Embracing fashion as art

By Pavel Veraza Tonda

There are two paths for big art within the ambit of fashion as a social phenomenon, and every artist and every serious recipient of art in the fashion system must choose between them.

One is the transformation of the world of customs and objects that constitute material culture, following the senses and possibilities of being that artistic creativity manages to shape and expose for the first time. It is an indirect and undecided path, dependent on whether the reception allows itself to be challenged and transformed by what a work of art manifests. In this path, the audience must be deconstructed, as Heidegger demonstrated in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art,’ so that people can relearn to live in response to the suggestions of the work of art, guiding their individual and collective existence amid the things, animals, people, and regions of the world. A genuine work of art reveals these dimensions in its meaning or essence in a uniquely evolving manner. From this perspective, the reception of high art appears as something yet to be done, not already decided based on dominant tastes or existing ways of seeing held by individuals or societies. Instead, tastes could be radically transformed in the encounter with the work of art.

In this sense, the power of art in fashion would lie in the fashion slowdown to cancel its cycle of obsolescence. The work reveals itself as something not disposable but always desirable, always challenging, and always giving more to ponder, as Derrida aptly points out in ‘The Arts of Space.’ The fashion industry’s appetite for novelties halts with the appearance of the work of art in its singularity, favoring the enjoyment that lingers in it and recognizing the work as a teacher.

The other path of art in fashion is its subsumption or integration into the dynamics of trends, where it becomes a consumable and disposable object subjected to the requirements of the utility of capitalist cultural goods manufacturing, simultaneously addictive and disposable. This can generate three forms of relationship with art:

1) The conversion of the work into a spectacle, annihilating the totality of meaning and tensions transmitted by the work, reducing it to something easily accessible, light, and at the same time surprising, as Adorno and Horkheimer would say, entertaining. This alters its content technically to achieve an effect that influences the perception and behavior of the consumer. In this way, the work becomes raw material for aestheticize techniques, i.e., capitalist manipulation of sensory perception.

2) The conversion of art into a public and free object, and therefore trivial. In a context of market and cultural industry, this means nothing other than the suppression of distance from the public, turning its useless nature into a utility for the entertainment of the population. When art is free, it becomes unworthy of serious consideration or an object of entertainment for the citizenry seen as an electorate by cultural politics.

3) The occasional recovery of motifs or elements of art to give an appearance of seriousness or “not so much” superficiality to the world of consumer goods produced in fashion. In the industry, this is another form of manipulative psychotechnics, and in the content of the object, it is a reconciliation with the “light” and senseless world of obsolescence, creating the appearance that it is not devoid of meaning. In this sense, art is partially recovered to integrate as an element of pseudo-significance. It is, therefore, another form of suppression of the work of art.