything around.  They work across multiple mediums not interested in finding whats most intrinsic to anyone of them. They value events like receptions where viewer count is high and communication is at its most possible, and they enjoy subverting the white wall gallery.

Mike Vance, Don't Tip the Monkey Installation View, 2011
I wanted to show a video of the reception of this show.  But embeding is denied on that video right now, so here's a sterile photo and a url http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNfqAenZ8jY&feature=player_detailpage#t=51s

In many ways the conceptualists of the 60's and 70's did exactly the same.  I first came across the idea of subverting the white wall gallery when I read the book "Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space" by Brian O'Doherty.  That book actually turns out to be a sort of manifesto for 60s to 70s conceptualists.  A rallying cry to identify that galleries in their attempt to create a context free area with their white walls have inadvertently created a constricting one that we should all break free from.  There being subtle social, economical, and aesthetic reasons for doing such a thing.  It's a nice read and a great glimpse into the mindset of artists in that era..  It inspired a fervor in me to mess around with the concept of the gallery.  Though if you're going to lose the gallery aesthetic you have to something to replace it with, which I sort of did.

Aaron Berger, A Studio's Interior as an Artist's Home, 2011

One of the most interesting parts of the book looking back now, is an added on article written in 1986 where the author laments how his favorite art movement has been so institutionalized.  A great quote goes "In the past ten years so much has been buried as if it never happened.  Visual art does not progress by having a good memory.  And New York is the locus of some radical forgetting.  You can reinvent the past, suitably disguised, if no one remembers it.  Thus is originality, that patented fetish of the self, defined.

"What has been buried?  One of the art community's conceivably noble efforts: the concerted move of a generation to question, through a matrix of styles, ideas, and quasi-movements, the context of its activity.  Art used to be made for illusion; now it is made from illusions.  In the sixties and seventies the attempt to dispense with illusions was dangerous and could not be tolerated for long.  So the art industry has since devalued the effort.  Illusions are back, contradictions tolerated, the art world's in its place and all's well with that world."

The whole book is written from that place of passion, here its anger is about how a movement slowly faded away.  Earlier in the book though, Brian O'Doherty does a great job setting up the history of the gallery and exalting premiere conceptualists of his time.  So you have the warning tale of the 60s conceptualists demise and you have to wonder how the Blur artists are going to avoid a similar fate.

With the advent of the internet came the notion of freedom of information, and as art became more and more about ideas it seemed inevitable that they would eventually find some sort of synergy.  Kunitz keys in on how offering essays and videos online is a way to stick it to the man (gallery/museums) and while I don't doubt that some of the artists enjoy messing with the system and some of the galleries are bothered with their system being messed with, I think there is also a practicality being skipped over here.  These artists are still invested in the exhibition.  Many of the examples here being from a museum show.  We've stated their love for the event, but it's a big world out there.  I think artists realize the strange bubble that surrounds the art world.  Not very enticing to a newcomer, untrained in the rules.  Then there's the people inside of the bubble already trained with certain notions.  It's much easier to eat cheese and drink wine and point at a painting as a conversation point, than it is to invest time in reading an essay and understand the context being built by the artists.  Having these materials online allow visitors to take the time to read the essay, and maybe initiate a second visit with their new knowledge.  Then there are the people who haven't heard of these artists but may stumble upon their work online and gain interest.  My point is as much as Kunitz talks about subverting the notion of art, I think the main objective behind this new distribution is reaching out to the audience.  Shifting away from the obtuse art objects that have to be seen in person to get their full effect.  Here on the web the artists are leaving bread crumbs to entice the viewer to show interest and invest time in understanding the new contexts being built around these pieces of art.

I think here is as good as a place as any for a digression about text and the age of the internet.  As much as it seems that Print is on life support, I think text is as strong as ever.  With smartphones almost every second of the day is spent reading statuses on facebook, tweets on twitter, emails, or looking at memes.  We're just as comfortable as ever around text, especially in short bursts.  Which means that text works great in works like Mike Vance above or Bradford Rusick below.  We're ready to read a small amount of text and take meaning away from it, maybe not at the level of Hemingway, but the viewer is comfortable with this activity.  The hard part is getting the viewer to invest more than just a small amount of time.  Right now I'm following the Jonathan Franzen example.  In Freedom he slides in plenty of political and social ideas that range all over the place, but along the way is a very entertaining story, and people read it.

