Art in capitalism: Exhibitionistic acts of freedom – monochrome Ruthless Criticism

Translated from MSZ 20 – December 1977

Art in capitalism:
Exhibitionistic acts of freedom –

This is where the tabloid reader laughs: recently, a work by the German art professor Joseph BEUYS, consisting of a baby’s bathtub carefully covered in grease, accidentally fell into the hands of some lowbrow politicians who had it cleaned up and misused it as a champagne cooler; when the creator unsuccessfully tried to sue for damages, arty intellectuals had one more anecdote to confirm that a special attitude is necessary to enjoy art nowadays, without which art objects can’t even be distinguished from everyday things. By contrast, the various friends of the working taxpayer had a new occasion to give voice to the old suspicion that artists are frauds who only pretend to make an effort at creating beautiful things, and let fools pay for art scams.

“Since the beginning of the imperialist era, has it not been a foregone conclusion that everything an artist produces is art, and that it is enough if he himself and a few luminaries appoint him an artist, so that any person [!] becomes an artist?” (Peter O. Chotjewitz, in Art and Media)

Artists, however, are careful in practice to refute the idea that the viewer decides whether an artwork is or isn’t art. Ever since Marcel DUCHAMP exhibited a urinal on a pedestal, it is not only the display case, the barrier, or the pedestal that makes the exhibit identifiable as a work of art, but above all the laborious process of covering the object with glue, grease, dirt, etc., which destroys its use value and thereby turns it into an “aesthetic object.” And those who deny this – like the tabloids in their campaign against the Museum of Modern Art in Kassel, Germany – are not supporters of the aesthetics of reception, but claim, when judging examples such as those offered at the documenta 7, that this is not art, or not their idea of art.

Art and Artist

Modern artists would consider it a truly devastating accusation if it were said that their works are beautiful to look at. They seek to invalidate this as much as possible because:

“Beauty ... suppresses deeper significance, meaning.” (Doris Schmidt in the SZ)

For them, it is about “overcoming the traditional consumer attitude” which finds art pleasing and “altering the consciousness of the viewer,” which should cast doubts on their “habits of perception” – which is why the similarity between their concoctions and everyday objects is intentional, that is, intended to have a “disconcerting” effect.

House wrappers and nature packers

Accordingly, documenta 7 was a collection of works supposedly meant to educate the perception of its viewers. The working group HAUS-RUCKER-CO. put two steel frames in a landscape which, according to the designers, were not intended to obstruct the view of the landscape, but to free it:

“For some visitors, it is only through this ‘instrument’ that the landscape, which has always [!] been visible, is turned into a field of perception.” (From the official catalog of documenta 7, subsequently referred to as “doc”)

Of course, this composition was not meant for the blind; what the frames are meant to bring into view becomes “apparent” by looking through them:

“It is a critical irony that in the ‘fine tuning’ – the view through the smaller frames – the industrial smokestacks projecting into the landscape and jutting through the horizon suddenly [!] step into close proximity with the baroque statues [oh probably a coincidence?] which crown the rooftop balustrade of the greenhouse.” (doc)

And yet, as everybody knows, they don’t fit together! The HAUS-RUCKER-Co. don’t want to raise objections to either the smokestacks or the baroque statues: their “critical irony” is aimed at the people on the viewing stand who are indifferent to the “proximity” of the two.

Stephan ANTONAKOS had the same thing in mind when he diagonally mounted his “Incomplete Neon Square,” a huge right angle of bright red neon tubes, in front of the Fridericianum museum. By establishing their geometric similarity, the difference between the oblique angle and the facade is supposed to be denied, so that the collage of this monstrous angle with the structure of the museum, which includes many right angles in windows, doors, etc., provokes a comparison, which results in the building, “whose classical style is the epitome of fine architecture” (doc), seeming to be as out of place as the neon tubes.

Here too, as in the presentation of a framed landscape fraught with meaning, the obvious pleasure in a landscape or a building is meant to be denied the viewer by confronting him with, of all things, the ugliness of the artistic “supplementation of the earthly environment” – a contrast that more often causes the impartial visitor to uncomprehendingly demand the removal of the artwork from the landscape, rather than to respectfully concede the nothingness of his pleasure. The principle of such landscape art is demonstrated more simply, though usually with a lot more work required, by the notorious Bulgarian artist CHRISTO: he packages people, houses and rocks, covers valleys and puts up fabric fences in order to withhold them from view for a while, which is supposed to be “experienced with new eyes” after a final “uncovering.”

Hyperreal Linda

Disfiguring nature and architecture is certainly not the only means by which modern art attacks what it calls “habits of perception.” Documenta also demonstrates that figurative painting is suitable for this didactic. With his portrait “Linda,” Chuck CLOSE exemplifies how hyper-realism takes aim against the belief that perception reflects reality. He first took a woman’s photograph which contains extra strong contrasts in sharpness “by using a 190 mm lens instead of the usual 160 mm lens which distorts and emphasizes spatial differences” (doc). He enlarged it into the giant format of 273.5 x 212.5 cm so that the blurs come out even better, and painted the whole thing with meticulous precision. He thus dispels the misunderstanding that his picture is intended to characterize the woman in the photograph by clearly depicting a photograph (i.e., he refrains from emphasizing the individual facial features of the person portrayed, for example); he refutes the idea that he is concerned with the technical properties of the photograph by copying a photograph (which is why it is a lie to claim that it is a “demonstration of the [!] photographic lens” (doc) like a textbook on photography). By cleverly brushing up a deliberately out of focus photograph, he draws attention to the technical imperfection of this reproduction in order to acknowledge and denounce the exact image as an “illusionistic habit of seeing.” It’s nice that there are so many possibilities of perception! However, the “proof” that one can’t perceive reality truthfully – the catalog refers to the limitations of photography and the human eye, both of which can only aim at a specific point at a specific moment, which amounts to the triviality that one can’t look at everything at the same time – fails because it is based on perceiving the difference between the parts of the portrait that are reproduced sharply or blurry. CLOSE thus makes use of the services of the eye and the brain to make one believe that neither are reliable – nobody should imagine that what they see is reality!

