This text is compiled from materials published at the web page The Seven by Nine Squares.
Carrying a provocative ambiguity which incited confusion, the Art Strike reintroduced a whole range of issues centred around questions of strategy, recuperation, and the relation between culture and politics.” Sadie Plant “The Most Radical Gesture, (Routledge, London and New York, 1992)
“The Art Strike proves that doing nothing is often more productive than desperately seeking fame and fortune“. Stewart Home, 1993
We call for all artists to put down their tools and cease to make, distribute, sell, exhibit or discuss their work from January 1, 1990 to January 1, 1993. We call for all galleries, museums, agencies, alternative spaces, periodicals, theaters, art schools etc., to cease all operations for the same period.
Art production has been mystified and co-opted; its practitioners have become manipulable and marginalized through self-identification with the term “artist” and all it implies.
To call one person an artist is to deny another an equal gift of vision; thus the myth of the “genius” becomes an ideological justification for inequality and repression. What an artist considers to be his or her identity is a schooled set of attitudes; preconceptions which imprison humanity in history. It is the roles derived from these identities, as much as the art products mined from this reification, which we must reject.
We call this Art Strike because, like any general strike, the real reasons being discussed are ones of economics and self-determination. We call this Art Strike in order to make explicit the political and ethical motivations for this attempted large-scale manipulation of alleged “esthetic” objects and relationships. We call this Art Strike to connote and encourage active rather than passive engagement with the issues at hand.
Claim: GET IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM
What are the priorities of the people who are calling for Art Strike? Does Art Strike, as a method for prompting dialogue concerning issues of personal productivity, commodity dynamics and cultural identity?
Art Strike will fail for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a bad idea. But Art Strike raises a number of questions worth asking. Is there an attitude inherent in self-identification as an “artist” which implies that art-making is in itself a sufficient response to cultural issues? Is there an implication that the “artist” identity somehow absolves one from responsibility for cultural conditions? What are the possibilities for real engagement? This is not meant primarily as a critique of “art for art’s sake” but rather as a critique of the perception that a class of artists exists as an independent social class.
The earliest use of the term Art Strike is in Alain Jouffroy’s essay “What’s to be done about art?” (included in “Art and Confrontation,” New York Graphic Society 1968):
“…the abolition of art can really occur in the actual time and space of a pre-revolutionary situation like that of May 1968. It is essential that the minority advocate the necessity of going on an active art strike using the machines of the culture industry so that we can more effectively set it in total contradiction to itself. The intention is not to end the rule of production, but to change the most adventurous part of `artistic’ production into the production of revolutionary ideas, forms and techniques.”
The problem with this proposal is that without ending the rule of production, avant-garde artists would simply swap one privileged role for another. Instead of providing entertainment for a privileged audience, artists are to form themselves into a vanguard providing ideas, forms and techniques for the masses. While such a role may be attractive to artist, it does nothing to alter the oppressive domination of a so-called creative elite over the rest of society.
The next proposal for an Art Strike came from Gustav Metzger. Writing in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition “Art Into Society/Society Into Art” (ICA, London 1974) he called upon artists to support a three-year Art Strike which would run between 1977 and 1980. The idea was to attack the way in which the art world was organized rather than to question the status of art. However, metzger was unable to rally support for his plan, presumably because most artists lack any sense of the mutual self-interest which would enable them to act in solidarity with others.
In Eastern Europe, where cultural work is totally professionalized, there have been successful strike actions by artists. During martial law in Poland artists refused to exhibit work in state galleries, leaving the ruling class without an official culture.
The 1990 Art Strike was called as a means of encouraging critical debate around the concept of art. However the numbers involved will be so small that the strike is unlikely to force the closure of any galleries or other art institutions. It will, however, demonstrate that the socially imposed hierarchy of the arts can be aggressively challenged.