Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The Word Strike: Mark Bloch 
The Word Strike 1990-2010
New York City. September 2010. To commemorate twenty years since the Word Strike, I have decided to reissue these words in the form of this new pamphlet, adding only these introductory words as a brief explanation. In the late 1980s some people in the mail art community started throwing around the idea of an “Art Strike” to solve the ills of the art marketplace. They proposed ceasing the production of all art for three years. I decided the problem was not in the creation of art but in the terminology surrounding it. I proposed, instead, a “Word Strike” as a response to the Art Strike. The idea of the Word Strike was simple: if something is done for money it is called “art.” If something is done NOT for money, it is called “thax.” If something done as thax was sold, it ceased being thax and became art. As we all know now, this simple gesture resulted in the correction of the art markets and allowed for the emergence of an unnamed acquaintance of mine, who I personally handpicked to follow the Word Strike and become the world’s most famous living artist. His career and therefore the Word Strike can thus been considered to have met with roaring success and while this has been acknowledged internationally over the last 20 years, its inner workings have been little known until now. I am now able to offer this series of carefully dated notes from the 1990s, when I was working undercover to save art for “the people,” to finally reveal how I was able to achieve the much-needed correction of world art prices that continues to this day and permanently change the meaning of the word “art” to signify things done primarily for the purpose of making money .
The Art Strike
"The art business, like any business, is full of phonies, pimps and gunrunners. All that vision and talent shit is just advertising." -Leroy Neiman
What follows are excerpts from a pamphlet by Tony Lowes, the self-described "son of a Yankee magazine publisher first came to Ireland during the confusion of the Vietnam genocide. Lowes surrendered his passport and American citizenship in protest of the war. Now an Irish citizen, Lowes encourages all artists to join the 1990 art strike."
Imagine a world in which art is forbidden! Art galleries would close. Books would vanish. Pop stars would shed their glamour overnight. Advertising would cease; television would die. We could refocus our vision not on a succession of false images but on the world as it is...art has provided us with fantasy worlds, escapes from reality...for whatever it is, art is not reality. Soap operas, novels, movies, concerts, the theatre, poetry-none of these are as real as a starving child is real, as a town without water is real… injustice, endemic disease, famine war, these are real... it is not only worldly goods that we must renounce, but mental possessions- and art is the greatest of these...it is the State that needs art most- as a cosmetic cloak to its horrifying reality. It uses art to confuse, to divert and to fascinate...to continue to produce and consume art is to addict ourselves to our own repression. Those who give up art will discover a thousand times over what they have lost. Those who cannot are invited to live in camps where art is forbidden and any work produced will be regularly destroyed. ...it is ironic that the myth of the artist celebrates suffering while it is those who have never heard of art, the poor and wretched of our earth who truly suffer...we live up to our knees in blood wasting not only hours but days -whole lifetimes- dedicated to the belief that art is good, art is pure, art is its own justification - while a nightmare scourges our planet. Until we end famine there will be no peace without art we would have to transform this world Forbid art and revolution would follow- the withholding of creative action is the only weapon left to mankind.
I think the key to Lowes' statement is "none of these are as real as a starving child is real, as a town without water is real... injustice, endemic disease, famine war, these are real... it is not only worldly goods that we must renounce, but mental possessions." Yeah, that is what is necessary, to deal with some of the real problems that have sprung up in the world as a result of years of negligence and damaging action and there doesn't seem to be a strong enough response to it. What can we as artists do? Until now artists have served as mythmakers. Perhaps we have to create a new myth- the myth of the artist as truth-teller! I'm not sure that the withholding of creative energy is our only weapon.
