“A New Age of Artmaking”

A participant in Thursday’s Occupation of MoMA called for a new age of artmaking, and said that we don’t even know what this new age or this new art looks like, and that this is just the beginning. In doing so he put his finger directly on A Blade of Grass’ mission, which is to fund innovation in contemporary art. And at the same time he threw the most interesting aspect of the Occupy movement into high relief.

Paddy Johnson called this vision of a new age in art utopian, and as a rabid idealist I’m okay with such ebulliently positive value judgments. But the word utopia connotes an unmooring from reality, so I also like the word Thursday’s facilitator used. She called the Occupy movement generative. This word embodies a practical orientation, and takes a step toward matching Occupy’s aesthetics and tactics to this grand vision of a new age.

Occupy Museum facilitators reading their self-definition document for the crowd.

I’ve never been to a “protest” where about fifty people calmly and successfully negotiated with the police. And I’ve never seen a group of strangers more dedicated to following through on the concessions they helped to broker. NYPD had a cage of barricades set up on the street, but the group wanted to stay directly in front of MoMA. To do that, we needed to not block the sidewalk or the entrance. So Occupiers policed the north, east and west sides of the circle, gently asking one another not to block the sidewalk or the entrance, with zero drama.

The purpose of the Occupation was to hold a general assembly meeting in which we were told to BYOM—bring your own manifesto. Once the right to remain outside the cage was negotiated, the meeting’s rules and procedures were defined. All communication happens via the People’s Mic, which means that you say three words at a time and those words get chanted back by the group, like a greek chorus. A series of hand signals are used to describe how you feel, the kind of thing you want to say and so on. Participation happens via Progressive Stack, which means that you raise your hand to speak and are put on a list. The people who are speaking the least or who are socioeconomically the most disadvantaged go to the top of the stack. The wealthiest, whitest and loudest go to the bottom.

The meeting was so orderly, cooperative and hopeful that all the proclamations of love and new ages of art making and the inherent power of art actually felt plausible, and the stray negative voices felt totally out of place. I’ve never seen anything so progressive that so completely ignores the classic avant garde notion of disruptive, violent change.

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