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Manual Art Criticism and the Formalist Approach (Cv/Visual Arts Research Book 162)

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They reject the views that works accurately reflect the author's life or that the author's life must be understood in order to understand a particular work. They conclude that "it seems dangerous to ascribe to [biography] any real critical importance", and that such approaches, if undertaken at all, should be done with a "sense" of the distinctions outlined above. Wellek and Warren consider analysis of characters the only legitimate application of psychological analysis in literary study.

Such an analysis, however, they find lacking on its own merits: Works which are true to certain psychological theories, meanwhile, are not necessarily better. Thus, they question the value of looking for psychological "truth" in how a work is presented. Wellek and Warren write that literature is ultimately a social institution as several aspects of it are created or influenced through social conventions and norms.

They reject a more specific understanding of social realities in literature. Wellek and Warren note arguments that literature is a form of philosophy or, alternatively, that it is devoid of such ideas. They reject extreme versions of these arguments. They write that "a knowledge of the history of philosophy and of general ideas" will be valuable for a researcher.

Instead, they agree with the German scholar Rudolf Unger that "literature expresses a general attitude toward life, that poets usually answer, unsystematically, questions which are also themes of philosophy", in a manner that differs over time. Wellek and Warren write that the relationship between literature and other forms of art, such as architecture , sculpture , music , or visual art , is "highly various and complex".

For example, literature may inspire the other art forms, or vice versa. However, literature remains a separate art form, and effects found within are conveyed imperfectly. The emotions triggered by a work, or the intentions or theories behind it, will likewise not completely parallel those of another art form; [60] individual forms of art have also "evolved" differently.

This section, almost twice the size of the others, consists of eight chapters regarding various elements intrinsic to works of literature. All these understandings they find lacking. Wellek and Warren consider patterns of sound as inherent to the text; these must be analyzed while keeping the meaning or general emotional tone in mind.

They suggest two different aspects of sound systems: Language, meanwhile, they describe as "quite literally the material of the literary artist"; although a work is influenced by language, the writer's style, the use of communicative language, may influence language. For other understandings of meaning, Wellek and Warren suggest a look at the sequence of image , metaphor , symbol, and myth , which they consider making up the "central poetic structure" of a work.

Wells and Hermann Pongs. They reject approaches which attempt to understand the author through his or her words or which attempt to understand figurative language alone; instead, it should be studied not in isolation but as "an element in the totality, the integrity, of the literary work". After reiterating their views of the relationship between reality and literature, Wellek and Warren write that narrative fiction takes place in its own "worlds", consisting of five codeterminant elements: The latter two are discussed in the following chapter.

Wellek and Warren consider genres as influencing "any critical and evaluative After outlining a brief history of the "ultimate" genres as understood by Aristotle poetry , prose , and drama , they show such an understanding as "scarcely promising of objective results" and overly prescriptive; they also reject several alternative theories of genre. According to Wellek and Warren, evaluation of literary work should be done based on the work's own nature, divorced from an author's practical or scientific intent.

Instead, they suggest that every work's rank changes when a new work is introduced and that values within are "really, or potentially, present in the art object". Such a history should describe the development of "[t]he process of interpretation, criticism, and appreciation" or trace the development of works in small and large groups before tying it to universal literature.

The final section of the book, removed in later editions, consists of a single chapter regarding the study of literature. Rather than maintain the system of having scholars specialized in certain time periods and authors, Wellek and Warren push for scholars who have mastered certain approaches and thought patterns, preferably those who are from a literary background. They also recommend "sharper distinction between the teacher and the scholar", allowing some individuals to devote their careers to research and not teaching.

Theory of Literature was influenced by Russian formalism , a school of thought which sought to examine literature or, more precisely, what formalist-turned-structuralist Roman Jakobson termed literariness [] as an autonomous body, [] and the American New Criticism, which likewise denied external influences. This last strata they divided into paradigms and "metaphysical qualities", the level which a reader contemplates. Wellek and Warren's concept of aesthetics borrowed from the writings of Immanuel Kant , implying that a specific "aesthetic realm" was autonomous within the work and required a certain perspective to properly understand; [] they emphasize this with a quote from the neo-Kantian philosopher and literary critic Eliseo Vivas , that beauty is a "character of some things Theory of Literature was published by Harcourt, Brace, and Company in December , with a copyright notice dated , , and Translations of Theory of Literature began soon after it was published; [15] by the work had been translated into more than twenty languages, [] including Spanish, Korean, Hebrew, and Hindi.

Academic reception of Theory of Literature was mixed. The philologist Helmut Hatzfeld, reviewing shortly after the book's release, described Theory of Literature as "radical in its viewpoint, rich in ideas and bibliographical material, poised in its judgment of other approaches to literature" [] as well as a "landmark in literary studies. Ballard, reviewing for The Journal of Philosophy , found the treatment lacking, with major terms left undefined and much of the book providing synopses of other writers' theories; he conceded, however, that it convincingly showed that "the intellectual study of literature qua literature has just begun".

He considered these to provide "food for thought" for linguists and suggested that Wellek was well-versed in linguistics for a professor of literature, despite misusing several terms common in the discipline. Newton Arvin , writing in the Partisan Review , found Theory of Literature to excessively indulge in formalism and expressed concern that the idea of literary history may have "gone into the discard once and for all".

Ingarden, who believed his theories the basis of Wellek and Warren's arguments, considered himself inadequately credited and took offense with the attribution of his ideas to "pure phenomenologists". At the time of publication Wellek and Warren considered Theory of Literature unparalleled in English-language publications, [] an attempt to unite literary theory , criticism , history , and scholarship.

In an academic biography of Wellek, Michael Holquist of the University of Columbia writes that Theory of Literature established Wellek's reputation as a literary scholar [] for the next three decades.


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The book was used to teach literary theory at universities beginning not long after publication [15] and remained dominant into the mids, [] at which time an increasingly heterogeneous academia questioned the universal value of literature; literary theorist Terry Eagleton finds that, after the s, "it was no longer possible to take for granted what what literature was, how to read it, or what social functions it might serve".

