April 7, 2006

The Construction of Posthumous Identity: Curatorial Practice, Pt. 3



The disturbing news that deceased artists Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Gordon Matta-Clark will represent the United States at the 2007 Venice Biennale and the 2006 São Paulo Bienal, respectively, has introduced a distinct possibility that a new “curatorial practice” has been formulated to construct posthumous identities for contemporary artists. To lay a foundation for this discussion, we must first agree that there are, as David Joselit wrote in his Notes on Surface, “two models of identity: one in which subjectivity is immanent to the body, and one in which the architecture of selfhood is imposed from without”(pg. 301). We should further acknowledge that the former model is a modernist construct, having to do with the focus on “self” which reached climactic peaks in the early 20th Century, while the latter model appears to be an assertion of postmodernism, coming from such divergent multiple “fields of knowledge” as psychoanalysis (Lacan), semiotics (Derrida) and post-colonial theory (Said).

I propose a speculation in which Joselit’s essay, which states that postmodern art results in a “visuality in which identity manifests itself as a culturally conditioned play of stereotype,” (pg. 293) further supports my theory that the “deflation” of self in the postmodern era has metastasized into a morbid curatorial construction of posthumous identities.

Understanding that deceased artists have reached the terminus of their artistic output and have no real interaction with their continued posthumous identities is granted. The present topical issue is the apparent curatorial tactic of having Gonzalez-Torres (deceased) represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale, an over-determined and institutionalized international context. The decision to include Matta-Clark among the grouping of artists for the São Paulo Bienal is perhaps forgivable, since it does include living artists, but the fact that there is only one dead artist representing the U.S. in the Venice Biennale points suspiciously to the prevailing conditions surrounding this curatorial choice. Nancy Spector was appointed as the U.S. Commissioner for the Venice Biennale and will organize the exhibition, which will include “a new work, made from a drawing by Mr. Gonzalez-Torres but unrealized in his lifetime.” The fact that she also works for the Guggenheim Museum, which mounted a “major” Gonzalez-Torres exhibition in 1995 while he was alive, may be only coincidence, but should we not consider, since there are literally thousands of other worthy artists living and working in this country that could have been selected instead, that there may be a covert curatorial agenda afoot in her selection?

From the U.S. Department of State website (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2006/64112.htm):

At the request of the U.S. Department of State, the National Endowment for the Arts convened the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions on March 20. The Committee reviewed proposals received from U.S. curators in response to an open competition for the 2007 Venice Biennale, announced by ECA in early December 2005. FACIE advises ECA on proposals received for official U.S. participation in major international exhibitions. At the meeting, FACIE, which is composed of curators, museum directors, artists and other experts in American contemporary art, also reviewed proposals for the 2006 Dakar Biennale and the 2006 Sao Paulo Bienal.

In addition to the Venice Biennale exhibition, ECA will support a group exhibition at the 2006 Dakar Biennale, organized by Amy Horschak of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, including works by Louis Cameron, Kori Newkirk, William Pope. L, and Senam Okudzeto, and a group exhibition at the 2006 São Paulo Bienal, organized by the curators of the Bienal, including works by Mark Bradford, Dan Graham, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Rirkrit Tiravanija.


Without further research into the names and occupations of the “curators of the [São Paulo] Bienal” I hesitate to pursue the “institutional connection” further here, but it is notable that Ms. Horschak is from MOMA. One would have to take the lead provided by Hans Haacke to pursue these insidiously labyrinthine threads further. But it is sufficiently distressing to wonder if one’s artistic identity may be constructed still from outside sources and institutional power structures, even after death.

I will close with a quote from Felix Gonzalez-Torres, from an interview he gave to Robert Storr in 1995:

For example, here is something the State Department sent to me in 1989, asking me to submit work to the Art and Embassy Program. It has this wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw, which says, "Besides torture, art is the most persuasive weapon." And I said I didn't know that the State Department had given up on torture - they're probably not giving up on torture - but they're using both. Anyway, look at this letter, because in case you missed the point they reproduce a Franz Kline which explains very well what they want in this program. It's a very interesting letter, because it's so transparent.

