Beyond Radical


There’s a funny conversation going on at Real Clear Arts right now about what constitutes radical art.

futurist manifesto
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti – Futurist Manifesto, published in Italian newspaper Gazzetta dell’Emilia, 1909

I’ll sidestep the nitty gritty because it’s terribly predictable. Judith Dobrzynski finds an artist asserting that he is radical because he’s making landscape paintings, and this unleashes a small flurry of art clichés ranging from the notion that avant garde art shocks because it’s really truly original, to the basic impossibility of learning art in school.

I know, it’s boring. But can anything be squeezed out of this ancient argument? Can it get us anywhere new? Just because this argument is old… does it necessarily follow that we shouldn’t have it?

I think arguments continue until everyone has reached a satisfied state, and there is no satisfaction here yet. The search for “the new” wound up being pretty futile, and radical art did die when a handful of specific strategies for radicalism became your basic MFA curriculum. We aren’t sure what to do with that yet, so we keep coming back to it. We claim that maybe landscape paintings are radical.

I don’t happen to think that re-assigning the word “radical” to work that will never feel radical is a satisfying answer. It’s too binary—too cold and illogical. What if instead we dispensed with the word “radical” completely?

The word radical is corrupt. What lies beyond radical? What’s avant avant garde? What words are we going to use to define it? Will we know what we have been looking for when we see it?

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