Unreal Nature

October 30, 2017

As a Form of Thought

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… a very different situation was seemingly made legitimate, a situation about which, I believe, one should never stop wondering and perhaps worrying: you can now be an artist without being either a painter, or a sculptor, or a composer, or a writer, or an architect — an artist at large.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… it was in painting that [the] self-referential (better called reflexive) striving for purity became both the exclusive object of aesthetic theory and the all-encompassing matter of practice. In other words, it was in painting and nowhere else (not even in sculpture, which merely took it over from painting) that the idea of abstract art came into being.

[line break added] With abstract art emerging around 1912-1913 from cubist (and expressionist) painting, a radically new set of aesthetic principles was born, whose ideological justifications were complex and not at all homogeneous but — and this is what matters here — whose claim was that they were generalizable, as a form of thought about art in general rather than as a skill confined to a specific craft.

… Genus and species are names, proper names. You don’t call a black square a painting in the way you would call a table a table; you baptize it a painting out of aesthetic conviction. You call Malevich an artist through the same judgment that makes you call him a painter. Logically, if not chronologically, he is a painter first. With the legitimization of Duchamp’s readymades, a very different situation was seemingly made legitimate, a situation about which, I believe, one should never stop wondering and perhaps worrying: you can now be an artist without being either a painter, or a sculptor, or a composer, or a writer, or an architect — an artist at large.

[line break added] What has made this situation plausible? To answer that Duchamp liberated subsequent artists from the constraints of a particular art — or skill — is either begging the question or failing to take responsibility for endorsing this “liberation.” You might as well accept that anything goes. The plausibility in question has to be a regulative idea authorizing “as if-comparisons” between things that are out there, in the world at large, and things that were already plausible candidates for the title of art, because they partook in a specific craft conventionally recognized as an art form.

… In other words, to justify the plausibility of someone deserving to be called an artist, without being a practitioner of a given art, is to show that somewhere there hides a missing link between the generic and the specific, between art in general and one or more of the arts in particular. Where shall we look for this missing link? The historical evidence points not to music, nor at literature, nor even at sculpture, but rather at painting. Duchamp himself was a painter before he became an “artist.” Lest he be accused of being a fraud, his work ought to reveal the hidden link between painting and art.

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

-Julie

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