by David A. Powell for The Saker Blog
Part 2 of 2 parts
The case of Malevich – regardless of how it appears in most official narratives of the present (but especially those found in the Web) – is unique in the entire history of art. For the first time in history, one encounters – as Jean-Claude Marcadé has pointed out – not merely an artist writing about art among other artists writing about art, but a great artist who was at the same time a great philosopher writing squarely and unequivocably within the speciaized territory usually only reserved for and occupied by “professional philosophers.” And further, as Marcadé writes (in “What is Suprematism?”): “It would be hazardous to identify the ideas of Malevich with any kind of idealism, subjectivism, psychologism or pantheism. Rather they are phenomenological, in Heiddeger’s sense – and a few years before him – in so far as they constitute a ‘deciphering of being in its beings’.” This is a phenomenon which the Western World-dominated “art world” under global capitalism at large has never completely comprehended or admitted primarily because it was never supposed to have happened – that is, in the minds of cultural specialists and artists alike – or to have ever existed as a possibility in art – or indeed philosophy itself – to begin with. But this phenomenon did occur; and it will not go away simply just because very few see or acknowledge it. (Has a “professional philosopher” written anything about this phenomenon? Yes – but only one that this writer is aware of: Emmanuel Martineau: Malevitch et la philosophie
Space does not allow a thorough exploration of the ideas of Minimalism here; and which, in any case, already has far more than it deserves in terms of ideological support, etc. from places like the Tate Gallery; while Frank Stella – in many ways the arch Minimalist (at one time, anyway) – is discussed below.
Anna C. Chave’s brilliantly incisive 1990 essay “Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power”, however, is far better than anything the present writer could provide in a comprehensive sense and cannot be recommended highly enough. A PDF of this essay is here – and I can only strongly urge anyone with a continuing interest in art to download and read it:
In addition to passing on Chave’s essay, what I will do is furnish a quote from Jean-Claude Marcadé which outlines what Malevich’s work and thought does not have in common with the Minimalists (or the Abstract Expressionists for that matter):
“Those of Malevich’s texts published in Russian during his lifetime, followed in 1927 and 1962 by German translations of some of the previously unpublished manuscripts, presented Western readers – in fragments, but sufficiently – a philosophy of the objectless. [my emphasis] Even if this philosophy partially converged with existing philosophical movements (let us call them negative philosophies of the “Nothing”), it still formed a very personal body of thought.
First and foremost, Malevich was unique in that he gave philosophical significance to the pairing of figuation (predmetnost) and the objectless (bespredmetnost), which emerged in the theory and art criticism of the 1910’s as a way to designate a new reality – the rise of nonfiguation and abstraction. In 1919, the Polish-Ukrainian-Russian painter stated: ‘In mentioning the objectless [in 1913-16], I only wanted to point out clearly that Suprematism does not treat of things, objects, etc., and that’s all; the objectless, generally speaking, was beside the point.’ Thus, the painter clearly distinguished between the objectless as an operative mode in the plastic arts and ‘the objectless, generally speaking’ – that is, in a philosophical, Suprematist sense. He deliberately did not seek a different word for the philosophical objectless. Malevich could have used objectivity (obektivnost) and nonobjectivity (neobektivnost) to describe both the philosophical objectless and nonfigurative art, which he does elsewhere, but according to my hypothesis, he did not choose to do so because ‘objectivity / nonobjectivity’ did not acknowledge his project, instead associating his thought with that of various other doctrines. There is almost a certain ‘objectivity’ in Suprematism, the objectivity of the objectless, of the total absence of the object. Although the painter denies objectivity in terms of picturing an object since ‘the human being cannot picture anything,’ and although the traditional conflict in philosophy between the subject and object means nothing to him, it is still the case that all is one, that if there is nothing outside, then nothing is what is. It is this nothing that Suprematism wants to release from the weight of the figurative (i.e., of objects [predmetnyi]). This is precisely the crux of the painter’s philosophical thought: the impossibility of being able to picture, to picture oneself, to represent, to represent oneself. The ‘Suprematist mirror’ (Suprematicheskoe zerkalo) is the zero, ‘the zero as the ring of all that is with-object [predmetnoe] into the objectless [bespredmetnoe].’ It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins. None of the traditional philosophical oppositions are appropriate in this case, which is why Malevich used vocabulary from the plastic arts in his reflections on being. Suprematism is not a philosophy of negation in a dialectical process; it is a philosophy of ‘without,’ of absence.” (From: “Malevich, Painting, and Writing: On the Development of a Suprematist Philosophy”; from: Kazimir Malevich: Suprematism pp. 39-40; 2003; https://www.abebooks.de/Kazimir-Malevich-Suprematism-Drutt-Matthew-Nina/1351291068/bd).
