Art as an Accounting of Oneself. Reflecting artist into a Judith Butler essay.
Butler’s text, “An Account of Oneself” in Judith Butler in Converstation: Analyzing Texts and Talk of Everyday Life (2008), for me calls to mind the fact that I can never keep my fingernails clean. As artist this unfeminine trait of dirty nails does not counter my legibility as feminine simply because I am artist. I jokingly claim that I had to be an artist to justify the nail problem and still see myself as recognizably female. At times, I am so dirty while doing artist yet maintain a lacing in of enough gender cues that I am still clearly read as female. But if someone sees me outside of the context of art, grungy female, it calls to mind the category of homeless (versus male day laborer). When grabbing a bite to eat mid art installation, I feel compelled to use my iPhone 6 plus publicly to counter fulfilling the citational conventions that registers me as homeless. In each case, I am highly aware of my relationship with the categorical excluder of dirty nails for the feminine and dirty female as fulfilling the homeless status. Identifying as artist allows me to account for the breach of the feminine; the iPhone allows me to account by discounting the link of economic status as homeless. Ha. And to further show how negotiating the variety of standards makes the standards as explicit, I feel the need to justify the use of first person and lived experience as a foundational component in my research. The category of artist dictates that I am my own primary source; the scholarly frame mandates that the my primary sources reside outside of myself. So I negotiate this lack of scholarly compliance by accounting for myself as artist first and scholar, a neophyte one, second. I juggle the two systems attempting to weave them together while simultaneously damning the 1970s feminists for not undoing the patriarchally linked hierarchical structure of academic scholarship (wink).
Butler bouncing off of a Theodor Adorno lecture and Nietzsche notes on the Genealogy of Morals in terms of the arising of a self within social moral constructs, and I bouncing off of her in terms of artist constitution and as always in terms of how/where I resolve myself.
MORAL PERFORMANCE From the initial few pages I understand her use of moral/morality as the relationship of degrees of compliance with a norm. Functioning outside social parameters of the norm, one is morally abject, bad, problematic, trouble maker. Functioning within the frame one registers as good, morally upright, exemplar of social positive behavior. So moral refers to the evaluator relation with a norm.
If the “I” is not at one with the moral norms it negotiates, this means only that the subject mud deliberate upon these norms. — Butler, 20.
Like dirty nails and a dirty body, her ideas remind me of my relationship even with tech and stairs. I do not notice tech or steps until they fail me or I to negotiate them successfully. And at the point of failure with function, I respond by damning my tech or my own user ineptitude.
Anyhow, back to Butler.
Butler goes on to as she toys with Adorno’s notions. It brings up the notion I have of how situational chaffing — citational chaffing — lay at the heart of activating the artist to make. Of particular interest is her processing,
- If the “i” is NOT at one with the moral norms it negotiates,
- THIS means only that the subject must deliberate upon these norms
- and THAT part of deliberation will entail a critical understanding of their social genesis and meaning.
- In this sense ethical deliberation is BOUND up with the operation of critique.
- AND CRITIQUE finds that it cannot of forward without a consideration of how the deliberating subject comes into being
- AND how a deliberating subject might actually live or APPROPRIATE a set of norms — Butler, 20.
So it is when I do not perform within standards, the moral parameter of goodness, that I become award of the standard itself. I can either use my unstandard performance to position myself as morally corrupt, out of sync OR (reality is probably both) frame not myself but the convention itself as faulty or faultily applied situationally. If I perform the later, the convention as inadequate, I jeopardize the stability of others who rely on that convention to understand themself as good, as belonging. This most like results in other’s taken actions to dethrone me as having any authority to challenge the convention, I will be labeled, broken, defective, bad, morally corrupt. This implicates the convention as stable and themself as legibly socially good.
So in Butlerian term’s whether I am blaming myself or the convention, I am accounting for myself.
Is not artwork a for of accounting for oneself? The artist that implements conventional bending is not at one with a norm or normative set, and their artwork is a method of both deliberating on the norms and enacted critique. The artist appropriates the set of norms either in conformation or contrariness as the impetus of their making.
My work is always about communicating.– Laurie Anderson (40)
I’m trying to find solutions for myself. It is my personal therapy. The fact it is art affords me protection and gives me the right to do things of this sort. — Sophie Calle (74)
The sculptor must search with passionate intensity for the underlying principle of the organization of mass and tension — the meaning of gesture and the structure of rhythm. — Barbara Hepworth (194)
Grosenick, Uta, and Ilka Becker. Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Century. Köln: Taschen, 2001. Print.
Art is an accounting!
The artist’s deliberation takes the form of embodiment and acted out within the material realm. The artist deliberates in the metaphorical implications of material choices, processes, products and point of contact with public. The artist deliberates and accounts for them self in terms of how their work performs in the world. My most recent solo exhibition (note how the qualifier “solo” accounts for giving me a specific kind of credibility, status) was entitled archiving the distentions of memory (not to scale). This accounts for several strands in which I feel I am not navigating my positions adequately and so a perform a sort of acknowledgement within my making. It is a rather confessional acknowledgement — I distort past experiences in way that stabilizes myself as non-defective; it is also acknowledging my fears of dissolving mental capacities; it also allows me to suggest that these may be true for others since they appear to viscerally connect with the work through its physical presence and titling. I am sure much more is at play.
What am I saying with scale (the work occupies a 119′ x 50′ gallery space)? What of the fact that I use discarded materials that I repurpose in a way that makes them physically sumptuous–that I make the ugly oddly beautiful? Why do I make work that demands (or so I witness) that viewers break gallery conventions by fondling the work? Why do people hug my nine foot suspended meat locker hung like withered vagina’s? What am I bearing witness to? I do believe that I am working under the influence of the compulsion to account for my many misalignments with conventional standards.
BUT what of the bluebonnet painter? In this day and age, perhaps painting blue bonnets, to locate them self in nature is a way of distancing from the normative noise of human ingenuity that becomes highly evident with population density increase.
“The question of morality presupposes that I stand before a set of norms and decide among them…caution…The situation is misleading since the “I” does not stand apart from the prevailing matrix (BOOM the movie) of ethical norms and conflicting moral frameworks” (19).