Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction

Yesterday, the recommended pre-reading list arrived by e-mail containing 4 books from the “A Very Short Introduction” range. I already had the one on Contemporary Art, and the others (Modern Art, Art Theory and Art History) have been ordered from Amazon.

I’ve started reading Contemporary Art and have had to pause for thought already at page 2 because of the following:

“Art appears to stand outside this realm of rigid instrumentality, bureaucratized life, and its complementary mass culture. That it can do so is due to art’s peculiar economy, based on the manufacture of unique or rare artefacts, and its spurning of mechanical reproduction. Artists and dealers even artificially constrain the production of works made in reproducible media, with limited-edition books, photographs, videos or CDs.” (Stallabrass, p2).

Now, I might be being over-sensitive to this but it feels like, straight away, photography is being devalued as an art form. Photography has long been marginalised as an art form, considered a purely reproductive craft for most of its relatively short history and this statement seems, to me at least, further that argument. It’s not talking about process, aesthetics or indeed anything vaguely visual but purely the object as a commodity. It’s true to say that a painting can fetch far more at auction than a photograph can - facts and figures back this up: Cézanne’s
The Card Players was sold for a reported $259+ million in 2011, whereas Gursky’s Rhein II was sold for a paltry $4.4 million in the same year. This difference in price doesn’t overly concern me, rather the notion that a photograph cannot be considered as “art” unless the edition is limited.
(both images sourced from wikipedia)

Perhaps the text goes on to say more, perhaps I have to re-read something about commodification from a few years ago (Marx’s
The fetishism of commodity), perhaps I need to re-assess my own preconception of what is meant by the rather woolly term “art”, in that it is perhaps more about the commodity rather than the communication. I guess there will be a lot of thinking going on in the coming years as the MA takes me from being a photographer with a goal of being considered an artist, into being an artist whose chosen media happens to be photography.

Now, back to Stallabrass - it’s going to be a long read if I stop to blog something every couple of pages.

Stallabrass, J (2006)
Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford. Oxford University Press