Painted surfaces, holes and concepts

Experience shows that, in practice, this contradiction becomes an annoying obstacle to the criticism of the viewer’s ability to judge: the naive visitor to the exhibition, insofar as he is not already a smaller version of CLOSE, clings so stubbornly to his “habits of perception” that he looks at the absurdly portrayed Linda, who is only presented as material for the polemic against the reliability of the senses anyway, and doesn’t even realize that Linda’s blurred neck area is supposed to make it clear to him that he must not trust his eyes. In contrast, abstract art has the advantage that it no longer depicts any object that might distract from the purpose of the picture, so that the interest in relativizing one’s own faculties of perception is no longer disturbed by the representation of specific objects – only, unfortunately, with the result that the tiresome “habits of perception” judge that there is “nothing” in the picture. Monochromatic painters, for example, try very hard to show that a single color can look quite different in a single painting. Ulrich ERBEN, for example, paints an almost four square meter canvas with brown oil paint – but not evenly, that’s what matters. At the top left, the tint is yellowish; on the bottom right, reddish; in the middle, the brown is darker than on the edges; and above all, a rectangle drawn with a fine black line, whose sides are parallel to the edges of the canvas, shows that the shades of the colored area that merge into each other can also be “perceived” as sharply delimited parts, even if the black line does not delimit anything, but the color is exactly the same on both sides. Can anyone still claim that the painting is brown if ERBEN shows that there are many shades of brown? Or that color differences make it possible to identify different areas when a line can be drawn through the middle of the same color, and that – just because the line is black, i.e. has a different color – it also results in a shape? Conventional artistic methods in which colors are used to represent an object are attacked here as inadmissible stipulations; modern art uses pictorial techniques to question them, and its methodological polemic against “habits of perception” – allegedly learned from classical art – shakes them off. A color is not a color but, depending on how you want it, zero to infinite colors whose “surface physicality” is supposed to offer “new sensory experiences.” The viewer of such “bodies of colored space” is not only invited to distance himself from his “dulled ways of seeing” which want to dictate to him that the picture is one color, but must allow them to have an effect on him as a “differentiated monochrome” in which he reads as much into the imaginary sensory experience as possible. The lesson he has to take from this meditation is that it is only a matter of how he wants to see things, not what they actually look like; and if the senses contradict such a lesson, they are just useless.

And because the particular artworks produced for the purpose of this intentional nonsense nevertheless repeatedly limit the imagination by offering the senses concrete material which can be inconveniently identified as a painted passport photo or a brown canvas, there is now invisible art. With his “Vertical Earth Kilometer,” Walter DE MARIA has proved his competence in terms of “breaking the mold of conventional art consumption,” and made it clear that an artistic soul must be able to participate in the higher purpose of the new aesthetics, even without an aesthetic view.

“The Vertical Earth Kilometer should inspire people to think about the earth and their place in the universe.” (DE MARIA, doc)

Whereby DE MARIA was not spared the accusation of a certain backwardness – he did not want to give up the costly realization of his “earthworks” and was therefore harshly criticized by the philistines, while the brothers in conceptual art limited themselves from the outset to making plans and sketches (which can certainly be sold for good money).

Performative self-expression with objects in the mouth and elsewhere

Anyone who has understood the basic plan and is willing to believe that, first, “traditional ways of seeing” are unwarranted because, second, one can’t perceive reality objectively, which is, third, not the important thing anyway, but rather the affirmation of one’s own subjective view of the world, there are also the classic works of abstract painting, which the exercises in the irrelevance of perception are based on. Here the aesthetic approach is abstract because it thrives on flirtatiously distancing itself from the facts and reproaches the world with original color combinations, scribbles and smears as its critical reflection. The old master Piet MONDRIAN already knew how to present his checkered primary color images as representations of mythic Laws of Being in the same way as his epigones do today on millimeter paper-like canvases:

“Vertical and horizontal are expressions of two opposing forces; this balance of opposites exists everywhere and controls everything.” (MONDRIAN, in: Walter Hess: Documents towards the understanding of modern painting.).

