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Kirsten Forkert and Patrik Aarnivaara

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Today Stockholm's newest art fair is straight forwardly called “Market”. And this year it is sponsored for the first time by the American bank Morgan Stanley. This is another sign of a time where art and capital goes hand in hand.1

Parts of the art world have been put in the dark and the art boom is mainly connected to young artists. There is ruthlessness in the search for new artists – if the art practice isn’t consistent and in good form, then you look somewhere else. 2

For Goethe the world of organisms accommodate the same inner secret as art and thus it is only through the form that one could sense this secret. 3

Our text is an attempt to map out how seemingly contradictory concepts intersect and mesh with each other within the art field and art education in Sweden: Romanticism and professionalization. Contradictory, because we generally think of Romanticism as a deliberate rejection of the conformity and managerial calculation associated with professionalization. Our starting point was noticing three developments in the art field in Sweden, and wondering whether or not they might be related 1) articles in the media heralding a 'Romantic shift' in contemporary art, 2) the expansion of the art market and the 3) professionalization of art education.

If these developments can be read as symptomatic of our present political/economic conditions, what do they reveal? Might they be a response to an increasingly competitive situation, the naturalization of values of enterprise culture and an underlying sense of political disempowerment? Our intention is not to argue for one style or medium over another, but to question the intersection between the market and conventional definitions of both art and artists. We will attempt to trace the rise of these phenomena through media coverage and exhibitions, particularly Remembrance of the Subject Past, which took place at the Bonniers Konsthall in 2007, and also discuss the hype around the ‘experience economy’ as well as market pressures in art education.

For philosophers, poets and artists such as Friedrich von Schelling, William Wordsworth and Joseph Anton Koch, Romanticism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was a reaction against the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, and, in an art historical sense, a rejection of the norms of classical art taught at the academies. We are arguing that the current appeal to Romanticism is a response to the increasing commercialization of the art field both through the expansion of the art market, and the entrepreneurialism promoted by creative industries and 'experience economy' rhetoric and policy. We see this appeal as both symptomatic of market pressures (through foregrounding the individual and de-emphasizing social conditions) and also as reactions to them (through impulses towards escapism, nostalgia, mystery, and purification, i.e. opposing the purity of high art to the corrupting influences of consumer society). In relation to the professionalization of education, our hypothesis is that students learn to adopt the 'romantic artist' role as an ideal subjectivity for market success: in other words, 'learning to behave like an artist'. We will begin by discussing how aspects of historical Romanticism are taken up today.

Few romantics would have disagreed with Coleridge's opinion “that deep thinking is attainable only by a man of deep feeling.” And because of this emphasis on “feeling” they also insisted on man's individuality and freedom of will. In his monologues Schleiermacher tells how he revolted against the notion, still strong in Kant and Fichte, of a “universal reason,” the same in all men. It finally dawned upon him—he calls it his “highest intuition”—“that each man is meant to represent humanity in his own way, combining its elements uniquely.” 4

Historically, Romanticism was not one political, aesthetic, or philosophical development but several, some of which contradicted each other (including revolutionary politics, libertarian individualism and authoritarianism). The aspects of historical Romanticism that seem to be taken up today are those that privilege the role and subjectivity of the artist, in connection with the definition of art as an autonomous field. Social and economic shifts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries led to the loss of the aristocracy's power in Europe, and the emergence of a merchant class who was interested in collecting art as symbols of social status. The result was that artists were no longer immediately dependent on commissions from aristocrats or the church, but on the interest of those who would buy their work. This freed artists from the obligation to represent religious rituals or depict the aristocracy (while creating other dependencies). The seventeenth century also marked the emergence of aesthetics as a separate discipline and the beginning of modern art criticism. 5 This led to the definition of artistic practice as a liberal art rather than a craft, and the centrality of the artist as an autonomous, creative individual. The result was that the figure of the artist was as important as what he/she produced, and the artist's subjectivity and autobiography became the framework for the interpretation and judgment of artworks.  In her lecture for the the 2006 MyCreativity conference, Marion von Osten connected the artist as exemplary figure to the increasing importance, in the seventeenth century, of the values of private property and personal aptitude combined with more traditional definitions of the male genius. 6  The artist's exemplary status also in some ways led to his/her outsider role. It could also be argued that this basic perception of the artist never really went away, as much as it has been challenged by aspects of the avant-garde, not to mention feminism and postcolonial theory.  We feel that it is important, however, to ask about the implications of specifically referring to Romanticism to name a new tendency in art, contrasting it with nineties art practices such as relational practices or interventionist art, which are now yesterday's news:

Fänge, with his new surrealism signifies a direction in contemporary art that looks more toward the hunting-grounds of fantasy than the thematically oriented social critique that has been dominating during several years. 7

In art one has talked about a Gothic sensibility and how artists have turned to the domains of fantasy and the fantastic. This is what the three curators formulates as the reaction against the programmatic political art that has been leading during several years. 8

Now when social criticism has cooled down the temperature rises with literature. And what can be better in our troubled times than a retrospective, absurdist and 'new romantic' art? 9

Beyond this naming of a new tendency, we have seen few attempts to translate the history of Romanticism into the present context in any systematic way, or make a serious argument for its relevance today. This leads us to ask if what we are in fact witnessing is a kind of fragmentary, postmodern pastiche or even simulacral Romanticism. In Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism Fredric Jameson uses the term ‘surrealism without the unconscious’ 10 to describe 1980s Neo-Expressionist painting, particularly the work of David Salle (and as a side comment, we feel there are interesting comparisons to be made between the present moment and the US painting boom in the eighties). Jameson later uses another phrase, perhaps more relevant: ‘surrealism without its manifesto or its avant-garde’ 11: in other words, the use of aesthetic strategies associated with previous historical movements (in this case surrealism) but without the content or the politics. Historical quoting/recycling was identified in the 1980s as a key aspect of postmodernism, opposition to modernism's ahistoricism, suppression of external references and fear of kitsch. Some have argued for the subversiveness of this approach 12. However, it can also have the effect, especially when referring to canonical works of art, of creating 'instant prestige': to reference Goethe is to immediately invite comparison. It is now twenty years since 'high postmodernism' and we are asking whether historical quoting has now become a kind of convenient automatic reflex, making it easier  to refer to previous (art) historical movements such as Romanticism solely for prestige purposes,  but without the irony, parody or ideology critique associated with the 1980s.

There is a chapter in Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello's The New Spirit of Capitalism entitled ‘The Test of the Artistic Critique’, which they define as the reaction against the inauthenticity and standardization of consumer society which was an important part of May 68. They also trace its geneaology to the nineteenth-century concept of art for art's sake, especially the rejection of the conformity and materialism of the bourgeoisie.  The chapter discusses the fate of this 'artistic critique' in what Boltanski and Chiapello term a ‘connexionist world’ 13, similar to Manuel Castell's 'network society' 14 where it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between social interactions and business transactions. They argue that 'the connexionist world' is defined by a tension between two contradictory requirements: on one hand to be continually flexible and adaptable, but also (particularly in fields where it is important to distinguish oneself, such as artistic and intellectual fields) to present an authentic self, in possession of unique qualities:

To the extent that in his person, his personality, he possesses this 'something' which is likely to interest them, he can attract their attention and obtain information or backing from them. But for that he must be someone that is to say, come with elements foreign to their world and regarded as being specific to him.15

Boltanski and Chiapello argue that the connexionist world paradoxically demands the performance of the unique self, and the codes and signifier of authenticity which they term the ‘grammar of authenticity’16 , rather than leading to its rejection. We are proposing that this dynamic increasingly characterizes the art field. To some degree this has always existed; given the discipline's historical associations with individual genius (as mentioned earlier), the ability to embody, within one's own personality and biography, qualities which one alone possesses, has always been a requirement for success. However, this dynamic also increasingly reflects the position of the artist in relation to the rest of society: the requirement for artists to perform the authenticity we fear we are losing—and to speak using the 'grammar of authenticity'.