The theoretical positions promulgated in Theory of Literature have generally been criticized by later writers. Van Rees, for example, considers Wellek and Warren's distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic aspects of literature to be too sharply drawn, leading to the two aspects becoming binary opposites. He writes that Wellek's school of thought considered literature as a "unified subject" with definite boundaries which could be mastered, [] while more recent scholarship has rendered "[t]he very identity of literature as an object of study From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Theory of Literature Dust jacket, first edition. Retrieved 25 October The Journal of Philosophy. In Bixler, Paul Howard. The Antioch Review Anthology: When figures of flight are imported into the art field, this often leads to the misunderstanding that it in volves the subjects personal retreat from the noise and babble of the wo rld. Protagonists such as Herman Melvilles Bartleby in Deleuze and Giorgio Agamben or the virtuoso pianist Glenn Gould in Virno are seen as personifications of individual resistance and in the case of Bartleby of individual withdrawal. In a conservative process of pilferage and reinterpretation, in critical art discourse these figures are displaced so far from their starting point that flight no longer implies, as it does with Deleuze, fleeing to look for a weapon.

On the contrary, here the old images of retreat into an artist hermitage are rehashed, which are not only deployed by the new circles of cultural pessimism against participative and relational spectacle art, but also against collective interventionist, activist or other experimental strategies. For example, when Texte zur Kunst editor Isabelle Graw turns to the model of the preoccupied painter working away in his studio, refusing to give any explanation, ostentatiously not networking, never travelling, hardly showing himself in public, it is allegedly to prevent the principle of the spectacle from directly accessing his mental and emotional competencies Graw, Although Graw refers to Paolo Vi rno directly before the passage quoted, neither Virnos problematization of the culture industry nor his concept of exodus tends toward these kinds of bourgeois expectations of salvation by the artist-individua l.

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With the image of the solitary PAGE 29 Gerald Raunig 8 painter, who eludes the new tenden cy in capitalism to take over the whole person Graw, Even after the countless spectacular utilizations of this stereotype, it appears that the same old artist im age contrary to Virnos ideas of virtuosity can today still or once again be celebrated as antispectacular. What the poststructuralist proposals for dropping out and withdrawal involve, however, is anythi ng but this kind of relapse into the celebration of an individual turnin g away from society.

The point is to thwart dichotomies such as that of the individual and the collective, to offensively theorize new forms of what is common and singular at the same time. Paolo Virno in particul ar has lucidly developed this idea in A Grammar of the Multitude Alluding to Karl Marxs notion of the general intellect from the Grundrisse Virno posits the notion of a public intellect.

Following Marx, inte llect is not to be understood here as a competence of an individual, but rather as a shared link and constantly developing foundation for individuation. Th us Virno neither alludes to media intellectuals in the society of the spectacle, nor to the lofty ideas of the autonomous thin ker or painter. That kind of individualized publicity corresponds more to Virnos negative concept of publicness without a public sphere: The general intellect or public intellect, if it does not become a republic a public sphere, a political community, drastically increases forms of submission Virno, a: Virno focuses, on the other hand, on the social quality of the intellect.

This nonstate public sphere is not to be understood as an anarchic place of absolute freedom, as an open field b eyond the realm of the institution. Flight and exodus are nothing nega tive, not a reaction to something else, but are instead linked and intertwined with constituent power, reorganizing, re-inventing and institut ing. The movement of flight also preserves these instituent practices from structuralization and closure from the start, preventing them from becoming institutions in the sense of constituted power.

From a sch ematic perspective, the first generation of institutional critique sought a distance from the institution; the second addressed the inevitable involvement in the institution. I call this a schematic perspective, because these kinds of generation clusters are naturally blurred in the relevant practices, and there were attempts by Andrea Fraser, for instance to describe the first wave as being constituted by the second including he rself and also to attribute to the first phase a similar reflectedness on their own institutionality.

Whether this is the case or not, an important and effective position can be attributed to both generations in the art field from the s to the present, and in some cases relevan ce is evident that goes beyond the boundaries of the field. Yet the fu ndamental questions that Foucault already implicitly raised, which Deleuze certainly pursued in his book on Foucault, are not posed with the strategies of distanced and deconstructive intervention in the institution: And most of all, which lines of flight lead out of the dead end of this enclosure?

To make use of Foucaults treatments of this problem for the question of new instituent practices I would like to conclude this article by returning to the later Fo ucault, specifically to his Berkeley lecture series Discourse and Truth delivered in the autumn of , and to the term parrhesia broadly explained there. Foucault describes the practice of parrhesia using numerous examples from ancient Greek literature as a movement from a political to a pe rsonal technique. The older form of parrhesia corresponds to publicly speaking truth as an institutional right.

Depending on the form of the state, the subject addressed by the parrhesiastes is the assembly in the democratic agora, the tyrant in the monarchical court. PAGE 31 Gerald Raunig 10 Over the course of time, a change takes place in the game of truth which in the classical Greek conception of parrhesia was constituted by the fact that someone was courageous enough to tell the truth to other people [T]here is a shift from that kind of parrhesiastic game to another truth game which now consists in being courageous enough to disclose the truth about oneself Foucault, b: This process from public criticism to personal sel f- criticism develops in parallel to the decrease in the significance of the democratic public sphere of the agora.

At the same time, parrhesia comes up increasingly in conjunction with education. One of Foucaults relevant examples here is Platos dialogue Laches in which the question of the best teacher for the interlocutors sons represents the starting point and foil. The teacher Socrates no longer assumes the function of the parrhesiastes in the sense of exercising dangerous contradiction in a political sense, but rather by moving his listeners to give account of themselves and leading them to a self-questioning that queries the re lationship between their statements logos and their way of living bios.

