[iDC] Re: Art

saul ostrow sostrow at gate.cia.edu
Mon Dec 12 22:35:15 EST 2005

The new terms and conditions of industrial production guided by the 
ideology of the bourgeoisie define the complimentary goals of (social) 
freedom and (upward) mobility based on an individual’s ability and 
determination. This modern Subject so defined, represents an inherently 
conflicted singularity; on one hand self- involved on the other 
committed to self-improvement. The resolution of this contradiction it 
has been suggested is in the belief that if the economic sphere turns 
us into animals, the cultural sphere’s task is to be the testing ground 
for those idealized practices intended to resolve this conflict.  
Within this model, critical as opposed to common culture functions 
socially as a form of material and conceptual interface, between 
differing categories of knowledge and contexts. Envisioned as a 
constructive force, these are promoted as factors in the evolution of 
what has come to appear to be the uncontrollable variables within the 
human equation. Consequently, since the Enlightenment this vision has 
compelled a belief in interpreting Arts' social objective as a means to 
effect consciousness and indirectly conscience and therefore a 
significant aspect of a Progressive struggle against false 
consciousness.  It is this belief that came to emphasize Art and Kultur 
as a field of engagement capable of inducing forms of self-reflexivity, 
doubt and self-criticality.

Critical culture continues to be represented one of the only area of 
social production in which the emerging corporate ideology is willing 
to tolerate the implementation of its stated ideals of individualism 
and innovation, without having to extract monetary profits through mass 
distribution. In practical terms, we are lead to conceive of 'Culture' 
as a self-possessed sign of an immaterial (ideological/ conceptual) 
institution, whose goals as defined in idealistic rather than realistic 
terms by our society. As such, culture to accomplish this task is to be 
autonomous, personal the product of an individual consciousness. 
Culture’s currency is our dis-satisfaction with the status quo and a 
desire for change rather than distraction, comfort or despair.  This is 
because either self-consciously critical or blatantly conventional, 
culture is never autonomous of its social base because its maker is 
not.  Commerce and discourse form famous umbilical cord of gold that 
Clement Greenberg refers to in Avant-Garde and Kitsch, while the 
humanist project of consciousness and emancipation forms the foundation 
for critical culture.  Consequently, culture is circumscribed by the 
political consideration of conscience and the practical ones of 
exchange. The heroes of the epic struggle for our awareness and 
emancipation therefore come to be the intellectuals, who continue to 
negotiate the conventions of their own practices and the limitations of 
their forms.  Though the effect of such challenges appears to be 
meaningless and impractical to the general populace we continue to 
believe that such critical practices can effectively challenge the 
legitimacy of Capital's power to transform anything and everything into 
a merely a sign by exposing its most venal nature.

Saul Ostrow
Visual Arts and Technologies Environment
Chair of Painting
The Cleveland Institute of Art
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