Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When Is a Prince Not a "Prince"?

Given the lack of transparency in the art market, it's no wonder many artists initially struggle with pricing their work, but it's begun to dawn on me lately that there's also a good bit of confusion early on about what it means to sell one's art. I'm not talking just about copyright (which remains with the artist) or the finer points of defining editions and artist's proofs (which tend to make many younger artists nervous), but what it means in terms of a social contract. And I'm not even talking about the ethical subtleties of flipping work at auction or collectors making a profit off their investment.

What's emerged in conversations lately (due mostly to Richard Prince's refusal to permit reproduction of his much earlier work for a catalog accompanying an exhibition of it) is a question about authorship, specifically whether an artist can essentially rescind authorship because the earlier work no longer represents their current vision. Can Richard Prince declare that for all intents and purposes an earlier work he created is not "a Richard Prince"?

Roberta Smith summarized the situation in
a recent review:
About three years ago Michael Lobel, a professor of 20th-century art at Purchase College, began excavating Mr. Prince’s pre-fame roots and found more than 50 early works that had been idling unseen in public, private and corporate collections around the country. All had been made, exhibited, sold and occasionally even written about in the middle 1970s.

[...] Mr. Lobel also unearthed some ambivalence. In the exhibition’s catalog he notes that Mr. Prince implied in a 1988 interview that he had destroyed all his early work. He also points out that Mr. Prince’s early New York shows at the Kathryn Markel and Ellen Sragow galleries, listed in the catalog of his 1993 Whitney Museum show, have been omitted from the chronologies of two recent books about him. So perhaps it was not entirely surprising when he declined to participate in the Neuberger show, as did his dealer, Barbara Gladstone.

Mr. Prince also refused permission to reproduce the works in the exhibition’s catalog, although its clever design (by Beverly Joel of pulp, ink) has compensations. With blank rectangles, complete with captions, where the images should be, the slim gray volume is something of a participatory Conceptual Art piece. Read Mr. Lobel’s meticulous descriptions, and draw in your own Richard Princes!
I'll get right to it: as a gallerist working with artists at the beginning of their careers, this pisses me off. Kathryn Markel and Ellen Sragow galleries presented Prince's work in their spaces in good faith as worthy of purchase, in other words, as accomplished art. Maybe not the most maturely resolved art, but unquestionably as the art of Richard Prince. And there's no evidence to suggest Prince had any problem with it at the time at all. For him to rescind that status now throws into question whether anyone should ever consider buying an artist's earlier work at all.

Now I understand the desire to control the entire context of one's work. I get the desire to erase or blur one's embarrassing youthful follies, but once a piece has been sold (and many of the works in the Prince exhibition had been), there is IMO an obligation to live with that choice. I'm not saying an artist shouldn't destroy the earlier work they still have if they reach that point of recognition where it makes them cringe, but once they've cashed the check from selling it, they're obligated to let it stand as a product of their efforts (or at least obligated to buy it back [at current market value] and then destroy it). They've agreed to a social contract by accepting money for it, IMO.


Prince could have handled this in a whole host of better ways in my opinion. Perhaps he's pissed because he suspects (as I do a bit) that this exhibition is opportunistically trying to capitalize on his recent financial success, but he still owes the collectors who paid for that earlier work more than this. He could have offered to participate in the exhibition on the condition that they published a preface to the catalog explaining how he felt this earlier work differed from his current work or something. But to essentially un-endorse it is a disservice to those collectors who supported him early on and that's incredibly arrogant.

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93 Comments:

Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I'd say this: Prince can "unendorse" the art all he wants, but it's still his. He may not allow reproductions, he may prefer no one see it, he may buy it back and destroy it, but in the end, it's still his artwork. Nothing he says or does will change that.

So I don't think it should matter to the people who bought the art originally. Who cares what the artist thinks anyway? Tchaikovsky thought the Nutcracker was his worst work. (I happen to agree.) Does that stop it from being played into the ground every Christmas? Not at all.

Personally, I have a stash of paintings here I don't officially recognize as my "art." I used to airbrush before I started oil painting, and I date my "real" paintings from my first oil. But I've got five or six more paintings in my house -- and probably almost 20 total, if you include ones I gave away -- which I don't consider "real." But they're still mine.

2/13/2007 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Incidentally, I have only just perused some of Richard Prince's work online. Anyone who is thinks his disowning his earlier work matters probably thinks his work itself matters, since apparently his oeuvre is all about taking other people's work and "recontextualizing" it. So it seems to me if you're going to buy into the idea that what someone says about a work of art is more important than the actual work of art itself, then you deserve what you get when someone says your once-valued work of art is now crap.

Maybe we could all try this with dollar bills. I am hereby recontextualizing one dollar bills: they're now all worth one penny. Come to my house and trade them in.

2/13/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

don't they do that with the currency in argentina and other south american countries occasionally?

2/13/2007 10:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlie Finch has a funny Prince story today, very appropriate to this discussion:

http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/finch/finch2-12-07.asp

2/13/2007 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous bnon said...

You know, Ed, as I was reading, I thought, maybe this is an appropriationist's prank, all about authorship, originality, etc.

2/13/2007 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I thought, maybe this is an appropriationist's prank, all about authorship, originality,

Yeah, Smith actually suggested something like that:

Upon receiving notice of the Neuberger show, one could be forgiven for thinking, given Mr. Prince’s proclivity for this sort of thing, that he might easily have made everything in it sometime last spring. But that is not what happened.

To my mind, this bespeaks of a surprising degree of insecurity. I can't imagine Picasso ever disowning anything he had made.

2/13/2007 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Priit said...

"Tchaikovsky thought the Nutcracker was his worst work." -- Really? 8) Nutcracker has at least some fine suit pieces. I believe Tchaikovsky was quite relaxed about what and how to compose.. (I'm not an expert on the subject, though)

BTW, here's a brief photo essay from my recent trip to NY. Unfortunately I did not have time for any gallery visit!

http://www.tlu.ee/~priitp/150/150.htm

2/13/2007 11:13:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Someone who bought the early work can't say they own an artwork by Richard Prince. The work they own is by the artist formerly known as Richard Prince.

2/13/2007 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
I can't imagine Picasso ever disowning anything he had made.

You've never heard the story about Picasso and the forgeries?

Okay, so it's easy to assume it's fictional. Some things are true even if they didn't happen.

2/13/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous gparts said...

Focusing on your other point,Ed, erasing one's exhibiton history. We all may edit our resume a bit but our history is important. I do agree with you, galleries or exhibition spaces that took a chance on exhibiting an artist at the beginning of their careers(never mind the selling part, but the gallerists belief in the work itself) should be recognized. Even if those galleries don't exist anymore contemporary history is important. Too often the community forgets or ignores the past (we all started somewhere). Yes, we all want to sell but it is also about the ideas/dialogue and those who first took a chance (which includes the financial risk) on an artist should be remembered for that.

2/13/2007 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Martha Buskirk's The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art discusses the subject of artists renouncing prior works (and also, gallery owners trying to rebuild works that were damaged). Donald Judd got into a number of fights about this type of thing.

Sorry I can't be more informative or topical. The book was too dry for me to retain much from it. The term "contingent object" refers to the idea that an object is a piece of art when, and if, someone says so. And can be not-art if someone stops saying so.

2/13/2007 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Davd sez:
The work they own is by the artist formerly known as Richard Prince.

I wish I'd made that joke.

Hey, maybe I can paint that joke on a canvas and then sell it. Then twenty years from now I can disown it.

2/13/2007 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for the link Henry...I'll pick that up.

The term "contingent object" refers to the idea that an object is a piece of art when, and if, someone says so. And can be not-art if someone stops saying so.

Conceptually I have no problem with that. What I find problematic is a chronology issue. Declare anything "not-art" you want to, just don't take money for it as "art" and then change your mind. Or at least then give the money (at current market value) back.

2/13/2007 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I want to continue that idea:

Or at least then give the money (at current market value) back with a convincing apology for having had the audacity/ignorance to present the work as art for sale in the first place.

2/13/2007 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I wish I'd made that joke.

Chris, I disown the joke, since I made it earlier this morning. It doesn't represent my current sense of humor (which, believe it or not, keeps getting worse). Feel free to make the joke again and call it your own.

2/13/2007 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
Conceptually I have no problem with that.

Really? Seriously? Art is any object any human being at any given time says it is? So if I say my earwax is art, it's art? How can anything ever become not art, then? Why worry about anything Prince says, since as long as the owners of the art claim it's art, it is art?

Or are we talking market concerns only? That is, when Prince disowns a work of art, it could potentially be devalued in the marketplace. So the owners could sue him, maybe, for destruction of property, because he has destroyed the idea of their art?

We are rapidly entering the kind of insane thinking you get when you start with a flawed premise, i.e. that any object is art as long as someone says it is.

2/13/2007 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Ed. If RP truly wants to disown earlier work, he should take a nod from a famous disowner, Francis Bacon: Buy back the work and destroy it himself.

2/13/2007 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't agree it's a flawed premise Chris. I subscribe to it.

It's not a marketplace concern for me as much as it is a social contract concern. A critic can come along and convincinly lamblast someone's earlier work as derivative or pale in comparison to an artist's more mature work and thus devalue the earlier work. But for the artist to renege on what I see as an assertion of authorship in a formal setting (and to accept someone else's money as confirmation of that assertion) is not what I see as a conceptual issue. I see it as an ethical issue.

2/13/2007 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

David sez:
Feel free to make the joke again and call it your own.

Instead, I'm going to take a photo of the joke on the screen and call it art.

2/13/2007 12:35:00 PM  
Anonymous bnon said...

