“Art is anything you can get away with.” ― Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
– there was a time not that long ago – as in, late 1980s to early-to-mid 2000s – when being a performer who had some sort of actual dialectic content was possible, including content that included so-called identity politics. that’s mostly been replaced by ever-shifting matrices of membership in a given oppressed group, combined with a very thick glass ceiling.
– the net effect of this is in service to capital, of both the commercial and non-profit varieties, inasmuch as there is a relevant difference between the two at all.
– if you’re not a stakeholder in a non-profit, a corporation, or both, you effectively don’t matter – unless you work for one or both. everything else is some version of dark matter, in arts and letters overall.
– all of which presumes being allowed into the club as it were to begin with, which is anything but a given.
– social media has liberated hundreds if not thousands to become active producers of politically charged content. while this has its benefits, it’s not automatically a panacea, either. the ever-increasing amounts of infighting (frequently over smaller and smaller differences in view, combined with actual mistakes inflated to a point of active, acrimonious contention for days or even weeks) is anything but healthy for individual and collective consciousness, including as part of liberation struggles.
– in specific: the constant risk of being fractured apart into ever-smaller groupings of sanctioned behavior, with what amounts to mobbing people (online or off), is of tremendous benefit to capitalism. not only because it keeps people dividing and fighting, but because the resulting confusion serves both as good cover, and an effective means for liberalism to have power-over, and all too often, power within as well.
– none of which is to say that the issues themselves are unworthy of attention (frequently, it’s quite the opposite). the process itself though frequently engages a palpable-if-not-combative mode of criticism that quickly becomes collectively destructive, in practice — even if contained within the realm of words, accusations and sometimes, reputation.
– remember #cancelcolbert? who won? who lost? who was demoralized? who was emboldened?
– when is being emboldened just another means of control? what if demoralization and emboldening wind up as similar if not identical moves on a chess board?
– what if demoralizing and emboldening in this context are both forms of liberalism? who benefits? who doesn’t?
– if we are all artists now, does this mean that we’re all taken advantage of?
– ultimately, whether or not i make art doesn’t matter. but it is what i do, it’s in my muscle memory (by which i mean, my entire muscle structure, not just hands-to-arms, the classic autoamputational (a la McLuhan) interface between the body and the loving machines we call instruments). resisting this means fighting against my body, which results in some sort of deep confusion of the self, which is debilitating if not emotionally/psychically paralyzing, and no amount of well-heeled post-fill-in-the-blank theories can erase that. not at least, without some sort of deeper cataclysm, and not necessarily one of actual merit, or even use. not all catharsis is good catharsis.
– to make matters worse, we left-minded creative labor types frequently get corralled into some sort of gatekept sub-category, where we are allowed even smaller amounts of access, frequently for smaller amounts of time, if we’re allowed access at all. i was able to hobble together a sort of sustainability – by which i mean, barely surviving, but somehow keeping afloat – for years.
– that all said, this sort of thing is clearly not indicative of reality for any number of people, and i am grateful for the experiences that were provided by even this sort of teetering-on-the-brink form of access to self-expression. but unless i will myself into some sort of capitulated, “celebrity left”-like status, as things stand in 2014, at least? this form of access is done, and has been for some time now. further, as my body slowly ages, my more-or-less-manageable physical limitations (allergies, small lungs, some sort of predisposition to infection) keep reminding me that they provide their own glass ceilings on top of the cultural and economic ones.
– so now what? well, my body still loves writing, making music and sometimes, video and design work as well. so much so that day jobs are out (tech ones especially, which imho has always been about leeching people out of and away from creativity, not towards it), and i’m aged out of the sorts of service work that may provide some sort of sustainability. i’m not about to starve, but i’m not able to move forward in any way that’s not a significant step backward politically, if such pathways even remain open. also, i’m not about to become an entrepreneurial anything. that’s at least as bad as celebrityism, if not far worse, including if not especially in the service sector.
– so what does this leave? for one thing, people talk about design as being effectively identical to “making art,” in the literal sense of “art” as a fine arts discipline, so given my particular skillsets, that might work. however, even without the obvious servitude to capital (again, both in for- and non-profit forms) that this entails, i’m not sure that the similarities to creative practice and creative results map here. is making a poster as part of an ad campaign truly the same as making a painting? were basquiat and warhol one in the same, due to proximity, not just in their persons, but in the work itself? i’m not buying it. by which i mean, i’m not about to steal back ideas that are that potentially toxic, even away from the corporations that defile them. fuck all of that as well. on the other hand, not that being some sort of art world darling has ever been on the table, but the art world is perniciously corrupt. so for the record: fuck that double.
– if the only way forward is a militant rejection of everything, including most creative and political practices, out of design, necessity or both – now what? doing nothing is an option, but that’s a net “at least i’m not making things worse.” (this may have more merit than it would seem at first, though.) ignoring the memories of muscle and brain is unworkable. traditional models of political engagement frequently require some sort of rejecting creativity (or at least, being in humbled service to it), while being anything but effective, even within whatever limited scope said politics cast for itself, let alone within transformative or revolutionary frameworks.
– so, once again – now what? i think i’ll leave it there, for now.
h/t to @neverw0rk for ideas around the limits of even radically-minded, self-checked artmaking, and @codemesh for brain food around art and the body. i’m determined to get things right here, hell or high water.