Monday, January 9, 2012

De-Skilling and Re-Skilling

I really love to hate Claire Bishops writing because she has my number every time. I begrudging concede that she really doesn't cut artists any slack. From her critique of participatory art to this critique of de-skilling/re-skilling by artists re: artists dabbling in theater and theater people dabbling in contemporary art brings up some good points. Her acknowledgment that the former is traced to a democratization of the concept of theater and its funneling through punk and DIY in contemporary work is accurate. And the strategy of 'outsourcing' the performance to amateurs as a mirror of the Conceptualist's outsourcing of the fabrication of instruction and text based works to Fordist production process combined with the 'naive' and 'unknowing' amateur performer practicing a kind of art brut, unmediated everyday creativity is exactly what we were doing intuitively in Nomads on Vacation.


  1. Isn't Bishop really arguing for retaining aesthetics (ie requiring skills) by denouncing much de-skilled art as amateurism justifying itself by claiming a (now well established, traditional) position of verisimilitude?

    Is this not essentially the same modernist sceptic argument that ultimately does protect status quo and does not promote democratised production?
    Basically it is like, "you want to democratise art but don't you realise that there's a proper way to do it?"

    But isn't the entire point that there isn't a proper established way to do it? Truly democratised production must by its very nature retain the possibility of it being really awful, aesthetically barren, amateurish and a total failure. It is precisely because this art is willing to take that risk that makes it worthwhile.

    She at heart seems to believe that a lot of social practice is flawed because it "equates aesthetics with depoliticisation." But this point is made explicit by the artists themselves in the first place. A truly democratic system of production has indeterminate aesthetics - how can we know what they look like yet?

    Isn't social practice itself precisely the process concerned with finding out what aesthetics can mean in a post-fordist de-skilled production society? Doesn't this task require that some work turns out merely amateurish to lay the foundations for future sensibility? Isn't this the true locus of it's communal, interactive character - that making aesthetically awful art can be part of a greater inclusive picture?

  2. Nice comment. Of course I left out my last sentence that I think that perhaps she is just giving cleverly articulated reasons for her knee jerk reactionary, conservative responses-which I think are very British as well. Just before our performance another artist asked me if I was happy with how it turned out, and I said we we had placed our faith in the performers and it wasn't really for us to say whether it was good or not, and he replied that, 'I guess its not about quality anyway'. At the time, it really cut, as if he was saying the whole project was low quality but really, it was true in the sense that, to borrow a term from web 2.0, we had to put a 'radical trust' in our performers in the same way open source software puts a radical trust in the user and truly let the content shape the form. In a way, is it a new functionalism or bauhaus? and of course yesterdays functionalism is tomorrow's new aesthetic. At the same time, I think that most social practice artists are being disingenuous when they say that they are completely uninterested in aesthetics. At the end of the day, I do believe, as you say, that its all about trying to find new art forms and this is simply a new process that artists are exploring.