Okay, to take the devil's advocate position. (N.B. this is not what I think. It's just the best pro-Prince argument I could think of.) Why shouldn't an artist disavow some of his early work if he's changed his mind about it? His duty to his art, not the collectors or dealers involved. Indeed, creating art is a selfish and self-absorbed business. Who does it really hurt? I imagine that disavowed Princes are still worth as much as they were before. They could even wind up being worth more for being rare! Prince simply has the clout to get away with this trick in the same way that auction houses have the clout to sell his work for exorbitant prices. But he's using his clout to try to remove work from the market and keep is output pure.

2/13/2007 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
But for the artist to renege on what I see as an assertion of authorship in a formal setting (and to accept someone else's money as confirmation of that assertion) is not what I see as a conceptual issue. I see it as an ethical issue.

But it's not an issue at all unless you start from the premise that art and not-art are whatever anyone says they are. You know Prince made the works. I know he made the works. There's documentation, provenance, witnesses, everything history needs to figure out who created the works. This isn't like asking "Did Rubens paint the Samson and Delilah hanging in the London National Gallery?"

So in what way does it matter that Prince disowns the works? Does it make us think he's an ungrateful jerk? Yes. (But I guessed that from what he passes off as art in the first place.) But where's the ethical concern unless you bring the marketplace into it?

It's like that story about the author who, when asked why he allows movies made from his books to ruin them, points to the books still on the shelf.

If you think that "art" is contained in an object and a viewer, then what Prince says is nothing. The objects are unchanged. The audience is unchanged.

If, however, you think that "art" is contained in an idea floating around in the ether somewhere -- if you define art as a concept -- then what Prince says is of utmost importance, because his utterances change the idea, alter the concept.

But using that second definition of art leads us into a nightmare of contradictions and confusion, as evidenced by this post. If we stuck with the first definition of art, we could simply shrug and get on with our lives.

2/13/2007 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous oriane said...

chris, here's another joke (or bumper sticker) for you, apropos of this discussion:

those who can do. those who can't duchamp.

2/13/2007 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Let's get an artist to name themself Nurse Marlboro and appropriate these works. Then we'll get someone to display them at ArtBasel as the Next Big Thing. Since Prince disowns them, and since this is conceptual anyway, the artist doesn't even need to have possession of the works to appropriate them. Chris, Edward - You guys up for it? :)

2/13/2007 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Oriane sez:
those who can do. those who can't duchamp.

Wow, these are better than violist jokes.

2/13/2007 01:02:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

those who can do. those who can't duchamp.

Oriane, that's pretty good!

EW, we had so much fun creating our new art movement last spring, do you think it's time for an art bumpersticker contest?

2/13/2007 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Funny, chris.

Re the question 'is it art if I say so?'.
It seems to me that it becomes "art" through a consensus of the culture over time. One might call it art but the question would remain, does any one else consider it art? Just a thought.

Re, RP. An artist's early work, is part of their oeuvre as long as it exists or there is documentation for it (as long as anyone even cares about them). I suspect that RP sold the early works because he needed the money. The collectors bought the works because, they liked them, believed in RP's potential, were speculating on RP's potential, or were just art junkies. Whatever the reason, they own early examples of his art works which may or may not provide some historical background on his development as an artist.

These collectors aided RP by in some small way by funding the development of his work. He may look back in embarrassment at the works today (or not, it might just be PR) but ethics aside, his position shows a considerable lack of gratitude towards these early collectors who helped him when he most likely needed it. I tend to agree with the notion that if he really wants to disown these works, he should buy them back and destroy them himself.

2/13/2007 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous oriane said...

chris, those viola jokes are hilarious. I have a drummer friend who has a million drummer jokes.

david, my other fave bumpersticker is
i'd rather be smashing imperialism.

2/13/2007 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I tend to agree with the notion that if he really wants to disown these works, he should buy them back and destroy them himself.

This could create an interesting secondary market. Imagine if other collectors started bidding against the artist for the chance to own and destroy his early works.

2/13/2007 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

George sez:
It seems to me that it becomes "art" through a consensus of the culture over time.

Exactly. And I would argue that consensus is reached because a good-sized number of people agree a work of art succeeds in some way. In what way a work of art succeeds varies: Sometimes it's just that it survived a really long time (the Venus of Willendorf), sometimes it's that a Pope was willing to pay for it, sometimes it's that the free market has rendered it inordinately valuable. Or maybe it makes a large number of people feel uplifted and overjoyed when they view it.

I'd say the current art world -- for most of the 20th century -- defines success as the creation of desireable objects.

2/13/2007 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

George & Chris -

It seems to me that it becomes "art" through a consensus of the culture over time.

OK, but we don't have the wide-angled lens of history to guide us in our discussions of contemporary art. The "current art world" is always at a disadvantage, since the future decisions of history are unknown to us.

But there are actually two issues with the Prince works. The first is to honor the patrons who helped his early career. If I were him I hope I'd have the mind to offer the current holders a piece of more recent art which would compensate them for their loss, and give them the chance to own an "official" piece.

But the other issue is of historical and curatorial concern. Maybe it's interesting to see how Prince's early works struggled with certain ideas until they came to fruition in later years. Maybe it's inspirational or fascinating to see this kind of evolution over time. By effectively denying the existence of these works altogether, it disallows everyone from even studying them.

2/13/2007 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

"….the other issue is of historical and curatorial concern."

One of the things I find interesting about Picasso, is that his work is all there, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s all available online so one can look at everything, seeing how threads of thought developed from a crude sketch to a successful painting or sculpture. I find this interesting because I am a painter, probably for much of the viewing audience, it’s too much, they just want to see the high profile works. Never the less, for those interested, the works are available online for study. (Dr. Enrique Mallen’s online Picasso project)

I didn’t mean to imply that the culture’s affect on the ‘art vs. not art’ question is monolithic, rather it is more like a sieve that gradually filters through the question over time. Initial aspects of the process may be disconnected in the sense that some group may consider something to be art while a larger part of the culture might not. Over time, the selection process gets refined by a number of means and the ‘art vs. not art’ list gets pared down. It is evident that works of art held in high esteem at some point in the past may also be viewed differently today. As Henry implies, time matters, it is difficult to deduce whether we are in a high or a low art period and this question will only be answered over time, framed by the art which came before and by the art still to follow. Of course everyone can and will have an opinion about the present condition of art, but until we see what comes next, they are just opinions, nothing wrong with that.

PS. Loved the MD bumper sticker

2/13/2007 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger mmm said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/13/2007 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

You have to ask, if you are going to make a definitive rule about what is and isn't art then who is going to enforce it. You think public or critical opinion can't be swayed by the marketplace? the point is whether something is or is not art is not about it's inherent value but a request by the artist that you look at it in a certain way. Saying something is art is not a claim of extra-specialness, just a proposition in an argument.

Saying something is art doesn't mean it succeeds or will continue to be viewed as important.

As for Prince, we obviously need to come up with a little icon for museum labels, a glyph, if you will, that says this this is an object formerly known as art.

He is dis-appropriating, how appropriate is that?

2/13/2007 03:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Edward_ said...

note that Richard Prince hasn't, to my knowledge, said that his earlier work isn't "art" just that it's not art he wants his name associated with.

To my mind, though, it's simple. "Art" by a living artist is what remains when said artist stops doing to something what they decided to do to it/them and presents it as such or abandons it to be discovered as such (because of context). In other words, art is what an artist says it is. All the consensus tells us is whether such work is good art or bad art.

The consensus as to whether it's art or not does count when dealing with work by dead artists, but that's another thread.

Head's up: bumper sticker contest tomorrow. Start your search engines.

2/13/2007 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Henry sez:
OK, but we don't have the wide-angled lens of history to guide us in our discussions of contemporary art.

That doesn't matter. We can still have a consensus, knowing that the consensus is constantly shifting.

By effectively denying the existence of these works altogether, it disallows everyone from even studying them.

How so? All Prince's denial does is keep the older works from being reproduced, and that only while he retains copyright. As soon as the copyright passes on to someone else -- probably through his death -- or copyright laws are changed or interpreted differently, even that much evaporates.

Then George sez:
I didn’t mean to imply that the culture’s affect on the ‘art vs. not art’ question is monolithic, rather it is more like a sieve that gradually filters through the question over time.

The only trouble with the metaphor of the sieve is it implies a) a purification and b) a removal process. In reality, new works are added back in as well -- witness the rediscovery of female artists like Mary Cassatt, who used to be almost a footnote but is now ranked right up there just below Monet.

2/13/2007 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed opines:
art is what an artist says it is

Now you're begging the question. Art is what an artist says it is, and an artist is someone who says what's art.

Or do you have some better definition of an artist?

Head's up: bumper sticker contest tomorrow. Start your search engines.

As far as I'm concerned, Oriane already won this.

2/13/2007 03:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Chris - If you take my two points together, you could say that history is that which allows us to study the works more carefully, after copyrights expire and artists' trusts disappear. Prince is losing any chance of getting an early taste of his historical legacy (granted by George's sieve) today.

George - If you haven't already seen it, you might be interested in a movie called The Mystery of Picasso. A clip is posted online here.

this is an object formerly known as art

Tim - Nice! I hope Edward will host the contest to design the glyph.

2/13/2007 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed,

I would go along with the 'good vs. bad' argument, I was just following the language of the thread.

I think splitting it into live vs. dead is a logical fallacy since we are discuss the artwork and not the artist and the artwork does not inherently change after the artists death.

On the, "it's art if I say it is" front, the maker can say that statement which reveals his/her intent but it is not necessarily a quality which is attached to the object in question. Art exists in a cultural context and the culture, makes the decision however tentatively. I’m using the word ‘culture’ here in a restricted rather than broad sense, meaning that a group within the culture is sufficient for saying something is art.

2/13/2007 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Henry sez:
If you take my two points together, you could say that history is that which allows us to study the works more carefully, after copyrights expire and artists' trusts disappear.

I agree.

Prince is losing any chance of getting an early taste of his historical legacy (granted by George's sieve) today.

Possibly because he's afraid everyone will figure out his work is crap.

