To Willing Conflators Of Mark Rothko And Jeremy Todd (forty ninth letter)

Dear Friends,
People wanting careers as socially conscious contemporary artists are encouraged to critique careerists while aggressively networking, self-promoting, competing against others, etc. While some fail to notice the contradiction here, most willfully ignore it.  Although creative contributions toward the realization of a just society might involve a little pro-active hustle, or something like it now and then,  most of the time such activity is the necessary grease in the wheels of a dehumanizing status quo.
The unfriendliness of society toward other modes of practice and being are difficult for anyone with a conscience to accept. Yet this very hostility can act as a lever for true liberation. Freed from a false sense of security and community, an uncompromising, ethically-minded artist can abandon his or her plastic bank-book and desperate want of publicly observed affirmation from those with the correct social currency, just as he or she has abandoned other forms of security. Both the sense of community and of security depend on the familiar.  Once gone, emancipatory experiences become possible.
I think of my not sent letters as dramas; the words and the pictures are the performers. They have been created from the need for a group of actors to move dramatically without embarrassment or complicity and to execute gestures without shame.  Neither the action nor the actors can be anticipated, or described in advance. They begin as an unknown adventure in an unknown space. It is at the moment of completion that in a flash of recognition, they are seen to have the quantity and function which was intended. Ideas and plans that existed in the mind at the start were simply the doorway through which one left the world in which they occur.
The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his or her ability to produce miracles when they are needed. My not sent letters, for instance, must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended . I am an outsider. The not sent letter must be for me, as for anyone experiencing it later, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.
The presentation of this drama in the monetized world of the perpetual present has never been possible, unless everyday acts belonged to a ritual completely devoid of capital.
Even the archaic artist, who had an uncanny virtuosity, found it necessary to create a group of intermediaries, monsters, hybrids, gods, and demigods. The difference is that, since the archaic artist was living in a more practical and spiritual society than ours, the urgency for transcendent experience was understood, and given an official status. As a consequence, the human figure and other elements from the familiar world could be combined with, or participate as a whole in the enactment of the excesses which characterize this improbable hierarchy. With us the disguise must be complete. The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the market equivalency with which our society has enshrouded every aspect of life.
Without monsters and gods, art cannot enact our drama: art’s most profound moments express this frustration. When they were abandoned as untenable superstitions, art sank into melancholy as product. It became fond of the profitability of the dark, and enveloped its objects in the nostalgic intimations of a half-lit world populated by simulated rebellion and cynical tokenism. For me the great achievements of the centuries in which artists accepted the probable and familiar as subjects were the pictures of the single human figure – alone in a moment of utter immobility.
But the solitary figure could not raise its limbs in a single gesture that might indicate its concern with the fact of mortality and an insatiable appetite for ubiquitous experience in the face of this fact. Nor could the solitude be overcome. It could gather on beaches and streets and in parks only through coincidence, and, with its companions, form a tableau vivant of human incommunicability, reflecting, in essence, the extent of the current neoliberal order.
I do not believe that there was ever a question of being abstract or representational, conceptual or expressive, objective or subjective, earnest or ironic, naive or knowing, etc.  It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing and stretching one’s arms again, regardless of the cost to careers and the like.
jeremy