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I forget what eight was for

Post #1085 • November 12, 2007, 2:22 PM • 13 Comments

David Thompson:

An oppositional self-image is very important to some people, most often to people on the left, and particularly to artists. But in order to maintain the appearance of being anti-establishment or anti-bourgeois or whatever, the nature of mainstream bourgeois culture (and how it has changed) may have to be ignored or distorted, and the views of one’s political opponents may have to be caricatured.

Discuss.

I'm likely to be hanging on to this blog by the skin of its teeth through the end of the week, as studio and work responsibilities intersect with a four-day course with the outcome of Level One certification in Final Cut Pro. (Video exhibition reviews, anyone?) Story leads are especially welcome this week. Make art and be good to each other. (This is going to by my Edward R. Murrow-style signoff from here on out.)

Comment

1.

Jack

November 12, 2007, 5:44 PM

Ah, yes, the correct image, obligatorily fashionable and suitably "oppositional." Actual talent optional, of course. If this gets any more predictable, not to mention boring, I may have to look into professional wrestling for amusement.

2.

McFawn

November 12, 2007, 8:16 PM

Is David saying that mainstream culture is no longer fixed enough for someone to stand in opposition to it? Is it too fragmented, with too many stylistic features of counter-culture, i.e. the embracing of marginalized groups, Che
t-shirts, etc?

Anyhow, I have a rebuttal of sorts to "Degrees of Art" at my site litandart.com, so if its slow here, I invite you to head over there.

3.

ahab

November 12, 2007, 10:10 PM

Whether you care or not, that strikes me as a somewhat oppositional stance, Jack. I sometimes wonder if you're just playing us.

I often note that my activities as an artist (committing resources to make art that promises no return on the investment) are received by many people around me as oppositional to their own busy-ness doing just the reverse. I also note that my activities as a studio artist (unwillingness to sign on to PC bullshit) is received by other people, art people, as violently oppositional to their busy-ness tippy toeing around real world issues. The only reason any one of them is willing to associate with me at all, I've determined, is because of good espresso, which I'm not particularly opposed to.

4.

Chris Rywalt

November 13, 2007, 9:51 AM

I've noticed -- not that I think I'm especially perspicacious here -- that our current market-driven culture is absolutely fantastic at taking any revolution, absorbing it, repackaging it, and selling it back to us at a profit. Our culture spent the 20th century in a furious Darwinian struggle resulting in a still-evolving, ever more efficient engine for converting dissent into style. America even won the land war in Asia when it converted the USSR into a capitalist kleptocracy, and we're doing an excellent job of taking over China, too.

That's why there's no more avant garde, why there's nothing left to oppose.

5.

opie

November 13, 2007, 10:41 AM

True, Chris. But, maybe, so what? Maybe we can to without it.

Or maybe, as always, it really is underground.

6.

Chris Rywalt

November 13, 2007, 11:28 AM

Certainly we can do without it. The trouble is, though, many people -- especially people who comment on blogs like Ed Winkleman's -- seem to still be thinking, in David Thompson's terms, that they're oppositional. That there's still some kind of bourgeois complacency out there that they can shake up from the outside. What they miss is that there is no more outside. Avant garde is French for ahead of the guard, meaning out in front of the main mass of the army, undefended, in advance of a larger force moving in the same direction. You can't be avant garde if there's a crowd moving with you setting up carnival tents and ferris wheels.

But these people -- I've met a bunch, too -- are still operating under the assumption that they're revolutionary in some way.

7.

opie

November 13, 2007, 11:53 AM

That's because when being Avant Garde became visibly successful it inevitably became fashionable. It also has the wonderful quality of supporting a pose of anti-fashion.

It really is irresistable. You see it everywhere these days, not just in the art business. The latest car model is "revolutionary".

8.

Jack

November 13, 2007, 12:14 PM

It's essentially a fancy form of immaturity, or glorified shallowness, which is at least as objectionable as being bourgeois was in the 19th century. I mean, grow up already.

9.

Marc Country

November 13, 2007, 3:58 PM

As Bill Wasik sagely noted, "...hipsters, our supposed cultural avant-garde, are in fact a transcontinental society of cultural receptors, straining to perceive which shifts to follow... But hipsters, after becoming aware of this very dynamic, have responded in a curious and counterintuitive way. Even as they might decry this drive toward unanimity, they continually embrace it and re-embrace it in an enthusiastic, almost ecstatic fashion... if they are the American avant-garde it is true, I think, in only this aspect - the unending churn of their tastes, this adult faddishness in the adolescent style."

10.

catfish

November 13, 2007, 5:42 PM

Nice comments, Chris (#4 & 6). The "ever more efficient engine for converting dissent into style" has the solid ring of truth about it. Likewise with "there is no more outside". Thank you.

11.

Jack

November 13, 2007, 6:12 PM

I suppose my favorite are matrons of a certain age, awash in cash and practically straitjacketed in "seriousness," who run around ostentatiously displaying their cutting-edgeness or outside-the-boxness (or what passes for such). Their grim earnestness, and grandiose self-righteousness, are something like an "oppositional" Puritanism:

Thou Shalt Not Be Caught Dead Looking Out-Of-It

12.

Franklin

November 13, 2007, 6:24 PM

It has occurred to me for years to do a series of Paul Cadmus-style morality pieces about the art world, along the lines of this, but directed at art world ridiculousness. What a target-rich environment.

13.

Chris Rywalt

November 14, 2007, 9:24 AM

You're welcome, Catfish. You've made my day.

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