Yesterday evening, in my graphic design class, we started talking about conceptual art. Our goal was to understand generative systems; systems that operate not as a complete, static organization of elements and/or information, but a set of rules that govern the organization of elements and/or information, allowing for variation, but also consistency.
Nevertheless, we approached the question with examples from Sol LeWitt, who is known for his labor intensive conceptual art instillations. (Labor intensive, that is, for persons other than himself.) One of my classmates, who works as an illustrator, expressed her frustration and irritation with the popularity and financial success of conceptual artists. It seems unfair to her that she should expend the effort she does to achieve a high level technical and aesthetic achievement, and make no money, while these people or persons can write up instructions and take up rooms and wings of museums.
I derailed the conversation by bringing up Damien Hirst. My opinion is split on him; I think he’s a money-grubbing, pretentious, no-talent dick, but I’ve also been greatly moved by at least one of his pieces.
In the course of distraction, I came upon a sudden realization.
The relationship between banking and art is generally recognized. I recommend this piece from The Believer, December, 2012, I believe it is the one that first introduced me Damien Hirst’s famous diamond encrusted skull.
Currently, conceptual art is all the rage. I don’t think this is a mere side-effect of post-modernism. We have not exited the aesthetic age, and entered one dominated by the theoretical, nor is this a world of plastic ideas. The reason for the popularity of conceptual art lies with bankers.
We live in the age of finance capitalism. I have a penchant for Italian Marxists (Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Maurizio Lazzarato) whom I fully recognize are far enough out in left field to border on the incomprehensible. (Though I believe that their analyses and concerns are more discerning than most.)
Finance capitalism is defined by perpetual valorization of non-material capital. The financial machine of the stock market, the one that invented the nihilistic derivative assets that blew a hole in the global economy, the one that consistently over-values enterprises with no clear means of profit production (Uber, Twitter, et. al.), is, literally, a market of ideas.
They pour money into blackholes with everyone else’s money, and somehow transform that money into more money, until, suddenly, the bottom falls out from underneath them. (Then the money comes out of the real labor and real capital production and real earning power of the general populace, who run the rat race everyday to feed their families––no diamond encrusted skulls to be found.)
Of course finance capitalism spends its unspendable quantities of money on art that jumps, fully formed, from the head of the artist. The technical and physical labor that goes into the works are not the sources of value, and not the ones who will see the true profit. The money will go to the man with the gall to think he can sell such a thing to someone, and the children dying in the wars in Africa to bring us the diamonds and the gold and the shiny pieces that keep our entire immaterial infrastructures alive and beeping will see only hunger and death.
The bankers know how the system really works––you don’t pay the farmer or the miner or the paint mixer.
You pay only the broker.