Monday, June 29, 2015

What an idiot. Mostly repeats but since I'm reading him, rewriting the paper.

We live at a moment when it is clear that art can be made of anything, and where there is no mark through which works of art can be perceptually different from the most ordinary of objects.
If a character in a novel lights a cigarette, the cigarette is part of a work of art. In a play the cigarette is a prop. In the older definition of art objects the craft supplied a formal logic internal to the piece. The iconography supplied a formal logic external to it. For relics as opposed to artworks the logic was external only: absent its place in a narrative a thighbone is a thighbone, a cigarette is just a cigarette, a madeleine... etc.

The critics and other who mock contemporary art as the painted word have a point, but you could just as well call it the literature of objects. The response is to say that they're witnessing a long distance conversation, in short sentences, haikus and one liners, where one person may be responding to something someone else said a year before. If all you hear is the punchline you won't get the joke. If they say that's not enough, tell them to go watch a movie. But Danto can't admit that film is visual art as he defines it,  for the same reason he can't see Socrates as an orator, or as a character in Plato's dialogues.

I always thought the argument was silly, but I never read it in his own words. He just doesn't look.
Duchamp's Fountain is, as everyone knows, to all outward appearances a urinal- it was a urinal until it became a work of art and acquired such further proper ties as works of art possess in excess of those possessed by mere real things like urinals (the work is dated 1917, though it would take research into the history of plumbing to determine the date of the urinal, which made it possible for Duchamp to use urinals dated later than Fountain when the original was lost: the work remains dated 1917). In his own view he chose this particular object for what he hoped was its aesthetic neutrality. Or pretended that that is what he hoped. For urinals have too strong a cultural, not to say amoral identity, quite to allow them selves to be without affect. They are objects, to begin with, highly sexualized through the fact that women are anatomically barred from employing them in their primary function, at least without awkwardness.  [a urinal is an inverted triangle a man sticks his cock in!] So they show their arrogant exclusivity through their form. (The fear of equal access to all johns was a major factor, it will be remembered, in the defeat of the ERA.) They are, moreover, given the cultural realities, objects associated with privacy (though less so than stools) and with dirt. But any object that lies at the intersection of sex and secretion is too obviously charged by the moral boundaries it presupposes simply to stand as a culturally neutral object picked out just for its aesthetic neutrality. Duchamp was being disingenuous when he asked: "A urinal-who would be interested in that?" It would be like taking the filthiest verb in the language as one's paradigm for teaching conjugation: possibly the word's moral energy will go submerged as one ponders it from the perspective of gerunds and pluperfects, but why struggle when there are plenty of innocent words? It is, meanwhile, ingenuous to treat the urinal merely as an aesthetic object, rather like the Taj Mahal in its elegant gradients and dazzling whiteness. But then what is the conceptual fulcrum of this still controversial work? My view is that it lies in the question it poses, namely why-referring to itself-should this be an art work when something else exactly like this, namely that -referring now to the class of unredeemed urinals- are just pieces of industrial plumbing? It took genius to raise the question in this form,since nothing like it had been raised before, though from Plato (sharply) and unimaginatively answered on the basis of the accepted art world of the time. Duchamp did not merely raise the question, What is Art? but rather why is something a work of art when something exactly like it is not? Compare Freud's great question regarding parapraxes, which is not simply why do we forget but why, when we do forget, do we remember something else instead? This form of the question opened space for a radically new theory of the mind. And in Duchamp's case the question he raises as an artwork has a genuinely philosophical form, and though it could have been raised with any object you chose (and was raised by means of quite nondescript objects) -in contrast with having been capable of being raised at any time you chose-for the question was only historically possible when in fact it was raised- it perhaps required something so antecedently resistant to absorption into the art world as a urinal so as to call attention to the fact that it after all was already in the art world.

There is a deep question of what internal evolution in the history of art made Duchamp's question-object historically possible if not historically necessary. My view is that it could only come at a time when it no longer could be clear to anyone what art was while perfectly clear that none of the old answers would serve.To paraphrase Kant, it seemed to have an essence without having any particular essence. It is here that Hegel's views come in.

For Hegel, the world in its historical dimension is the dialectical revelation of consciousness to itself. In his curious idiom, the end of history comes when spirit achieves awareness of its identity as spirit, not, that is to say, alienated from itself by ignorance of its proper nature, but united to itself through itself: by recognizing that it is in this one instance of the same substance as its object, since consciousness of consciousness is consciousness. In the portentous jargon of the Continent, the subject/object dualism is overcome.
The collage shows the narrative context for Duchamp's "joke", "relic", "punchline".
There is a deep question of what internal evolution in the history of art made Duchamp's question-object historically possible if not historically necessary.
No. Art is a means through which we look at the world and our desires. Media and techniques rise and fall in use as they become more or less appropriate to our sensibilities. People from one generation or trained in specific form will stay loyal to what they know, even as they respond to the present.
Today there is no denying that narrative films are not only “art”—not often good art, to be sure, but this applies to other media as well—but also, besides architecture, cartooning and “commercial design,” the only visual art entirely alive. 
Panofsky, “Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures”
Porcelain figurines like urinals are mass produced, but the originals are made by skilled craftspeople.
repeats: Duchamp, Warhol, Hitchcock, and Manet, Picasso etc.

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