(From http://greg.org/archive/2004/06/11/on_politics_and_art.html)

25 comments:

Richard A. Meade said...

From where I’m standing, I see the curator, Nancy Spector, injecting herself in to the realization/building of a work which only exists in a drawing of a now deceased artist. Very convenient for the curator, because the artist doesn’t have final say on how the work really should be realized. Nor do we have any way to know if Gonzalez-Torres would approve, baring a seance held either at the artists last known place of residence or maybe at the Guggenheim.

In many ways this is a “safe” choice on Spector’s part. It’s a work of art never realized in the artist’s life time, and viewers and critics really can’t address the artists intent since he is very much dead. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to think that in the future, curators could be injecting themselves more and more in to the realization of ideas that are sketched on piece of paper with a few accompanying notes and thus becoming ipso facto, partner/artist of the deceased artist. Does anyone doubt that Spector’s name will be prominent in some way with the building of this piece? Thus the curator, by proxy, becomes the artist.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Absolutely, and we will undoubtedly be seeing many more curator-deceased artist-museum partnerships that "make" these conceptually "unfinished" artworks.

The initial reason I began this line of inquiry is the fact that one of conceptual art's fundamental tenets was the limited focus on the object, established early on by Sol Lewitt, which gave more importance to instructions, drawings or schematics as "containing" the essence of the artist's idea. This new curatorial tactic seems to particularly place deceased conceptualists at the risk of misrepresentation and misapprehension by zealous curatorial practice, given that their "unfinished" work could be made posthumously with the instructions or drawings but without consultation. Yet the conceptual artist's intent has the advantage of more clarity if the artist were at least available for contact. Work that is yet-to-be-made can be made with the instructions alone and without the input of the living artist but having the ability to confer with the conceptual artist on the "completion" of the work is a definite advantage.

And our discussions, so far, do not even address the political implications, which are better and more fully explored by Rev. James W. Bailey, fellow artist and friend, on his blog: http://blackcatbone.blogspot.com/

Franklin said...

This looks increasingly like the scene towards the end of The Princess Bride in which Billy Crystal talks about the main character being mostly dead rather than completely dead. Wait - I found it:

Inigo Montoya: He's dead. He can't talk.

Miracle Max: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya: What's that?

Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

Chris Rywalt said...

If you ask me, this whole deal points up one of the main flaws in conceptual art, i.e. anyone really can do it, especially if a name artist has already conceived of the project. At least when an author dies, their books come out as "Isaac Asimov Presents" and not with the deceased listed as author. V.C. Andrews® being an exception.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Welcome, Franklin! Did not see Princess Bride but I think I get your point re: Being vs. Existence. So "mostly dead" is more Being, less Existence. And artists whose work can be posthumously manipulated and replicated will avoid being "all dead," thus avoid total "Lack of Existence?" It is the "unfinished drawing" thing that has me most worried though. Shouldn't that stay "unfinished?"

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Welcome, Chris! True, anyone (curator, former student, fellow artist) could follow a conceptualist's instructions and "complete" an "unfinished work," but can they conceptualize something that's interesting, clear and engages in the discourse of art in the first place? That's where the "art" lies, not in the instructions. And I hesitate to get started with the "authorship" thing here but there are no "authors," only readers.

Craig P. Webb said...

Where does an "Idea" come from? Lots of artists feel like conduits in which their art has passed through them from some inspired source. Others spend more time manipulating that epiphany. Now what makes this manipulator an artist? In my opinion it is when the spin they put on the concept is so stimulating that it influences others. If not then the "artist" comes off as a "foolish prating knave."

Chris Rywalt said...

The idea that there are no authors, only readers, is one of those deconstructionist ideas I don't buy into. Actually, I don't buy into a lot of what I've read about them. I was more willing to think it was some intellectual deficiency of my own until I read that Noam Chomsky couldn't understand it, either, and that leads me to believe -- logical fallacy though it may be -- that it's not me, it's deconstructionists.

