Quality in Art: Part 4

The characteristics which have been presented don’t give art an identity. There is still the problem with how an “art identity” will be brought into them. Here we have some important aspects:  

The existential level. Art is seen as a field of high discourse. This means that basic and deep questions concerning life and death are a natural level of art. It is a serious business. The backup for this are philosophers and their texts on art and aesthetics. And this came about from Kant and onwards. The point is that art is “talking back” to philosophy on the same level but in a non-philosophical way.  

Even when an artwork seems ridiculous or stupid it will be taken serious and discussed in a high discourse manner. That is, of course, if it is considered worthy. This means that it should carry enough quality. It is important to compare with our fields. Art can look like a student’s joke, sport or fashion. The difference is the existential level and the level of text which are attached to the work – or sometimes a part of it. 

This means that quality is built into the art system. A lesser good artwork or a bad one is an attempt that more or less failed. Some artworks can be seen as just formally a part of the artworld. For example mass-produced paintings or “bad taste” works can in a way be called art but they are not considered worthy for being a part of a higher discourse, which is quite obvious.  

Now, we have a possible answer to the question about how the artworld motivate quality in art. A work is considered being a part of the higher discourse, expressing an existential level and also expressing this through newness, incomprehensibility, poetic, and aesthetics. But this is not a satisfying answer as art in practice is more specific. The next step is to examine relevance. 

In order to achieve a high or a reasonable standard of quality an artwork must be relevant. That is it should fit into the existing issues. A work can be motivated as to have a high degree of quality if it to a large extent is showing similarities with already existing quality works.  

An example. The last 10-15 years the art connected with InCo has been about social and political issues: “social critique”. In practice this means that an artwork cannot achieve a standard of quality, become “interesting”, unless it is connected to this subject. But the social critique is a broad concept and includes different aspects as identity, gender, migration, post-colonialism, ecology, media, and institutional critique. All these subjects are not operating all the time. When Okwui Enwezor in 2002 created the Documenta 11 it was heavily based on post-colonialism. This huge exhibition had a strong impact on the artworld. The idea of post-colonialism as the leading quality content was spread all over the world. But post-colonialism can be understood in many ways and other forms of social critique did not disappear. Still it is possible to say that quality centred on this concept in the following years.  

When social critique and post-colonialism are used as foundation of quality it is necessary to combine it with the other aspects which were mentioned earlier. Thus it is possible to define the main quality at this time (approximately 2002 – 2006) as post-colonialism touching an existential level (could be a subjective perspective), showing newness (made in a surprising way – a documentary film could e. g. be extremely long), incomprehensibility (partly difficult to follow, not illustrating the theme), poetic and aesthetics. Of course, not all of the aspects have to be present or stressed.  

Next part: If the artworld has 100 projects on post-colonialism which are the parameters to choose the best ones?

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