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What If Duchamp Was Wrong?
Deconstructing Marcel Duchamp
Destabilizing Walter Benjamin
Demystifying Sol Lewit
Let us not praise famous mistakes;
this critique is a game-changer and the game it changes
1s everything we know of art and art history.
We’ll never see them the same way again.
Miklos Legrady, 29" x 54" - 73.66cm x 137.16cm, acrylic on cardboard, Sept. 29, 2020.
Marshall McLuhan pointed out that in the 1960s art was anything you could get away with, which is rather frightening when political theory says your culture is your future. The public saw Duchamp’s urinal as another golden calf but the art world got away with it. If it works for art why not for politics? Did postmodernism enable the post truth era, did the 1960s pave the way for Donald Trump?
Such statements sound extreme until they don't. Think of Duchamp’s life as a cherry pie from which scholars only publish slices that fit the status quo, else they risk their own status quo. For no one in the academic curatorial network would want to believe we fell for myths created by vested interests, and yet new documents have come to light that suggest that very thing; a scandal brewing in the halls of art history.
Will Gompertz, previously Director of Tate Media, was BBC's arts editor before moving in 2021 to a position as the Barbican Centre’s Director of Arts and Learning. In a 2012 article in the Guardian he described how Duchamp discovered the urinal called Fountain.
Gompertz’s tale is full of coy drama but it is almost certainly an imaginary event in a schoolboy’s fantasy. The idea of Duchamp calling found objects art or a new art form is contradicted in statements and letters by Duchamp himself. Even worse for Gompertz's tale is a letter by Duchamp to his sister where he writes the urinal was sent in by a someone else.((2)
“April II  My dear Suzanne- impossible d'écrire (According to Dr. Glynn Thompson, in the Parisian French of 1917 this meant "nothing much to write about".) - I heard from Crotti that you were working hard. Tell me what you are making and if it’s not too difficult to send. Perhaps, I could have a show of your work in the month of October or November-next-here. But tell me what you are making- Tell this detail to the family: The Independents have opened here with immense success. One of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture it was not at all indecent-no reason for refusing it...”
God, 1917,Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Morton Livingston Schamberg
That friend was most likely Dada artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who had done a plumbing work called God that same year. It's believable that Duchamp appropriated the urinal after Elsa’s suicide in a mental asylum, although scholars argue for and against this provenance. In either case the urinal was only one of Duchamp’s public strategies to discredit art.
At a 1998 panel discussion entitled Vision and Visuality sponsored by the Dia Art Foundation, Rosalind Krauss mentioned that (except for Mondrian and Seurat) Duchamp despised optical art and disliked artisanal work. We would be surprised to read that Shakespeare despised grammar, that Mozart loathed musical notes, or that Baryshnikov spurned the grand jeté; these are things to respect, not to despise.
Before Duchamp, art took decades to master, with readymades Duchamp made mastery irrelevant. Still, an inquiry prompted by Duchamp’s own words is gaining importance and needs consideration. Duchamp always said the readymades were not art.
"When asked how he came to choose the readymade, Duchamp replied, “Please note that I didn’t want to make a work of art out of it ... when I put a bicycle wheel on a stool ... it was just a distraction. I didn’t have any special reason ... or any intention of showing it, or describing anything. The word ‘readymade’ thrusts itself on me then. It seemed perfect for these things that weren’t works of art, that weren’t sketches, and to which no term of art applies.” (3) Duchamp’s refusal to have readymades treated as works of art led him to claim that “for a period of thirty years nobody talked about them and neither did I.” In a 1959 Audio Art interview Duchamp did consider their possible status as art, but even then he chose his words carefully to avoid that.
There is a dramatic difference between having an idea and making a work of art. Everyone has ideas; few can make art. It takes effort to acquire the skills that mature one’s vision. As an example there's the art of painting, the art of dance. They’re better than adequate painting or dance, which are good but not that good. Garden gnomes and church angels are sculpture but they are not the art of sculpture. Found objects in a gallery are questionable, Duchamp said they’re not art. Everyone has ideas. Skills, not so much.
