Unreal Nature

June 26, 2017

The Difference Between an Authentic Artist and a Faker

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… However strategic, innovation and provocation are never totally deliberate in true artists; they come from a largely involuntary adhesion of painters to artistic “values” that they are not yet aware of as values.

Continuing through Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade by Thierry de Duve (1991):

… Ultimately, one thing, pictorially speaking, is certain from the evidence of The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride: this painting, like the previous works that it manages to interpret, does not give the slightest bit of credence to the theory that defines (cubist) painting as a realism of conception. It does not articulate the least bit of interest in the opposition of the visual and the conceptual.

[line break added] The painting says what it does and does what it says; it is a thought of the image as much as an image of thought. It is superb visually and conceptually. It does much more than “give a plastic consciousness to our instinct”; it reveals and revulses the “plastic unconscious” of which it is the offshoot.

In other words, this painting is its own theory and its own theorist. It does not matter if the painter subscribed — perhaps paying mere lip service — to the contemporary ideologies that brought to its pinnacle the “realism of conception.” The painting knows that what is wrong in the interpretation of Cubism by itself is not the emphasis put rightly or wrongly on conception but rather its noncritical attachment to the concept of realism that it invokes and does not interpret.

[ … ]

… We must never imagine that an authentic artist — Duchamp no more than Manet — ever engages in provocation for the sake of provocation. The greatest wrong was done to the theory of modern art by those naive critics who went into systematic ecstasy in front of each of the audacities of “anti-art.” Without realizing it, they joined the most philistine approaches, agreeing to mechanically invert the indignation of the “bourgeois” into an equally unexamined enthusiasm.

[line break added] There are no artists worthy of the name who do not desire that a consensus be reached about their work. I said earlier that the desire to paint had the Louvre as its final goal: that means that this desire aimed for consensus and, if possible, for a “universal” one. But, of course, as we are only too aware in our historical moment, art after Duchamp saw a whole series of artists who had understood that an attitude of systematic provocation might be the best way to get to the Louvre.

[line break added] We must not be too hasty to project this dated mechanism of artistic ambition back onto the moment of Nude Descending a Staircase or even of the first readymades. And even for art after Duchamp, it will some day be necessary to find criteria enabling us to distinguish provocation as an arrivist strategy and provocation as a significant action, one that, ever since the avant-garde has existed, produces a novelty that is itself significant in relation to a tradition.

For the moment, we must try to understand how, in the very passage from a before-Duchamp to an after-Duchamp, provocation could have become a significant tactic in a history of painting that everyone designates as an intrinsically strategic history. To understand this, I will refer to the only criterion that, in my view, establishes the difference between an authentic artist and a faker. However strategic, innovation and provocation are never totally deliberate in true artists; they come from a largely involuntary adhesion of painters to artistic “values” that they are not yet aware of as values.

[line break added] Whether artists follow their talent or their genius, their intuition or their drives, their unconscious — however we put it — they are obeying an injunction whose origins or force they do not control but that orders them to transgress the taste in fashion, not because it is the taste in fashion but because it is in the recognition of their radical innovation that painters can find their certitude as painters. From this point on, provocation must be understood literally, as pro-vocation: it is an anticipated demand.

A demand for what, if not the name art or painting? The more an act of the artist appears provocative, an “anti-art,” the more it is clear that it has the meaning — violent and sometimes tragic — of a demand for recognition. And as this recognition takes the form of a nominal attribution more than that of a judgment of value, the artist provocateur calls out for the nomination of his work. Who will give it to him? Viewers, of course, and always in an a posteriori fashion: in short, posterity, no matter how close this posterity is.

The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride

My most recent previous post from de Duve’s book is here.




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