Conversation with Christoffer Rutström

We are here today to have a talk with Christoffer Rutström; about some of his ideas concerning art and stuff.

- Hi Christoffer.

- Hi.

- How are you doing?

- Fine, thank you.

- Why do you want to convince artists that they don’t have free will?

- I think a lot of the questions we as artists ask ourselves can be solved if we just admit that we don’t have any control of our thoughts or actions. That many judgements don’t need to be made. That any responses we give to those questions aren’t necessarily true, but responses we’ve been conditioned to give. Reasons for works being as they are exist outside of artists rather than in them, in any perceived choices the artist has made. I think it might help artists in their work to think that their work isn’t made by them but that they are the first to see it as a viewer. And also to think of viewers, themselves included, as being conditioned to think what they think, that their thoughts aren’t by their own choosing.

I hope this sort of mindset can lead to being more pragmatic and honest, to see what you and others make not as something magical, but something explainable. I believe things will be more transparent if they’re not muddled up by ideas of an artistic genius’ inner workings. I guess this depends highly on artists not bullshitting about their works; their readiness to reveal the steps between their inspiration, what they steal from, and what they produce, to let go of a bit of ego. I doubt they are prepared to do this, it might very well make them less attractive in the eyes of an audience who looks for geniuses to admire. But if we as receivers of art look at works as being produced by someone without free will, we can hopefully more easily spot this bullshit and see through it, or simply disregard anything an artist says about their works because their experience of it is as valid and insightful as anyone else’s. The artist is just the first person to be wrong about what their work is.

- Ah…

- Praise and blame fall away; no one does anything by choice. Why should we praise anyone’s actions? That’s like praising the rain for falling during a drought. Or blaming a flood for whatever a flood does. People used to do that. We still like to see agency in things that have none; people are just another one of those things that have none.

- No?

- Good and bad fall away too. Any perceived value is conditioned; this, people are more readily prepared to agree with. Possibly due to fear that they too are being judged, which they, of course, are. How else are we to feel there’s any order to things if we don’t judge them. If we feel that no one has consciously made choices regarding a work, the judging of it as good or bad becomes less of a hot topic. If we’re then also aware that our judgements are conditioned, and not of our own choosing, they lose some more of their meaning.

- I see.

- Whether something is art or not is also conditioned, different ideas about what art is is taught to people, questioned, and modified. That someone doesn’t think a pair of glasses on the floor of a gallery is art means that someone was taught that. Someone thinking the opposite was taught that too. We can now point at something and call it art, and it is; at least in some circles. The emperor has no clothes, but to some the clothes are conceptual and very much there.

- So what is art?

- Nothing is art, because everything is. Some things are more not art than others. Like in the Animal Farm. Mostly things which have no other purpose are art. Whatever I do is, of course art, pretty good art at that, better than most. Art is a reflective surface in which people can see themselves, what they feel about a piece, what they think, how their minds work; at least if they are paying attention. They can see a bit of all that which influences the artist: society, all the parts of it, art, people, whether they are happy; or not... maybe. This reading also depends on how perceptive the viewer is and how knowledgeable the viewer is when it comes to all these influences, an alien would see, very clearly, some references which a person of the street would not, while an art critic would miss them all, and fill the work with their own references and judge themselves while thinking they judge the work. But it’s important to show sympathy for the people who believe that art exists. As important as it is to show sympathy for the people who can’t see it at all.

- Which questions don’t need asking?

- “Why did you?” and “why didn’t you?” are questions that could both be answered by “I couldn’t have done otherwise”. “Why didn’t you” is a tad stupider because the question “why did you” could at least have some interesting optional responses concerning what inspired a work to be made. Both questions seem to seek for an answer which is dependent on the person answering being aware of the reasons for doing what they did, which isn’t necessary, and that those reasons were the actual reasons, which also isn’t necessary, and that they still agree with those reasons, which again isn’t necessary. The questions also seem to strive for a response which will be judged and, if it’s not in line with what the inquisitors hoped for answer to hear, dismissed. It’s often a question which judges or is a set up for judgement and not a question that comes from genuine interest. If someone asks that question, you can also be prepared to hear why you’re wrong and what you should’ve done instead, and in that explanation why the other person is smarter than you.

- What should we do then?

Whatever we are meant to do. I hope we can be more pragmatic, godless, egoless. I hope texts like these can program people to be that way. We can look at art and see the works for what they are, a reflection of the world which surrounds the artist, in which we can see ourselves by which readings we do and how we judge it. As artists we might be able to get to know ourselves by looking at our own art the same way. We might be able to make works without feeling pressure because we’ll always do what we were meant to do, what we’ve been conditioned to do, like pavlovian dogs. If you’re meant to question things, you will, no fault of your own, no praise needed. If you’re perpetuating what you’ve seen and follow blindly the paths trampled by your predecessors, you’re not to blame, it’s not even your parents fault that you’re boring since they were conditioned to raise you the way they did. Copying seem to be ingrained in our DNA; some do it more overtly, some hide it, neither is better or even good. Things are as they are; they couldn’t have been otherwise; we live in the best of worlds. Life, emotions, consciousness, is a ride at an amusement park. The silver lining to this shitcloud is that everything have more or less effect on things, nothing is effectless, including the art we make. If you have some sort of jesus complex and believe you and your art are here to make a difference in the world, good news, you and your art will. You just can’t control what that difference will be, and you didn’t even choose to believe that, but a difference you’ll make. Probably for the worse.