Duchamp wanted ideas to dominate visual art, but it's easier to write them down, ideas belong to literature since they’re best described in words. Painting uses a different configuration, which is the non-verbal optical vocabulary of visual language. While literature depends on intellect, non-verbal languages bring us closer to the instincts that motivate our lives. Remove sensations and their semiotic values from vision and you have a sight no longer sensible. Duchamp stopped painting.
He also said that taste is the enemy of art. To unpack that we have to question taste; sweet and sour, bitter and salt. Our taste in colour, shape, style, and song, they all work the same way, they determine our choice. Without taste we have no choice, without choice we have no art. Combining this with the concept of ready-mades, Duchamp is saying that individual choice is the enemy of art, compared to the machine-made found objects he prefers. Was Duchamp mistaken when he said such thing, or was it the Dada talking? Was it an intentional effort to get rid of art?
This shows how our accounts of Duchamp lack context; we were never told of his consistent rejection and denial of art, which he wanted to replace with a non-art he sought but never found. This was likely a didacticDada tactic, a marketing strategy that turned around and bit the biter. In a 1968 BBC interview with Joan Bakewell, the year before he died, Duchamp said that he wanted to discredit art, yes, on purpose, there's an unnecessary obsession with art today that he cannot understand, he wanted to get rid of art the way some had gotten rid of religion.(4)
After long insisting that art was discredited, Duchamp eventually convinced himself. He lost interest in making art, he couldn’t do it anymore. He kept at Étant donnés for two decades, but the muse was gone and like any spurned lover she wasn't coming back. It was like a broken leg he told John Cage, you didn't mean to do it.
Embarassing fact get swept under the rugt when they contradict our myths. We have made Gods of Duchamp, Walter Benjamin, Sol Lewitt, and others. We looked to them for wisdom in areas where they were compromised. By the turn of the 21st century we were so confused, if art is a cultural precursor then every indication suggests that humanity is on a downhill trajectory.
24" x 48" - 60.96cm x 121.92cm, acrylic on canvas, Sept. 19, 2020.
There has been such a corrosion of logic in the last 40 years that we need to dust off the history books, to understand that our myths of art and artists, which we thought were historical facts, turn out to be children’s fables. This is the story of talented artists whose genius in their field brought them such fame, status, and credibility, that whatever they said was praised without question or comprehension. For example Benjamin’s dictum that all we can expect of art is to reproduce reality and the only genuine art is made by a committee of the working class to instruct the masses.
Such statements fall apart under basic logic... yet these embarrassing facts are ignored out of convenience if they shade our homemade gods; typical cognitive dissonance. Here we’ll recover those scandals left out of history books yet crucial for the back-story. And so our field of knowledge expands, and on that note, a word of caution.
R.A. Fischer was a preeminent statistics theorist who built the foundations of modern statistical science In 1947 he was invited to give a series of talks on BBC radio on the nature of science and scientific investigation, which applies as much to the arts of today.
And yet… on finding some errata in the archives I was drawn into a fifteen year study of Duchamp, which grew to include Walter Benjamin, Sol Lewitt, and numerous others whose talent made them world renowned and yet whose ideas, theories, writing, were sadly but fatally mistaken.
This critique was therefore years in making, of caution at challenging the status quo, even as facts insisted we publish the shades of nonsense that are academia’s Achilles’ heel. There's evidence that in the early 1960s the academic-curatorial complex (the art students, professors, curators, writers, and other culturati) decided to forsake logic and common sense in favor of an iffy social construct. It’s quite a story.
24" x 48" - 60.96cm x 121.92cm, acrylic on canvas, Sept. 19, 2020.
24" x 48" - 60.96cm x 121.92cm, acrylic on canvas, Sept. 19, 2020.
Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds
Nietzsche wrote that insanity is rare in individuals but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. It does look like he art world in the 1960s invented our “alternative facts”, when art became “anything you can get away with”. This philosophy found consent in academia, gained cultural influence and shaped today’s social landscape; the numerous parallels between contemporary art paradigms and contemporary Republican thought suggests postmodernism may own the post truth era and Donald Trump. How many of us believe that art is to piss on?
Iin 2008 following decades of financial misconduct called sub-prime loans, bankers, accountants, and professional economists crashed the global banking system. If economist can be that wrong so can the arts community, especially when artists love to wear the emperor’s new clothes. I think that actually happened; I think the art world derailed in the 1960s. That’s what today is all about.
