Duchamp on Duchamp 2

I know that this statement will not meet with the approval of many artists who refuse the mediumistic role and insist on their awareness of the creative act–yet, art history has consistently decided upon the virtues of a work of art through considerations completely divorced from the rationalized explanations of the artist. (Writings of Marcel Duchamp).

If an artist refuses the mediumistic role that Duchamp informs us is necessary to the creative act, then what does the artist himself have to say? What is an artist other than a channel of visionary material that comes from a transcendent source?

My belief is that artists are given their individual visions from birth and that they can choose to either accept them or not. Most artists do nothing more than playact at being artists. They refuse the vision and take charge themselves. They copy previous work that is known to be “art”. This is formalism. There is no content other than “art”, whatever that is. “Art for Art’s sake.”

Human content is not necessary. Figuration is dispensed with, at a minimum. Of course now we have a lot of formalist figurative art which is just as devoid of content as abstraction. The artist plays no mediumistic role. He employs a tediously achieved craft skill. The craft skill is acquired through industrious practice. The artist’s unique personal vision, the one thing that would qualify him to be an artist, is surrendered before it has a chance to find a voice. The voice is suppressed and slaughtered by powerful teachers. Only the artists who rebel completely from their teaching find their voice. The ones who willingly give in to their teacher’s position of power surrender their vision.

They make fashion art that goes along with whatever the consensus norms are regarding what art is.

All children are artists. The artist has to return to the state of the child.

Donald Kuspit recently derided Picasso in his typically obtuse book “The End of Art”. The rational intellectual invariably gets it wrong. Kuspit says that artists need to grow up, leaving behind the childish work of artists like Picasso. They need to grow up and be like Donald Kuspit. Kuspit should be given credit for blowing the whistle on Hirst and company. But he stops well short of any serious indictment of the hand issuing his pay check.

There are good art critics, though very rare. Just as good artists are the rarity, not the norm. Meyer Schapiro, Dore Ashton, Roger Shattuck, poets like Baudelaire, Appollinaire. And, of course, going back to Ruskin on Turner. But they listen to artists. They empathize with the artist and his revelations. They don’t tell artists who they are and what they should do.



About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
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10 Responses to Duchamp on Duchamp 2

  1. Steve says:

    I’m so weary of Picasso-bashing. The greatest painter of the modern era gets trashed on a regular basis. Folks who should know better put him down with nary a qualm. I don’t get it, except that I do get it, only too well. You’re right Bart, artists are ruined by fake authority. Even people who paint can’t resist the notion to rag on Picasso. It makes me dig my heels in ever deeper into my loyalty and faith in Picasso and other ‘outsiders.’ Even one of my favorite art critics, John Berger, can’t help himself and feels compelled to write about Picasso’s failure as being equal to the success. At least he gives a reason: no themes great enough to engage the artist after Guernica. But that’s being blind to the artist I think. Life was Picasso’s theme, always. Why is that so hard to understand? His final decade of tremendous creative output was so full of the breath of life that it should make us all queasy about our shallow culture, disposable art , an dead-end ideas.

  2. johnk823 says:

    Bart and Steve, The one thing I never do, as an artist, it to judge a nother artists work. The reason for this is how do I have any knowledge of where another artists minds eye is coming from, in their interpertation of their piece of art. Every artist in a totally unique individual with a totally unique vision as to what their conveying in their art. I have discussed this before in the NP forum.

    My question would be, “Who is Dechamp to have any direction for me or my thought, my vision? Did he live my life for me or did I? Did he go through my experiences in life that made me who I am, that flows out od me in my art? I could go on and on, as to why I would never find acceptable, and critique from anyone as to my personal expression of my art”.

    Picasso would no more stop his minds eye from expression, than either of us would. The power of being unique and being able to express yourself through art, in itself, is individual. To me most critics are babblers, with nothing esle to do but convey their misguided visions to release the pain that burns inside of themself, other wise they would be doing what we do- Art.

  3. trueoutsider says:

    Steve and John, I read the Berger book and thought him wrong from start to finish at the time. I find it even more thoroughly wrong now, particularly since I’ve been able to see much of the late work. I did like Berger’s description of Picasso as a vertical invader. Do you recall that?
    I like Berger’s writings. I never take those guys seriously about Picasso or anybody else for that matter. I like throwing back at them, particularly contemporary critics. Much of the time I just think they’re out to damage painters more than anything else. Either by excessive praise, or by unjust condemnation.

