Recently got a mailing from one of the social sites (Groupon or Living Social) titled ‘You as Art’. If you didn’t think there was enough competition from real and imagined artists and images on the web, this shows it goes way beyond that. Some imaginative entrepreneurs offer enlarged and framed versions of many of your biological singularities at a price – and so it seems Piero Manzoni and his outrageous canned ‘artist’s shit’ from 1961 was way ahead of its time in many ways. You can get your DNA scan, fingerprint, voice print, lip print, your profile carved in wood lathe, and more just with an order and PayPal. BUT IS IT ART? Is the essence of your biological makeup really part of any creative process? Is the “stuff” of who we are as individuals without a conscious process of visualization really art? I think not, ‘You as Art’ is more like a commercial appeal to narcissistic tendencies that Piero personally exploited so seamlessly and that appeal to of most individuals in art networks that consider themselves sophisticated and beautiful people. It won’t be long before someone is also willing to can and label your own feces and offer it back to you at a markup – yet considerably cheaper than the hundreds of thousands of dollars Manzoni’s got at auction. Making contemporary art is so easy in the 21st century on the web! Have indigestion? Go make some art!
Originality validates making art because it confirms your creative efforts as an individual, but what about art ‘factories’ that are fashionable in the art world? Is art produced without personal physical effort really art or is it a manufactured object, a decorative commodity, a privilege of spoiled and lazy artisans? Is art produced in series by an artist without growing or learning from the creative process worth the label? Look on ebay and you will find ‘artists’ who produce ‘original’ art that is only unique in that each piece is created separately based on an existing ‘original’ image. The artist becomes a ‘copy factory’ whose process lacks originality – a human multiple-mono-printing-press. But let’s expand the discussion to include successful artists like Andy Warhol who copied existing ‘art’ faithfully (commercial labels like the Campbell’s soup cans or Tide boxes that were sadly misjudged as art when exhibited), and later established art ‘factories’ to reproduce original pieces to the point where provenance can be questioned by experts just decades after his death. But! you may argue… artists like Titian and Rubens had ‘schools’ that cranked out artwork largely executed by disciples but attributed to the masters! True, but there are clear distinctions and it is undeniable that the concept of ‘art factory’ is relatively new. There is no teaching of the creative process in contemporary art factories nor do such factories entail the learning of craft as those former ‘schools’ did. Art factories perform simple execution, a commercial transaction, delivery of a manufactured product or copy that may be designated as art by the client or some other self-serving art authority. Today, for a price, you can take a visual or simply a concept to an executive and have his art ‘factory’ produce artwork entirely for you – in the process you may become celebrated like Jeff Koons. Why bother with the tedious labor of personally manifesting your art when you can pay someone else to do it for you? In this way talent is reduced to being a good manager and salesperson – perfect fit for today’s capital markets. Yet even Marcel Duchamp maintained the integrity of ‘real life’ objects by appropriating them as found, not copying them (e.g. the R.Mutt urinal). Today’s ‘art factories’ are destroying originality by facilitating and applying a capitalistic attitude to the creative process and pushing the making of art further into the domain of the elite. After all, if you can afford it, why not have someone else deal with all the angst of producing the work? This is what the western aesthetic has evolved into – an extension of Corporate America ruled only by how little personal involvement by the artist the market will tolerate. Certainly the distinction between potentially mass produced objects and what has traditionally been considered unique art is being blurred. I would like to see the art world abolish the ambiguity of the ‘art factory’ and only support unique work produced directly by the artists who create them.