Prior to a Restoration, an intervention of Neo-Dada vandalism is necessary to disrupt and undermine the extant status hierarchy. This acts like a forest fire, clearing out the dead wood so that new trees can grow.
Attempting to build an alternative aesthetic order and plug it directly into the existing system – expecting it to be recognised as superior by virtue of its positive relationship to craft / skill, when craft / skill have been systematically rendered low-status by the existing system – is likely to prove frustrating.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t valuable work to be carried out developing Restoration aesthetics, only that getting those aesthetics to take root and be championed / patronised by elites, requires a two-pronged attack.
The restoration of aesthetics is therefore a staged process, with parallels to Moldbug’s guidelines to restore order within a physical territory:
Spontaneous order, also known as freedom, is the highest level of a political pyramid of needs. These needs are: peace, security, law, and freedom. To advance order, always work for the next step – without skipping steps. In a state of war, advance toward peace; in a state of insecurity, advance toward security; in a state of security, advance toward law; in a state of law, advance toward freedom.
But in the CAW, there is a pre-established order, which needs to be disrupted / routed around in order to create space for aesthetic innovation, status-transference, and ultimately the disposition of the elite-sponsored status quo.
A period of iconoclasm is therefore necessary to trans-ition from our current state of idolatry.
Iconoclasm is “the action of attacking or assertively rejecting cherished beliefs and institutions or established values and practices”. It requires the emergence of an alternative status system, alongside ridicule of the pious, conformist art-sheep who populate the current system. Since we’re not Cromwell or ISIS, sledgehammers and explosives aren’t necessary. Instead, our meta-level target is the extant CAW status hierarchy, which can be attacked via the rejection and subversion of its institutions, values and practices.
The CAW currently functions in a state somewhere between security and law. Its deontological framework has created bureaucratic rules and processes, which are intelligible to those who inhabit its structures. Inside the CAW rules are made to be followed – or broken, but only predictably, in certain ways and not in others. A rule can be broken if breaking it moves the structure in a more progressive direction. Signalling affiliation with the next stage of progressivism is valuable to both artists and the system. Artists benefit by signalling their pious or radical credentials, while the system benefits from being ‘pushed’ in the direction it already wanted to go in anyway.
However, there is also an expanding, increasingly active, extra-legal domain of social activism / consequences, which can be mobilised effectively against artists and institutions that transgress the CAW’s sacred boundaries. In this way, the CAW maintains its immune system, alert to any new strain of virus / potential source of non-progressive contagion, that its bureaucratic screening processes haven’t already inoculated it against. Of course, the difference between antibodies and voluntary PC security forces resides merely in choice of metaphor – they act the same way towards anything that threatens the biological host / status economy they inhabit.
The pre-eminent examples of a Neo-Dada aesthetic are to be found in the #Frogtwitter and 4/8 Chan constellation, frieze framed / calcified by the LD50 718222666 exhibition, which was funded by money from betting on Trump to win the presidency. The protests that followed in its wake were an example of CAW antibodies reacting to the presence of an invading virus. The SDLD50 organisers were catalysed by the existential status threat / moral entrepreneurship, virtue signalling opportunity, presented by an exhibition of heretical imagery / anti-progressive symbology, in their own Hackney backyard. The status threat was activated by Trump winning the Presidency and attempting to put some of his policies into action. Since progressives generally believe in the fiction that the leavers of power terminate with the President, the presence of Trump – an enemy – in the White House fundamentally threatened their status-economy.
Neo-Dada vandalism emerges spontaneously. You can’t top down manage the process, only catalyse it. Hestia Society and other Restoration + institutions don’t need to sully themselves with it. But they do need to recognise that it’s useful and a necessary phase of transition from one aesthetic paradigm to another.
Neoclassical sculptures with cosmic backgrounds only have so much mileage in them and Stock Image CPU aesthetics have their limits. Restoration + needs to get better at aesthetics, and to do so it needs to look forward as well as back. 99.999999999% of contemporary artists are progressive and a large percentage of their art is shit. But it’s not all shit. And these aesthetic strategies need to be advanced / synthesised with values / influences from the past if Restoration + aesthetics is to move beyond cliché and pastiche.
This is not to suggest that Restoration + aesthetics needs to be anything other than exemplary of its aims. But it needn’t be ignorant of its present, or the role of an interstitial period of Neo-Dada vandalism to purge the rot from the system and enable new forms to grow.
Iconoclasm, properly understood, doesn’t revolve around the literal destruction of progressive artworks. There’s no need to go into galleries or museums and smash shit up. Instead, the target is the extant status hierarchy. To destroy the CAW, we don’t need a sledgehammer, we need an alternative. We need to build something – first conceptually, then in the form of organisational infrastructure – for artists to default to, then inhabit.
Don’t expect the existing status hierarchy to abolish itself. There is work to be done on the heretical content farm.
5 thoughts on “On Iconoclasm”
Thanks for filling such an important niche out here!
Thanks for reading. Another one in the works…