Derrida's method of deconstruction was to look past the irony and ambiguity to the layer that genuinely threatens to collapse that system. The layers threatening to collapse today’s system took shape in the 1960s when the art world moved from the Cedar Tavern to the Seminar Room, the foundations of art shifted from studio practice to classroom discussion, from doing to thinking.
Standards often fall to vested interests. Recently an article in Arts And Letters Daily told us that for Walter Benjamin art was mystical, an awe-inspiring an immortal mystery. Marxist Benjamin’s writing said the opposite; (basso profondo) “the art of the working class… the art of the proletariat after its assumption of power… brush aside a number of outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery.”
Walter Benjamin was a brilliant writer, a literary genius, but his social science fails peer review. His “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” follows flawed Marxists theory and toes the party line. For Bolsheviks lying is a political strategy and “Mechanical Reproduction” was distorted on the procrustean bed of working class mythology. Fabulist policy normally does not age well, yet this paper of Benjamin’s is still revered by generations whose adulation lacks both scholarship and common sense.
22" x 33" -55.88cm x 83.82cm, acrylic on cardboard, Nov. 15, 2020
Another highly respected theorist was Sol Lewitt, a brilliant visual artist. Unfortunately his Sentences on Conceptual Art, and Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, deny both logic and Sol Lewitt’s own experience; his practice consistently contradicted his theories. Lewitt refutes these charges by saying a conceptual artist is a mystic who overleaps logic, but he fails to explain how such miracles happen. When read without adulation and hero worship, his writing makes little sense but has poetic and mythical appeal. It’s an ill omen that no one noticed the obvious, or thought this through… respect for authority is the enemy of inquiry.
And so it came to be that if we have not seen as far as others, it was because we were standing on the shoulders of very short giants, or else giants were standing on our shoulders. But we certainly ned to wake up and smell the coffee.
1- Will Gompertz, Putting modern art on the map, The Guardian, 2012, reprinted in dadart.com.- -> back to top
2- Christie Lutz, "Richard Mutt", Rutgers University - -> back to top
3- Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, A window into something else, p48, Da Capo Press. 4-Joan Bakewell, BBC. https://youtu.be/Zo3qoyVk0GU - -> back to top
5 - Hald, Anders (1998). A History of Mathematical Statistics. New York: Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-17912-2.- -> back to top
Efron, Bradley (1998), "R. A. Fisher in the 21st century", Statistical Science, 1988:
David Salsburg, p51, The Lady Tasting Tea – How Statistics Revolutionized Science. Holt, N.Y. 2001 - -> back to top
What If Duchamp Was Wrong?
Deconstructing Marcel Duchamp
Destabilizing Walter Benjamin
Demystifying Sol Lewit
Duchamp’s past tells a different tale than the one in the seminar room. But rest assured that the good Duchamp has done did not get interred with his bones, since the darkness of a person’s shadow comes from the brightness of the light they walk in. And as we acknowledge Duchamp’s shadow, we seek to understand what he did and what he wanted, why and how, we will unravel it.
This article differs from typical Duchamp studies in having no commitment to the belief that he made great art, in fact Duchamp sought the opposite. He tried to get rid of art and looked for ways to make images that were not based on visual language but on intellectual thought; he also tried to discredit art and replace it with an alternative of his own making. Today’s documentation remaps his place in history and sweeps away myths built up over time. Sorry for shaking that tree. I’m not here to say bad things about Marcel but to share the unavoidable conclusions drawn from the available evidence; the 18th century American Thomas Payne said that he who dares not offend cannot be honest.
Duchamp did have humanfailings, his father paid his bills so he never had to work, he loved the spotlight, he enjoyed rebellion, and the theatrical shock of Dada. He said painting was dead and he wanted to discredit art, he said art, which he said was over rated. Essentially a Dada role-play, this concept turned around and consumed him. After years of denying art Duchamp could no longer paint. In spite of his misfortune in losing interest in art, Duchamp made a major contribution to the epistemology of painting. He located the boundaries of visual art, the point at which one stops making art. Rejecting visual language in favor of an intellectual approach killed his motivation and creativity, he told John Cage it was like a brokenleg.
