NOTA #3 [31/07/2018] (RJ I)

Artists are eager to identify themselves with—and even lay claim to—efforts like the Occupy movement, but their involvement, Davis argues, muddles protest and derails organizational efforts more often than not. When artistic practice is posited as a politics, it tends to emphasize individual effort and distract movements from pursuing the sort of social change that could benefit that large portion of the population not interested in living their lives as art.
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Because artists, unlike wage laborers, have a direct stake in what they produce and face no workplace discipline other than what they impose on themselves, their political attitudes are structurally different from those of the working class, who know they are interchangeable parts in the machine of capitalism and must organize collectively to resist it. “The predominant character” of the contemporary art scene, on the other hand, “is middle class,” Davis contends, referring not to a particular income or earning potential but rather to artists’ relation to their labor. Artists work for themselves, own what they make, and must concern themselves with how to sell it
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Artists must produce their reputation as a singular commodity on the market, which makes their chief obstacle other would-be artists rather than capitalism as a system, regardless of whatever critical content might inhere in their work. When artists patronize the working class with declarations of solidarity, their vows are motivated less by a desire for social change than by the imperative that they enhance the distinctive value of their personal brand.
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Mistaking the achievement of collective purpose as the accomplishment of collective aims, artists arriving at the scene of activism promulgate a politics of “carnivalesque street parties” in which participation is sufficient as a goal. But carnivals are the tolerated states of exception that support the ordinary operation of power. As Davis puts it, artists’ eagerness for “temporary autonomous zones” is a “perfect recipe for displacing the goal of struggle from enduring material change that could benefit large numbers of people to a spectacle that is purely for the amusement of those who take part.” In other words, artists turn protest into an aestheticized experiential good, something consumed by individuals who can then disaggregate from the collective with a distinctive, treasurable memory.
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Limiting authentic creativity to proven professional artists makes creativity both aspirational (it models how nonartists should structure their leisure) and vicariously accessible (nonartists can absorb creativity through awed exposure to properly certified art objects). It is thus that artists  “represent creativity tailored to capitalist specifications.” Artists become the designated exemplars of the form liberty can take under an economic system that prizes innovation and glorifies ideologically the dignity of the small proprietor.
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Artists make the satisfying feeling of being an artist as much as they make discrete artworks. Typical art-world consumers, however, are not interested in the freedom art might signify. They want something to invest in and something that sets them apart. The trade in art objects is mainly about updating the prestige scoreboard (and property values) in the rarefied “art world” of multimillionaire collectors, gallery owners, museum trustees, and artists becoming brands.
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Given that artists’ status hinges on mystified creativity, they tend to overrate its transcendental significance. When “committed art practice” acts as a “substitute for the simple act of being politically involved, as an organizer and activist,” the focus shifts from economic injustice to liberating personal expression, as though capitalist society has some interest in suppressing it
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But consumer capitalism is eager to harness the creative impulses of everyone. It virtually compels self-expression by allowing even the most mundane acts of consumption to become signifying lifestyle choices. (Is your kale organic? etc.) And the elaboration of communications technology has made our expression itself a lucrative product that we make for free and pay to consume the spectacle of its distribution. Telecoms and social-media companies would like nothing more than for us to express ourselves as much as possible.
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No matter how subversive the content of such art becomes, it never ceases to support capitalist hegemony. Artists provide concrete evidence that capitalism nurtures autonomous “creativity” and tolerates even the most intemperate of its countercultural excesses, while it actually siphons the creative energies of nonartists into valorizing consumer goods, putting them to innovative use in expressing identity.
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