In The Name of Art: A Case Against “Content”

Photo by Aiony Haust

Content or Creating?

About four years ago, I heard a friend of mine say that “it’s all about the content” at a dinner party, and I squint-smiled at him because I had no idea what he was talking about. If I let myself get really philosophical, I still don’t, but some years & a move to San Francisco later, I’ve got this much: content is the stuff that you make out of nothing. However, I am still stuck on where this word “content” came from. How is it different from the other things people create? Why do we need a new name for it? Why do we call it that instead of “writing” or “photography” or “illustrations,” i.e., art, the stuff we make out of nothing?

There are a lot of floating versions of the idea that a commercial context cheapens any & all material. Maybe that’s why this word “content” came about, to distinguish the real stuff from the fake art that the for-profit world made dirty with its mores, its money, its models.

After all, artists are often charged – or charge themselves – with poking holes in the establishment (i.e. major companies like Facebook, owner of Instagram). Many think Art is supposed to exist outside the market & its sphere of influence.

Existence of Art

I can do without the word “content,” the value judgment on context, the notion that layered, varied or commingled with complex & mixed agendas means dirty; I’m happy to call it all art. I am one artist who thinks that art often gets better with all the non-art it touches; that the borderlands are swampy & fun, and that with some luck the friction creates cross-contamination, unexpected “content” for the art piece itself.

I am very un-into the idea that museums & galleries are the official or only houses for Art. I don’t think Art is so special or fragile or remote that it needs to block off from the rest of the world, nor no I think that Art can only be perceived, appreciated or even literally seen with tunnel vision. Art is enhanced when economics, social media, politics, & traffic jams are in the periphery, when our daily lives interact with the art we make about our days. The alternative is scarily close to taking the content out of art, and I don’t think Art is all that much without content.

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