- I think you’re wrong about the whole idea about not having free will.

- That’s okay.

- Why should we question what art is?

- Because if we don’t, someone else will. Right now the concept of what art is seems pretty open and free. But looking around it seems like there are people who want to go back to art being only paintings and sculptures, maybe photographs, where a skillful master has, by hard work and long training, created something they perceive as unique, beautiful, authentic, creative, and, perhaps most of all, a representation of something which exist outside of the work itself. Something that looks like the thing made before it. The people who seem to think like this, look up “(post)-modern or contemporary art is shit” or something similar on youtube, seem to think a lot of the art being made right now is the story of the emperor without clothes. Their bullshit detector has gone off. And their detector isn’t exactly wrong either, it has just been set by their family, peers, school, media. Art courses in the school I went to as a kid, drawing class, didn’t exactly go through duchamp and the conceptual art movement of the 60s. Classical painting or sculpture is, of course, not something which is bad, it’s as much art as anything else; I guess. But what is good about narrowing things down to that? It’s excluding. And aren’t we all about inclusion? Not because few people know how to paint and sculpt like this, but because only a few are elevated and shown, and it perpetuates a myth about the genius artist, whom I’ve talked about, as not existing. It’s a regressive move towards a less democratic art where the receivers are supposed to be in awe of works because they couldn’t have made it them themselves. These people want to question the concept of art, as it is now with art being whatever an artist or institution say it is, with the hope of going back to what it was before duchamp, before abstract expressionism, before dada, before cameras, and it seems, preferably back to ancient greece. They behave like people who don’t want to call certain new sports a sport. People who question a broadening of the concept of what a sport can be. A sport is where you get sweaty. Art is something beautiful. A sport is played with balls. Art is something visual. A sport is where you compete directly against an opponent. Art is in a gallery. A sport can’t be played on a computer. Art can’t take place in a receiver’s mind. Art can’t be a sport. Sport can’t be art. Somewhere along that call and response you might’ve started to agree with the statements. In which case there still might be some questioning to do in the sense that we need to widen one or both of the concepts. Most views we hold has been put there, some views might be biologically conditioned, like we shouldn’t kill and stuff like that; concepts of what art and sport are have been indoctrinated.

Not to mention that it’s sorta fun, to question what things are and can be. So yeah, I think we should.

- This democratization of art; is it something to strive for, still, isn’t it finished?

- Yes, but it needs to happen on the other end of the producer/consumer divide too. We need to tell kids that they can look at art and that any judgement they make is valid. Judging art is as easy as making it. As it is now it seems like the de-skilling of art making, that was supposed to make art democratic, also made art consuming something of a fascist, totalitarian, dictatorial, police state. You don’t need any skill to make art, just an idea. You need a lot of skill to appreciate art. Just the mere knowledge that art can be just an idea is something we haven’t taught the masses. And they have some reservations when it comes to that too. Why should anyone care about an artist’s ideas? Are they funny, beautiful, deep, intelligent, true, important, peer reviewed? And if it’s important, why is it sometime, not only an idea but, an idea hidden in esoteric symbols. The democratization also seems to have lead to the consumption of art to become more elitistic. I mean it always was; but before people could at least appreciate the skilled workmanship in art, even if they didn’t understand finer nuances, subtle meanings, references, responses to earlier works, and an artist’s intentions. They’d at least be in awe of how difficult the piece was to make. Now art seem to be bullshit to the masses, it requires foreknowledge, some art history education; it’s become navel gazing, reference porn, it expects an audience to care enough to study art. And sometimes be mind-readers, at least if the intentions mattered, since the message is so obscured. If the intentions doesn’t matter and the artist is trying to convince people of anything then I guess the artworks are bullshit. I mean in the sense of the word: someone trying to convince someone else of something, regardless of whether the thing is true or not; and regardless whether the convincing person believe it’s true or not. We need to let the public know that art can be bullshit and that it’s still art. It gives some hope to people who have nothing to say. They can still speak or scream that nothing and people will fill it with their own meaning.

Or the people will be angry about how it’s not pleasing them, specifically, in a youtube video.

- Ok, well then let’s question art; or not. We can’t choose whether we do or not, I guess.

- That’s the spirit.

- I don’t know if I should thank you for talking to us since you had no choice, but thank you.

- Thanking me might make me feel good; and important; as if I contributed; as if I have agency. That might condition me to do more interviews and think more on these subjects; so I guess as a manipulative move it’s pretty good. And it makes me, and any readers, think better of you I guess; which might well be your main goal. So you’re welcome, any time.

Christoffer sent me some links to the youtube videos which he said that he’s looked at. Some of them are against contemporary art; some perhaps slightly apologetical. And one is about free will and determinism; the last one.