Contemporary Art and the Beautiful Clothes of the Emperor

In general, I am not very patient, when it comes to much of contemporary art. To me at least, quite a huge chunk is bullshit and I always wonder how artists manage to present it without either being so embarrassed that they do not attend the opening or so thrilled about the way they have fooled everybody that they cannot stop laughing manically.  But neither happens very often. Artists attend their openings and little laughter is to be heard.

I know that this expectation might be a deficit on my side. I might just not be able to understand quite a bit of what is shown in galleries and museums. Maybe this is true, but certainly I am not alone in this lack of understanding.

But recently I was amused, when two people on separate occasions made a connection from contemporary art to Hans Christan Andersens “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. I made that connection before, but here it was from someone else. Plus, the two persons I am mentioning here are both working in museums for decades and are normally much more open if it comes to looking at art.

When Marcel Duchamp presented his work “Fountain” to the public, this might have been a critique of the institutions and committees that control the art world – at least this is the way I understand it. To that it was certainly an important statement. But the question of how successful it has been might remain open, even 100 years after its creation. The urinal is just one of many works that before and since then questioned these structures within the art world, but the revolution they have caused did something else.

These works are now symbolizing the idea that everything is possible in art. That much might be valid, but the next step is that, since everything is possible, there should be no way to judge and distinguish. That Is bullshit.

So much of contemporary art does not matter and does not even try to matter. Much of the works that try to matter fall in the first group though. If someone, who works in the art field for decades and who has kept his curiosity ever since, walks out of a performance work that has won a huge award, feeling not just confused, but utterly disillusioned, there is certainly something wrong with the art world. Yet, the artist shown there is going to present her work in Venice this year. And there are definitely going to be many claqueres who keep telling everyone how amazing this work is. This is precisely what the story Andersen was telling is about. When my friend left the performance, there were certainly many people who stayed. And the artist felt acknowledged in what she did.

There is currently so much at stake if we look at democracy and value systems, but so much of the art world does not really care. Just take another urinal and call it “revolutionary work” for the millionth time, that does not serve as the basis of a revolution.

Maybe Duchamp or Beuys had the best intentions, but maybe their revolutions failed entirely and caused more damage than good.

The opposite of the artistic aura

Today’s art world is out of control. Everything can be – and is – declared art. Much of this art derives its aura merely from the claim of established artists, that a certain piece of junk is their creation and therefore to be considered art. If on the surface of the piece, the work is indistinguishable from a pile of trash, at least the “finger of the artist” has touched the work and therefore it gave the work its artistic aura. Pretty much the same as with corporate brands like Nike, Adidas or as a matter of fact with relics.

So I was very amused, when earlier today I read about a lawsuit that has been filed against painter Peter Doig. I am not going to go to deep into the details – please look it up yourself -, but apparently someone claims to own a painting Peter Doig painted, when he was just 16 or 17. The funny thing is that Doig denies that the painting is his. Now a court has ordered the painter to prove that the painting isn’t his. Let’s put away the fact that proving that you did not do something positively is challenging even at the philosophical level, and focus more on the aura of the work.

Doig (who’s painting sell for gazillions) is ordered by the court to grant a certain work its aura, so that this aura emanates from the shitty painting and therefore the work becomes more expensive.

I think this whole story is amazingly funny, since it tells so much about what is wrong with the art world.

Just a few things:

  • some art is so fuckingly expensive, that even the shittiest, most benign “work” could cost millions
  • because of that, many artist declare the most benign shit “work”
  • it is not about content or quality, just about names and provinience
  • and the audience astonishingly takes that shit

The Lazy Side of Corruption

This now might get somewhat angry…. or maybe frustrated.

I struggle with the fact that higher education in the arts is utterly broken in Germany. At least that what it seems like to me. And at least it seems broken, if it comes to the question of how professor positions are filled.

It might be jealousy on my side, since I really would love to teach at a university level and therefore I do, from time to time, apply to certain positions. But I have to be realistic and realize that my chances are zero.

If you apply at an art school, one of the key qualifications that is asked for is something called experience in teaching. Don’t get me wrong, that would definitely make sense, if there would be open and fair ways to gain this kind of experience. But maybe they do not exist. The easiest way would be, if one of the professor you have been studying with, invites you to teach a course at your old school. Maybe after that, you teach another and so on. There is no need for you to go through a tedious application process and that seems very convenient for the professor as well.

