Introduction Claire Bishop Is Everyone a Performer? Gavin Butt Being in a Band: Artschool Experimentalism and the Post-Punk Commons Gavin Butt & Claire Bishop discussion + Q&A
Claire Bishop, Gavin Butt

Keywords: amateurism, professionalisation, de-skilling, de-scaling, participation, performance, karaoke, punk, user.

In Artificial Hells, Claire Bishop focused on works of art that involve live performance, more akin to theatre than to traditional forms of visual art. She proposed that participatory art has historically aspired to a utopian collapse of artist and audience: as a result, the work of art becomes an ongoing project (rather than an object); the artist becomes a collaborator and producer of situations; and the beholder or viewer is now repositioned as a co-producer or participant.

However, any consideration of digital participation was left out of this book. Arguably, Web 2.0 has already made these arguments about participatory art obsolete. The non-stop creation and consumption of self-image in social media means that today we are all photographers, models, curators, film-makers, poets and DJs. Such amateur performances arguably turn our entire lives into theatre, with no need for a mediating artist, stage or gallery.

This day will therefore focus on the intersection between such amateur performances and the concept of de-skilling. If amateurism is undertaken for love and pleasure, without any concern for disciplinary expertise, then de-skilling denotes a conscious rejection of acquired competences in favour of a simpler or rawer way of doing things. After all, you need to be trained in a discipline or technique in order to have the privilege of rejecting it; de-skilled artist tries to access an everyday aesthetic, but can never leave his or her training fully behind. The amateur, by contrast, stakes out a position against professionalization, and the whole organization of our lives around work.

The invited speakers will all respond to the central question of whether amateurism opens up to inclusive new aesthetic possibilities (such as punk, karaoke or the user)—or just heralds the end of virtuosity altogether.


Gavin Butt works at the intersection of art history, performance studies and queer theory. His lecture will address the post-punk music scene surrounding art schools in the city of Leeds (UK) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Being in a band provided the opportunity for artists to transcend the creative dead-ends of Modernist art and punk rock, given that both had become culture industry business-as-usual at this time. Introducing the idea of a post-punk ‘commons’, he will consider the importance of artistic communalism and non-proficient musicianship as a means to produce new forms of expression beyond rock, and the transposing of avant-garde experiment into the popular arena. Bands to be addressed will include the SheeHees, Mekons, Another Colour, Fad Gadget, and Impact Theatre.

Claire Bishop is an art historian and critic based at CUNY Graduate Center, New York. She is the author of Installation Art: A Critical History (2005), Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012), Radical Museology, or, What’s Contemporary in Contemporary Art? (2013) and numerous articles on contemporary art and performance. She is a regular contributor to Artforum, and her books and essays have been translated into over fourteen languages.

Gavin Butt is Professor of Visual Cultures and Performance at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is author of Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, co-author of Visual Cultures as Seriousness, and editor of After Criticism: New Responses to Art and Performance. He co-directed Performance Matters (2009-2013) a creative research project exploring the cultural value of performance, and was co-director of This Is Not a Dream (2014) a documentary film exploring artists’ DIY use of moving image technology. He is currently completing a new book Anti-Gravitas: Queer Importance in Art and Performance, and is engaged in research on post-punk culture and British art schools.