Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On puzzles and nurse logs

Antonin Artuad is a God to me pure and simple. Not merely because he is in the pantheon of interesting 20th century writers, but because encountering The Theatre and its Double as a 20-something theatre major rocked me to my core. Here was a person – a theorist – a thinker – a nut job that was turning his back on 2000 years of tradition. By wanting to wipe away all of the layers that had accumulated and return the theatre to it mystical origins he was destroying everything I had been taught to believe.

This scenario would play itself out again and again with different mentors – Duchamp, Hugo Ball, Karen Finley, Chris Burden, Robert Wilson, Jacques Derrida, John Cage, Gertrude Stein, Bill Viola. Eventually I began to notice similarities in the questions these folks were asking. Granted they were asking them of different mediums - visual art, poetry, performance art, theatre, philosophy, sound, video – but the ideas were remarkably alike. Here were thinkers that while actively flaunting the rules of western art were more often simply playing by a different set of rules. As Lyotard says, “Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for. The artist and writer, then, are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done” ("Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?") They were, as Lyotard points out by quoting Thierry de Duve, not asking the traditional question of “what is beautiful?” but asking, “what can be said to be art?” Or – more importantly – what can this medium be used to say, to explore, to question?

(Do I expect you to know all of these references – perhaps – and yes I would be impressed because I am not sure I know all of them. They are touchstones – a kind of shorthand way of expressing certain ideas. There will be many others mentioned in the class – if you find something of interest ask about it. If you find something of interest outside of these quotes – Anne’s comment about Poe’s Philosophy of Composition is a good example – bring it in. I have often felt I am assembling one big jigsaw puzzle – the overall picture of which I can’t quite see yet, but each added piece brings me one step closer to understanding it)

So – after being rocked time and time again and after beginning to see a pattern and connections I felt I had set up an unscalable wall between traditional artistic activity – that which has a beginning, middle, and end, closure, beauty, balance, order, harmony – in short everything I was taught to value and see as the defining characteristics of a “good” work of art – and this postmodern, avant-garde, seemingly anti-artistic group of iconoclasts. A dilemma. I was torn. How can they both exist? How can they both be “right” or “good” or “useful” if they seem to cancel each other out?

And in class today. I wanted to embrace the western romantic notion that art is a struggle. That things that come too easy and without skill, without craft, without thought are worthless. And yet, there is often a simplicity to Cage, Duchamp, Artaud, etc that denies skill and annihilates craft. These folks are often accused of being elitist – of creating things so fettered by concept or thought that the meaning seems impenetrable. But Jackson Pollock is not hard to understand. 4’33” is not hard to understand. Duchamp’s urinal is not hard to understand. Show any of these to a group of kindergarteners and they will get them. Can the same be said of Mahler or Shakespeare? Is “elitism” simply a tag placed on works that are hard to understand because it is not a matter of simply “unlocking” hidden meaning but actively creating meaning as a negotiation between the viewer and the work?

I am at an impasse. I defer to the notion of non-dualism that Bob discusses in his blog (I might refer to it as Pataphysical). Why must it be either or? Why consider these ideas canceling each other out? I subscribe to the both/and of postmodernism if only to avoid this binary quandary. What does all of this have to do with Generative Art? Does anyone know what a nurse log is?

1 comment:

  1. Prior to searching, I had to wonder what a piece of paper in a hospital had anything to do with our class. Or even weirder, what is a dead tree doing playing doctor?

    However, armed with knowledge, I see decay and birth (almost a rebirth). I experience something coming from something else without the parasitic destruction of the latter. Nothing sacrifices itself for the continuation, it merely becomes a vehicle after the fact.

    and creates beautiful images: