MSB brainstorming

03 September 2017

Dr Great Art Episode 20: Mongrel Art and Democratic Art

Mongrel Art! Democratic Art! This Dr Great Art Artecdote Podcast is a description of and plaidoyer for a (Post-Postmodernist) art that is anti-purist, syncretistic, and creolized, unifying a variety of artforms, disciplines, tendencies and philosophies. Artworks involving popular or democratic and street artforms outside the "standard" fine art ones, yet also not eschewing either so-called time-honored, nor technologically "new" disciplines, as it seeks to revitalize and transform them all, while opening the art system and deliberately involving people outside the field of art in artistic processes.


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

Dr Great Art Episode 20: Mongrel Art and Democratic Art

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 20th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.

Today my Artecdote concerns something most near and dear to my artistic heart: Mongrel and Democratic Art.

I have made passing comments in my Dr Great Art podcasts about my conception of this potential antidote to or better-said resolution for and expansion beyond Postmodernism. Mongrel Art. Here I finally give the basic definition of what I mean.

I will occasionally shorten this to simply 'Mongrel Art.' That is the key phrase, but I find the other term 'Democratic Art' to be a significant and complementary branch of Mongrel Art.
What is this? Mongrel artists are against purism in all forms, finding it to be morally and politically questionable, a trope of oppression and racism. Much art since Late Formalism is too purist --- too much inbreeding. I find what Formalism became to be a result of a misreading of Greenberg, but that is a thorny subject for another podcast.

Mongrel Art is a syncretistic unifying of a variety of artforms, disciplines, tendencies and philosophies. It often involves popular or democratic and street artforms outside the "standard" fine art ones, yet also does eschews neither so-called traditional, that is time-honored, nor technologically "new" disciplines, as it seeks to revitalize and transform them all. This is not appropriation, fusion or cross-over, but a personal and disjunctive dialogue of arbitration. 'Syncretism' refers to such a practice of truly uniting different doctrines or practices with each other. Mongrel artworks are syncretistic, not eclectic at their best. I discussed this differentiation between eclecticism and syncretism back in the Dr Great Art podcast Nr. 11 on Easter, please go back and listen to that is you haven't already.

The term "mongrel" in English means a dog of mixed or indeterminate breed, often one found on the street. My wife and I always have two dogs and two cats, rescued or from the shelter, thus usually mongrels. The term DOES have distinctly derogative overtones, I am aware. Yet ones that I assert are actually complimentary. For example, I used the equivalent term "Mischling" in several interviews about my art in German, whereupon the writers immediately leapt into the alternate form in that language, "Bastard." While not containing the same meaning as our English word bastard, I still don't appreciate that much, or then maybe I DO! I could use the term 'hybrid,' which is somewhat similar. However, it means the offspring of two animals or plants of different breeds or varieties especially as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics. Thus, it suggests a mixture usually of only two, while 'Mongrel' suggests something more of a free-for-all. Also, 'hybrid' has that disturbing association with profit-based human manipulation, which we are all suspicious of due to the questionable genetic manipulation of seeds and so on by Monsanto and the like. Mongrel, once again, seems much more natural. Dogs choosing each other in multiple combinations, not corporate manoeuvring.

A related and beautiful term is 'creolization,' in addition to Creole culture itself, this now anthropologically describes any coming together of diverse cultural traits or elements to form new ones, a complex process of cultural borrowing and lending in an area with many different influences. Having lived in the Caribbean, I have personally experienced the richness of creole culture and the promise for the world of creolization as an idea.This bears directly on our recent waves of immigration in Europe from war zones, as well as the political fear mongering against immigrants in the US, and the new re-visibility of racist groups in the US and around the world, including our clearly racist US president Trump. However, due to that term having too many meanings, I refer to such tendencies in art as 'mongrel,' affirmatively refunctioning an old insult, in the tried-and-true method called 'reappropriation.'

Certainly, there is a definite socio-political aspect to Mongrel Art. It's a Blues, Jazz, Rock n Roll, Hip-Hop, even Comics, archaeological "thing" and more. It struck me once that many of my favorite entities, such as those just listed, are mergers of African American, Jewish, and immigrant cultures with the "mainstream" white Euro culture. To my mind improving that later culture immensely. English in fact, viewed linguistically, is a creole language, but due to its powerful position, we seldom want to mention that!

