The Art of Producing Affect:
An ethico-aesthetical manifesto for aspiring artists

- How do we make a difference?



In the early 21st century, in the post-industrial West today, it appears to be that paradigms set by corporately organised art institutions have enormous influences upon young artists. The influence that these corporations foist on them is so profound that not only does Capital marginalise their individuality, but also dictates their moral values. Such influences appear to be immensely counter-productive in terms of artists' process of recognising, cultivating, and embracing a difference in building their aesthetic values. Simultaneously, the inescapable influences emanating from the dominant force of global capitalism seem to have a colossal impact upon the process of shaping our ethical values too. The similarities between ethics and aesthetics rest firstly on their semantics. Aesthetics concerns the study of beauty, the sublime and various sensory experiences, whereas ethics concerns how one ought to live aesthetically. Not only are aesthetics and ethics so similar semantically, but also they form a parallel relationship where their paths occasionally cross. Undeniably, there is a causal relation between the Western world where the system of capitalism has catapulted its dominance over centuries and the context of contemporary art that has ensued from it. In both the Western contemporary art and the Western capitalist societies, there are various unwritten social and cultural paradigms that dictate our ethical and aesthetic values. According to an eminent art critic Hal Foster, the paradigms and norms are established to protect institutions that currently exist for their own survival while tacitly suppressing the emergence of anything that threatens the preservation of their existence. It is akin to the natural world where every living thing strives for its own survival and reproduction.

The similarities between the realms of aesthetics and ethics derive ironically from similar problems that they are facing. Contemporary art itself is the product of Western cultural hegemony and global capitalism, which have fuelled the expansion of contemporary art and pushed it to a global scale. In the non-Western world, flagship art museums are franchised by such Western establishments as Guggenheim and Centre Pompidou. Simultaneously, the dominance of Capital perpetuates outside the art world. Even those who seem to pose as an antithesis of capitalism are unable to cut their tie with the system. In fact, it is quite the opposite, and they play a large part in maintaining the order of things built on that system. For instance, the structures of trade unions, charity organisations and academic institutions are, despite their façade, deeply ingrained in the capitalist structure. It is due to the nature of capitalism that dissolves what opposes it into itself, and everyone and every institution is fighting for their own survival and tries desperately to subtract or squeeze the surplus out of everyone else despite their varying causes, be it moral or amoral.

This dissertation is certainly not the first project to critique the dominance of capitalism that suppresses the autonomy of artists, yet few studies, in my knowledge, have illuminated theoretical frameworks not merely to art theorists alike but to art practitioners. Particularly as to why artists’ autonomy is deterritorialised and how they can prepare themselves to overcome the dominance, little has been said in the past. Also, the readers must be aware that this is not written from the perspective of merely criticising the system of capitalism as many have thus far done so. Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money, greed is (1 Timothy 6). In fact, ironically those who nurture and maintain their individuality tend to thrive on the system of Western capitalist economy. In light of the paradox, this is rather written from the viewpoint of an existentialist enquiry; how can one become who he or she really is. This treatise has therefore been written as a reminder for myself, as well as aspiring artists who are about to embark on the long journey of being an artist. Furthermore, from the perspective of revalorising aesthetics, which often plays a subordinate role to economics, politics and other disciplines in contemporary art, aesthetic values need to be rectified by the hand of artists in that there is much to be said about art ethically.

This dissertation shows an epistemological itinerary of the author’s quest for conceptual tools in philosophy to respond to an enquiry of how aspiring artists can discover and maintain their creative autonomy in the face of the overpowering influence of capitalism.

Foster, H., The Artist as Ethnographer?, 1995, p.303.

The Art Newspaper, Hey, big spenders… from Art Basel daily edition, 2012.

Negarestani, R., Drafting the Inhuman: Conjunctures on Capitalism and Organic Necrocracy, 2011, p.1.

The Bible, The King James version


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