Saturday, 19 December 2015

High Concepts and Low Morality

When Vice said that Martin Shkreli was claiming that his market manipulating antics are performance art, it was too good to be true. He did do an interview in which he achieves the apparently impossible - making him appear even more hateful - and between sounding like a teenage boy who has listened to a bit too much hip-hop and is threatening his Latin teacher for giving him a low grade, Shkreli refers to his financial activity as selling drugs (see what he did there? Gangster to the max, bro'). And there's this gem.

It makes you wonder what art is. To me, what I’m doing right now in the media, raising prices, all this shit, believe what you want, but it’s interesting. It gets people talking. At the end of the day, that’s what art is.

Thank goodness that discussion's over. It's been a struggle to get a clear definition of art - there has even been attempts to define assassination as performance art.  Shkreli avoids the nitty-gritty of specific forms and contexts, and sees it in terms of its consequences: it gets people talking. Like Star Wars.

Let's assume he is right, and this isn't just a desperate attempt to justify his willingness to make cash money off suffering. 

His behaviour actually reads more like a patron's position: he's got the loot, he spends it on art, and there is no obligation for a patron to be a good person or have any taste. I mean, Cesare Borgia, right?

My new pal Diderot would probably agree. In his treatise in defence of his (badly received) plays, he sees the role of theatre in a social context. He's weaponising theatre to make it a tool for bourgeois revolution, so he wouldn't mind The Shkrel's big wallet bragging. 

In fact, his description of the genius - extreme sensibility and moments of calm, even cold, action - is mirrored in that DX interview. Anyone who reacts to RZA's dissing by waving a metaphorical pistol, but can also raise prices on a product that is essential to the survival of the customer is totally a gangster, and conforms to Diderot's definition of genius.

Then there's the precedent of Marina Abramovic. Once upon a time, she did some intriguing art, examining the nature of gender, desire, the boundaries of art itself. Now she tries to make the green off her own myth. Grant Morrison (off comics) said that making money in Hollywood is a form of magic. 

And despite Shkreli's dubious assertion that there hasn't been a really rich rapper, his mate Jay-Z does something similar. Oh yeah, he completely used Abramovic. It's making sense.

Then there is Kanye West. Anita Sarkeesian has something to say - it did get people talking, didn't it? Although I encourage the belief that it is the interpretation rather than the art that generates meaning, allowing Kanye's Monster video to operate as a critique of objectification rather than a celebration, I have sympathy with her position. 

So yeah, I think Martin is totally doing art. There isn't a genre for it yet - performance art would be a place-holder label. It's great that he has kept going with the act: getting arrested gets people talking, and he's introduced an element of comedy into a serious narrative. I mean, it got people laughing when he got nabbed for fraud. There's even a sense of natural justice, the wicked getting punished. 

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