    Picasso was a revolutionary artist. Anybody can knock particular works and pick and choose. The body of work in its entirety is quite amazing. There’s certainly nothing else comparable to it in the 20th century. What exactly do critics like Berger want him to have painted?

    Gorky ran into Greenberg on the street after some bloviated talk Greenberg gave. Gorky was furious at Greenberg for his criticism of artists and challenged him to show his paintings to Gorky. Let’s see what you can paint, Greenberg, you’re such an authority on painting. Have you guys seen Greenberg’s paintings? I have. Absolutely terrible. Greenberg even ended up mutilating other artists work, deciding to paint David Smith sculptures and how to hang Morris Louis’s work. A profoundly destructive guy. It’s impossible to psychoanalyze others by reading about them, but it seems clear to me that Greenberg had an enormous hostility to artists.

    I worked with someone married to the artist Peter Gorfan. She told me the story that somebody went up to Greenberg and said to him that there’s an artist that he wanted him to meet. Greenberg replied, “No, I think this is an artist who wants to meet me.” Just sheer arrogance. No interest in meeting a new artist at all. Artists should feel honored to be in Greenberg’s presence.

    It all stemmed from Greenberg’s inadequacies as a failed artist himself. I think that kind of failure leads to rage against other artists who haven’t lost their own creative potency.

    These guys have to be called out. The destruction they can do to artists is very real. I don’t mind criticizing other artists or critics if I think what they’re doing is harmful to others. I think criticism is valid and necessary if its intention is to help and not harm. I think unwarranted praise can often be just as damaging as unwarranted criticism.

    But, and I think this important, the criticism is intended to push the work forward and is outside the making of the work itself. I think any kind of criticism or looking over one’s own shoulder while working harms the flow of the vision. My experience is that the real thing happens when I’m so sunk into the vision itself that there’s no critical thought at all, just pure experience.

    Critical thinking for me generally happens first thing before I start, much like in that Resnick video where he criticizes himself for his “arrogance”. But I don’t dwell on things. I just want to SEE the vision in front of my eyes and let it start to play. I’m not making decisions about what to do overall. It’s like I’m just sinking into that world in the painting and getting really familiar with it. Then when I start painting it’s all recorded and I know where I’m at and I don’t have to be standing back in judgement as I work. That’s my method anyway, and for me it works to allow things to create themselves without my ego becoming an impediment thinking it knows best. It doesn’t.

    The critical part is just like with Turner, to see where I can push things. What if I try this, or that? It’s exciting stuff…. to me, anyway.

    I know what you mean, John, about not wanting to take in other’s criticism. It often interferes and conflicts with the vision itself. But in a way, that can sometimes be good. It can give me a better sense of possibilities. So, like other things, I think criticism itself is neutral, it’s the context and who’s doing it and when that counts.

    Mostly I like to hear stories and anecdotes. They have more visual components than verbal conceptualizing. That’s another reason I liked Resnick so much, and my other teacher, Milo Russell. They were both great story tellers. That’s what painting is for me. It tells stories. Again, that was a Greenberg prohibition. No narratives in painting!!!

  4. johnk823 says:

    Bart, You are absolutely right as to artists unwarranted praise and criticism. Both are harmful in life and for the artist. It is because of a disfunctional society of people in the art world, that go against the grain of that which is rightousness in the eyes of God. These are those that judge others, rather than looking deep into a mirror at themself. They are afraid of what they might find and so they are quick to condem and judge others or to give praise where praise doesn’t belong. It is about themself, usually for money and they have their lost, as much as themselves, followers.

    Of such people, you should not even sit down and eat with them, for they are lost and have already set themselves up for destruction. They are of the world and of men and not of God, kindness does not belong to them. They heap up coals of fire upon themselves, yet they can not make one hair grow on their head. Distruction is their end means and hells fire is their destination. And, for their non-artist buddies who are not artist, whom they give praise, they only build them up in the hopes of making money off them. They are an abomination to themselves, as well as to God, because of their own lusts and greed. And, it is getting worst everyday.

    I don’t know about you, but what part of taking a leak on paper and hanging it on a wall and calling it art, don’t they get, is not art, but piss on paper hanging on a wall, smelling up the room. Their isn’t any means of creation to it, it has no value, except discuss and it doesn’t express anything but shear filth.