If it is our only weapon, isn't it necessary that we take it seriously? I am quite perturbed at the admission by many organizers of the Art Strike that it not really intended to succeed. Lloyd Dunn writes in the magazine Photostatic #40 "it is quite plausible...for a person... to participate in the Art Strike and yet continue to do what they were doing before!" It is interesting to note that there was a real Art Strike in New York and across the United States in November 1989 that was a reaction to the AIDS crisis and a related controversy involving funding to the arts. Galleries and other art institutions shut down for a day. The news media covered the event heavily. The conservative Metropolitan Museum of Art did not close but even they distributed information on the Strike to all who crossed through its doors that day. I don't know as much about that event as I should (I had just returned from 4 months in Europe the previous weekend) but I do know this: there are voices of conscience when it comes to certain political and social issues. I'm not sure of what their goal was. But the commitment and power they demonstrated in their strike puts the "Plagiarist" strike to shame. It points out how hollow the rhetoric is that certain members of "the Network" use to masquerade their cute demagoguery. To attempt social change by fucking with the word "strike" in an artistic context is to embody that which the Art Strike is supposedly fighting against. These "participating" non-participants think, as artists often do, that they are beyond reproach simply because they are artists. This is a slap in the face to anyone, anywhere, who has ever participated in a strike that they really believed in. Imagine what would have transpired in Poland, for instance, if the workers said, "oh, gee, we're participating, but we are going to keep doing what we were doing before. We didn't mean we were really striking."
"...And art is the greatest of these..." Is art our greatest mental possession? Perhaps for those of us who have called ourselves "artists" it is. I think the problem is that art has increasingly become used too much to promote the culture of a ruling elite. Whatever happened to art as a healing power for the people of the tribe? I think the problem is in the word art. It has been used to signify too many different things, rendering it meaningless. What started out as a picture of a buffalo scratched on a cave wall has moved through era after era of abuse. To me the final straw was Duchamp's readymades- an iconoclastic slap in the face dealt to the art world- being treated as sacred and aesthetically pleasing commodities. Many art world philistines still behave as if they never heard of Duchamp's ideas. They seem to think they can be amused by his quaint rebellious concepts and then return to business as usual. Recently I saw Yoko Ono's 1966 Painting to be Stepped On in the Whitney Museum of Art with a guard standing next to it saying, "please don't step on the painting." If this was done with a sense of humor it might be an effective work of late 1980's conceptual art. But the intention was not that but rather to preserve it as a valuable artifact of "Western Civilization" by a certified "veteran" rebel who has now earned her gold watch and rightful place in the Hall of Famine. That's why I say lets give this word "art" to the "ruling elite" and let them abuse it all they want. Meanwhile those of us that are interested in returning to the ancient healing function of "art" can do something else, call it something else. We don't need a word for it at all, in my opinion.
A group called the Mudguards said in their Art Strike pamphlet "The most important statement made by an artist came from Marcel Duchamp when he gave it up in favor of chess." I explained during their discussion that it simply wasn't true. Duchamp said he gave it up and then continued working in private on an ambitious work (his last - Etant Donnes) for over 20 years without telling anyone but his wife and toward the end his friend Bill Copley. But on second thought that makes his statement that much more important. Not only did he shock the art world by saying he wasn't working- he was lying all along! Meanwhile he told people that the artist of the future would go underground. Mark Pawson proposed that we do not go on strike publically, that is keep making art, but be on strike secretly.
I propose calling the public, market activity, 'art' and leaving the private activity without a name because it is a personal, almost sacred thing that compels a person to create in the first place.
Much hype has been put forth on the idea of art as sacred but what they left out is that we all have this place inside of us. It is not sacred because it is such a rare and precious activity, only to be found in a few "geniuses." It is sacred because when a person takes the time to forget about the market and go within and create something to express or explain their inner workings, either rationally or intuitively, that is a special moment. But it is a special moment that any human is capable of having.
Wouldn't it be great if we were all in touch with the place that we are creative and had a handle on it 24 hours a day? It might make life more interesting. Maybe our problems wouldn't be such a burden; we could see them more as a game.
22 March 1991 17:10
It seems to me that what the world needs now is a big pow wow to rethink our strategies as a planet. Up to this point it has occurred pretty much randomly and now that we are a global village we need to have a town meeting to discuss some of the questions that have been raised about "progress."
That's what the Art Strike is about. It's a time to stop creating and reflect for a while on all that has been created thus far.
