October 3, 2011

Critical Fragments: Reification

As vehicle for conveyance of ideas, language has its weaknesses – context, semantics, and cognition – but we persevere. Simply put, the very nature of the language system has built-in fragility and misrecognition within its contextualization. With that in mind, we move blindly forward, optimistic and a little naïve of the futility of the efforts expended in our attempt at communication.

In pedagogical models, language is indispensable. The faux determinacy of “Q&A” promises analyses and documentation of knowledge. In scientific, mathematic and certain biological areas, this inductive reasoning allows for the certainty of gathering, compiling and quantifying such knowledge.

Matters of aesthetics have an inherent indeterminacy; the subjective experience, insidious and subsumed within “taste,” very nearly prohibits absolute answers such as those of science, math and biology. There is the flux of perception, the weight of preference and the foreground of habitus. In essence, without a “definition,” art is intangible – form without function, questions with no answers.

Reification of “art” becomes unattainable; the object represents or provides the art experience. Ad Reinhardt described this art experience as “a clearly defined object, independent and separate from all other objects and circumstances, in which we cannot see whatever we choose or make of it anything we want, whose meaning is not detachable or translatable.”(1) His description, as an untranslatable experience ironically conveyed through an object but not embodied within it, may be the closest we can get to a “definition” of art.

Language does not reify art but can only describe, supplement and theorize it. As an affirmation of the untranslatable, the ephemeral, the unattainable – these characteristics of the perceptible trace of art – language does what it can to support and sustain the knowledge, history and theories of art. Similar in structure to the tangible objects of art, language forms questions and elicits answers, both defends and defeats, describes and inscribes, always generating the supplemental discourse that surrounds, buffers, focuses and gleans putative meanings from those very objects.

IMAGE: "Q&A1 (Duchamp)”; blackboard paint, chalk, ink, pencil on MDF; installation view on 9/30/11; top: 6:56pm; bottom: 7:24pm.
© Copyright 2011 by Mark Cameron Boyd.


1. Reinhardt, Ad. Art as Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, (Barbara Rose, ed.), Berkeley, 1975, 83.

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