Between Transcendence and the Dumpster: Don’t Despair!

I guess last week’s post was a bit depressing, dealing, as it did, with the problems of personal and professional accommodation for a non-rich artist in London.

This week, I can announce that my artist partner and I have chosen a new place to move-into. In most ways it’s a great choice. There is just one problem. It is smaller than our present space. When my partner got priced out of her studio about 10 years ago she began to work at home and to store artworks at home too.

This week we’ve been unearthing, both their works (the artist Bada Song) and mine, from nooks, crannies, cupboards and wardrobes, while sadly coming to the conclusion that we’l have to destroy many of them, as we need to reduce a lot to fit our life and work into the new flat.

I’ll discuss this as a kind of tragedy but also as a way of thinking through the real difficulty of achieving a ‘work of art’ and the strange value art can have, somewhere between transcendent immortality and the dumpster (or ‘skip’ as the English say).

First, I just want to clarify that, while I champion the very broadest notion of ‘art’, which is of course and infinite number of things for an infinite number of peoples/cultures, my own education has, admittedly, been in what might be called contemporary fine art of a certain Euro-U.S tradition. That tradition, like all traditions, has its own language and value system and is esoteric to a certain extent. Like all forms of art, it also maintains the parameters of a certain community or ‘tribe’ perhaps.

But the point I am trying to make here is that it is extremely difficult to make a ‘work of art’ in and for any culture. Whether it involves enormous amounts of time and skill in the rendition of an object, or a minimal intervention in some form of sacred space (the white cube being just one such), or years of special training and forethought, even if in the service of what a appears to be a simple gesture.

So, today, as I was demolishing some works that I exhibited about seven years ago, I recalled the intense process of thinking through what I would make, what I could make, always trying to anticipate the kinds of evaluation the work would attract and receive in the articular context for which it was bound. I may not be making a good job of this writing, but what I am trying to do is just to stress and articulate how near-impossible that is to achieve.

After all, you are not just trying to make something beautiful, clever, unique etc. you are effectively trying to re-define what art is at every turn of your thought, in every micro-decision, and all the time keeping in mind not only the history of similar gestures into which you are entering the work, and not only your own judgements either, but somehow all of the other possible or potential judgements of all of the other artists and interested persons who might see and judge your work.

OK, perhaps I have at least scratched the surface of that point. It alludes to the difficulty and challenge that art students encounter when they study contemporary fine art. There is certainly a fun element to all creativity, but to qualify, whether we like it or not, as teachers and students we have to acquire the special skills outlined above, the skills of making a work that will stand-up to the critical pressures of the audience in the naked and vulnerable space of the gallery or given space.

Now, this relates to the destruction of mine and my partners works in the following ways: as I pull apart a piece of art, not only do I think about the weeks or months of stressed-out considerations, highs and lows of thoughtful invention and conceptual engineering that went into all of its decisions and manufacture, plus its transportation, costs, materials and very precise installation, I also enter that space between transcendence and the dumpster.

That is to say, all of that careful consideration, and the work’s eventual celebration, damnation, or encounter within difference in the show appears now to have been designed to achieve a certain transcendence, i.e. to use ideas and materials to achieve, to reach for, perhaps to discover or establish a value that did not previously exist, or that can only exist in art – not in the ‘real’ or ‘ordinary’ world.

Yes, there are certainly valuable things in the ‘real’ or ‘ordinary’ world (think of the sky, a puddle, a flower, a child’s smile etc.) but the transcendent value that art attains is, it seems to me, something other than that and special to itself and for itself. Art pursues, promotes and upholds a certain, particular and peculiar human value or valuation and then contributes this to the world of interactions between humans and the wider world.

Today, as we reluctantly destroy our finely wrought works of art, due to lack of capital, lack of money, power and space (not a problem for many of course – see last weeks comments about uninhabited property portfolios etc.), the transcendent value they achieved, tried to achieve, or perhaps partly achieved, quickly dissipates into dust, and there transcendence meets the dumpster.

It all seems tragic, and a victory of the dumpster over transcendence, a victory of Capital over art, of greed over thrift, of cynicism over a certain kind of innocent or naive, noble or even divine aspiration, a victory of the ‘real’ ‘ordinary’ world, of the ‘market’ over the artist, the artworks, over art and the art world’s attempts to insist upon an alternative economy, an alternative value.

This might be a day to despair, but, believing that art is always some kind of affirmation, I rescue from the dust and the dumpster the notion that this experience has at least helped to write and share these thoughts, which might just be of some compensatory value.

4 thoughts on “Between Transcendence and the Dumpster: Don’t Despair!

  1. Shame you didn’t sell any to those of us who are unable to continue with our artist practices. Many of us have faced the inability to generate any income or secure a job that allows headspace to continue making. However myself for one, welcome any opportunity to purchase small works to support my fellow artists who continue to make despite the odds. What about using #artistsupportpledge

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    1. Hi, and thanks for your attention to the Blog. my email is pok@okpaul.com and Bada’s is badasongok@yahoo.co.uk
      We would like to take up your offer but right now we are up to our necks in sorting out this flat and then moving while very busy preparing materials for Uni teaching, and all the rigmarole that goes with changing address. Bit of a night mare time, and with a real lockdown coming soon it seems. So, yes, like your offer, but can we take a rain check and do it a.s.a.p?

      Paul

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  2. Hi, and thanks. Will think abut this, but we are moving pretty fast – have to do so as the teaching term starts next week. It’s sad to destroy things that you know you will never be abe to make again, nor anything like etc. But in the end life islike that, one day we’ll be gawn and someone will be clearing outour stuff. I gues our works did their best in their moment. If they weren’t bought and preserved by others maybe its inevitable they are pushed aside and other things, and other artists can grow, fertilised by their (and eventually our) dust.

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