Monday, September 29, 2008

To Restore Silence : : Open Thread

Samuel Beckett once noted that "To restore silence is the role of objects." I recalled this observation when reading the final public statement by Mark Rothko, made in 1969, and posted recently on Jonathan Jones' blog at The Guardian. Rothko offered these remarks while accepting an honorary doctorate from Yale:

I want to thank the university and the awards committee for the honour you have chosen to confer on me. You must believe me that the acceptance of such honours is as difficult as the problem of where to bestow them.

When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing; no galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet it was a golden time, for then we had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, and consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I will not venture to discuss. But I do know that many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow. We must all hope that they find them.

We've gone rounds and rounds here over whether having nothing to lose makes for better art. As we look to Congress and Wall Street this week and wonder in earnest whether we're about to have a golden opportunity to put that theory to test, I wanted to juxtapose those two thoughts and see if they might not illuminate the more subtle corners of the debate though.

"I do know that many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow." vs. "To restore silence is the role of objects."

Beckett's observation was offered in a novel by one of his typically monkish characters, in a modest room, with only a few furnishings, while contemplating some relatively minor knickknack (if I recall correctly), not your stereotypical contemporary consumer facing a garage full of barely used or perhaps entirely unopened infomercial impulse buys. Yet, still, if objects restore silence, what brand of silence comes from unbridled materialism? (Perhaps a silence akin to that in outer space, where no one can hear you scream.) And if more objects equal more silence, then shouldn't the consumerism rising during Rothko's day have afforded him bigger pockets in which to root and grow? Surely he could afford a larger studio as his paintings began to sell, perhaps far from the city, and a relaxing, contemplative vacation or two, no?

Obviously there may not be an accumulative effect where silence is concerned. The contemplation of an object that Beckett refers to does seem to imply a solitary, one-on-one encounter, representing a distraction from the rest of the world, permitting the mind to focus momentarily. With bigger studios comes perhaps bigger headaches and competing distractions.

My true concern about the supposed silence and resulting growth that a downturn might afford those driven to the artist's life is how much life in general has sped up over the past few decades. The worst economic crisis imaginable isn't likely to result in the collective rejection of cell phones, the Internet, or other accelerating technologies. Indeed, even as the price of travel may keep us at home, that will most likely only result in more time spent logging on and checking out, I would imagine. Of course there could come a time when even home electricity must be rationed (I was spoon fed on apocalyptic scenarios growing up), but we'll all have hand-held, wireless access to the Internet by then.

I do imagine a decrease in consumerism would bring about a decrease in overall verbiage if only because the cessation of nonstop infomercials alone would likely bring about a noticeable reduction in noise, but can our culture truly become more contemplative? I personally can't imagine it. A decrease in distractions might only result in an increase in the volume of our collective screaming.

I'm not really going anywhere with this post...just batting some ideas out of the belfry of my brain and into the blogsophere.

Consider this an open thread.

Labels: art appreciation, open threa


Blogger Donna Dodson said...

"I do know that many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow."
I guess it depends on one's personality and where they are in their career- i.e. I do think solitude is essential for deep introspection and finding one's own voice/vision that leads to a very personal statement and mature body of work- but I do also think at some point, an artist hits a place where sales are important to make the work grow, and lend it validation in the market. I think one thing contemporary artists have as an advantage is artists who are examples or mastering the market i.e. Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst whereas in Rothko's day, the zeitgeist was to suffer in poverty as an artist until you died and your work became worth millions in the market. And that advantage in the market, as you observe, is due to technology galloping ahead, full force, leveling the playing field. But as to the 2nd comment, "To restore silence is the role of objects." I would argue that objects promote dialogue as a result of the art experience.

9/29/2008 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

can our culture truly become more contemplative?

Yes, of course it can. And it's going to have to.

Look, we have all the tools we need. We have our methods of instantaneous communication which allow us to connect with like-minded people, no matter how physically far apart we might be. Most of us have somewhere to live. It's not likely that we'll actually be starving, although we might have to get used to cooking from scratch and eating less meat.

But as I have pointed out on my blog, this economic crisis was brought about by uncontrolled gambling. Too many people took imaginary money and bet it on occurrences that had no connection with either productivity or reality. No bailout will help with that. We've been living in a fantasy, and now reality is hitting us in the face.

There's only so much time you can spend screaming before you have to shut up and do something. Something like dig a garden, cook a meal, patch a hole in the roof. Working with the physical world can be grounding, it can be meditative, and it can take us out of a state of panic and into a place of peace.

That, I think, is what Beckett means by 'the silence of objects.' (Although some objects are very loud indeed.) An object is not a thought, it is not a manifesto, it is not an ideology or a stunt or a proposition. It is just there, beyond the ego-mind, beyond words. Art objects which bring us into silence allow us to expand our minds beyond the circular screaming of the ego; a very few of them may extend the peace which passes all understanding.

That is something worth working for, regardless of the economic climate.

9/29/2008 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

can our culture truly become more contemplative?

No. culture's contemplation is confusion.

9/29/2008 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger minimum said...

I have always been a slow burn kinda guy and being an artist outside of a major city means you have plenty of time to develop without to much worry of being noticed. Admittedly, I would love the attention that has come with the recent boom, but I wonder if a slow down won't level the playing field for folks who don't have as many networking opportunities. I realize that networking will always be part of the game, but it would be great if the work caught up a little with who you know.

9/29/2008 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Objects are mute to our contemplations.

So what do other artists think matters?

Why should we even ask the questions?

The old ways are going to sleep alongside capitalism's failure.

It's time to party, like there is no tomorrow.

9/29/2008 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Beckett is probably too brillant a man for me to understand, because I don't grasp what he means by "Objects Restoring Silence".

For me, objects are energetical events that are much rebellious against silence or the universal void. The more you have objects or representations of objects around you, the more your body is obliged to deal with this energy and the consequences can be mutilative.

In fact, if we had better ears, we might be able to distinguish a music of the objects, as air circulate around them and this friction cause them to whistle(images would represent organized compositions of these ackward and uneven sounds).

Then of course objects are propensive at titillating an inner cultural monologue that I would like to distinguish from a dialogue because on the contrary they can entice humans toward an absolving state of autism where no communication exist but that which occur in response to objects.

But in philosophy, there is no absolute truth, any proposotion and their contrary can ring true, so I'm pretty sure both Beckett and Rothko are right once you bend yourself to the angles of their statements. For the moment being, I'm going to take Rothko's side. I feel comfortable with my pockets of silence provided by the fact that no one knows who I am.
There was a solution to his problem: he only needed to change name and start anew everytime he became too popular. But fame or the incoming of money were probably too hard to resist.

Great post,

Cedric Caspesyan

9/29/2008 03:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Duchamp only exhibited readymades once in a while, because he thought too much of them wouldn't work out. If too much objects are spread, you can't really pay attention to the proposition offered by any of them (proposition which, as Pretty Lady remarked, is actually just something going on in our head, but like John Cage once pointed out, maybe the human condition makes it impossible for us to reach a true state of silence.)

Having submerged from suffering Asperger syndrome as a child (to hopefully a tolerable degree of success, ahem...), I can tell you that many objects in a room is like being in a restaurant where everyone is loud and you can't make out what anyone is saying.
But you can use an object to restore silence, for sure. You can walk around with a lampshade around your head.

Cedric Caspesyan

9/29/2008 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger John Hovig said...

Beckett writes not of "the silence of objects," but rather of the "role of objects" to "restore silence." I take him to mean not that objects are silent or unsilent of their own, but that by their existence they shut people up. Like the Rothko Chapel.

9/29/2008 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I take him to mean not that objects are silent or unsilent of their own, but that by their existence they shut people up.

I would agree. Although, knowing Beckett, I assume he also means that by their existence they quiet the noise that plagues the mind even when all human mouths are closed.

9/29/2008 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have no short supply of objects. How do we tell one good from the other? Stick with the grammar.

An ocean roars silence. Objects are not things of themselves, but always context driven no mater how fine or spirited the subjective has been crafted. I think Rothko was worried about 'contexts' that would render his work comfortably numb, an 'objective-about-silence, better known around as rich noise, pretty much as John Hovig says.

