Artists are only a law unto themselves

O'Connell, Micheal Artists are only a law unto themselves. In: Finchett-Maddock, Lucy and Lekakis, Eleftheria (eds.) Art, law, power: perspectives on legality and resistance in contemporary aesthetics. Counterpress Limited, Oxford, pp. 1-18. (Accepted)

Full text not available from this repository.

Abstract

The tacit freedoms which appear to be granted to artists are considered here. What is the nature of those freedoms and what are their origins and consequences? Have political activists, and those interested in social change, homed in on art because it is seen as a site of freedom or permissible subversion?

For artists though, it is often only the laws of the art system, if we accept that distinction, which are being broken. In fact, the main implicit rule for art, since the Romantic period, has been to break with previous orthodoxy. Artists are not ‘a law unto themselves’ then, in the typical usage of that phrase. Ironically, the phrase’s original biblical meaning may be more apt. It refers to a grouping being inherently compliant with the given morality and codes, which can be further construed to suggesting that no law needs to be imposed upon them.

It is arguable that a contrary scenario to the one typically presumed is at play and that art is parasitic on other systems, including political activism. Are there risks then for activists and others, utilising art practices and networks for political ends? This raises questions too, of whether art, avant-garde or otherwise, is political at all and, if so, in what way?

The chapter interrogates these questions, looking at the history or artists interactions with the law, drawing on Niklas Luhmann’s system theory, certain writings by John Roberts, Theodore Adorno’s essay on ‘commitment’ and Claire Bishop’s important critique of socially engaged art. The emphasis of Yates McKee in Strike Art, which analyses the crossover between art and activism inherent to the Occupy movement, is questioned. Other practice examples are referred to.

It would be crude though to dismiss the broader effects produced by artefacts and performative interventions. Comparisons are made between how socially engaged documentary and war photography operates and artefacts which are produced with no political goals in mind. The potential impact of consciously didactic and functional works, such as those produced by Forensic Architecture, is discussed.

Item Type: Book Section
Keywords: Committed Art, Art and Law, Political Art, Contemporary Art, Art Activism, Forensic Architecture, Clare Bishop, John Roberts, Niklas Luhmann, Theodore Adorno, Yates McKee
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Film and Music > Music
Research Centres and Groups: Sussex European Institute
Subjects: K Law
N Fine Arts
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N0061 Theory. Philosophy. Aesthetics of the visual arts
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N4390 Exhibitions
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History > N6350 Modern art
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History > N6350 Modern art > N6447 19th and 20th centuries
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N7560 Special subjects of art
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N8700 Art and the state. Public art
T Technology > TR Photography
Depositing User: Micheal O'Connell
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2018 11:47
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2018 07:46
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/76711
📧 Request an update