Everyone should be creative nowadays. In the sixties, the idea of creativity was synonymous with provocation, critique and subversion while nowadays it has become a trendy word or even a moral obligation. What is the future of art and the role of artist?
Art seems to be something that has always been part of human history, from the Altamira caves to the avant-garde. How has the role of art changed over centuries?
I would like to limit my reflection to the period between 1970 and the beginning of 2000, during which three crucial historical shifts occurred. The first is a political shift which saw the evolution from Liberalism to what we call Neoliberism, which originates with Margaret Thatcher’s government in the UK and Ronald Reagan’s in the United States. A second change, which occured almost at the same time, is the shift from Fordism to the Post-Fordism work condition. The third interesting historical shift is the passage from modern to contemporary art. From the point of view of a sociologist this is represented by the decline of the influence and importance of the position of the art historian in the professional art world, and with this the general decline of the dominance of the historical perspective on art. It is for this reason that I believe that contemporary art is the art of the so called “post-age” (of “Post-Fordism”, of “post-politics” and of “post-art”) in which the lack of an historical perspective and of history itself is increasing. This increase is replaced in the art world by the rise of more fashionable philosophies and social theories, such as the radical political theories. What I claim to be the most appropriate description of the actual situation is the loss of a sense of history and of the past. This therefore includes the loss of a future in the contemporary art world and that with which it deals. The arrow of history which points to the future has become an endless circle, the avant-garde of modernity has become creative industries which paddle endlessly at the same place.
Creativity is no longer a word associated only with the art world. From start-up to finance, many fields describe themselves as creative. Is it correct to define this phenomenon as "creative multitude"?
The contemporary conception of creativity has nothing to do with its revolutionary meaning of the recent past. In the sixties, the idea of creativity was synonymous with provocation, critique and subversion while nowadays it has become a trendy word or even a moral obligation. Everyone should be creative nowadays. But the word is used in a selective way. Critique, which is necessary to come to a creative judgement, is filtered out of the concept. It’s now all about innovative vitalism and optimism. But this means a destruction of true creativity. Only in the very moment we start to criticize will we start to generate actual new ideas which truly have the intention of changing society, or at least, small parts of it. From the beginning of history, politics have neglected and avoided this potency of change in creativity. Unfortunately, nowadays this specific creative movement is almost avoided or put aside, as creativity has become a synonym of innovation i.e. something without a target, without a specific aim. Therefore, if innovation involves a change, consequently it does not have an inner sense and doesn’t focus on the creation of a better future. The entire idea of a better world is not necessary anymore when we live at the end of history. The ‘post-age’ is the best we can get, so go the neo-liberal rethorics. So, creativity has lost its gaze to the future and by this, its capacity to intervene in history or to make history.
What is the role of the artist in our society?
First of all, it is fundamental that the artists build a future. Not just as they did, in a provocative way, during the Sixties, but in a more concrete way - by dealing with contemporary society, with the “here and now”. I think it is important that the artist tries to develop a strong relationship with what people are currently living and experiencing. Creativity has to go further than innovation of forms. The biggest obstacle to overcome is the ‘I-cracy’ (to borrow a word of Jacques Lacan) of the art world and the creative world in general. Artists can still come up with a unique idea but there’s a need to relate it to and even organize it into a collective, to make it seem familiar. To clarify this idea, we can use the metaphor of the circus. The circus is a hybrid institution, where creativity is bonded with economy, politics, family life and ecology. When a circus wants to put its tent in a certain place, it must negotiate with the local authorities. When it puts the tent down, however, it organizes its own autonomous space. With regard to art this can be seen as a ground on which to stand to make your own art and to live your own individual life. I think we need to study these formulas to understand how we can build a future life for and with art. Discussions about autonomy in the professional art world nowadays (for example at biennials) are not only of importance to the art world itself, but also to other professions; surgeons, lawyers, university professors, etc. It’s the task of the art world to break open these discussions to others and to speak not only for their own peers in the art community. Other professions too, feel that they are losing their autonomy to make the right decisions and this is because of the influence of neo-management in a system that I call ‘repressive liberalism’. So, for me it is important that the artist recognizes those shared concerns and translates them into a language that can be understood by many in our contemporary political and economic climate. This will be the artist’s only way out of the ‘contemporaneity’ of the contemporary art world. To not make contemporary art anymore, but rather emergent art, which has relevance in the contemporary social climate.
You have underlined that democracy is a matter of political culture. Could you develop this concept?
Culture is what gives meaning to life. It is not the superstructure of society but the foundation, the base. I believe that there's an important relationship between art and democracy. Art is not a synonym of culture. In looking at how artists have worked in modern times it is easy to understand how they have tried to establish a position, a unique identity or form, and have always tried to defend their ideas. They have a single idea or voice and they have tried to build a public support for this again and again. A new mechanism originated from modernity: creating a unique idea, which no one has ever thought of before. When you do this, you need to build public support for your idea. Artists must find a justification for the survival of their art, their subjectivity and their individuality. This, for me, is the essence of a democratic process. It also raises series of crucial discussions such as “Is this art?” or “Is it ethical or not?”. By doing this, artists hold on to the public domain and through this they create democracy. For me, this process of democracy is very important and it is the opposite of what we commonly think when we talk about democracy nowadays. We see democracy through quantities, as how many people have voted for a party. Therefore, it is the democracy of quantities that is the liberal representative democratic society in which we are living. I think that the democracy for which the artist stands is of another kind. It is deliberately democratic which means the founding of a new position and the effort to defend it. For me this is the most important thing and it is what we see in biennales, where debates are not just concerned with the issues of art but also politics and economic engagement. It is in art that all of this happens and it is very important that the art system continues on this path, in which freedom of speech is still possible.
But what is the relationship between art and culture?
I see a dialectical relationship between art and culture. The culture plays the role of the cup of coffee that I need every morning. In it are the rituals you need, the habits you have and the values in which you believe. On the other hand, art is the element which creates new habits by being in your face. By breaking away from routine and normality. Therefore, to maintain democracy, a dialectical relationship between and art culture is fundamental in order to break art away from our old values and habits, constantly causing us to question them and then building up new values. Culture represents the cultural heritage. It is the tradition which we need to stand on. While art brings chaos to this order, disorder can return once again to order. The democratic aspect of art is that it keeps this dialogue open by constantly proposing unexpected ideas.
Frame of The Walk by Robert Zemeckis.