Oh, and The Mystery of Picasso is a great, great film.

2/13/2007 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Oh, hey, Ed, I need a ruling: Am I an artist? Because I'm making some macaroni and cheese and I want to declare it as a piece of art.

2/13/2007 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

The point, Chris, is you can do that, but if it isn't part of a larger argument (in the mathematical sense of proof af a theory) then who cares? If it is, then maybe we can learn something from it besides that you are a good cook. (which I suspect is the case)

When Duchamp said the urinal was art he was trying to prove that context and presentation are almost as important as the object. This is not an entirely positive thing to say about the art world. Remember that he retired from making art for years shortly after. I have always thought MD was being critical of the extra-art influences on what survives, just like you are.

2/13/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Edward_ said...

As Tim says, Chris...you can declare it "art" but the rest of us will decide if it's good art or bad art (irrespective of whether it's good or bad cooking)...so have at it...just be ready for the critique.

2/13/2007 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

But Ed, according to your definition, art is something an artist says it is. So I can't declare my mac & cheese to be art unless I'm an artist. And I don't know if I'm an artist. That's why I needed a ruling from you.

Moot point now, though -- my son ate it.

Tim, I think you and I agree. I'm not sure about whether Duchamp would agree with us. But I tend to think that Duchamp's readymades were a formulation and a demolition of the exact idea stated here by our own Ed Winkleman, namely that art is anything an artist says it is. Duchamp's answer was, "So then art is this stupid urinal?" The problem is, the art world replied "Hell yes!"

What I think you and I and a bunch of other people are saying here is, art is what people agree to call "art" irrespective of whether the creator called it art. The creator's wishes are actually irrelevant, except insofar as we're more likely to see art when it's presented as art. Still, the important thing is that the artwork is accepted as being part of the dialogue of art.

Basically, I'm taking the argument one step back. Ed says, you tell us what object is art, and we'll tell you if it's good or not. But I think it's much more important -- to the culture, to us as individuals, to the art world -- to make the determination one step earlier, where we separate out art from not-art. In fact that determination is being made all the time -- this is why galleries have walls, to mark off what is art (inside) from what is not-art (outside) -- and that's where the real power lies. Because if your object isn't accepted as art, it has much less chance of surviving long enough for history to make its judgement on it.

That is, our historians and critics can re-evaluate Mary Cassatt's paintings and their position in the art world because her paintings were at least accepted as being art, even if they were considered inferior when they were new. If her paintings had not been considered art, they most likely wouldn't be around today for us to re-evaluate.

The Venus of Willendorf, however, may not have been considered art when it was made. It may have been a religious item, or maybe even just a doorstop. Luckily it survived somehow and today it's considered art.

So unless you're extremely lucky, the only real shot you have, as an artist, to be available for posterity is to be considered an artist while you're alive, or anyway near enough to your lifetime that your work isn't thrown out. So the real power comes in choosing art from not-art, not in choosing good art from bad art.

But the artist's wishes have nothing to do with the art/not-art determination. I can declare myself an artist and my mac & cheese art and show it to every gallerist in the world and it'll mean nothing if someone else doesn't agree with me.

There seems to be this idea that an artist can force their work upon people by sheer force of will -- like Ed wrote in an earlier post, by getting up every morning and saying to the mirror "I'm the greatest artist in the world!" I doubt very much that that alone is sufficient. If force of will was all it took, you'd all agree with me right now. And you'd be buying my mac & cheese for a few thousand dollars at least.

2/13/2007 05:36:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

That's why I needed a ruling from you.

No you don't. If you don't know whether you're an artist, then you're not. But you do know...so why this dance?

art is what people agree to call "art" irrespective of whether the creator called it art

grrrr... since my thoughts on this are clearly unconvincing I'll bring out the big guns. From Arthur Danto:

The sixties was a paroxysm of styles, in the course of whose contention, it seems to me--and this was the basis of my speaking of the "end of art" in the first place--it gradually became clear, first through the nouveaux realistes and pop, that there was no special way works of art had to look in contrast to what I have designated "mere real things." To use my favorite example, nothing need mark the difference, outwardly, between Andy Warhol's Brillo Box and the Brillo boxes in the supermarket. And conceptual art demonstrated that there need not even be a palpable visual object for something to be a work of visual art. That meant that you could no longer teach the meaning of art by example. It meant that as far as appearances were concerned, anything could be a work of art, and it meant that if you were going to find out what art was, you had to turn from sense experience to thought. You had, in brief, to turn to philosophy.

2/13/2007 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous oriane said...

I think that force of will IS what makes it "art" in the terms of the art world (which may be different from what the average joe defines as art). Rirkrit Tiravanija beat you to the mac & cheese with his vegetarian curry, but he made it in a gallery and had a press release and some important people writing about him. And before that there was Tom Marioni's piece "the highest form of art is drinking beer with your friends" (or something like that) which he reenacts occasionally. The conceptualists have been all over this for years. Then there's Daniel Spoerri...

I don't think the mac & cheese itself would be considered art; I think your best bet would be to make it a performance piece and if you wanted to, you could save some crusty bits as post-performance evidence, along with documentation of the event. The press release may be the most important part though; spend more time writing that than grating the cheese.

By the way, what does the bumper sticker contest winner win?

2/13/2007 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

chris,

"This is art if I say so" is an act of intentionality to declare something, presumably but not necessarily made by the person, as art. It does not require that the speaker be an ‘artist’, in essence by making the statement he/she would simultaneously also declare themselves an artist. Duchamp’s urinal is such an item, an art joke made as a statement of intentionality designed to transform the viewer’s perception of a common object. It was in fact "rejected", thus declared as ‘non-art’ when it was first submitted for exhibition. Non the less, it managed to survive, albeit only as a replica, as a statement that an artist can create a work of art through intentionality and manipulation of context. It is this conceptual framework which makes the piece mildly interesting.

Unfortunately, the idea derived from his act, the idea that anything can be art if the artist says so, is mostly a semantic marker. The problem then obviously exists that, if anything can be art, then art is everything. While theoretically possible, in practice, this is not true or at least the culture does not believe it to be true. The fall out from the fetishising Duchamp's of urinal, has resulted in the perception of a misgiven license to make a lot of ‘it’s art if I say so’ bad art.

I do not think the real issue is whether it is art or not. If the ‘artist’ declares (passive sense, meaning exhibits or presents as) something as art, then we should take it as art. The more important question is do we, as observers, feel it is good art, does it engage us at some perceptual level which persists once novelty has worn off? The question of what is good or bad art is subject to contentious debate. Works which do not spark this debate are either art or non art by unanimous agreement. Works which spark the debate must be considered as art.

Before there was "art" (I think this is roughly pre-renaissance in the west) there were ‘special objects’ which were preserved by culture and passed down over time, to the present. The act of preserving and conserving these artifacts in essence anointed them as "art" in the way we use the term today.

This creates a special and interesting situation in the present moment. Assuming art is what we attempt to preserve because it has special meaning to the culture (we give it value), what affect do recent high auction prices have upon the art of the present. Certainly over the short term at least, no one who paid $400,000 for a RP is going to decide it’s just awful and take it to the Staten Island landfill to be bulldozed.

This is why I mentioned the idea that ‘art’ might have high and low periods, that there is a cyclicality to the taste of the culture and therefore to what the culture considers ‘good or interesting art’. Certainly, RP will be seen as an artist who is representative of a moment in cultural history at the end of the 20th century, and in this respect he may be remembered. I would have to question his importance and suggest that he is only a minor artist if one takes a larger view of art history. There is ample precedence for this throughout art history, artists who were very successful in their lifetimes, but they are all but forgotten today and their works can be bought at auction for a mere pittance.

What many fail to see is that the current pricing mechanism is reflecting fashion, desire and artistic quality, as a lump sum. Fashion and desire change and therefore are subject to discounting by the pricing mechanism. In other words, once the rush wears off, the collector just has an artwork which will eventually be valued primarily only on its artistic merits. Once fashion changes decisively, the individual works by any given artist will most likely fall in value. Again there is ample historical precedence for this.

2/13/2007 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
since my thoughts on this are clearly unconvincing I'll bring out the big guns.

This is the logical fallacy of proof by authority. Not to mention just as unconvincing as Duchamp's verbiage about his readymades and your assertions.

The main problem with what you have quoted -- and maybe somewhere Danto gives more evidence for his ideas -- but from what you've quoted here, Danto is begging the question also, which is to say he's assuming that which he set out to prove in order to prove it. He says "it gradually became clear" that "nothing need mark the difference, outwardly, between Andy Warhol's Brillo Box and the Brillo boxes in the supermarket": He's using Warhol as both conclusion and premise.

2/13/2007 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

OK Chris, you're in good form tonight, so I'll give you the podium...prove your assertion (fallacy free)

2/13/2007 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

George sez:
no one who paid $400,000 for a RP is going to decide it’s just awful and take it to the Staten Island landfill to be bulldozed.

Especially since the Staten Island landfill has been closed.

George, you and I and Tim seem to agree. It's Ed's formulation: "'Art' by a living artist is what remains when said artist stops doing to something what they decided to do to it/them and presents it as such or abandons it to be discovered as such (because of context). In other words, art is what an artist says it is." That's what we're all arguing against.

2/13/2007 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Incidentally, this right here from Danto: "...if you were going to find out what art was, you had to turn from sense experience to thought. You had, in brief, to turn to philosophy." This is just about the stupidest thing I've ever read. "To find out what art is, you have to turn away from art and instead think about art." Yeah, that works.

2/13/2007 07:27:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm waiting....

2/13/2007 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I actually only just noticed your challenge sandwiched in between my comments. And my son stole the PC to play Halo. I've got more PCs than people in this house and still not enough to go around.

So do me a favor and clarify: Which of my assertions are you challenging me to prove?

2/13/2007 08:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

That "art" is defined by consensus and not the artist.

