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Episode 52
Author Ben Davis "Art in the After-Culture: Capitalist Crisis and Cultural Strategy"

  • 25 min read

Episode Description

A discussion with art critic Ben Davis about his new book "Art in the After-Culture: Capitalist Crisis and Cultural Strategy". In the book, Davis (whose day job is National Art Critic for Artnet News) presents a number of essays that comment on the future of culture, politics, and capitalism through the lens of the art world. What does the future look like?

Transcript

Craig: [00:00:09] This is Art Sense, a podcast focus on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. On today's episode, I speak with art critic Ben Davis about his new book "Art in the After Culture: Capitalist Crisis and Cultural Strategy". In the book, Davis, whose day job is National Art Critic for Artnet News, presents a number of essays that comment on the future of culture, politics and capitalism through the lens of the art world. What does the future look like? And now, a conversation about the long term effects of capitalism's dysfunction with author Ben Davis.

Craig: [00:01:00] Ben Davis, thank you so much for joining me this Week on the Arts podcast. Ben, you are you're an art critic and an author and you have recently published a book, Art in the After Culture. Ben, in your words, how would you describe your new book to listeners?

Ben: [00:01:21] Sure. Well, it's a collection of essays...well, first of all, thank you very much for having me on the podcast. I'm a fan and it's just an honor to be able to let people read what you write and to be able to talk about it. The book is a collection of essays that grows out of things I've been interested in for the last five years. And the way I would pitch it to people is that it's about. It's about how art has changed in the recent past, the changes that are kind of weighing on art, making it feel different, changing the rules of what it means to be an art maker. And it's about how art responds to a civilization in crisis and chaos and how to navigate those concerns and pressures.

Craig: [00:02:16] Your book isn't just about art. It's really it's really kind of an analysis of our society and our biggest warts, things like worship of capitalism, ignoring the environment, our willingness to be distracted. I mean, you.

Ben: [00:02:33] Yeah, I think the book is pitched somewhere. People who are between art and between, you know, thinking about the they're engaged with or thinking about the kind of problems that we face as a society. And in that sense about culture and its larger sense about a culture that is a glue that holds people together, that allows people to communicate with each other. And, you know, there's a subtitle to the book, which is "A Capitalist Crisis and Cultural Strategy", which I put in there because I didn't want to be false advertising. It is a book about art. And hopefully it'll be interesting to people who make art, who like art, who think about art. But I also wanted to reach people who I think it's relevant to, people who are outside the art world in a narrower sense. That's kind of what interests me is like things that are at the border between art and other stuff. I think that's where a lot of the interest in conversations come in. A lot of important problems emerge. The things that really...the things that we really remember about a period culturally looking back are the things that kind of changed what kind of problems people were thinking about, where the new energy got let in, where the conversation collided with new kinds of social forces, new kinds of creative energies that that that were at that border. That's what I think. 

Craig: [00:04:04] What you just said reminds me of of one of the things that I kind of noted as I was reading your book was the importance of context. When I used to teach art history, you know, I would teach critical analysis through the lens of like form, function, content, and context and context always seemed to be the cornerstone of like understanding and appreciation. And I feel like context is something that we kind of circle back around to multiple times in the book. Can you kind of talk about the importance of of context?

Ben: [00:04:39] Yeah, that's really perceptive, you know, and I think in a little kind of a way. One of the themes that maybe runs through the book that's not totally on the surface, but is in there, you know, is the world is in such a state, you know, in the news is really transfixing. And and, you know, I think all the time, you know, there's this kind of insecurity when you read do something frivolous about as write about art. It's this kind of thought all the time. It's like, what is this worth? You know, like there's a real and I think that artists feel that are compelled to justify what they do against the weight of current events. Writers do this, but really just think the kind of thinking I do, the kind of thing I do, you know, what is it worth? And the answer is that it's not worth a lot. I mean, it really is not. I mean, it's a very small thing in a world that's affected by very big forces. But I don't think it's worthless either. So I think one of the thoughts beneath kind of various different themes in the book, because the essays are diverse and touch on different things, is what does art thinking, you know, what it's thinking about art specifically bring to the picture.