While I’ve touched upon the English language Wikipedia article concerning Malevich in the first part of this essay, another way to arrive at an understanding of what I’m trying to describe is to compare what the noted German scholar of the Russian avant-garde Aage A. Hansen-Löve has written over the thought and work of Malevich with practically any entry to be presently found in the Web concerning Malevich.. If one has a command of German allowing one to read Hansen-Löve, one soon becomes aware that what one is confronted with are two profoundly differing narratives; see: https://www.zvab.com/Gott-gest%C3%BCrzt–Kazimir-Malevic-Hanser-Carl/15230385727/buch). The important Malevich essay – the title of which Hansen-Löve uses for his book, “God is Not Cast Down. Art, Church and Factory” (1922) – can be read in full here: https://insignificantattempt.blogspot.com/2018/11/malevich-god-is-not-cast-down-art.htm). When Malevich wrote “God is Not Cast Down”, this essay was considered to be an attack upon the materialist conceptions of many artists and critics of the period (today, however, Malevich would not only aim his attack at artists and critics – but at our entire time.)
The bottom line, in any event, is that the Wikipedia entry on Malevich mentioned above cannot be rewritten or corrected; at best, it can only be discarded. Such entries on Malevich, on the other hand, are entirely typical of what one finds in the Web no matter who has written them – but this will not change until our culture changes … indeed, perhaps only after the Web ceases to exist as we know it (either literally or due to the Web being finally set on its feet in terms other than being the Capitalist Cultural Supermarket that it is now). In other words, we never even learn in the first place what we’re actually faced with because this has long been kept off the very maps we use for learning by an ongoing historical process which had its beginnings during the time Malevich was in fact writing and producing his anti-materialist thought and work.
Jean-Claude Marcadé’s short commentary on Malevich’s Self-Portrait of 1933 (along with two reproductions) is found here:
https://insignificantattempt.blogspot.com/2018/11/kazimir-malevich.html … and I sincerely hope that everyone can find the time to view this commentary.
Remaining consistent with the present writer’s fondness for the spreading of unpopular ideas, below are two quotes on the cinema from Kazimir Malevich (From: “And Images Triumph on the Screens”, 1925; from Essays on Art 1915-1933, trans. Xenia Glowacki-Prus; ed. Troels Andersen; Copenhagen: Borgen, 1971, p. 230 & p. 232.)
To be noted in the first quote is Malevich’s statement: “New art [as opposed to the cinema] is above all architectural…”; and which is something especially to be kept in mind when one thinks of the architectural projects of Hitler and his planners, which were nothing when not oriented (at least, in a pseudo-“ideal” sense amounting to nothing beyond wishful thinking) in the general direction of the “new art” of which Malevich had earlier written:
“… according to the theories of painting, the cinema is still in the distant past, but the essence of art has, according to its nature, really found itself a new form which is expressed in architecture, the poster, decorations. New art is neither painterly nor imitative. New art is above all architectural, and its true meaning was not understood by the ‘left’ artists who turned to individual aesthetics and intuitive moods, and created from the debris of photo-montage eclecticism, thus placing a barrier on the path of the developing form of new art ‘as such’. This eclectic photo-montage, however, is not, as [Boris] Arvatov thinks, a replacement of painterly easel-painting.
[Sergei] Eisenstein and [Dziga] Vertov are truly first-class artists, with an inclination towards the left, for the first relies on contrast and the second on ‘showing the object’, as such, but both still have a long way to go to Cézannism, Cubism, Futurism and objectless Suprematism; the path of their future development can only be determined if one understands the principles of these schools.” […]
“This monkey’s habit of considering every idea to be a single aim and conformity of everything in its own image, has since time immemorial forced art to orient itself towards priest and pharaoh, as an expedient image and as a container of great ideas. The artist has been brought up with this method and considers that man’s ugly mug is the aim in which the artistic image in the idea exists, and that this mug and all its everyday rubbish and the commotion of the bazaar – that this is the essence of his life.