“Painting is grasped as disorderly natural phenomena set against ideal design.” (Commentary on Gerhard MERZ: Untitled. doc)

It is a trivialization to say that these artists consider absurdities to be truths which they spread with philosophical pathos and want to make into “sensual experiences” using the most modern technical means. What matters to them is precisely the contradiction between their alleged reproduction of mysterious world structures and the visible facts: their message is not that the world is checkered, but that everyone has the right to see it as checkered if they want to (and, if they desire, to justify this with an inner, ideal, or otherwise higher checkeredness, one that is in any case hidden, i.e. not visible). While MONDRIAN structured his paintbox compositions according to the golden mean, the more modern MERZ covers his canvas evenly with tiny boxes and thereby shows what the development of modern art consists of – in getting rid of all certainty. Nowadays, one refers methodologically to the opposition to representational art that was initiated by the old masters of modernism by juxtaposing it to their abstract alternatives, and paints pictures that seek to represent the mere possibility of such alternatives. Therefore, it is no longer merely about reducing the artwork to the supposedly pure beauty of its combinations of colors and shapes, but about presenting colors and shapes that reveal only one thing: that the painter claims permission to be unconventional and is guided by neither aesthetics nor by artistic means. For such people, objectivity is one big constraint that must be escaped through the courage of irrationality – which is why their artworks are also critical, emancipatory, or at least consciousness expanding.

It is obvious that this distancing from everything that does not spring from their own whims is practiced for its own sake and not to help with practically getting along in an unaesthetic reality because it is not suitable for it: walking around as an other-worldly schizophrenic with emancipatory visions only gets you somewhere if you do it as an artistic act. Then it’s called a happening or performance art and any bullshit is welcomed. What the artist or his performance does at such an event is ultimately supposed to abstract from the fact that he is a rational individual – which is why one prefers to pose naked in the “natural, innocent physicality” which is the adequate suit for exercising unrestrained subjective whimsy. The pseudoscientific presentation of such systematically carried out nonsense thereby performs a good service for the mystification of the “performance” of ritual “cognition.” Helmut SCHOBER, for example, “inserts” a primitive knife “in the artist’s mouth” and then performs “a full rotation with object in mouth.” The connoisseur comments:

“A dialectic is achieved between the body, which is animated, and the anonymous object -- a confrontation of the human with the emotionally charged, painfully aggressive or sometimes cool and objective device. ACHILLE BONITO OLIVA defines Schober’s constructions as ‘devices of deviance which constantly change and shift the libido, from the subject to the object or from object to subject.” (doc)

Of course, the whole thing can also be done with paint and canvas. At the documenta, Willem DE KOONING hung a scribble titled “... Whose Name was Writ on Water,” in which supposedly “painting is made visible as a process” (doc). It consists of several layers of differently colored brush strokes that “give the impression that it is still unfinished” because the painter could continue endlessly without ever “finishing” – which quite obviously was not the purpose of the exercise. DE KOONING does not paint in order to create a composition or even a representation, but to revel in painting as an absolutely pointless activity. His painting consists of traces of this activity, and represents objectified commitment to freedom from goal-oriented painting. His moral celebration of art’s freedom does not put up with any determination of aims within art either – anyone who paints with a plan, the notion of a result, is surely not free!

Through a half-tone consumer attitude to a heating pump

As you can see, modern art is so radical that it is even against any practical intent. It fights our squalid world as completely purposefully organized and rational and opposes it with the power of a resolute anti-intellectualism: one may reflect on its imaginative transcendence, the possibility of creative alternatives, and realize that one does not need to take everything so terribly seriously, and already everything looks much friendlier. However, the activation of this crazy subjectivity does not take place behind closed doors, but in public: the freedom of nonsense must be demonstrated in public, i.e. propagated as a general morality.

This is the freedom that art preaches today: the permission to deny the realm of necessity. Every work of art at the documenta is a carefully modeled assurance that only the subject determines whether he has to obey practical necessities or not – after all, the aesthetic approach presents the abstract negation of these necessities as individual self-realization. When Roy LICHTENSTEIN enlarges comic strips to such an extent that the grids which help print the little pictures can be seen, and thus opens up a great vista through the “age of mechanical reproduction,” or when Andy WARHOL with his series of “Still Lifes” provides the long overdue proof that the communist hammer and sickle emblem consists of two tools that can also be arranged differently – then the aesthete will get the satisfying assurance that he is in principle above it all and, in contrast to the philistine consumers of comic strips or those who take political symbols seriously, can keep himself out of the whole thing through the originality of his consumer attitude.

The radical critique waged by modern art thus boils down to a radical partisanship for the society it attacks. The super-progressive professor BEUYS has also initiated trend-setting activities on this fundamental question: he started a “Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research” whose manifesto is a good example of the concerns that an open-minded esthete has to have today:

“The Free University, founded by an artist, was developed out of a general concern about the growing abuse of power, about legalized violence, and about the growth and advance of inhumane technologies. It is also concerned about totalitarian techniques of organizing society and negating basic human rights. We denounce the absence of creative thinking in economic, political and social areas that affect everyone.
“We denounce the technical division of the labor process [!] and academic disciplines [!] that force us to delegate responsibility for social change to so-called experts and specialists. We also denounce the equation of politics with politicians and the limitation of the concept of creativity to cultural areas. In our view, such divisions cause social problems that impoverish and manipulate the majority for the benefit of a minority. We seek ways to enable everyone to participate in the social and cultural emergencies of the present. The myth of the professional specialist is deeply rooted in the media, the cultural institutions, the governments, as well as in the factories and shops on the street. Our goal is to include people in a more creative use of their environment by reclaiming their own cultural basis.” (doc)

The spontaneistic topos of presenting exploitation as a social problem of suppressed creativity serves BEUYS in demanding the transformation of every citizen into an artist of his ilk – as if lack of consideration for the ingenuity of wage laborers were to blame for their poverty. In this sense, confronted with the possibilities of their creativity, BEUYS wants the society to be ashamed that it is not a “Warm Social Sculpture” in which the negation of all practical purposes is finally realized and the fascist dream of uniting the lowly humans in an all-embracing “life-giving energy” comes true:

“And that’s what interests me in sculpture: the general character of warmth. I later developed a sculpture theory in which the character of warmth, the warm sculpture, plays a major role, which ultimately extends to the entire social sphere, thus can even be expanded into a political concept. And in this whole context, one has to see the bee. The character of warmth lies in the honey ... And above the bee is exactly the bee hive [a creative development of FRISCH’s beehive state theory!], above that the honey pump at the workplace” (doc).