Another way would be, getting invited as a guest professor at a certain institution. If there is a application process at all – most of the time there is not -, that would be on invitation only and might be limited to two or three people. But again, most of the time, just one person is invited and that person is to teach for a limited time.

It is quite strange that public institutions – and that are almost all universities in Germany – seem quite happy with such an internal selection process. In both cases, the selection is made by professors behind closed doors, out of a pool of people they already know. That is what one might call a perfect example of networking. To me it does drift into the murky waters of corruption. Sure, if you already get along with someone, the chance seems quite high, that things work smoothly for you. But that is the exact definition of corruption. If you use your position in your interest, that is it.

This system also creates self-replicating networks, I know for instance of one case, where the child of a professor is now the assistant of a former student of that professor. How do we know, that this person is the best choice for this position? We do not know and I am sure, that no one cared to inquire.

Sure, the universities are not breaking any rules, since most laws allow them to fill positions in precisely this way. I still think this is problematic. These lax laws were meant to make life for university staff easier, but the system is broken. Take for instance my alma mater in Berlin. If I trust the information on their website, there are times, when close to fifty percent of the professor positions are filled with guest professors. And I am not even counting the assistant positions, which fall in the same intransparent category. Everything is filled from within the network of knowing-each-other.

I think it becomes a massive problem, once “teaching experience” is a requirement for any chances in an application process for a real professorship. I have to compete with a closed and intransparent network – and I can’t. The system requires a skill, which only members of the system receive. I do not see a conspiracy theory at work here, rather it is a classic example of laziness. But still this causes me quite some troubles.

Yes, yes, it is much easier to just choose someone you know over spending a lot of time looking for someone you do not know already. That is the path of least resistance and this path is a friendly looking, once you are operating on the inside.

A couple weeks ago, I ran into a student at this university and since I did study there before, of course we ended up talking about the way things are going. He mentioned the fact, that some students are currently fighting to keep one of the guest professors as a real professor at the school. Fuck it, the path of least resistance looks so easy. Even these students seem to follow it. The guy they want to become a professor has never applied for his current position and in a way, I was never able to compete against him, no matter how skilled I might be. And now the students want to deny me another opportunity to prove my skills. In some moments that makes me sad, in others I can get quite angry. Currently I feel resignation.

Images, Relics and Nike Shoes

Rocket

Unfortunately the image shown here is of relatively bad quality. It appears to show a rocket that has hit a truck. The rocket failed to explode, leaving a huge gash in the side of the vehicle. No matter how amazing the image might look, the truly astonishing part to me is its usage by different media outlets to document different wars. Depending on your source for news, the picture either shows a truck in the Ukraine, hit by a Russian rocket, a truck in Russia, hit by a Ukrainian rocket or a vehicle in Israel, hit by a Palestinian rocket.

Sure, we can all agree that, at most, only one of these stories could be possible true. But things are more interesting than that, if we just ignore this little detail.

In a way this problem isn’t new. In the middle ages, people in Europe went crazy about Christian relics. People died for them, wars were fought and pilgrims crossed the entire continent just to have a glimpse at the bones of a saint or two. But of course this also presented the perfect business opportunity for fraudsters. Dig up some random bones, put them in a nice reliquary, add the name of a saint in high demand and if you find a willing buyer, you can end up with a huge profit. The problem with this was, that there were more fraudsters than profitable saints and that led to the point, where the same body part of one saint was worshiped in different places. So apparently some saints seemed to have had more than one head, more than one right hand or more bones than a body would normally fit. This inflation was not limited to body parts though. Calvin suggested “if we were to collect all these pieces of the True Cross exhibited in various parts, they would form a whole ship’s cargo.”

But of course this created a problem. People believed that by touching the relics of a saint, or even by looking at them, they could somehow use the power resting on the saint to their own advantage. Or maybe through the saint they could get a more direct access to God. But what if the bones are not the real ones? Not only would this not work as a direct path to the saintly, but worshiping the wrong bones might even be sacrilegious, since you might even, unknowingly, worship the bones of a sinner. Intellectuals were puzzled by this and came up with a – if find – beautiful solution. They argued that God would not allow you to worship the wrong bones, while you were truly believing that these were the bones of the saint. God would take care of that.

That means that if there are two heads of the same saint, worshiped in two different locations, under the right circumstances both are the real one at the same time. It might not be the case that both are the real one for the same person, but both could be looked at as if they were the real one. On a very deep level, they did become indistinguishable.

To me, that does not sound quite as absurd as one might expect and I find it easy to draw parallels to our world. If we, for instance, take counterfeit Nike sneakers. Which part of “Nike” are they lacking? Maybe they were produced in the same factory, or at least a similar factory with similar machines. They look the same and so does the logo. But still, the Nike company would declare them to be fundamentally different. But what about the person who buys them and believes in their authenticity? To him or her, they are the real thing – maybe until someone raises their doubt. In a way, they can be real and fake at the same time. And the same is true for the “real” Nike shoes.

That might explain, why companies like this shoe maker are so afraid of counterfeits. The part that makes an object “real” in a brand sense, is always artificial.

And maybe – back to the image mentioned at the beginning – we are moving towards a point where our perception of reality in general becomes closer to this problem. What does it mean, if an images is supposed to show a random event in the Ukraine anyway? How could we understand the “reality” behind it? When was it taken? By whom? What was the situation like? What was it like if you looked to the right of left? Who else did see it? And so on, and so on. There is so much that is not covered by the image that might be considered part of the real setting of it, that the pixels present on our computer screen become almost irrelevant.

So maybe, like the relic, and like the company logo, images become a mere illustration that illustrates our expectation of an abstract thing that has no physical imprint in the object itself. In that respect, all three images show the reality they help create and are therefore similarly true.

The best censorship remains invisible

I had a strange experience today. I did a quick layout for a small booklet I wanted to print, with parts of my works on terror. Nothing special, in fact I am not good in layout work and that is something I do not really enjoy. But I need some printed material with this new stuff, to apply to some things in the future. So I uploaded the PDF yesterday in the evening and this morning I received an email telling me, that my order has been canceled. The email stated, that my content did not comply with the philosophy of the company. Call it what you want, but I think someone thought that this work should be censored.

Even though it does not really show on the surface of society, there seems to be something present underneath, that almost resembles mass hysteria, when it comes to anything terror related – or maybe even Islam related, since too many people have a hard time to distinguish the two.

If we look at the works in question, we might definitely not be able to agree on the quality or even if the work is interesting at all, but I think that it is certainly not braking any laws. Does it brake moral codes? Maybe. But should that be an issue?

I am certain that the person who had to check this PDF saw something Islamic and that did raise the red flag. But lets be clear, I ordered merely 10 copies of the publication, since that is all I need, and that would be a very shitty propaganda operation. Its like dropping five leaflets on North Korea.

OK, in the end I wrote them an email and some hours later, someone left a voicemail message, stating that they thought about it and would print my booklet. So no censorship in the end. But what if I did not write an email? My material would not have been printed of course. And maybe next time, I would have thought more thoroughly about the content I want to print. That would be the beginning of self-censorship. Even now, I have the feeling, that I would look at my layout differently next time. Sad.

Since I am doing a lot research on this kind of material, I watch and collect a lot of it. When I became interested, at first, I wondered where this material could be found. And how should I go about accessing it? I started researching TOR and other forms of surfing the Internet anonymously. Should I purchase a VPN or not? But the more I thought about it, the more I became angry with myself and the situation. As far as I know, it is not illegal to research these things. I am not involved in the making of these videos nor in the distribution of the material itself. What I am doing is research work. Many people might consider what I am doing bad taste, but I think it is important.

So I decided not to hide my tracks and not to use anonymous services. If I end up on some kind of government watch list, this would proof that the system currently is broken.

Why is society so afraid of propaganda? Propaganda is not too different from advertising and we all would agree that watching an advert does not really make you buy a certain car. Otherwise people in debt could always sue car companies for making them purchase cars, they could never afford.

By prohibiting access to this material, it is not going to go away, it just becomes far more tempting for some people. But the more damaging part is that by removing this material from the common consciousness, you remove it from public debate. And that lets people freak out once they encounter a small glimpse. Most of the ISIS material online is boring or unimportant. And then there is some brutal material and maybe a tiny fraction could be considered dangerous. But by blocking all access to all material, everything is labeled the same way … and it becomes far frightening.

In fact there should be public screenings of this material, combined with public debate. Once you inspect this material closely, it quickly starts loosing its aura and reveals things it is not meant to reveal.

