John S. Paul
Voluntary vs. Involuntary Ego
an essay in the form of a letter to Paul Conneally from artist John S Paul
As founders of Involuntary Painting you and Millree have started an interactive art movement. This is no small accomplishment, prompting some older followers to pause and ask: why have a community of searchers come forward and fanned out across the globe? The group’s proposition opened the floodgates, directing focus to the hyper-mundane. Why did the suggestion catch fire, now sustained by over eight thousand contributors, culminating in that bold Mexico City exhibit in Hidalgo Station?
Unlike other art movements, nothing singular is claimed for its content and timing: but in our agitated political climate, IP gives the relief of Alka Seltzer.
Even during calmer times, practicing artists need to step away from the judgments involved in making art as personal objects. And there’s your joke: the location of an IP find can be listed as evidence, an invitation to visit, like a tourist location or blue plaque on a celebrity’s door – ubiquitous as the continuous video mapping of the world’s streets by Google.
There appears to be no self-aggrandizement in your humble, jumbled proposition. That being said I have often asked myself what’s the lure? Why doesn’t IP peter out and die? There is no ego in the photos posted. No incentive or contest to be won (although some posts still bear precious copyright signatures). The last word seems to come from the patina, the unseen hand of time and weather – the accident of paint blistered by the sun.
Max Stirner, a German thinker near the time of Marx, investigates the phenomenon of ego. In Ego And His Own, the focus is the concentration of political power by zealots and dictators. We are in such a moment with Trumpism, (conservatives and extremists from the alt right fear those same tactics amplified by the so-called Deep State). Fear and civic impatience have managed to attract blind obedience from huge populations, not unlike the unfocused subjectivity and dependencies of children. Stirner argues that by divesting your own personal ego to join the popular surge (Hitler, Stalin, Il Duce, Trump) you are an involuntary accomplice. The voluntary artists in the failed Weimar Republic were labeled decadent and condemned (involuntarily) by the gathering ignorance.
As esoteric commentary about art, and as a substitute for voluntary art in the blank mind of the alien visitor, IP is voluntary ego, and very far from being useful to any annoying or dangerous cause. Nothing remotely purposeful is enacted in these images. A stubborn abstraction, refreshed in real-time, updates a mute content. The scrolling activity of IP, like readers of comic strips, affords a subversive and creative relaxation.
As editors and administrators, you and Millree exercise a duty to your concept with voluntary ego, a far different thing from the involuntary ego Stirner warned about.
John S. Paul
John S Paul