After which, of course, it is clear that artists like BEUYS only turn to people who can afford to worry about harnessing their creative superiority over the narrow-minded rest of the world in order to tackle the social problems of the democratic state. These are people who for professional reasons have no other worries: intellectuals.

Morality instead of compensation

This explains, first, why modern aesthetic objects are not comprehensible to anyone and are certainly not convincing to anyone who does not already have a willingness to celebrate his abstract freedom aesthetically. In their capacity as functionaries of state and capital, its consumers have already adopted a critical consent towards the society – critical so as to be able stand their ground in solving state problems, and consent in any case – which they can re-acquaint themselves with at art exhibitions in a crazy form. They do not come to be agitated, but to have their own morality, which they do quite well with, flirtatiously confirmed: art openings are, as is well known, a domain of the urban jet set.

And second, the mystery as to why the whole thing is such a boring and unenjoyable affair is solved: they are “art objects” that only exist to have the same morality recognized in them, and in which both beauty and truth are therefore frowned upon, in contrast to proletarian culture which brings working class morality to the people in an entertaining way. Modern art regards the fact that mass culture satisfies the entertainment needs of the masses as a lazy compromise with the vile world of purposes. It despises what it calls entertainment art because it brings its moral lessons to people in an enjoyable way and thus compensates for the wear and tear suffered in the work world. It sees Schiller’s old saying: “Life is serious, art is cheerful,” as a slogan on the narrow-mindedness of the masses:

“The bourgeois want art voluptuous and life ascetic [my god the bourgeois are stupid!]; the reverse would be better.” (ADORNO, Aesthetic Theory, p. 16)

Morality is therefore far too sacred a thing for modern art to be used for such profane purposes as maybe compensating a daily worn-down existence. In this sense, an apologist for modern art accuses “passive receivers of entertainment” of not being absorbed in their moral existence:

“Anyone who enjoys works of art is a philistine; he is transported by expressions like ‘feast for the ears.’ … In fact, the more art is understood, the less it is enjoyed.” (Adorno: Aesthetic Theory, p. 13)

That’s why modern art is not only unenjoyable, but a pleasure of its own kind for people who have a reason to celebrate the negative freedom of the bourgeois individual. Someone who sweetens consumption by supplementing it with self-reflection on himself as a “consumer,” who enjoys “new experiences” of the “possibilities in him and in society,” has a need whose only content is the abstraction from needs. It is the cheap need to attack all needs. While the need for entertainment sacrifices all the unique ways of pursuing individuality to the very external purpose of compensation for the wear and tear of labor power, modern art sacrifices compensation for moral edification because those who enjoy it can get their compensation elsewhere. This sphere of higher nonsense propagates the civic wisdom that one can do anything that doesn’t harm others in the crazy form that one can do anything that doesn’t satisfy a need. The freedom of the modern citizen is so dear to modern art that it tolerates no other purpose. It is so consistent in its celebration of the abstract freedom of the citizen that it divulges the secret of bourgeois freedom: its antagonism to the satisfaction of needs. That modern art has anything against alienation is thus a rumor spread by people who – like modern art – equate materialism with alienation, because they consider bourgeois freedom to be the realization of a basic human need in the first place. The fact that the free activity of individuality occurs today only as bullshit confirms the truth of old Marx’s saying that the starting point of bourgeois society is not the free social individual.

Art and commentaries

The contortions with which today’s artists bring forth one type of “– art” after another are always the same fanatical effort to give the world, in the form of “objects” specially produced for the senses, the sense of higher things that “transcend mere facts.” Artists polemically counter the world with the “objects” in which they have incarnated the morality of joyful detachment from mundane daily life as its mirror image – which only finds favor with those who have long practiced the transformation of reality into the sovereignly detached attitude to it as their self-realization. Artists are therefore always dissatisfied with their products and write commentaries on their pictures in which they assert that they are really doing nothing more than holding up a mirror to the world in which, for better or worse, it can only recognize itself. In this beautiful application of reflection theory, they propagate the merit of art as the fact that it is by no means the result of subjective activity:

“In the uppermost circle, the mysterious begins and the intellect dies piteously. My hand is only the tool of a far-off sphere. Nor is it my brain that functions but something else, something higher, something somewhere remote. I must have great friends there [howdy pardner!], dark as well as bright. They are all very kind to me. On this side I am not at all grasped [!?] ... We do not yet have the ultimate power, for no people supports us.” (Paul KLEE)

“The reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine. I mean, it would be fabulous if everybody was the same.” (Andy WARHOL)

While the producer of refined children’s drawings justifies the celebration of his own particularity by transfiguring it into the workings of a higher genius, the modern abstract artist who enlarges tin cans bestows on himself the same contribution to the theme of “art and truth.” Instead of eloquently presenting himself as a practicing philosopher of Being whose unfathomable meaning is exercised through him, the American cultivates the art of putting on a machine face.