Moreover they begin to prove to him that he is born with all this commotion, and that all the interrelations of these ugly mugs comprise the society of which he is a member; accordingly he ought to resemble it and his entire art should consist of representing this commotion. This is what he understood, and, as a result, stands in the waiting rooms of life’s deputy chiefs in order to engrave their image, containing as it does an ‘idea’; or else he traverses the globe and smears onto canvas the flattened, sacred everyday life.
Likewise cinema producers have not escaped the grip of this tradition, and images triumph on the screens.”
* * *
In the meantime, mass / popular culture functions in a time-tested manner generally as follows:
(1) Everything is permitted as long as nothing matters outside of what is popular. (2) Everything is permitted as long as nothing escapes the tyranny of the popular. (3) Everything is permitted as long as it’s pictured in strictly representational terms (representation being, since prehistoric times, a most effective means for power, control and possession).
Parallel to the above, it should be remembered that representational images alone have become our only means of “making the world real” … along with the fact that this remains as a genuine problem especially when these same representations have become – to the extent that we now experience them – little beyond lies and illusions.
While keeping in mind that the representational image = an Idea (i.e., a worldview we all share) – what does manage to escape the absolute tyranny of the representational image – such as Malevich’s “objectless sensations of Art” … all of this entirely ceases to exist due to the impossibility of representing it; of making a representational image of it; of transforming it into an Idea-Made-Into-A-Worldview … which means: out of sight; forever out of mind; effectively nonexistent in the world we now inhabit.
Directly stated: nothing has substantially changed in the way mass / popular culture has continued to function since Hitler’s time – which provides the background for the fact that countless numbers of people today cannot begin to cope with or fathom the great art already belonging to the histories of musical, literary and visual art … not to mention lacking anything much beyond the most rudimentary means for fathoming or coping with the entire world we find ourselves living in – and which might as well be within a foreign galaxy at the far reaches of outer space … one of the very likely reasons we want so desperately to travel to other worlds in outer space to begin with: in order to somehow reunite with our pitifully suffering lost-child selves in the here and now on this earth.
“The efforts of technology to turn man into a bird are of no use for ‘man-the airplane’ or ‘man-the-car’ will not achieve happiness any faster than man on foot or seated man. Thousands of engineers with the help of millions of workers and peasants could not achieve what painters achieved with the help of a single bristle brush. Long, long ago painters conquered time and consequently space, whereas technology is still trying to fight its way through an open door.”
(From: Kazimir Malevich, “Letter to Kurt Schwitters”, 1927; from: The Artist, Infinity, Suprematism – Unpublished Writings 1913-33; trans. Xenia Hoffmann; ed. Troels Andersen; Copenhagen: Borgen, 1978, pp. 161-162.)
So, maybe it’s good idea to read Malevich … in the spirit of finding a long-discovered path never taken because it contradicts all we only imagine we know … because making images (pictures in the form of photos, videos, films, paintings, narratives and Ideas) remains the activity by which we seek to control everything; while the practice and ability to see through images belongs to a wholly different order lying in the direction of freedom from all control.
What follows, then, is a very short text from Malevich:
[Note: “constructoring” is Malevich’s own term for constructing as dictated by the ideology of Constructivism,which Malevich defines below. In what Malevich writes, “Art” refers to “art in general”– not exclusively to visual art – but to all art regardless of the medium].
“What is Constructivism:
By Constructivism I understand a variety of purely materialistic ideology, expedient and science-based human behavior arising from some economic social structure.
Constructivism can be the ideology of inventions.
What is the ideology of Art, my point of view on Art is that Art has no ideology, no idea, not even an image and if anyone finds ideologies in Art, he is first of all finding elements of an ideology that is imposed on Art and the Artist.
What is form?
a. By form I meant a complex of elements erected into a relationship
among themselves and composing a work.
b. Form can only be in Art, for a work is a formation of
elements into an indestructible connection, a permanent one.
c. There can be no form in constructoring for
constructoring arises out of an impermanent social
d. The artist raises the question of form,
the engineer-constructor – of expediency.
e. Constructoring per se is international
Art is international
Constructivism is not international, because there is an idea.
Like a worldview.”
(Kazimir Malevich: “Autograph Manuscript 2”; Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin, Portfolio 2, Inv. 2850; from Kazimir Malevich, The World as Objectlessness; Kunstmuseum Basil, 2014; p. 211; written in Berlin, 1927; published for the first time in 2014.)
