Friday, 29 August 2014

Reading Group - Lewis Camnitzer - 19th Aug 2014

Art Academy members Dorothy Massey and Jenny Walden have responded to our recent reading group - 'On the Moral Imperative in Contemporary Art' by Lewis Camnitze:

I would like to thank Jenny for that very important article on Moral/Ethics and Contemporary art by Luis Camnitzer.

Here are the ideas I got from it.

Art is not Ethical only artist are.

Some art is produced to transform artist into commercial and self profiting icons, rather than to create icons to serve cultural enrichment.

If we really want to deal with Ethics in art we will have to anchor all the questions of the art making process: WHAT? WHY? and for WHOM? with a later HOW? On a solid Ethical foundation.

The creation of a strong common ethical ground seems to be more urgent than the development of new packaging codes.

Our work with the unknown makes us researchers, not magicians.

The mystification may sell well but it is unbecoming.

I believe Ethics in art should be taken very seriously as it is in.

Medicine at local and international level. I suggest a week of conferences with people within different areas of art.

Thank you Claire and Maurice to make things happened.

Dorothy Massey.

The idea of the Moral Imperative in Contemporary Art Luis Camnitzer [1]

AA Reading Group 19th August 2014

Moral: relating to the standards of good or bad behaviour, fairness, honesty, etc. that each person believes in, rather than to laws

Ethical: morally right

The idea of the Moral Imperative in Contemporary Art is a written record of the talk given by Luis Camnitzer as part of a panel at the College Art Association meeting in San Francisco in 1989. It is provocative piece as it is laying certain things on the line in terms of art and ethics.

It is perhaps pertinent that Camnitzer’s talk was the year after Damian Hirst, as student at Goldsmith’s organised the Freeze exhibition out of which Hirst and others sold work to Charles Saatchi and the YBAs were ‘born’. It was also at a time when ‘Postmodernism’ was becoming the key topic within art college discourse.

We discussed this in the reading group as part of our key consideration of some challenging aspects from Camnitzer. What he lays on the line is a question of the honesty of art and artists.

Camnitzer suggests that artists are less honest than advertisers in that the artist does manipulate the audience but the artist avoids confronting their own manipulating, because the aesthetics of the work is shrouded in more ‘exclusive’ understanding of and even ‘the mystique’ of composition.

We discussed this difference being made between ethics and aesthetics and the question was raised as to why art might being held to account here, as many forms of work, of social interaction etc. can be seen to involve or come up against compromise. Camnitzer seems to suggest art’s own claims to matter and mean or do something or be distinct (my interpretation here) put such demands upon it. This is compounded then by a propensity to call upon the ‘aesthetic’ to absolve art from further explanation. Morry did remind us of Picasso’s statement that ‘art is the lie that reveals the truth’. (A further topic for the reading group perhaps)

The group discussed this and we debated whether Camnitzer was tough on art and artists here. We talked about work which is immediately compelling and I think we were talking about something having an honesty in and off itself, which is not easily open to explanation.

From Camnitzer, we then identified three ways in which the artist may be dealing with the issues for art, as the question of making art is played out across: ‘what, why, for whom’ and ‘how’?

These ways are: art as: for society; for profit; for self-therapy.

All three may be present in any one motivation to make and the making of art. We talked about artists who may appear to be more evidently driven by a profit motive and ‘make work to sell’ and we talked about the difference, or not, between this in a ‘large sense’ of the ‘celebrity artist’ and the everyday sense of making some sort of living out of one’s work. We talked about the guilt that might accompany making “things that sell”. There might also be a worry that the aesthetic appeal outweighs the ethical intention and ‘empties’ the ‘meaning’ of the work.

Perhaps we’re back where we came in…

We look forward to the next reading group…

Jenny Walden 

[1] Luis Camnitzer (b.1937) is a German-born Uruguayan artist and writer who moved to New York in 1964. He was at the vanguard of 1960s Conceptualism, working primarily in printmaking, sculpture, and installations. Camnitzer’s artwork explores subjects such as social injustice, repression, and institutional critique. His humorous, biting, and often politically charged use of language as art medium has distinguished his practice for over four decades… Though Camnitzer has never left New York, his practice remains intrinsically connected to his homeland and the whole of Latin America. This consistent dedication cements his place as a key figure in shaping debates around ideas of post-Colonialism, Conceptualism, and pedagogy. See 

[2] Freeze is the title of an art exhibition that took place in July 1988 in an empty London Port Authority building at Surrey Docks Its main organiser was Damien Hirst. It was significant in the subsequent development of the Young British Artists. The YBAs gained greater fame/notoriety in 1997 when Saatchi had the Sensation Exhibition: SENSATION: YOUNG BRITISH ARTISTS FROM THE SAATCHI GALLERY THE ROYAL ACADEMY, LONDON