The progress which artists testify to with their assurances that it was not they who were at work, is only that today the world spirit is “out” and the lie of the machine age, which has man in its clutches, is “in,” which is why a modern studio is called “The Factory.” All modern artists claim that they are at the mercy of a mysterious necessity, an “inner dictate.” They therefore make every effort to stage a demonstration through the tragedy of their fate in life – that’s why every Van Gogh interpretation begins with his cut off ear and the theme “genius and madness” – which serves to prove how ruthlessly artists follow their “inner calling” against themselves. Hence they deserve more understanding from the philistines: the people should support them or, in a modern radical-democratic way, make themselves the same as them.

Any artist who wants to be a “tool” or a “machine” doesn’t need to wait for a well-known Frankfurt modern art ideologue to discover how to demonstrate their own particularity! – but, on the other hand, the success of this moral propaganda is also an obstacle to it. The aforementioned aesthetician likes art because it

“challenges the prevailing principle of reality,”

which, as is well known, is so unpleasant because people pursue practical purposes in it:

“If in empirical reality everything has become fungible, art holds up to the world of everything- for-something-else images of what it itself would be if it were emancipated from the schemata of imposed identification.”

Art is

“the implicit critique of the nature-dominating ratio” (ADORNO, Aesthetic Theory),

which is why he himself can’t spare modern art the harsh accusation of not being consistently moral enough. After all, artistic form, which pleases the Frankfurt sociologist because it “resembles language” despite all the assurances to the contrary, is again the result of “practical efforts” by artists themselves, which is why the philosopher can’t absolve them:

“... the artistic labor of forming, which is always a process of selecting, trimming, renouncing. Without rejection there is no form, and this prolongs guilty domination in artworks, of which they would like to be free; form is their amorality.”

Paint brushes …

The brazenness with which the philosopher sums up his lowly interest in art – which is why he values black paintings most – is by no means a reproach to artists: after all, the old masters of modernism assured themselves with their glorification of children, schizophrenics, and negroes – which in turn produced some art movements and isms – that they had the “clear ability to look at each thing with unfamiliar eyes” and to behave completely impractically, to make them models and to therefore paint thoroughly “moral surfaces” (KANDINSKY, Concerning the Spiritual in Art). A modern art democrat, of course, no longer needs to refer to the alleged irrationalism of subhumans. Today, the brush steers the hand:

“The art of movement is partly determined by my initial will, but more by the means used: the brush ....” (Carmengloria MORALES [?!], doc)

Because artists, when they proclaim that they have not brought themselves into the equation, want to prove that the morality of their works belongs to the world, they also have peculiar problems with success:

“When a painting succeeds, it takes on the character of a thing, it becomes a fact in itself.” (ERBEN, doc)

The naive question as to whether a failed picture is not a thing is completely out of place here; the monochrome painter is rather concerned with the abstraction from “facts,” with denying any difference between “successful works” and other “facts,” therefore the separateness of art from the seriousness of life: modern artworks are therefore called “objects” in order to denote that they create facts, and in order to declare that the artist’s application of morality to everything is self-evident. So a theme in this type of utterance is the interesting question as to whether art is life or perhaps life is art or perhaps both are everything or nothing – which is why art does not belong in museums but in everyday life – which the American who wants to be a machine has long since unmistakably answered with “everything is pretty.”

... and visible processes

Finally, artists who want to be at the summit of our supposedly scientific times blot out the contrast between their moral judgments and the visual evidence with the additional whopper that they are really scientists in their anti-intellectualism. Their works are therefore called “Opalka 1965/1 ∞ Detail 2074917-2094292” or simply “Alu 11” if they do not belong to the “style” of the “subjective science” which creates unsystematic rock collections. A producer of greenish-brown-glittering surfaces announces that he “has made it his business to find out what painting really is” (doc) – obviously a green-brown secret – and thus proves that he is a genuine relative of the philosophers. The photo-realists are much more modest and only claim the services of a photography textbook to explain depth of field problems which, of course, can’t do without a false contradiction:

“My faces have to do with art, the way the camera sees – in contrast to the way the eyes see.” Chuck CLOSE, doc)

And the Action Smearers at least want to “make processes visible” which would otherwise unfortunately have remained hidden from mankind.

The Visitors School …

Those who carry out the higher nonsense of bourgeois society remain faithful to their vocation even in the explanatory comments they deliver to it. Since they behave like misunderstood geniuses and know how to put their biased lies in the form of a wrong argument, museum assistant didacts have taken up their cause: the documenta Visitors’ School

“has to proceed strictly from the demand of the exhibition audience to be able to understand the diversity of exhibition objects from a uniform point of view,” (doc)

which shouldn’t be difficult with all the boring variants of one and the same abstract morality. Since this is not at all about explaining today’s art shit, but about propaganda for the universal application of its principle, the documenta movers and shakers turn the most modern of all artist’s lies into an exhibition principle and organize a “media documenta” which claims to have seen the “spirit of the Enlightenment” – that is, the media – in the artists’ bullshit (the penultimate documenta, by contrast, was more interested in proving that garden gnomes and life in general are art). First of all, the participant in the Visitors School learns that he has to acknowledge that all the exhibited objects should be understood from the “uniform point of view” that artists are here “trying to clarify the circumstances of their activities,” which, however, must not lead to the question why he should learn something,