I don’t understand lyric poetry

That might be a terrible outing, but I just can not read modern and contemporary lyric poetry. I just don’t get it. I gave up on the whole genre, but I tried in the past. So I read the first line, then I needed some time to think about what this might mean. Then I read the second line, getting more confused, but I somehow manage to connect line one and line two. But the third line gets me, since the whole things stops making any sense to me. I guess I am a creative person and normally I am perfectly capable to follow the weirdest thoughts, but again, lyric poetry defeats me.

I know, that is definitely over simplified, but the point I want to make here is another. I, like many other people, have a hard time understanding this kind of literature, since I am not trained in understanding this form of language. I am choosing literature as an example here, since literature is all about language and the problem might be most obvious, but today, almost all professional or scientific fields develop their own subset of language.

I am fully aware, that me talking about art with other people in the art world, could be hard to grasp for someone who’s lets say a butcher. That might have been always the case, but I think that the accelerating diversification of the professional field might bring an accelerated diversification in language with it. Some years ago it would have been relatively easy to grasp the language used within another scientific field, but take philosophy for instance and we are almost at a point, where certain sub fields within philosophy have a hard time finding a common basis for communication.

That bothers me somewhat and I think this presents some real challenges to the concept of interdisciplinary work. Most of the time one does not notice the fact that the language in different fields seems to further drift apart, since by definition it is the remoteness of all these fields from one another, that lets this happen. But from time to time I stumble upon it.

Again to philosophy, which could be a fine example. When reading a philosophic text sometimes I get sucked in and find the ideas presented very convincing. But once I look up and look outside the window, I find myself wondering how much the whole thing has to do with the real world. I never got through much of Kant, but how much of him is to be found in me crossing the street? I don’t want to sound arrogant and to be honest, my art and the stuff I am saying about it, suffer from exactly the same dilemma. What I am trying to say with my art, might be absolutely valid within the context created by art. And what Kant is saying in his philosophy might be valid within the field of philosophy.

I did read Vilém Flusser’s short text on photography a few years ago and I did not really think about it much afterwards. It just did not interest me that much. I am invited to participate in an event later this year, that seems to take some influence from this text, so I forced myself to reread it. And while doing so, I stumbled upon a short paragraph, that brought me to writing this text.

“Black-and-white does not exist in the world “out there,” which is a pity. If they existed, the world could be analysed logically. If we could see the world in blacks and whites, then everything in it would be either black, or white, or a mixture of the two. The drawback, obviously, is that such a world would not result in color, but in gray. Gray is the color of theory; after having theoretically analysed the world, it is impossible to resynthesize it. Black/white photographs display this fact: they are gray; they are images of theories.“

Maybe I don’t get it, but right now all I can think of is “what a pile of crap”. The problem here is that the whole text might make complete sense in its own subset of language and therefore in its own subset of perception. But to me, as someone who lives within another subset-system, the whole thing makes no sense whatsoever. In my world, “Gray” is not the color of theory … I didn’t even know that theory needed a color. And in my world being color blind does not necessarily help in logically analyzing the world around.

It might be the case, that I would get, what he is talking about, if I would try to read as much Flusser as possible and therefore manage to dive into his language and thought cosmos. But this is precisely the problem I am emphasizing here.

I think the world is not that difficult on a human level. The world around us, the society we are living in, that should all be somewhat possible to grasp. And when talking about images and photography, it should be possible to express things in a way that could be (almost) universally understood. Maybe. But I might be wrong.

“the horse”, Sir Winston Churchill, 36p

Copyright is badly broken. I guess that is not news. But I am not arguing that the way copyright is implemented might be broken, rather it is the entire concept of copyrighting something that is just wrong.

Some time ago, I did read the short text “I, Pencil” by Leonard E. Read and recently I was reminded by it, when listening to a podcast. The text from 1958 is about the idea that today so many people are involved in the production of such a simple item like a pencil, that one could argue that there is no one in the world who could make one by himself. From cutting down the trees, to mixing the paint, to mining the graphite for the lead – in the end maybe millions of people are involved in the making of one. Most of them without being aware of their participation in the making of a pencil.

I do see many parallels to the idea of copyright. Image the last person in line of the production declaring that the pencil is his and his alone. There should never be another pencil beside it, since even the idea of pencil is his.