However, this technique does not serve as an autobiographical confessi on or examination of conscience or as a prototype of Maoist self-cri ticism, but rather to establish a relationship between rational discourse and the lifestyle of the interlocutor or the self-questi oning person. Contrary to any individualistic interpretation especially of later Foucault texts imputing a return to subject philosophy, etc. In keeping with a productive interpretation for contemporary institutional critique practices, my aim here is to link the two concepts of parrhesia described by Foucault as a genealogical development, to understand hazardous refutation in its relation to self-revelation.

Critique, and especially institutional critique, is not exhausted in denouncing abuses nor in withdrawing into more or less radical selfquestioning. In terms of the art field this means that neither the belligerent strategies of the instituti onal critique of the s nor art as a service to the institution in the s promise effective interventions in the governmentality of the present.

7. Russian Formalism

What is needed here and now is parrhesia as a double strategy: Instituent practices that conjoin the advantages of both generations of institutional criti que, thus exercising both forms of parrhesia will impel a linking of social criticism, institutional critique and self-criticism. This link will develop, most of all, from the direct and indirect concatenation with political practices and social movements, but without dispensing with artistic competences and strategies, without dispensing with resources of and eff ects in the art field. Here exodus would not mean relocating to a differe nt country or a different field, but betraying the rules of the game thro ugh the act of flight: The project announcement, first published online in , is reprinted in revised format in the preface to this volume.

On the temporal and ontological priori ty of critique-resistance, see Deleuze: The final word of power is that resistance comes first See also Raunig Klaus Neundlinger and I discuss the social character of intellect more fully in our introduction to the German edition of A Grammar of the Multitude Virno, My ideas on Foucault and parrhesia were first developed for the eipcp conference Progressive Art Institutions in the Age of the Dissolving Welfare State, held in Vienna in , and first published online Raunig, The oldest example of political parrhesia is the figure of Diogenes, who, precarious in his barrel, commands Alexander to move out of his light.

Like the citizen expressing a minority opini on in the democratic setting of the agora, the cynic philosopher also practices a form of parrhesia with regard to the monarch in public. Is there anything like an institution of critique and wh at does it mean?

Isnt it pretty absurd to argue that something like this exists at a moment when critical cultural institutions are undoubtedly being dismantled, underfunded, subjected to the demands of a neo-liberal event economy and so on? However, I would like to pose the question on a much more fundamental level. What sort of relation exists between the institution and its critique or on the other hand the institutionalization of critique?

And what is the historical and political background for this relationship? To get a clearer picture of this re lationship we must first consider the function of criticism in general. On a very general level, certain political, social or individual subject s are formed through the critique of institutions. Bourgeois subjectivity as such was formed through such a process of critique, and encouraged to leave behind self-incurred immaturity, to quote Immanuel Kants famous definition of enlightenment Kant, This critical subjectivity was of course ambivalent, since it entailed the use of reason only in those situations we would consider as apolitical today, namely in the deliberation of abstract problems, but not the criticis m of authority.

Critique produces a subject who should make use of reason in public circumstances, but not in private ones. While this soun ds emancipatory, the opposite is the case. The criticism of authority is a ccording to Kant futile and private. Thus, this form of criticism produces a very ambivalent and governable subject; it is as much a tool of governance as of that resistance with which it is often assumed to be aligned.

But the bourgeois subjectivity formed thereby was very efficient. An d in a certain sense, institutional criticism is integrated into that su bjectivity, something which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels explicitly refer to in their Communist Manifesto, namely as the capacity of the bourgeoisie to abolish and to melt down outdated institutions and everything el se that is useless and petrified, as long as the general form of aut hority itself isnt threatened.

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The bourgeois class had formed thro ugh a limited, so to speak, institutionalized critique and also maintained and reproduced itself through its continuous application. An d in this way critique had become an institution in itself, a government al tool that produces streamlined subjects. But there is also another form of subjectivity that is produced by criticism and also institutional criticism. An obvious example is the French citizen, a political subject of French formed through an institutional critique of the French monarchy. The latter institution was eventually abolished and even beheaded.

In this process, an appeal was already realized that Marx was to launch much later: In this vein one could say that the proletariat as a po litical subject was produced through the criticism of the bourgeoisie as an institution. This second form produces forms of subjectivity that probably are just as ambivalent, but with a crucial difference: So in this sense institutional critique serves as a tool of subjectivation of certain social grou ps or political subjects. And which sort of different subjects does it prod uce? Lets take a look at different modes of institutional critique within the artfield of the last decades.

To simplify a complex development: It challenged the authority that had accumulated in cultural institutions within the framework of the nation state. Cultural institutions such as museums had taken on a complex governmental function. This role has been brilliantly described by Benedict Anderson in his seminal work Imagined Communities where he PAGE 36 The Institution of Critique 15 analyzes the role of the museum in the formation of colonial nation states.

In his view, the museum, in cr eating a national past, retroactively also created the origin and foundati on of the nation, and that was its main function Anderson, But th is colonial situation, as in many other cases, points at the structure of the cultural institution within the nation state in general. And this situ ation, the authoritarian legitimation of the nation state by the cultural institution through the construction of a history, a patrimony, a heritage, a canon and so on, was the one that the first wave of institutional critique set out to criticize in the s.

Their justification in doing so was ultimately a political one. Most nation states considered themselves to be democracies founded on the political mandate of the people or citize ns. In that sense, it was easy to argue that any national cultural inst itution should reflect this selfdefinition and that any national cult ural institution should thus be founded on similar mechanisms. If the political national sphere was at least in theory based on democratic participation, why should the cultural national sphere and its cons truction of histories and canons be any different? Why shouldnt the cultural institution be at least as representative as parliamentary democracy?

Why shouldnt it include for example women in its canon, if women were at least in theory accepted in parliament? In that sense the claims that the first wave of institutional critique voiced were of course founded in contemporary theories of the public sphere, and based on an interpretation of the cultural institution as a potential public sphere.

