1: Present the Question
The notion that arts activity does not need to result in artifacts or other conventional artistic products has raised a number of unprecedented questions during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. For example, conceptual art often leaves nothing physical to “consume,” which causes some to question art itself as a definable notion.
Can anyone produce/pronounce random objects to be art (Marcel Duchamp), produce sounds… (John Cage) and call it music, or engage in random activities (Vito Acconci) and call it a performance, or do such acts have complex meanings rooted in the histories of the arts that make it possible for them to be accepted as artworks?
Explain whether artistic acts sans artifacts, in particular, subvert, threaten, or enhance the notion of art. Is there any point to defining art today?
2: Philosophical Background
Before I present my thesis, I want to provide the first bracket of a general philosophical framework…
In 1914, Clive Bell asserted that a starting point for all systems of aesthetics required the experience of certain emotional states associated with the arts– a kind of variable emotional resonance toward whatever art form was being experienced in a formalist sense. In doing so, the ability to appreciate art in a qualitative sense depended on the aesthetic sensibilities of those apprehending the works of art. This in part contributed to arbitrary systems of aesthetics based on characteristics and properties of various artworks.
Seeking to formulate less arbitrary directions toward defining art, Morris Weitz with the help of Wittgenstein and writing in 1956, moves the effort to define art forward into more conceptual domains. He does this by pointing out that the effort to discern what art is should be based on how it is employed culturally and linguistically, rather than forming classes of objects based on their properties. While pointing out that various aspects of art deemed as necessary and sufficient can help to evaluate art qualitatively as components of existing theories at the time, Weitz shows that these various theories fail to approach what really defines art on a more fundamental level.
With the writings of Arthur Danto (and certainly others), art emerges as a new kind of expressive reality above and beyond art as imitation. Writing about the philistine who does not understand abstraction, Danto asserts the value of the artworld by positing that the philistine has not yet navigated the allegory of a process which the Zen Buddhist Ch’ing Yuan writes of and which I quote here:
“Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got the very substance I am at rest. For it is just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.”
The allegory is the history of art and its theories which together constitute the art world- a foundation for a historical essentialism courtesy of Danto.
Ten years later, George Dickie leans on Danto’s theory of the artworld as arbiter of what is art, in order to qualify artworks on a more authoritative level. Dickie uses the world of theater as a formative example of the artworld as institution, explaining that plays exist as a form of art because of practices established over a long and varied history. Dickie then points out the way that Duchamp’s readymades found their place of importance in the world of art theory, namely by a unique leveraging of the institutional nature of the artworld. Anticipating later writings of Carroll and Levinson in some regards, Dickie states that it is the predecessors of radical changes or bizarre innovations found within the artworld as an institution which create and allow the spaces for innovation. It is in Dickie that we see arguments emerge regarding the qualification of the artifact. Dickie argues against Weitz, when he states that the artworld as institution is a pre-requisite for the designation of otherwise random artworks as artifacts. It is important here to note that Dickie does not remove the necessity of the artifact, he is attempting to qualify the designation of an object as such.
Carroll points out some of the strengths of historical narratives in the identification of works of art, focusing on relative economies and freedom from controversy. Carroll points out the value of history in freeing designations of artworks from the containment of definitions- by stating that the authority of the definitional approach to concepts is not unqualified. There are networks of familiarity involved after all. Thus, historical contexts are very useful in explaining what may otherwise seem a random designation of something as a work of art to one who is less informed historically. By shifting networks of familiarity over to the artists and by defining art based on the way it relates to existing artworks, Levinson anticipates the work of philosophers such as George Kubler and David Summers who seek to define art globally, i.e. to include non-Western art.
3: Thesis Slides
- •In the way that sansabelt pants actually do have a belt in the form of hidden elastic connectors of varying widths,
- ”sansanartifact” artistic acts actually do have artifacts in the form of hidden elastic connectors of varying widths.
- These connectors are trans-temporal, trans-dimensional, and transdisciplinary.
5: Points of Arrivals and Departures
The ability of the artifact to subvert, threaten, or enhance the notion of art whether through a physical presence or lack thereof depends largely on the way that artifacts function intrinsically within art works of various types. I would like to show, by means of a larger qualification and definition of the artifact, that worthwhile conversations centered on the definition of art can be generated. These conversations can reconcile both pedestrian and encapsulated institutional polemics, as well as random pronouncements and complex meanings..
In light of numerous anecdotal and theoretical directions involved with artifacts in relation to theatre and live performance, visual art, and music, artifacts always exert a powerful role. It is the market which empowers the consumable aspect of artifacts. From the days of guilds and apprenticeships in drama, art and sculpture, or conservatories in music, it is the market which has always fueled the production of the conventional consumable artifact, even in a non-linear temporal sense.