If we think about what Malevich calls “Constructivism” – historically, an art movement diametrically opposed to Malevich’s Suprematism (see “What is Suprematism?” by Jean-Claude Macardé https://insignificantattempt.blogspot.com/2016/03/whatis-suprematism-jean-claudemarcade.html) – the most productive course is to think about what rules our world in 2018: The Law of Materialist Expediency – and which, in art, translates back into “Constructivism.”
Malevich ends with the lines: “Constructivism is not international, because there is an idea. Like a worldview.”
With the term “international” Malevich means “universal” – that is, what applies to all humans equally – in the sense that all construct or make things (including art) – but all do not always have the same Idea about accomplishing this constructing or making (an extremely small minority tending to be artists and having almost no Idea whatsoever; an overwhelming majority tending to be non-artists and having almost nothing outside an Idea). “Constructoring”, therefore, is Malevich’s way of distinguishing a non-international (non-universal) Idea / ideology which belongs only to Constructivism as dictated by The Law of Materialist Expediency – and practiced by an elite exclusively composed of “engineer-constructors”.
Thus, the worldview of Constructivism is also not international in the same sense that Hitler’s worldview was not international; to the contrary, Hitler’s worldview amounted to nothing outside an Idea / ideology of death, destruction, and domination. Of course, Hitler’s worldview uncoincidentally corresponds to exactly what the worldview of global capitalism amounts to in 2018 … again, not in the least international or universal owing to the fact that it – exactly as Hitler’s worldview – is carried out by an elite possessing very large amounts of every imaginable kind of capital (vast militaries, powerful banks and monopolies, propaganda industries, etc.).
In the same way, Malevich’s “constructoring” also defines the Western World dominated “art world” of the present; and one can scroll through the below article from an online art rag for an overall sense of how this world appears titled, “Do You Have to Be Rich to Make It as an Artist?”: https://news.artnet.com/market/do-you-have-to-be-rich-to-succeed-as-an-artist-403166
Looking at the artists and their productions in the above article, one easily notices that they all differ widely on the surface from one another (while the actual topic of “Do You Have to Be Rich to Make It as an Artist?” will be addressed below) .
What stands out in the above article, however, is that almost all of the artists – together with their productions – are united by one common element: they all make their works after a reinvented (updated), Idea / object-dominated, 21st century version of the ideology of Constructivism: The Law of Materialist Expediency as practiced by a “new improved” reincarnation of Malevich’s “engineer-constructor”.
According to Jean-Claude Macardé, the early 20th century art movement known as Constructivism, “… aims to employ the material as foundation, it involves the cult of the object. For Constructivism, ‘the object is work of art and the work of art is object’. It is firmly based on a materialistic and utilitarian philosophy. Its aim is the functional organisation of life under all its aspects. The easel-painter must give way to the artist-engineer, to the productivist, the painting to the ‘shaping’ (oformlenie) of life.” (From: “What is Suprematism?”)
Malevich writes that, “Constructivism can be the ideology of inventions” – i.e., such as the invention of expedient objects for utilitarian use. In 2018, however, this invention takes the significantly new form of reinventing (updating) oneself as a “producer of art” under global capitalism. The latter process of reinventing oneself is quite literally what Frank Stella – one of the oldest “art producers” mentioned in the above article – has been doing since the 1960’s; and it’s exactly for this process of self-reinvention (from the beginning of his “art-career” all the way to the present) that Stella is highly praised and admired, making it no exaggeration to say that Stella would not have become Stella without it.
It is also not exactly surprising for this writer that Malevich has long ago made a specific note of Frank Stella’s “artist-type” (and some years before Stella was born). But before going further with Malevich’s artist Category A⁴, here is an account of an experience I had in 2001:
Around the middle of September 2001, I happened to tune into a German “cultural news” program on a German friend’s TV (the last time I owned a TV being so long ago that I’ve completely forgotten when it was).
But as luck would have it, none other than Frank Stella was being interviewed on this program prior to the opening of his exhibition “Heinrich von Kleist by Frank Stella” scheduled to take place in Jena (where Stella had already been awarded an honorary doctor’s degree in 1998); an exhibition also slated to appear in Hildesheim, Stuttgart, and Berlin. This was an exhibition of Stella’s new sculptural wall reliefs “inspired” by the work of the German writer Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811) … a prominent, very special cultural event which the German cultural establishment was obviously quite pleased with (especially considering the fact that Kleist was an important German Romantic writer who virtually no one in America has ever heard of let alone read … OK, I’d read Kleist years before but then I’m not exactly what one would call a famous American former Minimalist). The works in this exhibition were executed between 1988 and 2000 (in 1989, I was already in the process of leaving America).
