Great artists were once thought to be a part of a movement filled with dynamism and excitement, at the forefront of human creativity and global change. Today artists reside in communities – static, insular, and cut off from the world around them. These communities offer a glimpse into an ahistorical, often narcissistic, paranoid vision, that is all too real for its participants.
The whole community-artist mindset starts with an outlandishly ahistorical critique of modern economics. All buying and selling becomes inauthentic and devoid of emotion, coldhearted in fact. In the community, authenticity and passion are the sine qua non. The community does not permit those who feign emotion to enter. Walls are erected. An embargo on villainous trade is hastily pronounced.
With an eye towards some mythic past, one community artist writes, “Bartering was an economic system that filled material needs by exchange of goods, but also fostered human relationships and interdependence.” Bartering, so it turns out, is diametrically opposed to modern society, “because of its emphasis on competition, our American brand of capitalism obscures that which people really need, other people. Community.” Here, in a practice much like secret santa and company potlucks, typical in white collar America, the community artist proclaims that the true self can be revealed through sharing. These ethical platitudes, no different in corporate culture, have a powerful grip expressed by the ease in which anthropological spoofs can be mass produced in contemporary society.
Jules Adolphe Breton
Yet, latent within this character type is a profound insecurity about the ephemeral quality of human interaction, the waning of friendship, and long-term love relationships. The philosophy mirrors Facebook; a world in which all friendships become acquaintances and no acquaintances can be given up.
Without being self-aware, community art spaces boiled down to the essence the commonly held complaint that openings at commercial galleries are only spaces for hobnobbing. In the community art space hobnobbing becomes an elaborate mirror of itself. Indeed it becomes the art. To give hobnobbing authenticity the community artist often justifies the practice with a folksy, romantic, view of impoverished localities in far away lands. Others’ abject plight becomes a battering ram for exposing the artists’ narcissistic feelings, anxiety over insignificance, and obscurity, within a de-centered and vast art world, whose extravagance the community artist loathes.
Though it is often presented as commonsensical that artists are by nature leftists, a more apt term might be “progressive.” Progressivism was defined by an obsessive concern over fantastic enjoyments, a sense that the world was moving towards an immense apocalypse, a compulsive fixation on the greed of bankers, and an attachment to native simplicity. Harking back to classic populist themes the community artist, sometimes called an activist-artist, imbues introspective cliches and self loathing into this old american tradition.
As one community artist expresses, “I feel like my demographic/neighbors/friends/generation have failed me and remain content to gamely tap on their iPhones while massive pillaging and injustice continue to be perpetrated on a global scale.” And, the community artists acute sense of injustice leads to a telling speculation, “Weren’t there supposed to be more bankers committing suicide?” With this most peculiar nostalgia for economic meltdown, the crux of matter is then revealed, “Now I’m the one who is depressed; I’m tired of waiting, what should I do?” Alas, without the prestige of being a banker, an important man of finance with a sense of self-mastery, everyday helplessness lacks drama and a place in history books. Typical of this character, a great deal of anxiety is placed on the insignificance of the self in history, paired with psychological parody, and an introspective self-mockery.
Behind the gift economy and food democracy, lurks a powerful contempt for ones peers. With a classic sense of wounded narcissism, one artist divulges, “there are people who ARE PAID relatively well to do similar kinds of labor but they do it with a bad attitude, poor follow-through with lame ideas, and treating people as sucky as possible all along the way.” And what is most troubling to the author is that this repugnance continues even though he or she has a “genuine commitment to producing interesting, provocative and challenging culture.”