[A farewell from BEN DAVIS, associate editor of Artnet Magazine, 2005-2010.]
by Ben Davis
I do not like the term "art world." It’s a useful term, of course, a kind of shorthand for something like "the professional sphere of the visual arts." "The art world thinks. . ." "Art-world concerns. . ." Etcetera. But the truth is, art is not a world unto itself. Art is part of the world. And that fact has to be a fundamental starting point for everything.
It is not my goal to become an "art person." For some people, being an "art person" is their main ambition. Paradoxically, when I talk to such people, I quickly become confused about why they are interested in art. They are interested in art as a world, I guess, as an environment to inhabit: for the parties, the people, the gossip, the money, the vague and ill-defined aura of intelligence and importance that art gives off.
Art is a complex social act, and one of the primary passions. Perhaps not so primary as food, or love, or sex, or shelter -- but very important. People will suffer for art, for a shot at creative self-expression. Nevertheless, art cannot and does not exist on its own, and slipping into the habit of addressing the sphere of the visual arts as a self-enclosed universe is a recipe for sapping art of its social vitality.
The movement of art and art criticism, as I have come to see it, is a movement of threading, of finding the points where art and its world connect back to everything else, the big, beautiful, sometimes fucked up and scary world beyond it. If you can’t stomach being interested in the wider world and having a thought about it, and figuring out how that relates back to what artists are doing in the present, then all you are left with is meaningless professional opinion, of interest mainly to other art professionals or those in their spell.
To say you should approach art politically is not necessarily the same as demanding that art be political. In fact, quite often the sterile imperative to make "political art" is just a kind of inverted expression of art-world solipsism. To whom is political art addressed? "Art people?" One mark of the insularity of the visual arts these days is that art mainly becomes part of the larger political conversation in a negative way, at those moments where some exhibition comes under fire from conservatives.
We are all creative people, we all have art in our blood. But [read on...]