MSB brainstorming

30 July 2017

Dr Great Art Episode 17: Provinciality in Art

The newest "Dr Great Art" podcast. "Episode 17: Provinciality in Art." Times have changed drastically. Now, what provinciality is has been turned completely around. It is a state of mind, not geography.

This is the script (not a transcript, as I change elements when recording).

 Dr Great Art Podcast 17: Provinciality in Art

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 17th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.

Today my Artecdote concerns Provinciality in Art and the Artworld.

Yes Provinciality. A word that commands fear in the artworld.

The standard definition of 'provinciality' in our context is the character of artists or art(sub-) worlds to lack the sophistication of some urban center deemed better, or of having the styles, viewpoints, etc., considered characteristic of unsophisticated inhabitants of a province; rustic; insular. Not knowing or following what is considered currently by the consensus "in" or au courant. Say, painting in an Impressionist style in Russia a 100 years after its halcyon days in Paris.

Times have changed drastically. In our time, the situation has been upturned.

Provinciality is now best construed as a state of mind, rather than one of geography.

Once upon a time, provinciality consisted of knowing nothing of the world-at-large, only looking at local art and culture. Now that has inverted. The new provinciality is a form of consensus globalism, where you are always looking elsewhere, copying New York or the Biennale or documenta and never really looking at the great art occurring around your own corner.

Before I left Chicago, I saw such an attitude kill much of the creativity of the local art scene, driving the city into spot 3 after New York and Los Angeles in the US. LA did the opposite. Looked at and appreciated itself and rose to spot 2 in the US. London finally did it with the YBAs as well, and rose to spot 2 in the world. Berlin is closing in now by being itself! And New York City has ALWAYS looked at itself, its local artists, it has had curators who show those artists, critics who write about them SERIOUSLY and so on. So do not blame THEM, I have also heard such complaint, for doing it right!

In Chicago, I saw that NOT looking at your LOCAL art, produced copyist work, and I saw that the clique behind this thereby actually shrank, not widened, the horizon of a then burgeoning Chicago scene. Under them, the city was firmly provincialized into a receptor fiefdom under a small oligarchy, soon proven fact when LA vastly overtook it. Believe me. I was there, showing with a gallerist, now long gone, who actually told me about the whole "arrangement" going on to achieve this reprehensible goal. This happens regularly in many if not most other places, in our current art situation. Simple minds like simple situations they can lazily understand and which they hope to pigeonhole and control.

I have seen it elsewhere as well, particularly in Switzerland where I now live, with its love/hate relationships to Germany and the US. The new self-induced form of provincialism is a result of NOT being aware of the art creativity around you, of always looking with longing eyes to some distant "center." One should look at artists, curators, critics and art historians involved in the international artworld, of course, yet also primarily interact with ones own (supposedly) peripheral communities. Artist Alex Meszmer has opined (opEIned) that behind this lies the attempt to achieve "a little piece of Documenta, or New York, finally in every backyard." While ignoring your own neighbors.

First, there is no real single artWORLD. As Paul Klein has said, it is a conglomeration of artVILLAGES. Making one or two of those villages unnecessarily sovereign is the new provincialism --- and in your head.

Second, Simon Deakin has written that you can still manage to avoid knowing anything of the world-at-large regardless of where you go or what art you look at. Even in the centers.

Third, an ex-curator of a Kunsthalle told me in discussion when I brought up this idea, that I had forgotten that it is the duty of curators in provincial areas to educate the local artists through confrontation with influences from outside. This is completely idiotic. Such "instruction" is totally unnecessary in our globally networked society. WE HAVE THE INTERNET, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND TRAVEL! Times and information-flow have changed. In much of the 20th century and earlier, one needed to live in Paris, or Florence, or New York City or wherever in order to quickly keep abreast of stimulating arguments and activities. That is no longer true!

Most of the people who live and work outside the few urban centers for culture immediately know everything that occurs in them. Normally, I have seen what is happening in New York City, Berlin, London, Zurich, Chicago, LA, and other centers, directly THERE. And then 8 years later I am "instructed" about it in St. Gallen, near where I live?! This teaching consists mainly in telling us which curatorially-correct and momentarily accepted tendencies we should kow-tow before — something of a "Top o' the Pops" for the artworld, or even more banal, an "Art World Star Search."

There is indeed a small residue of the old-fashioned form of provinciality in the cliqueyness of some insecure artists. Something Switzerland, where I live, is unfortunately world famous for. (Other than THAT it is a wonderful art scene.) Critic Peter Schjeldahl is correct in saying that artists operate best in small packs, like wild dogs, but packs of artists, curators, critics and art historians who have clumped together because they share highly similar world views, art interests, artistic goals. Not just because they want power or to brownnose those with power and to serve as ersatz Fisherman clubs for the semi-artsy.

I recently was doing a Dr Great Art performance-lecture on Community-Based Art, Social-Practice. One artist said to me, "well, we are community-based because we have a tight little clique!" That is NOT SoPra, not what I mean, not really even a community, but rather an in-group, usually one of copyists, as I have already bemoaned.

What is the answer? I gave some pointers in Dr Great Art Podcast Number Seven Titled "What Can We Do? Art Beyond Complaint." Please go back and listen to that.

A few pointers in short: ignore these uninformed ideas of provincialism. Offer and create constructive alternatives, construct your own local artworlds, venues and so on. Encourage others who do the same. Help build up critics, curators, students and especially other artists who pay attention to what is around them, who have independent minds. Network in a POSITIVE sense --- and WELL BEYOND just artists! With your whole local community, as best as you can. The artworld drastically needs expansion, stronger artvillages linked to the rest of the community will be an important part of this!

Provinciality is now a state of mind, not geography. The new provinciality is a form of consensus globalism, where you are always looking elsewhere, copying. Look at yourself, at those creating great art around you, discuss it seriously and critically. Be tough and open. Expand art's audience. It begins at home in ones own neighborhood.

That was "Provinciality in Art."

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 17. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations. Three recent ones were on the the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today, Metaphor(m) in Art History, and Mongrel Art.

I'd like to thank Chloe Orwell, Brad Elvis, Mike Hagler, and the rock band the Handcuffs for composing, performing and recording my theme song, "Shut Up and Paint," a tiny portion of which begins and ends every Dr Great Art Podcast. More about them in a future podcast.

You can find or contact me at

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or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.

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