Sure, the text “I, Pecil” is about market and money, but so is copyright. In some ways I am considered a creator. And lets just forget about the projects for which I used found footage but focus on those works who might be considered truly mine. I have an idea, I take my camera, I do my shots, I process the files and in the end the result might represent my idea. But do I really believe that I am the sole creator of a work? I am not talking about the production process – here I am moving away from the “I, Pencil” text. So I am not talking about the manufacture of the camera or the processing by the lab. Or the company who produced the components of my computer. I am talking about the intellectual part of my creation. I am a creature, but I could not fool myself into believing that the ideas I have come purely form inside of me. No. I am fully aware of the things that influenced me and even though sometimes the details are slightly blurry, quite often I know most of the impulses by the outside world that brought me to the creation of one work or the other. Like the pencil, an idea is just the end result of a cooperation of a huge number of people who have no idea they were cooperating.

But in the end someone claims authorship. “Now the idea is mine. And it is going to be mine until many years after my death.” That, to me, feels wrong, unfortunately I myself am participating in this claim-making business, since I have to try to make ends meet.

Take for instance the estate of Winston Churchill. I am not entirely sure, what the legal situation is right now, but at least their website says, that they license those works they hold the copyright to for commercial use. They state that: “The fee will vary depending on the scale and importance of the publication involved, but a rough guideline is £175 per 1000 words.”. I find that ridiculous. I am not so much taking offense by the fact that maybe the speeches of a publicly elected official have to be paid for. It is more the concept of such a license that offends me. For some time, I am playing with the idea of approaching them to purchase a “the” by Sir Winston Churchill. Just one word. I should be able to afford it, since it should be just 18 pence. That is a bargain. I might even buy “the horse” for 36 pence. Yeah, the whole thing is ridiculous. What does one pay for actually? Words? Churchill definitely did not invent those? Well then it must be ideas. But how many original ideas does a Churchill speech contain? How often can we be sure, that it was actually his idea and he has not been influenced by something he read or someone he spoke to? We could never be certain. And I guess that almost every sentence Churchill spoke in his life, was spoken before.

So it might be that we are not actually paying for words or ideas, but for the right to use a brand name such as Churchill. Copyright is broken and it always will be.

Watch out! The Internet is heading your way!

The Internet is a strange place. Never before has it been possible being ignored on such a global scale. Hype normally does not change that too much. I have had my small share of hype in the past. Not the Gangnam Style kind, much smaller, but still I would call it hype.

The first time something like that happened to me was shortly after I have finished university, when an (apparently) important Dutch blog wrote about one of my projects and linked to my site. Sure enough, the server that hosted this site went down and availability was quite shaky for a couple of days. Looking at the statistics I realized that over the course of a weekend something like 40.000 visitors from the Netherlands still managed to see the work on my site. Wow! I thought that was it. I finally had my breakthrough as an artist. I was happy and waited for all the feedback that was certain to come. How much feedback did I end up getting? None. Not a single email. Why? Because when was the last time you have seen something on the Internet and you did not just repost it, but rather you contacted the person who created the original material to tell him or her how awesome you find what you have seen? See, I don’t do that either.

After telling my girlfriend about that, at the time, she felt sad and started to actually tell people, if she found something interesting the had done online. The feedback she received for that was very nice, but I think she stopped doing that soon after. It is just nothing most people normally do.

Now once or twice a year, the server my site is running on struggles to keep up with the amount of traffic it gets. Mostly that has to do either with my work on the Stasi or my project on snipers. And mostly it is because some site writes about something someone else has written about my work. That is another strange thing – attention on the Internet is mostly layer upon layer of copies. Most people do not bother asking to use material, others do. Sometimes I have my fun moment answering some of these requests, when someone wants material based on copies of copies of copies. Most people do not even bother asking a single question, but rather take everything just as it is.

I get it somehow. I wouldn’t want to be in the position of an editor of a website that has to keep pace with all the other sites around. You couldn’t possibly come up with the amount of original material necessary to fill your site. So copying it is.

Dealing with these things, I learn a lot and I am quite grateful for that. For instance earlier this year I found out that a huge US site was using an article from a smaller blog about my sniper project. Seeing that I thought: “that is odd, when did I give permission to sharing the content in this way?”. Turns out, I did not. Interesting about this was the fact that this site boasts with the clicks their articles get. According to their site, over the past twelve months they did run the same article (which was not theirs in the first place) four times. The first three times the article was clicked on 500.000 times each. The last time, this number went all the way up to 3.5 million. That was at least until I forced them to pull the plug. The interesting thing was that I did not really notice the first three times. Even though they had a link to my website, the amount of traffic this generated was quite low. Every couple of days I check the traffic on my server and that is normally how I notice that someone is linking to my site. The last time was the thing that gave them away. Maybe twenty thousand viewers this time actually clicked this link. That was something I did notice.

