Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Wednesday Word of the Week: With

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.


Anonymous said...

"With" is great, except we artists who have quietly worked and campaigned and subverted to democratise the arts, have to negotiate a MASSIVE tangled self serving array of beaurocratic organisations run by people in secure jobs, who want to hang on to those secure jobs. Artists have appear to have very little function in the arts, apart from creating meetings opportunities for salaried administrators. They are used o garner images, but the meaning of the imagery is too often rounded down to a corporate image. The work belongs to neither the artist nor the communities they collaborate with, but to organisations who "own" the copyright to the bowdlerised works they have engineered.

Anonymous said...

Mark you state in your comment on the essay “Really interesting, and challenging given the ACE mission has a big ‘for’ in it.”
The world of 'with' presents a challenge to the machinery for cultural support we have built up over the last 30 years. There is an opportunity to innovate now as a result of the changed world of communication through digital media and a chance for everyone in the arts to collaborate on providing the best networks of support

ref my 7 day blog on why we need to reconfigure the cultural landscape - see Day 3 here

Mark Robinson said...

I think 'with' also poses a challenge to artists and arts organisations which many have not fully taken on board. There are lots of people who feel - rightly or wrongly, but deeply - locked out from the arts. That makes 'with' only partial, which is a serious weakness - though absolutely agree it is an important shift which may help with the issue. Digital technology does not fundamentally change that exclusion. There are deep seated reasons in the make up of the arts, beyond the machinery for cultural support, for this. This seems underplayed at present - to be honest I think it's easier to focus on the so-called machinery.

Had seen your week special, which was interesting. I feel the three conditions for change you cite are all rather optimistic or over-stated - truth in them all, no doubt, but not so absolute as they might seem, particularly the last one.

I genuinely don't feel - in my day to day job - like a gatekeeper. Maybe I'm kiddingmyself. Even when making funding decisions, that simply isn't what it feels like. It feels like an enabling role - just not for everyone. But I can't stop anyone making a piece of art, simply by not funding it - or that's not how it should work. I guess I see (aspire to?) being an arts council becoming more of a 'with' activity, not a 'to' of 'for' activity. I suppose, to challenge your specifics, I don't see funding administration as simply reactive. I should probably add 'at its best' somewhere in almost any of the preceding sentences - I'm not arguing all the funding world is perfect, far from it.

Geoffrey Crayon said...

This seems like the kind of prophecy after the fact that we've seen so much of.

I think most of us know the 'heavy lifting' has been done, the processes bounced, the placemen put in position.

Forgive me if I sit this one out.

Mark Robinson said...

Stuggling to grasp what what you're saying here Geoffrey. Sounds something serious but I'm not sure what.