Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Artistic Intent Is An Integral Component of Transformative Fair Use


Argues Nate Harrison in his recently published article, What is Transformative?

[…] there is some truth to her generalization that “the goal of current art is to throw the idea of stable meaning into play,” but the logic that art therefore floats in a state of suspended relativism, or meaninglessness, or that artists are consequently absolved from taking responsibility for their appropriations, does not follow. There are all sorts of artists today who appropriate with the clear intention of providing new ways to rethink established meanings. Candice Breitz, Penelope Umbrico and Paul Pfeiffer are just a few examples of artists who appropriate in order to engage in a de-stabilizing, but then re-stabilizing, meta-process of critical reflection (that is de-stabilized yet again with future art works). “Meaning” in these artists’ works isn’t dissolved so much as augmented.

Although I am generally quite tired of the “fair use” arguments in visual art (none are particularly that interesting, let alone rigorous), I agree with Harrison on his point of artistic intent, and in fact it is the argument I have been making for quite some time now. Our meeting-of-the-minds is perhaps due to the fact that both Harrison and I are CalArts grads taught by a slew of artists who all believed in artistic intent and not art-for-art’s sake (“The world doesn’t need more objects or bad art.”) But I think that our position goes a bit deeper into a more philosophical question of what the role of the artist is and what role the artist plays in society, culture, economics, history and, yes, law. For quite a few us, the role of the artist is not to stroke or choke the art dealer’s chicken.

In a time when art making has been reduced to asset production and financial speculation, it pains me to see great minds align themselves with those that see art as nothing but a commodity. At the time I don’t have the time or the care to pen an argument against these minds. My battle in this war lies elsewhere, outside of the gallery and museum walls, auction houses, and well beyond art parties and cocktails. History will absolve us.


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