Ben: [00:06:12] And one of the things that I take away with virtues I take away from contemporary art as a as a landscape, as a conversation that I'm a part of, is like what you're saying, the importance of context, that I think that what it means to enjoy culture, to find beauty and meaning in the world is very different for different people. It's hard to pin down any absolute standard of it. But, so one of the things that being a critic is, I think that people have a stereotype about critics that I try and avoid, which is that they know what's right and they're there to kind of call balls and strikes. You know, that this one's good. That one's not. And I really have come to think about that as the excuse to write, but not the point of writing. You know, that's like the the piece of sand that the pearl of a piece of writing forms around is the idea of, like, telling people whether it's worth their time. But I think actually the point of writing is kind of like reconstructing a context of meaning, you know, why is this meaningful to me? Why was this meaningful to the artist? And that form of thinking is, I think, at a slightly eccentric angle to the way that the media culture we're in, in general, the kind of political conversation that dominate the cultural scene and so on, train us to have, you know, and and I think that there's just use for that.

Ben: [00:07:54] There's political use in it. There's cultural use in it. It's one of the places where those things cross over is this idea of that meaning emerges from consciousness, meaning emerges from context. I don't know. You know, it's like the Marxist, the phrase from Marx that "consciousness doesn't determine life, life determines consciousness." So you have to start from like the conditions of life lived experience, you know, before you arrive at your conclusion about things. And I think there's great value in that. Maybe that sounds like kind of fuzzy stuff, but it's one of the projects of the book is to look at these different contexts, sometimes really urgent political contexts, sometimes really disorienting technological contexts, and think about how that kind of thinking is useful.

Craig: [00:08:48] Your book, it begins with a prolog about kind of a post-apocalyptic sort of society where art is kind of different than what we see today. We're kind of extrapolating out these kind of worst case scenarios. And one of those is people consuming AI art or artificial intelligence generated art for thrills. And that AI art that is kind of custom crafted to just kind of fire synapses. Going back to the, you know, the issue of context, that type of art doesn't challenge our understanding of someone else, right?

Ben: [00:09:28] Yeah. I mean, I think that I mean, there's a whole chapter on artificial intelligence art in the book. I mean, you say it's like a worst case scenario. It's a framing device for the book. But in some ways it's just you know, it's a little vignette, speculative fiction vignette that's just kind of extrapolates things that are already happening or ways of thinking about art that are already here into into the near future. And, you know, it's sort of a way to ask, is this what we want? Is this where is this where it's all going? And there's definitely a way that that there's a way of thinking about cultural experience that is just like...that is very algorithmically determined just about keeping people engaged. Give me the next thing that based on the last thing I liked. It'll keep me on site, on screen and so on. And there are a massive commercial forces working on perfecting that problem of cultural consumption. Just like expanding your cultural engagement day to day. And I think that we really are at a point where we should be asking the question like, is this the definition of culture that is most rewarding? I don't think it is for most people. But in order to in order to engage with some of the problems, you do have to go back to some kind of like basic questions about art criticism, art theory questions like what is cultural experience in the first place? What are the different kinds of it? What are their uses and purposes? And I'm really fascinated by the AI art conversation because all these questions are in there, you know? They're not talked about.

Ben: [00:11:39] I mean, the conversation in that sphere tends to, without knowing it, you know, replicate really the the most formalist kind of art criticism. You know, getting back to the question of context, you know, it really does go back to like to thinking about how to figure out how to formally generate experiences that are novel enough to keep you clicking. And I think that's totally possible to do. I don't think we're that far away from the cultural moment that you really are like the rat in the maze that, you know, has a button that it presses that just directly gives it a reward. And we all know what happened to that rat is that it died in the actual study it presses the button until it dies. And so I think that that's there's major forces trying to turn our cultural experience into that and and that in little and that artists of the art thinking ah criticism should have and does. I hope that my book has something to say about that.

Craig: [00:12:58] As I was reading your books, one of the first notes I wrote down just for myself to kind of contemplate was, "Why do we make art and why do we consume art?" I think that's a really interesting question. I mean, again, it's a big question. But, you know, I think a lot of...