But implicitly they relied on two fundamental assumptions. First, this public sphere was implicitly a national one because it was modeled after the model of representative parliamentarism. Institutional critique justified itself precisely on this point. Since the political system of th e nation state is at least in theory representative of its citizens, why s houldnt a national cultural institution be?

And this analogy was more often than not grounded in material conditions, since most cultural instit utions were funded by the state. Thus, this form of institutional critique relied on a model based on the structure of political participation within the nation state and a Fordist economy, in which taxes could be collected for such purposes. Institutional critique of this period related to these phenomena in different ways. Either by radically negating institutions altogether, by trying to build alternative institutions or by trying to be included in mainstream ones.

Just as in the political arena, the most effective strategy was a combination of the second and third model, which PAGE 37 Hito Steyerl 16 demanded for example that cultural institutions include minorities and disadvantaged majorities such as women. In this sense institutional critique functioned like the related paradigms of multiculturalism, reformist feminism, ecological move ments and so on. It was a new social movement within the arts scene. But during the next wave of institutional criticism in the s, the situation was somewhat different.

It wasnt much different from the point of view of the artists or thos e who tried to challenge and criticize institutions that, in their view, were still authoritarian. Rather, the main problem was that they had been over taken by a right-wing form of bourgeois institutional criticism, precisely the process by which all that is solid melts into air Marx and Engels, Thus, the claim that the cultural institution ought to be a public sphere was no longer unchallenged.

The bourgeoisie had de facto decreed that a cultural institution was primarily an econo mic one and as such had to be subjected to the laws of the market. The belief that cultural institutions ought to provide a representative public sphere broke down with Fordism, and it is not by chance that, in a sense, institutions which still adhere to the ideal of creating a public sphere have survived longer in places where Fordism is still hanging on. Thus, the second wave of institutional critique was in a sense unilateral since claims were made which at that time had at least partially lost their legitimative power.

The next factor was the relative transformation of the national cultural sphere that mirrored the transformation of the political cultural sphere. First of all, the nation stat e is no longer the only framework of cultural representation there are also supranational bodies like the European Union. And secondly, their mode of political representation is very complicated and only partly representative.

It represents its constituencies symbolically rather than materially. To play on the additional meanings in the German word for representation: Sie stellen sie eher dar, als sie sie vertreten They portray more than they represent. Thus, why should a cultural institution materially represent its constituency? Isnt it somehow sufficient to symbo lically represent it? And although the production of a national cultural identity and heritage is still important, it is not only important for the interior or social cohesion of the nation, but also very much to provide it with international selling points in an increasingly globalized cu ltural economy.

Thus, in a sense, a process was initiated which is still going on today. That is the process of the cultural or symbolic integration of critique into the institution or PAGE 38 The Institution of Critique 17 rather only into the surface of the institution without materially altering the institution or its organization in any deeper sense. This mirrors a similar process on the political level: In this sense the bond of material representation was broken and replaced with a more symbolic one. This shift in representational techniques by the cultural institution also mirrored a trend in criticism itse lf, namely the shift from a critique of institution towards a critique of representation.

This trend, which was informed by cultural studies, femi nist and postcolonial epistemologies, somehow continued in the vein of the previous institutional critique by comprehending the whole sphere of representation as a public sphere, where material representation ought to be implemented, for example in form of the unbiased and proportiona l display of images of women or black people.

This claim somehow mirrors the confusion about representation on the political plan e, since the realm of visual representation is even less representative in the material sense than a supranational political body. It doesnt represent constituencies or subjectivities but creates them; it arti culates bodies, affects and desires. But this is not exactly how it was comprehended, since it was rather taken for a sphere where one has to achieve hegemony a majority on the level of symbolic representation, so to speak in order to achieve an improvement of a diffuse area hovering between politics and economy, state and market, subject as citizen and subject as consumer, as well as between representation and represen tation.

Since criticism could no longer establish clear antagonisms in this sphere, it started to fragment and to atomize it, and to support a po litics of identity which led to the fragmentation of public spheres and their replacement by markets, to the culturalization of identity and so on.

This representational critique point ed at another aspect, namely the unmooring of the seemingly stable relation between the cultural institution and the nation state. Unfort unately for institutional critics of that period, a model of purely symbolic representation gained legitimacy in this field as well. Institutions no longer claimed to materially represent the nation state and its constituency, but only claimed to represent it symbolically.

And thus, while one could say that the former institutional critics were either integr ated into the institution or not, the second wave of institutional critique was integrated not into the PAGE 39 Hito Steyerl 18 institution but into representation as such. Thus, again, a Janus-faced subject was formed.

This subject was interested in more diverse and less homogenous forms of representation th an its predecessor.

Art and Contemporary Critical Practice: Reinventing Institutional Critique

But in trying to create this diversity, it also created niche markets, specialized consumer profiles, and an overall spectacle of difference without effectuating much structural change. But which conditions are prevailing today, during what might tentatively be called an extension of the second wave of institutional critique? Artistic strategies of in stitutional critique have become increasingly complex. They have fortunately developed far beyond the ethnographic urge to indiscriminately drag underprivileged or unusual constituencies into museums, even ag ainst their will just for the sake of representation.

They include de tailed investigations, such as for example Allan Sekulas Fish Story which connects a phenomenology of new cultural industries, like the B ilbao Guggenheim, with documents of other institutional constraints, su ch as those imposed by the World Trade Organization or other global economic organizations. They have learned to walk the tightrope betw een the local and the global without becoming either indigenist and et hnographic, or else unspecific and snobbish.

Unfortunately, this cannot be said of most cultural institutions that would have to react to the same challenge of having to perform both within a national cultur al sphere and an increasingly globalizing market. If you look at them from one side, then you will see that they are under pressure from indigenist, nationalist and nativist demands. If you look from the other side, then you will see that they are under pressure from neo-liberal institutional critique, that is to say, under the pressure of the market.