That said, I'm still educating myself on the subject. So we'll see if anything comes of it.

I agree with you, MCB, that the art is in the conception in the first place. But execution counts for something too. Which we seem to agree on: In order for us to deem a work "authentic," we both seem to think the artist must have conceived it and executed it (or anyway shepherded its execution). I get the idea that underlying this concept is the expectation that an art work will change as it's executed -- that is, that the execution and conception are not as separate as we'd like them to be. Therefore we want the artist around as their conception is executed to steer things, make changes, make choices. (I may be using the word "authentic" in a way you don't like, but it's all I can come up with right now.)

This idea of a combined conception and execution makes sense to me in light of the way I work. (I wouldn't presume to call myself an artist -- whenever possible, I try to refer to myself as a painter and a draughtsman as a way of describing what I do in operational terms. It's up to someone else, I think, to decide if I'm an artist.) When I'm painting, I have a conception, an idea of what I want the final work to look like; as I paint, though, the painting moves closer to my original idea while at the same time my idea moves towards the painting. I'm done when they meet (assuming I can recognize that moment, which is admittedly a bit hazy). Of course not everyone works this way.

Craig: Many, many artists -- and scientists, too -- have said, or written, about how their ideas seem to come from somewhere else. Bucky Fuller once suggested the possibility that ideas were being sort of beamed into his eyes from space. Which, given his ideas, sounds about right. Robert Anton Wilson has written about how artists like Beethoven were expressing ideas they got while in heightened neural states; some of the anguish in their art comes from having to return to normal awareness and pain and debility. Kurt Vonnegut had one of his characters -- I forget which, maybe it was Rabo Karabekian -- put forth the theory that humans are simply receivers, and artists are people who are receiving on some really strange frequencies.

To me, what makes someone an artist is how much their work, their results, speak to us. This is therefore entirely subjective. If a large number of people across many years find that a given work speaks to them, then the creator of that work is an artist.

It's only when a work doesn't speak, or doesn't speak powerfully anyway, that we fall back to asking things like, "Who made this?" "What's the title?" "What's the author's process?" and things like art theory. When a work is truly powerful, these things don't matter, or anyway don't matter much.

Richard A. Meade said...

Addendum: I'd like to elaborate a bit more on the curator becoming artist. In reality all first thoughts when producing a work of art is “conceptual”, i.e. pertaining to concepts or to the forming of concepts. Concept being, 1. a general notion or idea. 2. an idea of something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics or particulars: a construct. 3. a directly conceived or intuited object of thought. (definitions from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language)

If we agree that the original concept of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ piece, that curator Nancy Spector intends to have fabricated, is in fact the essence of the artists intellectual property, then don’t the choices by curator Nancy Spector skew Gonzalez-Torres’ work in to the realm of “art forgery”? There is no possibility that curator Spector can possibly know that the site chosen by her, would be the site agreed upon by Gonzalez-Torres. Since many works in the “conceptual” realm are site specific, i.e. the artist is commissioned to build a work at a specific spot of their choice. In this process of determining the work to be built by the artist, various factors come in to play such as, landscape, elevation, natural or man made, water, tracking of the sun during various times of the day including winter and summer solstice. All these factors and many more are the direct response by the artist to the site of his choosing. These variables were lost when Gonzalez-Torres died and thus the choices Nancy Spector makes regarding the realization of Gonzalez-Torres’ work is an “art forgery” done in the style of Gonzalez-Torrez but not a true piece by him.

When considering this addendum I Googled “art forger”. Google provided 994,000 hits regarding “art forger”. In considering what Spector is doing as an “art forgery” i.e. “done in the “style” of Gonzalez-Torres but not by him directly, it seems that in the future it is quite possible that curators could commission a known “art forger” to “realize” a work by any number of prominent deceased artists. Future curators could take unrealized concepts, only existing as a drawing in a sketch book, and never realized as an actual painting by the artist, as being the foundation and reason to bring said drawing to life as the deceased artist had possibly intended. Never mind that the deceased artist may have rejected the sketch as not something they wanted to pursue any further, but merely an exercise to stimulate their creative thought process.

