“The discourse of art, like any other professional discourse, imposes limitations on the possibilities of the gaze, speech or actions conducted by the spectator. The discourse of art directs us to continue to see the work of art as the source and goal of discourse, and enables the specialist spectator to exercise professional knowledge and to enjoy the fruits of its authority. . . . A civil intention enables the spectator to exceed the limits of professional discourse and to regard the image, not as source and end in itself, but first and foremost as a platform that bears the traces of others, and thus as a junction that articulates between such traces and the spectator who sees them.” – Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography

“The photograph is never a sealed product that expresses the intentions of a single player. The photograph does not make a truth claim nor does it refute other truth claims. Truth is not to be found in the photograph. The photograph merely divulges the traces of truth or of its refutation.” – Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography

“Over the course of the last 250 years at least, human beings in different locations have thought of themselves as citizens and have debated the essence of citizenship as well as its limitations. Now that so much time has passed, thought concerning citizenship need no longer be bound to the invention of a zero point, a hypothetical moment of inception. It is more productive to see citizenship as an interface that enables humans to create a shared world, one which they will be able to continue to inhabit together in the future, not only because of their actions but because they calculate the effect of their actions on others who share the world. . . . The particular functioning of the modern nation-state, however, which has captured the discourse of citizenship and subordinated it to the logic of sovereignty that dictates who among the governed is a citizen, bestowing status and a package of rights and duties on the citizen that are not allocated to other governed individuals, has created fertile conditions—not for civil intention, but for civil malfunction.” – Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography

“Whenever human beings exist together with one another, whether in private or in public space, whether in open or closed spaces amenable to, or hidden from, the surveillance of others, their being together constitutes political existence. This political existence takes different forms characterized by varying degrees of freedom and repression.” – Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography

“To historicize visual culture adequately is also to undermine the narrative that presents the history of art as the pertinent field of knowledge for the generation of visual culture in relation to which visual culture stands as a kind of appendix or late variant, possessed nevertheless of loyalty to shared principles. The hegemonic narrative, which accepts the imperialist pretenses of the history of art, presents art as the central channel for visual practice and sees photography as a sub-medium within this. In this account, photography has, since its inception, knocked ceaselessly on the door of art in order to gain admittance into its domain. Within the narrative it offers, the history of photography is indivisible from supposedly key moments when the photograph was admitted into museums of art. Such a narrative erases the infinite richness of photography and the many uses to which it was put outside of the context of art or the museum. It overlooks the fact that most users of photography display no desire to belong to the field of art, nor do they seek the recognition of its resident experts.” – Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography

“Whoever appears in a photograph or whoever is glimpsed in its frame always stands in a certain set of relations with others. Neither the photographer who is invested with ownership rights over the photograph as object, nor the work of art constructed as the center of gravity of the discourse of art, are capable of erasing the photographed persons or any other participants in the event of photography from the civil space in which they are present and whose coming into being they demand from those who observe them.” – Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography

“The coming together of the photographer with the persons photographed always extends beyond the concrete encounter between them. The photograph serves to increase the chances that the encounter will, in fact, endure, migrating to other spaces and circumstances which, at the very least, evade the photographer’s ability, or that of the persons photographed, to know them in advance.” – Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography

“A community of stakeholders is usually represented by a certain body or sovereign power. The sum total of citizens cannot, however, be represented. Modern nation-states who bestow a civil status on their subjects presume to manifest and to represent their citizens as if this civil status were the essence of citizenship. But citizenship is the outcome of a hypothetical partnership between individuals that enables them to relate to one another as having equal access to this partnership. Any regime that seeks to subject such partnership to representation inevitably infringes upon it and cannot, therefore, be said to represent it. The foundational principle of partnership between citizens lies in the fact that they are not subject to sovereign power and cannot therefore be represented by it. Such partnership can at most be imagined by the members who participate in it. From the eighteenth century onward, it has been possible to imagine this partnership in different forms, as taking different directions and proceeding through different channels. All such imaginings constitute a form of taking-part in this citizenry and any such partnership presents an opportunity to imagine such a citizenry.” – Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography

“The photographer engages in a significant series of choices with respect to the event of photography, and these influence the manner in which its final product—the photograph—will appear. Such choices begin with the sheer decision to aim the camera in the direction of a certain event or certain individual, and range through decisions relating to the selection of colors employed or the angle of the shot that will determine the tone of the frame. But even when a photograph is staged in all of its particulars, so that these decisions are highly controlled and highly rigid, the photographer still employs a camera and people are still present in the situation alongside her: they, in fact, stand before her. The co-presence of individuals at the time that the photograph is taken is admittedly usually managed in accordance with the ritual of photography, but it is never totally subordinated to the latter. The space that extends between them, and subsequently the space that extends between them and the spectators of their photograph, is a political space where huma beings look at one another, speak and act in a manner that is not solely subordinate to disciplinary constraints, nor to ones of governance.” – Ariella Azoulay, Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography

Painting the picture

“[Florida Department of Corrections] inmates convicted of property crimes and weapons-possession offences have the most tattoos, while sex offenders, particularly those convicted of paedophilia, tend to have the fewest. Inmates with at least one tattoo were actually 9% less likely to have been incarcerated for murder than those without. The effect is even more pronounced for those with tattoos on their head or face, who are around 30% less likely to be murderers. Similar associations can be found for perpetrators of domestic crimes. Those relationships hold even after controlling for age, race and sex.” – “Crime, ink,” The Economist, December 24, 2016

The still, calm center

“In a violent, distracted, media-saturated world the most needed artistic resource is no longer a critique of the possibility of meaning—mass culture itself has become that critique. What is needed, rather, is the production of meaning that resists distraction. Consumer capitalism thrives by simultaneously creating human loneliness and commodifying a thousand cures for it. One form of resistance to it is the experience in art and life of a human intimacy achieved through sustained attention to what lies beyond and outside the sphere of the market.” – Adam Haslett, “The Perpetual Solitude of the Writer”

The man who fell to art

“The most interesting thing for an artist is to pick through the debris of a culture, to look at what’s been forgotten or not really taken seriously. Once something is categorized and accepted, it becomes part of the tyranny of the mainstream, and it loses its potency.” – David Bowie (interviewed by Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times)

The Zen of Criticism

“To judge a contemporary work of art correctly demands that calm, unprejudiced mood which, while susceptible to every impression, carefully guards against preconceived opinion or feelings. It requires a mind completely open to the particular work under consideration.” – Carl Maria von Weber, (Composers on Music, ed. Sam Morgenstern)

Work it. Infinite repetitions.

“For practical living, man needs to be free in his thought and responsible in his actions. But in dealing with art, responsibility of thought, which makes for slowness of judgment, and freedom of action, which makes for flexibility of taste, constitute the mechanics of vigor.” – Virgil Thomson, Taste in Music

How much for the little girl?

“Thus it happened that Adolf Schiele, then twenty-four, encountered Franz Soukup’s twelve-year-old daughter. According to family legend, it was love at first sight, at least for Adolf, who vowed to make Marie his wife. Whether, as has been said, the Soukups opposed the marriage is debatable; the connection with the prosperous Schiele family was certainly not one to be disdained. However, Marie was scarcely more than a child when in 1879, at the age of seventeen, she married Adolf. Strictly educated in a Viennese convent, she knew nothing of the world and supposedly still played with dolls. On her wedding night, it is said, she fled the nuptial chamber in horror. Adolf Schiele was no such innocent: at about the time of his wedding, he had contracted syphilis. He refused to seek treatment and remained essentially asymptomatic until 1902, when the disease surfaced in its final, mortal stage. For Marie Schiele, the first years of marriage were blackened by the illness. Annually, more or less around the date of her wedding anniversary, she gave birth, and each year, for three years in succession, the infants were stillborn. Finally, on May 28, 1883, she bore a seemingly normal girl, christened Elvira. (All of the Schiele children would be raised in the Catholic faith, their mother’s religion.) In 1886, a second daughter, Melanie, was born. Egon, who came into the world on June 12, 1890, was the first and only son to survive. ‘[H]e is a dear strong child,’ Marie noted in her diary. ‘God preserve him for us. may he grow and flourish!’” – Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele: Life and Work (footnotes omitted)

Do it well, too

“We don’t need art to express ourselves. If you are sad, then cry. If you are angry, destroy something. If you don’t like something, say no to it. But if you want to make art, then do it because you want to make art and not for any other reason.” – Slovenian Damien Hirst (interviewed by Jesse Darling in “Being Damien Hirst”)

The commodification of the transcendent

“My definition of art is very straightforward: Art is what is sold as art, and that’s it. When someone buys something, believing he or she is buying art, then it is art. If you pay for something because you think it’s art, you’re basically creating art: the buyer creates art, not the artist. This is what’s going on in the art world, although they won’t tell you that—they don’t believe in art, but they do believe in selling art.” – Slovenian Damien Hirst (interviewed by Jesse Darling in “Being Damien Hirst” (emphases in the original)

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, or not

“Every new generation of artists is faced with the task of originating new forms of work that fall outside the margins of established commodity. In other words, to create work that  is uncommodifiable, though it will not remain so for long. This is the cycle, the dance, the lie at the heart of the avant-garde, and everyone knows it. As the art market sets crunchily to work figuring out how to sell the unsaleable, the best or cutest or savviest of the new generation are called to join in the carousel or production line, churning out their visionary, uncommodifiable commodities, which have acquired in the meantime a price tag in accordance to their very resistance to commodity status, their rareness, their avant-gardiness. Avant-garde simply means as yet unsold (though we’re working on it); ‘outsider’ art denotes that-for-which-we-can-see-no-buyer.” – Jesse Darling, “Being Damien Hirst”