When Duchamp made painting intellectual, he didn’t know that intellect and vision use separate languages that cannot replace one another, theF science was mising in his time. The intellect’s neural networks use a vocal language of reason and logic, whereas painting uses a sensory mode defined as a visual language with an optical vocabulary, the non-verbal language of visual art. Discard it and it's goodbye art, hello chess. Duchamp wasn't aware of that, consequence, we ourselves only see it in retrospect. Rejecting art seemed a good shock machine, a competitive career strategy, an extreme yet logical move in his desire to Dada. If you shock the bourgeoisie they will pay attention.
Richard Dorment wrote, “Tate Modern’s 2008 Duchamp exhibition demonstrates that he was not quite the isolated genius most of us had imagined. In placing his work beside that of his two friends, the Spaniard Francis Picabia and the American Man Ray, the show demonstrates that all three were operating on the same wavelength and pursuing similar goals”.(1) The competition was intense, Donald Kuspit wrote of Matisse out-performing him(2) even though Duchamp was obviously a talented painter, far above the average, in fact exceptionally gifted.
In the Cabane interviews we sense Duchamp’s disappointment at being virtually unknown in France … even if a disdain for status was part of his brand. Perhaps he was making a virtue of necessity when “a prophet has no honor in his own country.” (John ch4 v44) “There are people who are born unlucky and who simply never ‘make it’. They’re not talked about. That was the case with me (till the 1960s).”(3) Duchamp was twenty-eight years old in 1915 when he arrived in New York.
Walter Pach introduced him to his principal American patron, Walter C. Arensberg. Duchamp stayed a month at Arensberg’s; their friendship would last their lifetime.(4) At Arensberg’s Duchamp met “everybody who was anybody in New York”(5), and while Duchamp lived in relative obscurity until the 1960s, Arensberg and others purchased enough work to get by.(6) Duchamp’s resurgent fame came in the late 1960s through Motherwell, John Cage, and Jasper Johns; George Segal remarked that “Marcel Duchamp had a revived life through John Cage.”(7)
Questioning the readymade
Duchamp is best known for the readymade, a found object equivalent to years of experience and months of creative work. Art before Duchamp took decades to master, Duchamp made mastery irrelevant. Still, an inquiry prompted by Duchamp’s own words is gaining importance and needs consideration. Duchamp always said the readymades were not art. Rarely did he speak of them as such, generally in a context of why not defining art.
"The curious thing about the readymade is that I've never been able to arrive at a definition or explanation that fully satisfies me."(8). When asked how he came to choose the readymade, Duchamp replied, “Please note that I didn’t want to make a work of art out of it ... when I put a bicycle wheel on a stool ... it was just a distraction. I didn’t have any special reason ... or any intention of showing it, or describing anything.(9) The word ‘readymade’ thrusts itself on me then. It seemed perfect forthese things that weren’t works of art, that weren’t sketches, and to which no term of art applies.” (10) Duchamp’s refusal to have readymades treated as works of art led him to claim that “for a period of thirty years nobody talked about them and neither did I.”(11) In a 1959 Audio Art interview Duchamp did consider their possible status as art, but even then he chose his words carefully as noted above. As his friend and confidant will tell us near the end of this critique, Duchamp said the found objects were “not-art, non-art”.
A definition of "readymade" published under the name of Marcel Duchamp is found in Breton and Eluard's Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme: "an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist." While published under his his initials, "MD", André Gervais nevertheless asserts that André Breton wrote this particular dictionary entry.(12) Today, in large numbers of peer-reviewed trials worldwide, the artist’s choice consistently failed to elevate common objects to the dignity of a work of art. At the Tate Gallery a pile of trash remained trash for weeks no matter how often the artist came by to elevate it to the dignity of a work of art. Huffed. Puffed. No art. No dignity.
In Gamboni’s ‘The Destruction of Art’, Duchamp at the end of his life explained to Otto Hahn “that his readymades had aimed at drawing ‘the attention of the people to the fact that art is a mirage even if ‘a solid one’, and concluded from the vagaries of taste that history was to be doubted.”(13)In line with Duchamp’s desire to o discredit art, it’s the readymades that are the solid mirage… but art isn’t an illusion just because readymades are, especially since readymades are not-art. Meanwhile it’s the vagaries of changing tastes that create art history rather than raising doubt about it, since history is the record of such changes. Today’s science says aesthetics were a crucial aspect of evolutionary development, psychology observed that art is vital to mental health, so obviously art is not a mirage but a tangible process and product. We need to revise our history to include that and to remember that Duchamp said the readymades are not art, "no term of art applies".
In any case the science on art, the archaeology, sociology, and psychology tell us that art is specific; it’s not an arbitrary construct even if it so appears at first glance. If art was limitless it could not exist - without limitations we dissolve in the boundless. Art is not an accident nor is it a found object – art is always an intention, an effort, and definitely an achievement. We now question why the art world said found objects were art when Duchamp said they were not. One answer is that Duchamp was trying for something that was not art but the art world couldn’t wrap its head around that, based on the premise that since Duchamp was an artist whatever he did must be art. There may be other reasons why Duchamp denied art status to found objects.
Perhaps because it was someone else’s idea. Dr. Glyn Thompson, Professor Emeritus, Art History at Leeds University in England, in 2015 presented sufficient arguments that the urinal was by Dada artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.(14) A 2018 article by Rutgers’ Stephanie Crawford titled Richard Mutt(15) reviews Dr. Thompsons’ convincing evidence, including a letter written by Duchamp on April, 11, 1917 to his sister Suzanne, that “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture; since there was nothing indecent about it, there was no reason to reject it.” Dr. Thompson also found that the urinal would have been made and purchased in Trenton, New Jersey, where the factory was. These protocols can be found in the company’s trade catalogs…. Mott didn’t make a urinal similar enough to the 1917 image of the urinal.(16)
It is important to take a moment to reflect on the moral implications of what Duchamp wrote; “since there was nothing indecent about it…” But there was, the idea that art is to piss on is indecent. Chick Korea is a great Jazz musician, but when he performed on stage no one ever went up and pissed on him, because of respect for his accomplishment. To disrespect accomplishment is indecent. The postmodern deprecation of art starts here and slowly corrupts the academy without anyone realizing it; Duchamp’s effort to discredit art (16b) achieved a degree of success inacademia.
We have a different description of Duchamp and the urinal published in 2015 by Sir Alistair MacFarlane, who wrote “On 17 April, 1917 Duchamp discovered an ideal exhibit when strolling along Fifth Avenue in the company of Walter Arensberg, his patron, a collector, and Joseph Stella, a fellow artist. When they passed the retail outlet of J.L. Mott, Duchamp was fascinated by a display of sanitary ware. He had found what he had been diligently seeking; and persuaded Arensberg to purchase a standard, flat-backed white porcelain urinal. Taking it to his studio, he placed it on its back, signed it with the pseudonym ‘R. Mutt’, and gave it the name Fountain”. (17)
MacFarlan dates his version a week after Duchamp’s letter to his sister, there’s no mention of Elsa, and the narrative around the plumbing store J.L. Mott was debunked by Dr. Glynn Thompson. I wrote Sir Alistair asking for clarification. His editor replied that Sir Alistair’s health is not good, I may not hear from him. It is certainly possible that the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, being perennially broke, may not have sent Duchamp the urinal itself but a letter asking him to buy a urinal in her name for the Independent show, and sign it for her. This doesn't validate Elsa being washed out of history by MacFarlane.
There’s also an account by Will Gompertz (BBC's arts editor and previously director of Tate Media) published three years earlier in 2012 in the Guardian, which may have been MacFarlane’s source. Gompertz’s imaginary account is a coy schoolboy fantasy that includes the discretionary J.L. Mott Iron Works in New Jersey, that conveniently "materialized" at 118 Fifth Ave in Manhattan.(18)
Of course this entire narrative is discredited by Duchamp’s letter to his sister; “April II  My dear Suzanne- Impossible to write- I heard from Crotti that you were working hard. Tell me what you are making and if it’s not too difficult to send. Perhaps, I could have a show of your work in the month of October or November-next-here. But tell me what you are making- Tell this detail to the family: The Independents have opened here with immense success. One of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture it was not at all indecent-no reason for refusing it. The committee has decided to refuse to show this thing. I have handed in my resignation.”
