My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (2011) by Gregory Sholette is a collection of essays that distinguish the two classes of art: high/light versus low/dark.
High art (light matter) is viewed as all art that is nationalized and well-known. Low art (dark matter) is considered all art that is out there but relatively unknown by the general public but known on a much smaller scale. Gregory explores these issues, as well as the differences between professionals and amateurs, and the impacts they have on ‘equal and just’ society throughout the book.
In the United States there is a crises happening not only on the streets with police brutality but also in universities with the slashing of tenured jobs and the hiring of part-time professors. And add the minimum wage dispute for low-unlivable wages there’s no telling when the bottom will hit. When that day comes, Americans will wake up with eyes no longer disillusioned by their own greatness. No. The fact remains. The world is waking up and it isn’t happy.
“As never before,” writes Gregory, “producing, copying, re-mixing, printing, uploading, and distributing images and information has become (almost) everyone’s privilege, even their social responsibility. Digital technology also functions like a prosthetic memory permitting the excluded to document and narrate ephemeral, every day activities and overlooked forms of expression or resistance. As Boris Groys insists, no one sits in the audience any longer, everyone is on stage” (p 7).
And it is this very common denominator among the persecuted citizens that empower them to stand as one.
I believe the world needs art now more than ever. But it seems the elite and the precocious few fueled by greed think otherwise.
“Universities are slashing courses in Arts and Humanities,” writes Gregory, “now defined, under current funding regimes, as ‘of no financial value’—the only legitimate measure today” (p ix).
Sadly, this very ‘financial value’ has infested the very minds of the ones in charge of higher education and congress. How can one place such a value on art? On education? On humanity? Who is to sit back and judge intrinsic worth by placing a monetary figure on it?
Unfortunately this kind of narrow mindedness penetrates all walks of life in America. From fast food chains profiting billions, avoiding taxes, paying workers unlivable wages to publishers motivated more by profit rather than enhancing art to empower and enrich society the issue is profoundly evident to me: money is the sole logic behind why choices are being made, and this is no way to live or to evolve the human race. And the human race is evolving, waking up, taking to the streets now more than ever.
More Americans are starting to understand that the police force meant ‘to protect and to serve’ is simply militarized security for the one percent. The police are there to protect the wealthy and not to protect basic human rights. And this is the crises we see happening between high culture and low culture, and it certainly reflects in the choices produced in art.
“The critical moment is,” explains Gregory, “precisely, the moment of the splinter, the shattering. Critical is derived, of course, from crises. It is defined as a turning point, an interruption, a change in quality…Our book series would hope to address such a critical moment” (p ix).
And despite this book being three years old, the tensions unfolding throughout the United States, and the rest of the world like it is in Hong Kong, are clear. The human race is witnessing a turning point, a splintering if you will, of its own moral and spiritual evolution. And much of this can be seen through art and the treatment of both amateurs and professionals.
“And yet there is no material difference between an earnest amateur on the one hand, and a professional artist made invisible by her ‘failure’ within the art market on the other,” argues Gregory, “except perhaps that against all the odds she still hopes to be discovered” (p 3)?
Gregory continues with this discussion of the legitimation of how low culture through the use of the internet has invaded the sanctity of the controlled realms once possessed by the silent majority, namely high culture controlling and dictating what is to be called ‘art’:
“How would the art world manage its system of aesthetic valorization if the seemingly superfluous majority—those excluded as non-professionals as much as those destined to ‘fail’—simply gave up on its system of legitimation? Or if they found an alternative to it by creating a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network of support and direct sales bypassing art dealers, critics, galleries, and curators? Indeed, to some degree this has already begun to take shape via media applications of Web 2.0. What has not happened is any move towards re-distributing the cultural capital bottled up within the holding company known as high art” (p 3).
The internet, in essence, has removed the gatekeepers and no one is safe—as seen in recent cyber-attacks labeled as “organized” and “unprecedented”. The elite have lost their most prized luxury: anonymity. With anonymity comes distance, safety, invisibility and control and, thereby, the increase of power. This power ranges from the most mundane issues like employee morale to the issues of wages, brutality, excessive force, and this power even reaches into the hearts and minds of the citizens through art. If the people, and not the wealthy elites, are able to dictate the economy of art, and in effect morality and ethics, through ‘dark matter’, who is to say where humanity’s progress will end?
“All of these forms of dark matter play an essential role in the symbolic economy of art,” Gregory discusses. “Collectively, the amateur and the failed artist represent a vast flat field upon which a privileged few stand out in relief. The aim of this book is to raise an inevitable question: what if we turned this figure and ground relation inside out by imagining an art world unable to exclude the practices and practitioners it secretly depends upon? What then would become of its value structure and distribution power?” (p 3).
The issues we see throughout the streets of many American cities and throughout most companies and the control of art involves this very ‘distribution of power’. And the American people are getting fed up with a tipped scale that is constantly in favor of the ones with their finger immorally balancing the odds against the actual majority, the low culture represented in dark matter.
“Look again at the art world and the dark matter it occludes,” writes Gregory. “Few would deny that the lines separating ‘dark’ and ‘light’ creativity, amateur and professional, high from low have become arbitrary today, even from the standpoint of qualities such as talent, vision, and other similarly mystifying attributes typically assigned to high culture. What can be said of creative dark matter in general, therefore, is that either by choice or circumstance it displays a degree of autonomy from critical and economic structures of the art world by moving instead in-between its meshes” (p 4).
That’s exactly the kind of ‘pure and sacred’ autonomy that serves the genuineness of the Book Review Site CGFEWSTON.me and will, God willingly, for decades to come. Here at this Site a reader who wants to know more about a book can do so without the political-and-media-trappings that often go into paid-by-the-publisher critical reviews, which are often biased and one-sided. There’s no hype here. There’s only one humble man’s opinion and tastes molded to the likes of Tolstoy and his preferences for Art found in Tolstoy’s book: What is Art?
If high culture, as Tolstoy considered it, continued to be in control of Art and its future development, then society would ultimately suffer. And perhaps America in its poor modernistic attempts to produce “popular” Literature and Art has already begun to feel the weight of its own chimera—as in: the artistic sovereignty the upper-classes secretly claim to defend.
“This then,” writes Gregory, “is a book about the politics of invisibility that could only have been written at a moment when invisibility itself has emerged as a force to be contended with, or, conversely, a provocation to be selectively controlled. It is as much dedicated to those who reuse the capture of their invisibility, as it is to those whose very visibility has been and continues to be refused…And yet, as odd as a book about invisible artists and artwork may seem, my methods are less orthodox still” (p 5).
Dark Matter by Gregory Sholette is an enlightening read that has interconnected art in its varying forms through society and its ever changing patterns in the distribution of power, the wealth of the people and the economy, and the fundamental belief in the pursuit of happiness. Although this book is a dry, slow page turning text created in the trenches of academia, the world is certainly better for it having been published. A good recommend.
Keep reading and smiling…
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can also follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 375,000+ followers