This is just a game of art.
Gathering elite Polish curators and other representatives of the art world, the 2009 Polish Culture Congress proposed an interesting categorisation of artists. According to Maria (Masza) Potocka, artists can be divided into those conscious and unconscious. The former get in the game of art, and the latter don’t. For the present day art critics and curators, it is undoubtedly the players who make best partners and best material for art stables, who form reliable, devoted and market-dependent groups. Today art expert are mushrooming. They attend curatorship courses and other types of training which make them leading authorities upon graduation. Their infallibility is protected by the very definition of art, such as this proposed by G. Dicky which put the art institution before the artwork. Thus, it is the art institution that decides whether or not a given production can be considered art; from art world to art institution. If we take the argument further, we understand that the role of an artwork – with its individuality, value and originality – has been hijacked by institutions, galleries and associations with all their mechanisms and structures. Thus, if an institution is a work of art, then all of its employees are artists. So simple, like a bakery and its bakers. Recently I asked a young man working for a contemporary art gallery about his position. ‘I am an art critic, curator, historian and sociologist’, he replied. Impressive. Chances are he also knows something art, I thought. This manner of thinking and action leads to inevitable changes in the understanding of the limits of art. What was once referred to as artistic space is now called territory. Here the limits are at arm’s reach. Art theorists have created the notion of de-territorialism, as they were the first to scale the fence of art and call themselves artists. Disoriented graduates of fine arts academies remain silent; they feel intimidated, hung-up and alienated; they have not taken up the game of art. You must keep up to date with millions of art publications spewing out the wisdom of master-curators and critics. You must know which theme is on and react as fast as you can to the latest world trends. You must also know who’s in power. Principles, honour, individuality – all of those are gone. Talent and mediocrity have been mixed up. Now ennui, visible and palpable, reigns supreme. Contemporary art reviews, such as the Venice Biennial, Documenta in Kassel and many other exhibit works devised by curators, rather than artists, who keep a watchful eye on the latest trends on the art market. As a result, most of those works are selfsame. The best way to avoid presentation of your artistic skill, or the lack thereof, is by resorting to multimedia, the best form of camouflage. The present day art critics, support staff, curators and the so-called avant-garde they have created form teams of intelligent, gifted, and sometimes outstanding individuals united by their strong will to succeed and no sense of humour. The intricate maze of contemporary art makes it difficult to determine who or what is the “monster”; could this be the art players or the judges? You are bound to lose your way in the maze, unless you are in possession of Ariadne’s thread (at least in Poland). “Every one of us is the maker and sculptor of him or herself”, writes Picco della Mirandola in his Oration on the Dignity of Man, and adds that we must be aware of our own worth and have self-respect. This renaissance vision of man is a far cry from from Beuys’s concept of art, according to which anyone can be an artist and anything can be work of art. Joseph Beuys was a propagator of the idea of democratisation of art. Spurned as it seems by Mirandola’s teachings and driven by a beautiful idea, he retained blind faith in his own actions which led to many years of rebellion against the established order in culture, and consequently opened the doors to mediocrity. His interpretation of Mirandola’s words was too literal. As a result, almost all the academies of fine arts the world over began to believe in the idea of democratisation of art. To this American scholars added stress-free education and the present result is impersonal and mass-like art; and the most favourite tool for the creation of this mass is the photo and video camera – the fact confirmed by the world’s largest art reviews. Beuys was certainly one of the greatest artistic personalities of the 20th century. His name features on the list of masters...but many of his followers have never discovered themselves. I believe that art limits are not meant to be crossed, but expanded, in an honest way, through personal and artistic experience, and through talent which is out of fashion today. Getting in the game of art is a sure-fire way to succeed, but it also leads inevitably to incapacitation and depersonalisation. Gone is the avant-garde, for it cannot exist as an artificial being created and fed by art critics and curators. What remains is the art market filled with stalls selling minimal art, and a tartan track for the rat race. There is a grain of truth in every fairy tale. We know very well that not everyone and not everything is bad. Plato said that he who changes the natural proportion of things in any way betrays art. This view may be a far cry from anything represented by contemporary art, but the echo of these words certainly rings in our ears, and definitely in the ears of the viewer, completely confused by contemporary art. Perhaps the time has come to release to release all the artists from the “stables”. Let them be free. /Andrzej Szarek/