Bradford Rusick  Surf's Up Pam! 3x7ft acrylic, gouache, ink, latex, marker, 2012

Here's a nice little quote, "Treat the reader as a friend and not a spectator or adversary.  There are schools of literary fiction in which the feeling seems to be that the reader is an uneducated person, that needs to receive a political education or needs to be taught certain information.  Or in the most extreme case needs to be shocked out of some bourgeoisie stupidity into enlightenment.  I'm not making this up, there are lots of and lots of academic papers written about how certain texts can disrupt the reader's world view and presumably move them into the correct political direction.  And my idea is. . . no I come out of a community of readers and writers.  I'm trying to write books that produce potentially the same kind of experience I most enjoy as a reader.  That's really a way of saying that I am a reader first and I'm writing for a reader like myself, and I respect myself.  It's consenting adults working together to create an experience."

How does this connect to getting viewers to expand their attention spans?  As best I can see it, it's about not attacking the viewer, but inviting them with good art and hope they stay a while.  I don't have the answers, and I can't solve this problem here.  These are my thoughts and this was suppose to be just a small digression.

back to your regularly scheduled programming
So if we get back on topic and ask ourselves how else the 60s conceptualists and Blur artists are different we get to my favorite part.  Just to freshen your memory:  "Much of the text-based work of the 1960s, Price says, 'was primarily concerned with finding exhibition alternatives to the gallery wall and in any case often used these sites to demonstrate dryly theoretical propositions rather than address issues of, say, desire.'"  Desire is a pretty open ended word.  Weirdly enough Kunitz doesn't elaborate more on this, but here is what I see as a major shift in art.

Take a moment and try to think of some works of art that have to do with love.  Not even that abstract, think of some works of art that have to do with commitment or marriage.  When brainstorming with Scott Hadfield, we were able to come up with one or two artists that dealt with such issues, (that I can't recall now) but they were background issues where gender / gay issues were what were really being talked about.  Of all the paintings of women it's widely known that many of them were mistresses if not a commission.  I can't think of an artist before 1930s that actually ended up getting married.  (hedging my bets here.  The first artist I can think of that got married is Pollack but I'm pretty sure there were some before him.) They were mostly just bachelors living off their family money enjoying their favorite past time of painting, and somehow that's all that's filled our art history books.

At some point of in history (I would say the early paintings dealing with greek/roman tragedies probably had an idea of love, but after that I'm not sure) the idea of love was placed firmly in the area of kitsch where it has stayed since.  In someways I can understand.  Romance novels don't exactly inspire high brow thinking, but usually there's some give and take.  For all the talk of universal truths you would think the idea of relationships might of come up.  For most of the 20th century the ideas that were talked about were economical, political, or formal.  The modernists (paintings made from 1900s to 1960s) probably showed more emotion than the post-modernists (performances/installations and ironic work made from 1960's and on) but it was all wrapped up in the act of making.  None of it was really talked about, it was just there, functioning as evidence that an act of passion took place.  The 1960s conceptualists were so busy deconstructing the master narrative and pushing their own agendas, and being dryly theoretical.

So when Seth Price brings up issues of desire, what I see is personal issues taking forefront.  Like Kathleen Brennan's work her senior year which (as far as I can tell, though I'd rather have her explain it) deals with growing up with five brothers in a religious family.  Or my own work that dealt, haphazardly at best, with displacement from home and thoughts on commitment.  These ideas that lend themselves well with a form of narrative.  A return in someways to sentimentality, since I'm pretty sure the pendulum has swung as far as it can in the cynical arena.  Artists who are earnest and sincere about issues that effect their immediate lives.

Speaking of sincerity. . .

"E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" by David Foster Wallace

"Postmodernism is dead" by Edward Docx

These are the articles that I know of that outline the argument that's coming up, and yes this is the type of stuff I read in my free time.  When I can get my hands on it, there is not a lot of stuff like this out there.  but wait, what argument?

An argument about semantics!

This is all relevant, it'll all make sense in a minute or two.  The next art movement, one that many say is already underway, will be about one of two things.  (possibly both but I don't like one so we're going to make this all binary)  But first you have to understand the void in which these ideas are trying to fill.  This is something I think Edward Docx (I'm not sure if that's his real name) hits the nail on the head with.

"For a while, as communism began to collapse, the supremacy of western capitalism seemed best challenged by deploying the ironic tactics of postmodernism.  Over time, though, a new difficulty was created: because postmodernism attacks everything, a mood of confusion and uncertainty began to grow and flourish until, in recent years, it became ubiquitous.  A lack of confidence in the tenets, skills and aesthetics of literature permeated the culture and few felt secure or able or skilled enough or politically permitted to distinguish or recognize the schlock from the not.  And so, sure enough, in the absence of any aesthetic criteria, it became more and more useful to assess the value of works according to the profits they yielded.  Capital, as has been said many times before, accommodates all needs.  So, paradoxically, we arrive at a moment where literature itself has become threatened, first by the artistic credo of postmodernism (the death of the author) and second by the unintended result of that credo, the hegemony of the marketplace.  What then becomes sought and desired are fictions that resonate with the widest possible public: that is, with as many discourses as possible.  This public can then give or withhold approval measured in sales.

