Unreal Nature

April 3, 2017

The Pact

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… the object simply acts as a marker of an agreement, a fulcrum … and meaning arises from how [the] group makes use of that agreement.

This is from Walead Beshty’s chapter in Akademie X: Lessons in Art + Life (2015):

… Objects have no meaning in themselves, rather they are prompts for a field of possible meanings that are dependent on context. Meaning often implies something fixed, but in this instance, let’s understand meaning as that which arises as the result of an object’s exposure to a specific circumstance.

[line break added] That is, objects facilitate certain outcomes rather than contain certain meanings, and each interaction presents the possibility for a range of outcomes to arise that are not wholly predictable. These interactions accumulate over time, thus the meaning of an object is ever evolving. When we assume that objects simply contain meaning, this complex dynamic is obscured.

… Like philosophy, which seeks to know knowing, art seeks to perceive perceiving in its broadest sense. Thus, art must keep this process of perceiving open; it must endlessly defer an arrival at conclusive meaning to maintain its focus on how meaning is established.

One way that art holds aesthetic meaning at arm’s length is by making the familiar strange, placing meaning at the horizon, out of reach but still in sight. In so doing, art reflects what it means to be in a world of aesthetics. It affirms that to be human is to be within aesthetics, not simply a consumer of aesthetic messages, but within a dynamic system of aesthetic producers. Art requires circulation to keep its object of inquiry present; stasis is its enemy, for its meaning is established through its exposure to a range of circumstances.

… To communicate is to add; there is no communication that is subtractive.

… No one managed to use the transformation that discourse can effect on aesthetic objects more dramatically than Marcel Duchamp. As Thierry de Duve observed, the ready-made put on display the ‘pact that would unite the spectators of the future around some object, an object … bearing no other function than that of a pure signifier of the pact itself.’ De Duve is describing the social contract of art, the agreement we tacitly make to contextualize something in a certain way.

[line break added] The ready-made displays the pact that initiates the social relations around an object and the behaviors that ensue. Duchamp showed that this agreement did not require a specific object (which is not to say that his objects were not specific); the object simply acts as a marker of an agreement, a fulcrum around which a particular social organization forms, and meaning arises from how this group makes use of that agreement. All aesthetics are the result of a similar sort of pact, and art is where it is possible to lay that agreement bare.

[ … ]

… Remember that the conversation is always changing, and that there are many taking place simultaneously. If none are to your liking, you can easily invent a new one. Also, despite the amount of time wasted on discussing it, the market is not as powerful as some pretend. It does not think or make judgments. It is incapable of representing or communicating complexity. It is furtive, inconsistent and at best one circulation system among many. Those who discuss it with exuberant derision are most often its clergymen, giving it divine provenance and false solidity. The only rule is not to try to outthink it; the market is too stupid to outwit; treat it like the wind.

Speaking of clergymen, self-proclaimed populists who champion themselves as plain-spoken ‘tell it like it is’ warriors of art appreciation, are not to be trusted. Populism is a code for thinking that people are stupid; the populist critic uses this as an excuse to exercise self-validating authority. When artists are articulate about their work, the populist whines about elitism. Art requires a large investment of time and energy.

[line break added] Its discussion is complex and requires study and expertise. But just because the discussion of art is complex, it does not mean that it is elitist. Doctors are not elitist because they employ complex technical terminology. Art is one of the few disciplines where the claim is made that a complex discourse among its professionals makes its offerings elitist.

… Approach one of these critics and suggest that the next time they need medical treatment, you will act as their doctor. If necessary, act as their doctor against their will.

-Julie

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