Quality in Art Part 2

Thus the choice is one of the main issues in art. A very important part of the game is that the choice in itself is a quality. An artist who has been chosen several times for exhibitions in good places will be chosen mainly for being chosen before. The choice is of course connected with the establishment of a network. When a network is built it will become easier and easier for an artist to remain at a certain standard of artistic quality. 

That explains the main routines in the artworld. But, as I mentioned before, this is not enough to explain a success. There must be a beginning of a career and it is naturally important, at least to a certain extent, what an artist is doing.  

An artist starts his carrier by imitating other artists. As the new artist gets to know more about the contemporary art situation, the imitation normally turns to unique works. This is of course a “must” for an artist; one of the most basic rules is that an artist must do works of his own, different to others. Not all artists are capable of making works good enough to be recognized as “interesting” but I guess you can say that most of them are. At least if the invest in being serious and hardworking. Thus something new has to be created. This is not difficult. Constructing the work and creating a work with “newness”, add a meaning, an “aboutness”, is basic. Other important aspects of this kind are transgression, adding poetic dimension to a work, incomprehensibility, artistic twist. All these are artistic qualities and the fine thing is that they are uncontroversial; they are elements in art which everyone in the contemporary artworld agrees on. If we bring these qualities into a list we will get the following quality issues: 

AboutnessTransgressionNewnessPoetic dimensionIncomprehensibilityArtistic twist  

Now, it is important to describe the art we have today and recently. The art which is setting the trends and creating discussions, the art to be considered as the most progressive – in short where it happens – is the international contemporary art. It is to be found in the advanced places of exhibitions like the biennales, certain museums and galleries. Magazines are dealing with this art as well as newspapers, books and websites on the Internet. What we recently had was modernism which is much bigger than “international contemporary” (InCo). But it is not valid as the most advanced form. Modernism is today an art which makes no progress. It is rather a part of the history of art. Roughly it means the time from around 1900 until 1970. 


Aboutness is the answer to the question: “What is this artwork about?”  

Modernism is about form and aesthetics. The quality issues above are the same for InCo and Modernism. But Modernism has an essence: Art is about aesthetics though it has never been possible to define what exactly this means. Therefore when you turn to aboutness, something which answers the question: “What is the work about?”, the answer will always be the same: It is about form and aesthetics. That is the deeper level of aboutness. On a lower level a modernist artwork can refer to a style, or content, connected to the form. For example: It can be a cubistic work where certain methods are used to create the work. Or abstract expressionism where another aesthetic method is used and where the content normally is said to be about expressions of feelings or inner experience. 

When we turn to InCo the deeper level of aboutness is ideas. The artwork is thus basically about some sort of idea in contrast to the modernistic approach, the aesthetics. Indirectly this means that art does not have an essence; any idea can be brought into art. Art has no limits; anything can become an artwork. When the artworld accepts something as art it will be art as well as when the artworld accepts something as quality art it will be quality art. This is “the institutional theory of art” which refers to George Dickie and partly to Arthur Danto. But we should keep in mind that the theory is a stub and in the artworld it is not used in a deeper sense. “Aboutness” in this deeper sense doesn’t give an identity to an InCo artwork as the aesthetics did for Modernism.  

Aboutness on a lower level is much clearer in InCo. Since the early 1990s it has been totally dominated by social issues: “social critique”. It is also possible to be even more specific. Almost all art projects can be sorted as either about identity, gender, migration, post-colonialism, institutional critique or ecology.  

Aboutness is not in itself a quality rather a characteristic. But it is in practice necessary to supply an artwork with social critique (lower level of aboutness) in order to create the possibility of relevant quality. The relevant aboutness is of course not only a task for the artist. The construction of a coherent discourse on a specified social critique is normally created by critics and theoreticians.  

The deeper level of aboutness will always be taken for granted. Artist working within the field of InCo will always work with ideas as a point of departure. 

(Part 3 will soon be published)

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