Ben: [00:13:19] Can I just say I'm really glad that if that's your first note for the book I'm really glad. I mean, I'm genuinely flattered because it's an interesting thing, right? I mean, and it is that there's this entire industry with, like, you know, discussing a bunch of money being thrown around, like cities compete to be part of the art economy. You know, there are, like I said, big corporations looking to hack the idea of or figure out how to industrially produce those kinds of experiences. There are biennials around the world that compete for your attention, and at the heart of all this is just an empty space. Because the oldest, most fundamental question, you know, what is this? How do you define this? What is artistic experience as opposed to other kinds of experiences is kind of a question mark still, you know, and and I think that's a fascinating thing that's so much energy is moved around this empty thing that isn't defined and maybe is just hard to find, maybe impossible to find, maybe something that floats around and is really so context sensitive that it's like an infinite conversation because there infinite, infinite context. So I just think that that's a fascinating thing about the contemporary world is a mysterious thing. And I think important. And so I just...if my book provokes that kind of question or as part of that conversation, I'm just so happy, you know.

Craig: [00:15:03] Well, I guess it did. Listen, you know, there's there's a good chunk of your book where you touch on political culture, activist art. My impression of political activist art is that it seems very ephemeral. I feel like whenever I go into the institutions, the big museums, I feel like I don't see a lot of political activist art from different generations. And, you know, you talk about sometimes it gets thrown into the art kettle, you know, like how is that type of art able to speak to a broader audience and how are we able to see it long term for what it is or what it was?

Ben: [00:15:53] Yeah, you know, that's such an old question. You know, it probably in the 20th century, maybe one of the oldest and most fundamental debates is this question about the engaged artist. And if you go back to your art history, you just you see these waves of conversation about it, about people reaching because because, you know, essentially a work of art is a symbolic act and it's competing for your attention in some kind of way, you know, and is trying to justify the effort that goes into it against the world around it. You know, whatever kind of artist you make, whether whether you make your life watercolors or whether you make political activist posters, I mean, you're trying to get people's attention. You know, you're trying to just. If I the effort that you put put into it. And so there is an aspect of this that is linked to current events and the external world, and there's an aspect of it linked to kind of internal dynamics or the conversation being had in art at any one moment. So time and time again, you know, you see...I'm really interested in, in this book and elsewhere in how our sense of what is meaningful art has always been, is always in some kind of way, political in or at least refracts, condenses political energy. So arguably this is what the first chapter in the book, which is about the history of connoisseurship, is about Our entire the whole place where our sense of art is like something that has a more enduring place in the world is a kind of a slower kind of experience that's meant to last longer.

Ben: [00:17:47] That's not that's not a way of thinking about art that's existed forever. It's pretty new. It relates to the way capitalism has developed. Those ideas of esthetics emerged out of the industrial revolution in Europe at a certain time and are really connected to as the world sped up, as people were packed together in cities. And then people felt like they'd lost something and in the way of connection to the objects in their world. And then in the Romantic Period, people developed this idea of the artist as the figure who redeems that, who has this unique connection to nature, who has a deeper connection to their objects of work, that you can see a human personality in these objects, in a world where the industrial objects in your world are really stripped of personality. So the romantic politics that's in the idea of art from the beginning. And then, as you know, the conversation about these things develops over time. You know, the conversation becomes more or less relevant. And so the two last things I'd say about this question are I think it's a little bit...

Ben: [00:19:11] there are...it's been really interesting the last five years when. When culture has just...there have been such political demands on culture. And I think actually we're now in a little bit of a backlash moment to that that there's like political culture has become such a brand and has been so strip-mined by ad departments, the kind of advertising style where it's kind of affirming social justice slogans and stuff. You know, there's a lot of cynicism and backlash around that. But in the last five years, things got really political in the museum. And one of the effects of that is that for the longest time, when I was studying art history, nothing was less cool than the art of social realism from the 1930s, like almost the entire American art conversation was defined against the 1930 style of social realist art. The abstract expressionists came out of that, and what has been really, really interesting to me is the return of social realism as a genre that people pay attention to and think is interesting. You know, like some of the biggest shows in the last five years have been by Charles White, was a black painter who got his start in the 1930s was was card carrying. Well actually we don't actually know whether he's a card carrying communist, but he was he was involved with radical left politics.

Craig: [00:20:50] And I remember him being a mentor of Kerry James Marshall, if I remember right.