9/29/2008 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

But the Rothko Chapel is not just any object. It's both a space and a great piece of art. I'm sure Mies Van Der Rohe had something to say about large spaces and their powers to invoke silence.

To me an object either comes with its purpose to serve for an activity (which most of the time involves some sounds, like clothes when you move your arms, or a wristwratch), or (in some cases: "and") it exists to be contemplated.

The big catch is that not every artworks actually exist to be contemplated. Many artworks are intended to make the viewer react, have questions about it, be uncomfortable. Develop arguments for or against it, through inner thinking or through lively discussions with others. Many of these objects would seem to fail terribly if their role was to shut up people?

Some very mundane objects exist to be contemplated, like a church cross, or a banal tv show (The Bold And The Beautiful offered on a silver plate, no questions asked), like some of the more sublime arts, of which Rothko's Chapel would befall.

Maybe what Beckett meant was that all objects should aspire to be of the latter category. Hmm...

Cedric Caspesyan (watch out: this typography that you're presently reading has a deadly role)

(maybe I'm just not poetic enough... arf, the dreads of living a vain and vulgar life..

9/30/2008 03:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

I may have reduced this topic to physical objects when the conversation implied other realms of objecthood. Ironically this is an art blog, which implies that it discuss objects that exist on different levels of objecthood.


I know that art (the concept) came about when Aristotle began to define categories for objects
(or things). I think it was 4 categories (or causes, origins)
and 2 purposes: telos or techne.


Cedric Caspesyan

9/30/2008 03:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Chad Wooters said...

For a minute I thought you were writing about my still life paintings.

imho...the contemporary emphasis on narrative distracts us from what visual art is really good at doing and doing so without words.

9/30/2008 01:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Painter Fag said...

I think of Joseph Beuys position that 'The silence of Duchamp is overrated.' Duchamp's silence was tactical; Beuys' noise was engage' I find Beckett pretty much worthless and a cry baby about the loss of metaphysics due to Wittgenstein's dissolving of the mind/body problem, not to mention the behaviorists of the 1930's. Marx/Engel's drove the final nail in the coffin dismissing Hegel's replacing God w/ Man. Bite the head of the snake. This sacred 'Silence' seems just another word, craving for a God. Wouldn't Pause be a better term?

I'm gonna guess Ed does not have kids. I worked on various art faculties around the East coast where having kids was shunned. How could u bring kids into this world? I responded w/ how could u not? I have three kids who I have raised, very trying at times, no violence like my parents did and no alcohol. They don't need alcohol, consumer swaddling or bullshit religions. Having kids, by default, eliminates the melancholic wallowing in self pity, despite the enormous labor involved. Cellphones are not only a sign of desperate consumption and are no more than what dolphins/bats have naturally, forms of echolocation. I think Ed u need to get out of nyc for awhile, the sychophants, vampires of the art world are obviously draining you. Yet do not go 'vacation'. I've known every Monogomite who does comes back more exhausted and frazzled than when they left. Moreover, don't fall into the trap of facile binaries, Derrida should've have signaled that. Silence is not a metaphysics, art in general is communication. Did u know Duchamp had a child w/ another artist in 1913, but did not meet the child until she was in her 40's? He is never faulted for being an absentee father.

10/02/2008 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think Ed u need to get out of nyc for awhile, sweet of you to care. Condescending, but sweet.

No offense, Painter Fag, but while raising having kids might give one insight into raising kids, it doesn't bestow magical trans-Internet psychiatric powers on a person. But since that's the game here, might I recommend that you consider that vacation...your comment reads like pop psychology cole slaw.

10/02/2008 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Facile binaries as in people who have kids are better than those who don't?

To come to Beuys you needed to face the object first. Duchamp did that, so Beuys was able to move beyond.

Cedric C

10/02/2008 11:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Painter Fag said...

many who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where they can root and grow.