We will now trace a brief timeline of both the expansion of the market and 'new romanticism' in Sweden, with the intention of tracing changes in the art scene, but also keeping in mind that these developments can influence art students by presenting models for emulation and signaling what will be rewarded. In 2003, the DNA (Diesel New Art, sponsored by the jeans company Diesel17) competition was established, receiving over 900 contributions.  Around this time, the artists Jockum Nordström and Mamma Andersson became very successful both in terms of exhibitions and the art market. We are mentioning them because they represent recent examples of Swedish artists who are very commercially successful. 2006 saw the establishment of 'Market' 18, a Stockholm art fair sponsored by the US bank Morgan Stanley, the advertising agency Storåkers McCann, and in collaboration with Konstakadamien. In 2007, the credit card company Diners Club started the Konstlistan 2007 competition. Students from all art academies in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland send in documentation and a jury chooses 10 artists from each Nordic country. During the same year, two exhibitions took place: Remembrance of the Subject Past at the Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm (also a student competition exhibition), and Painting, Space and Society at Göteborgs Konsthall. While Painting, Space and Society does not focus on romanticism per se, we are mentioning it because the media coverage discusses both the ascendance of the market and a 'new surrealism'. 19
Remembrance of the Subject Past  20 is significant, in part because it raised the discussion of 'new romanticism' and 'Romanticism' within the culture press, but also or mostly because it was curated through student competition, which at this point is a relatively new phenomenon in Sweden. The title of the exhibition is significant, with its evocations of individual subjectivity, nostalgia ('the subject past') and through the reference to Proust's now-canonical work, allusions to both the author's reclusiveness and to the prestige of high culture. The exhibition encompassed a range of different practices, in a variety of media including performance, sculpture, video and photography. What brought these works together was not specific formal or stylistic issues but their content: a focus on individual subjectivity in general, on the subjectivity of the artist in particular, and on introspection. The accompanying text, written by the exhibition's curators (Marianna Garin, Camilla Larsson and Sinziana Ravini) and entitled The Eternal Return of the Romantics describes introspection, or 'productive melancholy' as the ‘exhibition's red thread’ 21, as students search for the “right to their own voice and space, both in the world and in art”. 22 The curators argue that the exhibition takes a position against Nicolas Bourriaud's Post-production 23 explicitly creating a binary between Romanticism and relational aesthetics (though it could be argued that Bourriaud does not really challenge the traditional definition of art or artists, writing mainly about individual practitioners and institutionalized practices). The curators ask  if one can draw the conclusion that today’s political situation and impending environmental crisis produce hopelessness, carrying the same destabilizing and disempowering effect as the shift from the Renaissance to the Romantic period,  leading to both an intropsective tendency and a fascination with transgression.  This provoked the following questions, in a review by Mårten Arndtzén on Sveriges Radio:

Why take the dust of the romantic artist role at this moment in time? What is it with the lonely genius, with or without a Basque on the head isolating himself in the studio and exploring the inner self? Why is this suddenly attractive again- after a decade of social engagement and collectivism? Have we simply got tired of all the fuss? That never stops despite of all the engaged art videos made about it. Or is it because they were so difficult to sell and right now the market screams after young art? 24

We will now ask, what is the relationship between this 'new romanticism' and professionalization, signaled by the curation of exhibitions by student competition, such as ROTSP)? We are arguing that it is ideally suited for several reasons. First, because it has a close relationship to the perception of the artist within the popular imagination (one only has to think of how artists are represented in the mainstream media), it is easily recognizable and marketable. Second, because unlike historical Romanticism, it does not seem to be connected to a particular philosophy or political ideology (although in the case of historical Romanticism, this was often a reactionary ideology).  This means 'new romanticism' runs no risk of offending or alienating other art professionals, audiences or potential buyers. This also frees artists under pressure to connect with a dealer and sell work, from the obligation of committing to a political position. Thirdly, the references to historical Romanticism operate as signifiers for “high culture’ and reassure us that art still has a special status at a time when artistic autonomy seems to be under threat. The expansion of the art market and its implications (the explosion of art fairs or increasing market pressures in art education) raises the spectre that the art field may now be structurally operating in a way that is closer to other, more obviously commercialized fields such as Hollywood film or mainstream music industries. Within this context, Romanticism, with its historical weight, symbolic capital and high culture associations, reassures us that art has not been subsumed into the entertainment industry, and that the subjectivity of the artist is still more unique and special than the film celebrity or rock star. In other words, we are seeing the assertion of the boundaries of high art to resist the culture industry—or, as it is defined today, the “experience industry’.

Richard Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class, was translated into Swedish in 2006, 25, when he also gave a lecture tour of the country. Florida's theories emphasize connection between the cultural sector and technological innovation, promoting a fundamentally entrepreneurial definition of creativity. This is also the approach taken by KK-Stiftelsen, a foundation which was started in Sweden in 1994 with the goal of promoting closer ties between education and business, the use of IT, and the development of the ‘experience industry’ 26. According to the Swedish Trade Council's website (which also features a quote by Florida praising Sweden), KK-Stiftelsen identifies thirteen areas within the experience industry: ‘Architecture, Art, Computer games, Design, Fashion, Film/Photo, Food&Drink, Literature/Publishing, Market Communication, Media, Music, Performing Arts and Tourism’ 27. The experience industry categorizes art together with design or fashion, or even more blatantly commercial activities such as marketing, the restaurant industry or tourism. In contradiction to this but consistent with dominant perceptions of art, 'new romanticism' maintains the boundaries between art and the other fields. Instead of crossing over with fashion or gaming, the art field operates in this context as a kind of niche market for luxury goods. Appealing to Romanticism can be a way to preserve this niche status within the experience industry paradigm. This approach has already been taken up within the UK (where 'creative industries' policy has been implemented since the early 1990s) as Anthony Davies describes in Basic Instinct: Trauma and Retrenchment 2000-2004.

Davies identifies a back to basics’ impulse within business, politics and culture in the UK, in the wake of 9/11, the dot-com crash, and within the art field, the controversies surrounding Young British Art, 28 and the culture wars of the 90s.  Davies describes how this is reflected through an inward-looking tendency within contemporary art, described as ‘new gentleness’29 He connects this shift to cultural policy encouraging a domestic UK art market. Are we now seeing the same development in Sweden: a desire to 'return to the drawing board', in terms of conventional definitions of art and artists, in connection with an expanding art market? To discuss this fully is beyond the scope of this text, but we are also asking whether, similar to Davies's observations, we are seeing a tendency towards escapism and retreat into the private sphere, in the face of uncomfortable realities of increasing economic uncertainty and inequality, destruction of the welfare state or climate change. Does art play a role in this impulse towards escapism and retreat, in a refurbished version of Matisse's armchair? 30. And if it is doing so, is it in part out of a sense of exhaustion with nineties practices such as relational aesthetics, and the more institutionalized aspects of site-specific art?  We should acknowledge that what we have seen of calls for 'new romanticism' simply dismiss nineties practices as passé but do not engage with its problems.  However, if this shift is also motivated by a sense of fatigue and cynicism with critical practices (if critique does not lead to change, then why not just make money?) then we feel that nineties critical practices should also be interrogated.

It is a truism that the art world has always limited art's potential for social change.  However, serious questions need to be asked about the aestheticization and institutionalization of critique: whereby critique becomes largely a symbolic gesture and does not lead to any real change. We would like to focus on two aspects of this problem. The first, which we see as inspired by aspects of post-structuralism, Hardt and Negri and others, is a sense of melancholic institutional determinism connected to the phrase 'no outside', and related to this, the judgment that proposing any solution or taking a position is a reductive, unsophisticated simplification. We would like to ask whether the hopelessness of this perspective could lead, as a reaction, to the current idealization on the artist as outsider figure, or the withdrawal into interior fantasy worlds.  The second aspect of this problem is the contradiction of apparently open-ended democratic structures (exemplified by the “platform’, the topic of both Pernille Albrethsen's critique, Platform Formalism31 and Claire Bishop's Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics) 32 within hierarchical and in some cases exclusive settings such as museums and biennials. Both Albrethsen's and Bishop's critiques point to how this apparent 'democracy' can mask actual power relations, and ask questions about responsibility: who participates, the nature of participation, etc.  The problem is that it can become very tempting to see responsibility in individual terms, which Bishop does, and the last part of her text calls for a return to aesthetic autonomy and individual authorship. 33 Our position is that we should neither dismiss nineties approaches for the sake of fashion nor defend them uncritically, but instead seriously re-evaluate the relationship of art, and art institutions to political responsibility and agency.

