Dave Hickey on Democracy and Art

by Corinna Kirsch on August 7, 2014 · 3 comments Off Our Chest


Now that Dave Hickey’s retired from being an art critic, he’s moved on to spewing nonsense on Facebook about diversity in the art world.

Here’s his FB post from today that’s getting more and more likes by the minute:

dave hickey facebook

Let’s break down Hickey’s feel-good argument:

1) Good art appeals to the senses.

2) In good art, the appeal to the senses “outstrips” the work’s original intent, and that includes political or social motives.

3) What is actually political about art is how it can “bring different kinds of people together and redraw social demographics.”

4) Art is democracy in action!

What? The art world is highly undemocratic. In an art utopia, sure, we would have a more diverse crowd of artists, curators, and art-lovers—if aesthetics (or kinesthetics, in Hickey’s case) could redraw the lines of the art world. But the facts just don’t line up with that view: Only 9 percent of museum visitors in the United States come from any minority group, 74 percent of artists living in New York are white, and solo gallery shows still end up going to men. And there have been very real responses to these problems; the biggest story this year being, of course, the Yams Collective withdrawing from the Whitney Biennial because of the exhibition’s lack of diversity.

Perhaps there was a time when Warhol, Mapplethorpe, and Sherman’s “constituency,” as Hickey calls their fans (and maybe he’s alluding to Warhol’s Factory-goers), was full of the queer, indie, and feminist outsiders to the white male-dominated discourse. But now just looking at their current audience—especially the billionaire collectors—it seems their works now read as a softer version of the originals, just a general display of liberal values rather than anything truly avant-garde.

In the end, they might be great investment pieces, but they haven’t brought the world together.


KathleenFennessy August 7, 2014 at 2:32 pm

As for Mr. Hickey’s premise…we all know that when we behold a “good” work of art…our knees jerk and our arms flail…just to “kinesthetically confirm” we’re looking at a good work of art.Be assured, I didn’t have a “kinesthetic confirmation” when I read his recent tweet which mostly,I think, just begs the question.

strunken white August 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Herbert Marcuse’s late writing on Marxist aesthetics offers an interesting take on what makes a work of art political and what makes a political work of art effective as such and I always think of it when people question political art. I think all art is political because it explicitly or implicitly is involved with social relations that determine, are determined by or are expressions of why some have more power than others (which is my quick and dirty definition of politics), but to Marcuse the re-stating of those relations isn’t necessarily the best way for art to command political power. At best (if it’s the sole tactic) this can do nothing; at worst it offers an easy escape valve for radicality that ensures viewers don’t reach a boiling point and actually do something about what we view as oppressive in the world; an instantly rewarding catharsis that dissipates ineffectually rather than a direct action that risks not being rewarded. Basically porn vs relationships.

In a way, this sounds to me experientially close enough to the “kinesthetic confirmation” that Hickey thinks makes good art for me to suspect that the art he holds up as being best is just the easiest to consider apolitically for someone without any political skin in the game. And a redrawing of the social map doesn’t happen as much by the divine agency of immortal creators as I think he’d like to think while his all-white examples offer the 20/20 vision of hindsight on the matter (…and a muted vision of social map-making it is, even within that).

I’ll never understand the devotion he inspires. “A penis with a thesaurus” applies better to this guy than it did to John Updike.

Seph August 7, 2014 at 11:36 pm


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