A while ago I wondered if we should pay more attention to prepositions. (I was thinking about the 'for' in 'great art for everyone'.) I suggested we think about that as an exchange rather than a delivery. The word 'with' would take that a step further: to collaboration and shared creation. (Is that what we mean by a culture?)
Anyway 'with' is today's word because of a new publication from Cornerhouse in Manchester 'The Art of With' by Charles Leadbetter, which is well worth your attention. They are interested in answers to questions such as: 'What do the advent of the web, collaborative practice and open source ways of working mean for the arts and art organisations? How do artists, audiences and other stakeholders really get involved with programming and evaluating arts venues? What does it mean for curators, programmers and traditional structures of arts organisations?'
Leadbetter's essay contrasts 'the world of to and for' with 'the art of with'. 'With' here would be defined as the quality of co-creation and collaboration, 'endless, lateral connection'. The lack of hierarchy is important to the concept. He is specifically concerned with the power of the web, rather than 'with' in 'real life'.
There is a slightly odd emphasis on his take on 'avant-garde' practices in 20th century art (seen as 'at us', based on separation and shock) and in 21st century (seen as 'with people' and focused on conversation and collaboration, though most have examples cited have named artists 'leading'.) This and the emphasis on technology means I think he underplays the role of art which places itself in the midst of life, and community cultural traditions, and the politics of that practice. I think the politics of 'with' are also underplayed - is the web really as neutral, anonymous, unhierarchical as all that, and what role do gender, class, education etc play in individuals ability to make 'with' the art world of curators and galleries?
I should give one concrete example I think bears exploration. Jeremy Deller's Orgreave reconstruction is cited as an example of both mass participation and communities opening up new ways of looking at themselves. That may be true, it's a powerful work. But perhaps even more powerful was the mass participation in community arts and creative writing workshops in mining communities during and after the Strike. What came from those examples of 'the art of with' - and how did the artworld react? (Too simplistic a notion, I know, but it will have to do for now.) If we can move beyond simply listed the graduates who get paid we really will be getting closer to 'with'.
You can also share your notes in the margin of the essay and other comments on the version here: get 'with' it.