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We’ll have none of that here, sir!


My feeling is that the original exhibition never happened precisely because of the very issues it was addressing, the limited nature of the prevailing definition of legitimate “art” activity, especially because it didn’t look like anything that had been done somewhere else. Of course I would not be surprised if there were a lot of similar things going on all over the place but not well publicised. One of the ironies of the internet is that artists like me are discovering in our old age similar artists we should have known about when we were desperately isolated a few decades ago.

I finally heard of one about a year back from Diego Bonetto via Lucas, the incredible Italian artist Gianfranco Baruchello and his small farm outside Rome, ‘Agricola Cornelia’, which he assembled in the 1970s by buying back, one by one, the small plots of a fairly unsuccessful real estate development subdivision.

I suppose the cancellation of the exhibition was the clear omen that redefining who was an artist and what activities were legitimate forms for generating cultural change was not going to happen here any time soon, in fact probably not until it had already been done many times in Europe or the US for a few decades. As I always say, Australians don’t really like art but they like stuff that looks like art and what I mean is that if something is a genuine example of “memetic innovation” as Donald Brook says, then it is going to be different, probably a bit threatening to the existing order and certainly not necessarily easy to come to grips with.

And despite claims to the contrary, the Australian art world doesn’t really like anything that is actually different in underlying thought, they just like the window dressing to change regularly because that’s all part of business as usual. Today I saw a quote by Cocteau making a similar point:

Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.

If an artwork instantly looks like the most brilliant work of its time that will be because it conforms to an already well digested meme and will probably be completely forgotten in a few decades – but not before a lot of mug punters have been fleeced. There are a whole range of human cognitive biases that come into play in the art world that then get dressed up as “connisseurship” or “having a good eye” – things like the bandwagon effect, the mere exposure effect, status quo bias, availability cascade – and none of them are helpful in terms of understanding cultural innovation. But since I find cognitive bias the most interesting subject imaginable I’ll back off immediately before I get completely diverted.

One response to “We’ll have none of that here, sir!”

  1. Lucas Avatar

    Ooh, I like the idea of the mere exposure effect: ” a series of laboratory experiments by Robert Zajonc demonstrated that simply exposing subjects to a familiar stimulus led them to rate it more positively than other, similar stimuli which had not been presented.” (from the wikipedia link you posted above, Ian.)

    It reminds me of a notion I was toying with a few years ago (without actually doing any research on it), about how “visibility=relevance”.

    I wrote a short blog entry on it here.

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