The problem I see with Spector “injecting” herself into this piece by Gonzalez-Torres is all the variables in its construction that were lost when Gonzalez-Torres died. Variables that in essence are the building blocks of how the artist would have conceived of its realization, how he viewed the site where it was to be built, and all the possible angles from which it could be viewed. These variables become the question when Spector has this work built. How does she know that the artist would have approved of the choice of site, its orientation in the landscape and other variables unknown to her that the artist would have considered. For me this is just another “art forgery”, but sanctioned because “curators” have the perceived intellectual license to inject themselves into a work that only exists on paper.

Chris Rywalt said...

Author Harlan Ellison has stated he wants all his unfinished work destroyed after his death to prevent just this kind of tampering. His fans are horrified. But of course Ellison believes in his complete and ultimate control over his own work. He therefore believes, for example, that our enjoyment of Kafka's work is worth less than Kafka's desire to have his work destroyed upon his death. Obviously Ellison hasn't heard that authors don't exist.

Richard A. Meade said...

Chris, if I may comment on the below quote of yours regarding labels and how others should decide what you do in being creative, "(I wouldn't presume to call myself an artist -- whenever possible, I try to refer to myself as a painter and a draughtsman as a way of describing what I do in operational terms. It's up to someone else, I think, to decide if I'm an artist.)"

When in graduate studies many years ago I rejected the concept foisted on most graduate students as choosing either to be, painters, sculptors, printmakers, photographers etc. Labels are part of the human condition as the need to "pigeon hole" others so as to have a more narrowed focus as to who and what an individual is.

When dealing with the creative process, some concepts are better expressed in paint or stone or bronze or as a print etc. Limiting ones self to the label painter or draftsman may be a self deprecating choice to suppress ones ego but it really doesn't communicate any more understanding to someone outside the "art world". Calling yourself a painter can elicit a comment from others that you're a "house painter". A draftsman could possibly get the response that you might draw sketches, plans, designs or documents and not occur to anyone that you happen to be working in the creative field. The label artist is fairly self explanatory and understandable by most people. It certainly doesn't need to be anointed by others. Since the definition of "artist" is far more precise, i.e. 1. one who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria. 2. a person who practices one of the fine arts, esp. a painter or sculptor. 3. one whose trade or profession requires knowledge of design, drawing, painting etc. (definitions from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language)

However you choose to describe yourself and what you do is your choice, but it would seem a tad bit misinformed to think someone else needs to bestow the label artist on you in order for it to be legitimate.

Richard A. Meade said...

Chris, I think you are missing the point of what Harlan Ellison is saying in regards to all his unfinished work being destroyed upon his death.

Since what Ellison writes is his intellectual property, and his concern that others could use his words out of context from unfinished manuscripts, it seems entirely logical that he should have the final say, assuming of course, one DOES have the final say after they die.

There are no guarantees in life or death. It is only degrees of appropriateness if others choose to inject their "interpretation" of someone else's intellectual property. I think it was Brent Weston who cranked out images of his father's photos after Edward died. Was it appropriate to do this? I would think that could be up for debate but since it was a family member the appropriateness has a bit more credence than say some curator.

Chris Rywalt said...

I like the story -- which I'm not sure is true -- of one of J.S. Bach's younger sons who couldn't sell his own compositions until he started signing his dad's name to them and saying he found them in a drawer or something.

Right now I'm reading Clifford Irving's _Fake!_ which I found in a used book store. Great book. I'm not sure if the whole book isn't a fake. I've already seen the movie Orson Welles made as a sort of documentary of the events in the book. All very confusing but fun anyway.

I don't think I missed Ellison's point: I just think his conception of intellectual property is extremely absolute. He seems to think that he, as the author, deserves full and one hundred percent control of anything he's created. He was, for example, very very angry that someone posted some of his stories to the Internet. But I happen to think intellectual propery is less overarching than that.

Regarding my choice to call myself an artist or not: I don't think of my labels as limiting. I'm not exclusively a painter; it's just a hat I wear. True that people sometimes confuse "house painter" and "fine art painter." And hardly anyone even knows what a draftsman is (and I can't be a drawer!). There are times when, to save confusion, I will call myself an artist. You're right about the definition. But, to me, being an artist implies the creation of art. And, also to me, something isn't necessarily art just because it's in a gallery or museum or because someone says it is. To me, true art is something special. And I can't tell if my work has that something special or not. So is it art? I'm not willing to say it is.

craig P. Webb said...

Getting back to the original post - I find that I must post this link about art and torture for those that may have missed the story.
http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=3&art_id=qw1048861440340B215

Richard A. Meade said...

Craig, could you elaborate on your views of posting the above link?

It's a good read and I'd be interested on your take.

Richard

P.S. MCB if I am skewing the thread by my comments, please let me know.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Richard: Absolutely not - carry on.

Gentlemen: I've just returned from an artists' talk we gave tonight at the TEXT show in Reston (WaPo review here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?node=cityguide/profile&id=1122148&lat=38.9595000&lon=-77.3567000&displaySearchTerm=&displaySearchLocation=&categories=Exhibits)

It's very late but, even though bleary-eyed, I just read through all of your comments and will post tomorrow. Res ipsa loquitor.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Acknowledging RAM’s admission that our original “discussion” may be “off-track” but still willing to address your proposed topics, or perhaps wrangle a bit longer with some of you individually, I continue our multi-faceted dialogue:

Chris: The whole question of “meaning,” whether concerning works of art, concepts or even words, is a key item of contestation for “deconstructionists.” I respectfully suggest that your invocation of Chomsky’s non-comprehension is indeed a “logical fallacy” that “proves” nothing.

One does not have to “buy into” concepts to “understand” their possibility. I suspect you have at least a subliminal “agreement” with the basic beliefs of postmodernism, including Roland Barthes’ “demise” of the author concept. His 1968 essay has been systematically misunderstood since it first appeared and has provided detractors with many a humorous commentary, i.e. “Obviously, Ellison hasn’t heard that authors don’t exist.” But if you read the essay, Chris, Barthes clearly states that it is idiocy to suppose that authors do not physically “exist.” Instead, what he stressed is that privileging the authoritarian “voice,” the assumption that “truth” is in the text, is a fallacy. Indeed, this has become further known as the “intentional fallacy,” that the author’s “meaning” is not only suspect but may not even be the most “important” one.

We cannot be sure of “meaning” anymore than we can be sure of an after-life. (Aside to RAM: there is one “guarantee” in life – death.) “Meaninglessness” is not an emptying of meaning but concerns the indeterminacy of “meaning.” The “authenticity” of an artwork’s conception does not guarantee “art,” either. This was not my point of contention with the “completion” of that “unfinished” work of Gonzalez-Torres. My perspective is that a set of instructions for “creating” a “work” may contain an “idea” that may become “art.” That is a lot of uncertainty. To fabricate /replicate /migrate this work posthumously is just begging for “failure,” with possible lack of clarity, intention and “authenticity.”

Chris also wrote: “It's only when a work doesn't speak, or doesn't speak powerfully anyway, that we fall back to asking things like, "Who made this?" "What's the title?" "What's the author's process?" and things like art theory. When a work is truly powerful, these things don't matter, or anyway don't matter much.”

I think these are good questions to ask of every work of art, and art theory can inform our questions, especially in our postmodern era, with critiques on painting, literature and film that “fall back” on psychoanalysis, linguistics and feminism. We ought to be familiar with these theories, as they have been significant to visual artists since Bruce Nauman started reading about information theory and phenomenology, and Joseph Kosuth became enamored of A.J. Ayers’ ideas on logical positivism. Conceptualism reflects the challenge of how these artists “defined” their art through these other fields of knowledge.

