Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (The Force of What’s Possible—Issue 46, October 2014)

John Gallaher
Social Art Goes to All the Best Parties

Art is social. It can’t exist without people. Art is always, then (made by people for people), going to participate in the concerns of people. Because of this, the status quo can’t, for long—if at all, be defied. It erupts from all like-minded behavior, natural or forced. The trick, then, is to find a way to be social without participating in—as much as this might be possible—like-minded behavior. Every time we say to another writer to look to something, some former writer’s art or general comments on art, we’re making an argument for a possible status quo, a future state of affairs. That the maxim Make It New is now a museum piece reveals our difficulty. In other words, the new is not new.

I’ve always hated being told what to do. As well, I’ve always hated telling others what to do. But I am, like all others who make art, part of this economy. My goal then is to proceed to make art with as little damage from the implicit or explicit demands of others, while doing as little damage, implicitly or explicitly, to what others do.

“Accessible Art” is a red herring. Accessibility is a question of access, not of participation. Equal access, which I believe in, simply means that one can enter, that one can get to the location. It is not a promise of comprehension or of outcome. To this end, I believe there should be no impediments to the reader before the reader engages the work. The work should be available and talked about in general, non-technical language. I find more exclusionary rhetoric in the talking about art than I do in the art itself. But “Accessibility” is often used as code for “You Will Understand This Without Having to Try to Understand It.” Why that should be interesting to anyone is beyond me. The most entertaining things, the things that are entertaining in the way of calling one to return to them again, have layers, or moments of mystery, that continue to call the reader to dwell with the art.

Our social/political concerns and needs, however, do not go away, but continue to undergird and inform even our lightest “accessible” entertainments. Entertainment is also a concern, of course. To be entertaining is something artists also must, and do, think about. But to be entertaining to whom? To what end? There are other concerns, as well. We live among people who do terrible things to one another. And as artists are just as likely to be terrible, clueless, faulty people as anyone else, and as artists can also have their own versions of easy, coterie answers to larger human problems, the question of how to entertain, as in “entertain this idea,” while being entertaining, is always an open question.

The audience for art is imaginary. People roll in the grass, looking up to the clouds, happily making images from the clouds, and then put their robes back on to sit in the jury box where they find the artist guilty of fancy.

I’m currently reading some books by a poet who was quite popular from the late 60s through the early 80s, whose five books are all now out of print. This poet’s work was flighty, challenging, and politically engaged. It reimagined the role of the poet. It did all the things excellent, new, memorable art does. Looking at the canon of any aesthetic position you find such mind-boggling exclusion