In Uncategorized on September 7, 2012 at 10:42 pm



You can say anything… what will you say? Repeat lines of the offender? There is no off switch, no thumbs down. Celebrate, appreciate our period? Realize some potential in our now incredibly vast capacity, opportunity for freedom of expression? How?

My proposal, one attempt: reflexive, interpretive art writing with an ethnographic bent (critical appreciation), seeks to promote a theoretical model countering negative diagnoses of the modern metropolis―a strategy that might be described as aiming to reflect a period of so incredible the capacities of expression. What gives.

Ethnography, a non-method method, as Jamin’s “L’ethnographie, mode d’inemploi”, akin also to the intentions of some downtown New York artists of the 70s and 80s―art in the everyday―writing, as a way of Being meditative, observant (observational), quiet, not meaningless.  Also following Williams on the relationship between newspapers and advertizing, how advertizing ingested in our news stories now. [1] A desire to screen false fears, to lead healthy, helpful, immediate lives. The prose I hope for, yearn for, is in a calmness, observation, yet, honestly, what here in New York must be exasperatively auditory―sonic, energetic.

And includes object lessons; addresses multiplying spheres, contexts, environments. Social of course also architectural; technological, and natural. The streets here for example: gilded with barbed wire, the lights on all night, the perpetual alternating sirens and alarms signaling nothing but echoing complicated brief histories of immigration, economic disparity. The influx of new students always.



Today a man came to my door to ask how long I thought the injustices will continue. No, he said: “Do you think there’ll be an end to injustices?” I assumed it was a prank and returned to my desk but, then, I got up and returned to the tiny monitor showing me the street three floors and half a block away. I said, “How can I help you?”

He repeated himself, then said: “There’ve been a lot of injustices going on.” The camera switched to Arial view enhancing the reminiscence of the experience to a graphic novel I know, and then died. We were cut off and I stood there incredulous, my jaw gaped, until I’d stabbed the talk/hear button enough I was convinced the interaction must be complete.

I turned and sat at my desk again.  In my mind I ran down to meet the stranger. We walked down Wyckoff discussing the state of art. We thought of failing nutrition; diabetic campaigning, home land insecurity. We joked and laughed a bit, then promised to write.




Sensate intervals in the city have always been mediated. Yet, there are so many new versions. I feel slow. So slow in a world changing, travel, necessarily, Baroque Silences full of clacking keyboards, announcements, alerts, noise. Bass streams, foreclosures, permanent residences―what symbols emerge from some appreciation. Here’s the fear: that people are writing about the things they are seeing, reading, hearing, feeling, never in so many words. The responsibility! Ethics in an economy of clicks. Do pollsters qualify your reposted rapes, abortions? Like! And a terrific paradox: if you don’t have anything nice to say… The pantomime of cosmopolitan freedoms. It is difficult to be optimistic.

And this has already been written. One more: A sound check for monks, all monks all at once. Nature in machines, the slow breathlessness of nature in eternal machines―with a Black Sabbath riff off a haunted house.



Sarah Butler, What Writing, 2011



The Cost of Entry to Museums

In 1980 Geertz wrote “the instruments of reasoning are changing and society is less and less represented as an elaborate machine or a quasi-organism than as a serious game, a sidewalk drama, or a behavioural text.” [2]
What are the new instruments of reasoning, the tomorrow metaphors for society? INTERACTION, NETWORK, COMMUNICATION? That last not like two decades past terminology the paths of canals, railways, steamships, cars, and aero craft communication, but “straight to your skull” brand identity without the hyphen, relationalisms and trans intra supra nationalisms. Humanity forgets itself. What are the norms we today take for granted? …I’d like to think first about exhibitions.

In Exhibiting Contradiction Wallach discusses there was a lack of decorum for private collections made public. “Audiences were demonstrative, tastes eclectic.” [3] Inappropriate exuberance, voiced shock reaction. Where is your decorum? And now, artwork for contemplation or for entertainment. What is entertaining? Active construction of meaning? Is it so very much like an Opera then?




We walked down the street talking about gentrification; rent, student debt, health care and war, when it came up that we are the “first generation to have less than its parents”. Where did that information come from? Certainly at least this, is a localized concept. And, what does less mean? How do we quantify less. My grandmother, for example, is always scheming to “make less,” in the basement, in the garage, in the barn. She nearly escaped death in WWII. How do we qualify? What are the new new instruments of reasoning, the new metaphors for citizens. “Users?” Surely not all and in varying intensities.



Sarah Butler, Anthology Art Space: Chapter One (Botanic and Famous Accountants, Photographs) #1, 2010-2012



Our work will be co-edited, in the sense that we write things together, at times, not exclusively, but it’s been so delightful to exchange letters with you. [4]  “All my outpourings of words are just one long defense of a world to which words have no right of entrance…To discover intimations of a space and time outside the division of labor.” [5]

Patron/Artist. I wanted to suggest that the social ROLE of the artist is determined by the PATRON. As well as of course the VALUE of the PATRON is created by the artist. The responsibility of patron? The patron should be regarded as an artist, a maker of cultural significance―at anticipated and direct global effect. Where do these generalizations come from? Institutional critique, media, ideology, art. Who is the audience for arts in Bushwick? Artists. The social responsibility of the artist. We celebrate artist-run-centers. We make taste…but, we also make food. [6]




Ethnographic art appreciation that includes some measure of a person taking photographs; observing new work on line, in the street, and at school, the museum, and gallery. In department stores and in prisons—a relational, thick description. When will I read you again?




My project is about writing as something to be doing―may be in the way a painter paints. Not necessarily to create something pre-figured. But as a discovery, as a very physical mode of engagement with the world, extending also Sontag’s thinking on photography — that sometimes to say something, is just to own it. [7] I call what I do art writing, to mean writing that is art. However my writing is also sometimes about art, and so I’m told that is confusing. Am I a writer who writes about art? Or an artist who arts about writing? Do these need be mutually exclusive? Maybe that’s just writing. Here we have non-poet poets, futurist ilk, active, aware identity fabricators, psychological pro-sumers, Kline-ian bothness.




Sarah Butler, Water Sample, 2011



A dangerous dream: “if social conditions allow advertising to serve images that are justified in the deepest and broadest social sense, advertising art could contribute effectively in preparing the way for a positive popular art, an art reaching everybody and understood by everybody.” [8]

And finally, a response to previous critiques: I don’t write to be popular or accessible. I seek to address an audience who I imagine will have some previous knowledge of my subject, some resonance with my context.  But, for a popular, unspecialized audience, I hope my writing might come off as poetic reverie. You don’t have to understand the mechanics of e. e. cummings in order to “get” it, just like you don’t need to know the details behind a (bird) song to be captivated by it. Not that my work is anything close to par with cummings, bird songs. But, here’s a normative reliquary for some new beginning: life’s work.






[1] Williams, Communications (London: Chatto & Windus, 1966).

[2] Geertz, “Blurred Genres,” The American Scholar, 49 (Spring 1980).

[3] Wallach, Exhibiting contradiction : essays on the art museum in the United States (Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1998).

[4] A brief note about different forms of address within my texts, sudden inferences about relationships and contexts never made explicit―I mean you, now (a reader if on an autumn’s night, a stranger at the door): on line and in the street; the gallery and salon, the classroom, studio, lab, and kitchen.

[5] Jorn in Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International (New York: Verso, 2011), 120.

[6] See The Patron’s Value.

[7] Sontag, On Photography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Girous, 1989).

[8] Kepes in Richardson Modern Art and Scientific Thought (Champaign, University of Illinois Press, 1971), 156.



More about Sarah’s work is here. She edits word servents.





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