Further still, the idea that a work, in your words, is “truly powerful,” is a throw-back to an age of art making that is based on older “European models” of organizational, or “relational,” aesthetics. The days when artists can sit back leisurely and say “The work speaks for itself” are over. Yes, one might say that we, the artists, are the “carriers” of this “meaning,” in as much as we establish the discourse about the parameters of what we make and why we think it’s “art,” but artworks themselves contain or “carry” no meaning without these combined systems of representation and discourse.

Craig: I think we both can agree that the idea of artists “receiving” ideas as “conduits” from “some inspired source” is present still in our “pluralistic” contemporary art world. However, I believe this too is an “old” concept that relates to the “spiritual” aspects of an idea’s germination. More interesting to me, in our post-conceptual vein, is how “others spend time manipulating that epiphany.” To return to the original topic, that “manipulator” might also be a curator who “manipulates” context, history and now, apparently, actual specifications for work that is “unfinished.” Post-conceptual practice will be defined by the discourse it produces and the “better” work will affect that discourse. Which is why I am concerned about Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work, and Gordon Mata-Clark’s work, and Nam June Paik’s work, and Ana Mendieta’s work, being “made” posthumously within the institutional context. There is the definite possibility that these posthumous works will lessen the impact of their putative “authentic” work, i.e. work made with at least the consultation of the living artists, and this will affect the discourse, not only about their work, but about post-conceptual work as a whole.

The reason, by the way, that I quoted from the Storr interview of Gonzalez-Torres was to provide evidence, even though, granted, third-hand evidence, that he wanted nothing to do with the U.S. State Department. Yet, now that he is dead, he is their “pick” to represent our country at the 2007 Venice Biennale. This seems to be an exhibition of his work that is against his expressed and documented wishes, and that, my fellow artists and critics, should be what concerns us most.

Craig P. Webb said...

We are plants which - whether we like to admit it to ourselves or not - must with our roots rise out of the Earth in order to bloom
in the ether and bear fruit
~ Johann Peter Hebel

So call me a romantic when I think of artists as the conduits and manipulators of the vibrations of Nature. But MCB I don't think this has to be solely a spiritual impetus. I am partial to what Chris brought up about the idea of being receivers of radio frequencies. Not the " wearing tin foil" on the head kind - but I think we all have our own spectrum on the universal dial and we shuffle between our own extremes depending upon the strength of the tone of the times. Many people trend towards what we may refer to as the conservative end of the universal dial, and others toward the progressive end. I think it is evident where the strong signals were during the times of the Enlightenment or the 60's but I would pervert Mao's analogy and say the Pendulum has swung to the repressive and cautious frequencies that bring us all to the right end of our own spectrums. (But I don't think that we could narrow all the receivers of the world into such didactic terms). Sorry for the tangent.

My process comes from my intuitive strengths. I don't believe all artists have to work this way, but I only know my own experience, and not even that fully. I prefer dealing with stimuli and resonance: whether it is cave drawings, mythology, literature, other art or the ocean and the moon. I feel hyper-sensitive to my environment - and my outlet for this pent up energy is art. My bliss comes when I've looked up from a piece and found that 8 hours working in in the printmaking studio passed in a blink of an eye and that I spend another 3 if I wasn't so exhausted. Certainly a more productive way to channel energy than say getting into a fight, drowning in a bottle or vegging in front of a TV. This is not to imply this is for everyone. I've seen the same signs with people who are real car mechanics - it is a beautiful thing when you watch one just listen to an engine and can zero in on the problem.

Now to explain my motivations behind my post about art and torture. I was really only using it to make a subtle jab at Josh. We have had a back and forth regarding Bush and facism. I think he was a little more comfortable with my assertion that Bush was more akin to Franco, with an Evangelical vein substituting for Fransico's clericalism. Hence the article about Spain's abstract art torture chamber. I imagine though Bush would need to enlist Thomas Kinkade to produce murals for his version of the cell if he really wanted to break his domestic adversaries. "Walk towards the light!"

craig P. Webb said...

