Everything is workshopable these days. It’s an amazing thing. We can either learn to do things watching youtube videos or we can learn pretty much every technique attending workshops about this and that. As I see it, there’s clearly something weird about this. I’m not sure what it is, but somehow it affects the way art is experienced, both by those who make and those who observe. This phenomenon seems to be making a statement about the “great importance” of technicality for artistic expression. Regarding photography’s particular case, I also think this deification of technicality is occupying the same space that has been previously occupied by the deification of the conceptual. Let me explain what I mean: during the time I was a photography student I was often pushed into practicing a king of photography that was supported on a concept, even thought that was never fully explained to me. I’m not alone in this, many other students have gone through the same ordeal. If there was hardly any philosophical approach on image-making, why use the word concept and push students in that direction? Imposing a conceptual approach on any artistic expression is counter-productive, in the sense that it easily takes over what could be a more authentic relationship with that very same expression. It’s not necessarily like this, of course, but it happens a lot. As the deification of the conceptual framework seems to be losing ground, another phenomenon arises.
Now technique is at the core of photographic expression. Those who care to learn will easily find many alternatives and, to be fair to the techniques themselves (and contradict myself), most of those techniques aren’t really workshopable, meaning: you can do a demonstration in a couple of hours or even during 1/2 days, but acquiring knowledge is a more profound experience and it needs time, it needs trial and error, dedication, failure, etc. Yes, one can attend a workshops just to be entertained or pass the time. Is there anything fundamentally wrong with this? Of course not. However, as I came across a particular workshop I found myself thinking if that was an honest approach on the expressive nature of doing that sort of labor and then I thought about that particular artist who was teaching and how didactic and unpretentious, but also superficial and disengaged that approach was. It confused me…
I suppose this is somehow related to the overall lack of autonomy we encounter in youngsters nowadays. The lack of originality and creativity, the absence of any critical sense, you name it. I’d rather not state the obvious and say that people who are very dependent on technology behave very much like automatons, but somehow it seems necessary to address the issue in order to problematize the so-called deification of technique.
I’ll start by mentioning very stupid examples and try and evolve from there:
- Almost everyone is dependent on gps. Moving in such a way, whereas it’s on foot, bike, car, etc, will consequently impact one’s geographical awareness – perception, location, orientation, an overall sense of space;
- Almost everyone searches for youtube videos in order to deal with their small scale problems. If one wants to fix any household appliance and doesn’t know how to do it, youtube can help. On the other hand, it became so easy to look for help online that one’s brain seems to go on a perpetual snooze. Apparently everything is teachable, but what this premise omits is that methodologies and techniques are the only thing teachable and everything else will still be lacking. What is everything else? What I’m trying to convey here is that some of the aspects that are activated in an artistic scheme – problem solving, etc. – are directly relatable to the way we deal with these everyday situations and how creative we are in those confrontations.
So, going back to the idea that artists are killing art in order to make money to make art…
Apparently there’s nothing wrong with teaching every artistic technique one can think of. Artists are doing it. It’s great that we can access that knowledge and improve from there. The thing that really bothers me is what this says about the nature of the relationship artists maintain with their expression – or should I say ‘artistic practice’? There’s a difference here, and it’s not that small. An ethical approach to life is something that could transform this, but that’s easier said than done
Workshops in the artistic arena have some things in common, namely:
- The apprentice is usually offered a gift at the end – a souvenir of that experience;
- Everything fits in an workshop. It’s sort of a fast food approach: you can learn a certain technique, but also understand how to market it, in order to feel satiated with the knowledge just acquired.
So can we draw some conclusions out of these characteristics? Maybe. These workshops are obviously based on an economical model: a trade value is attributed to the product of that knowledge. They also have a very clear finality: to produce something portable and with a purpose – be it decorative or something else. So what are artists saying when they teach others to “make use” of their techniques? That it’s all about skill? Or, on the other hand, could they be stating that taking pleasure in what they do is the most important thing? That would be refreshing, but I don’t think that’s the case. Bottom line, artists need to make money in order to be able to make art and if there’s not enough public to consume art based on its artistic value, apparently there’s more than enough public wanting to relate to its economic value
To say everything is workshopable is to say everything is marketable. The other day, in a conversation between friends, we were laughing at the idea of a graffiti workshop. Needless to say, it already exists! And it’s the best example I could find of what I was trying to convey earlier, in the sense that teaching someone to do graffiti is an oxymoron, it destroys the nuclear autonomy of the thing itself – because it is not only a technique, it has a soul, it bares its own truthfulness.
Maybe art is really on a survival mode, in the sense that it’s being produced inside a framework that is not supported on artistic value at all. Instead, it is riding the wave of what is cool and appealing. I even found an “Art brut workshop”, conducted by a “street artist” on the outskirts of a psychiatric hospital. Really, what could be more disrespectful than this???
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Another great example: http://theculturalspring.org.uk/news/come-along-to-our-punk-workshops/