Artists are only a law unto themselves

O'Connell, Micheál Artists are only a law unto themselves. In: Finchett-Maddock, Lucy and Lekakis, Eleftheria (eds.) Art, law, power: perspectives on legality and resistance in contemporary aesthetics. Counterpress Limited, Oxford, pp. 1-18. (Accepted)

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Abstract

The tacit freedoms which appear to be granted artists are considered here. What is the nature of those freedoms and what are their origins and consequences? Artists and their artworks have certainly challenged moral convention and had a destabilising effect. More often though, it is only the laws of the ‘art system’ which are being broken. In fact, an implicit rule for art, since the Romantic period, has been to break with previous orthodoxy. In this case artists are not ‘a law unto themselves’, in the typical usage of the phrase, but its original biblical meaning may be apt. That referred to a grouping being inherently compliant with the given morality and codes, and therefore not needing to have any law imposed upon it.

The chapter explores these questions and reflects on the problematics of politically motivated art. Secondly, would didactic art inevitably be poor art? Reference is made to a significant essay by Theodore Adorno, recent writing by Claire Bishop and John Roberts, Yates McKee’s account of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the work of Forensic Architecture and other artists and practitioners. There are important implications for any conscious attempt at the instrumental employment of art, as panacea for societal ills, say, or to prompt social change. The suggestion is even made that perhaps it is art which is parasitic on politics, and not the other way around.

It would be crude nevertheless, to dismiss the broader effects produced by artefacts and performative interventions and, likewise, to deem meritless, works which serve campaigning intentions. Meanings can unfold in ways which are not straightforward and ‘art’s inventive forms of negation’ (Bishop) are something to defend.

Item Type: Book Section
Keywords: Committed Art, Art and Law, Political Art, Contemporary Art, Art Activism, Forensic Architecture, Claire Bishop, John Roberts, Niklas Luhmann, Theodore Adorno, Yates McKee, Strike Art
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Music
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex European Institute
Subjects: K Law
N Fine Arts
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N0061 Theory. Philosophy. Aesthetics of the visual arts
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N4390 Exhibitions
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History > N6350 Modern art
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History > N6350 Modern art > N6447 19th and 20th centuries
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N7560 Special subjects of art
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N8700 Art and the state. Public art
T Technology > TR Photography
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Depositing User: Micheal O'Connell
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2018 11:47
Last Modified: 13 May 2019 07:58
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/76711
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