As theater director Jonathan Miller points out in his book “Subsequent Performances,” the very act of putting Shakespeare’s plays on stage pre-empts alternative meanings in the minds of various private readers of the plays, and implicit in this is the primary status of Shakespeare’s texts as literary works, written over four hundred years ago. But what also follows from this is that any theatrical performance outside the mind of an informed reader may somehow fall short of an imagined understanding of the author’s intent. Does this mean that great plays can exist without ever being performed? Not, as Jonathan Miller points out, unless distinctions between drama and other forms of literature were to be completely collapsed. Miller thus concludes (and I agree) that all performances are a kind of limitation. It is these limitations which give theatrical creations along with other creative works the opportunity to develop or evolve over time. These developments are not always linear in nature. At times, artworks or their artifacts enter a kind of afterlife period. Miller takes this idea of afterlife from the art historian Aby Warburg, who used it in the context of rediscovered cultures and the way they are revived. The revival of classical Roman and Greek culture during the Renaissance is described by one of Warburg’s colleagues as an “undulating curve of estrangements and rapprochements.”
From here we can appropriate a somewhat similar concept which the German philosopher Martin Heidegger writes about. Describing the way that a broken tool, when failing to function as it is supposed to, suddenly reveals to us the excess of its being, Heidegger shows us a broken tool as a kind of emergent energetic presence. When taken for granted under normal conditions, the tool recedes into a web of referentiality, but when broken, the tool becomes an intrusive singularity. Art is like this- it is the creation of energetic singularities out of webs of referentiality. Unlike the broken tool however, creative works have mobilities which transcend being anchored in specific properties and processes. It is the artifacts which allow for this, and it is the autonomy of artifacts which allow artists such as the politically motivated Dadaists to reject the institution by means of choosing objects from the real world and designating them as artworks in their own right.
Tools and artifacts can exist in the realm of the non-physical. For instance, someone who wants to develop their powers of concentration may use a specific mental picture to focus on, or someone who wants to perform complex mathematical calculations may employ specific shortcuts– the use of known quantitative functions, equations, or tables. These are tools. The artifacts of creative works, being a step removed from the more specific processes in which tools are embedded, are not limited to being physical in nature. As a representative for the rejection of the institution, Duchamp’s urinal allies itself with other non-physical artifacts in the form of ideas, impulses, emotions, and concepts.
By the same token the afterlife of creative artifacts of all types endows them with trans-dimensionality, trans-temporality, and trans-disciplinarity all in one fell swoop.
examples of Globe theater, Belvedere torso, Uccello here
Pitiless sleuth that he was, Duchamp cannot come close to the pitiless and sleuthing nature of the market. Though in 1917, the market and the institution were not nearly as integrated as they are today , it is the rejections of the institution as market in the early twentieth century, and the anti-consumerist rejection of the market by artists in the 1960s, which, like the metaphor of the broken tool, caused new singularities to emerge- Surrealism and aspects of modernism in the 20s, minimalism, land art, body art, and more literal forms of conceptual & performance art in the 60s. Nonetheless, the ubiquity of the artifact has allowed the market to subsume all of these, notwithstanding the lack of gallery artifacts seen with conceptual art forms. This is due to the morphogenetic nature of artifacts. This can be seen in the writings of artists in the 1960s, when they began to have access to publishing outlets for their ideas, thus generating new streams of artifacts. These new streams of artifacts were new iterations of non-physical artifacts or perhaps virtual or sans artifacts- the word as adjective rather than preposition. Could there be an inverse relationship between the level of ephemerality in creative works and the sans artifacts they generate? Perhaps not in a universal sense, but it might be worthwhile, while thinking within this larger qualification of artifacts as multidimensional things, to consider what Steven Shaviro points out, writing in an essay called “The Universe of Things”:
“To reduce a thing to its presence-at-hand – which is to say the sum of its delineable properties – is precisely to regard that thing as only the correlate of a consciousness perceiving it (Meillassoux, 2008). But a thing is always more than its qualities; it always exists and acts independently of, and in excess over, the particular ways that we grasp and comprehend it.”
Certainly this is true of all art works, no matter what level of ephemerality they exhibit.
Show examples of Kandinsky, Varese, Mask Factory, Cage, Nauman, Abromavic
Cage’s 4’33” though seemingly quite ephemeral in terms of artifact, relies on a large number of artifacts. First is the score, which designates the articulations of the three movement piece. Second is the innumerable sonic artifacts present in the room during the performance of the piece. The venue chosen was a “serious” performance venue, which was chosen based on normative qualities of formal performance- the audience would sit quietly, allowing for the performance to proceed without interruption, the ambient artifacts of sound were thus allowed to represent the piece better. The concept of the piece was a generative impulse, which when actualized, generated large numbers and types of other artifacts. The original idea of the piece could be considered an artifact, resulting from Cage’s study of Zen Buddhism, and the notion he arrived at, that any sound can be considered music. The philosopher Levinson argues that traditional music is a combination of a sound structure and a structured means of performance. In this case, the score is certainly not the music.
The philosopher Peter Kivy has written about the possibility of music as a process of discovery, rather than creation. It is difficult to imagine the process of traditional music composition as a purely creative process. Some ideas are ‘found’ through improvisation, some ideas are borrowed from others, and other ideas do seem to come in the form of pure inspiration. If what seems to be a pre-formed musical idea comes to a composer through a flash of inspiration, is that truly creation? Music created through improvisation relies on the non-physical artifacts which improvisation creates. These too may be rooted in webs of referentiality, connected by other artifacts.