2/13/2007 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

"…you had to turn from sense experience to thought…"Danto schmanto.
(this is partly true but for none of the reasons Danto suggests)

In my opinion Danto has it mostly wrong, it is a short sighted philosophy based upon the intellectual fashion of its moment and I’m willing to bet it will be replaced by something else in the next 25 years.

that there was no special way works of art had to look in contrast to what I have designated "mere real things."

If he is in essence saying anything can ‘appear’ to be art, then it logically follows that one can declare anything as art. This is a tautology and doesn’t say anything of interest.

If we are saying, the artist intention is important, that by contextualizing some object and declaring it as art, then "anything can appear to be art is not true" in the general case because it requires contextualization and intention on the part of the artist. Therefore, the artist makes something art by his or her will, and what they ‘make’ (loosely defined) may be anything from the culture. Still we are no closer to being able to discern why one artwork might be perceived as ‘better’ than another since both the ‘appropriated’ and the ‘made’ objects are still just part of the general class of all objects in the culture.

The question of "what is art?" by this analogy, loses it’s true meaning in the realm of experience and just becomes a conceptual mind game. I am not willing to accept this direction of thought. I would suggest that what the culture considers "art" over its long history is caused by something else other than a fashionable intellectual construct. To suggest that ...you could no longer teach the meaning of art by example… does more than declare the end of history, it discounts all the examples, from the early cave paintings to the present, of how we experience art as something special in our lives. Rather than declaring the ‘end of history’, which is cute but not true, we should look deeper into the reasons we still consider certain historical artworks great by experience not just analysis. What is it about these objects that gives us a special experience? I would suggest it is not just a good pedigree, something else occurs between the observer and the object. I would suggest that this is in part our ability to be empathetic with the artist through their work, even though they be long dead. It is this ability to ‘reach out and touch someone’ that makes art great. It is part of what makes us human.

2/13/2007 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

George sez:
I would suggest it is not just a good pedigree, something else occurs between the observer and the object. I would suggest that this is in part our ability to be empathetic with the artist through their work... It is part of what makes us human.

I agree again.

Ed, I'm pretty sure I "proved" my point earlier -- although I'd say nothing can be proved here. This isn't math. But I'll lay my argument out again in a minute. Now I have to go help my daughter navigate the bathtub.

2/13/2007 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed stamps his foot:
humor me and summarize then...I'm trying to get to the essence of your idea here.

I'm getting to it, I'm getting to it. Keep your shirt on!

(Why do I get the feeling I'm walking under the big pot of boiling oil?)

I'm going to have to get back to you tomorrow. Stuff to do.

2/13/2007 09:52:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Chris, no boiliing oil, I promise.

I've not given your argument the attention it deserves (I've been multitasking all day), but I did retrace where I think where we assumed we were talking about the same thing but had actually stopped doing so. You wrote

Seriously? Art is any object any human being at any given time says it is? So if I say my earwax is art, it's art?

This is where we diverged and began discussing different topics.

I meant to assert (and thought that I did) that "art" is any object any artist says it is. The artist, as creator, decides when the materials he’s/she’s working with are in the state he’s/she’s ready to present them as “art.” This is true whether the medium is paint on canvas, installation art, ready-mades or whatever. The idea that only after the materials have been arranged in some fashion the rest of us would agree is art is it "art" requires the consensus to be up-to-speed with every working artist (and disallows that any artist is ahead of his/her time). To allow for that, we must take the artist at his/her word that they’ve completed the work and it's now their "art"…that it looks exactly how they want it to…and reserve our judgment for whether or not it’s good art. Otherwise, if you rely on consensus by folks who cannot possibly always be up-to-speed with the true (admittedly rare) geniuses creating art, you’re left with this very awkward time when the consensus would possibly have declared Warhol’s Brillo boxes or Donald Judd’s wooden boxes or Smithson’s tree, etc. etc. etc. "not art." Some had, actually, and they were wrong. More than that, through this rigid consensus method, you're very likely to unduly stymie true geniuses, who would be frustrated waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

I personally won't do that. I won't declare your earwax "not art" because I won't assume I'm smarter than you are. I'll reserve the realm of my judgement to whether or not it's good art, which is my right as well as anyone else's. That's where the consensus is important. It can't possibly be counted upon to determine what's "art" or not, though...it ain't smart enough to do that.

2/13/2007 10:00:00 PM  
Blogger carla said...

Thank-you, George. I read the Danto article (as my dinner burned), and your comment articulates what I was only able to experience in a frustrated, non-verbal manner.

2/13/2007 10:14:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Carla,

I understand your experience. When I start to read something which seems to contradict common experience, I begin to question the author.

I started looking around and the most interesting field in the sciences is not String Theory but what is happening in the brain world. The brain geeks are starting to produce real quantifiable information on how the brain works. It is beginning to touch on the way we experience things and the mind, consciousness.

The most advanced philosophy and art criticism will have to take this new information into account. This is beginning to happen from what I can see. What I’m reading between the lines is that the convoluted philosophies from the last generation are on their way out.

The edge.org is a website which was initiated by the artist James Lee Byers. Edge is like a Salon bringing in thinkers from the sciences, so there are a ton of interesting short articles to read, topics about how we perceive the world. Dennett and Pinker are two very interesting thinkers. I’m reading the website like a book, starting at Edge 1. Research in the fields of cognitive psychology and neurology is producing the most revolutionary discoveries since Einstein. It is something that cannot be ignored by philosophers.

2/13/2007 11:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Mr. Prince merely experiences his copyrights by refusing his works be shown in a catalog. There is no way that he could prevent the exhibit from happening and from curators to present his past work as his.

As far as cataloguing, let's be honest. If he was THAT good, people would simply bootleg copies of the works like they do with unreleased music from such and such artists. There's always somebody somewhere who recorded a document of a public presentation. If you don't want people to know your work, stay at home. Don't go annoy the poor emerging artists galleries.

The brillo boxes....I think we had a strong discussion on Simpleposie about that Danto sentance at some point.

My take with the brillo boxe is the same as the urinal. I don't laugh. I don't go for the conceptual joke, I'm interested in the aesthetic appeal.

If Duchamp chose an urinal and Warhol a brillo box, their senses were titillated at some point. I follow from the deduction that aesthetics guide us before ideas. That indeed, "art" is out there for us to grasp, and that intention (or appropriation if you will) is in the eye of the beholder. An artist, when making art intendedly, is merely "appropriating" his creation as art. This is going on in their mind and in ours. The object itself is nada. It's not art. Art is a philosophy, and indeed, a consensus, in the sense that if we didn't develop these categories as a society, the artist would never be able to develop an art intention in the first place. So art, when it is only perceived by the artist, or by a single viewer, doesn't hold a lot of ground (hence why we wonder centuries later if a prehistoric mark was art). Art is nourished by consensus and only from that consensus is it ever allowed to flourish.

Thing is the consensus now accepts everything as liable to be art, therefore it is easy to stipulate that what the artist sees as art, is art. The mistake is to attribute this quality to specific individuals. This ability of intention with art is now part of the common conscious. When Duchamp selected that urinal, he was merely reflecting a social consciousness that was taking place. The ego of Duchamps orders him to bring that urinal in a museum, but the "waking up to aesthetic realms" was simply part of a larger conscious phenomenon at the times, influenced by a rapid growth of technology and thus a need to seek out new archetypes.
.
If anything an artist decide is art, becomes art, than that simply means it is true for everyone, and so becomes the right to make appropriation art, and be an artist. Let us just be clear that these understandments are philosophical and don't beat any "absolute" grounds. Art is a mental construct, a social contract and an aesthetical fallacy. If tomorrow the common conscious see art as an abomination against the gods, than thus it will be and hurrah with bonfires.

Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

2/13/2007 11:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

General consensus would have most things that go under the banner of art not art.
I think what Danto is saying is that we are all able to look at art and think about what we are looking at, take the idea away and still think more in our some private quarters. However, for anything to be driven home as art some other dialog needs to come into play: a logic outside the logic the logic of looking at a piece of art and its overt/anterior logistics.
To properly digest art, thinking (blinking) at a rapid and flexible rate, utilizing the tools and trains which have stood the (test of) time, that encompass the concept of art, though is outside it, needs to enter cooperation. Danto has that philosophy is the old GUY who possesses a rigorous flexibility to stand outside the 'art issue', indeed outside it's own rigor.
The higher stomach down to the short intestine, long intestine instead of shitting it all out runs through the cerebral: And then the final stage we shit it out.

Quite simply because we have decided to break all the rules there are no rules, so to speak, that type out the label ART. Danto's idea is an impossibility because he has it that some foraying thought has the ability to pick typos in words misspelt. Ask Boswell!
All part of the act of doing not entirely sure of what has been done.

2/14/2007 06:15:00 AM  
Anonymous pp said...

I have spent days in the library of a n Art Academy, not to mention the countless hours on the internet - NEVER heard or seen about artist Richard Prince.

2/14/2007 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

hmmm...well, citing Danto was clearly a distraction. I'm gonna see if I can explain my position better with an example.

If "art" can be essentially nothing at all (nothing provably ever there) as in the case of the brilliant piece by Tom Friedman--his 1992 Untitled (Curse), which consists of a pedestal and a caption that alerts the viewer that a spherical curse has been placed eleven inches above it---then "art" can truly be anything at all. And if it can be anything at all, it falls to the artist to declare what art is.

Why Friedman's piece is brilliant art in my opinion is it does what only brilliant art can do, fire up the imagination in an exhilarating
experiential way. Very few painstakingly created sculptures or paintings have ever had the impact on me that that piece did. It had an emotional wallop the likes of which I think anyone is lucky to experience. So if a work that, as the New Museum noted it, "for all intents and purposes, does not exist in way that can be confirmed by the senses," can still serve to exhilarate, challenge, entrall, and uplift the viewer, then theoretically anything could. It's the artist's challenge to show us how it could.

