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"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
Market Aesthetics9/25/2007 10:25:02
There have been a couple of fierce comments responding to my most recent post, The Market as (the) Medium of Art, so I would like to respond to them. I woke up this morning with some fresh determination on this questions, in part because it seems to have raised such pointed reactions.
What I meant to say last time more fully, and which was added in a comment that attracted a lot of spite, is that there there may be beauty to be found in markets. I noted Adam Smith's metaphor of the Invisible Hand, through which markets mysteriously distribute resources with an effectiveness that, we see in modern times, evades the most thorough efforts at large-scale central planning. More plainly, it is theological: a force beyond the conception of the human actors who participate in it, and beyond their control. Not even George Bush can control the markets, though he might try to assuage them. In any complex society, questions of supply and demand are what the world is made from. They are the basis of creativity and the grounds of possibility. The point I meant to make in the earlier post it the totality of this fact. Even by trying to evade the market in a society like ours, one participates in it.
The fierce comments mainly accuse me of trying to create an ideology that benefits the corporations that ruin our lives by destroying what is important and valuable about life (and even lives themselves) for the sake of profit. I want to insist that this is not at all the point. We have let a certain class of business people take command of the concept of "markets" and have free reign with the term. Pro-market politics then means politics that might avoid product safety regulation or that value the interests of the extremely wealthy above anyone else. But this is only one use of the term. What I mean by market is the whole buying of selling among strangers that distributes resources without precise direction from above. It is a tangled web, and it is available to all of us as the vehicle of expression as well as the various economic fates we were born into (which so many artists today struggle - for better ((as ambassadors between worlds)) and worse - to eschew ((raising rents for the poor in Brooklyn))).
There are other ways to approach markets, describe them, and make them work. Any half-soluble NGO doing life-saving work in the developing world, for instance, has to make itself aware of the market forces in the place where it works. How can drugs be made affordable? How can water be distributed more equitably? Simply cleaning the sores of the poor like St. Francis and Mother Theresa can help hundreds, even thousands over the course of a lifetime. Creating a replicable and profit-driven strategy can help millions far more quickly, because people who learn about it will be eager to try it for themselves in order to support their families (see this year's Nobel Peace Prize winners). My own effort in this regard is Small's Clone Industries's Division for Nonviolent Technology, which seeks to defeat the militarization for foreign policy by offering more promising solutions in its place rather than just complaining.
When I speak about the beauty of the market, I am calling for "taking back" the system of exchange that the interconnected world participates in. What seems beautiful to me is the attempt to affect and reconfigure something larger than ourselves, to create value, and to reach out to others, welcoming them in turn to reach back. Anti-market ideology and art is based on a gross misconception, perhaps fueled by the class insecurities of many of our society's artists. But the consequence of it is that Wal-Mart is beating art out for the attention of people and even the visual control over the world we live in. Perhaps by finding the unfound beauty in markets we can discover the imagination to reconfigure them effectively and wonderfully.
re: Market Aesthetics - 9/25/2007 10:30:42
but why aesthetics? - 9/25/2007 22:44:40
...I noted Adam Smith's metaphor of the Invisible Hand, through which markets mysteriously distribute resources with an effectiveness that, we see in modern times, evades the most thorough efforts at large-scale central planning.
It seems to me, though, that the "invisible hand" is really only "effective" to those it benefits; that is, if one includes the havoc it also inevitably causes, I don't see what value there is in simply calling *that* "beautiful," or aesthetically pleasing?
...Even by trying to evade the market in a society like ours, one participates in it.
But isn't that a fact independent of any aesthetic claims?
I agree about the importance of thinking of markets from below vs. from above (corporations, central planning, etc.), but someone like Manuel De Landa gets at all that much better than Mark C. Taylor, in my opinion, who ends up just romanticizing the new (what De Landa warns against)...
...Perhaps by finding the unfound beauty in markets we can discover the imagination to reconfigure them effectively and wonderfully.
I'm all for reconfiguring markets, but I just don't think it'll ever happen by beauty appreciation per se; sure, one can say there's an aesthetic component to everything, but in the end that doesn't seem to be saying all that much? (Although I admit to being cynical about talk about aesthetics, for the most part! -- for instance, there's a certain beauty to cracks in the sidewalk & to all sorts of things, but actually making a sidewalk doesn't necessarily require an aesthetic appreciation of sidewalks cracks. And if one is ultimately defining economic relations as power relations, then a purely aesthetic appreciation of power relations can become pretty perverse pretty quickly...)
re: Market Aesthetics - 9/26/2007 01:03:34
re: Market Aesthetics - 9/26/2007 15:57:41
...I do not mean to call for a romanticization of markets generally so much as an appreciation for and thereby a renewed effort at what can be done within them.
To me that's a noble endeavor. The aesthetic claims seem beside the point, though, I guess is what I've been trying to suggest. (And in worst case scenarios/readings -- which I'm not nec. imparting on your personal aesthetics -- aesthetic claims can end up just justifying all sorts of stuff.) I just feel like the burden would be on an aesthetically-minded economist to prove why his or her economic theories benefit from the specific aesthetic claims being made, if they're really not superfluous to the specific power/labor relations being discussed.
Do you think that a business can be a work of art? Or a commune? Or a co-op? Or an NGO?
This clearly just depends on one's definition of art. I'm coming from the perspective that the 20th-century avant guard movements (Dada, Surrealism, S. I., etc.) have pragmatically proven that "art" is really an institutional category in our society, not an aesthetic one. For better or worse "art" pragmatically speaking is really just whatever one can get sold and marketed as art; contemporary art in that sense is overall basically bankrupt (especially when it comes to aesthetics -- hardly anyone talks about beauty anymore in the art world). So to me a business/commune/co-op/NGO might be considered art in different senses:
a.) Anyone is always free to just use one's own private aesthetic or appreciatory criteria to deem anything art, for oneself, yet this strikes me as just a figure of speech, since Art understood institutionally does function in our society in specific ways (in terms of funding, legal codification).
b.) One can de facto make anything into Art officially, also -- all one needs to do is document some happening or conceptual fancy and sell the resulting product through a gallery or through some other means.
To me the history of thinking about aesthetics and the history of Art as an institutional category don't coincide with one another, in other words. I'd want an NGO I donate $ to to be focused on their mission and its pragmatic aspects, however anyone involved with it (myself included) might or might not also think of it as "art" or aesthetically pleasing. I guess all I'm trying to say is that I don't think one can ultimately, convincingly ground the morality of economic claims in aesthetic criteria alone; to me it's just a truism that anything whatsoever can have an "aesthetic dimension" to it, so it's just a question of then justifying why that dimension is or isn't relevant to the issue at hand.
re: Market Aesthetics - 10/06/2007 18:57:03
re: Market Aesthetics - 10/08/2007 23:36:34