We started out trying to solve problems but now we see that our solutions created more problems than they solved.
The industrial revolution was supposed to save us from toil but we work harder now than ever. I don't want to get back on the subject of the homeless but I must add that given the goals of the industrial revolution, unemployment is a GOOD thing, not bad. The tragedy is that we did nothing to pick up the slack for all the people who would be put out of work by the industrial revolution, so now the homeless, the unemployed and the aged are being thrown away as useless members of society when in fact, it is the logical outcome of the automation of the world that many individuals would have nothing to "do" except "be."
We look at people with time on their hands as evil when, in fact, they are where we should all be. A healthy society would accept people with free time as symbols of us reaching our goals.
Same thing with "artists" who don't make money. They are perceived as bums. Wasn't that the original goal? To make "bums" out of all of us so that we might enjoy life?
I invented the Word Strike as a response to the Art Strike and I have been stringing it along. It was supposed to end Dec 31 1993 then the same date 1994. But now I have decided to ACTUALLY end it at the end of this month. That will be 4 years and 4 months after it began and 5 years and 5 months since I started my retroactive Art Strike. I mean Retroactive Art Strike.
See, I realized several years into the Word Strike that I hadn't been doing art for so long that I could call it an art strike. But I’ve had enough. I want to do art again.
Art according to the Word Strike is anything done for money and I haven't been doing that. I have been giving things away here and there, including copious readings and writings on art, art for money, art as a gift, etc. So now I want to share that information- both for free and for a fee.
Anyway, to respond to what you said... what do you mean you were fantasizing there might be another. Another art strike? It is always an option available to you.
Waiting for someone else to have an art strike is the opposite of what the art strike was about.
The Art Strike is about artists empowering themselves, among other things. Instead of empowering their egos on the one hand and feeling like a victim on the other. At least that's what it has been about for me.
I have proposed a "word strike. " It starts a year later than the Art Strike. Jan 1 1991 is comin' soon. That's when we start to use the word ART only if we mean makin' money.
For three years, until December 31, 1993, I propose we change the meaning of the word "art" as an experiment. It means too many things now and I am in favor of this new narrower definition of the word.
But on the other hand, if art were money, name something that wouldn't be art and how you would justify it.
GIVE THE ART WORD TO THE ART WORLD. JOIN THE WORD STRIKE 1991-1993
The Word Strike Don't Say Art Unless You Mean Money January 1, 1991-December 31, 1993
We must give the word art to the art world. Businessmen can become artists now, its what they've always wanted. Artists can become businessmen now; it's what they have always wanted. Instead of just saying everyone is an artist, let's make it true. Let's change the meaning of the word art to mean businessmen dealing in contemporary culture. And since everything has become entertainment thanks to TV, everything is culture, so everyone who buys and sells is buying and selling culture. We are all artists when we deal with money. Meanwhile there are the stupid few who insist on not being artists. What would those people do? What would their activities consist of? They couldn't hide behind a grandiose term like art anymore so they'd have to use more specific names for what they do like paintings, dances, songs, brain-teasers, books, poetry, plays, stories, drawings, sculptures, etc. And if not for money why would these people do these things? Probably the reason would be difficult to explain. Maybe it's better not to explain. Not to give it a name, just to do it.
But what do you do with it when it's done? There'd be no more terms like artist to deal with anymore so you can give up that routine of storing them all up in the garage or the closet or the attic and quit feeling obligated to suffer. No you'd be free now to really feel joy about what you were doing and you'd quit trying to describe it and compare it to the other artists because there wouldn't be other artists. No just those businessmen, buying and selling their paintings, plays, games, sculptures, dancers, etc. but also cars houses, planes, foods, and even buying and selling places to buy and sell things like stores, and even places to decide if the buying and selling were fair like the courtrooms and the judges. Yeah, you can even buy judges out there in the world of the artists. Anything goes in a free market economy. You can buy and sell politicians in the art world, but you've got to have a lot of money for that. Yeah, you can buy and sell anything, the world is for sale, the rivers the streams; the sky is NOT the limit.