Meanwhile the JL Mott Ironworks Company did not manufacture the model in Stieglitz’s photograph, so that story is inaccurate. In 1935 André Breton attributed the urinal to Duchamp, but it wasn’t until 1950, long after the baroness had died in an insane asylum and four years after Stieglitz’s death, that Duchamp began to take credit for the piece and authorise replicas.(19)
There is another account of Duchamp discovering the urinal. Alex Ling’s ironically misnamed 2016 paper “Parrhesia”, deeply probes Duchamp’s mindset in that decisive moment of choosing the urinal. Ling says “there exists a paradoxical relation of continuity between the ‘event’ and the ‘everyday’… a site x proves itself paradoxical in its being a reflexive multiple, meaning it is an element of itself, ‘auto-belongs” (that is, x ∈ x)”. If that isn’t crystal clear and the most precise explanation then do take it up with Ling, who also wrote “at an ontological level (i.e. at the level of its being), all art is necessarily readymade. Or again, there is no art that is not, in some essential way, always-already readymade.”
God, by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
While Duchamp made boxed sets of his archives, Elsa did not document her work; what photographs and paper trail we have are almost an accident. As a result of Elsa’s lack of documentation, the found objects became Duchamp’s brand, they embodied his anti-aesthetic Dada of discrediting art. But let’s examine Elsa in the manner recommended by John Higgs. Imagine you’re a curator at a major museum and you meet Elsa, the head curator, a woman whose body odor is so pungent it reeks into your nostrils. Her syphilis is so advanced she has trouble talking and her skirt is ripped showing more than we need to see. Just as you’re about to discuss the next major show, the police come in and arrest her for stealing from the local hardware store. Is this the woman you want representing you to the museum-going public? Is this really this is the woman of tomorrow as Higgs tells us, or even of today?
Picabia said that art was "a pharmaceutical product for idiots". Not to be outdone Duchamp said that painting was dead, that he wanted to discredit art and get rid of it, and replace it with something of his own invention, an art based on intellect instead of the traditional non-verbal languages of music, painting, and dance. What if Duchamp was not a genius but a Dadaist who simply happened to fit academia’s need for a semi-intellectual artist? What if the Bicycle Wheel is not a work of art? What if art is not a pharmaceutical product for idiots? We're hardly conscious of how much revolves around this crucial question.
Jasper Johns wrote that Duchamp tried to rid art of its visual non-verbal language and replace it with an intellectual practice. As a result he was paralyzed, unable to paint without the tools for visual expression. Then there’s the psychology; once you persuade yourself of the worthlessness of what you do you lose the motivation to go on. Johns went on to say Duchamp tolerated, even encouraged the mythology around that ‘stopping’, "but it was not like that … He spoke of breaking a leg. ‘You didn’t mean to do it’ he said". (28)
We add that humans are pack creatures, our expectations have a continuity reaching back to our stone age ancestors, our creative activity may be a social construct but they rest on age old habitus. Unfortunately these can fall to vested interests or self-deception, while a culture occasionally needs a house cleaning in our quest for truth. In the 1960s,Marshal McLuhan, in an observation often misattributed to Warhol, said that art is anything you can get away with. The art world had embraced alternative facts. When art is anything you can get away with, postmodernism owns the post truth era and the political turmoil of our time. Considering Barbara Rose’s statement of Duchamp’s name is used as an excuse for the most inane and vulgar found object in a museum, much of our Duchamp myth consists of flawed accretions that won’t stand the light of logic or scholarly research
There’s a huge investment of time and effort needed to acquire skills for traditional arts. Duchamp’s resurgence came with the proliferation of art schools in the 1950s-1960s, schools that accepted tuition fees in return for certificates testifying the graduate was an artist. When art became intellectual instead of sensory, it became clever instead of numinous. The awkward and talentless could now express themselves without excellence, the unskilled and unimaginative could copy art history, the dull could look wise, the academic insist art is only a social construct, all of them graduating with high marks, while in a rare judgment an article in the Atlantic by William Deresiewicz, titled “The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur”, described the best artist as a good salespeople and fanatic networker who attends all the right opening night events. (74)
When we read that Duchamp’s ideas sabotaged his ability, we ask how those ideas function, what they do, what are they’ doing to us? We look back at a 60 years of academics, writers and artists denying art, rejecting individual value, and demeaning personal taste. Is there something terrible about art which they know and we don’t? Why the self-loathing of those who deny our highest cultural values? In 2004 hundreds of the Britain’s top art experts agreed that Fountain was the most influential work of 20th century art. It’s unsettling to learn that scatology is the most influential attraction of our time; it means this culture is in serious trouble. Those who think art is to piss on should now leave the field to others with higher values.