George noted:

It seems to me that it becomes "art" through a consensus of the culture over time. One might call it art but the question would remain, does any one else consider it art?

I don't think that is a valid question though. What the consensus decides over time is whether it's art of any importance (i.e., whether it's good). By denying the artist the sole authority to assert it's "art" you pull the consensus (let's call it "the chorus" so I don't personify a collective opinion) into the role of director (if the chorus says no, that's not art or not art yet, the implied directive is to get back in your studio and do something else to it), making the process collaborative and compromising the individuality of the vision.

I can't accept that as valid. Again, I strongly believe the only valid question is whether it's good art...not whether it's "art."

2/14/2007 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
I meant to assert (and thought that I did) that "art" is any object any artist says it is.

You did assert this and quite clearly. We didn't diverge at the point you think we did; in fact I told you that you were begging the question by defining art this way. Because if art is what artists say it is, then what's an artist? An artist is someone who creates art. And we have a circular definition, which isn't very useful.

Tom Friedman's piece blew your mind because it was in a gallery, and it was in a gallery because Friedman was already an artist, which is to say he was already given the magic wand which artists wave over objects -- or even not-objects, apparently -- to turn them into art. So who decided that Friedman should be given the magic wand? Can I just decide I have a magic wand? If I set up something as brilliant as Friedman's Curse in my living room -- let's assume for the moment I can -- is that a great work of art? Even if no one sees it but my wife, who has to vaccuum around it?

Admittedly this is wandering off a bit. I'm still turning over my "proof" of consensus in my mind; I actually ended up almost agreeing with you, Ed, as my proof progressed, and I might yet change my mind.

But this is a bad time. Yesterday I had plenty of time to type right up until the kids came home from school. And now today they're home from school because of the weather, and I just repaired my PC from a registry crash, and my kids are arguing over who gets to play the laptop, and all of this together means I might not get time to write up my "proof."

I'm sorry, because I was really interested in this discussion.

2/14/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I hope your day settles into bliss, Chris.

Tom Friedman's piece blew your mind because it was in a gallery

Impossible to refute exactly, but I imagine had I stumbled upon the same pedestal and card in the middle of a desert with no name attached, I would have been even more impressed. In fact, I'm fairly sure the context of the gallery dulled the magic of it just a bit, and lessened the impact.

It's simply a wonderful experience, created by a brilliant mind.

If I set up something as brilliant as Friedman's Curse in my living room -- let's assume for the moment I can -- is that a great work of art? Even if no one sees it but my wife, who has to vaccuum around it?

But that query conflates the two issues. "[I]s that a great work of art" is a very different question from "is that a work of art." If you, as an artist, declare that that piece in your living room is your "art" then yes, it's art. Full stop. Why wouldn't it be art? What else would it be?

2/14/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous oriane said...

Ed, I think Chris has a point that context certainly influences, if not determines, what is considered art. If you came across Friedman's piece in the desert WITH A PEDESTAL AND A CARD, obviously, that's art. A pedestal and a card denote art (or performance or presentation of some kind). What if a homeless or weird-seeming/weird-looking person came up to you and said, "don't step into this space here, it's cursed," would you consider that art? You'd probably just consider the person mentally ill. (Would it make a difference if the crazy-looking person said, "I'm an artist and this is a cursed space, don't step into it"? Hard to say.) Chris is right that we already accept that Tom Friedman is an artist so it's a given that what he makes is art (I'm a big fan of his, by the way). Or if the same actual urinal that Duchamp first claimed to be art was taken and placed in a plumbing supply store and you came and bought it for your bathroom, is it still art? Context becomes everything in a case like that.

Another interesting Tom Friedman piece is the blank piece of paper that has a title something like "a piece of paper that has been stared at by me for 1000 hours". That implies that he has "done something" (stared at, perhaps with the intention of doing something to) the object until he decided it was done. Definitely a context-dependent piece.

I can appreciate your position that art is what an artist says it is, but what about charlatans/jokesters who are deliberately trying to put one over on us, make fun of believers? Who determines who is an artist? Is anyone who declares herself an artist an artist?

2/14/2007 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Oriane,

I get what you and Chris are saying about context influencing perception, but you actually confirmed for me what I believe here:

Would it make a difference if the crazy-looking person said, "I'm an artist and this is a cursed space, don't step into it"?

hmmm...tempting as it is, I won't dwell on the discernible visible difference between some artists and a "crazy-looking person", but you're leaving out the central part of my statement: the declaration. If this crazy-looking person said, "I'm an artist, and as my art, I've cursed this space," then YES, 100 times yes, I would view that as that person's "art." The pedestal and card are merely evidence of Friedman's declaration. Sure, they're loaded symbols, but only a card would have sufficed, or a recorded message, or whatever would have communicated the idea. Each choice alters who sees it how, but the essence of the piece stands for me.

Who determines who is an artist? Is anyone who declares herself an artist an artist?

Absolutely. There's no bar exam or organized competency test for artists. Self-declaration is the only reasonable measure. What most people mean when they argue that so-and-so is "not an artist" is really that so-and-so is "not a good artist." If they're creating work and presenting it as "art" then they are indeed an artist.

2/14/2007 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Ed,
I'm willing to concede on the "Is it art?" vs. "Is it good art?" point. The thread of the discussion became somewhat confused for me and I ended up mixing the two points where I had not intended.

I accept the premise that it is art if the artist declares it as art.
I would rephrase my crude consensus argument to address the question asking if it is good art.

2/14/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The thread of the discussion became somewhat confused for me

Glad to see I'm not the only one.

2/14/2007 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger carla said...

But all this only works by philosphical consensus: that art exists as a self-aware (primarily post-Renaissance) CONCEPT.

The experience of making something seems to challenge this. When one can actually FORGET the concept of "being an artist making art", then something else can sometimes happen...another topic.

But I do accept the premise that it is art if so declared, based on art being a collective concept. I believe we have a consensus on that ;-).

George, thanks for the link.

2/14/2007 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

CHRIS ! I absolutely agree with you.

I have myself, case in point, did a dumb conceptual piece (in 1995) where I just printed a cardboard with Title (and year and materials below) as a work of art. This was for me a school exercise. I never wholly believed in it. But I had never heard then about that Friedman piece. Merely a sentiment that it must have been done before by Fluxus but I couldn't spot the exact work.

Now because I'm just Cedric and not Friedman, or haven't had an history of making conceptual artworks, you can just keep on thinking I'm a complete dumbass. But I still can make the difference between a work I believe to be a conceptual exercise and art that I actually feel I've worked on. Friedman dares to believe his action is "great art" whereas to me it's a simple exercise in concept. I'm not attracted towards that and I would simply never pay 5 bucks to get a copy of that Friedman. I can simply re-enact the concept in my home if I think it to be so great, which is not the case (the fact that people buy that Friedman to me has more to do with signature than actual learning, which I think a good portion of concept art is about, a lesson, a learning, a demonstration of a "way to perceive" art, more than actual "physical", object-dependant art).

This said, I don't think that Friedman saying "this" or "that" is art, creates the art any more than my acceptance of these terms. I think the art happens out of a consensus, or I like the term "cooperation" (which someone used here) between artist and viewer as much as between artist and his work.

But the question remains about how the "idea of art" came into existence (the power of man to create, outside God) and if it is a conception possible in the mind of the man who lived on an island without ever meeting other men. Therefore to decide what part of an artist perceiving his creation as art is determined by consensus or by his own conscious remains in my opinion a precarious terrain.

>>>>>General consensus would have most things that go under the banner of art not art.

Hmm..not sure. I think "common people", if that is what you mean, are struggling between notions of high art and low art more than they do with conceiving the artistry in any human creation. But yes, consensus is rhetory. It's expected that people would abide to this once they access a good notion of art theory.

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

2/14/2007 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The experience of making something seems to challenge this.

and

But I still can make the difference between a work I believe to be a conceptual exercise and art that I actually feel I've worked on.

I suspect that this is the source of most of the resistence to this idea (art being whatever the artist says it is, taking its form in the consistent confusion about only "good" art being "art") from many working artists. The sanctity of making something, the creative process, getting one's hands dirty, the creationist myth, makes it difficult to accept that something merely found and presented or not worked as much can be the equivalent of something which displays evidence of craft or effort.

Ready-mades are their own special category, but after that, what we're really discussing is a matter of degrees and, to my mind, a wide-spread misunderstanding about what artmaking actually is.

When thinking this through again and again, I come back to monochromatic works. What one person calls merely a primed canvas, another calls "art"--complete and ready for its close-up. Who's right? The monochromatic piece might be infinitely more moving or exhilarating or eventually seen as more important than anything the first artist might end up doing to the merely "primed canvas."

Take a chunk of marble and chip away at it for 16 years making millions of microscopic markings and you can still end up with a total dud. Take that same marble, and simply arrange it just so, and you might do more to move the viewer than a thousand Michaelangelos.

There seem to be two parallel arguments running side by side through this: 1) work = art (meaning doing a lot of something to something else = art) and 2) doing something not everyone else can do (i.e., skill) = art (which falsely implies that conceptualizing is easy). I understand culturally where this comes from, but, again, as evidenced by the impact of Friedman's Curse, it ain't always so.

Shouldn't the measure of "good" art be its impact, not the input by the artist? A 60-foot mural with a million characters rendered in photorealistic perfection that took 40 years to finish may not hold a candle to Friedman's Curse in terms of how long it lingers in your imagination or how it changes your world view. Which is better art then?

If the Friedman, then what role does working on something really play here?

2/14/2007 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Okay, here it is.

I accept as perfectly consistent and reasonable, within its own system, the assertion that the only measure for whether someone is an artist or not is their own declaration as such; and also that therefore any work by such a person is a work of art. As a self-contained little system, this makes perfect sense.