“which one apparently [!] can use if one intends to work artistically.” (doc)

Appearances are deceptive, since that is certainly not what art is about, but “structures of thought,” which is a beautiful paraphrase of the moral precept of self-relativization as the realization of individual freedom:

“The public must slowly become willing to accept that it is required to produce statements similar to those of the artists. This does not mean that the public must now also paint or build like the artists; it is not the outward similarity between the public’s productions and that of artists that is required, but correspondences in the structure of thought processes, in the binding nature of the rules of the game, in the compulsion to express ....” (doc)

... obligatory for good guests

Anyone who wants to take pleasure in art and therefore feels cheated by invisible art (a rumor persisted among Kassel’s philistines that the elevator for an underground tour of the borehole was still under construction) is insulted for not acting like a “good guest,” but like the proverbial peasant who “only eats what he knows.” Potatoes only come into being if they are eaten:

“To do this, one must first rid oneself of the commonplace view that the meanings one looks for are in the objects themselves, and that one only has to take them out of the box like a cookie. Objects, even when they are Leonardo’s painting of the Mona Lisa [citizens wait in line because of her ‘inscrutability’], are nothing but dead material....” (doc)

The mistake of the aesthetics of reception, reduced to its idealistic principle, “constitutes” artworks from how they are received; this comes just in time for the museum people to beat up on the unwilling public for its inability to perform such miracles.

For simpler minds, however, the hint that great works of art have always been invisible is more plausible: because the “geometric figures” in Kassel’s Castle Park can’t be perceived all at once when walking through the park, one must

“create [!] these figures in the imagination ... In those times [more precisely, in ‘two centuries of European culture’] nobody would have declared these artists to be mad ...” (doc)

And in any case, the philistines are supposed to kindly withdraw into themselves and draw a false lesson from Gothic cathedrals, which they surely appreciate:

“Does Mrs. Leimbach know whom Mary may have intended as non-human addressees?”

The point of such references to artistic works is to use them for propagandizing today’s art shit. So that’s why the paintings of a Rembrandt are not restored today despite their darkened varnish. Rather, he is said to have benefited from

“spiritual form, since they are only signs emerging from the darkness like shadows and sink back into it again.” (Meyer, European Art History)

He has thus rendered outstanding services to the unfortunately still imperfect predecessors of the “black paintings.” How about an acid attack?

The worries of the art critic

All the lies about art which serve to agitate the public for their beautiful “message” are recycled by the professionals of the bourgeois public sphere – they do honors to their professional title – but here they are supplemented by the concern about whether they are also credibly presented. The business of art critics is to sympathetically grumble about the results of the moral propaganda that takes place in the art scene from the point of view of its efficiency and to present themselves as the better artists, which is why their reviews occasionally resemble absurd literary works. Here art is judged from the standpoint of the state, and the parties argue in the form of its critics. While the progressive intellectual believes that the photorealists benefit from not answering the question “what’s that supposed to mean?”, his interpretation repeats the same answer that the artists have long been giving in practice –

“These realistic works wash our eyes out; they teach us to see our environment again...” (Stern) [its well known that we usually walk blindly through the environment with unwashed eyes] –

the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung deploys a different art historian who has long been plagued by the “loss of a center”:

“What is special about the autos and how elegant is the reflection on the lower right? This is all painted according to the best doctrines, pedantry replaces genius ... They paint some pages from the lexicon of reality; they aestheticize the factual rather than interpret it.” (FAZ, July 8, 1972)

“...the trend is obviously towards a non-interpretable facsimile lacking a spiritual function.” (FAZ, Feb. 19, 1972)

Conservatives thus discover the “condition of our times” in the negative freedom of the modernists, which Sedlmayr diagnoses as an “illness” that lets artists act as an “intellectual hotbed” instead of using the realm of freedom responsibly by unambiguously and directly celebrating the citizen. Artists should do more “interpreting” and less “accepting,” by which he means affirming the state in the form of a positive image of man:

“But there is the possibility of anti-human art and the extreme of a diabolical [bah devil!] or nihilistic art ... This non-human art has a dangerous fascination for the spirit of our times.” (Sedlmayr, Loss of the Center)

What torments all critics in one way or another is whether people will notice what art “actually” has to say to them. Each of their suggestions for improvement, presented in the form of art criticism, therefore leads them to demand the perfection of art education, which obviously has nothing to do with training the senses for the purpose of enjoying art.

