Unreal Nature

January 1, 2018

What Art Ought to Be

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… It abandons us to our ignorance and our responsibility.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996). What happens if, instead of appending “in order to” onto the basic “do whatever” imperative, you append “provided”?:

… Here, now, is a second interpretation, a second misinterpretation, actually, of the modern imperative: do whatever provided … Instead of purposes, here are conditions. Instead of prescribed violence, whether it be that of ends or means, here is the order to restrain and contain violence.

… Do whatever in art, but do it in art only. As an exemplary profession of this doctrine, here we encounter formalism once again, but it is not alone. In the end, it is all of modernism — striking one as an “ism,” that is, as an irrepressible desire to legislate — that sees itself obliged to require that art’s condition be art itself. … Literally, it’s begging the question.

[line break added] Interpreted conditionally and immanently, the modern imperative of the whatever has thus taken the endlessly revived form of an inquiry into the presuppositions of its requirement. Indeed, the quest or the question has been there since the beginnings of modernism, which is to say, since Courbet, and since that beginning it has swallowed its own tail.

… Modernism was thus an experimental laboratory where for almost a century the essence of art was tested. I’m hardly joking, so widespread is this conception of modern art in which positivism holds hands with metaphysics.

… Like the thing, the question itself was a prerequisite that someone, anyone whoever but not everyone, produce this something, whatever, and put it under our nose. But it also required that someone, anyone whoever and perhaps everyone, had already asked the question for us all to have our noses set before this thing, all of a sudden, as before a fait accompli.

… But a readymade shows nothing; it doesn’t even show itself, since it still requires to be shown, designated: this is art. Without the deictic “this,” art has no being. And the readymade doesn’t show anything either, since it is nothing but the statement “this is art,” as it is affixed to any “this” whatsoever. Finally, this readymade, Fountain, for example, doesn’t make anything known or seen about art either beyond itself; today as in 1917, it leaves us blind before it. We, the viewers who make the pictures, we are and remain The Blind Man.

[line break added] The readymade doesn’t tell us what the essence of art is, but for that matter it doesn’t tell us that art has no essence. It abandons us to our own ignorance. It doesn’t tell us what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for any object, absolutely any object, to be art. But for that matter it doesn’t tell us that art is without conditions. It abandons us to our ignorance and our responsibility. If it tells us anything, and it does, it is that art is not the order of seeing and knowing but rather of that of judging, not of the order of the descriptive but of the prescriptive.

[line break added] Misinterpreted conditionally and immanently, the modern imperative prescribed: do whatever in art, but do it in art only. Well, in art there is precisely nothing but judgment. To make is to judge, and this judgment carries an obligation with it. To make art is to judge — not what is art but what ought to be art, not what art is but what art ought to be.

[line break added] The best judgment is, as always, that of the uninitiated who, faced with the readymade, exclaims: I could have done this! Too late, it’s been done. The readymade exists, already made, chosen, judged. Mene, Tekel, Epharsim. What’s left to do, now that we are faced with its fait accompli ? What’s left to make, given the fact that judgment has been rendered? The unconditional imperative remains: you ought to!

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

-Julie

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