Now the problem is and this is indeed a very widespread attitude that when a cultural institution comes under pressure from the market, it tries to retreat into a position which claims that it is the duty of the nation state to fund it and to keep it alive. The problem with that position is that it is an ultimately protectionist one, that it ultimately reinforces the construction of national public spheres and that under this perspective the cultural institution can only be defended in the framework of a New Left attitude seeking to retreat into the remnants of a demolished national welfare state and its cultural shells and to defend them against all intruders.

In other words, it tends to defend itself ultimately from th e perspective of its other enemies, namely the nativist and indigenist cr itics of institution, who want to PAGE 40 The Institution of Critique 19 transform it into a sort of sacralized ethnopark. But there is no going back to the old Fordist nation-state protectionism, with its cultural nationalism, at least not in any emancipatory perspective.

On the other hand, when the cultural institution is attacked from this nativist, indigenist perspective, it also tries to defend itself by appealing to universal values like freedom of speech or the cosmopolitanism of the arts, which are so utterly commodified as either shock effects or the display of enjoyable cultural difference that they hardly exist beyond this form of commodification.

Or it might even earnestly try to reconstruct a public sphere within market conditions, for example with the massive temporary spectacles of criticism funded by the German Bundeskulturstiftung National Foundation for Culture. But under reigning economic conditions, the main effect achieved is to integrate the critics into precarity, into flexibilized working structures within temporary project structures and freelance work within cultural industries.

And in the worst cases, those spectacles of criticism are the decoration of large enterprises of ec onomic colonialism such as in the colonization of Eastern Europe by the same institutions that are producing the conceptual art in these regions. If in the first wave of institutional critique criticism produced integration into the institution, in the second one only integration into representation was achieved.

But now in the third phase there seems to be only integration into precarity. An d in this light we can now answer the question concerning the function of the institution of critique as follows: It is on the one side being adapted to the needs of ever more precarious living conditions.

On the other, the need seems never to have been greater for institutions that could cater to th e new needs and desires that this constituency will create. The Differential Knowledge of Institutional Critique Stefan Nowotny Translated by Aileen Derieg Wanting to canonize artistic practices of institutional critique is a rather paradoxical endeavor. The reason is quickly evident. Canonization itself belongs to the specifically institut ional practices that institutional critique refers to and indeed critically refers to.

Tacitly ignoring one of these critical impulses is hence in scribed in every canonization attempt, even though a retrospective acknowledgement of the relevance of these impulses is intended. Relevance itse lf is categorized in the framework of a historiography that is entangle d in its own preconditions, clinging jealously to the notion that in the en d it has to be the art whose history is to be written.

The results are well known, not onl y in terms of the art subsumed under the name institutional critique, but also in terms of what is called political art in general. Bert Brecht is treated as a revolutionary of theater art who was eccentric enough to be a communist as well; the Situationists are seen as oddballs of fine art who no less eccentrically maintained that changing perceptions of the streets was more important than changing perceptions of painti ng. And the art of institutional critique? As a current it has me anwhile also aged sufficiently to provide a welcome occasion for various historicizations, selfhistoricizations or even examinations of topicality, which instead of examining it regularly become entangled in the self-referentiality specific to the art field, and specifically examining it as institutional practice.

PAGE 43 Stefan Nowotny 22 It is not particularly helpful when one established canon or another is itself declared in a duplication of the retrospective gesture the object of negotiation by contrastin g it with a possible other or expanded canon. This is naturally not intended to deny that a critical query and contestation of dominant canonizations, their complicity with social-political power relations, thei r legitimizing and stabilizing function in terms of these hegemonic relati ons were and are an important element of the insights of institutional critique. Nevertheless, guidelines for action are not to be seamlessly de rived from theoretical insights in the sense that the end of changing criticized conditions is already to be reached with the means of an expanded or counter-canon.

This circumvention suffers from the problem of all superficial theories of hegemony: Where the critical impulse is at least maintained as a socialpolitical one, this is usually accompanied by a fetishization of the ends, which ultimately obscures a critical examination of the means altogether; where it withdraws into the self-contemplation of the contexts it started from and this is of particular interest here , the result is the fetishization of a certain form of ends What is fetishized in the latter case is less the end itself, but rather the form in which it is sought, th at is, more precisely, the form of aiming at something or the link binding means and ends together.

And this link proves to be all the more deceptive, since an incautious consideration of the form of ends and means may depict one and the same thing. Pursuing an end accordin g to a certain form and treating it solely within the confines of this fo rm, however, does not at all signify a sufficient reflection on the means.


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Instea d, it simply signifies fixing the means as such to a spectrum placed beyond the realm of critique, a spectrum that yet results from a specific, fundamentally contingent connection between means and ends in need of reflection. And it ultimately signifies constraining th e possible ends themselves, to the extent that the only acceptable end is one that corresponds to a given spectrum of means.

The concern that the existing PAGE 44 Anti-Canonization 23 canon could be at the expense of certain artists, whose work could be equally regarded as questioning the institution of art or as an attack on it Graw, No less characteristic is the specification of Graws concern, which immediately follows: Accordingly, the figure of the osten tatiously solitary atelier painter, who withdraws his mental and emot ional competences from public access, is stylized into the carrier of an institutional critique revolt, into an anti-neo-liberal spectacle dissident The genius in individual revolt need only withdraw and produce; all the others can devote themselves to the contemplative viewing of the fruits of his competences Nowotny, , specifically why not?

Meanwhile, the insti tution of art carries on in its old familiar bourgeois variation undeterred if it were not for the unfortunate battle against its neo-liberal adversaries, in which it is entangled. The irony of all this is that Graws concerns are not only due to the dissatisfaction that art fixed to its presumed capability of critique is underestimated, but also that th ey claim to do justice to another concern, namely that an inflati onary assertion of critique could ultimately lead to the neutralizat ion of every possibility of really achieving critique Graw, The latter concern indeed touches on a central problem that is inextricably linked with the activity of critique as opposed to its me re assertion and which has been widely discussed in the art field, not least of all since the publication of Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapellos The New Spirit of Capitalism How does critical activity relate to its e ffects?

