Introduction

Wouter Davidts, May 2012

In the second edition of the course Critical Issues in the Cultural Industries (2011-2012), once again the fate of the arts within the ever-more pervasive cultural (and other) industries served as the central subject. Starting from a both theoretical and historical topology of the modern artworld we explored the extent to which the functions and positions of the respective core institutions – museum, studio, exhibition, market – continue to be directed and shaped by processes of instrumentalization and commodification.

The courses and the discussions in class were driven by a plain urgency, as we are currently witnessing most dramatic developments in the societal position of the arts, education, and culture in general. Governmental funding of the artworld, the academy, and the cultural sphere in general, is under critical pressure. Legitimized by a global economical crisis, draconic budget cuts are being imposed, not only in the Netherlands, but also worldwide.

Halbe Zijlstra, State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science, in front of an installation by Olafur Eliasson

Culture seems to be tolerated on the sole condition that it proves a common relevance and generates plain economical profit. To that end its respective sectors are forced into to an Olympic regime within which all actors are encouraged to contend with the other. Where the prefix ‘top’ was previously merely used to denominate the most criminal of our fellow citizens, it is now shamelessly applied to all actors, institutions, and achievements: artists, researchers, exhibitions, publications, museums, universities.

In the short piece IQ, written in 1946-1947 and collected in the gloomy yet radiant Minima Moralia, German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno mused about the fate of intellectual labor in an era of an ever-growing technocracy. In words that sound highly topical today, Adorno warned that, as soon as thought is subjected to a performance check and questioned about its efficiency and purposefulness, the very freedom of intellectual reflection is seriously at stake: “Considerations that wish to take responsibility for their subject-matter and therefore for themselves, arouse suspicion of begin vain, windy, asocial self-gratification.”

The cultural sphere faces a major crisis of legitimacy today. How can one come up with sincere claims for support, without which many vulnerable actors and institutions will barely survive? Yet how can one avoid being accused of claiming exclusive support, or even scandalous privileges?

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