Mongrel Artworks likewise are inherently impure entities; I would amplify this, claiming they offer a positively anti-purist emancipation from narrow formalist reductivism, Neo-Conceptual ironic inbreeding, the malaise of Crapstraction and other Feeble Art --- in short, liberation from academicist confinement. This impurity is a trait to applaud and encourage in order to construct a new road out of the cul-de-sac of Postmodernism. Indeed, objections to such Mongrel works are usually objections to the forms' impurity, if you analyze the hostility closely. "Breaking down seemingly essential boundaries is often thought to be unnatural, and so morally pernicious," wrote philosopher David Carrier. Mongrel Art is radically technically, contextually, metaphorically, and content-wise, non-exclusive, even expansive. For full disclosure, my own art is part of this, as it unites painting, drawing, installation, sign-painting, sequential art (comics), and even performance-teaching in painting-installations in my Dr Great Art project. It is, though, an approach many artists are working toward now.

Democratic Art:
Democratic Art is to me a subcategory of Mongrel Art, the application of its principles to conceptualist-based Social Practice Art. As 'Mongrel Art' was originally a term I created to describe my own art, likewise, 'Democratic Art' is a term created by artists Alex Meszmer and Reto Müller to describe their art. But it was quickly clear that both terms were allied and had application to much other art in addition to ours.

Democratic Art generally uses public space, yet goes beyond the traditional understanding of Art in Public Spaces, here called 'Kunst am Bau.' It opens the art system and deliberately involves people outside the field of art in artistic processes. It assumes that art can also be carried by a public that is not part of an experienced art audience but shows interest in it. Democratic Art aims for discussion, wherein artists understand themselves as participating active members of society, as citizens actively taking part in democracy, seeking integration instead of exclusion, interacting between art and society. It tries to incorporate democratic processes into the creation, exhibition, and interpretation of art. A mongrelization of SoPra.

Who are some Mongrel and Democratic artists? Off the top of my head, in no particular order I would say:
Tom Sanford, Christa Donner, Charles Michael Reid, Maddy Rosenberg, Ashley Bickerton, Gaëlle Villedary, Stefan Rohner, David Reed, Gene Colan, Mira Schor, Damiano Curchellas, Chiara Fiorini, Stefano Pasquini, Tilt, Raoul Deal, Interpixel, Tim Rollins and KOS, Pau Delgado, William Powhida, Guy Richards Smit, Aaron Johnston, Peter Daverington, as well as myself and Meszmer/Mueller.

The inbetweenness of Mongrel and Democratic Art has important social, psychological, even ethical implications — as well as historical-philosophical ones. Mongrel Art interbreeds various established art disciplines and approaches, --- all in order to energize and criticize fine art, vernacular arts, and their publics. This is inherently democratic, closing of the various gaps between educated and mass culture, elite and niche culture and others. Cross the border, lose that gap, get out of our ever-shrinking, self-imposed gated-community artworld. Interbreed.

That was "Mongrel and Democratic Art"

Today we have Listener post! : Lucille Younger is a greatly appreciated listener, who is an ex-journalist --- back from the days when they really WERE journalists! She wrote in concerning Dr Great Art Podcast 18, "Meaning is in Artworks Themselves": Lucille writes, "This podcast was Informative, entertaining, and reassuring for those of us who (with a little trepidation) try to understand a piece of art. You say (in part) the meaning is in the artwork itself, and can be found (or, at least understood) by asking: "What does the act of interacting with this help me understand about life, about art, about thinking about feeling?" That's comforting, and puts appreciating art into a context that we can all understand. Thanks, Mark Staff Brandl!"
Thank you Lucille! That was a part of my intention. I think good discussion can really open doors to art and artworks, thus my Dr Great Art project. Nevertheless, it should not replace direct experience and open-minded, visual interpretation.

Thanks for listening. Podcast number 20. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Andy you, like Lucille, can write to me! 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.

Some recent ones were on the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today, on Metaphor(m) in Art History, and on Mongrel Art. Once again, I'd like to thank Chloe Orwell, Brad Elvis, 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.
You can find or contact me at
book me at (spell)
or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all as Dr Great Art.

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