MAX SHERTZ STATEMENT – 1968 – REVISED 1983
(While continuing to paint until his death in 2009, the artist went into almost complete seclusion after this statement was written)
This society is wrong for me as an artist and I cannot remain unaffected. Artists reflect the culture of consumerism and they never challenge it. I disdain manufacturers of baubles that is art for the rich. I am trapped in a situation that seems inescapable. That is, the dependence on the bureaucratic machinery, which organizes and administers the consumption of art in our culture but it does more than organizes and administers it, it preconditions the drives and ambitions of artists whose well-being it supposedly exists to promote. It encourages accommodations and surrenders to society’s predominant values and in doing so it undermines the basis of artistic freedom.
It hardly seems to matter that a market-oriented personality is incompatible to the true posture of art. The difficulty of constructing new and radical individuality under the consumer mentality, which is our present condition, is perhaps the deepest problem that we are involved in from an art-conscious standpoint. We must convince all who can hear us that the failure of art comes about where there is not an effective counter and oppositional social force so that we will not be incorporated by the economy and converted into a commodity for promotion and profit.
There is also another case to be made for the other side that is the economic self-seeking. Certainly, it has a positive. It has given us after all the possibility of exceptional material prosperity and it is understandable that everyone should want a piece of the cake. However, the market has become so powerful that it now shapes the entire universe of any kind of discourse and action in which art occurs and the distorted influence outstrips its beneficial effect.
Art’s value at this point means simply its price. Economic merit equals moral merit and since the market place system swallows up all or repulses all alternatives, only the economically fit are encouraged to survive. The corporate mentality, which determines the tone of society, has already distorted the inner life of the world in which our art is produced. Its effects have invaded everyone’s mind and character and it has subdued more than one artist’s soul. Since we are living in a money culture whose cults and rites dominate, whose bureaucratic and commercial instincts have all taken over and there is a belief that the established system, in spite of everything, delivers the goods, most of the artists now reflect the culture of consumerism more than they challenge it. Where everyone has like-minded interest, it precludes the emergence of an effective opposition to the whole system.
The alienated artist, once so blunt and disobliging to business and industry, has virtually disappeared. And still, in a more progressive stage of alienation, he now identifies completely with the values that have been imposed on him. Besides making art, he also must make a profit on himself, sell himself successfully on the market place.
The American society, in particular, is marked by the stress on personal achievement, which means occupational achievement. The success story is everyone’s dream. How difficult it is for an individual to emerge from servitude once he has accepted these needs and satisfactions as his own, once they have been so deeply interjected that their repression would seem to be a whole but fatal deprivation. The rewards of affluence do make the whole system immune from attack from within. If everyone is happy with the fulfillments handed down by them, why should anyone demand that things be different? If once we stood in contradiction with the status quo? This contradiction no longer exists.
The drift toward accommodation and surrender is tragic. Today’s ideas from every art major are that all true artists should be in New York. Transformed by the allure of material property, it is much harder to resist “success” today than one hundred years ago and besides social conditions forced the survival mentality. These must be seen as false conditions. These needs, these gratifications, they are not conditions which should be maintained and protected if, as a consequence, the individual’s ability to recognize society’s disease and to grasp the chance of curing that disease is definitively and devastatingly impaired. The freedom of individual consciousness is embodied in the will to refuse but it is trapped when there is only one dimension and it is everywhere and in all forms.
The artist must live to paint, not paint to live. He must not sacrifice his ideas to a landlord and to a costly studio when a box of color and God’s sunlight keep the soul attuned. That is all he needs for the daily life.
Art should be a worldly calling but a great deal of creative energy goes into the battle for success and fighting your way to the top.
The artist I am is an outcast. I and those like me, stand for another way of life, one whose purpose it is to be esoteric, spiritual and a moral hero, and to create a symbolic life that has meaning to others but they, the subversive, will try to reduce one to a mechanical order. That bureaucratic stagnancy also engulfs other professions, and tend to stifle the free self-possessed personality.
Once the practice of art becomes a career like any other, once artists give up their autonomy and become compliant employees and satellites of the economic managerial middleman that they serve, whether consciously or not, they and I will lose our identity as artists. The temptation to regard as freedom what in reality is a disguised tyranny is what keeps art and our society so permanently off balance. It should be obvious that radical art of necessity turns into its opposite when it agrees to play by the rules. At this moment it no longer negates social practice but it complements it and it does preserve the constant status quo. The assimilation of creative ideals into an impersonal calculating, contractual reality indicates the extent to which the realm of the soul and the spirit has been translated by material culture. Such assimilation represents a perversion of the whole idea of individualism to conform to the practices of that money culture. In this transformation, art loses the greater part of its truth. When art sinks to the level of merchandise, it loses its essence. As you can see by that condition, there will be endless compromises and conflicts arising from the fact that aims and standards have been confused beyond anyone’s comprehension.
All this cultural conformism probably supports the assumption that the avant-garde artist, Max Shertz, has become obsolete or irrelevant, but the facts are that my art and other avant-garde creators’ are the future of modern culture and we all depend on the dedication of artists such as myself in order to prevent our falling into that trap.
My posture of alienation from trends is a crucial element among the balance of the forces of society and without it there is nothing to counter the drift towards uniformity and conformity brought about by the bureaucratic administration of art. They are the self determined creative beings who become just another cog in the mechanism which prescribes them a fixed route of march, little men and little women clinging to little jobs, and striving toward bigger ones.
I want to be a portion of the mankind that is free from this parceling out of the soul, from this bureaucratic way of life. I challenge the established order. Being an artist to me has always meant maintaining a certain independence of mind, not adapting to the competitive performances required for well-being under the established system. Even under the course of intense personal sacrifice I still stand firm and I am alone. The artist I am is characterized by not just by what I do but by how I do it and if there is a solution to my crisis, it will depend on the recovery of my effective and creative individuality to engage with and to resist the tremendous pressures on all of us to play by the rules. What we have lost is not our power of creativity but the ability to determine the psychological and moral imperatives of the economic and political system in which we live. The stress on achievement and economic growth has provoked a crisis for me as an artist. It distorts the ways in which art is valued. It alters the motives for creating it. Please, dig out the truth. Remember one of us is worth and is a match for all of them. If you accept their premise you will walk on your knees for the rest of your life.