The Pseudo-Autonomy of Art

Essay by R.Cronk

The frame distinguishes art from non-art, provides it with the appearance of autonomy and gives it entry into history. The frame changes the context of art. It removes the painting from the viewer's world. The space between framed art and viewer is discontinuous. Framing presents a moral dilemma for the artist. The curator holds the serpent's apple in his hand. The artist subjugates himself to an established ideology and to the quest for historical relevance as he tacks on the frame. Innocence of expression is lost.

Autonomy in art is a misnomer that masks the artist's obligation to the priorities of an elitist art market. The idea that art is independent of life and its first responsibility is to define itself within the historical dialogue has become a means of control. While the monopolistic patriarchal view of Western art history (and the ideal of progress) has been discredited in theory, the establishment continues to promote historical relevance as the basis for assessing value in art. Conceptualizing art as an autonomous self-analytic discipline works to limit the field of inquiry while keeping mainstream galleries well supplied with esoteric art.

In a catch 22, fine art is a pseudo-autonomous discipline limited by its own ideology. Art history and theory define or imply a field of interest. Anything occurring outside this realm is not considered relevant. Art establishment intellectuals are quick to realize aesthetic potential, but everything within their scope reaffirms what they already know. The establishment academician recognizes art for its relevance to a historically developed view. He sets new art and new meaning in an academic context that justifies continued faith in the axioms of the prevailing myths and institutions.

The graffitied trains of the New York City subway system in the 1960's presented a new art form. The graffiti writer was an anarchist. For a brief period he existed outside the established view of art. See how quickly the graffiti writer was co-opted and his work mediated and exploited by the art establishment. The graffiti writer was coerced into producing marketable sofa paintings. The relatively small art-ified canvases no longer carried the immediacy and impact of the original format. The graffitied canvas was the bastardization of a revolutionary grassroots art form. Policed by establishment values, graffiti art in the gallery became subservient to the very social structures street art vehemently opposed.

Only the definition provided by establishment critics and historians make the gallery version more art-like than the graffiti on the subway train. Both directions have aesthetic value and are culturally significant, and either can be framed within social and historical contexts.

Art's supposed autonomy is a sham that defuses and absorbs revolutionary art forms before they can effect the status quo. In time, the triumvirate of art, scholarship and capital elitism will succumb to its own exclusivity, and art will be liberated from its servitude to an exploitive ideology.

Copyright © R. Cronk 1996 - All Rights Reserved

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