Twenty thousand out of 3.5 million, that is nothing. Especially, once you take into consideration that actually no one does anything to you besides spending three or four minutes on your site. Nevertheless, I receive quite many requests for material by huge sites that ask for free stuff, since “attention” is the currency they are going to pay me in. I don’t know if any one of them actually believes this bullshit. I am afraid some actually do.

Normally these blips of hype come unexpected. Someone writes something or copies something – and there is the peak of traffic on my site. And still, the whole thing can be tempting, I have gone through this quite a few times by now, but deep inside of me I am always strangely hopeful. In a way I feel like an old fisherman, who tries to keep his vessel in working condition, just in case he has to go through a storm. So I keep my site up to date. Check from time to time if the links are still working. If it would be a boat, it would get fresh layers of paint once in a while. And then storms come and go. And they leave hardly any trace behind. Can be frustrating.

I found myself in the fisherman-mood over the last few days. I realized some new projects and wanted to send out a newsletter – that is different from the storms above, since that creates just a fraction of the traffic. But still, the website needed, if not fresh paint, so some polishing. And today I was briefly interviewed by two very big sites, who are going to feature my new sniper images early next week. For once that is a storm I see coming and once again this strange feeling of hope sets in. But one has to learn to fight that, since the weekend after, everything should be over and things should return to being ignored entirely by the whole world.

PS – I still think that the Internet is important as a way for people to access ones work and I like having a website. It is a general problem that art almost never gets the amount of attention the artist would like for it to get. A normal opening of a small gallery show here in Berlin might draw fifty to a hundred people and if you are lucky you are having a nice time. Still the amount of real feedback could be somewhat compared to what you get online. So the Internet makes things accessible to other groups of people, but I guess we might have to agree on the one thing, that most people don’t give shit about most of the stuff they are encountering. It just becomes more obvious once you are working in the creative field.

Darkroom Nostalgia

Camera ObscuraWhile studying, I spent a lot of time in the darkroom. And man, I really liked it. Since the class I was in, was without a professor for most of the time, class size was quite small and no one really seemed to care what was going on. So I pretty much had my private, fully equipped darkroom to do whatever I wanted. I was amazed by the medium of photography and wanted to know as much as possible. That was in 2002 and analogue photography was still a big thing. Quality was much better than with digital cameras at the time and materials were readily available. But somewhere on the horizon loomed a thing people called “digital revolution”. I, like many people around me, thought that this shift was going to create a huge loss. Photography would change and the magic would disappear.

Did it? The technology most certainly changed, but did the magic go away? Sure, working in a darkroom gives you the feeling of being a magician. All the vats and liquids, the smell, the chemicals and much of the ritual is performed in the dark. So light creates an images that appears from the dark. That already almost sounds like a plot for a chapter in a Harry Potter book. But upon closer inspection, most of the technologies we encounter today seem to be in part magic driven. The silicon in your computer is sand that does calculations. The light in your light bulb is wind or water creating light. Describing the world around us can be very poetic. So working in the darkroom can be overwhelming, but the magic is more a magic deception. Sure, a powerful deception, since you are standing in this dark room, fully immersed.

That said, I do believe that photography itself has a lot of wonder to it. But this is not related to the technological details of its creation, it has more to do with the picture itself. This strange relationship between the picture, our perception of it and its connection to the outside world. That, I think, is the part that is really fascinating about this medium. And this strange relationship seems getting stranger and stranger from minute to minute. Photography is the most interesting and important medium today. (I do not really distinguish between photography and video. The aspect of time might be more visible in video, but it also exists in photography. To me, video is just moving pictures.)

But it very strange to me to see that many art schools still put much emphasis on the analogue side of the medium. The argument would normally be, that this is important for students to understand the basic functions of photography, I get that – kind off. Still, these functions could be learned by merely looking at the way the technology works today. It would be different, if many important photography projects deal with questions of analogue versus digital. Yes, there are some projects that actually do that, but it is more common for artist to tell you that this is the question they are after, when their works are actually about something completely different. Using analogue techniques, very often gives these artworks the notion of being handcrafted – as if this would raise their quality. Most pictures don’t gain anything from being processed in the darkroom. Still, one can boast about it. “This was made in the old way”. It feels like writing “Same recipe since 1839” on all your images and sell them at a local hipster store.