I'm disappointed but not surprised by the pop psychology label w/which you trivialize my suggestion, especially since your entry on Beckett/Rothko silence seems so much art world sentimentality. 'Mommy, make all that bad consumer ... oh excuse me I have a call on my cell.' I can say I have contributed three activists who will be there to fight the Bush/Cheney's of this world. What have u done? Moreover, your entry reads like someone w/ too much time on their hands, and in their hands.
You also forget Rothko was a self pitying suicide, that's a great role model. You just sounded like u needed some coping skills, sorry for the tough love.

Let's get to the Rothko silence. Rothko, in my opinion, briefly, early on flirted w/ a kinda of Milton Avery meets Gorky/Masson/Miro. The underlying presence of Matisse wins out, but the man is asensual. So, he invents this kinda of spiritualism, a sacrohybridity, if I can neologize, taken from Kandinsky or Mondrian and the Talmud or Cabbala, I 4get. Similar in a way to Mondrian, who saw his mature work as a divining w/ universals that could be used to rebuild culture along pure theoistic aesthetic lines, Reitveld's Shroeder House, e.g. The Bauhaus had similar post-Dada rebuilding from some pure base. Rothko is not that ambitious, he thinks in terms of painting as a template of salvation, a sacred avatar for the individual. To achieve this however, as Mary Douglas has been often cited, he has to make everything else profane. Hence the chapel, the prophylactic. CStill and Bnewman had the same intolerance for the outside world. I think Rothko was upset about the Johns/Warhol/Rausch./Lichtenstein shift in painting as well as the commodity fetishicizing of his own work.

So, Ed again, musing on the Rothko-esque you are vascillating between simplistic binaries, sacred silence and profane consumerism. However, u want to add suffering, u want us to all be poor inside social failure just so we can make authentic art again, like Rothko did; or the post-WWI Berlin Dadaists or Schwitters in Hanover did. U write that a decrease in consumerism could have conversional elucidation. Do u really believe that being poorer and suffering is the only viable way to make art? Now who's trafficking in pop perceptions, translation, the starving artist. I don't know who u count as viable artist, but the reality is significant works have been done in times of prosperity: Raphael, Mich., Leon., Caravaggio, Dutch Baroque, Velasquez, Rubens, on to Monet (he overspent, not starved) and so on.

To Cedric: I never said anything about binaries in making three humans. The daunting amount of labor care and love makes that university silly. I've done my share of Duchamp scholarship, find me something in written/attributed to Duchamp that has him epistemologically addressing "the Object", whatever that is. As well, w/ Beuys, who I should remind u is contextualized w/in the dynamics of Fluxist. I think he would spit if he heard himself being written in terms of 'the Object'.

10/03/2008 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I can say I have contributed three activists who will be there to fight the Bush/Cheney's of this world. What have u done?

I'm asking you to leave and not return. Besides being all over the place, the lack of respect and self-editing you're showing is corrosive to the dialog and you're no longer welcome here. Best of luck, but don't come back.

10/03/2008 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Painter Fag said...

Sorry, it doesn't work that way, you can't say u have an open thread and then deny access as soon as someone challenges your authority. Corrosive artists have made up half of art history: Cezanne's cantankerousness, Pollock's abusive alcoholism, Caravaggio's violent dueling w/ swords, Picasso's arrogance, Kobain's catatonic rock star and so on. Do u think these people would have loved your undergraduate level cross disciplinary comparison?

Clifford Still taught at my undergraduate school; I had many one on one's w/ him formally and visited his studio often informally. He told me what a vision of painting ought to be and I have a sense that Rothko's was not far from this, after all the myth making and primitivising in the Robert Goldwater sense eroded. The loss of faith created a conversion of faith in painting. So how can u compare this to Beckett?

So u make a deft handed ad hominum to me and my values, and then take offense when I respond. Not fair. Who do u think inhabits the art world? My comments were not all over the place (u don't give an example) and what does self editing mean?

10/07/2008 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Sorry, it doesn't work that way, you can't say u have an open thread and then deny access as soon as someone challenges your authority

There are rules for commenting here, number 1 of which is you must address the issue, not the person making the point. Comments about personalities, and that includes mine, are not tolerated. I feel your presence here is unproductive. Challenging me about whether I have children or not is hardly your right in any context, let alone here. I've asked you to leave. Please respect that.

10/07/2008 09:30:00 AM  

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