To what extent is it capable of keeping alive its differential deployment aimed at change beyond the respective self-assurance of a critica l distance, in other words, feeding it into a social context and counteracting its own neutralization or the ways it is even inverted for uncritical purposes?

PAGE 45 Stefan Nowotny 24 However, Graw does not let this concern leap any borders, but encloses it within the boundaries of the very field that art criticism routinely institutionally plows. For this reason, the questions remain obscured that would arise from the in version of Graws suspicion about fixing art to its capability for criti que: In fact, in terms of canonization, this question can be traced even in th e first generation of institutional critique art practices, for it is an essential element of the critical impulses of these practices.

It may be sufficient here to recall Robert Smithsons essay Cultural Confinement from , which sees the conditions for neutralizing the explosiveness of crit ique specifically in its fixation to being art and not in the reverse fixa tion , that is in the confinement of the critical to a predetermined framework of representation: Museums, like asylums and jails, have yards and cells in other words, neutral rooms called galleries A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge, and becomes a portable object or surface disengaged from the outside world.

A vacant white room with lights is still a submission to the neutral [] The func tion of the warden-curator is to separate art from the rest of society. Once the work of art is totally neutralized, ineffective, abstracted, safe, and politically lobotomized, it is read y to be consumed by society. The operative structure that it describes, namely the political lobotomization of the potential charge of artistic works that follows from isolation and neutralizing reintegration, can also be observed often enough where art works in public space, intended as political interventions, only provoke meager debates about art or occasionally about cultural policies, instead of really triggering the intended political discussions.

The warden-curator as functionary of this operative structure is abetted, in turn, by a whole series of further functionaries, including, not least of all, the professional discourse producers of the art field. This also applies to the artists themselves, whom Smithson is already far from locating in a naively asserted outside of the institutional field of power pe r se, which is evident, for instance, in his polemic against post-minimalist art practices: PAGE 46 Anti-Canonization 25 Also, I am not interested in art works that suggest process within the metaphysical limits of the neutral r oom.

There is no freedom in that kind of behavioral game playing. The artist acting like a B. Skinner rat doing his tough little tricks is something to be avoided. Confined process is no process at all. It would be better to disclose the confinement rather than make illusions of freedom. Adrian Piper succinctly formulated the task of self-criticism that becomes apparent in this latter impulse and which can be expanded to other functionaries within the art field no less polemically than Smithson in a text written in It is not as though artists are congenitally incapacitated by having right cerebral hemispheres the size of a watermelon and left cerebral hemispheres the size of a peanut.

And as in other areas as well, the extent of political defensiveness and a lack of orientation in light of rampaging neo-liberal reforms is expressed, not least of all, in the defense of instruments and institutions that might well have been the subject of a critical examination yesterday. Instead of targeting what can generally be identified as art and classified in currents, against this background it would seem advisable not to fall back behind the institutional critique of historical political analyses of mode rn art and exhibition institutions or art as an institutional field like Carol Duncans Civilizing Rituals for instance, or Tony Bennetts The Birth of the Museum With Bennetts historically precise reconstruction of the modern museum and exhibition complex in mind, for example, carried out PAGE 47 Stefan Nowotny 26 against the background of Foucaults analyses of governmentality Nowotny, a; , it would be better to begin by considering the overlapping of various governmentality arrangements in which institutional critique has to orient it self today, both within the art field and beyond it.

Given the growing divergence between political economy and nation-state frameworks, this overlapping must be seen as inherently contradictory. Yet if every form of historiography must ultimately be regarded as an institutional practice itself and an outside the institution cannot simply be presumed, but rather questions must be raised about the possibilities of a transformation of institutional practices, how can an alternative to canonization be im agined that is not a countercanonization?

One possibility certainly consists in a political analysis of the respective constellation, in which in stitutional critique is articulated. This means assuming a perspective wh ich takes into account the specific functionality of the art field within th e concrete social-political context, ranging beyond the self-referential st ructures of this field, and which also includes a view to the changes, to which this functionality and thus the conditions of critique are subj ected.

Here I would like to propose a somewhat different approach, however which does not contradict the first at all, but should rather be appended to it: Perhaps too little attention has previously been given to the fact that Foucault where he talks about suppressed knowledges, the local discursivities that are denigrated by the dominant discourse describes these forms of knowledge as, among others, differential knowledge Foucault, What does the notion of differentiality refer to here? On the one hand, certainly to th e resistance of this knowledge, to the fact that it owes its force to th e sharpness with which it enters into opposition with everything around it On the other hand, however, it also refers to this knowledge being differential in itself also selfpluralizing for this reason , to the fact that it cannot be transposed into unanimity even though the Foucauld ian genealogy itself, as a tactic of its description, exposes it to a certa in danger of uniformed coding and re-colonization Foucault, Not least of all, this knowledge is PAGE 48 Anti-Canonization 27 differential because it does not allow itself, being resistive, to be subjected to any authorized discursive field, to any authorization by a dominant discourse, but instead recognizes the power effects found in the separation of knowledge into fields and in furnishing these fields with discursive authorities, yet without composing itself into a new totality of knowledge.

Hence as plural knowledge it also does not organize itself under a unified form, but rather in an open, non-dialectical game of concurrence. For precisely this reason, the Foucauldian genealogy can be concerned with preparing a hist orical knowledge of struggles and introducing this knowledge into curre nt tactics Foucault, The struggles that Foucault was sp ecifically thinking of in the mids and through which for ten, fifteen years now [ Why should we not append the battles of institutional criti que practices to this list it is not a coincidence that Robert Smithson compares the cells of the museums with those of asylums and prisons in the passage quoted above What could come into view through this kind of perspective is not so much or at least not solely the question of the respective critical assessment of art institutions, and certa inly not of a canon, but rather an open field of a knowledge of action, a practical knowledge that rejects reintegration into the form of ends specific to art and in which the difference of institutional critique is actualized.