But this was not, as I soon realized, the average cultural interview / info program, but actually a celebration / enactment of German / American (Kinder) friendship in which the charming granddaughter of Stella happily frolicked from gallery room to gallery room together with the charming daughter of the gallery director in some sort of “let’s play together for the camera” pantomime as the soundtrack of Stella’s occasional statements mixed with those of the program moderator in the background. (And all of this went on for some time; and it was all very lightheartedly cute, “creative” and spontaneous appearing but likely meticulously planned down to the last second of film.)
Somehow, though, this gemütlich-cozy cultural presentation never got around to mentioning that Stella’s new works were far from being his first involvement with “German culture” https://www.wikiart.org/en/frank-stella/die-fahne-hoch-1959 … but this omission might have been due to the fact that Stella’s deliberately provocative use of the title for the infamous Nazi marching anthem Die Fahne Hoch! (“The Flag on High!”) for his famous 1959 painting of the same name is also the title of an extremely sinister, evil-sounding song (especially when one hears it performed in its original Telefunken 78 rpm recording); and which is officially banned from being performed in Germany … not to mention the additional fact that Die Fahne Hoch! is only one in a series of paintings from Stella making direct references to Nazism including Arbeit macht Frei (“Work makes [you] free”, the slogan over the entrance to Auschwitz; see again: Anna C. Chave’s highly important essay “Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power” http://annachave.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Minimalism.pdf).
Otherwise, (outside of the charming girls doing their thing for the camera) the interview more or less progressed as such interviews normally do until it reached an unexpected climax with a smiling statement from Stella as he looked directly into the camera (and which almost caused me to fall from my chair):
“The only thing which has happened in art [since the end of World War II] is Abstract Expressionism.”
After giving up all hope of ever having the opportunity of exhibiting my paintings in America (which in fact never happened) – i.e., paintings which always appeared to American gallerists and assorted self-styled American “art experts” alike as a bit too “Abstract Expressionist-inspired” to warrant a show (i.e., a dollar sign) – I’d immigrated to Germany in 1990. Now, in 2001, Abstract Expressionism (within which I’d always been during my time in America indescriminately – and falsely – pigeonholed) was suddenly “in” again after 40 years of being totally “out.” The period in America since the 1960’s when anything resembling the expressive (read: “Romantic”) “gesturalism” of so-called Abstract Expressionism had been anathema and amounted to the critical “kiss of death” if one undertook it … all of this was instantly forgotten as though it had never happened. What had been abandoned in the wake of Minimalism was now made fully legitimate and kosher again … illuminated by the shining light of success from one of the most hard-core, die-hard, nihilistic, vociferously “anti-abstract-expressionist” Minimalists of them all (but one in the meantime living the life of an apparently perfectly harmless grandpa possessing an utterly charming granddaughter, etc.).
“Genius is only seen in those who are successful” reads an 1896 quote from the American art magazine Art Amateur. As before, the fact that success remains the only legitimation in art – the ultimate proof of quality – was being suppressed on both sides of the Atlantic (and in a number of other places as well).
Stella has distinguished himself with what is essentially a reinvented (formerly called “postmodern”) form of eclecticism. If one considers Stella’s entire development, it becomes clear that Stella has, over the length of his career, successively combined most (if not all) of the “art currents” of what was once known as “Modernism” into what might be called the single “work” which comprises his total output. In other words, what we are dealing with in Stella’s whole output amounts to a thorough reinvention (restatement) of the concept of the “eclectic work” in which we are no longer confronted by a single work with eclectic parts; but rather an entire eclectic body of works characterized by contradictory directions which effectively cancel one another out in the most nihilistic sense imaginable.
What I’m describing is an exact parallel with what happens in a “revolutionary age” such as ours as opposed to a passionate age of revolt / rebellion as described by Kierkegaard in his 1846 essay “The Present Age” (which I’ve quoted before but bears quoting again) … an age practically identical to our present moment in time which allows everything to stand, but on the single condition that nothing any longer has any significance. This, in a nutshell, is what Frank Stella (along with the rest of the Minimalists) has been primarily occupied with no matter what outward form his work (or that of the other Minimalists) has taken. In short, all of existence has become (has been reduced to) the absurd; has succumbed to the ultimate abstract reduction to the “spiritually minimal”… a situation in which no one should be surprised when things like “international law” along with morality itself disappear exactly as though they had never existed to begin with.