Ben: [00:20:55] Yeah, that's right. That's right. And and there's even this great story about how he's teaching in California. And there's this moment when the the department, which is really dominated by Conceptualist at the time that was the radical art people thought was was radical at that time, they topple like a statue, a figurative statue, because they are like, you know, we are so radical. And, you know, here you have Charles White teaching who is like a figurative painter in a social realist sense. And it's amazing to rediscover those paintings and see the public rediscover them. It's like these these are feel incredibly fresh, you know, these feel like so present now. And, you know, it was the least cool of art styles for the for the longest time and similar with Alice Neel who was you know, has recently had huge interest. Another figure who is associated with the old left. For the longest time, she had this huge beef with the kind of styles that were dominant even in the feminist movement which adopted her, you know, very and people, you know, look so fresh, so contemporary. So I think in terms of the question about political art and what those are figures, they were sustained in political subcultures, not in the market, mainstream market, museum, institution, culture. So I think with the question of what endures, it's not really a question of political or not political. It's a question of like modes of production. And the last thing that I wanted to say about that is that there's not a right way to do anything. And again, I think that's the context sensitivity is part of that. And there's an aspect of art that's just...that is ephemeral.

Ben: [00:22:53] I mean, it's not the reason we do make these objects or do these things is not necessarily just to last for, you know, for eternity. Eternity is a fiction. A lot of it's for now and for just a conversation that appears right in this moment. If all that it does is motivate or move somebody in the present, that's okay. That's good. That's what it's meant to do. And that's, you know, there's an element to that of fashion to that, you know, fashion is is very deliberately effeminate. There's a little bit of politics to that, too, which is like it needs to respond to the present and there's this conversation about such things is not does not happen in a vacuum. It's not like people just woke up one day and decided like, oh, everything, every press release, every artist statement needs to include like a statement of political principles. I mean, that's sort of happened in the last five years, but that wasn't just like a this wasn't a trend. That was because the world and in various ways felt very urgent. And that means that there's a demand placed on artists to justify what they do against that. Now, I think that does have flattening effects. I mean, like like we said at the beginning, I think that one of the projects of the book is precisely to recover a kind of thinking about art that's lost when the conversation gets flattened underneath it's immediate political urgency, but I think that it's not as simple as as an opposition between political and non political art. There's a really complex relationship between those things that's really context sensitive.

Craig: [00:24:50] Well, back there, somewhere in the answer, you mentioned that there is an entire chapter around connoisseurship. And in there you say,"connoisseurship has become a byword for snobbery, greed and professional mystification."

Ben: [00:25:06] Yeah.

Craig: [00:25:07] Is the connoisseurship of the gallery system good or bad?

Ben: [00:25:11] Well, I think that that's there's not a simple answer to that, because, I mean, like I say, I think there's a lot of mystification that goes that goes into this thing. You know, there's this huge digital art conversation right right now about nfts and so on. It's kind of a separate conversation, but it's amusing to see it's amusing to see the way people react to some of these. The worst examples of Nfts, where it's just like a collection of 10,000 things that are like 10,000 JPEGs that are like slightly different from one another. And you're supposed to be like, "oh, you know, like the ape with the hat. That's a really rare ape, you know, that's worth a lot more than the pe with the pipe." And that's a mystified form of connoisseurship. I mean, it's a gamified fake form of insider knowledge meant to generate value through distinction. But a lot of what goes on in the art fair or the art market is just exactly that. I mean, it's just modeling it from the side. It's like, "oh, that's the Gerhard Richter. Like, there aren't that many paintings of that size in his abstract series with that particular color conversation". That's as shallow a conversation. And, and so there's definitely mystified mystification. But where my chapter ends is that I don't think you can come down on a simple side, one or the other. I mean, I think that in many ways, a lot of the way our culture operates is to create sides that that are in contradiction to each other.

Ben: [00:27:03] It just kind of generates division and the division between, you know, popular populist art and depending on how you want to put it either, you know, like intellectual art or snob art is one of those things. Like, I mean, I think that that you're just left...if you're trying to be a human person, you're left with like and define yourself. In the cultural world we live in, you're left with, like, a lot of kind of like. Partially satisfying choices and I think the art world can be this really alienating place to people to me, you know, that's full of people competing for really petty forms of micro status. But on the other hand, you know, it's a place where that keeps certain kinds of knowledge either quarantined or trapped, depending how you want to look at it. But you can have certain kinds of conversations with people. You'll find certain kinds of people, even if those people are critical of all those same things. You find those people you find those people there. And, you know, I wish it was as simple as just being like, enough with all of this. Let's just build our own thing. But I don't think it is. I mean, I think that you kind of like I said, I'm most interested in things at the border, but that's as much about the things that are on one side of the border as that are on the other side of the border, you know. So does that answer your question?