We find it in the most diverse tactics of context politicizati on, self-masking, alienation, parody, the situation-specific refraction of themes, research, discursive and material context production, in self -institutionalization, in production that starts with social interaction, or even simply in a more or less developed renegade position. A historiography and investigation of institutional critique could be oriented to these practices, if the aim is to introduce this knowledge into current tactics. An example from at least at first glance outside the art field that indicates the background of these re flections namely Walter Benjamins essay On the Critique of Violence: Pursuing the end of justice under the PAGE 49 Stefan Nowotny 28 form of law, in other words as a legal end, means nothing more than considering it egally capable of generalization, whereby the form of law is placed beyond dispute both at the leve l of the means legal claims, laws, etc.

In the first wave of institutional critique from the late s and ea rly s long since celebrated and relegated by art history these terms could apparently be even more concretely and narrowly defined: Institutional critique thus took on many forms, such as artistic works and interventions, critical writings or art- political activism. However, in the so-called second wave, from the s, the institutional framework became somewhat expanded to include the ar tists role the subject performing the critique as institutionalized, as well as an investigation into other institutional spaces and practices besides the art space.

It shall not be my purpose here, however, to discuss or access th e meaning of institutional critique as an art historical canon, or to engage in the writing of such a canon I shall respectfully leave that endeavor for the Texte zur Kunst and October magazines of this world. Instead, though, I would like to point out a convergence between the two waves, that seems to have drastically changed in the current return of in stitutional critique that may or may not constitute a third wave. In either of its historical emergences, institutional critique was a practice ma inly, if not exclusively, conducted PAGE 51 Simon Sheikh 30 by artists, and directed against the art institutions, as a critique of their ideological and representative soci al function s.

Arts institutions, which may or may not contain the arti sts work, were seen, in the words of Robert Smithson, as spaces of cultural confinement and circumscription, and thus as something to attack aesthetically, politically and theoretically.

The institution was pos ed as a problem for artists. In contrast, the current instituti onal-critical discussions seem predominantly propagated by curators and directors of the very same institutions, and they are usually opting for rather than against them. That is, they are not an effort to oppos e or even destroy the institution, but rather to modify and solidify it. The institution is not only a problem, but also a solution! There has been a shift, then, in the placement of institutional critique, not only in hist orical time, but also in terms of the subjects who direct and perform the critique it has moved from an outside to an inside.

Interestingly, Benjamin Buchloh has described the historical moment of conceptual ar t as a movement from institutional critique and the aesthetic of ad ministration to the critique of institutions, in a controversial essa y entitled, tellingly, Conceptual Art From the Aesthetics of Administration to the Critique of Institutions.

While Buchloh focuses on the emergence of conceptualism, his suggestive distinct ion is perhaps even more pertinent now that institutional critique is literally being performed by administrative aestheticians, i. Taking her cue from Buchloh, Andrea Fraser goes a step further in her recent essay From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique, where she cl aims that a movement between an inside and an outside of the institut ion is no longer possible, since the structures of the institution have become totally internalized.

We are the institution, Fraser Fraser also wr ites that the institutions of art should not be seen as an autonomous fi eld, separate from the rest of the world, the same way that we are not separate from the institution. While I would certainly agree with any attempt to view art institutions as part of a larger ensemble of socio-economic and disciplinary spaces, I am nonetheless confused by the simu ltaneous attempt to integrate the art world into the current politico-economic world system and the PAGE 52 Notes on Institutional Critique 31 upholding of a we of the art world itself.

Who exactly is this we? If the art world is seen as part of a ge neralized institutionalization of social subjects that in turn internalizes the institutionalization , what and where are the demarcation lines for entry, for visibility and representation? If one of the criteria for institutions is given in the exclusions performed by them as inherent in any collection , the question which subjects fall outside in stitutionalization, not due to a willful act or exodus as certain artistic movements thought and desired, but through the expulsions at the very center of institutions that allow them to institutionalize?

Obviously, this would require a very expanded notion of institutional critique one that lies somewhat outside the history of institutional critique as discussed here. So, to return to the object at hand institutional critique as an art practice: Analyzed in terms of negative dialectics, this would seem to indicate the total co-optation of institutional crit ique by the institutions and by implication and extension, the co-opt ation of resistance by power , and thus make institutional critique as a critical method completely obsolete.

Institutional critique, as co-opted, wo uld be like bacteria that may have temporarily weakened the patient th e institution but only in order to strengthen the immune system of that patient in the long run. However, such a conclusion would hinge around notions of subjectivities, agencies and spatialities that institutional crit ique, arguably, tried to deconstruct. It would imply that the historical institutional critique was somehow original and pure, thus confirmi ng the authenticity of the artistsubjects performing it as opposed to the current institutional subjects , and consequently reaffirming one of the ideas that institutional critique set out to circumvent, namely the notion of authentic subjects per se as represented by the artist, reified by the institution.

If institutional critique was indeed a discourse of disclosure and demystification of how the arti stic subject as well as object was staged and reified by the institution, then any narrative that again posits certain voices and subjects as authentic, as possible incarnations of certain politics and criticalities, mu st be said to be not only counter to the very project of institutional critique, but perhaps also the ultimate co-optation, or more accurately, hos tile take-over of it.


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  3. Art and Contemporary Critical Practice: Reinventing Institutional Critique.

Institutional PAGE 53 Simon Sheikh 32 critique is, after all, not primarily a bout the intentionalities and identities of subjects, but rather about the politics and inscriptions of institutions and, thus, about how subjects are always already threaded through specific and specifiable institutional spaces. Rather, one must try to historicize the moments of institutional critique and look at how it has been successful, in terms of being integrated into the education of artist s and curators, that is of what Julia Bryan-Wilson has termed the curriculum of institutional critique Bryan-Wilson, An inst itutional critique of institutional critique, what can be termed institutionalized critique, has then to question the role of education, hi storicization and how institutional auto-critique not only leads to a quest ioning of the institution and what it institutes, but also becomes a mechanism of control within new modes of governmentality, precisely through its very act of internalization.