When humans can no longer find their way out of this kind of absurdity is the moment in which what Thomas Merton calls “The Unspeakable” indeed has the last word; while the only true revolt would amount to going against our own nature as beings exclusively governed by ease, convenience and security as opposed to fleeing backward into the mythical simplicities and Expedient Materialist Solutions which have originally brought us throughout the past centuries to exactly where we find ourselves now (so, ON WITH THE REVOLUTION! – the surest historically-proven way to go in complete reverse … or what else did Malevich mean when he wrote that technology is still trying to fight its way through an open door?).
“A passionate, tumultuous age will overthrow everything, pull everything down; but a revolutionary age, that is at the same time reflective and passionless, transforms that expression of strength into a feat of dialectics: it leaves everything standing but cunningly empties it of significance. Instead of culminating in a rebellion it reduces the inward reality of all relationships to a reflective tension which makes the whole of life ambiguous: so that everything continues to exist factually whilst by a dialectical deceit, privatissime, it supplies a secret interpretation – that it does not exist.”
(From: Søren Kierkegaard, “The Present Age”; Harper, 1962; translated by Alexander Dru, pp. 42-43.)
In the below passage from Anna C. Chave’s “Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power”, the author speaks about Stella’s “unstable symbolic space” which ends with “an unrelievedly negativistic statement.” In other words, what we have with Stella (as well as with Minimalism itself) is a capitulation to Kierkegaard’s “whole of life made ambiguous”; the absurd; the ultimate dead-end of the spirit characterizing our present moment in the absence of passionate revolt / rebellion:
“Though Stella insisted about his pictures that ‘What you see is what you see,’ and that ‘The title seems to me the way the painting looks,’ his titles function to undermine such baldly positivistic statements and to situate the work instead in an unstable symbolic space. Broadly speaking, what the elliptical relations between Stella’s paintings and his titles point to is the treacherous slipperiness and the multivalence of words and signs, including their private versus their public meanings (and the politics of the Cold War may have helped sensitize him to that shiftiness). In their insistence on the fraudulence or bankruptcy of existing systems of producing meaning, and their very absoluteness, Stella’s paintings make an unrelievedly negativistic statement. Here we find art on the brink of not being art, blacked-out paintings identified with Nazi slogans.”
At the very end of Malevich’s list of artist / painter-type descriptions found in the first part of The World as Objectlessness, we come to artist Category A⁴:
“The most dangerous category is A⁴, the eclectic, it always mixes up a series of fragments and elements into a whole, it wants to build a work out of a series of contradictory systems, it wants to coordinate incompatible elements, and in political terms, this form would be called ‘conformist.’ ”
(From: Kazimir Malevich: “Introduction to the Theory of the Additional Element in Painting” from: The World as Objectlessness; Kunstmuseum Basil; Hatje Kantz, 2014; p. 177.)
In what is also an exact parallel – but this time to what Malevich writes above about artist Category A⁴ – the productions of most of the artists appearing in the article, “Do You Have to Be Rich to Make It as an Artist?” comprise the differing parts of our eclectic cultural system of mass / popular art (i.e., those art productions belonging to our system’s “high-cultural” elite branch). Therefore, these artists along with their works (i.e., along with all “successful” artists within our completely closed cultural system) may be seen as both functioning as – and comprising the differing parts of – a whole culture exclusively based on eclectic principles of construction.
And here comes yet another exact parallel:
Approximately thirty years after Malevich’s artist Category A⁴ was located, the Soviet dissident writer Andrei Sinyavsky (pseud. Abram Tertz) wrote the following lines in his brilliant 1959 published essay “On Socialist Realism”; one of present writer’s favorite writings by anyone who ever wrote anything:
“Art is not afraid of dictatorship, severity, repressions, or even conservatism and clichés. When necessary, art can be narrowly religious, dumbly governmental, devoid of originality – and yet good. We go into aesthetic raptures over the stereotypes of Egyptian art, Russian icons and folklore. Art is elastic to fit into any bed of Procrustes that history presents to it. But there is one thing that art cannot stand: eclecticism.
Our misfortune is that we are convinced socialist realists but not convinced enough. Submitting to its cruel rules, we are yet afraid to follow to the end of the road that we ourselves have chosen. No doubt, if we were less educated, it would be easier for us to attain the integrity that is indispensable to a writer. But we went to school, read all kinds of books, and learned only too well that there were great writers before us – Balzac, Maupassant, Tolstoi, and, yes, what’s his name? – Chekhov. This is what has undone us. We wanted to become famous and write like Chekhov. This unnatural liason produced monsters.