Craig: [00:28:54] Yeah. I mean, it's very muddled in my mind, you know. In the old days, we wouldn't see every artist in their work. You know, we would see the artists that through whatever relationships or whatever had kind of risen above the huddled masses and made it into a gallery. And now with Instagram, you know, we have hundreds of thousands of artists and we're seeing all of their work. And I think you even kind of referred to that at one point. You referenced a quote from Cory Arcangel, kind of being overwhelmed by seeing everyone else's art. And you also talk about Nam June Paik talking about this this Democratic esthetic that maybe the "information superhighway" would give us one day, right? And so I'm just trying to figure out, like in my mind, are the millions of art images on Instagram a democratization of of art, or is it just overwhelming? Is it just...

Ben: [00:29:56] Yeah, well, this is a really good question. I'm glad to use the word democratization, because it gives me a chance to say something. That word is misused. Right? Like tech people use it all the time. Art people use it all the time. But, you know, most of the cases where you don't actually get a vote, you know, and you're definitely even when you're clicking and liking things, it's not a vote with any common project. You know, it's really atomized. It's not democracy in any kind of real full sense at best. You know, there's a kind of pseudo participation that these things offer you. Yeah. I mean, I have a long chapter in the book called "From the Art World to the Culture Network", which you're mentioning, which brings together some of these thoughts about how social media has changed art. And I think that, yeah, from the the the citadel from inside art, you can think about these things as kind of trivial questions about their marketing questions like...this is going to make me seem ancient to like, you know, the younger members of the audience. But I was working at a magazine when we got our art website, when we got our first social media manager.

Ben: [00:31:16] And I remember thinking how trivial, you know, like, "Really? That's a job? And we're hiring someone for that job?". But of course that's like a huge position now. And there's been this breakdown in the way the attention functions as more and more attention is controlled by the online conversation and particularly by the social media conversation around it, I mean, and that's not trivial for what art is for these fundamental questions about how it works and what it is. I mean, that's like you said, I mean, there used to be one way people found art, you know, that it bubbled up through institutions. And then there was a conversation around it that was there in the magazines. And that was the art world. When we use the term casually "the art world" what we are talking about...and Lawrence Alloway in his essay network, described as a system from the early seventies, said is that like you can't define an art world by the production of art, because a lot of art is produced where there's no art world. An art world is defined by the institutions of circulation, by the writing about it and by the institutions. Show and show and circulate it and the social media platforms have superseded that institutional conversation. Those are the institutions that are circulating images of art, where people have the first experience of it. So, often it seems like to me that the conversation around art objects really dominates the objects themselves. You encounter the conversation about the chatter, the social debate about things long before you encounter the actual thing. And in certain cases you're responding to that first and as entire new categories of art experience that have sprung up around that reality. And so then the question is, which brings me to the title of the essay "From the Art World to the Culture Network", do we even live in an "art world" anymore? I mean, we have a sense of community and we have a sense of common interest like there is. But I think we're in a bit of a transitional moment between two between two symbolic systems, between two reality, where there are a lot of people emerging for that experience. But I don't think that what people emerging in art school now encounter is something like an art world in the sense that you talked about. I mean, it's really located in an online conversation. And that online conversation isn't separated off from other conversations, the way the art conversation used to be.

Ben: [00:34:11] I mean, it's in one stream and the images of art are right there with ads and the political stuff that is commanding people's attention in the same stream and images of their parents vacation and their what their friends had to eat today. And it's competing with all those forms of attention. And those are...that is where...it's a much more...it's in some ways that's the contradiction in some ways that that means that art has merged with life in a way people always said it should. It shouldn't be a luxury object separated off. I mean, anybody can enter the conversation, but in another way it makes art much smaller because that separation is, in a sense, what we mean by art, that it's a kind of a special experience that we hold a special category for, and that's really disorienting because we're really between those two, like I said, symbolic systems. And it's some of what the book tries, tries to ask, which comes down to, again, really fundamental questions. What does it mean to have an artistic experience and what does it mean to have a world, an art world built around that experience?