Canonical Duchamp scholar Francis Naumann is a was also his friend, wrote extensively on Duchamp over decades. I emailed asking him why we should accept the Bicycle Wheel as a work of art? He replied that Duchamp said so and hundreds of experts agreed. For more convincing darguments he sent me a pdf of chapter 112 of his book, The Recurrent, Haunting Ghost: Essays on the Art, Life and Legacy of Marcel Duchamp. He points to the part where Duchamp retroactively declared the Bicycle Wheel and the Bottle Rack as works of art.(75)
Naumann concludes this paragraph with "It was probably while admiring its aesthetic qualities that he wondered, to paraphrase his words, if one could make a work of art out of materials that were not customarily associated with art”.
There’s no such thing as a product lacking aesthetics. In a peer-reviewed article titled Duchamp and The Science of Art I pointed out how we are our bias, our choice is ruled by personal and social aesthetic. “Aesthetics is a system of value judgments, of comparisons and evaluations that provide statistical data by which we organize sensations pouring in from without, and reactions emerging from within. Aesthetics plays a meaningful role in this linguistic theory of intelligence, because as a set of judgments it covers the entire spectrum from attraction to repulsion, from dark to light, and similar sensory dualities. Art and aesthetics are not simply cheesecake for the mind nor are they simply decorative. They are an evolutionary adaptation of the highest order in creating and processing subtleties of knowledge and complexities of thought.(76)
Glynn Thompson, who first published that Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven owned the urinal, has accused Francis Naumann if biased interpretation that ignores the facts. Francis Nauman said that Duchamp was deliberately ceceiving his sister and that Duchamp submitted the urinal. Glynn Thompson adds "Unfortunately for Mr. Naumann, the wording of Duchamp’s letter makes it quite clear that the sole individual alive in 1917 completely disqualified from having submitted this urinal was none other than himself: for in publishing the contents of the letter, in Affectuesuement, Marcel (Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 22, No. 4, 1982), Mr. Naumann, offering no evidence whatsoever to substantiate his interpretation, declared Duchamp guilty of a deliberate deception, citing Duchamp’s statement verbatim, in translation."(76b) My experience with Mr. Naumann’s interpretive skills incline me to side with Dr. Glynn Thompson.
Karen Kedney’s opinion piece for artsy.net, 100 Years On, Why Dada Still Matters. “Dada was a reactionary movement. It emerged when a group of Zurich-based artists and poets—including Ball, Tzara, Jean Arp, and Marcel Janco—declared an all-out artistic assault on a modern society degraded by nationalist politics, repressive social values, conformity, and an overemphasis on reason and logic. They held this society responsible for the brutal war wreaking havoc across the continent.(”(77) Dada was also a rejection of logic, common sense, and similar bourgeois limitations, a return to the freedom of a child’s mind in an adult’s body.