Focusing on these old techniques, takes away time and resources from the more important aspects of this medium, that should be researched. It is not the role of art schools to preserve old technologies beyond the point of addressing their importance today. I am suffering from darkroom nostalgia myself, so it makes me quite sad to say, that there might be no real need for darkrooms in these schools anymore. I myself had a great time, performing these magic tricks in the photo lab, but not once did I plan of setting up my own lab at home or in my studio. I might have been in the top 5% of heavy darkroom users at my school. So some months ago, I was curious and asked the staff at the photo lab of my old school, if they knew of anyone who finished within the last eight years (since I had finished my degree), who actually did set up his or her own lab. They did not. So there might have been hundreds of students who worked in the university lab and a few of them might on occasion rent a lab to work in, but no one saw this as important enough to set up a lab for themselves. And keep in mind, thanks to Ebay, it is extremely cheep to by all the tools necessary to do so.

For some of my projects I am still using my old medium format camera. But that has nothing to do with any kind of magic. I just happen to have this camera and a very good film scanner. Achieving the same quality with digital equipment is something that would not make financial sense for me at the moment. On my last trip to the Latvia and Lithuania, I spent maybe €300 on films and processing. I do something like this maybe twice a year. So spending €20.000 on a very good digital camera wouldn’t make much sense for me at the moment, even if I could afford that. Plus, if something happens to my old camera, €200 would get me a “new” old replacement on the Internet.

Art schools should help young artists to develop the set of skills necessary to tackle important issues they encounter. That is not done by focusing too much attention on techniques that are currently dying out, and it is not done by giving them access to tools that are beyond their reach once they have left art school. Art school is wonderful, it lets you try out so many fancy toys in so many wonderful fields. The problem here is, that just a few percent of the people finishing art school can financially participate on this level. So it might be nice to use a digital medium format camera that costs tens of thousands of Euro, while you are in art school. But what is the point of developing ideas for that set of equipment, if the chance is very real, that you might have to live just above poverty level once you have graduated? Maybe later, once you are successful, you might be able to afford more expensive equipment. But, the most crucial time for young artists is just after their degree. Art schools should really focus on developing the skill set needed to survive this terrible time. And maybe, as a result, a higher percentage of graduates would still make art five years after graduation.

Every man is a brain surgeon

Once more I came across this cursed quote by Joseph Beuys that supposedly every man is an artist. That is cursed, because in fact Beuys was not talking about this, the way this is normally taken as an excuse to have every moron claim to be an artist. In a similar claim, one could state that everyone is a brain surgeon – which is technically true as well, since everyone could try his best to operate on a living brain. Even though I would definitely advice against that. I am just very happy that with brain surgeons, only the most talented are allowed to work in that field. Something we can certainly not claim to be true in the arts.

It might be true that opening the art world to as many people as possible was done with the best of intentions, but I would argue, that in the long run, this has damaged the reputation of art quite badly – maybe beyond repair. This has created a very strange form of political correctness that seems to prohibit one to question the quality of art in general – even though, sucking at art should not be considered protection worthy. But, “there is no accounting for taste” … well fuck, another of that cursed quotes. And another one that is almost always misunderstood. Just because there is a stupid quote, everyone misunderstands, does not mean that something becomes true. There should definitely be accountability for the quality and content (or lack thereof) of ones art. But is there? Not really. There is certainly no way of getting fired from claiming to be an artist.

Sure, we could could say that two different things might unfortunately share one label. That would mean that there is the thing called art professional artists do and the other thing called art that is practiced in elementary school or by hobbyists. This way, calling the stuff pupils do in school art, would have no influence on the professional art world. But unfortunately this is somehow not the way this is understood. Artists do art and hobbyists as well. There is no real difference, other than that one happens to be expensive or happens to be hanging in museums and the other thing is just misunderstood by the people deciding to put up museum shows. But that is bullshit. Again, technically that is valid. You could, in theory, hang every image in every museum, but for that then, there would be no need for museums anymore. Since by arguing this way, you could also classify every space as a museum. And thinking about it, I am quite sure, that this claim has already been made.

So, yeah, I really get it, that people don’t understand art.