Craig: [00:35:33] Well, back there, you mentioned that oftentimes we hear the chatter about our work before we even see it. And it reminds me in in your book, you you write about Dana Schutz's "Open Casket". I have never seen the work visually, but I know it's become the poster child for cultural appropriation. And that's a topic that you tackled that is, you know, it's a really tough one for me to reconcile in my mind if somebody wants to support the cause, but they're not part of a particular culture, how do you acquire permission to advocate for a particular culture in your art? Or is that not even possible because you do not have the right to take that on? You don't deserve to have that voice because you're not able to have the voice that an insider would have. Can you kind of talk about what we've seen in the struggle with that topic of cultural appropriation?

Ben: [00:36:38] Yeah, well, I mean, I said that the book is about how art, the rules of art, changed or the conversation is really sharply shifted. I mean, I think that's been really disorienting for a lot of people. I think particularly around some of the conversations about cultural appropriation, I think that I've had these conversations with people, really important thinkers, at the bar where they're just like, I don't get this at all. Like, this is the opposite of the rules that I that I came up with. You know, if you look at the converse, if you even look at the where the term cultural appropriation comes from, it's the movement, the opposite of what it means. Now, you know, it was really originally a term that meant minority cultures, borrowing from white culture, from the dominant culture in order to remix identities, you know, to create hybrid identities. And then, you know, the chapter I talked about talks about this reversal where we g...the gate swings both ways. And the lines have been really sharply drawn about who can say what in the last five years. So I think I would not be so bold in my book is not so bold to answer the question you're asking me. Which is what are the rules? What gives you permission to make make an artwork? What are the borders that you can draw where "this is acceptable, that is not"? I think that is just one of the points that really sticks with me is, is I mean, the concept of cultural appropriation is a reification of a lot of separate issues, you know, that have emerged together.

Ben: [00:38:36] And our is deliberately fuzzy. The way the media tends to use it conflates a lot of different conversations in such a way to sustain like argument and discourse, which is which is good for good for traffic, but it's bad for society. And so just just an example, I mean, there are things that are thrown together. I mean, I think there's a dissertation I read about the the voice of appropriation wars in Canada in the 1990s, which is one of the places that I talk about where this way of thinking about appropriation really emerged. And the author looks at all the debates that came out about voice appropriation in that time period, about white writers writing from the POV of indigenous communities, for instance, or about white artists making work about other cultures or their experiences, which really sound, you know, prescient of of our present conversation. And she looks at all the conversations, the positions that people stake out of various side. And she takes them apart just like, oh, there are actually seventeen different kinds of issues that people are debating here. And some of them are philosophical, some are economic and so on. You know, like there is the question, for instance, of whether there is such...a philosophical question, "is there such a thing as authentic experience?" You know, can anybody make a claim to to represent some kind of authentic experience that is more than their own individual experience or is like or that is a philosophical claim that people stake out different sides to.

Ben: [00:40:33] Then there's an economic question like, "Is it the case that white artists appropriating forms of culture, does that take opportunities away or does it expand the audience for things in such a way that adds economic opportunities?" These are like different things that that that are conflated in the same category and make it a very unwieldy conversation. So like my chapter on this (the longest chapter in the book) looks at the recent conversation, how it changed and kind of tries to pick apart why this happened rather than to kind of stake out exactly a master position on it. Because I think that's my starting point is and I was disoriented, really disoriented by these conversations. I didn't know what my place in there was to talk about. So I did. What people say you should do is I do the reading and I went back and I was like, Where does the concept of cultural appropriation come from and why is it occurring in a form that happens now? And I think I came up with some answers to that that, to me, opened up a lot of the themes of the book that like how what happened in the last ten years, it does feel like it's really radical. What set of factors, what changed in society in various kinds of ways that changed the rules so suddenly, and that ends up being what the chapter is about. But it's a really big conversation. That chapter has a lot in it about that that tries to answer that question. So I don't know if here is the place to go into all those details.

Craig: [00:42:25] You know what? It's just indicative of the book. It's the book's very thought provoking. You know, each chapter, you know, gives it gives us something else to chew on. Is the book out now?

Ben: [00:42:37] It's out now. It came out. It came out in March, I think. Yeah, it's out now. People can can get it now. And I hope people it's it's more articulate than I am. So I hope people have a chance to read it.