The trouble is that art is not its own self-contained little system. Art isn't even one thing. Art is a complex system of interrelated parts and concepts moving around in the world of symbols. When discussing art, we're working within the same realm, manipulating symbols ourselves. At this point art intersects with the whole rest of our shared delusion, the world of imagination and ideas, what Alan Moore calls the Immateria. Once art is plugged into that larger system, the definition of artists as anyone who declares themselves to be such becomes essentially useless; the definition of art as anything an artist says it is becomes similarly useless. Because it's the same as simply saying that everyone is an artist. And that may be spiritually uplifting, it may be deeply meaningful, it may be very Zen, but it isn't practical. It causes the discussion of art to evaporate: If everyone's an artist, and anything is art, then there is no art. Art is simply the experience of being a conscious entity in the universe.

Which may be true, but does nothing whatsoever to help us when we go into a gallery and look at something. Clearly, intuitively, art is something different. Warhol took a Brillo box and said it was art; but he didn't say all Brillo boxes were art. Brillo boxes only become art after Warhol waves his magic wand over them. Even Danto wrote, "...nothing need mark the difference, outwardly, between Andy Warhol's Brillo Box and the Brillo boxes in the supermarket..." Note his phrasing: He assumes there is a difference between the two boxes; he uses the word "outwardly," implying that the difference isn't visual but that there still is some difference.

So if there's something different about art, not everything can be art. Meaning that not everyone can become an artist just by saying they're an artist. In order to be an artist, they have to be able to create this difference in something -- an object, a concept.

What is this difference, then? I say it's the difference that makes a difference, namely information. Art is information. And information is a signal which cannot be predicted. What an artist does is create a difference by creating information, by creating a signal which cannot be predicted -- by surprise.

Thus, when Andy Warhol declared his Brillo boxes to be art, he was changing the Brillo boxes by changing the information around the Brillo boxes. He made some boxes different by putting a card next to them -- informing people that these were no longer regular old Brillo boxes, but art. This is surprising. This is information. He could have done the same thing by telling people about the boxes, or writing a letter to the editor, or whatever. But there had to be some transmission of the information; without it, the Brillo boxes would have stayed regular old boxes, and not art.

If I put a little card next to some Brillo boxes today, however, it would not be art. Andy Warhol did it already. It's not a surprise any more.

In fact this is what kills the "anything can be art" argument: It's been done already. Duchamp did it. He didn't do it with every object in the universe, no, but he showed that it could be done, and like a mathematical proof, that's enough. Duchamp surprised us when he said anything could be art and long as he signed it. After him, it's no longer a surprise. Warhol's twist was to use branded objects instead of generic objects; that was Warhol's added information. Friedman's added twist was to make the object imaginary.

The only way to determine if a given signal is surprising is to run it through as many receivers as possible; what's surprising for one person may not be surprising for anyone else. This is where the consensus comes in. If I took the Brillo box idea to some group of people who'd never heard of Warhol or his work, they'd think my idea was art. If I copied panels out of comic books and made really big paintings out of them and brought them to people who didn't read comic books, they'd think my idea was art. And if someone complained that I had ripped off the comic artists, then I could claim that my work was art because I'd moved the comic panels to a new context, and that that was really my artistic contribution, not the physical paintings.

The key is, in order for the object or concept to be art, it must partake of some difference; and the only way to determine if it partakes of some difference it to compare it, weigh it, judge it; to have it compared, weighed, and judged by someone. Therefore the determination of good art versus bad art is inseparable from the determination of art versus not-art -- in other words, there is no bad art. There is only art and not-art. Bad art isn't art. It's something else, an object that's been modified, put together, taken apart, whatever, but not art. An artist is someone who creates art; someone who creates objects (or concepts) which are not art is not an artist. "Artist" is not a title you can confer on yourself; it's a title of honor, bestowed on you by other people, who have determined that you can take an object and with it make a difference which makes a difference. You may not even think you are an artist at all.

If enough people at one time consider the difference to be enough -- if they consider the signal to be surprising enough to qualify as information -- then that is art. Over time, opinions expressed accumulate. Some things are removed from the annals of art; some things are inserted. New information arrives and changes perceptions, thus changing our relations to the objects or ideas. Roy Lichtenstein turns out to have copied all his paintings; are we going to take his paintings down now? Well, I would, but I'm not in charge. Who knows what will happen in a hundred years?

2/14/2007 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for taking the time to do that Chris. It's a thoughtful essay and I appreciate the care and effort that went into it.

It ends up leading to a few unsupported conclusions though. Most glaring is:

"Artist" is not a title you can confer on yourself; it's a title of honor, bestowed on you by other people, who have determined that you can take an object and with it make a difference which makes a difference.

What then are the painters, sculptors, printmakers, etc who have not yet had that title bestowed upon them? Pre-artists? Perpetual students? What if there's a strong disagreement within the consensus makers about a particular person (oh, I don't know, say Kinkade), do we flip a coin?

And how many "other people" does it take? I if, as a gallerist, call someone an artist, is that good enough? Does it require a critic and a collector to agree? As an art dealer, doesn't anything I exhibit immediately become art or is my status as an art dealer (part of the consensus) also dependent upon the consensus? If so, isn't that then too (the actual consensus) a self-contained system rendering the point at which it's all plugged into the larger system questionable as well?

Also, your equating the status of "art" with "good art" is illogical (good is a comparative concept). If there's good art, there's bad art. Unless all art is of equal quality.

The key is, in order for the object or concept to be art, it must partake of some difference; and the only way to determine if it partakes of some difference it to compare it, weigh it, judge it; to have it compared, weighed, and judged by someone.

That's part of the "art is innovation" argument, but ignores the role of derivation in all artmaking. How deep do you go in splitting hairs to make that determination? Everyone owes a debt to someone, even those artist you cite who surprised you didn't do so every time they presented something...they repeated themselves, they repeated other artists, as well, do they then vacillate throughout their career? Bouncing between being an artist and not an artist?

The only valid role for the consensus is in determining whether we, collectively, as a society, care whether or not someone's art is available for us to view...not whether their efforts qualify as "art."

Surely an effort to communicate or express an idea within the context of what the creator understands to be "art" must be art. Again, what else would such efforts be? Failed art? That's the same as bad art.

2/14/2007 02:57:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed,

I have no problem with the readymade, nor art by declaration. In both cases, I’ll dodge the question of quality and be willing to accept the piece as art. The issue suggesting that ‘working on something’ or the ‘sanctity of making something’ makes it art, is just an extension of the initial intentional statement and doesn’t add anything, hence it is irrelevant to the definition of what makes something art.

You go on to say, When thinking this through again and again, I come back to monochromatic works. What one person calls merely a primed canvas, another calls "art"--complete and ready for its close-up. Who's right? The monochromatic piece might be infinitely more moving or exhilarating or eventually seen as more important than anything the first artist might end up doing to the merely "primed canvas."

Here you are talking about two things. First the case of "it’s art by declarative intent" or "It’s art because the artist worked on it", the two are mutually inclusive since both represent intentionality to make it art.

However, your argument for "who’s right?" suggests that now we are making an experiential decision, and this is different because it is dealing with a relative question of how ‘good’ (successful etc) the two artworks are by comparison. This is a valid stance but it does not change the "is it art definition

There seem to be two parallel arguments running side by side through this: 1) work = art (meaning doing a lot of something to something else = art) and 2) doing something not everyone else can do (i.e., skill) = art (which falsely implies that conceptualizing is easy). I understand culturally where this comes from, but, again, as evidenced by the impact of Friedman's Curse, it ain't always so.
I don’t disagree but I’d make the same point here distinguishing between ‘is it art?’ and ‘Is it good art?’

Finally you say, Shouldn't the measure of "good" art be its impact, not the input by the artist? with which I would agree, taking ‘impact’ to mean our experience of the work of art. I also agree that the work ethic has no direct relationship to quality, it may or may not matter. However, I would argue that there is some evidence that ‘working on something’, taken to mean evidence of the artists creative process and not just work ethic or craft, does manifest itself in the experience of the artwork.

You cite Friedman's conceptual works to make your point. I’ll accept this.
So what happens when we experience one of his conceptual pieces? We view the clue, the label which expresses both his intent to make it an artwork and the ‘invisible’ content of the artwork. We perform some mental gymnastics to adopt his conceptual intention, in essence we try to visualize what he was visualizing. The cognitive psychologists describe this process as empathy, where we attempt to adopt the position of the sender (the artist in this case). What may make Friedman’s work interesting is that he has isolated this particular form of experience and presented it as art, as ‘minimalist’ experience.

If we consider a different artwork, say a painting, this same experience of empathy can also occur in the viewer. My position would be that is a requirement of an artwork, that something is transmitted from the artist to the observer via the artwork. In the case of a painting, or sculpture or whatever, we usually find ourselves dealing with a more complex object. In the particular case where the artwork is handmade as opposed to a readymade appropriation, the artwork will contain the evidence of both the artists intentionality and visible evidence of the sum of the myriad decisions which have occurred in its creation. In essence, these decisions are no different than Friedman asking us to ‘visualize’ something.

So I do not see any difference that would set one approach over the other in terms of defining the process as art. The question of how good it is as art is different and should be addressed separately.

2/14/2007 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger carla said...

I don't determine artistic value or classification based on some 'effort' quota, quite the opposite. And I accept art self-declarations of any sort. My point is simply it's all based on a collective agreement of what art is, so I'm in the 'it's circular' cul de sac.

I do have resistance to most conceptual art because of its limitation. It can only do as much as what one person, even one talented person, can conjure. The Friedman is a great idea for art...and from my perspective that's a slam. I think I'm at a point of mutual irrelevance with current art, though.

2/14/2007 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger carla said...

Er, um, what George said above. Especially about the the myriad of decisions which happen when a process of some sort is used. The making is not about the craft, but rather what can happen that is more complex than anyone could have conjured sans process.