And this is the expanded notion of institutional critique that I briefly mentioned above, an d which could become the legacy of the historical movements as much as an orientation for what so-called critical art institutions claim to be. James Meyer has tried to establish a genealogy rather than a mere art history of institutional critique. Crisis without Criticism Boris Buden Why do we talk today about institutional critique in the field of art? The answer is very simple: Because we st ill believe that art is intrinsically equipped with the power of criticism.

Of course, we dont simply mean art criticism here but something more than that, the ability of art to criticize the world and life beyond its own realm, and even, by doing that, to change both. This includes, however, some sort of self-criticism, or more precisely, the practice of critical self-reflexivity, which means that we also expect of art or at least used to expect to be critically aware of the conditions of its possibility, which usually means, the conditions of its production.

These two notions to be aware of the conditions of possibility and production point at two major re alms of modern criticism: It was I mmanuel Kant who first posed the question about the conditions of possibility of our knowledge and who understood this question explicitly as an act of criticism. From that point on we may say that modern reflection is either critical in this self-reflexive way or it is not modern.

But we are not going to follow th is theoretical line of modern criticism here. We will concentrate in stead on its practical and political meaning, which can be simply described as a will for radical change, in short, the demand for revolution, whic h is the ultimate form of practical and political criticism. The French Revolution was not only prepared through the bourgeois criticism of th e absolutist state. It was nothing but this criticism in actu its last word turned in to political action. The idea of revolution as an ultimate act of criticism has found its most PAGE 55 Boris Buden 34 radical expression in Marxist theo retical and political concepts.

Remember that the young Karl Marx explicitly characterized his own revolutionary philosophy as the ruthless critique of everything existing. He meant this in the most radical sense as a criticism that operates in the very basement of social life, that is, in the realm of its material production and reproduction, something we understand today, perhaps oversimplifying, as the realm of economy.

In this way criticism has become one of the essential qualities of modernity. For almost two centuries to be modern meant simply to be critical in philosophy as much as in moral questions, in politics and social life as much as in art. But there is also another concept, which as a sort of its complement has long accompanied the idea and practice of modern criticism, and that is the concept of crisis. A belief that the two crisis and criticism have something in co mmon, that there is an authentic relation, or better, an interaction between them, equally belongs to the modern experience.

Therefore, an act of criticism almost necessarily implies the awareness of a crisis and vice versa; a diagnosis of crisis implies the necessity of criticism. Actually, criticism and crisis didnt enter the historical scene at the same time. Criticism is the ch ild of the eighteenth century Enlightenment.

It was born and de veloped out of the separation between politics and morality, a separation that criticism has deepened and kept alive throughout the modern age. It was only through the process of criticism the criticism of all forms of traditional knowledge, religious beliefs and aesthetic values, the criticism of existing juridical and political reality and finally the crit icism of the mind itself that the growing bourgeois class could impose it s own interests and values as the highest instance of judgement and in that way develop the selfconfidence and self-conscience it n eeded for the decisive political struggles to come.

In this context one shouldnt underestimate the role of art and literary criticism especially in the development of the modern philosophy of history. It was precisely art and literary criticism that produced at that time among the intelligentsia the awareness of a contradiction between the old and th e modern and in that way shaped a new understanding of time capable of differentiating the future from the past.

But at the end of this peri od arises also the awareness of the approaching crisis: Whereas for Enlightenment thinkers revolution was a synonym for an inevitable historical progress, which occurs necessarily as a kind of natural phenomenon, Rousseau by contrast understood it as the ultimate expression of crisis, which br ings about the state of insecurity, dissolution, chaos, new contradictions, etc.

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In connection with the crisis which it has prepared and initiated criticism loses its original navety and its alleged innocence. From now on criticism and crisis go together shaping the modern age of civil wars and revolutions, which instead of bringing about the expected hist orical progress, cause chaotic dissolutions and obscure regressive processes, often completely beyond rational control.

The interaction between criticism and crisis is one of the major qualities of what later was c onceptualized as the dialectics of enlightenment. In the meantime the interplay of both notions became a sort of terminus technicus of modernist progress introducing a difference and simultaneously a relation between old and new. To say that something has gone into crisis meant above all to say that it has become old; that is, that it has lost its ri ght to exist and therefore should be replaced by something new. Criticism is nothing but the act of this judgement, which helps the old to die quickly and the new to be born easily.

This also applies to the developm ent of modern art, which also follows the dialectics of criticism and crisis of its forms. So we understand for instance realism as a critical reaction to the crisis of Romanticism, or the idea of abstract art as a critique of figurative art, which has exhausted its potential and therefore went into crisis. Also the tension between art and prosaic reality was interpreted through the dialectics of crisis and criticism. So was modern art especially in Romanticism often understood as a criticism of ordinary life, of ordinariness as such, or in other words of a life that had lost its authenticity or its meaning in short, a life that had also gone into some kind of crisis.

Let us now go back to the question, whether this dialectics of criticism and crisis still makes some sense to us today. A few months ago in Austria I had an opportunity to pose this question directly. I moderated a discussion on the legacy of the artistic avant-garde today in the post-communist Eastern Europe I hoped everybody would agree PAGE 57 Boris Buden 36 when I said that the avant-garde is still the most radical case of modernist art criticism both in terms of a criticism of traditional art of its time and in terms of a criticism of existing reality, precisely in the moment of its widely recognized and acknowledged crisis.

After five hours of debate, the conclusion was that the critical experience of avantgarde art is of no value at all today, at least not in Eastern Europe. The participants in the discussion were mostly younger artists from central and southern regions of Ea stern Europe, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and also Turkey. Actually, only the representative of Turkey was prepared to take the topic seriously and believed that the critical stance of the avant-garde still makes some sense to us today.