[NetBehaviour] Code & Art & Reviewers [was - Re: a new Microcode: Vito Acconci's 'Seedbed']

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Mon Jul 6 23:04:54 CEST 2009

Hi, quickly... hopefully...

On Mon, 6 Jul 2009, Rob Myers wrote:

> I use the weasel phrase "have claimed" in the review because I do know
> that other people strongly disagree with this claim. And I'm careful to
> open it up at least a little -
> "There is the question of at what level this mastery needs to be
> demonstrated, though."

again, I don't think mastery has to be demonstrated at all, only whatever 
the works are. If I use a perl program someone gave me, instead of 
program- ming in c, that doesn't weaken my work at all, or perhaps we 
should test Richard Serra, say, on metalurgy?

>> You say "But mastery of tools is a prerequisite for competent expression."
>> What is a tool? What is competency? What constitutes expression? For that
>> matter, what constitutes prerequisites?
> A tool is an affordative resource used instrumentally for some purpose.

Yes, but in terms of mastery? If I use someone else's program, I haven't 
mastered anything, but I might well produce something brillaint.

> A competence is a particular set of abilities that can be exercised to
> realise some purpose.

In this light, competence is whatever it takes, which I have no argument 
with - but that's very different than mastery.

>> One of my favorite artists is Vito
>> Acconci who had very little of this sort of mastery, if any. I could give
>> other examples but the point for me is critical and something I've con-
>> cretely fought for at every school I've taught at - mastery is in the eye
>> of power, the eye literally of the _master,_ and that's a stranglehold.
> But this will always be true in an educational institution. To move the
> requirement of mastery to the level of rugged individualism and
> self-directed project-based work still makes a demand of the students to
> conform to a particular model and we can still evaluate them against
> that model.

No, that's not how it played out; there was no particular model at all, at 
least none I knew of, and I taught at both places. Certainly rugged 
individualism played no role either I could see; what was true was a kind 
of openness which might be likened to play, not a playing field; the 
students did what they wanted, the teachers also made art, etc. etc. and 
it was pretty equal. There was a lot of laughter. I did the same thing 
teaching at RISD around the same time, and when I walked into the faculty 
lounge, everyone would go silent - but as far as the students were 
concerned, I did well by then.

>> The two best teachers I've ever seen (with records of students doing
>> amazingly well for that matter) taught no 'skills' of this sort at all -
>> I'm thinking of Lutz Presser in Australia and David Askevold at NSCAD.
>> David's classes were free-for-alls - you learned what you wanted to learn
>> and learned enough to do what you wanted to do, and that was it. Some of
>> his students were showing at Dokumenta.
> How do the students know when they have learnt enough to do what they
> want to do, and how do they know what they want to do? How do we know
> that they know?
Those sorts of questions would have just killed the place (which maybe you 
would think is ok) - there was a lot of chatting and networking all over 
the place. At both schools, there were also a lot of visiting artists who 
came for more than a few days (I was one of them, sometimes was there for 
a semester), and students and artists associated together; we generally 
considered everyone an artist for that matter, and again didn't draw 

> Presumably they are competent in self-directed study, project
> management, and art direction. Presumably we can recognize and evaluate
> the signs of this. This applies to Acconci as well.
Yes -

>> I feel you're drawing all sorts of distinctions; where you might see these
>> as openings to work, I see them as barriers. I really appreciate your
>> analysis of the microcodes - it's brilliant - and your description of the
>> environment they're produced within - but the idea that a particular level
>> of knowledge is necessary to create a 'valid' work of {x}-art, fill it in
>> as you please, is really anathema to me.
> I am drawing distinctions. All critics, teachers and artists do. This is
> true of institutions and practices that strive for structurelessness as
> well.
In a manner of speaking, literally, but it might not be the best approach 
for creative work...

> I do think that a particular level of knowledge is necessary to make art
> *that will be of broader interest*. If we remove this criterion we don't
> liberate people, we expose them to social or economic rather than
> aesthetic or technical requirements on making and experiencing art.
Sometimes it's hard to know what 'level of knowledge' even refers to. I 
can think of a number of examples, from Cadere to Daniel Johnston, where 
it's difficult for me to think that way - in fact a lot of my 'favorite' 
artists are problematic in this respect. And it's not either or. Maybe the 
crux for me is "if we remove this criterion we don't liberate people" - 
who says, 1 they need liberation, 2 we can liberate them, 3 our own model 
of liberation might itself be a strangleold for some (in fact programming 
criteria is possibly a good example)?

>> The great thing about the net is
>> how open it is; the idea, for example of net.art always seemed behind the
>> times with its exclusivity.
> I am in favour of aesthetic and technical exclusivity because they
> scupper social and economic exclusivity.

Or go hand in hand...

>> I think programming can be anything from
>> machine language to somebody typing 'date' at the prompt
> This excludes visual programming languages. ;-)

You're right and I'm wrong here -

> I agree. But the viewer is more likely to respond to more competent
> artwork, and more competent artwork is more likely to come from some
> kind of technical mastery.
I have no idea really what a competet artwork is; Guiseppe Logan for 
exaple isn't a great technical sax player but his music is brilliant.

> I may have done Pall a disservice by inserting an idee fixe of mine into
> a review of his work, and if so I apologize.

But your analysis is really astute!

- Alan

> - Rob.

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