By Mateo Pimentel
Axis of Logic
Wednesday, Jul 13, 2016
|It wouldn’t be strange for a contemporary 2D artist to imagine her
sketchbook as a kind of immediate scientific laboratory, a site where
her repeated experiments and knowledge-building practices get drawn into
existence. Moreover, the art that accumulates within the pages of the
artist’s sketchbook would likely provide a unique description of her as
an individual, especially after a lifetime of drawing. And, the ultimate
composite portrait comprised of so many transformed pages would likely
be an intimate one.
If thinkers of late have been critical of
any one aspect of the sketchbook realm of artistry, it has been the
notion that the commodification, rationalization, and standardization of
the sketchbook, which are many in genus and number, can control artists
the way that markets tyrannize consumers and workers (who are regularly
coerced to participate in the money economy without consent).
is a real concern. Students and educators may naturally view the
sketchbook as fodder for unbounded creativity, especially if they
subscribe to Joseph Beuys’ aphorism that declares everyone an artist.
But the fact remains that today’s sketchbook are being marked by
annotations meant to expedite the grader’s ability to appreciate student
renderings—all in the interest of saving time and increasing the pace
It is debatable whether students and educators also
view the sketchbook principally as having anything to do with political
currency or power. At first blush, it seems natural for them not to
consider the political promise of art. And so, the annotations inspired
by the efficiency of capitalist rationalization also seem apropos. But
then, What does this suggest about the world in which artists actually
create, or learn to create? What does this all suggest about the world
in which sketchbooks actually exist?
There is a troubling
parallel here: Each individual life trapped within the political
strictures that bind the pages of American democracy shares much in
common with the situation of the budding artist, who is coerced into
surrendering her sketchbook for a grade, rather than being allowed to
freely test and finesse an identity that is authentic and true to her
very self. Given the major presidential options for America’s elections
this year, we might ask in earnest, What are political individuals
allowed to create in this country?
Of course, this is not the
only question that sounds from the chattering teeth of a deeply
disturbed and troubled American demos. In fact, we may further inquire
as to whether or not our political sketchbooks were blank to begin with.
Were we ever meant to develop an authentically political self through
our democratic practice, or public ‘sketching’? Have we really been
given a fair chance to express ourselves?
Or, is the two-party
system just a different form of political annotations meant to expedite a
nominally democratic process, and thus make it more efficient for the
authorities that seek to understand us in order to control us and
dictate our future?
Are we forever to be chained, under a
counterfeit gambit of freedom, to an election ritual that produces more
of the same free market democracy, an aberrational vestige of political
freedom so transmissible that it threatens the freedom of young artists
to draw the way that true artistry demands?
According to recent
polls on the Trump-Hillary deadlock, it seems that the public has said
at least two things. First, no matter how much money Hillary spends on
her campaign, she’s no more viable than Trump. Second, America is
willing to elect a maniac despite having Hillary as an option.
that Bernie Sanders, the other Democratic hopeful, is a foregone
conclusion, we are safe to compare two evils now, evils which accurately
reflect what many Americans have been drafting over and again in their
political sketchbooks this election cycle.
primary elections and nominee processes in America have been a lot like
actual sketchbooks insofar as they are used in the performative
processes that evidence the artistic struggle to emerge and refine an
authentic self, one that is capable of accurate portraiture. But, again,
Have our political processes given us such a chance? Does the
Trump-Hillary dichotomy reflect a blank political sketchbook in which we
have justly been able to practice our political authenticity and
Consider our dissent this election cycle. We have
been mocked for not supporting Hillary despite the prospect of a Trump
presidency. And yet, is not the value of our political self, like the
value of the artistic one, only authentically produced if we are free to
create and sketch without the need to forever weigh whether someone
will purchase our works in a gallery someday? (That is, without our
having to annotate our lives so that they are more agreeable to, and
more easily digestible by, the master class…) Indeed, we might ask if we
truly participated in an election cycle whose concomitant democratic
institutions and processes have reflected that we are free, as
individuals, to dissent and command change.
Just as the
possibility for dissent is arguably vital for any critical artist to
develop herself (beyond becoming another steady hand given to mimicry),
it would have been vital for a healthy democracy that Americans be able
to dissent and produce an authentic election cycle, rather than some
working model that is passive, perfunctory, or commercial.
who yet tout Hillary as an authentic alternative to Trump (or a more
desirable one) have settled for their place in our political universe as
if art students who find something inherently reflexive about
annotating their sketchbooks in preparation for selling their art in the
real world. Their teacher, they so believe, has demanded of them a
beneficial kind of conformist synchronicity, and they have responded in
kind by forming a collective that bows to a managerial bureaucracy
rigged to forever tell them what is art, and who they are as artists in
the real world.
And, they have fallen in line, stenciling their
future just to play it safe, just as those who flock to Hillary out of a
lazy fear of Donald Trump and who also think the fate of their
democracy rests in the hands of one person instead of their own.
could there possibly be much room for a critical, authentic, anarchic
or spontaneous individual left in the mix? This kind of political
individual, on the other hand, who does not want a Trump or a Hillary
for a political executive, is ruled out, just as the students who prefer
natural and reflexive experimentation over conformity and annotations
are ruled out of the art world, which subsequently leaves little room
for anything other than a market of art collectors.
what we lose is something we maybe never had: democracy. And our
options, then, were never really our own: Trump or Hillary.
Felicity Allen writes of the sketchbook, so, too, we might decry of our
political and would-be democratic electoral institutions: “Our
managerialist assessment culture in education, which is promoted as
giving access, consumer choice and fairness, in fact acts as a
formidable form of surveillance and regulation. It is repressive and it
keeps people in their place.”
Mateo Pimentel is an Axis of Logic columnist, living on the US-Mexico border. Read the Biography and additional articles by Axis Columnist Mateo Pimentel.
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