Saturday, February 12, 2005

I've Been Thinking...

I was skyping with a friend in Toronto concerning my ambivalence about The Art Institution. It's been something I've struggled with since my formal induction at the University of Western Ontario.

I struggle with the high/low aspect that was supposed to have been one of the issues addressed by postmodernism. Thinking outside of the white box. Inclusivity. the whole she-bang.

I am excited by the do-it-yourself-ness of the internet. With the increasing prevalence of vblogs and garagebands, p2p distribution technologies, and the opening up of concepts surrounding copyright, a terminal can function as a studio, a website as a gallery. Everyone can be an artist.

But, that doesn't mean that every artwork presented on the internet will be regarded as such by those who do the official regarding. Do I care about the validating aspect of the institution? You bet I do, and therein lies my dilemma.

I encouraged my Toronto friend to check out the vblogs. I described ANT as a gallery on my desktop with constantly updating shows. My friend (let's call him J.), is a video artist and not impressed with my democratic view. He wants to get paid for the work that he does and so he should. We argued about what constitutes an art project.

As someone who prefers exploring outside of the gallery setting in an unannounced series of performances, J. and I have had many discussions on this topic.

From what I can gather from our most recent conversation, these are J.'s qualifications on the matter:

If the videographer making a vblog "knows" what they are doing (can place it in an art historical context), it is art.

If the audience which is being addressed is an audience who "knows" how to read the work in an art historical context, it can also be art, as long as the first condition is also met.

"Outsider art" (art that is not sanctioned by the art institution), when curated into a gallery, is still not art but a cheap way that curators buff up their careers by presenting the work as spectacle.

J. explained that, just because I can look at something I find online and enjoy a complex reading of the work, it does not follow that others "reading" the same work bring to it the same critical engagement. More than likely, my reading is due to my education and not due to the work itself. In that, J. further explains, I am more of an anthropologist looking in.

So now, I ask myself these questions:

Am I, by engaging in performances aimed at an "art illiterate" audience - performances that ape practices seen in non-art venues - a cruel trickster? Am I using my audience to facilitate my own artistic goals? Does it depend on my level of engagement in the project? Can it be, for me, both art and nonart or is that an illusion I tell myself? What happens when I present my "findings" in a gallery setting? Have I sold out my previous audience to my new (presumably ultimate) one?

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