Missed Critique

In the very important article “On the Curatorship,” from his book Art Power, Boris Groys discusses the iconoclastic power of criticism, and he says:

“Contemporary iconoclasm, of course, can and should be aimed primarily not at religious icons but at art itself.”

I think we have to listen for what is not spoken in this remark. “Of course” art must be the object of critique, because everything else must be likewise. If we critique political obfuscation, economic lies, the media empires, the digital delusion, the nexus of technology and superstition, then art must be arraigned as well, naturally. But in fact the critiques that should occur hardly ever do, and art becomes the scapegoat, taking on the burden of all the truths not stated. If the left devoted a fraction of the energy to genuine critique of the status quo that the art world gives to the critique of its own presuppositions it would not be so ineffectual. Or maybe we could say that if our intelligent critics directed a small portion of their efforts at the world outside of art they might do some good. (In other contexts, Groys does exactly this.) It’s our society that has to be disenchanted. Art doesn’t need to be taught that lesson—it is already one of the few remaining agents of enlightenment. So this “of course” is actually a kind of bad faith. Contemporary iconoclasm can and should be aimed primarily at the icons of an insane society. The unspoken claim—of course—is that art is one of them. Ironically, it’s hard for art professionals today to appreciate how out of proportion that claim is.

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