"San Giorgio Maggiore" (1885), a landscape in gauche on paper by Francesco Zanin, is only one of hundreds of artworks in the "commodity" collection of speculator Galen Collison. Artenol photo

Artenol founder Alex Melamid addresses a group of journalists and community activists via Skype at the Kopkind Colony in July. Managing editor David Dann, left, emceed the event. Debbie Nathan photo

Starting over: Rethinking art

Artenol's founder addresses journalists at the Kopkind Colony

By Alex Melamid

 

In July, Artenol founder Alex Melamid gave a lecture via Skype at the Kopkind Colony in Vermont. He addressed contemporary art’s current malaise and offered several proposals for reinvigorating it. Those who attended the workshop were asked to complete surveys on their interest in the arts and to offer their own vision for an art of the future, an art that had been “made great again.” Mr. Melamid’s talk is transcribed here in full, as well as his responses to selected questions from the audience. Artenol managing editor David Dann acted as the evening’s emcee and Kopkind Colony board president JoAnn Wypijewski hosted the event. — EditorI am an artist. I’m an old artist, and I’ve been an artist all my life. About ten years ago, I had a revelation, a Road-to-Damascus kind of St. Paul moment. At that time, I was 60 years old, and I had been an artist since I was about 10, when I painted my first oil painting. So I’ve been in the business of making art for 50 years. My road-to-Damascus revelation was this – I said to myself, “Listen, I’ve been doing something for all my life which is total nonsense. It is the most idiotic thing in the world, this thing called art!”

And since then, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been doing, and what art is. I now, more than ever, more than I did 10 years ago, think that art is what Marx said about Christianity – a “false consciousness.” It’s a kind of a religion for the godless world, and we’re coerced, forced into believing in it, under the premise that it’s a good, benign and refined thing. We’re under an umbrella of belief that art’s really good for us. I’ve tried to find out how it’s good for us, but have been unable to do so. So the impetus behind creating Artenol, our arts magazine, was to uncover what art is, to find out whether I’m right that it’s a false consciousness that serves the upper classes in order to subdue and keep in check the general population. Art does this not out of malice, of course, for the art world’s insiders and institutions also believe that art is a force for good. But what art is very good at is keeping things in order.

Now, with the current revolt of the masses against the political elite in the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s really interesting to note that art is also a staunch defender of the status quo. Traditionally, modern art has been about starting something new, creating a catalyst for change. Nowadays, it’s just the opposite: art is a catalyst of the status quo. If you observe the way the art world works, you’ll quickly understand that absolutely everything is controlled. Neither artists nor art institutions are interested in any change at all. Change is what they’re afraid of – and rightly so, because they’re doing quite well financially, myself included.

But for me, it was important to create Artenol so that we could initiate a discussion of these matters. The name “Artenol” comes from Tylenol – the magazine is to be a remedy for the art world’s ills. I’m looking for the truth, though some people might find my views controversial.

I just wonder why people don’t want to see the obvious. Why do they accept the status quo, believing what everyone else believes rather than finding their own beliefs? Harold Rosenberg, one of the great post-war art critics, described this condition in an essay titled “The Herd of Independent Minds.” In his view, we are a “herd of independent minds” – we’re like a herd in that we strive not to think individually.

If you think about art, it becomes obvious that it is wrong. But it’s not just art. Our culture also defines us. Traditional Marxist teaching says the economy shapes our minds, but I believe it’s just the opposite. In a phrase, it’s the culture, stupid. This variation on the famous slogan from the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign says it’s art, in a broad sense, and not the economy, that defines everything in our lives. If we change culture, we will change the world.

Art, as it’s presently defined, should be destroyed, demolished. You know, there are different definitions of what art is. If you go to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, you’ll see paintings, of course. But you’ll also see medieval armor, some silverware, all sorts of utilitarian things of fine design. Spinoza said – and he was called the first atheist – that everything is God, and therefore God does not exist. Similarly, if everything is art, if everything has an artistic value, then there’s no need for art to exist at all. There’s no need for a separate entity called “art.”

Read the rest of this story in the Summer 2016 issue of Artenol. Order yours today

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