Monday, December 14, 2009

Further notes on the relationship(s) between art and money

A recent NYTimes profile of graffiti artist BNE contains this gem:

“I don’t see other graffiti writers as my competition anymore,” B.N.E. said. “Now I’m going up against the Tommy Hilfigers, Starbucks, Pepsi. You have these billion-dollar companies, and I’ve got to look at their logos every day. Why can’t I put mine up?”

The answer to his question could be multiple: because he puts his 'logo' up illegally (as a coworker groused not all that long ago), rather than buying space in our lives to display it, as Pepsi and Starbucks very lawfully do; because he occasionally puts 'BNE' on products that the BNE does not describe or in other ways attach to, as in the above picture; because his logo has no product it is selling; or because the ostensible product, 'BNE' himself, seems to resist being sold.

In all of the above cases, but particularly the last three, the relationship between the art object and capital is problematized. Generally, the buying public prefers, say, the Thomas Kincaide approach, wherein art exists only for and in tandem with their consumption (and even formally adopts the glow of dollars as its organizing principle—the famous 'painter of light' moniker as easily could be 'painter of capital'). Even 'high art,' spins inexorably toward consumability, as in Gabriel Orozco's move from margin to center, visible in the move from empty shoe boxes to painting with gold leaf.

I would posit that this is more the source of my coworker's discomfort than the legal/illegal issue. When art forces us to think about the relationship between the aesthetic and capital, rather than simply accepting it as an unspoken and unexamined law of the world, it makes us uncomfortable. Because in pointing up that particular relationship, the art object also forces us to become aware of the patterning of our own existence, the way that dollars script our movements as directly as they do "Thomas Kincaide's" factory of paintbrushes. This is also the answer to BNE's question about his own logo. Ask Gabriel, BNE, what happens to the artists at the margins—the centripetal logic of capital will begin with gallery shows just like the one the Times (an organ of centrism if it is anything) is using as its raison d' profile.

When your own logo is a billion-dollar brand though, will you have won?

For earlier notes on this question, see 2008's "On the definition of art"

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