    There are many forms of art in this world, but some have taken it to far out of context and try their best to claim it as art, and the art world, lets them do it. Maybe because they have a need to be a part of something, a need to belong. This is all a part of sociology and the effects thereof. I have studied it in college and believe me when stepping out of any kind of norm in society, their are those who go to great extremes to not meld or fit in at all. The rediculious and adventagious, babbling their way through life with no idea of how to fit in, so totally off course they go, wanting to be a part of something bigger than themself and who ever will accept them, there they are!

    Sometimes art is a hostile environment to be in, as we know of from other forums we have been on. Judgement day is the way for some, because they have nothing better in life to do and nothing better to look forward to, and so go figure! This is who they are, yet even they have a place in the world. I just hope they can find it someday!

    • Steve says:

      Whew! That’s a good one John. Even though we probably shouldn’t sit in judgment of other artists, I guess there is a limit and a boundary, as you take note of note, and exception to, urinary art. Extreme expressions have been going on forever. When I was in college 1965-69, there was an outrageous sculptor in the art department who did his Master’s show of bronze trophies of animals copulating, and he showed up at the opening dressed in half a Napoleon outfit, cut vertically in half, half his body clothed in military garb and the other half naked ( not an easy trick to pull off). I was just a freshman art student and as wide-eyed and innocent as it was possible to be in the 60’s. But my common sense and love of art didn’t gel with what this guy was doing, even though the faculty and ‘adults’ were praising his courage and imagination. I thought at the time that if this is what it’s all about then I guess I’m out of it before I even get in it. However, I didn’t really know this student, didn’t know why he felt compelled to shock everybody. What was going on in his soul? Only he knew, and maybe God, as you imply. I don’t have enough time and energy to find out what’s going on in every artist’s soul, so I gravitate toward a few that I feel some connection with, and,…the devil take the hindmost.

  5. Steve says:

    Your reluctance to judge other artists must come from a smart heart. I sometimes judge the judges, but even that isn’t very art, or life, affirming. It reminds me of what a great spiritual figure once said ( a paraphrase ) : ” Don’t waste your precious life span in judgment of your fellow man.” We can never really know what goes on in another person’s head or heart. Speaking for myself, I sometimes don’t know what’s going on in my own self. The best critiques of my paintings have come not from critics, or even other artists, but from friends and family, who can be brutally honest without knowing it. Here’s one notable example. Decades ago, while I was living in Sweden, I had painted a large painting ( from a wonderful turn-of-the-century black & white photo) of a family of farmers and animals walking back down from high grazing ground at the end of summer to their homestead in the valley. I worked for many months on this painting, imagining the color of everything or making it up. One day, a close friend came to my studio ( an amazing studio ) and while we were sitting around, drinking and thinking and smoking, he casually said: ” I wouldn’t want to walk in those woods.” I felt frozen. What did he mean I asked. ” The trees are too dark, there’s no light in them.” My God it was true. How could I have not seen or felt that? The photo fooled me. Needless to say, I changed that forest, adding light in the dark reaches of the hillside trees. That’s true art criticism. Greenberg’s claim that the New York School artists were after “flatness” is not art criticism to my way of thinking, but just jaw-flapping chest-puffing , martini-tipping nonsense.

  6. trueoutsider says:

    That’s a really good story, Steve. That’s what I think is valuable about criticism. That it enables us to see something that we ourselves don’t see. But on the other hand, perhaps the dark wood was okay, too. After all that’s where Dante wakes up on his journey where Virgil begins taking him down to the Inferno.

    So the one thing I warn myself against is to make sure I’m not reacting to the critic’s needs to see something. I think that’s what conditions so much superficial art. Painters trying to please their teachers. I very early on learned to distrust art “teachers.” At our school there were grad school critiques. I discerned right away, as it was perfectly obvious, that different thuggish teachers would fight each other about their own particular ideological prejudices and tastes over some defenseless student. I recall one girl running out of a critique in tears. It made me furious out those creepy egotistic bullies, and it’s something I’ve never forgotten to this day. It’s also largely what motivates me to call those bullies out because I didn’t have the words or ability to do it back then. All I could do was throw paint all over their drawing studios and bury myself in seclusion from the whole sickening mess. Talking only to one teacher. Seeing Resnick. Resnick loved art and artists. The teachers there couldn’t stand Resnick. Why? Because he had no use for any of them.