Aren't all these curators we have been chastising really just artists dealing with their own weird kind of ready-mades?

Chris Rywalt said...

And here I was thinking a cell decorated with abstract, modern art would surely be torture. Thomas Kinkade's even worse! It's lucky for us you use your powers only for good, Craig.

Chris Rywalt said...

I respectfully suggest that your invocation of Chomsky’s non-comprehension is indeed a “logical fallacy” that “proves” nothing.

I did say as much, invoking one of my favorite logical fallacies, the Proof by Authority. In my case, though, I mean to use the Proof by Authority as a shorthand because I'm not up to -- in fact may be incapable of -- arguing against postmodernism in more detail. It's a failing of mine: Once I've closed the door on something, I don't always retain all my reasoning up to that point; I save the conclusion I came to ("Derrida is a bozo") without the accompanying notes ("Derrida is a bozo because he said "X" and "X" is clearly dumb").

That said:
Instead, what he stressed is that privileging the authoritarian “voice,” the assumption that “truth” is in the text, is a fallacy. Indeed, this has become further known as the “intentional fallacy,” that the author’s “meaning” is not only suspect but may not even be the most “important” one.

You caught me, I agree with Barthes here. I was joking about Harlan Ellison, by the way. But, yes, I agree to some degree that authorial intent is not necessarily the most important meaning of a text. However, I do think intent has some bearing on analysis. I think intent can often be divined by close reading of the text. I believe that the better a work of art is, the more accurately we can determine an author's intent. I also reject the "affective fallacy": I think a reader's emotional response to a text is important and valid.

I often show my work to my friends, many of whom are quite intelligent but who are, shall we say, ignorant of the art world and its theories. This is what happens when you go to engineering school -- all your friends are engineers. So I show them one of my paintings, say, and they respond, but then -- conditioned as they are by our postmodern society -- they immediately excuse themselves from their opinion. "...but I don't know anything about art," they say. If there is one major crime we can attribute to the 20th century art establishment, it's summed up in that statement. I say to my friends, "You know everything you need to know about art. You have eyes with which to see. The end. However you feel about the painting is perfectly valid."

Other times my friends ask me: "What does this painting mean?" And I always answer -- you can see this coming, can't you? -- "What do you think it means?"

So I guess I do agree with Barthes on this one.

I think these are good questions to ask of every work of art, and art theory can inform our questions, especially in our postmodern era, with critiques on painting, literature and film that “fall back” on psychoanalysis, linguistics and feminism.

I agree that these are good questions to ask of any work of art. But I maintain that in the face of the very best art, these questions are of distinctly secondary importance. They're useful for people who want to study that kind of thing. They're unnecessary for most people, the same way Newtonian mechanics are very useful if you want to put a satellite in orbit but not all that important to a baseball player.

...but artworks themselves contain or “carry” no meaning without these combined systems of representation and discourse.

I disagree. I think artworks do carry meaning, and I think that meaning was put there by the artist. This meaning isn't constant, unchanging, or perfectly communicated; but that doesn't mean it's not there. The meaning doesn't exist in a vaccuum -- certainly every culture provides a framework in which a given text's meaning is explored. Of course there is no way to get outside of using some framework.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Craig P. Webb said: Aren't all these curators we have been chastising really just artists dealing with their own weird kind of ready-mades?

No, because Duchamp’s original concept involved no element of “taste” in his “choice” of the readymade. Presumably, these curators use some taste in their choices.

Chris Rywalt said: I think intent can often be divined by close reading of the text. I believe that the better a work of art is, the more accurately we can determine an author's intent.

Would you give an example of your “close reading” of any author’s text that you believe determines the “author’s intent?”

And CRywalt: I think artworks do carry meaning, and I think that meaning was put there by the artist.

Artworks are meaningless without the system of discourse about art. Meaning is in the system.

And Crywalt: . . . certainly every culture provides a framework in which a given text's meaning is explored. Of course there is no way to get outside of using some framework.

