This text was written in response to a recent event, in which a number of radical acts took place from beneath the umbrella of ‘art’. Our project has been to consider the implications of affiliating radical, against-the-grain actions such as these with the art-world.

We began our disquisition with a brief analysis of a number of art-related avant-garde movements, followed by an equally brief assessment of capitalism, and considered the influence of the latter upon the former. The idea of life hinted at by the avant-gardes - Dada’s demolition of restrictive and oppressive structures; the S.I.’s widening of experience and possibility, its refusal to allow instrumentality to curtail imagination; the category-redefining of Fluxus, with its prolific acts of creativity and promotion of the creative life - these were ideas also to be found in the writings of countless psychologists. Running throughout these writings was the prescription of self-knowledge as a means to realize the “innate idiosyncrasy” of the self, and also as an ethical imperative; with the child and the artist being called to mind as a paradigm of the true individual.

In drawing a parallel to psychology we were able to liberate useful ideas from the territory of the art-world, allowing us to come to an understanding of the essence of ‘art’ as a space – a potentiality - that exists within us all. If capitalism acts to define the borders of our meanings and definitions through State ideology, then art, as in-between, works to explode all borders, returning us to a cosmic expanse.

In this sense, the ‘artist’ becomes anyone who thinks and acts in a certain way, as anyone who swims as well as walks. Fromm even mentions the artist, alongside the child, as a paradigm of the spontaneous individual, and we see that the ‘artist’ exemplifies many of the desirable traits that are talked about by psychologists. Freeing the notion of the ‘artist’ from the realms of the art-world allows us to understand the broader implications of the idea, returning its potentialities to the discourse of everyday existence. The term is democratized, allowing access to those outside of the art-world, whilst at the same time prompting those inside to look beyond the horizons of their habitus.

The nature of ‘art’ presents a radical challenge to a system that has no place for its fluidity, and this is why, as the organizers of Playing the City recognized, it has frequently assumed an important moral and political role in the modern age. However, as a structure of the State, and as a shelter from the anxiety of negative freedom, ‘art’ can often appear to have a twofold, and often contradictory, purpose. Despite the antithesis of art-world and art-as-sea, the former endures as the keeper of ‘art’, often providing a home to those who fetishize ‘art’; and, as an outpost of the State serving to ameliorate art’s watery threat to the status quo.

Our reflections on Playing the City have highlighted how often the ‘art-world’ may not be an effective place from which to present a radical challenge to our systems, encumbered as it is by its own anchored safety; an anchoring which, in many ways, acts against the true nature of art as we’ve come to define it here; art as sea.

The acts of Playing the City may have been more effective if they were considered first and foremost as radical acts, rather than art acts. If these acts were truly about challenging the status quo, then it is our contention that they would have presented a far greater challenge had they not relied on the crutch of art to legitimize their existence.

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