It is impossible, without falling into parody, to produce a positive hero in the style of full socialist realism and yet make him into a psychological portrait. In this way, we will get neither psychology nor hero. Mayakovski knew this and, hating psychological analysis and details, wrote in proportions that were larger than life. He wrote coarsely, poster-style, Homerically. He avoided like a plague descriptions of common life and rural nature. He broke with ‘the great traditions of great Russian literature’ and, though he loved Pushkin and Chekhov, he did not try to imitate them. All this helped Mayakovski to lift himself to the level of his epoch and to express its spirit fully and clearly, without alien admixtures.
But the writing of so many other writers is in a critical state right now precisely because, in spite of the classicist nature of our art, they still consider it realism. They do it because they base their judgements on the literary criticism of the nineteenth century, which is the furthest away from us and the most foreign to us. Instead of following the road of conventional forms, pure fantasy, and imagination which the great religious cultures took, they try to compromise. They lie, they maneuver, and they try to combine the uncombinable: the positive hero (who logically tends toward the pattern, the allegory) and the psychological analysis of character; elevated style and declamation with and prosaic descriptions of ordinary life; a high ideal with truthful representation of life.
The result is a loathsome literary salad. The characters torment themselves though not quite as Dostoevski’s do, are mournful but not quite like Chekhov’s, found their happy families which are not quite like Tolstoi’s, and suddenly becoming aware of the time they are living in, scream at the reader copybook slogans which they read in Soviet newspapers, like ‘Long live world peace!’ or ‘Down with the warmongers!’ This is neither classicism nor realism. It is a half-classicist, half-art, which is none too socialist and not at all realistic.”
(From: Abram Tertz [pseudonym of Andrei Sinyavsky], “On Socialist Realism”, 1959 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Sinyavsky; download this essay here: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/wpcontent/files_mf/1410896620On_Socialist_Realism_Winter_1960.pdf)
The above remarks are intended as a provisional sketch for the entire aesthetic system of the Free World – ultimately, a system which has been conceived with the aid of an inverted notion of “freedom”: a never-ending reinvention (restatement) of a “Modernism” consecrated by the “Church of the New” in the profoundly opportunistic spirit of Stella combined with Sinyavsky’s “loathsome literary salad” together with the all-encompassing, mind-numbing insanity of Hitler’s “Total Art Work” … an all-inclusive cultural / aesthetic worldview based on compromise, conflict and contradiction whose single goal (by means of compromise, conflict and contradiction) is the deathless perpetuation of the Social Totality of the so-called Free World itself – material-reality-as-it-is-and-nothing-else; and in which the “Total Art Work” furnishes the exclusively photo-representational image of the Culture of Totality itself (dis)played back to us in a never-ending teleological loop … the endlessly varied forms of “always-the-same.” (Malevich: “… there is an idea. Like a worldview.” = a photo-representational image.)
Engulfed by the forest of the Western World-dominated “art world” together with the world of mass / popular culture, it is possible to remain unaware of what should otherwise be rather obvious. For example, it is a relatively simple matter to unmask the subject of “Do You Have to Be Rich to Make It as an Artist?”, from news.artnet.com, i.e., the overall social economic structure within which the still-active artists mentioned in this article exist and work; and which, in turn, reflects “the differing social / economic backgrounds” of these artists – from poor to very well-off.
But in reality, the subject of “Do You Have to Be Rich to Make It as an Artist?” is a complete red herring from the start.
This is due to the simple fact that it no longer matters in the least – or to begin with – whether one, as an artist, comes from a “rich family with lots of connections” or a “not-so-rich family with not so many connections”; and, in addition, it ALSO ultimately does not matter what kind of art one makes or does not make as an artist; whatever it’s called or consists of – and least of all whether one’s art has any intrinsic merit as art or not. The ONLY thing which now matters is whether one is SUCCESSFUL or not within the system while never once leaving the system, or in any way affecting or changing it – making the system, on the one hand, into something ONLY to be walked away from; or, on the other hand, ONLY to be thrown on the garbage heap of history.
In plain, everyday language: it’s all the same ball game under the roof of global capitalism – making the above article into a barely disguised attempt at projecting the illusion of some kind of image-building “progressive social / economic concerns” on the part of news.artnet.com (and for which we can really be thankful without having to give anything a second thought).