So while the artists/businessmen were busy buying and selling everything, there'd be these other people who weren't interested in being artists and couldn't compare what they were doing to the other people because that whole historical perspective would disappear when we give the art word away. Yeah, all of it goes right along with the art word as a gift to the art world. Everything that has been done is gone now so we wouldn't be bouncing off art history or each other anymore. We're just living. Doing what comes naturally. Because we've taken care of the money thing some other way.
Yeah, we've been artist enough to make a little dough. Because you've got to have money. But then it comes down to that special leisure time that our life is really all about when we get to be who we want to be, do what we want to do. People used to do art during these times but now we don't have art to kick around anymore so what will we do now? How will we spend our time? Will we notice each other? Will we be aware of the fact that the artists are all out there beating the shit out of each other, that we even do it ourselves when we join in with the art world? Well, now that we have this leisure time and we're just living in the moment and we're not doing art what will we do? If we notice the other people should we do something to affect them or should we keep to ourselves? If we do something for them what should we do? Will we send them a message? What will it say? Will we do something for ourselves? What will it be? What is our goal in doing it? Or perhaps it has nothing to do with us or them- it's something kind of spiritual that you do for mysterious reasons. What's that all about? Or maybe if you do want to send a message, what language will you use? Will you speak the language of their money world or will you not speak at all? If you don’t speak will you invent your own language? If so how well do you want others to understand it? If you are interested in having others understand it, have you demystified it enough for them to comprehend what you are really getting at? If you don't want them to understand it why are you sending it? Perhaps if you are not willing to demystify the message and make it clear you should just keep it to yourself. Or if it is a secret between you a few others then keep it quiet. Don't bother showing it to people you don't want to understand it because we all value our time and we want to spend it getting and sending our messages as clearly as possible. So if we give the art word to the art world that will leave a void and the things people fill that void with can be clear and honest and fresh and come from a place inside each of us that exists before the words to describe it do. Yeah words are just symbols and pictures are just symbols but what are they symbols of? Concepts? Things? Whatever it is those symbols represent, let's use that to understand what the symbols do and how they work and look at what they've created for us thus far. Yeah, we can let the void be filled with the same old stuff we filled it with when it was called art or we can give that stuff to the art world as a gift. The art word, the history, the museums, the galleries, of course the artists, the masterpieces, the stereotypes, the jealousies, the judgments.
We can give all that to the art world and instead try filling the void with something we all want: the understanding of what history is and what words are, the understanding of what is really happening to us when we are moved to call something a masterpiece, the understanding of the reasons we use stereotypes, and discovering the reality behind the myths, (of course reality is a problematic word, too), the understanding of jealousies and the abandonment of the fear that causes them, the understanding of our judgments and the criteria we use to judge things, and where that comes from. Yeah, if we fill the void with these things and at the same time, try to keep it fresh and honest and flexible enough not to get bogged down by new words and dogmas perhaps it would be an experiment worth trying. So I say give the art words to the art world, let it denote only cultural activities involving money and let your attention drift effortlessly to the void created by its absence. So don't say art, don't say anything. During your free time, feel free to send a clear message to the Word Strike Action Committee PO Box 1500 New York NY 10009 USA.
I say let's change the meaning to mean only activities done for money. That way everyone going to work each day would be doing art. Paintings sold at Leo Castelli would be art. Commercials on TV would be art. TV itself would be art. That would leave a very small portion of things that would not be art. What would those things be and why would we do them?
How do we account for all these art sales? Only salable commodities need an identifiable name. Like Art. Why do you need a name for something that is a result of "vision???
So the Word Strike was supposed to be over December 31, 1993 but I decided to extend it for an extra year because I realized that perhaps while my solution of changing the meaning of the word ART to mean things done for MONEY was the best way to solve the ills of the Art World, it would require a consensus on what word would replace the OLD meaning of the word ART. You know, stuff NOT done for money.
