February 17, 2008

The Improvised Artistic Device

A specter is haunting our art institutions—the specter of capitalism. Museums kowtow before wealthy collectors and galleries crate and ship their consumer goods across the globe, from one art fair to the next. The art market operates under the worst neo-liberal of economic realities. Unregulated primary and secondary markets control not only pricing and distribution, but also what works are displayed, written about, and codified into the artistic cannon. Art writers do not steer the discourse, but merely point to the looming iceberg and type up a record of its impact.

Emerging artists--the primary producers of entry-level cultural capital--supply labor and raw materials out of pocket, go into debt for their education, and simultaneously work to have the basic necessities of life like food and shelter. Working as individuals, artists compete with their peers for financial remuneration in the most powerless of positions: the anti-collective.

The history of Modernism has been a history of opposition: artists react to the status-quo of concurrent artistic norms and the conventional wisdom of their times. Millet's paintings of the working class can be seen as a reaction to paintings depicting the bourgeois; conceptual artists can be seen in relation to the primacy of the material object in the work that came before them.

As an artist, my effect on an entrenched system—both economic and cultural—seems almost nil. My agenda is not to restructure how art is conceptualized, written about, or bought and sold: the path of the artist-run exhibition space (or publication) has been well trod. Nor is my first impulse to unionize emerging artists—though I would participate if the collective will were there. I do have an impulse to react to current modes of production and display; my methodology and intentions differ from Bey's Poetic Terrorism. Random acts of creativity--like random acts of kindness--have become entrenched and cliché as well.

As a way out, it has become necessary to leave the art world and look at ways individuals have successfully reacted against entrenched systems of power. One need look not further than the United States Military, recognized as the most well equipped, advanced, and powerful force in the history of civilization. Over the past several years this most powerful of organizations has been held at bay—not by a collective force or by another institution—but by a large number of like-minded individuals and their creation and placement of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

The future holds the possibility of a world that is not dominated by a few entrenched and well-funded institutions, corporations, and nation-states, but a hyper-polar world where power is held in check by a myriad of individual players that greatly limit the dominance of any single institution.

Translated back into art, this "modest proposal" proposes that (either in addition to, or rather than--comodifiable cultural objects)—artists produce Improvised Artistic Devices, or IADs.

How these IADs manifest themselves is up to the artist. In future writing I will post more about my own iterations. Unlike traditional work by emerging artists, IADs do not need the imprimatur of galleries, museums, or even the camp parody of these institutions: the "alternative" space. IADs obviate the symbiotic or parasitic need for institutions by artists engaging in an institutional critique. He or she no longer has to play the clownfish to the museums' sea anemone. Like Smithson's sites, IADs can exist in relation to, in spite of, or in tandem with institutionalized art. One position does not prohibit the occupation of another: I expect there are Iraqis who are employed by the occupational forces that have contributed to the manufacture and placement of IEDs.

In the making of art—like picking a fight with a much stronger opponent—the convention of rules do not apply. I don't wish for this manifesto to degrade into a metaphor for insurgency and strategies for the toppling of hegemonic powers. However, with the insurgency in Iraq, their goal is not the destruction of imperialism, but to get the United States to cede their part of the globe. Likewise my goal is not the destruction of the free-market capitalism that controls much of the art world, but to have it cede some control over how art is framed, discussed, and canonized.

Artists of the world, I invite you to join me in the making of these autonomous objects, the Improvised Artistic Device. You have nothing to loose but your chains!

Sphere: Related Content


  1. Your manifesto inspires me and makes me feel less alone with my ideas for what art making means.

    Could you send me some examples of what you think are IADs?


  2. all sounds very grand...but like antone said i'm curious as to what IS an IAD. Interesting premise of a theory, I'm just not sure what you're getting at.

  3. I don't think this post describes what an IAD is, but how it functions. It can be anything that functions outside a traditional institution. I think the web log form works outside the system. If I were to make art that lives in the same space as the guy who sells oranges on the side of the freeway, that would be an IAD too. The problem with these examples it that they reduce the possibilities rather than expand them. I'll be posting some of my future attempts at creating IADs here.


Thank you for continuing the conversation by leaving a comment! If you post anonymously with a question, check back here in the comments section, as I'll usually reply in the comments section. Comments on posts older than two weeks are welcome, but are moderated, so they may take a while to appear. Irrelevant linking will be deleted.