Having discussed 'Romanticism' and reasons for its recurrence today, we will now take up the second concept in our title, ‘professionalizing’, specifically in relation to arts education. To connect the professionalization of education to 'new romanticism', we are arguing that art schools are becoming places where students learn to play the role of 'professionalized romantics', because, for the reasons mentioned earlier, this role fits very easily with the demands of market success. More disturbingly, because it emphasizes the individual artist, and de-emphasizes the wider social context, the professionalized romantic is not encouraged to question the values of individualism and competition prevalent in art education, and which are intensifying as art schools compete with each other on for reputation on an international scale.

A phenomenon we have noticed in casual conversation is the hype surrounding ‘hot’ art schools. When asked to explain why particular schools are 'hot', people rarely give concrete information that would make the education at one school better than another. Aside from rumour, we speculate this may reflect: 1) the number of famous artists who have graduated from the school, 2) the number of famous artists who have taught at the school, 3) the ease in getting a dealer either while in school or immediately following graduation, and  4) the visibility of the school within the international art scene, based on the other three factors, or how aggressively the school markets itself.

Of course, competitiveness and prestige economies have always existed within art education, but at the moment it could be argued that art schools have more at stake in their reputation in both the international contemporary art scene and the market. In other words, instead of operating as more or less autonomous spaces for experimentation, art schools function increasingly as a conduit to both the art market and the contemporary art scene. This is similar to the pressures on other forms of education (to produce recognizable results of success) but different in that, unlike design education for example, the focus is not on employable skills. Instead, we again see the contradiction of both promoting the market, and on the other hand, conventional definitions of artistic autonomy and artists. The current market interest in young artists should not be underestimated here. With  more galleries and art fairs than ever, there is also potentially money to be made, which can result in increased pressures on students to get a dealer, sell work, and use art school as a networking opportunity34 (especially if the teachers are successful artists). The 2006 election of the right coalition government in Sweden and their regime of cutbacks and privatization, may also force students to see the art market as the only source of financial stability.

A related point is that the reputation of a particular school is created and maintained by both students and teachers, in a symbiotic career-building relationship: if students and teachers are successful in the art world, this helps the reputation of the school, which attracts more 'star' teachers and greater competition for student places. The relationship between Young British Art and the art department at Goldsmiths College in the UK is an obvious example, but it could be argued that other ‘hot’ art schools (Frankfurter Stadeschule, Yale University, etc) also follow this pattern. If this is the future direction taken by Swedish art education, then we feel it is important to ask how it affects the learning environment. If students and teachers are under pressure to build and maintain a school's reputation, then what happens when students produce work that is not immediately, obviously successful? Another point is that is a highly competitive atmosphere is not exactly conducive to producing a sense of community, let alone solidarity. In such an atmosphere, what happens when conflicts arise between students, teachers and administrators (such as breaches of student rights or academic freedom issues, or labour disputes)? Will people have the support of their peers and colleagues? Or will quietism, self-censorship, conformity inevitably result from such a competitive and managed environment?

Art school, as Howard Singerman has argued, is not only a place where we learn to make art, but most of all to take on the role of artist.35 While his book is largely a historical account of how postmodernism, theory and the dematerialization of the art object affected US arts education, we feel his emphasis on the artist-subject is useful because it draws attention to the process of 'learning to be an artist': the assimilation of appropriate codes of speaking and acting, the often unexplained value judgments which reward some approaches and discourage others, or the interest or disinterest shown by teachers and other students. The question then becomes, what kind of artist are students learning to become?  We are arguing that pressures for market success entrench the traditional definitions of the artist we have discussed earlier: the artist who continually produces for eager collectors but who does not take responsibility for the discourse or context around his/her work, and presents a compelling, mysterious and charismatic persona that will create intrigue and therefore market interest. The contradiction of the professionalized romantic is that the art market may be a business and success within it requires considerable business savvy, but the artist must never be seen to behave like a businessperson or bureaucrat.

