I hope you all have gotten a chance to read Anton Vidokle’s article “Art Without Work?”. Remember the Towson MFA students who participated in Masters of the Visual Universe  as a part of a MFA seminar? A few weeks ago, they had to read Vidokle’s article and write a response. Here was the assignment:

Also, in preparation for this Thursday and in lieu of having class after my lecture, please read the attached article by Anton Vidokle entitled, “Art Without Work?” I would like for each of you to email me a one page, single-spaced written statement on your response to Vidokle’s article ASAP (by this Friday), specifically articulating how you interpret his statements about art in relation to work. Please write this short paper using a formal rather than casual, conversational style. This paper should not take long, so please do not stress about it. I sincerely want to know your thoughts on the article.

Check out Jordan Bernier‘s response below.

I think that being a dishwasher is somewhat like being a shepherd. The work does not occupy one’s thoughts, and thus free to think. In fact, I actually think that many jobs are comparable to that of the shepherd, and therefore related to the Greek vision of occupation and a free mind. I started to compile a list of all of the other jobs I had that allowed me the freedom to think. In fact, I’m trying to think of a job that doesn’t allow people the freedom to think while they are technically working. Pretty much any job with a computer is ruled out of the picture. I have never known someone who works at a computer and doesn’t spend most of their time surfing the web or doing nothing productive for any particular company. Just like Warhol’s Factory!

An artist like Cory Arcangel has a position on art is actually quite appropriate for this paper. I have taken some thoughts of this article and applied it to his work ethic. For one, he speaks about how art does not need to be complicated or time consuming, he even adds that art is more complex than to be complicated or time consuming. With installation works such as ten Vizio LED TV boxed stacked in a gallery, I think it would be safe to think that Arcangel has won the fight against complexity, time consuming methods, medium, and studio practice.

In terms of the relation to this article and MFA, it seems to me that everyone should be in on this one by now. What I mean by this is that studio practice, work, art and objecthood are understood concepts by most artists (or rather they should be at this point); defining one’s self by medium, time, or style is fallacy.

But, more importantly, and again in regards to MFA, is our complicit participation in such an operation. While studio practice, objects, medium, etc. no longer define art or artists, scholarship and academia apparently continue to define accreditation. I think that we enter an MFA program, especially at a place like Towson, knowing that there is still a status-quo to which we are expected to perform in accordance with; in other words we make a bunch of objects that are considered art. Making objects and documenting things makes it easier to apply to shows, have midterm critiques, and make one’s advisors happy.

Yeah, we are all complicit, and that’s fine. Some people may genuinely think that medium and object are definable within the context of “fine art,” and though it may be shallow, that’s fine too, but we are all still complicit. Everyone involved is using this program for personal economic gain; it’s an unfortunate state of education. To be fair though, MFA is at the least a lesser evil than most other terminal degrees. And though there is an understanding of these concepts that is necessary to change or alter the framework in the future. To push a system to its ultimate ends is important for humanity as a whole.

I’m more interested in the final statement to “reclaim a reality that art had prior to industrialization.” I would argue that the world needs no return to any time in the past. It is the threat, albeit unintentional, to a world that is less civil, less tolerant, less democratic. I’m not saying that our current world is good, I still consider it to be a pretty horrible place that needs a lot of work.

This article makes me think of the “Work Ethic” show at the BMA. This show was created to depict how art has “grappled with the problem of artistic process,” and in particular, who the maker is (factory worker, artist, etc.). From this show, several fluxus artists were exhibited such as Yoko Ono and Allison Knowles. These artists appeared to simply have fun with their work, and thus changed the ethic around what culturally may have been considered artistic practice.

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