Guest of Cindy Sherman Part 4


Artistic Autonomy

The “cultural code”, commoditized, codified, and wrapped in a sensible marketing package has had a price tag attached; money, not entirely knowledge, buys the deciphering ‘rights’ to the cipher (Bourdieu, p.3). Recent works sell for astronomical prices and classic works, priced beyond the grasp of the majority (including the wealthy ‘petite bourgeoisie’), are far beyond the comprehension of the masses who wonder how can someone, not only justify, but pay so much even if a work of art. Bourdieu calls this a “new logic” where there exists “… a hedonistic morality of consumption, based on credit, spending and enjoyment” (Bourdieu, p.310). Whereas those who can afford to and are paying top dollar for recent works justify their spending based on their knowledge of a work’s true value – when in truth it may have much less to do with an elevated level of deciphering and more to do with their financial ability to pay (Bourdieu, p.2).

If “intrinsically and deliberately polysemic” work is a defending act to protect the artist’s autonomy, then, is there a possibility that what is happening in Chelsea is an attack against this act from a rise of a ‘petite bourgeoisie’? If class, defined by possessions, which are symbolic of one’s taste in objects and financial ability to pay, then why not buy your way into a higher class? Considering the investor’s motivation for profit and path to achieve it, buyers who support the Chelsea gallery, are subject to marketing just like any other consumable thing (Bourdieu, p.3).

Bourdieu says of the “pure gaze” that it “is a historical invention linked to the emergence of an autonomous field of artistic production…” whereas the artist has the “pure intention” that “aims to be autonomous” (Bourdieu, p.3). The consumer and the artist have an antagonistic relationship. The artist wants to create on her own terms. The buyer wants to understand the artist’s work. The buyer imposes his own understanding, and then expects all future works to fall under these terms. This infringes upon the artists autonomy. At this point, the artist must either cease producing ‘open works’ or conform to the buyer’s gaze. This has been going on for many centuries, however, when we enter into a period where, exposed to mass materialism, it becomes harder to say no to the demands of the gaze, and hence, avoiding poverty and surrendering mastery of product. Society, “capable of imposing its own norms on both the production and the consumption”, succeeds (Bourdieu, p.3).

What this means for the ‘art world’ is a decline of pure ‘new work’ and the art scene and production ‘coming out’ of Chelsea, in a global view, become banal because they become common. Chelsea; with its large spaces, commercialized in one central location is an art supermarket.

If a gallery searches for work, and if gallery space is in the hands of real estate investors, then the search is commanded by an order that follows a money making scheme – the best way toward return of investment. This would mean that the search is looking for that which is most saleable, rather than what is purely original or commendable work. What is more, once ‘under contract’ the artist’s future work must stay the line, that is, they must continue to produce a stylized production line. Furthermore, although I lack the pedantic language or the deciphering codes to define types of work, it would seem wise for any new artists in search of success, now defined by what sells, to create along same styles, eviscerating any chance for pure autonomy.

If gallery sales are dictated by a marketing scheme aimed at the desire to buy (one’s way into a class) and artists aim for gallery space, then the birth and flow of creativity sacrifices pure autonomy and is replaced by a top down command subject to a “social hierarchy of the consumers” (Bourdieu, p.1). It is my opinion that the success of recent works bypasses even the need to consider turning away from ‘scholar(s) and scribe(s)’, and goes directly to the buyer. In Guest of Cindy Sherman, an influential collector a, “scholar and scribe”, is interviewed regarding the sale prices of Cindy’s pieces to which he responds that he has no idea why her work is selling for such prices (Bourdieu, p.3).

One Comment

  1. Thanks for your comment Sensible… I agree that money is the “spice”… In this passage I am making a link between (1)P.B.’s description of how “culture” is obtained via a ‘rite of passage’ (ie., earning that right through the acquisition of education)and (2)my thoughts on “new money” that bypasses this ‘passage’, whereby(3)the acquisition of ‘things’ supplants real knowledge (i.e., looking for entrance & acceptance by way of material possessions)and (4)the coinciding rise in real estate value in NYC and hence the sale of art approached with a marketing equation, that ultimately encourages mass-produced art work. Again, understanding that money is an “oxygen to life”, be that as it may, money has also been known to put out a few flames.

    The making of art is a ‘puzzle-game’ that the artist creates, it is our part to solve the puzzle. Money, in this context, makes us co-creator of the puzzle that we are to solve.(no guesswork, no ‘game’) The creator who only has his imagination for inspiration is most pure and autonomous artist.

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