Even more problematic, no word acquires “meaning” by being an unmediated expression of something non-linguistic. Jacques Derrida: There is nothing outside the text.

And Crywalt (“blog-jacked” from http://thinkingaboutart.blogs.com/art/2006/04/the_whitney_bie.html):
I think the post-structuralists, postmodernists, deconstructionists -- groups which I tend to think of as the same but which maybe should be considered separately -- have ideas which can be split into three groups. First are their basic, original ideas. There aren't too many. Second are the tautologies dressed up in fancy language. Third are the wildly incorrect conclusions drawn from the first two.

A deconstructionist would never admit to an “original” idea, which would disprove the second and third groups.

Chris Rywalt said...

Would you give an example of your “close reading” of any author’s text that you believe determines the “author’s intent?”

Offhand, no. I'm actually blank. I'm not much of a "close reader" myself. I believe it's possible, I just don't do it.

Artworks are meaningless without the system of discourse about art. Meaning is in the system.

I disagree. Artworks are meaningless without a nervous system apprehending them. The required system includes a transmitting nervous system, a medium of transmission, and a receiving nervous system -- with the framework(s) of the surrounding culture(s) included in the two nervous systems. This does not mean that meaning is "in the system" except in a reduction of such extent that all discussion becomes meaningless.

Even more problematic, no word acquires “meaning” by being an unmediated expression of something non-linguistic. Jacques Derrida: There is nothing outside the text.

I'm unsure of what this has to do with what I wrote, exactly. I agree with Derrida if we're going to interpret him as saying that we can know nothing of objective reality, that all we have are representations of reality -- in short, that all we can ever know is subjective. This doesn't preclude the idea that an artwork -- a text -- contains a meaning put there by the artist. An artwork is an expression of received and stored sense impressions of a given nervous system. It becomes in its turn a received and stored sense impression in other nervous systems.

To say, though, literally "there is nothing but the text," is absurdly reductionist -- I don't think that's what Derrida meant. Taking that as literally true is as useful an idea as positing that we're all brains in jars being experimented on by giant aliens who create our sense impressions out of whole cloth. Kind of like "The Matrix" -- and don't imagine I'm not horrified to bring it up in a serious conversation. My point is this: We may very well all be brains in jars. But what difference does it make?

A deconstructionist would never admit to an “original” idea, which would disprove the second and third groups.

A deconstructionist might never admit to an original idea, but I -- not being a deconstructionist (I hope) -- can impute original ideas to them. And, actually, I may be wrong. It's possible they had no original ideas at all, and the things I think they came up with they in fact took from earlier philosophers. In which case I have no use for deconstructionists whatsoever.

I think it was Robert Anton Wilson who once had a character exclaim how great Wittgenstein was: Where Kant is only comprehensible in the original German, Wittgenstein is incomprehensible in any language!

Craig P. Webb said...

I believe Duchamp's had a "taste" for the provocative - and that is why he chose a urinal instead of an engine block.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Apologies at my tardiness of attention to these matters:
Chris Rywalt: Artworks are meaningless without a nervous system apprehending them.
True. However, I must ask, since you inject such rigor into our proceedings, have you not proven that “meaning is within the system” through your use of typed words on a blog? Or does this prove to be a logical “reduction of such extent that all discussion becomes meaningless?”

And: To say, though, literally "there is nothing but the text," is absurdly reductionist.
Derrida’s conception of text is not “reductionist” or a negation of meaning but is rather an expansive appreciation of the possibility that “ultimate” meaning is ambiguous and “infinitely deferred.” Are you going to tell us that you truly know the meaning of any painting, even your own?

And: A deconstructionist might never admit to an original idea, but I -- not being a deconstructionist (I hope) -- can impute original ideas to them. And, actually, I may be wrong. It's possible they had no original ideas at all, and the things I think they came up with they in fact took from earlier philosophers. In which case I have no use for deconstructionists whatsoever.
Except to provide you with the discursivity with which to conclude that “original ideas” may have come “from earlier philosophers?”