30 April 2021

Karen Kurczynski—Jorn on Human Potential

Karen Kurczynski
The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn:
The Avant-Garde Won't Give Up
He [Jorn] believed that expression is a basic human potential that the institutions of art actually deny ordinary people by turning it into the specialty of a few heroic geniuses. (8)
What "institutions of art" "deny" to "ordinary people" is NOT their potential, but rather recognition and resources. If Sunday Painters believe they are entitled to those things simply for being human, then they deserve neither!

As a child of the 1980s who is suitably well-versed in motivational posters, I believe it to be true and prescient that No One Can Make You Feel Inferior Without Your Permission. They ought not, at least, simply by forming insitutions for the pursuit of a common agenda, or not necessarily. Past and present adherents to the doctrine enumerated in this passage hence contradict themselves by seeing institutions as inhibiting potential, since it is recognition that is withheld rather than freedom. Certainly it seems true that mere knowledge of the existence/praxis of recognition does inhibit many amateur artists; but this merely proves (proves!) that recognition is in fact their motive! This is SELF-inhibition!
The SI ultimately considered visual art mere cultural capital with no agency to effect broader social change (a belief that led Jorn to leave the movement). While Jorn's ongoing engagement with such neo-Marxist critiques of the institution of art was one of the driving forces behind Situationist theory, he also remained firmly committed to the idea that art plays a very specific role in society. For Jorn, art fulfilled a basic human need for expression. Yet even as modern art foregrounded personal expression for the first time in history, its institutionalization as a specialized sphere of the social elite cheated the non-artist out of a fundamental aspect of human experience. (10)

...the young and idealistic artists regarded Helhesten's ["Hell-horse," journal published in Denmark from 1941 to 1944 by Jorn and colleagues] activities as a direct intervention in social life, rather than simply an art movement. (27)

Jorn would continue to uphold this view of the avant-garde as an emancipatory force in both art and life, writing in 1949 that, "The purpose of art is first of all moral, and subsequently aesthetic." (27-28)
Oddly, this wording connects the seemingly new, proto-postmodern focus on the everyday to the older (typically intensely ideological) trope of "moral" uplift through the arts.

[from a notebook, 2018]

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