This collection is part of the new Routledge ‘Advances in Art and Visual Studies’ series. As such it brings together philosophers, art educators, practising artists, practising collaborative artists, art historians, semioticians, media and communications specialists, and a novelist and short story writer who also describes himself as an art writer. The field of art history and aesthetics has broadened to include visual culture as that embraces social and political considerations of art practice. The collection, therefore, exhibits a wider perspective than might usually be represented by a collection on aesthetics. This reviewer, at least, finds it a welcome development in the study of visual art. The editors—Bacharach is a philosopher, Booth and Fjærestad are artists—introduce the collection with a bold claim to the effect that past collaboration was a matter of expediency; and that the new collaborations we are seeing in the twenty-first century are [no] longer a means to an end, and [they] are not necessarily influenced by political or philosophical convictions or status quo, the choice to collaborate is a deliberate artistic choice. Collaboration, in other words, is now part of the medium of art-making, an artistic end in itself. (1–2) This places a great deal of pressure on the philosophical essays to come up with a way of explaining how this newly invented medium or this emergent medium connects with our conception of art (and its established media) more traditionally conceived. The proclaimed fact that the new collaboration is not necessarily influenced by ‘philosophical convictions or status quo’ does not absolve the philosopher from searching out its foundations. One pertinent feature of this new work is that its home is in the art studio programmes of universities and in the galleries and other spaces and platforms that accommodate the visual arts. As the editors point out, development in technology means that some of these platforms and some of the collaborations exist in virtual space, as strings of html rather than as pieces of traditionally crafted paint and canvas or marble or bronze. Nevertheless, it is surely true to think of these works as residing within the realm of the art school and its associated vehicles of exhibition, distribution and dissemination, rather than in the conservatoire, the theatre, or in the spaces of literature—books, pamphlets and readings. To be sure, there are collaborations between artists and musicians, artists and theatre (Picasso’s sets for opera come to mind); artists and writers; but these tend to be more or less agglomerations of individual artists rather than collaborations in the sense implied by the thinkers represented here. Collaboration, here, means making art in a social space that includes at least other artists, thereby excluding the authority of any one artist as a singular subjective voice. The chapters comprising the first of the three sections address the development of new technologies and their accommodation of collaborative work. To be sure, visual artists can now leave the studio to inhabit cyberspace, a virtual world in which collaborators can work from remote stations upon the same work and where the same work can be instantiated across continents. Certainly the media and communications theorists are likely to have a view on art that is influenced by, and is a development of, television transmission, which provided us with, for example, international sports events—world cups, Olympic games, grand slam tennis tournaments and live test matches. Harness these developed technologies to the creative talents of artists and we have new spaces to add to the visual arts environment. What can artists achieve in such a new world? Gemma Argüello and Sondra Bacharach provide us with examples of social spaces that can be accessed across the net, putting the experiences of viewers of street art in touch with others, wherever they may be. And so the inhabitation and democratic sharing of art spaces is accessible to both practitioners and viewers to modify, add to and converse. These are preliminary answers to the question raised but we should watch this space (wherever it is). Two papers in the second section are specifically alive to the implicit rebuttal of the notion of the artist as a lone genius. Tim Corballis reminds us that [t]he theoretical commonplace that rejects subjective autonomy and closure is simultaneous with any number of similar moves within art’s own theorizing, for which the genius artist and the created work are long gone. (77) Corballis helps himself to this rejection, citing the numerous ‘similar moves’ that together sustain it. After all, in the world of subjectivity (singular but agglomerated), the democracy of art and its attendant theorizing might be thought to secure the thesis advanced. In military terms, the bigger the army and the more attractive the land occupied, the more likely that ground can be held. Corballis then launches into a description of the collaborative practice that he shares with Fiona Amundsen, a photographer trained as an anthropologist. Whilst he does not want to adhere to the view of them as two subjectivities merely added together, however complementary their work might be, he does not want the work to conform to another suggested model of collaboration – one that is derived from a theoretically informed understanding of partial or open subjectivities and their mutual constitution and interplay—[for that model] is simply uninteresting, describing as it does all activity. (78) It is hard to see where to go from this. One of the motivations for much contemporary art, the turning away from the artist as genius, is the outward looking social aspect of collaborative art production. When Corballis cites the task facing the collaborators as ‘the impossibility of collaboration itself’, it looks as if the claim that their practice ‘differs from “positive” models: rather than simply “working together”, it contains an important element of “working apart”’, amounts to something of a retreat (78). This second section is entitled ‘Collaboration and the Identity Crisis’. It is clear that there are theoretical problems that the artists themselves feel the need to face. It is interesting to read how they approach this and where the stresses and accents are in the thought that involves them. Perhaps more philosophically inclined and historically rooted is the chapter by K. E. Glover. Glover defends Kant’s notion of genius against the collaborative detractors, claiming that Kant was more pragmatic in his conception of genius; and that genius is compatible with immersion in the history of the practice by the artist. There are echoes of T. S. Eliot’s, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ in Glover’s insistence that a work of art, that of the now despised genius, relies upon, both for its production and for its reception, an entire world of works against which his work has to be seen; and that this complex seeing is informed by, and gives character to, the present work.1 Kant grants that works of music, theatre and architecture are all fine arts. So, on the collectivists’ view, either Kant is mistaken to count these arts as admitting genius or he has to claim that music, theatre and architecture are indeed the results of a solitary genius. Corballis takes the view that, ideologically, we are pressured into thinking of cinema and architecture, ‘collaborative practices par excellence’, as ‘the appearance of autonomous genii, big name architects and auteur directors fully responsible for the individual styles of “their” creations’ (77). The artist as genius survives even in these rather difficult cases for the view. And the view that the artist is a solitary genius is the view that has to be defeated if collaboration is to have the prominence claimed for it by contemporary artists and their supporting theories. We are manipulated into the denial of cinema as a collaborative art. A cinematic work is the work of a director. David Mamet praises actors who perform to his strict instruction. Actors are not artists any more than colours are artists as they appear in paintings. (Imagine the drama class: ‘Jones, be blue.’ At once Jones goes all mood indigo. ‘Now yellow.’ Sunshine and gleaming white, veneered, pretend smile.) The problem is that the role of the artist as a lone subjectivity roaming the world expressing his singular view is not as pervasive as Corballis would have us believe. Glover’s chapter is a welcome antidote, a laxative to the bind of this over-egging. Katerina Reed Tsocha makes a highly original third contribution to this section by lining up collaboration as a means of resistance to art school bureaucracy and arguing for collaboration in terms of friendship. She looks at the short-lived proposal of her final year art students. They had decided to make twenty-seven indiscernible portfolios and have twenty-seven painted wooden stars, one each for the student number to be examined. The stars ironically reference the Hollywood star system and mock the fine art star system, whilst rendering the examination process irrelevant and thereby challenging the role of the art school in the wider commercial world of art institutions—galleries, state sponsorship, collectors, and critics. The final exhibition was to be entitled ‘Doing the best we can.’ Reed Toscha worked in conversation with the students in trying to account for the collective project and its failure; and so the essay is itself collaborative and in no small part revives the original project, at least in terms of presenting a case. What does friendship cost one? Moreover, in the context of art making, what could be seen as mutual benefit? Reed Tsocha recruits Aristotle to her version of friendship and characterizes it in terms derived from both the Nichomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics. On his account, friendship is life-enhancing and leads to shared happiness, which entails a rational capacity for jointly promoting common ends as well as the capacity to identify with and co-ordinate separate ends according to a theory of friendship that retains the idea of separateness of individuals within a concept of shared life. (109) It is the idea of the separateness of individuals within a conception of friendship that encourages and supports each individual within the collective. It is no barrier to a developed shared collective identity that it should be comprised of individuals with separate ends. Reed Tsocha ends on a measured yet uplifting beat: Unqualified theoretical attacks on intentionally exaggerated notions of individuality are misleading in this respect. Refining our conception of collective activity in each case, devising a plan of action that is capable of doing justice to the intellectual potential of collectivized individuals, seems to be one of the biggest challenges involved in the process of collectivization. ‘Doing the best we can’ may sound simplistic. But in its earnest benevolence and good will, it opens up a whole range of possibilities, all worth exploring, within an imaginative understanding of the reciprocity of friendship. (110–111) In the third and final section of the book, ‘Rethinking Collaborations’, we are introduced to specific collaborations in twenty-first century art. Here the emphasis is away from the theoretical perusal of collective as an intellectual exercise and into the intellectualized practice of contemporary collaborative art. In Sherri Irvin’s chapter, ‘Wedge’, we are given an in depth account of a collaborative performance piece by dancer Jill Sigman of jill sigman/thinkdance and Janine Antoni, a visual artist. ‘Wedge’ is the performance piece and Irvin gives a history of the collaboration, a description of the performance, themes developed during the performance, collaborative challenges the piece foregrounds, and then ends by essaying the fruits to be harvested by collaboration. The performance, at the Albright-Knox Gallery, involved the two collaborators. The piece comprises ‘awkward movements’, costumes designed by the collaboration, and sets of action that unwinds strands of narrative of various sorts. With Reed Tsocha’s chapter digested it is affirming to read of the benefits to be found here in Irvin’s account. ‘[T]he role of non-consensus deeply implicates relationships: it involves ongoing renegotiation of membership in the group vis-à-vis individual identity’ (177). This constant renegotiation, we might now reflect, is that constant renewal to be found in friendship. Collaboration, I have learned, need not require the demonization of the individual; even though it sets itself against individualism. There are benefits in working collaboratively and thereby recognizing one’s individuality as an equal presence amongst others; and an art of friendship and friendships is being made available by these new collaborative enduring negotiations. It is an interesting collection; and the range of collaborative contemporary art perused is impressive. Footnotes 1 T. S. Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent (1919)’ in Frank Kermode (ed.), Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot (San Diego: Harvest Books of Harcourt, 1975), 37–44 © British Society of Aesthetics 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The British Journal of Aesthetics – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 17, 2018
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