Damien Hirst For the Love of God, 2007
"In otherwords, increasingly, artistic success has become about nothing except money; and increasingly, artists have come to judge their own success that way, too.  This is the reason today that we feel the genre writer's cry "I sold millions" so powerfully, even though in truth it can say little about the art form other than "it sold millions."  Changing disciplines, if we take this commoditisation of art to its natural limit, we arrive at Damien Hirst's diamond encrusted skull, For the Love of God (2007).  Commoditisation has here become the only point.  The work, such as it is, centres on its cost and value and comprises also (I would say mainly) the media storm surrounding it: the rumours that it was bought for [fuck, how do you do the symbol for the euro?]50m, or that Hirst himself bought it, or that he offset his tax bill by claiming diamonds as tax deductible artistic materials, or that he didn't buy it at all, or that nobody has bought it... And so postmodernly on.  The paradox being this: that by removing all criteria, we are left with nothing but the market.  The opposite of what postmodernism originally intended.

"And, of course, there's a parallel paradox in politics and philosophy.  If we de-privilege all positions, we can assert no position, we cannot therefore participate in society or the collective and so, in effect, an aggressive postmodernism becomes, in the real world, indistinguishable from an odd species of inert conservatism."

Edward Docx then goes on, and this is were I disagree with him, to suggest that the value of authenticity will fill the void.  "...a universal yearning for some kind of offline authenticity.  We desire to be redeemed from the grossness of our consumption..." I believe that Daniel Kunitz (see I'm tying it in) is throwing his weight behind this side of the argument (authenticity) with his claim that writing and narratives are trying to restore originality to art.  This is basically a fight over what the new criteria for judging art will be.  Because we desperately need one.  Or we can just look forward to chapters filled with Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst in future editions of Gardener's "Art through the Ages"

I see problems in judging art on the mysterious criteria of authenticity, which is where David Foster Wallace comes in.  First a few paragraphs to show that he is addressing the same problem.  Written in 1990, I find the best essays about our culture today are the ones written before the internet became a big thing.  Also if you think I'm long winded, just try to make your way through that David Foster Wallace essay.  The man was thorough.

"Irony in postwar art and culture started out the same way youthful rebellion did.  It was difficult and painful, and productive -- a grim diagnosis of a long-denied disease.  The assumptions behind early postmodern irony, on the other hand, were still frankly idealistic: it was assumed that etiology and diagnosis pointed toward cure, that a revelation of imprisonment led to freedom.

"So then how have irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating but enfeebling in the culture today's avant-garde tries to write about?  One clue's to be found in the fact that irony is still around, bigger than ever after 30 long years as the dominant mode of hip expression.  It's not a rhetorical mode that wears well.  As Hyde (whom I pretty obviously like) puts it, 'Irony has only emergency use.  Carried over time, it is the voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage'  this is because irony, entertaining as it is, servers an almost exclusively negative function.  It's critical and destructive, a ground-clearing.  Surely this is the way our postmodern fathers saw it.  But irony's singularly unuseful when it comes to constructing anything to replace the hypocrisies it debunks.  This is why Hyde seems right about persistent irony being tiresome.  It is unmeaty.  Even gifted ironists work best in sound bites.  I find gifted ironists sort of wickedly fun to listen to at parties, but I always walk away feeling like I've had several radical surgical procedures.  And as for actually driving cross-country with a gifted ironist, or sitting through a 300-page novel full of nothing but trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow . . . oppressed.

"Think, for a moment, of Third World rebels and coups.  [strangely applies to Egypt today]  Third World rebels are great at exposing and overthrowing corrupt hypocritical regimes, but they seem noticeably less great at the mundane, non-negative task of then establishing a superior governing alternative.  Victorious rebels, in fact, seem best at using their tough, cynical rebel-skills to avoid being rebelled against themselves -- in other words, they just become better tyrants.

"And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us.  The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down.  All U.S. irony is based on an implicit "I don't really mean what I'm saying."  So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say?  That it's impossible to mean what you say?  That maybe it's too bad it's impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already?  Most likely, I think, today's irony ends up saying: "How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean."  Anyone with the heretical gall to ask an ironist what he actually stands for ends up looking like an hysteric or a prig.  And herin lies the oppressiveness of institutionalized irony, the too-successful rebel: the ability to interdict the question without attending to its subject is, when exercised, tyranny.  It is the new junta, using the very tool that exposed its enemy to insulate itself."

David Foster Wallace then goes on to examples of possible options from this position, which he invariably strikes down.  Then concluding with this closing paragraph for a rallying cry.