Where the fun stops: art education

The difference between art education and the documenta Visitors School is that nobody gets out of school. Here the aspiring intellectual learns in childhood that the beauty of art is that you can have many free opinions about it, which is why you have to recognize them all as relative and practice “conflict tolerance”:

“Think about it: how does Mona Lisa smile? Sweetly – bitterly – softly – bitingly – attentively – ironically – silently – closed ... cheeky? Maybe you’ll think of more? And: did you all agree?” (Student work sheet from: Kunst und Unterricht No. 34/1975)

Of course, since the dissolution of art into opinions about it wonderfully “opens up fields of activity,” there are also paintings in which “the respective social conditions for the reception of art can be experienced [!] by the students as their [!] own reception.” The Mona Lisa poster, which shows a lousy reproduction of the original as well as Mona Lisa with a mustache, etc., also contains illustrations where the face, etc., is left blank for more painting. Next to this “open medium” are instructions for use:

“In a museum you have no choice but to admire, look, not touch! [another acid attack?] That’s why we put the Mona Lisa on the poster ... One of them painted a mustache on her, another one turned the Mona Lisa into a cat. It’s no different when you put a hat on the Chancellor in the magazine [how funny!] or put a feather on his cap ...
You don’t have to be a painter yourself ... Maybe your father and mother say: ‘Don’t smudge it!’ That’s how they learned ... So maybe the Mona Lisa will become your picture. Maybe a ‘Mona Lieschen’? For example: If your mother was Mona Lisa, [then she isn’t a tramp, but rather:] would she wear jeans or her new skirt? And how would that look on the picture?”

Such paintings require a practical commitment to one’s own position in the world as a possible alternative: it’s a matter of “bringing one’s own social context into the picture” and kindly noticing that others “bring along other contexts” which “inspire reflection.” The latter therefore has only one “possible” result.

Since the image functions as neutral material for the propaganda of academic morality, an art education that has been reformed with the help of the student movement doesn’t begin with art, but rather with “living situations,” and sticks together advertisements and an abstract detachment from it. The important thing in this is to “unmask” the supposedly “ideal world” of advertising by the most original combinations possible with set pieces from “serious life.” To offset that, the little ones here and there have to senselessly smudge whatever “free topic” means and also appears in evidence. With such “steps to sensitize children to their visual environment,” modern art educators practice the ideal of creativity which consists in not taking anything as what it is, but in not allowing oneself, as a morally solid person, to be alienated from the seductive sensory stimuli of the simple world:

“Creative individuals prefer complexity... they are different and complex in their psychodynamics ... more independent in their judgment.” (Daucher/Seitz: Didactics of Fine Arts)

Those who become sufficiently “complex” and make their judgments about the world “independent” of it will succeed effortlessly in higher education by means of “defamiliarization,”

“making the highly emotional and sometimes only affective preoccupation with the subject of car more objective and presenting the car as a prestige and cult object with proposals for its disenchantment by means of aesthetic practice” (Kunst und Unterricht No. 45/1977)

The first prize goes to a grass-eating car made of clay, which is no doubt “disenchanted” by means of its engine covered in bared teeth.

Compulsory compensation

In the theoretical agitation that runs in a “balanced relationship” parallel to this “pictorial practice,” all the dirty tricks of the Visitors School are “age specific.” By primarily using images of art, a progressive art teacher “wins” propaganda for art as an exemplary Enigma of Being with the “didactically invaluable question” as to whether one talks about a work of art or only about a slide of an artwork – in the “age of mechanical reproduction.” The “revaluation of the subject” radicalizes the dissolution of art into false epistemological questions so that art no longer occurs in it at all: in a “performance art course” the subject is “perception,” whereby proof is given with the help of Gestalt psychology that the world is an illusion – and the learning objective is a “general ability to study.” Here the traditional function of art education, to compensate for the stress of schooling, is completely eliminated for the benefit of supplemental social studies.

The false accusation of the student movement that art classes only engage in “uncommitted compensation without social relevance” has thus become completely irrelevant for the higher ranks of the school hierarchy. The fact that the innovators in public elementary schools were less successful at politicizing art education shows that future proles have the right idea when they craft stars out of straws for the Christmas tree and make other useful decorations, which gives today’s elementary school teachers a bad conscience. Someone who is not a committed-critical partisan for the state, but who is required to be willing to simply pass a test in his own shit, can afford some nice compensations. Another awkward thing: the elementary school art teacher pats the victims of school selection on the back while they are painting because they demonstrate so beautifully that they embody a type of “practical intelligence” – which may also be used in more realistic crafts – and will consequently find exactly the right place to realize their individuality on the assembly line. In public schools, therefore, one can’t fail because of art.

Art and state

The state exercises its fine feeling for the meaning and purpose of modern art when it prescribes it only to its future elite in education. The fact that politicians misuse bathtubs for unintended purposes does not mean that they do not know what they get from modern art. After all, it is not without reason that the Basic Law grants freedom of art as a fundamental right. The fact that art is not free for the sake of art is made clear by Chancellor Schmidt with the legend that art is so difficult because one can do whatever one wants with it:

“We affirm the full, boundless autonomy of art – even if it brings new problems, even if art, having become autonomous, has its own difficulties. To the extent that art is no longer involved in a task, it may be self-disintegrating. ...Even if all this were true, no one should be interested in restricting artistic autonomy in any way.”

No superfluous luxury for Schmidt …

His flirtation with art patronage remains a flirtation because art of its own free will fulfills the “task” that the Chancellor has assigned it and “brings new problems.”

“Artists must raise people’s consciousness about the possibilities in them and in society.”

The fact that this “consciousness raising” is only for people who already have a raised consciousness is politely rubbed under the artists’ noses by the Chancellor with an image of the future:

“Art today may be a matter for connoisseurs, while in public the image is fixed of an artist who lives and works in chaotic circumstances, has crazy ideas and makes incomprehensible things that one either laughs at or admires.”

