At the same moment during the late 1970s that the Ehrenreichs formulated their theory of the PMC, Art & Language and October were likewise problematizing the growing gap between themselves and the working class and rethinking the relations between art, criticism, theory, and politics. This essay examines the emergence and schism of the Art & Language collective followed by the rise of the October group, focusing on the former’s once-famous 1976 critique of the latter, titled “The French Disease.”
If we take the question about art that is supportive of the PMC as a question about art that is supportive of capitalism, we can see that it’s only incidentally a question about art’s compatibility with the self-understanding of one class rather than another. It’s fundamentally a question about what there can be in art that isn’t reducible to the self-understanding of any class.
Sierra’s tattooed horizontal line conveys the narrative of a modernist outcry that once called for “Workers of the World, Unite!”—or today could call for the people shackled together in debt slavery to unite against neoliberal capitalism. Instead of being ostracized by the burden of carrying a mark for life on their backs, these paid people are united by their tattooed line as much as by their condition as collective subjects of exploitation.
For Clark, the “moment” is not an outlet to the world that would in principle allow a self-absorbed consciousness to find meaning beyond its own interiority. Nor is it a means by which the subject may reach a higher form of mental life. The “moment” is an end in itself.
PMC art rewards a viewer who does not enjoy emotional exchanges, but who does have strong, positive, hopeful feelings every time they figure out how a system works. Contemporary art has helped the PMC feel good about their choices and justified in their limits, in part, because an overriding emphasis on abstraction and system validates the type of solutions that our most lucrative skills tend to generate.