"I am a Camera" - image source
To follow up on our Nov 19 post "Calling All Readers: Johanna Drucker's Sweet Dreams," we present our second installment of excerpts from Professor Drucker's excellent new book.
First, to re-cap, from the introduction (pp.xv-xvi):
I am [...] making an aggressive attempt to counter certain tendencies of recent decades to lead with critical discourse first, or to sort works of art into "good" and "bad" objects according to their degree of conformity to critical expectations. Criticism's prescriptive effect paralyzes the inventive impulse of making and locks artists into an impoverished "poststudio" position in which art making is conceived largely as a conceptual or symbolic act. But this simply isn't true. For all the crucial significance of conceptualism, art is never only an idea.
The phrase "complicit formalism" suggests entangled and embedded associative possibilities of critical method. Form making, facture, the structure and iconography of images, means of production, circumstances of making and reception, critical and technical training, as well as underlying assumptions--all of these are facets of complicity, of the embedded condition of meaning and effect accessed through response to formal properties. The term "complicit" is deliberately provovative, since it implies a knowing compromise between motives of opportunism and circumstantial conditions--whether on the plane of production, or reference, or within institutional and social situations. [...] Complicity is closer to contingency, that critical term on which postmodernism based one understanding of the way works of art had to be situated within conditions of production and reception. Complicity underscores an acknowledged participation by artists, critics, and academics that contingency sometimes overlooked in its preservation of separate critical space.
Here's an excerpt from Chapter three: Critical Histories, pp.81-82):
[...] As fine art criticism struggled [ca.1980s]to find adequate frameworks for those objects within its view, the field as a whole worked to redefine its identity within a broader array of cultural practices. For instance, the critical discourse of fine art has generally operated with an arrogant disregard for the interdependent relation between fine art and visual, mass media culture. But if we situate the reconceptualization of fine art in the 1960s and 1970s and examine Kosuth's pronouncements, Danto's dilemma, and the changes in visual arts practice within that broader history, the pressures on fine art as a discourse among others come into focus. Kosuth's essays are contemporary with the publication of major works by Marshall Mcluhan, for instance. But within the art critical frame, making any connection between them would seem almost bizarre, so unfamiliar are such notions to the habits of critical thought. But the decades of pop art, minimalism, and conceptualism in fine art are decades of unprecedented transformation. While it is common to discuss mass media in relation to pop art imagery and production modes, it is highly unusual to suggest that television culture and the conceptual turn in fine art have any relation to each other. But it seems obvious that the ecological niche occupied by fine art and its discourses is radically reshaped by mass media. Inaugurated in the American domestic environment in the 1950s annd expanding globally ever since in all manifestations of broadcast media electronic and digital, television radically altered the landscape of visual culture.
Visual art, the once privileged domain of image production, began to lose ground to the commercially driven advertisement/entertainment industry at a scale unmatched by its earlier competition with mass-produced printed images. Visual art ceased to be able to compete at the level of the culture industry. Production values in the commercial sector outstripped those in the art sector.
With all this in mind, I can now restate the asserttion I made earlier about what was happening within the arts in relation to the cultural conditions in which these changes take place. The advent of conceptual art in the 1960s and 1970s signals the realization that the only valid reinvention of artistic practice had to be grounded in idea rather than production. With no other artistic territory left to occupy, no other identity through which it can achieve viability, fine art retreats to this high ground as the last, and most potent, position it can hold.