The Ten List: Freedom Isn’t Free

by Darryl Lauster February 28, 2009

Salvador Dali...In Voluptate Mors, 1951

Recently, the critic, theorist and sometime curator David Hickey wrote in his essay Orphans, "…three decades of art theory and art history have destroyed our understanding of art practice." The result in part, as offered by the author, is "an art world (that) has lowered its entrance requirements and raised its cover charge so radically that a couple of million bucks and casual acquaintance with Spiderman now gain one entrée into the most refined salon." His essay continues to indirectly combat, by opposing with slings and arrows, young artists’ lack of a sound footing in the arena of history and the gravity of our practice.

Hickey has a point, although he conveniently forgets his role in the game. Its 2:35 am and I am awake wondering if indeed today’s artists do have too much freedom for their own good. The following "Ten List" is a potential bibliography supporting Hickey’s argument, although I might think quite differently in the morning…

1. Pluralism. One cannot be blamed for the overarching zeitgeist of his/her time (that’s for you John Devine), however, an era that recognizes a little validity in all things by definition creates a very mediocre equality that excludes no thing. While the critical dissection of tradition (what the Greeks called nomoi) is a necessary progression, it’s possible that beauty has been thrown away with the bathwater.

2. Self-Indulgence. Ahhhh modernity…in it, we note the rise of the individual over the collective. But have we forgotten that the collective is comprised of individuals? Just because it titillates you, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth sharing with an audience.

3. Rousseau. The grumpy grandfather of the Enlightenment never quite trusted people to be as smart as he. In his letter to D’Alembert, he pens "…if it is true that amusements are necessary to man, you will at least admit that they are only permissible insofar that they are necessary, and that every useless amusement is an evil for a being whose life is so short and whose time is so precious."

4. Suzi Gablik. "Modernism has failed to understand individuality as something to be cultivated for the sake of something else." I could write all day and never state that better.

5. Let’s take some responsibility. It’s about time we admit that Tilted Arc was very, very mean-spirited.

6. Jean Baudrillard, in The Conspiracy of Art, "Art has become iconoclastic. Modern iconoclasm no longer consists of destroying images, but in manufacturing a profusion of images where there is nothing to see."


8. Lane Relyea, in a most engaging review of the Unmonumental exhibit at the New Museum in New York notes, "most art today stems from thrift stores, used-record shops, Google, and Home Depot." But when exactly did art become synonymous with shopping?

9. Surrealism. What could have started and finished as a powerful compliment to the Dadaist critique of the horrors of human violence degraded to a sloppy, superficial reading of Freud and an excuse to paint boobs, giving sexism academic cover.

10. Tracey Emin. Yikes!

Tracey Emin...I've got it all, 2000...Ink-jet print, 124 x 109 cm...Saatchi Gallery

Darryl Lauster is an artist and Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Texas in Arlington.  His exhibition Americana opens at the Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas on March 7 and continues through April 11, 2009.

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