The interesting thing about our time is that however radical the message in your art, if you do your criticism through self-expression, you’re actually feeding the very power structure you’re trying to overthrow. The power structure you’re criticizing also believes in self-expression as the ultimate goal.
Capitalism is about self-expression; art is about self-expression. Art is far from being a radical outside movement. It’s at the heart of the modern conformity. That’s why nothing ever changes, because the radicals have gone to a form of expression at the very center of the power structure they disapprove of. So they’re neutered.
The idea of individual self-expression—whilst feeling limitless because the ideology of our age is individualism—looked at from another perspective is limiting because all you have is your own desires. There are other things that could free you from that. It’s a different kind of freedom.
A myth that tries to explain the things you don’t understand and gives you a sense of consolation beyond your own existence. I think that’s really good. We’re missing that. Take a mythical force like religion and talk about things like power that normal, boring, limited, rational technocratic journalism can’t. It dramatizes them beautifully.
Melodrama is the next thing. The heightened sense of things as a way of jumping out of this failed rational technocratic cage that we’re in where finance says you’ve got to do this, or austerity says you have to do that. It’s so limited. It’s so dull.
The trick has to be that it allows you still to feel you are an independent individual. The hyperindividualism of our age is not going to be going back into the bottle. You’ve got to square the circle. You’ve got to let people still feel they’re independent individuals, yet they are giving themselves up to something that is awesome, greater, and more powerful that carries them into the future beyond their own existence. That’s what people are yearning for.
“I blame what’s happened in art on how expensive it became to be an artist,” he said. “When I came to New York in ’67, a 2,500-square-foot studio was $85.” Without access to such large private studios, he said, many young artists have developed alternate ways of working, like drawing plans for an installation or a sculpture they hope to make but not actually producing the work until it has been selected for a show.
“It’s post-studio art!” he said. “Sculptors who never see the work before the exhibition. It’s designed on the back of a cocktail napkin at 35,000 feet, and then they build it for the first time in Germany.” For an artist who learns to work this way, he added, a studio can become unnecessary, even when one is available. “I’ve been involved for many years with the American Academy in Rome, the most beautiful studios that anybody will ever be offered, and depending who’s on the jury, some years there won’t be a single person who makes anything,” he said. “They sit in these beautiful studios, they put the work on the wall that they used to get the grant and then they just talk. For a year. It’s criminal. You can talk in any room!
– Chuck Close interviewed in The New York Times. July 2016
“The idea of creativity, which is always parasitical, gives to a look its huge, plundering reach. There are creative writers, creative designers, creative engineers, and, in that sickly phrase, creative entrepreneurs—but this is of an altogether different order from being an artist, which can require certain creative uses or deployments of a sensibility, but which typically demands large rations of vision and talent and intelligence that are, from the vantage point of an audience of consumers, ultimately unresolvable.”
“Already a long time ago modern artists practiced a revolt against the identities which were imposed on them by others—by society, the state, schools, parents. They affirmed the right of sovereign self-identification. They defied expectations related to the social role of art, artistic professionalism, and aesthetic quality. But they also undermined the national and cultural identities that were ascribed to them. Modern art understood itself as a search for the “true self.” Here the question is not whether the true self is real or merely a metaphysical fiction. The question of identity is not a question of truth but a question of power: Who has the power over my own identity—I myself or society? And, more generally: Who exercises control and sovereignty over the social taxonomy, the social mechanisms of identification—state institutions or I myself? The struggle against my own public persona and nominal identity in the name of my sovereign persona or sovereign identity also has a public, political dimension because it is directed against the dominating mechanisms of identification—the dominating social taxonomy, with all its divisions and hierarchies. Later, these artists mostly gave up the search for the hidden, true self. Rather, they began to use their nominal identities as ready-mades—and to organize a complicated play with them. But this strategy still presupposes a disidentification from nominal, socially codified identities—with the goal of artistically reappropriating, transforming, and manipulating them. The politics of modern and contemporary art is the politics of nonidentity. Art says to its spectator: I am not what you think I am (in stark contrast to: I am what I am). The desire for nonidentity is, actually, a genuinely human desire—animals accept their identity but human animals do not. It is in this sense that we can speak about the paradigmatic, representative function of art and artist.
The traditional museum system is ambivalent in relation to the desire for nonidentity. On the one hand, the museum offers to the artist a chance to transcend his or her own time, with all its taxonomies and nominal identities. The museum promises to carry the artist’s work into the future. However, the museum betrays this promise at the same moment it fulfills it. The artist’s work is carried into the future—but the nominal identity of the artist becomes reimposed on his or her work. In the museum catalogue we still read the artist’s name, date and place of birth, nationality, and so forth. (That is why modern art wanted to destroy the museum.)”