Bad times for subtleties, emotions, and subversion

At schools and universities we once learned that centuries ago art was still entirely dependent and tied up in ecclesiastic or courtly contexts and constraints. And then came the grand Age of Enlightenment, and, in its wake, the Great Revolution that put a sudden end to all that…

Political correctness replaces religion

Tiziano Vecellio, Annunciazione, 1535, 166 x 266 cm, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venezia

Eventually, art emancipated itself and became «autonomous». And it remained so until quite recently. Today, art has again found issues to follow, which are no longer «Ascension» or «Immaculate Conception», but rather «Climate Change», «Global Warming» or «Gender Equality». Take, for instance, the Sharjah Biennial 13 in 2017. The curator complained bitterly on the occasion of her press conference that despite their considerable efforts, she and her team unfortunately had not been able to find a suitable position on the issue of global warming for the biennial. Poor them, just imagine their frustration!

Pixy Liao, Home-made Sushi, 2011

Untitled? Outdated!

«Untitled» is a title meanwhile frowned upon, basically for leaving the pain—or the pleasure, as it were—to the viewer of the artwork to determine what may or may not be the topic of the work in question. In our infantilized society, everything has to be explained and dictated so that we do not err, are never misguided or mislead, nor, God forbid, have silly ideas. All and everything should be neatly categorized, clearly discernible, and explicitly legible! Ambivalences are outdated, uncertainties uncalled for. Security takes absolute priority in all respects. In-security is not merely unpopular today, it is downright dreaded—both in political and societal terms!

Undesired poetic ambiguousness

The obsessively uptight pursuit for alleged efficiency in our late- and turbo-capitalist system does not spare art either. Any ambiguity thus immediately meets with refusal—also because anything approaching complexity overtaxes our everyday trains of thought. It is only logical that this is necessarily accompanied by sheer anxiety of poetic moments in art, for poetry does not give itself to explicitness. Poetry thrives precisely on and in that which happens between the lines. It is vague and allusive, it craves for interpretation—and therefore holds a revolutionary, anarchic (i.e. currently undesirable) potential.

No emotions please!?

Not to mention emotions! A few years ago, I had the honor of being invited as a speaker at a conference organized by one of Germany’s major newspapers, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. At this F.A.Z. Forum in Berlin, I met a concept artist from the United States who is quite well-known in Germany. To my jokingly polemical demand for more emotions in art, she responded in a super cool, condescending manner that, unfortunately, minute traces of emotions cannot be completely avoided from creeping into artistic production. She regarded emotions as annoying and contaminating, ultimately, however, as a quantité negligeable. It puzzled me then, and still does now, how it is possible that the so-called visual arts of all disciplines can do away with emotions, while the exact opposite is true for theater, music, literature, you name it…

The power of subversion

The conclusion is that many people object to any type of contamination and impurity in artistic and intellectual matters. In fact, every dirty corner will attract more dirt, will form a bacterial breeding ground, so to speak, without which there will be no fermentation, no growth, no development. It will shore up any number of incalculable potential risks, it will avert cleanliness, order, neatness, and it will steer toward anarchy, thus challenging all currently prevailing balances of power.

  1. Dear Hans,

    the time of subversion, the artistic ambiguity, the layering of individual levels of thought seems to be over in the face of a more and more explanatory model of the artwork.
    This more and more “explaining” and cataloging of the artistic work of course leaves less room for interpretation … for mistakes … for lies.
    The works are explained “correctly” in detail. This often kills any artistic work and vision. Even the subversive.

    The time of correctness increases.
    When I use the means of lies and pseudo-scientific writings in my own artistic work, I am now accused of doing exactly that. I’m not telling the truth. But is this the task of an artwork? And what is the correct truth?

    And to the emotions .. these seem to be smiled at the moment as artistic means …embarrassing and shameful.
    Why is that? I do not know exactly. But the contamination you talk about certainly plays a role. Bringing an anarchic and ambivalent part into the work seems to make some more scared. The fear that the beautiful concept of the work becomes more unclear and imprecise. The simultaneous attack surface and vulnerability reinforce this.

    I believe that the courage to incorporate certain aspects into the work that are beyond explanations and interpretations seems to be less.

    Greetings from Cologne
    Roland

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