Why do some feminists hate Picasso

"I come from Homer ..." From the white, male, highly topical genius cult

“I come from Tolstoy, I come from Homer, I come from Cervantes”, Peter Handke's picture book example of male megalomania has recently been criticized a lot. The controversial Nobel Prize ceremony also provided a welcome opportunity to argue passionately in features and social media about the sense and nonsense of a separation between work and artist. A discussion that is relied on with every relevant case of the MeToo era: Are we still allowed to watch films by Roman Polanski and Woody Allen or laugh at Cliff Huxtable on the Bill Cosby Show? Or dance to Michael Jackson after the allegations of abuse brought against him in the documentary "Leaving Neverland"? Was it okay to cut Kevin Spacey out of the movie "All the Money in the World" afterwards? But the overpainting of the Eugen Gomringer poem in Berlin - it really went too far, didn't it?

Great rant to "Picasshole"

In Hannah Gadsby's rightly acclaimed Netflix show “Nanette” there is a passage about Picasso, in which the comedian makes a great rant about the fact that, as an art historian, she passionately hates the misogynous “Picasshole” for its brutal treatment of girls and women (two of Picasso's ex-partners committed suicides). But any criticism of the Grand Master with reference to the historic achievement of Cubism would be trivialized. So what can be done feministly to counter this attempt to differentiate between work and artist? And would it really make sense to completely abolish this distinction?

In the debate about this separation, the fact that this distinction is deeply masculine (and, moreover, western-white) Is based on the concept of work autonomy. A concept that is also closely linked to the idea of ​​an artist genius who is solely responsible for the future judgment of art history. Because the occidental tradition of the god-gifted genius, the “divino artista”, actually put this artist god above the law. Breaking the law, overriding social conventions, was even considered a guarantee of ingenious pioneering work. Artistic creativity and originality require breaking the rules and crossing borders.

This exceptionality should then also characterize the work itself, which must have ahistorical general validity and independence in order to be relevant to art history. As if there were indisputable criteria set in stone for the objective “quality of a work” and as if the judgment about its relevance to art history was not always time and context dependent. Regardless of this, it was implicitly demanded that both subjective experience and physical existence should be transcended with and in art.

A claim that in turn goes hand in hand with a devaluation of feminist art. Since feminist art or the art of women in general often focuses on their own experience or their own body, their radical subjectivity is often devalued as a mere “art of sensitivity”. An assessment that entails the whole rat tail of a male concept of culture, which also includes the distinction between trivial culture and high culture contested by cultural studies.

Perception is always context-dependent

But back to moral misconduct: Admittedly today nobody will claim that the male artistic genius could shoot someone on 5th Avenue ("I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters") - about one To take up the notorious Trump quote - and should then still be able to move on to the MoMa to open his staff. There are strong arguments for the fact that the retrospective should be judged independently of a possible murder trial. And there are also some good arguments in favor of this view.

In fact, the freedom of art is an important achievement that should not least protect against arbitrariness by the state and enable fundamental artistic criticism of everything and everyone. However, the definition of autonomy in current discourses often has little to do with this understanding of freedom. The understanding of work autonomy, as it is often used today, owes much more to the postmodern postulate of the “death of the author”. This means that the latter may bring a work into the world, but that it emancipates itself completely from it and develops its effect completely independently.

However, this claim of emancipation is wrong for at least two reasons. First, given the celebrity culture of the art business, it is hardly credible to suddenly denounce the fixation on one person. Second, and in my opinion this is the more important point, the fact that the much-cited death of the author goes hand in hand with a tremendous strengthening of the reception side is omitted. It is no longer the origin that determines the effect of the work, but its reception. But this is never independent of what is known about the author. The aesthetic judgment cannot be neatly separated from the moral one. Inevitably, knowing whether an artist has just shot someone on the street - to stay with the example - influences the way his work is perceived.

Regardless of this, the idea of ​​art reception, which kindly has to neatly differentiate between the spheres (i.e. which Tannhäuser knows how to enjoy despite Wagner's anti-Semitism), continues a male theoretical tradition that celebrates autonomy and independence and thereby returns to an almost auratic understanding of work autonomy .

As I said: There are good reasons not to let the artist and the work fall into one. Just as good for not blaming a work of art for every breach of the law by the artist, after all, this would hit art-creating critics of the regime as well as park sinners. A boycott should also be carefully considered in each individual case. Because what about the co-actors of fallen film and television stars who would inevitably be held in kin if productions were boycotted?

But there are always good reasons to actually refuse canonicalization and recognition to artists. Otto Mühl's ash pictures are such a case. They consist of the diaries of his victims, who Mühl burned to destroy evidence against himself. These pictures hung for a long time without any critical comment in the Vienna MAK and Mumok.

But even aside from such scandalous cases, it does no harm to arouse the sacred cows of high culture and work autonomy in a feminist way. "High art, my ass", to say it with Hannah Gadsby.