One of us recently graduated from Konsthögskolan i Malmö (the other studied there in an international program) and we will now share a few impressions from the classroom and the overall climate of the school signifying the tendencies we have described). The 'artists' we were encouraged to become were for the most part mute figures, working alone in the studios. There was sometimes a relationship between the verbal and nonverbal (pedagogy's emphasis on communication vs. the art field's traditional emphasis on the nonverbal and the unarticulated). This tension was apparent during group critiques, especially at moments when the conversation stopped, because the creative process was seen to be a personal, and private matter. In-depth discussion of one's intentions was rare, which we feel is the result of an education structure that does not lead students to develop art historical knowledge or familiarity and experience with group discussion—perhaps in accordance with the belief in the mysterious, and therefore unteachable nature of the creative process.  Students can take technical courses and work exclusively in the studio for 5 years without being exposed to criticism, and are only required to present work to their classmates only twice (once in the first, and once in the fifth year).  The role of theory was even more controversial (having been the object of pedagogy battles for many years): controversial because it is seen as potentially killing what is special about arts education through too much exposure to the cold light of rational analysis; but also because it contradicted dominant perceptions of the artist as a mute and intuitive figure. The awkwardness of theory played out in reading seminars: the impression was of simultaneously being encouraged and discouraged to engage with readings: to engage would produce a better discussion, but to engage too much would be to cease to be 'the artist', enigmatic and mysterious. In contrast to Kant’s notion of disinterest (where the beautiful does not create desire) not only did the beautiful produce desire but art was defined as a product of desire36. Desire and passion were defined within an anti-intellectual framework: because they were part of personal, subjective experience, they were beyond criticism; the logical conclusion is that if artworks are the product of desire, they could not be discussed.
In conclusion, we feel that serious questions must be asked of art education. For students, the pressures for the consistency and productivity mentioned at the beginning (which can mean something as crass as a consistent product, or the demand for an identifiable style) can pressure artists to produce formulaic work—especially if it is also being rewarded both by the market and by state funding. We feel this goes against the principles of learning, as under these pressures it can be very difficult to take risks, make mistakes or experiment, or even develop one's practice—as signs of change may be seen as 'inconsistency'. We also feel these pressures can be damaging to artistic development the long term, because, in a climate where collectors are showing an insatiable appetite for the latest hot young artists, the cycle of stardom can be very short (three years, by a 2002 account37). How does one continue to make work once this cycle has finished, let alone for the rest of one's life? If one has not had a chance to explore or take risks during one's education, to develop the sense of ongoing, independent investigation crucial to a sustained art practice—because what is being rewarded is 'consistency'?

We are concerned, not only for the long term effect on students, but also for the learning environment. A climate where art schools are continually trying to market themselves, and because of this, show that both students and teachers are actual or potential star material, can place huge pressures on both students and teachers.. The effect, (ironically, in direct contradiction to the rhetoric by which art schools use to market themselves ) is that art schools are no longer at the forefront of new developments in the field, but in a position of continually following market trends and rewarding what has already been proven as successful. We also feel that under such pressure, what suffers is the diverse range of different practices that would allow students to learn from each other and be exposed to different perspectives and approaches. Rewarding the already-successful will only produce more predictability and homogeneity. We also feel that the role of the 'professionalized romantic' within art education is a limiting one, not only because it so suited to the individualism, competition and careerism mentioned above, but also because it discourages a sense of community among teachers, students and others in the field, and the taking responsibility for the wider context of one's practice.

We are calling for a re-evaluation of art education, as art education increasingly plays a central role in the definition of art and artists. An important aspect of this evaluation (beyond the scope of this text) would be to open discussion around the definition of autonomy: where political and aesthetic autonomy might either enable or oppose each other. We hope that our text can contribute to this re-evaluation.


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