    Criticism is fine if it’s from a place of wanting to help other artists grow and develop. I got some of my best help from an art critic who was teaching grad students at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He lambasted nearly everything I was doing. Just tore it up completely. But he got me into the print and drawing room to look at Ensor and Goya and Redon. And he’d come over to my studio and spend his valuable time. He showed up at my critique, which he never did for anybody else. So I know he cared. That’s the primary thing. It’s the guys, like those teachers in undergrad, that don’t care at all. They’re were just cutting up those students for personal ego satisfaction to show off in front of each other.

    The show on Bravo TV picking the next art star was a prime example of how vicious and sadistic it all is. Those kids trying to make it were put through every kind of humiliation and degrading situation that could be devised. Just like any of the other sickening Reality TV shows. It’s a function of a sick market fundamentalism, that degrades the human. That endlessly portrays human beings as sick, selfish and degraded. You get ahead by stabbing your friend in the back.

  7. Steve says:

    What you say is true about “dark woods being good too” I should’ve clarified my comment better by saying my friend’s criticism hit home because that’s how I really felt about that painting myself. But sometimes a criticism can hurt in the opposite way, by missing the point completely, or being expressed before I’ve finished working on something. It’s dicey business letting others see one’s art work, and even more so before it’s done. And when a teacher does the slamming, it can be devastating, even life changing. When I lived in Europe I taught painting to American students studying abroad at the university in the town, and also a night course in painting to Swedes (before I even knew their language!). And I decided that I would offer only constructive criticism, feeling like I could find something good to say about the student’s attempts to deal with the world of paint. They were mostly beginners with a desire to try their hand at painting. I did everything I could possibly think of to make them feel safe and willing to risk trying whatever they wanted to try. The most successful ‘lesson’ was a group painting. I spread a gessoed bed sheet out on the studio floor and told them all to take a place around it and start painting their way toward the middle, me included. They did some wild stuff and the only help I gave was basic brushwork suggestions, which I could show them immediately. Fear flew out the door. The results were more unified than one might imagine, not at all like those spinning paintings done at carnivals, but rather personal pathways leading to a center point. Naturally it got crowded in the middle and we laughed like hell as we tried to paint over and around and on top of one another. I was fired from the night course position because of my “unserious attitude” toward art, and “budgeted out” of the university job ( so I was told ). I still feel ‘constructive’ toward anyone’s work (except my own ), unless it’s projector-made photorealistic, geecli printed copies,…that stuff leaves me mute, I can’t see or say a thing.

  8. johnk823 says:

    Steve, Gladyou either liked that one or at least found it amusing, if nothing else. I guess I just think so many thing in the world, not just art, but many, many things are so out of hand, especially when it comes to having some kind of morals. We all mess up in this life, no one is perfect. But, the greed for money, sexual immorality, the pride of men being all puffed up with arrogance and so on, is just all foolishness to me.

    I like your last post about how you explained constructive criticism, and I’m all for that, especially when it is done in a kind and lovingly manner, which is how it is suppose to be done.

    And your story as to how you got let go from the university and night school, that reminded me of a football coach that my brother rented a room to when I lived with him several years ago. The coach was a kind and loving coach in his coaching techniques and his squad respected him, while the other coaches were always cussing and crusing, pushing and shoving the players and their was no respect in that kind of adult behavior.

    But, this is what I have been trying to make my point about, as is being encompassed in the art world and many others worlds, as well, is the deviant behavior of adults, in a mentor job or position in society. It is getting so out of hand and it affects students in general, be it art, cooking or whatever. I think you get what I’m trying to say.

  9. johnk823 says:

    Bart, Yes, there is a place for criticism, as long as it is kind and constructive. It should be help always and never devoid of the most respect and kindness for the artists efforts. Like you say, that is how we learn. Yes, friends can sometimes be the worst, but if you really think about, a good friend is suppose to be truthful to you, or he is not a friend at all.

    I like that phrase- A Smart Heart, that is right on the money, when it comes to critic. I think the artist would be more acceptable to the critic and would get more out of it, as well. Goes right back to the old addage “Love One Another”- you always get a better response.

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