Commentary on Air Guitar: Part 1 – Chapter 1-5

One of the key and opening concepts I found most interesting in Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar was his statement about the education system being a place where “culture didn’t work.” As bold of a statement as this may be, the evidence is clear and simple and can be explained by singularly discussing the non-changing and all-including systematic structure of educational institutions. By obvious contrast, the workings of culture and life in general consist of a multiplicity of constantly evolving factors; people, business, economy, weather, etc. Not to mention an immense amalgamation of tastes, opinions, methods and the list goes on. Suffice to say, “this place that we set aside to nurture culture and study its workings,” is quite the opposite from how we actually experience culture and its shifts. Experience is the key word here. It’s more appropriate to say that in order to understand culture and its working, we have to be a part of it, become immersed in its variety and find our voice within the larger society.

I must have been getting rather good advice then from my professors along the years; because many of them have encouraged me to take a break between undergraduate and graduate studies. Go out into the world and get some experience; that’s what I always hear, and it always ends with experience. How else can I understand the complexities of taste, opinion, method, its effect on my work and its sensibility within a cultural context. Hickey writes “In society, these objects (books, paintings, music) were occasions for gossip – for the commerce of opinion where there is no truth. In school, they were occasions for mastery where there is no truth…” Mastery implies a basis of truth in which there is some agreed upon qualifications for what is considered to be masterful. Sol Lewitt, in his Sentences on Contemporary Art (and contemporary art in general) is really onto something with the deliberate exclusion of subjectivity.

Speaking of subjectivity, Hickey shares a story of his experience in Washington D.C. serving on a National Endowment for the Arts panel. Even after the “four solid days…seated on a wooden chair in a dark room looking at racks of slides…” the choices made by those judges, were still further scrutinized by “a higher court on the grounds of propriety.” Art has more relevance in our lives then subjective categorization and market relevance based on propriety. Hickey says himself that when an artist creates something, offering it up to the public, it is “not as an act of vanity or seduction, but as an emblem of what works of art might do to the world…”

I guess we could refer to these categorizations by levels of culture. After all, there is low art and high art, just like upper class, middle class and lower class. But just as Hickey writes, “high art…is defined by its context and its exclusivity – and is always, in some sense about that context and the exclusivity.” Either way, the art comes before the categories and labels and thus is a fuel for the direction of philosophical blabbing. So, think about it within the recent labels of Modernism, Anti-modernism and Post-modernism. Anti-modernism was only defined by its disregard of boundaries and rules that were set by Modernism – mostly through Clement Greenburg. In other words, the critic, the philosopher – rather than the artist. As Duchamp said, quoted in McEvilley’s The Triumph of Anti-Art, “I consider taste – bad or good – the greatest enemy of art.” Subjectivity creates a set of rules and regulations and there is nothing worse for creativity then limitations. Although, some art exists primarily to poke fun at those qualifications and categories. I myself enjoy questioning those boundaries, because who really facilitated them in the first place?

All content sighted is derived from Air Guitar by Dave Hickey


By klcloonan

Los Angeles Interdisciplinary Artist

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