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Productive Anonymity

Mira Schor, "Austerity Utopia," 2013. Sketchbook scan, c. 12 x 17". Courtesy of the artist.

Productive anonymity—the ability to experiment without much at stake except your own process of discovery.

Privacy—particularly, the ability to experience artworks in a relatively private environment, even if in public spaces.


Time—to think and to not think; to look at art; to waste on dead-end art projects that no one will ever see again and that your best friends may remember better than you will, because to them it was an event but to you it was just a step along a long road.

Liberation from art that is front-loaded with conscious intentionality.

Benign neglect—the ability to do things with just enough attention to make you feel like you are part of a world and can go forward, but not so much that your gesture becomes a trademark and a creative prison.


De-academization of art—especially political art. The idea of political art as orthodoxy is oxymoronic and just as much of an aesthetic enclosure as autonomous formalism seemed in the past.

De-fragmentation of art education—ending the proliferation of increasingly atomized specializations of M.F.A. programs, one of the bizarre ironies of the art education industry in a period of transdisciplinary rhetoric, student debt, and a general job shortage.

Intellectuality without dogma or imperium, along with tactility and visual pleasure without a relapse into anti-intellectuality or eye-candy consumerism.

In a transdisciplinary atmosphere, a return to medium literacy and specificity.

Restoration of elements of visual art such as color and form without loss of conceptualism or political consciousness.

A smaller art world populated by people who make art and love art with no expectation that anyone else needs to care.

These alternatives to the present are based on an undoubtedly fictionalized memory of the conditions of the first part of my life as an artist, growing up in the first three decades of post-war U.S.A. when, not coincidentally, as financial charts demonstrate, income inequality was much less pronounced compared to what it is today and something like a middle-class life really existed, with opportunities for education, art, theater, travel, and some time for growth, experimentation, and social transformation, because even revolutions are developed by people who have some shelter from the storm. Precariousness can spur artwork that emerges from perceiving the edges of society because you’re living on them, but it’s hard to make art under conditions of prolonged economic insecurity. Because we were in that relatively open and equal period, one couldn’t really see it. No illusions: there were many problems in the fictional past. But the moment of transformation in 1979 – 1980, from one social contract to another, was immediately, viscerally, palpable although the ordinary individual at the time could not visualize where we would arrive today.

Income redistribution achieved through policy and supported by discourse is necessary to restore more equitable conditions so that a reshaped world for art practice can flourish—rather than the more dystopian possibility, which is that the same conditions of privacy, anonymity, and time will come as a result not of relative plenty, but of fiscal austerity measures, whereby most of us will be spared the privileges of basic income security, adequate food, shelter, heat, education, employment, opportunity for class advancement, access to travel, and technology. But perhaps even under dark conditions, despite hardships, or perhaps because of them, a new need for art and art making will emerge and flower. At any rate that is my effort at a utopian recuperation from what seems like a pretty rocky road ahead.


Mira Schor

MIRA SCHOR is a painter and writer living in New York City. In recent years she has had one-person exhibitions at CB1 Gallery in Los Angeles and Marvelli Gallery in New York City as well as at Momenta Art in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Art, Politics, and Daily Life and the blog A Year of Positive Thinking, as well as the author of Wet: On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture and she editedThe Extreme of the Middle: The Writings of Jack Tworkov, for Yale University Press. She is the co-editor, with Susan Bee, of M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online: they published a 25th Anniversary Edition in 2011. Schor teaches in the MFA in Fine Arts Program at Parsons The New School for Design. Her website is


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2013

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