I feel the Word Strike succeeded because every time I brought up the suggestion, people got angry and said NO I believe that art is NOT done for money. I discovered that most people were offended by my suggestion and that was the goal, to propose something 180 degrees the opposite of what I believed ART should be to maker a point about art being used as a commodity during the 80s and throughout history.
So now I see there alot of passion about protecting art from the hucksters and charlatans and drug runners that ruined it in the 80s so I am considering going back to the old idea of using art to mean stuff done from the heart and hoping that the commerce end of it will not effect the work.
These are just ideas off the top of my head for a summary of the WORD STRIKE.
Also- the Art Strike was what inspired the Word Strike in 1990. The Art Strike was supposed to run from 1990 to the end of 92 and did. Not many people kept to it strictly. I didn't feel I could, but I agreed with its aims and so I invented the Word Strike.
But one of the things that made me carry over the Word Strike an extra year was that I realized I was living the years 1990 all the way through 1994 in a kind of retroactive Art Strike. My life changed during that time. One of the reasons was that I was involved with Echo and Panscan during that period.
Is Panscan work? Is Panscan art work? Not sure but I do know the nature of my work changed because Panscan became one of the main focuses of my artistic output.
Another thing that effected my decision and a reason I consider the Word Strike a success is that I managed to cripple the Art World financially during the period of the strike as evidenced by the drop in art market prices.
Recent auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's show that the market is beginning to stabilize due to the Word Strike so I am considering ending it to give the artpimps a chance to make a few bucks.
We need to change the meaning of the word ART. One of the reasons Van Gogh is such a valuable commodity is because he fits the description of the tortured artist. That is hype just designed to keep all the great artists feeling good about their suffering. Suffering stinks and so do all the people who like to write about art and buy art without having a clue what it means to have one's creative products that are done for something OTHER THAN MONEY reduced to the level of a commodity. I do what I do because I love it and because I have to. All I am in favor of is separating THAT kind of activity from the activity of selling the results. They are two separate!!!!! What van Gogh did has nothing to do with the prices his paintings are getting now. Do you really think the people that buy them give a shit about what they look like? It is an investment like pork bellies to them. And all the hype about Van Gogh suffering makes it a more valuable investment. Vincent's suffering is the standard by which all twentieth century art phonies measure their own.
So if his paintings have value because they are an artifact of pain, what does that say about our value system?
I get upset about the fact that at one end of the spectrum you have these suffering guys fetching big bucks for their art (though they are dead, of course) and then at the other end of the spectrum you have these real manipulative art whores like Mark Kostabi and Leroy Neiman fetching big bucks for being such wonderfully clever capitalist artists, Andy Warhol would fit in there too.....
But then in the middle are zillions of creative people who are neither suffering nor opportunistic. They do their work because they have to- either out of joy or an attempt to understand their lack thereof. And there is really no place in our society for what they do. It ends up in the closet or whatever.
That's why I think the making of art and the selling of art need to be separated. My prescription is to call the selling of art and other cultural artifacts ART and not have any name at all for the creative act.
I have a gut feeling that in spite of all the greed in 2000 years of art sales, if that distinction were made, people would choose to surround themselves with the creative stuff and not the commodity ART.
It would be a new beginning. A way of re-acessing what we see as valuable in our society.
By the way, I don't have all the answers; I just like to ask questions
Looking at the original paintings as opposed to reproduction brings up the whole question of the fetish.
Reproductions are just as useful for looking at paintings as symbols- that is as containers of images, or intellectual or emotional content. To me that is what art is about- the creation of symbols.
So where does all this value come from of the actual object- it is like the monolith in 2001- something to sit around and admire, yeah, the Shroud of Turin. The adoration of the pigment.
Is the original one of a kind art object really special in it's own right or has it just acquired alot of specialness due to its place in our society which is as a one of a kind object that only one person can own- one very special, rich person or institution? I'm asking if rich people like to buy paintings because they are themselves symbols of wealth, of "the good life."
Why wouldn't someone want a good forgery? If only an expert could tell if it was real or not, why would it matter?
