Page 13 - Studio International - February 1971
P. 13

only emerged as a full-fledged branch of   damaging to the artist, who must either enter   AAARGH!
           philosophy known as aesthetics within the last   into a successful dialogue with this illusion, or
           two hundred years. At present, the articulation   be lost. But Morse Peckham has already   indeed
           of theory is taking over the field in such a way   pointed out in Man's Rage for Chaos3  that he
           that it is about to eliminate the art object which   production of stylistic categories is only a way   Andrew Higgens
           was once its subject, in an attempt to force art   of structuring art experience; not art, but
           into the relatively inflexible box that its   perception is ordered. It has led us to think
           paradigms offer. (What will not fit into the box   about a stylistic series as something naturally
           is likely not to be seen at all.) It seems to me that   structured in itself. But a stylistic continuum
           the imaginative possibilities of the artist need   is not a self-contained process, even though
           not be exclusively defined and limited by art   there is a tendency to think of historical process
           history to a tidy set of alternatives. In short, I   as taking place 'in' art. Peckham attempts to
           am far from persuaded that anyone who wants   explain how this has come about : 'The unique
           to make (relevant) art at this moment must do so   features of each work of art are ignored and
           `in the absence of material props'2. I think that   only those are observed which one has
           the present state of artistic discourse is   spuriously linked with an orientation.... Certair
           beginning to function like an internalized   stylistic recurrences within a given stylistic
           rubber fence which paralyzes the imaginative   continuum are selected by a process of
           thinking of artists. I shall attempt to explain   abstraction increasingly remote from the
           what I mean by this.                      discrete objects exhibiting those features, that
             The term 'rubber fence' is normally used to   is, from the individual works of art themselves.
           describe the nature of the family role-structure   By repeated behavioural reinforcement the
          in schizophrenic families. It refers to a   investigator comes to regard this selection as a
          continuous but elastic boundary which stretches   structure held together by certain forces
          to include whatever can be interpreted as   inherent within it.... This structure is then
          complementary and contracts to exclude     hypostatized, that is, the investigator thinks he
          whatever can be interpreted as             is talking about something that 'really'
          non-complementary. It occurs to me that    exists.... He fancies that he verifies that   A comment on ' AAARGH ! A Celebration of
          this description could also refer to the   existence by observing in the discrete works of   Comics', arranged by Michael Kustow and
          self-conscious use of artistic paradigms. I shall   art the particular features he has selected and   billed as 'the first major tribute in this country to
          elaborate on the analogy. In schizophrenic   by ignoring the rest. But, in fact, the stylistic   one of the great popular arts of the century', at the
          families, social organization is shaped by a   structure which he has thus hypostatized, and   ICA until February 5.
          pervasive familial subculture of myths and   which he imagines he has verified, is only a
          ideologies which stress the dire consequences   construct.'4  In such cases the schema by which   The messy exhibition of comics at the ICA has
          of open divergences from a relatively limited   order is brought to events becomes reified and   had a good deal of praise from reviewers, and
          number of fixed, engulfing family roles. Since   is then considered as having properties of its   it is perhaps not too difficult to see why this is so :
          no open recognition of differences is possible,   own. It is certainly true, on the other hand,   the power of nostalgia, the energy of the comics
          such processes lead to a marked constriction and   that the artist is not an utterly free agent   themselves and a growing and uncritical
          impoverishment of ego function and         obeying nothing more than his own will. As   indulgence in popular entertainment probably
          development. The imaginative capacity is   George Kubler demonstrates in his remarkable   account for it. What is more difficult to
          severely impaired when there has been an   book The Shape of Time,5   his situation is   understand is quite why the exhibition was put
          internalization of a rubber fence beyond which   rigidly bound by a chain of prior events which   on at all in what is, after all, an Art Gallery.
          one's experience may not wander without    largely determine his actions. But when, as is   The catalogue explains : 'Because comics ... are
          disaster. Let us substitute the ideological   now happening, the elements of art are   one of the great popular arts of this century....
          justifications of contemporary art for the family   limited still further exclusively to art, and when   Because comics permeate advertising and
          role-structure which is taken into the personality   its motivations are limited to the mere   fashion, feed cinema and television. Because
          as an archaic superego. How can we then    artificial extension of boundaries or paradigms,   comics turn on artists. Because comics have
          justify the refusal to recognize works of art   the result is the siege of the individual by   infiltrated our whole culture like some
          which cannot be used to strengthen and extend   concepts. q                          incredibly fertile science-fiction growth!' This
          the art-historical dialogue ? In our present                                         seems to mean that we have a comics show at the
          situation, the artist cannot differentiate himself                                   ICA because comics are already totally familiar
          outside of this structure, and he is forced to                                       to most people. Logically, the next show should
          strive for a sense of relation by trying to fit into it.                             be a football exhibition or the presentation of
            All of us know the ignominious fate of art                                         television programmes old and new.
          which has insufficient historical identity. We                                         In fact, of course, the key words are
          also know that those who are unwilling or                                            `infiltrated' and 'culture'. Comics have obviously
          unable to accommodate their work to the                                              not infiltrated popular culture any more than
          emergence of a new paradigm are forced to                                            football or television; they are just part of it.
          proceed in isolation (although the rate of change   1   I am indebted here to Thomas Kuhn's The Structure   What they have done is to sneak into Fine Art
          in styles or schools is now so rapid that no   of Scientific Revolutions,Vol.II, University of   culture, i.e. into the ICA, and the catalogue of the
          balance at all is achieved between continuity   Chicago Press, 1970.                 show reveals pretty clearly the half-truths and
          and radical invention). The fact is that we have   2   From 'A very abstract context' by Charles   vague assumptions which have permitted, not
                                                    Harrison, in Studio International, November 1970,
          built up a convincingly coherent but utterly   P 195.                                to say encouraged, this infiltration;
          false illusion of the historical process of art,   3  Morse Peckham, Man's Rage for Chaos, Schocken   assumptions which take seriously neither Fine
          which is perceived as an entity with a    Books, New York, 1967.                     Art nor Popular Art, and which in a
                                                    4  Ibid, p 27-8.
          phenomenal existence apart from either artists   5   George Kubler, The Shape of Time, Yale University   disingenuously democratic way avoid any
          or individual works. This is ultimately    Press, 1962.                              distinction between the two by blandly
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