Thijs Lijster – The Future of the New

The Future of the New
Artistic Innovation in Times of Social Acceleration
Arts in Society / IKK

Novelty is thus systematically valorized at the expense of durability, and this organization of detachment, that is, of unfaithfulness or infidelity (equally called flexibility), contributes to the decomposition of libidinal economy, to the spread of drive-based behaviors and to the liquidation of social systems.
Bernard Stiegler, For a New Critique of Political Economy

Innovation has become an inherently problematic notion for contemporary art and art theory. Since the nineteenth century, ‘the new’ has been the primary value in artistic practice and discourse. Moreover, due to this preoccupation with innovation, modern art was often considered a source of social critique and an ally of social movements resisting the domination of tradition. Likewise, twentieth-century artists and intellectuals who criticized consumer culture often invoked the ‘new’. Capitalism was said to ‘infect everything with sameness’ (Horkheimer and Adorno), as the standardization of commodity production left little room for the spontaneity, creativity and individual autonomy expressed in art.

However, what happens if novelty and innovation themselves become the problem? Today, the dominant strand of critique considers modernity’s ‘social acceleration’ (Rosa) and ‘short-termism’ (Stiegler) as main sources of alienation and discontent. Hartmut Rosa points to the paradox that despite all our timesaving technologies people hardly have the feeling that they have plenty of time. On the contrary, more and more people feel lost in a world that innovates perpetually and beyond their control. Moreover, there is an increasing a-synchronicity between different social domains: the relatively slow-working world of politics can hardly keep pace with the world of finance.
Innovation can no longer be considered a self-evidently progressive value, now that it is part and parcel of post-industrial consumer culture. Social movements and theorists increasingly advocate slowing the pace of capitalism, emphasizing the need for continuity and security in people’s lives. They are accompanied by humanitarian and environmental organizations, which underline the need for sustainable solutions to the problems caused by ‘innovation’.

This creates a problem for contemporary art and art theory. Can artistic innovation still function as a source of critique? People continue to turn to the arts for critical relief from the onrush of empty commodity novelty, once described by Walter Benjamin as ‘the eternal recurrence of the new’, but how can the arts provide such relief when they are continually forced to be innovative? Artists themselves are struggling with a legitimation crisis and find it difficult to respond to the ever-increasing influence of the creative and culture industries. How can the arts critically relate to contemporary culture of change when they are themselves and by their own definition forced into innovation?

In The Future of the New we want to reflect on the role of the arts in times of social acceleration. We want to investigate concepts and strategies that allow to deal with the problems mentioned above. How do artists deal with the changing role of and discourse on innovation? Do they renounce innovation and turn to traditional practices (the revival of craftsmanship), do they look for alternative ways to innovate, or do they, in a gesture of over-identification, immerse themselves in social acceleration so as to speed-up even more and let capitalism crash against its own limits (as proposed by accelerationism)?

For The Future of the New we invite theorists, critics, artists and professionals in the art field to reflect on the concept and practice of artistic innovation, and its role in various conceptions of the relationship between art and social critique. The central questions are: What can artistic innovation mean today, and can it still function as a source of social critique? Can and should we distinguish between different concepts of innovation (e.g. on the basis of their relationship to history and tradition)? Are innovation and novelty necessarily connected to acceleration, or can we think of ways to detach them (as Benjamin Noys proposes)? Can we think of way to reconnect contemporary art to social critique without it having to forsake the imperative to innovate? Can we still use terms as ‘avant-garde’, ‘novelty’ and ‘progressive’ in the art world, now that they have become tainted by consumer capitalism? How revolutionary are the artistic revolutionaries, now that the modus operandi of capitalism is itself the ‘permanent revolution’ once dreamt of by Trotski?

The Future of the New brings together debates in three different disciplines: 1) within sociology of the arts, concerning the origins of artistic innovation, 2) within aesthetics and philosophy of time, concerning the ontology of innovation, and 3) within critical social theory, concerning the social and cultural problems created by acceleration and perpetual innovation. The book addresses a theme that is highly relevant to professionals and policy makers in the arts, namely the question whether and how the arts can be a source of social critique, and how it can relate to the problems created by increasing social acceleration. The book is aimed at critics, artists, researchers, students, and all those who are interested in the current state of artistic innovation or concerned about its future. Combining timely analyses of contemporary art and inspiring visions for the future, The Future of the New attempts to set the agenda for the debate on the function and value of artistic innovation.