If shareware became widespread- what would motivate a person to want to get ahold of the original program? If all the copies were identical to the original, wouldn't it be some sort of obsession or status-seeking that would motivate that person? There is no rational reason; it would simply be that the person would fetish the original.
That reason is what I am asking about here. It motivates people to do weird things and I'm not sure it can be justified except on an emotional level. I HAVE TO HAVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!
I think it is interesting that a painting used to be an image of something, for instance “the railroad bridge in Arles.” But now that these paintings have been fetching such high prices, the paintings have THEMSELVES become images, or symbols, “The painting of the railroad bridge in Arles.” That's rather twisted, I think.
Finally, bringing it back to mail art, my friend Adam remembered from art history class that Gauguin and Van Gogh both loved the same prostitute. Van Gogh, out of his gourd, cut off his ear to show his love for Camille. Adam claims he placed the warm ear in a glassine envelope and left it on Camille's doorstep. Did they have glassine back then?
Anyway, I was getting all excited by the fact that he ostensibly MAILED his ear to someone. I never knew that! We know he also created alot of beautiful letters to his brother Theo who was back in Paris. Some call it the first postal art. But as far as the ear goes, Ray Johnson, who invented correspondence art back in the 50's told me once 'HAND DELIVERED IS OK' so I guess leaving it on Camille's doorstep still counts as Postal Art.
The Boho Dance
Did you ever read Tom Wolfe's book THE PAINTED WORD? Joni Mitchell did a song about it called THE BOHO DANCE on her Hissing Of Summer Lawns LP.
The book describes the Boho Dance as a very dramatic old Native American dance where a woman would resist and resist and resist the men (or something, I can't recall the details)(it was a ritual) but then in the end, at the last possible second, give in and succumb to that which she resisted.
Wolfe likens the Art World to this and uses Picasso as an example.
He points out that in the beginning Picasso was a rebel, so was George Braque, his partner in Cubism. They rebelled and rebelled and rebelled but the then the Art World came snooping around and they rebelled some more but in the end, at the last possible moment, Picasso succumbed and lived out his live as a happy creative and rich man.
Braque stuck to the rebellion, never succumbed and now will live forever in Picasso's shadow when many think he was the superior cubist, not Pablo.
It is an interesting dance and it is very relevant that someone who does not play the game and eventually succumb will probably never be recognized for their greatness, no matter how great.
It's sell out or remain obscure.
I must also add that the dance itself has become a kind of art form in itself. Today there is little substance, only this ridiculous dance going on. It's a flirtation with danger but we all know that the only danger is in not doing the dance at all
I experimented with a concept called THAX, which is pretty much what ART used to be when it started. That is, it was stuff NOT done for money. It was all that stuff that people do because they want to, from a feeling deep in their hearts, that makes them want to be creative and give away the results.
Kids do thax, so do you when you make dinner, for yourself or others. Yes THAX is a gift you can give yourself. So making dinner is THAX and so is making love.
A THAX work can be sold; it just changes its status at that point and becomes ART, according to the rules of the Word Strike. ART is also what you do when you go to a job you do for money. Accountants are ARTISTS in that respect. Unless they love what they do and would do it for free, then it would be THAX to crunch all those numbers.
Anyway, the Word Strike was a work of THAX and now it is a work of ART because I will sell it to someone. All my notes and documents relating to the Word Strike and the Retroactive Art Strike can be sold and they will become a work of ART, according to the rules of the Word Strike.
The dilemma, however, is that I am not sure whether or not to keep calling it ART if it is done for money. Part of me wants to go back to the old system for two reasons.
1) It is a pain in the ass explaining the WORD STRIKE to people every time I refer to the word ART.
2) So many people are fighting the same battle as I am- that is the battle against the commodification of things done from the heart- that I feel like banding with them to take back the word ART from the artpimps who ruined it.
The WORD STRIKE's credo- Give the ART word to the ART World- may have been a little too generous for those greedy types who leave the heart out of it.
New York City, NY, USA