This is not a threat to stop supporting modern art. On the contrary, the Chancellor knows that modern art benefits the modern state as a “matter for connoisseurs,” which he inimitably sums up as “modern art is not a superfluous luxury.” It thus fulfills its social function by running the quite luxurious business of raising consciousness of democratic freedom among people who have already devoted themselves body and soul to it. Which is why the Chancellor is not lying when he celebrates the state as a prerequisite for the integrity of modern artists:

“I have no doubt that it is not only the state that needs art, but also art that needs the state. The artist needs the politician as a guarantor of his freedom, as someone who must create and maintain the basis for his integrity.”

... mostly unprofitable for artists …

Because modern art, as a “teacher in the art of freedom” which consists in using it in a restrained way, is a useful minor issue for democracy, the state treats it accordingly. It does not think of realizing the hypocrisy of the Federal President, according to which, for the sake of democracy, art should be the “teacher in the art of freedom” for all citizens.

The majority of its citizens avoid the “objects” of modern cultural creation and don’t let themselves be kept away by reminders from the cultural apostles on television. Since those citizens who enjoy modern art as “teachers” finance these lessons out of their own pockets, the state reaches into its own pocket only for ceremonial purposes. The state thus subsidizes the arts with building sites and finances art galleries when it wants to lavishly portray itself as a cultural nation during a boom, and dismisses artists from their contracts when they should become ascetic in a crisis. Referred to the free market, artists tend to cultivate their “scam.” And because they are allegedly untrustworthy at representing their message of freedom when they increase supply rather than showing their distance from the free market when they are in great demand, the President would have them take to heart that they should rather remain poor:

“[President] Scheel warned artists not to be defined by fashion trends or market opportunities. An artist can only set an example of true freedom when he follows his own calling.”

Over the course of their life on earth, those who respect the law and celebrate the freedom of the “open society” within its framework have the opportunity (oh sweet freedom!) to sell their works to private collectors, galleries, state museums, banks and other corporations, whereby the latter exhibit mainly younger artists in their lobbies and private museums. In this way, they demonstrate their financial solvency and creditworthiness and their progressive, charitable character with the idealistic and less charitable values of art. The possibility is even open that the artist, after his death, might be the speculative object of art investment companies. A true modern artist, however, is not bothered by a lack of usefulness in this world; rather, it is an incentive to a new glorification of the immaterial uses of freedom. Especially if the example of colleagues who are reviled as trendy teaches him that he can materialize this most agreeably by skillfully spotting a gap in the market.

... nonsense for the masses

The non-art loving part of the public stubbornly refuses to take note of the purpose of this propaganda with its “image of an artist who ... has crazy ideas and makes incomprehensible things.” This is how the public attacks modern art as propaganda that doesn’t suit it and announces that it wants to be morally agitated in the normal, comprehensible ways, and that’s why it hangs on its walls Dürer’s “Praying Hands” and department store pictures of a half-naked gypsy or a braying stag. The stupid accusation that the state should not waste the taxpayers’ money on modern art therefore follows on its heels. The state’s support of modern art demonstrates to them that taxes are not meant to be spent on the ordinary citizen, but this prevents neither right-wing nor left-wing lovers of state power from misunderstanding it as a waste since its not for their benefit.

They trivialize modern art as a put-on because they admiringly condemn it as an alternative to the harsh use of wage labour. Because the little guy has to risk his neck in order to live, he likes to imagine that he too could live off something like modern art, and immediately refutes this by labeling the alternative a fraud.

Art in the service of the people

is practiced only in non-mass actions such as the destruction of the “Nuremberg Finger” or the obstruction of the works at the “Hole in Kassel,” which the inveterate anti-fascists of “Red Morning” celebrate as the “ever growing outrage of the workers.”

The anti-fascists whose political home is on the other bank of the Ussuri [translator: the river that divided USSR and PRC and was the flashpoint of the 1967 war] do not need to destroy modern works of art, they have at their disposal

“a true [!] counter-artwork: a ‘vertical air kilometer’ (in contrast to the ‘earth kilometer’) set up with the hint that this artwork means saving 750,000 DM so that missing apprenticeships could be set up in Kassel. This counter-artwork clearly [?] exposes the entire concept of the documenta in terms of ‘the emperor's new clothes’ and at the same time brings a real [!] political issue into the discussion: How is taxpayer money spent in our country and in whose interest?”

Which also makes it clear that apprenticeships are missing in Kassel only because the mayor of Kassel does not follow the motto:

“Education is the beginning of a culture oriented toward working class people.”

Hence the MSB Spartacus [translator: Marxist Student Organization Spartacus (MSB), related to the DKP (German Communist Party)] cites all the arguments of decent citizens, ranging from irrationality to put-ons to wasted taxpayers’ money, because it wants a different “social function” for art and therefore a different art. At the press conference for documenta, it launches a “cultural offensive” so that modern art does not continue to be dull and to dumb down without any content:

“Images that have nothing to say to us except that they fulfill a certain function in this society,”

“art that follows this concept has no content – but by no means no function.” (all quotations from “Red Leaves”),

The remedy against “spiritual bankruptcy” is rules for art in which artists seek to realize themselves as “comrades of the cultural sector” in “partisanship” with the “Bitterfelder Path,” by eliminating any “meaninglessness,” and by only painting pictures in the optimistic monochrome that gets all the grayness out of daily state life and merely compels the bright red of the socialist human perspective: socialist realism.