2/14/2007 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Ed sez:
Thanks for taking the time to do that Chris. It's a thoughtful essay and I appreciate the care and effort that went into it.

Not to pat myself on my own horn or anything, but I spent over 12 hours thinking about and working out that response. I wrote at least four paragraphs which didn't make it into the final message and touched on several other topics I eventually decided not to get into.

In short, I labored over that more than any piece of writing I've put out -- comment, post, or message -- in a long time.

Basically, I'm not sure my position has merit. I think it does, something inside me says it does, but I'm losing the ability to argue for it. I'm also losing the desire: The argument of art versus not-art is so Aristotelian. I'm not sure it's even worth the effort. But it's so tied in with this idea of who is and isn't an artist, of what's good and bad.

Really, I think I want to come at this from an entirely different angle, one mentioned by George -- I've been thinking this way for a while now, it's just coincidence -- and starting with neuroscience. Sort of.

I don't think your arguments -- "do we flip a coin?" -- invalidate what I said, because at no point did I claim that any of this was objective. Of course there's no one source of Who is an Artist. An artist is someone you consider an artist. The consensus is not some giant single entity. There's not even one consensus. There's a couple of really big ones, maybe, and then a lot of smaller ones all around. It's multivariate.

Further, you say: "Also, your equating the status of "art" with "good art" is illogical (good is a comparative concept). If there's good art, there's bad art. Unless all art is of equal quality." Not at all: What I'm saying is art is itself a comparative concept. And always changing.

You also state: "That's part of the "art is innovation" argument, but ignores the role of derivation in all artmaking." Again, not at all. Of course everything is based on something else. That's inherent in being symbol-based. That doesn't mean originality has no place.

Go on, try and tell me how your epiphany in front of Tom Friedman's Curse wasn't based on surprise.

Then you say: "do they then vacillate throughout their career? Bouncing between being an artist and not an artist?" Sure. Why not? Some days it works, some days it doesn't.

This is all tying in to a big knot in my head right now. I've got a bunch of things bouncing around.

I wonder if maybe I'm not tipping over into a manic phase. I should talk to my psychiatrist.

2/14/2007 03:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Chris:
>>>>If I put a little card next to >>>>some Brillo boxes today, >>>>>however, it would not be art. >>>>>>Andy Warhol did it already. >>>>>It's not a surprise any more.



Haha... I must be from a different planet.

To me, the act of Warhol does two thing:

1) It's a sensible pointer. It demonstrates that they are objects in the everyday world that are highly demanding, aesthetically. They clash in your perception so much their colours and forms are vivid and present.

2) Retrieving aesthetic from function, he attempts to replicate
something to allow full value of its aesthetics, but also to pinpoint the question: is the art object now more beautiful than what it represents? There is a definite will to play on the ambiguity between reality and representation.

Warhol actually has some socio-political agenda adding to the project (apparently he is able to connect Brillo to Homosexuality), but I find them anecdotic, and I doubt he ever meant to simply criticize the pop world (more likely he embraced it).


But I think the major lesson here is: YES that brillo box from the everyday world look sharp! Art is what you can get away with, but pay attention to the extatic aesthetic activity going on in the everyday world. I think even Friedman did exponential versions of cleansing products. Artists are pointers, but with a little exercise anyone can learn to "point" and develop their aesthetic sensibility. And I think this is more important than to prevent humanity from doing that for the sake of preserving the rights for artists to be distinct.

If all is art and everyone is artist, than the quest for good art or what I prefer to call, pertinent aesthetic, remains.


As far as the art existing from intention. Maybe I talk to walls but I've repeated many times here that they are historical evidences that turn this opinion on its head. When they discovered and called art the "Inuit chants" which they (the inuits) refused
to term art (until much later, when they were convinced by the west). There is an important ethnomusicology book about this issue, but I can't remember which (that was years ago for me).

But yes a viewer can convince an artist that his product is art.
I still hang on my walls a paint detritus provoked by my sister once she was painting, as a reminder of that. Art has the right to children, I mean. Everyone can decide.


Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

2/15/2007 05:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

I think where I feel different from most people is this:


Most people see the Warhol Brillo box as art and refuse the original Brillo box to be art.

Whereas I REVERE Warhol for having pointed to me that Brillo box look cool, and I would stack them in a corner of my apartment for good looks, or heck, maybe even try to paint one myself if I think it's a pertinent exercise.

You know, I can make my own copy of a Dan Flavin. I don't call it a Flavin. It's the same as if I bought a paint-by-number imitation of a Van Gogh, except a juxtapose neons the same way as a Flavin that I like. There you go.

Why waste a stupid 3 millions for a Flavin when I could invest that in my own projects?

I've done some art that is easily reproduceable, and I would welcome anyone to reproduce them. That's where I feel antagonist from most artist: when I do art, I actually mean to do art. I don't do art just to promote my signature.


Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan

2/15/2007 05:22:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Cedric sez:
YES that brillo box from the everyday world look sharp! Art is what you can get away with, but pay attention to the extatic aesthetic activity going on in the everyday world.

I'd probably be more in tune with your idea here if the Brillo box wasn't a designed object with a human being (or beings) behind it. Pointing to a Brillo box and taking credit for noticing how cool it is is akin to theft: Some artist (even if "merely" a commercial artist) conceived and executed the graphic on that box. I'd have more respect if Warhol had found the guy who designed the box and gave him his own gallery show.

2/15/2007 08:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Chris, BINGO, you are absolutely RIGHT.

But Warhol is not using the brillo box.. He is "representing it".

It is Duchamp that used the urinal.

Now where is the original designer of the urinal?

From what I undertstand, the signature R. Mutt was meant as an honor to the original manufacturor. I'm not sure if this is true.

It's complicated in the case of Duchamp(s) (I actually was going to write Duchamps again) as, everybody and the artist seems to think the urinal is a debased aesthetic. While I think what Duchamp(s) really meant (without even realizing) is that urinal was a fantastic object. I mean we're not too far from Brancusi there. I think it's fantastic, personally.

But yes the future of readymades will or should involve a conscious acknowledgment of the original makers. That doesn't make your artistic point any less interesting. Most designers, say, designers of toothpaste tubes, don't realize the edges they've come towards within fabricated aesthetic. That's why you need artists to point that out.

To point out that toothpaste tubes
hold wild artistic merit. 3 color paste is like holding a Frank Stella in your hand that's moving with time. Why not use toothpaste as a medium for art?

Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

2/15/2007 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Also Duchamp(s) transformed the object, even if through slight tilting of its original position.

It's not the urinal, exactly.

Cedric

2/15/2007 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

chris,

While I can accept your personal reaction to Warhol’s Brillo box, the argument in general doesn’t hold water.

If a painter goes out and finds a cool vase at Ikea, along with a little table, plunks the vase on the table and makes a painting of it, are we supposed to give the vase designer a gallery show? The idea of art as representation, creates a substitute object which may recall the original for the observer. (there’s a fancy philosophical word for this but I cant spell it).

In the case of the Brillo boxes, technically and visually they are not the same as the package carton. They are made of plywood, have sharper edges, and have an image "Brillo", printed on them. The plywood, sans decoration, is painted a cardboardy color. If one looks at the process of making one of these objects, it follows a path quite similar to a painting. For all intents and purposes they can be seen to exist somewhat like a sculptural still life.

When one paints a representational object the result is a painting with an image, this image is not the object it depicts, Magritte's "This is not a pipe". In the same way, Warhol’s Brillo boxes are not cardboard Brillo boxes, they are symbolic representations in three dimensions. They are categorically the same as a sculpture by (your fave here). How accurately the artist realizes the fave sculpture and how accurate Warhol realizes the Brillo boxes, their technical merits, etc may be comparatively debated. This falls into the area of making aesthetic judgements, the goodness question, not the area of determining whether or not either object is art.

The way the question "Is it art or not" is being discussed here is confused. I think Ed’s position, "It is art if the artist says so.", is good enough for a working definition. The more salient issues would arise in discussing how we judge these artworks aesthetically. It is in this area that your opinion of Warhol’s Brillo boxes actually resides. From what I’ve read, you don’t think they are very good art. This is an acceptable position but obviously subject to debate.

2/15/2007 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Regarding Duchamp’s urinal. I think it is incorrect to make quality judgements about the urinal as an object. First off, whet exits today are not the originals but copies, so any argument over Duchamp's aesthetic appreciation of the object is null. Second, it is apparent form the literature, that Duchamp initially picked the readymades more or less arbitrarily. The selection process and ant post purchase processing, would obviously include his subconscious responses.

Trying to view the urinal as an aesthetic object, is an error on the part of the observer. The fact that the observers are want to do this speaks to Duchamp's conceptual ideas which are a transformative way of experiencing art objects. In essence there is not much difference between Duchamp's urinal with ‘rmutt’ written on it, and Friedman's plinth and label asking use to visualize something. Both require a conceptualization to complete the work, in Duchamp's case, the urinal is a bigger, badder object and is potentially more distracting.

2/15/2007 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

George:
>>Duchamp initially picked the >>>readymades more or less >>>arbitrarily.


Kantian cognition would refute anything absolutely arbitrary in this context.


>>>Trying to view the urinal as an >>>>aesthetic object, is an error >>>on the part of the observer.

Oh so I don't know how to look at a Duchamp(s)?? Maybe I should go back and laugh at how clever a simple pisser was renamed as a fountain? ha-ha-ha.


I don't know for sure how it's possible in the first place to not see any object as an aesthetic object?

I'm not telling anyone that Duchamp(s) perceive his own work this or that way. I presume that it wasn't out of sheer uglyness, but if it was uglyness, than when something is THAT ugly as to attract you, it means it's not ugly anymore. It's fascinating.

But I tell it the way I perceive it: if the urinal is mundane, than the mundane can be fascinating. That's the way I interprete Duchamp(s). If it truly bored me I would not even be talking about it.


Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

2/15/2007 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

cedric,

First off, I should state that I’m not particularly interested in Duchamp’s artworks but he did raise some interesting (or not) issues.

I thought about my use of the word ‘arbitrary’ after I had made the post and had a cup of coffee. I would agree with you that ‘absolutely arbitrary’ is probably not the case. My qualifiers ‘more or less’ and ‘subconscious’ allude to this, as I can see how he might have made the choice for some set of reasons we do not know. From the standpoint of the artwork itself, the choice of the urinal is ‘essentially arbitrary’ in the sense that Duchamp could have picked a different object to make his point. Obviously this would have potentially changed the way the piece is experienced which goes to your point that it wasn’t arbitrary.

Regarding the observer of the Duchamp urinal. My point wasn’t directed at you specifically, I was alluding to a general problem that exists, where the viewer attempts to ascribe to this object some artistic qualities primarily for the reason that it is presented as art in an art context. I don’t think the ‘beauty or ugliness’ of the urinal was Duchamp’s point, it’s just an ordinary object from the culture and Duchamp was using it to make a joke, a philosophical statement or both. I would suggest that if he was in fact commenting on the aesthetics of the urinal, say as a sculptural object that was either beautiful or ugly, as the case may be, that the replicas should be the same as his original and they are not.

Regarding seeing any object as an aesthetic object. Suppose one has 12 great coffee beans and mixes them with 1000 crummy coffee beans, grinds them up and makes coffee. The 12 good beans get lost in the grind and you don’t get great coffee.

While I would agree that we can view just about anything aesthetically, what makes art important is that it assumes a place within the culture that deems it special as art.. To do this the object does not have to be necessarily considered art a priori art, this is a fairly contemporary classification. A case in point could be African masks or some other cultural item which exists as special object without the intention of being ‘art’. It might be seen as art from the viewpoint of a contemporary industrialized culture such as ours, but just as a ritual object in its original cultural context.

The points of this discussion have become somewhat blurred, starting from the original point that something is art if the artist says it is art. From my remarks above, I can see how one can view any object from an aesthetic point of view. The question is, does that make them ‘art’? If we say yes to my question, we introduce a plethora of objects which subject to some criteria we may decide they are ‘art’.

I would question this line of reasoning and suggest that in order to narrow down this distinction, the culture has applied the term ‘art’, ascribing to it a slightly different meaning than was used in the past, as a specific classifier for a special cultural endeavor, the art object. In other words, the culture has tacitly agreed to call a special class of objects ‘art’ by definition. An object becomes a member of this class by the intention or declaration. "Intention’ includes Ed’s point and I’m using the word ‘declaration’ to allow for the other things, such as African masks, etc, which we now consider art.

I’ll admit that this may be a bit muddy, but what I want to do is differentiate between the process we use to call something ‘art’ and the process we use to judge these objects, Just because something can be called art does not say anything about its quality as an art object, this is the realm of aesthetics and art criticism. The important question remains, not "is it art?" but "is it great art?" and how do we make these judgements.

2/15/2007 01:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Dear George,

>>>I don’t think the ‘beauty or >>>ugliness’ of the urinal was >>>Duchamp’s point


True, but I assess the notion that any object, especially in art, brings first and foremost an aesthetic experience. I guess I'm sort of saying to Duchamp(s) what I think his work shouuld have been about.


>>>what makes art important is >>>>that it assumes a place within >>>>the culture that deems it >>>>>special as art..



Actually, to me, to decide which grain of coffee looks better than which other grain, is parallel to Ed's notion (which I agree with) that the purpose of art is to decide which is better art from which is bad. I mean if you look at a hundred studies of a single arm for a painting, they may as well be Michelangelos', they will look as boring as the 12 grains of coffee.

So to me deciding which art is bad from which mundane object is aesthetically intriguing amount to the same exercise. We could argue that art involves meaning but so does.....errr....oopsy...I just realized a grain of coffee is not a human made product !!!!! haha...That change things a little.
I was going to say that mundane objects hold hidden meanings (history, cultural, technology, etc..). To poetize these inherent meanings is the simple next step of the artist.

I like the point that you bring about ritual masks. It's so hard to nail down this issue that art intention is as much in viewer's mind than artist. Maybe I should say.."curator's mind", in the sense that everybody is a potential curator able to bring up something under an interesting light, without intending to appropriate the object as "his" or "her" art which is often more an act of pretention than anything eloquent.


>>>>does that make them (any object) ‘art’?


From a curatorial point of view, yes. You can give the right to a grain of coffee to be art for 15 seconds. Than it's forgotten but you still gave it the right to be art 15 seconds. Art is like 3D cinema glasses. It's a "way of seeing and thinking" that you envelop objects with.

Artists propositions are the easy way out fo lazy minds. Truth is anyone as the power to turn reality into art, it's all about how you perceive it, and your capacity to induce poetry to everyday life, or the degree of your imagination.


From your final paragraph I realize that we are merely saying the same thing, or nearly.

Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan

2/15/2007 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

cedric,

You’re taking my coffee metaphor the wrong way. What I meant to convey was the idea of dilution, we reduce something down by eliminating the distinctions between the component parts.

By saying "all things are art" we do just that, dilute the meaning we intend to convey by using the word ‘art’, in essence we devalue the term making it meaningless.

If we say ‘anything can be art’ we can avoid the implicit process of dilution described above, by suggesting that some things may not be considered art, while some others can be. This is in effect leads us to Ed’s point that it is art if the artist says so.

This point is important because while it allows any object to be an artwork, it does not suggest a priori, that all objects are artworks. All objects, including Duchamp's urinal, may be latent art objects and only become an art object through cultural intervention. In the common case this activity is initiated by the artist, but it could also be initiated by a curator as in the case of the African masks. Regardless, this shift in attribution requires intervention, otherwise everything gets ground up into dust and distinctions no longer exists.

In the second case, we are still left with the problem of making a critical evaluation of the artworks in the class of art objects. Why should we want to do this? I would suggest that since artworks are a special class of objects, the culture has attached various values to them. We might say they are ‘beautiful’, creative, symbolic, philosophical, ascribe meaning, etc., whatever quality you desire, and when one experiences these artworks it becomes apparent, that some are ‘better’ than others.

We may disagree on how we judge one as better than another, my point is that we make distinctions between them and this area of thought and experience is one of the topics dealt with in aesthetics, art theory, art criticism, taste or just opinion. Regardless of the methodology, what I am suggesting is that is, in a practical sense, we as both individuals and as a culture make distinctions, we do not value the entire collection of artworks as equal.

2/15/2007 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric said...

I wouldn't mind dilution but it is impossible because cognition can never encompass everything and it is necessarely discriminant. Preferring an art piece over another comes from a similar process of choosing or not to put your feet on a slab of fire.

Art is not perfect because it is not encompassing. It's not "godly". Godly is interested by the worst of coffee grains.
I try not abide to this glorification of the exercise of art that you seemed to have described (in earlier posts).

To me art is meaningless and a creation of the mind. While I agree that all things can't be art because they can never be more than one piece at a time in the reflective mind of any viewer, I give potential to everyone to be curator and all things to be art. Or I'm not sure to understand where you think we don't agree on this point? Nothing can be art by itself. "All things are art" but potentially. It's to the (creative) viewer to decide.


To come back to the very origin of this post (and the idea of artist intention = art), I laughed at the idea that in 200 years, people could be so overwhelmed by "contemporary art" pieces that they will tantamount to scrap and be put on fire. And this, not having anything to do with de-evolution or debase of popular opinion. Probably just a little less material-centered. I mean, by the amount of people they will be by then, just the idea of throwing a sculpture in the middle of the place could sound like the most environment-illogic, agressive, pollutive gesture one could ever make.

Maybe then a lot of artists like R Prince will be disowned of having done anything truly valuable for human kind. That would be the irony. The artist intention is nothing if I don't abide to it.


Cheers,

Cedric Caspesyan
centiment@hotmail.com

2/15/2007 11:17:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

cedric,

If you haven't read Ellen Dissanayake, you might find her interesting, taking a look.

Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes from and Why

2/16/2007 07:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

based on the 'an artist creates, declares it as art, then the consensus decides if it is good or bad art' has pretty much convinced me of 'art is what i say it is.' but im not fully at rest just yet.. there just seems that there should be more than that. its hard enuff to compete with technical skill, but if you also add in there literally everything else (even 'works' which include no 'work') its almost as if the term 'art' and especially 'artist' is obsolete. if the viewer or curator decides (even merely 'decides as well') what is art, then that negates the artists intention, and then there MuST be more to it. the artists intention is probably number one. but it is not solely in their 'intent' to call it art. otherwise there would be nothing to aim for in art. especially if some any joe can say 'wait thats not art.' it would be practically impossible to decide what all art 'is' so perhaps art should be defined by what it is 'not?' which is possibly more or less what duchamp was trying to point to with his fountain. there is art in everything, but that does not make everything art.

i honestly see art as having no 'practical function' or purpose whatsoever. it is merely an articulation in which viewers attempt to find meaning, and attach their own 'purpose' to. as was said before, art were objects held onto and preserved for some reason. back in the day people had 'some reason' in things they could view as spiritual, cultural, etc. that was how they defined themselves. now the term of art has evolved so as to include almost anything. the only function i can see art having is to show people what they wouldnt see, or cause them to think about something they normally wouldnt or in a direction they probably wouldnt have persisted. like a statement. any statement can provoke an argument, or help one 'realize' an idea. art is doing such in an 'abstract' or poetic way (in any case a way rather than blatant.) i certainly feel that art is something special, is 'part of what makes us human.'

2/18/2007 05:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see art [closer to the idea of bringing some notion closer into field in range of the tangible] in an 'abstract' or poetic way...
I tend to agree anon. 05:19:00am,
06:50:03 PM

2/18/2007 06:50:00 PM  

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