Here’s another passage on Duchamp by Guston from a conversation with Louis Finkelstein (who’s another fascinating American painter very little known). I have another book of Finkelstein’s writings I’d like to get to.
Anyway, here’s the Guston quote on Duchamp. This is 1972 (the year I graduated high school):
…it seems to me that when I look around anywhere, not just schools but I mean my own work, my contemporaries’, and so on, it occurred to me that when painting exclusively involves itself in being subversive to art itself, like say the anti-art movements (we were talking about John Cage at dinner, the Duchamp idea, the American inheritors of Duchamp) that seems to me to lead to ever-diminishing returns.They can’t go any other way except attenuate, become super refined and didactic, primarily didactic.
Guston is talking about didactic as opposed to creative. Motherwell posited that the struggle at the end of the 20th century would be between Picasso and Duchamp. Picasso, the spontaneous creative force, Duchamp the didactic analytic.
The subjective–art as vision vs. the objective–art as commodity. In my view, Duchamp represents the triumph of the nihilistic trend. Or rather the seeming triumph. Because true outside painters know that it is only seeming.
Ironically, I was reading an interview with John Cage where he declared of a sudden that Julian Schnabel was a nihilistic artist. That’s obvious, to me at least. But what interested me is that Cage presumably viewed his zen dismantling of Western music as constructive.
Schnabel is an expressionist parodist. He’s obviously an actor, which is why he’s become a director. Most of the Wunderkinds from the 80s had more interest in being movie directors, it seems. Longo, Sherman, Salle. Warhol Yet, on various odd weekends I suppose his gigantic ego needs to perform his charade as a grand painter in dinner jackets and whatnot. It’s the late American version of a Renaissance man. Like Warhol, moviemaker, TV host, silk screener extraordinaire, photographer of the stars.
Having assistants piss on canvases and considering that a painting…. that’s what I mean when I refer to a nihilistic trend following on from Duchamp/Cage. And I believe that’s what Guston is referring to as ever-diminishing returns.
That Warhol is seemingly worshipped far and wide as a great painter is one indication of how debased the whole notion of painting has become. One can certainly make an argument that Warhol is a great artist. But I admit that when I heard Kirk Varnedoe refer to him as a painter, and not in the least bit ironically, I was completely taken aback. Is silk screening now considered painting (not to mention urinating as a creative act)?
Tedious, obvious bad jokes. Adorned with magically absurd sums of money. The greatest Ponzi scheme in the history of the world. The magical economy of free market capitalism.
Warhol was the absolute antithesis of artists like Rothko, Kline, de Kooning, Pollock, Still and co. The former was installed in the mid-60s and the ethos and beliefs of the latter artists was disposed of. Of course, homage and celebratory prose was still written, but the spiritual nature of painting was replaced by its opposite, a materialistic conception of painting.