"It's entirely possible that my plangent noises about the impossibility of rebelling against an aura [of irony] that promotes and vitiates all rebellion say more about my residency inside that aura, my own lack of vision, than they do about any exhaustion of U.S. of fiction's possibilities.  The next real literary "rebels" in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles.  Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction.  Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.  These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started.  Dead on the page.  Too sincere.  clearly repressed.  Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic.  Maybe that'll be the point.  Maybe that's why they'll be the next real rebels.  Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval.  the old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism.  Today's risks are different.  The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the "oh how banal."  Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law.  Who knows.  Today's most engaged young fiction does seem like some kind of line's end's end.  I guess that means we all get to draw our own conclusions.  Have to.  Are you immensely pleased."

So that's the argument.  On one side you have the search for the authentic experience to redeem for the crazy commercialism that has become so rampant, and on the other side the change of attitude to sincerity where we return to sentimental ideas in the face of prevalent ironic mocking.  As I mentioned before this is an argument of semantics.  I believe it is an important one, though, and I'll propose my argument for why I think sincerity is the better criteria.

Two quick points first.  One is, from what I've heard, David Foster Wallace, isn't received so well over in the U.K. ("Postmodernism is dead" is from a U.K. publication if you didn't know) I'm not sure why.  Something about Britain's humor, and our flavor of irony being different from theirs.  Also, the widespread irony that DFW derides might not be as present outside of the U.S.  He makes specific point to call it a problem for U.S. fiction writers.  So that might be a reason why they arrive at different conclusions.  The second thing is upon rereading DFW's essay I could see Daniel Kunitz residing in the sincerity camp, with Kunitz mention of issues of desire, and non anti-internet stance.  Nevertheless it does tap into this debate that I've been having with myself.

My main problem with Daniel Kunitz article is I think originality is overrated.  Mostly this my stance because as an artist, worrying about originality can be paralyzing.  If you're worried about whether or not your stuff will be seen as original it can be hard to motivate yourself to even begin working.  So I say to hell with originality and just do what you want to do.  Even if it overlaps with something has been done before, well then it'll still be your take on the given subject.  Whatever you make is uniquely yours no matter what.  Now this may seem a little bit off the mark since what Kunitz is talking about is the spread of reusing other people's materials.  So what they're making isn't necessarily even uniquely theirs.  But that's just a process of the times.  Would you call collages unoriginal?  Overall there are degrees of differences where Kunitz does have a point, but the whole discussion seems to revolve in circles and I find it pointless.  Kunitz admits that the Blur artists are very multimedia oriented, and use the process, he seems to dislike.   Kunitz and I agree on what's most important about these artists is their narratives.  For him its a recapturing of originality (to each their own) for me it's the possibility to talk of more sentimental ideas that these narratives support so well.

You are being unauthentic

My main problem is the word authentic.  With the word sincerity, it's a measure of the artist's intention.  Whether or not they have something to say.  Authenticity is obtuse.  It's a measure of the artist themselves and where they are coming from.  One has to only look at the strange authenticity arguments that happen over African art to get a taste.  I foresee the term "unauthentic" becoming this crazy character insult.  Where the only back up for such assertions are like "C'mon if somethings is authentic, you just know."  It's all opinion and holds no water.  Also, many assertions of authenticity invariably come from knowledge of the artist themselves, and not their work.  Meanwhile with sincerity, you can have a discussion about whether or not a work is sincere without knowing the artist.  You can make judgement call and a discussion can take place.  It's that sort of criteria that I value.  As much as a part of me would like to see a return to old school elitism, I want to be able to explain why something is good.  And that will only happen if the criteria allows for good discussion.

The other thing I don't like about Edward Docx (that can't be his real name) is his anti-internet stance.  I think, like Kunitz, the internet will be integral to the next art movement.  I do believe the internet sort of hit the reset button on tolerance of irony since its only recently that we're once again hearing grumblings about how there is too much irony.  For all the negative things that the internet does, I believe it can be used for great good.  Which I've talked about earlier in this essay.

Holy shit, I think I'm done.  Obviously I had a lot to say about this article but I still wish I could of done the podcast.  I'll probably close this out with some of the questions that I wanted to ask.  I was also going to discuss a point of how all of this connects to a lot of the work from my graduating class, but I think I've done a pretty good job of that already.  And any further discussion should be had with the artists themselves.

No really, I'm spent.

Questions I Would of Asked

First use of text, and why did you use it?

How did your Senior Show come together as an idea?

Do you think the reception is an important event?

How important is context to you?

I would describe all of you as interdisciplinary artists.  What lead you to that?

Do you identify your work as narrative?

What are you trying to say with your work?

What do you think of this idea of "issues of desire"?

What are your thoughts on the statement "progressive history of leeching narrative out of visual art"?

What are your thoughts on originality?

Any closing statements or plugs?

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