David Summers, in the sixth chapter of his attempt to create a world history of art in a single book without relying on chronology utilizes the idea of virtuality- the ability to see things based on what is absent. Certainly artifacts, whether physical or not, play a part in this, by their connective capacities, whether during the creation of art, music, literature, theater, or other realms of creativity in which artifacts inevitably circulate.
Visual Examples Scripts:
Regarding the Globe Theater reconstruction:
Quoting from an online blog: One item made my Bucket List from the instant I heard that it was being built: Attend a Shakespeare play at the recreated Globe Theater in London. I love Shakespeare. I love theater. I’ve always wanted to go to London. That makes it an automatic something to do. It was easy to envision sitting in the ring or at worst cheering with the groundlings. Now I have found the ultimate bells and whistles way to join the Lords and Ladies of the Court. Move over Lizzie. He may have written the plays for you, but I’m all for doing the Globe in style.
The Globe can never be as it was originally…
Quoting Miller (regarding the Belvedere torso):
This is a torso by default. The sculptor could not have anticipated its afterlife with a completely different mutilated identity. It is in this form that it has assumed a canonical status. We do not see it as a representation of a damaged body, nor as a damaged representation of a complete one. In its afterlife, it has assumed a self-sufficient identity so that the restoration of the missing parts will seem just as vandalistic as the knocking off of the bits that survive.
Uccello- sections from ‘The Profanation of the Host’ (Predella)
now subject to a completely different type of gaze than originally intended. A dramatic gravity in its afterlife far greater than the artist could have anticipated.
Kandinsky (example from “Der Gelbe Klang” sketchbook page)
Varese (example of musical lines from jazz improv sessions in New York, 1957)
In 1957, before his departure for Europe to continue work on Poeme, Edgar Varese worked closely with some of the leading Jazz musicians in New York in 1957, in a series of jam sessions. Among the musicians in these sessions were Art Farmer, trumpet; Teo Macero, tenor saxophone; Hal McKusick, clarinet and alto saxophone; Hall Overton, piano; Frank Rehak, trombone; Ed Shaughnessy, drums; and Charlie Mingus, Bass. The attendees of these events extended beyond the jazz musicians to the likes of John Cage and other friends of Earle Brown and Varèse. This example shows an artifact as idea, improv can produce non-physical artifacts as ideas also, which themselves can spawn numerous other artifacts, some physical, such as recordings, some not, such as subsequent changes in subsequent performances.
Mask Factory (song title, example of DAW visuals using Apple’s Logic 9.0 software)
Bruce Nauman (portrait of self as a fountain)
Self portrait as fountain by Bruce Nauman transforms spitting into absurdist architecture by means of the photo as peculiar artifact, and equates the artist’s body with the notorious turned up urinal of Duchamp’s ‘fountain’ Theatrical performance art subsequently gave way to “Body” artists, who began to focus more on the isolated physical self subjected to acts and conditions which attracted attention through risk and distress. Numerous non-physical artifacts as points of attentive focus mentioned in my thesis emerge from these performances in the form of dialectics, impulses, emotions, and thoughts.
Retrospective of Maria Abramavic at MOMA NY:
Quoting the NYT: With the opening on Sunday of “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present,” a long-building energy wave of performance art hits the Museum of Modern Art full force. The show is a four-decade survey of work by one of the field’s most visible and magnetic figures. The combination of stressed-out flesh in documentary films and live nude bodies in the galleries is pretty radical fare for this institution.
–A different type of performative afterlife, and a fertile field for the non-physical artifact, based on the way that the audience is placed in the position of facing their own sensibilities in relation to the work being engaged with
Acconci’s “Following” piece:
I want to use probably the lesser known of the three examples given in my question to further develop the multifaceted nature of an ontology of artifacts:
Vito Acconci, Following Piece, performed in New York City between October 3 and 25, 1969.
Conceived by performance and conceptual artist Vito Acconci, Following Piece was an activity that took place everyday on the streets of New York, between October 3rd and 25th, 1969. The terms of the exhibition “Street Works IV” were to do a piece, sometime during the month, that used a street in New York City. So Acconci decided to follow people around the streets and document his following of them. But why would he do this? Why would Acconci follow random people around New York?
By selecting a passer-by at random until they entered a private space, Acconci submitted his own movements to the movements of others, showing how our bodies are themselves always subject to external forces that we may or may not be able to control. In his notes that the artist kept during the performance, Acconci wrote:
• I need a scheme (follow the scheme, follow a person)
• I add myself to another person (I give up control/I don’t have to control myself)
• Subjective relationship; subjunctive relationship
• A way to get around. (A way to get myself out of the house.) Get into the middle of things.
• Out of space. Out of time. (My time and space are taken up, out of myself, into a larger system).
Artifacts produced by artists, directors, musicians, and other creative agents often exist unseen by audiences. Artifacts produced subsequent to the actualization of the creative work, whether by the creative agents themselves, the audience, or others, may appear at any time or in any number of formats, and may expand themselves, join with with others, modify others, or eventually have afterlives of their own.