‘We prepare children for a life about whose course we know
nothing, and yet they must be different from us precisely because
they have acquired experience that was not ours at the same age’ – Dolto
Radical art needs to be performative, in the sense of interventions that will, by the very fact of their existence, change social relations, just as
certain types of speech at the same time say and act (see Austin 1962,Searle 1969).
In other words, the point is not to make political art, but to make art politically. – Mathieu O’Neil
Art has had a provocative relationship with society since its inception. In the ancient world, it began as a tool that centred a community around their expression of life which incorporated heterogeneous perspectives on cosmologies, deities and localized superheroes.
Art has since been marginalized, perverted and pigeon-holed as an aesthetic device.
But what if art was meant to be so much more?
What if art has marginalized itself?
When describing art, this includes art in all of its forms: the written word, musical composition, painted pictures, photographs, drama and the practices that tend to get marginalized as uncategorical. Art like anything else has a personality. These contours include but are not limited to the following ‘essences’: Art is meant to be Real, it’s meant to be a vehicle for detournement and it’s meant to be the Lacanian part-object that horrifies it’s creator. These are three inherent characteristics of art that I believe have become victims of a society that doesn’t know what to do with art. Art is meant to be something we all participate in as creators. It is meant to illicit the power of narrative back into our society.
The nature of art stereotypically aligns itself with such clichés as the follow: Art is most beautiful when hung on a wall or art is most treasured when someone has to pay ungodly amounts for a piece of work.Or art can only be seen as something the belongs in a factory-like museum. Art itself has become dangerously marginalized. There must be a way back.
Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan speaks of an idea known as the Real. It is a place where all of the subconscious and socially signified meanings we conjure up disappear into this nothingness that almost never arrives but is also never encapsulated by the spoken word. Art is meant to draw us into the Real. Into the place of utter awe that we can never find words to experience such a place.
The Situationist Movement was a movement that utilized detournement to challenge the systems that inherently marginalized the masses without their awareness. Debord was known for his crass antics that perversely undermined the bourgeois paradigms that were covertly sublimated in his current society which is not far from what is occurring now.
Art is meant to restore reality and beauty that comfortably rest in the centre of humanity. Detournement introduces art to something that art was meant to be, transformational. Performative arts are not simply art that has been educated on how to use technology, it is art in tune with something deeper, the spiritual arc of humanity. A kind of art that insists creativity be at the centre of our existence. It is an art that provokes inspiration, and incites creation to believe in its capabilities to discover new worlds post-colonially.
The salvation of art lies not in art becoming something its not but entering into the Lacanian Gaze and discovering where it has failed. Where it has lost it way. The Lacanian Gaze posits that what we gaze upon in actuality also returns our Gaze. So, what if Art gazed upon itself? What would happen? Would art change? We might discover that as we point the finger on society or bureacracy that the spirit of over-politicized artistry has come from within.
Art has chosen to listen to society to the point that it has lost its voice. It has become nothing more than a sterile stereotyped marginalized opium for the masses. Whereas we might think society has failed art, in the case, surrounded the Lacanian Gaze, art has not only failed society but failed itself. Art exists not as some ideal, but rather a movement of open participatory creative excellence that invites any and all believers in a better to join in. Art is no longer inflammatory, religious or political – but it should be.
So what has happened? We institutionalized art. It is now something we teach. Something we can obtain a degree in. Something we can pay money to go and see. Art has become increasingly voyeuristic and solely an opiate for aesthetic bliss.
Italian Metaphysical and Surrealist artist Giorgio de Chirico once said the following: “To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams.” Language has become one such barrier.
Linguist and Cultural Theorist, Julia Kristeva once posited that “Language exiles us from the object of our desire”. I believe this is the same with such a label as art. Socially, rhetoric has victimized the inherent qualities that art as a comprehensive body of work has to offer society. When most use the word art in a sentence there is a linguistic tendency to assume only one aspect of art, such as a painting on a wall. Which has marginalized all other art practices and has perverted art in general. This marginalization of art has castrated the social crassness that Debord once thought it should have, along with deforming art into nothing more than a tool for localized amazement.
If art is to transform societies and cultural contexts once again, we then must take it seriously. In the Jewish Torah there is a collection of writing from a prophet named Ezekiel who at one point during his guerrilla theatre antics uses animal faeces to make a point about how far the Israelite nation has strayed from God. This is art. Something that makes a point about something else that has gone wrong socially. But art has become the very problem it was meant to respond to: Capitalism.
Art is now nothing more than a blind servant to those who want to participate in a subconscious power game of who is the most social elite or as we have heard before: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Art is meant to rescue us from the social ills we have somehow come to believe we need. Art is meant to wake us up to the perverse objects we don’t know how to let go of. But art has become nothing more than a spectre that haunts us the only thing that can restore it to reality is the very thing it has become. A ghost.
Freud spoke at length at the conundrum of what he called the part-object. Basically, it’s this idea that a thing or a set of things that seem to dematerialize still maintain an aspect of residuality. An example of this could clearly be seen in the character of the Cheshire Cat in the narrative Alice in Wonderland where one moment the viewer might see the full character and seconds later only see the teeth of this mischievous creature.
Art is meant to be much like this mischievous character that inherently leaves residual after-effects once it appears. This residuality is the ability to participate in the Weltgeist of history. Art as a residual participator in the Weltgeist means that the creators can no longer be deemed as a creator, but rather architects of a better world. This sounds as if I am manipulating semantics; but anyone can create, but architects are required to survey the landscape, perform internal measurements and creatively apply the knowledge they gain. Isn’t that what it means to be an artist?
The way for art to sustain its now meagre existence is to inhabit a much deeper blueprint for a world that is possible. For art to perform such a task, it must become more than what it is, it must be aware that its DNA is ontologically mutable. This is in no way marginalizing or colonizing the ideological framework behind art or artists, rather it is attempting to invite any and all artists to come and participate in a new kind of art, to use their art to maintain and introduce a positivist approach to social resistance and revolution. This is why art can’t simply be called art but must be reborn as the performative arts.
The Arts as a performative participator in a better world then places art at the centre of a humanity that is pining for a better world. It then means art can no longer be lazy or sloppy, like placing a toilet in a box. It means we then have to seriously, scholastically, spiritually, economically, psychologically have to begin thinking about what it means to live in a better world. Performative art can do just this.
Note: This is part 1 of a 3-part series where I share more comprehensively why I think Art as a whole has been socially and culturally perverted, and also how I think we can rescue art and redefine itself in terms of its future by applying futurist modelling and ideology along with the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan, my hope is that we can come to view art in light of something more than simply an aesthetic device pleasing to the eyes or to the halls of an artists home. Won’t you journey with me?