All of this leads directly into the way in which the present Western World-dominated worlds of “art” and mass / popular culture operate: the process of “constructoring” according to The Law of Materialist Expediency under a non-international / non-universal system governed by whatever is materially expedient to produce within an impermanent social economic structure, i.e., global capitalism, 2018 – and exclusively carried out, as already mentioned, by an elite corps of “art producers.”
This means: whatever it is possible to produce under the prevailing conditions of material-reality-as-it-is-and-nothing-else serves the short-term goals of things such as “art career building”; “cultural goods” which can be used, in turn, to justify producing yet more expedient, entirely temporary art career-promoting “cultural products” … all the while keeping the whole circular system going for all eternity until everyone either drops dead of boredom – or something far worse happens such as an all-out “renaissance” of global capitalist culture to celebrate the final triumph of what Fredric Jameson described in 1991:
“What has happened is that aesthetic production today has been integrated into commodity production generally: the frantic economic urgency of producing fresh waves of ever more novel-seeming goods (from clothing to airplanes), at ever greater rates of turnover, now assigns an increasingly essential structural function and position to aesthetic innovation and experimentation. Such economic necessities then find recognition in the varied kinds of institutional support available for the newer art, from foundations and grants to museums and other forms of patronage. … Yet this is the point at which I have to remind the reader of the obvious: namely, that this whole global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world: in this sense, as throughout class history, the underside of culture is blood, torture, death and terror.” (From Fredric Jameson: Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism; Durham: Duke University Press, 2001; pp. 4-5; For a complete download of Jameson’s book: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/currentstudents/undergraduate/modules/fulllist/second/en229/jameson_postmodernism.pdf )
Therefore, everything in both the Western World-dominated “art world” and the world of mass / popular culture remains: (1) completely “different” after the principle of producing everything in the image of one’s (pseudo-individual) “fingerprint brand name.” (2) exactly the same in that everything simultaneously embraces exactly the same primary law: The Law of Materialist Expediency; an entire culture based exclusively upon eclectic principles of construction.
Consequently, the “artistic credo” of the still-active artists mentioned in the above article from news.artnet.com can be formulated as the following: “I do my thing in the art world of the present; therefore, I exist as an artist.” … because if one doesn’t do one’s thing in the “art world” of the present, this amounts to never having been born in the first place.
And it is here that both the Western World-dominated “art world” of the present under global capitalism, 2018 – together with the Western World-dominated world of mass / popular culture – should begin to strongly resemble the circular, teleologically closed cultural / aesthetic system which existed under Hitler’s Third Reich (or under the equally teleologically closed cultural / aesthetic system of Soviet Socialist Realism) … that is, if they already didn’t begin to do so.
In summary: the productions of the current Western World-dominated “art world” should be seen as an elitist variety of mass / popular culture.
As Malevich has written: “Form can only be in Art, for a work is a formation of elements into an indestructible connection, a permanent one. … The artist raises the question of form, the engineer-constructor – of expediency.”
This passage illuminates why the productions of the present Western World-dominated “art world” – as an academic / elitist variety of mass / popular culture – can only amount to products of impermanence.
In a still further sense, the above passage from Malevich reveals that the products of the Western World-dominated “art world” of the present can also be seen, together with those of mass / popular culture, as representing complimentary varieties of formless impermanence.
On the one side – the academic / elitist; on the other – what most people like (which is good so, because it’s good when one can like what one actually has no choice about – and is going to get in any event).
From their earliest historical beginnings, the products of human culture have always possessed a prophetic element – which only means that they possess the initial seeds from which much larger phenomena inevitably grow.
The larger phenomena which now surround us have long ago been accurately described as comprising “the absurd.” For this reason, perhaps one of the most productive attitudes we can adopt under present conditions is to be achieved by keeping the words of Albert Camus in mind from an interview in which he begins by saying, “No, I am not an existentialist”, and then goes on to point out that his book, The Myth of Sisyphus, “was directed against the so-called existentialist philosophers”:
“Accepting the absurdity of everything around us is one step, a necessary experience: it should not become a dead end. It arouses a revolt that can become fruitful. An analysis of the idea of revolt could help us to discover ideas capable of restoring a relative meaning to existence, although a meaning that would always be in danger.”
(From: “An interview with Jeanine Delpech”, in Les Nouvelles littéraires, November 15, 1945; from Lyrical and Critical Essays, Alfred A. Knopf, 1967; p. 346.)