Craig: [00:42:58] And so if if folks wanted to read you on a on a weekly basis, where, where is the best place to consume Ben Davis?

Ben: [00:43:08] "Consume Ben Davis" (laughter) I work for a website called Artnet News so you can find me there.

Craig: [00:43:17] All right. And that that has you getting on a plane this afternoon to go to Berlin, right?

Ben: [00:43:23] Yeah. Yeah. And heading to go see Documenta in in in Kassel and yeah. Still have yet to pack for that.

Craig: [00:43:37] All right. Well, you know, I really appreciate you taking time out of a travel day, especially when you haven't even already packed to talk to me about these amazing topics. I mean, it's...

Ben: [00:43:49] Oh my goodness, Craig, it's so...I'm flattered and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk

Craig: [00:44:01] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to Art since you can find the show on Apple Podcast, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rate the show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. And if you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read the transcript and find other bonus features. You can go to canvia.art and click on the podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at craig@canvia.art. Thanks for listening.

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Ben: [00:36:38] Yeah, well, I mean, I said that the book is about how art, the rules of art, changed or the conversation is really sharply shifted. I mean, I think that's been really disorienting for a lot of people. I think particularly around some of the conversations about cultural appropriation, I think that I've had these conversations with people, really important thinkers, at the bar where they're just like, I don't get this at all. Like, this is the opposite of the rules that I that I came up with. You know, if you look at the converse, if you even look at the where the term cultural appropriation comes from, it's the movement, the opposite of what it means. Now, you know, it was really originally a term that meant minority cultures, borrowing from white culture, from the dominant culture in order to remix identities, you know, to create hybrid identities. And then, you know, the chapter I talked about talks about this reversal where we g...the gate swings both ways. And the lines have been really sharply drawn about who can say what in the last five years. So I think I would not be so bold in my book is not so bold to answer the question you're asking me. Which is what are the rules? What gives you permission to make make an artwork? What are the borders that you can draw where "this is acceptable, that is not"? I think that is just one of the points that really sticks with me is, is I mean, the concept of cultural appropriation is a reification of a lot of separate issues, you know, that have emerged together.

Ben: [00:38:36] And our is deliberately fuzzy. The way the media tends to use it conflates a lot of different conversations in such a way to sustain like argument and discourse, which is which is good for good for traffic, but it's bad for society. And so just just an example, I mean, there are things that are thrown together. I mean, I think there's a dissertation I read about the the voice of appropriation wars in Canada in the 1990s, which is one of the places that I talk about where this way of thinking about appropriation really emerged. And the author looks at all the debates that came out about voice appropriation in that time period, about white writers writing from the POV of indigenous communities, for instance, or about white artists making work about other cultures or their experiences, which really sound, you know, prescient of of our present conversation. And she looks at all the conversations, the positions that people stake out of various side. And she takes them apart just like, oh, there are actually seventeen different kinds of issues that people are debating here. And some of them are philosophical, some are economic and so on. You know, like there is the question, for instance, of whether there is such...a philosophical question, "is there such a thing as authentic experience?" You know, can anybody make a claim to to represent some kind of authentic experience that is more than their own individual experience or is like or that is a philosophical claim that people stake out different sides to.

Ben: [00:40:33] Then there's an economic question like, "Is it the case that white artists appropriating forms of culture, does that take opportunities away or does it expand the audience for things in such a way that adds economic opportunities?" These are like different things that that that are conflated in the same category and make it a very unwieldy conversation. So like my chapter on this (the longest chapter in the book) looks at the recent conversation, how it changed and kind of tries to pick apart why this happened rather than to kind of stake out exactly a master position on it. Because I think that's my starting point is and I was disoriented, really disoriented by these conversations. I didn't know what my place in there was to talk about. So I did. What people say you should do is I do the reading and I went back and I was like, Where does the concept of cultural appropriation come from and why is it occurring in a form that happens now? And I think I came up with some answers to that that, to me, opened up a lot of the themes of the book that like how what happened in the last ten years, it does feel like it's really radical. What set of factors, what changed in society in various kinds of ways that changed the rules so suddenly, and that ends up being what the chapter is about. But it's a really big conversation. That chapter has a lot in it about that that tries to answer that question. So I don't know if here is the place to go into all those details.


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