Not enough research exists to determine if the post-modern nihilist, ethic currently the dominant academic mode, is instrumental in degrading western civilization, or if the breakdown of that civilization is mirrored and presaged in the art currently produced. McLuhan, Marshall suggested that “art as radar acts as ‘an early alarm system,’ as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them.(78)
1- Richard Dorment, Marcel Duchamp: Art changed for ever, www.telegraph.co.uk. - -> back to top
2- Francis M. Naumann and Donald Kuspit, Duchamp: An Exchange, Artnet. - -> back to top
3- Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, I like Breathing Better Than Working, p86, Da Capo Press. - -> back to top
4-Ibid, p60. - -> back to top
5-Ibid, p45. - -> back to top
6-Ibid, p57 - -> back to top
7- Segal, cited in Wouter Kotte, Marcel Duchamp als Zeitmaschine/Marcel Duchamp als Tijdmachine, Köln, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter König, 1987: p. 86, n. 236. Cited in Sylvère Lotringer, Becoming Duchamp, The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, - -> back to top
8-Calvin Tomkins: Duchamp: A Biography, page 159. Holt Paperbacks - -> back to top
9- Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, A window into something else, p48, Da Capo Press. - -> back to top
10-Ibid. - -> back to top
11- Marcel Duchamp Talking about readymades, Interview by Phillipe Collins. p.40, Hatje Cantz. - -> back to top
12- Pierre Breton and Paul Eluard, Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme, p23, 1938. - -> back to top
13- Katherine Meadowcroft in Huffpost Arts & Culture - March 10, 2015 - -> back to top
14- Dr. Glyn Thompson, Duchamp’s Urinal? The Facts Behind the Façade Wild Pansy Press, 2015 - -> back to top
15-- Stephanie Crawford Richard Mutt, What Exit, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University - -> back to top
16- Irene Gammel, Baroness Elsa, Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity—A Cultural Biography MIT Press, ISBN: 9780262572156 - -> back to top
16b-Joan Bakewell interview with Marcel Duchamp, BBC 1968. - -> back to top
17- Sir Alistair MacFarlane, Marcel Duchamp )1887-1968), Brief Lives, Philosophy Now, 2015 - -> back to top
18- Will Gompertz, Putting modern art on the map, The Guardian, 2012 - -> back to top
19- Siri Hustvedt, A woman in the men's room: when will the art world recognise the real artist behind Duchamp's Fountain? The Guardian. - -> back to top
20- John Higgs, 'Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century', Weidenfeld & Nicolson - -> back to top
21- History of cosmetics.http://www.crystalinks.com/earlymakeup.html - -> back to top
22- Dennis Dutton, A Darwinian Theory of Beauty, Ted Talk, youtube - -> back to top .
23-Walter Benjamin, preface, The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. - -> back to top
24-DADA Companion, http://www.dada-companion.com - -> back to top
25- Rosalind Kraus, The Impulse To See, Vision and Visuality, 1988 Dia art foundation - -> back to top
26- Joan Bakewell, Joan Bakewell in conversation with Marcel Duchamp, 1968 BBC ARTS. - -> back to top
27- Why Beauty Matters. Roger Scruton. Joan Bakewell - Marcel Duchamp at 7min54s. - -> back to top
28- Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, An appreciation, p110, Da Capo Press. - -> back to top
29- Kristin Lee Dufour. The Influence of Marcel Duchamp upon The Aesthetics of Modern Art, - -> back to top
30-Marjorie Perloff, Peter Bürger Theory of the Avant-Garde (1980, trans. 1984) - -> back to top
31- this entry was removed - Danielle S. McLaughlin, Resist those who put a price on academic and artistic freedom, Huffington Post, 2016 - -> back to top
32- Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, p76, Da Capo Press. - -> back to top
33-Ibid, p76. - -> back to top
34-The Oxford Dictionary of art, ed. Ian Chilvers, Marcel Duchamp, p221, - -> back to top
Oxford University Press
35-Douglas MacAgy, ed., "The Western Round Table on Modern Art" - -> back to top
in Robert Motherwell and Ad Reinhardt’s Modern Artists in America
36-Alex Robertson Textor, Encyclopaedia of Gay Histories and Cultures, p262, Garland Publishing, Inc. 2000 - -> back to top
37- Alex Robertson Textor, Encyclopaedia of Gay Histories and Cultures, p262, Garland Publishing, Inc. 2000 - -> back to top
38- Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, A Window Into Something Else, p33, Da Capo Press. - -> back to top
39-Ibid, p15 - -> back to top
40-Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, I live the life of a waiter, p95, Da Capo Press. - -> back to top
41-Ibid. - -> back to top
42-A 1959 Interview with Marcel Duchamp: The Fallacy of Art History and the Death of Art. Audio Arts Sound Archives. - -> back to top
43- Jeremy Campbell, Grammatical Man, 24, Colin and Campbell 1982. - -> back to top
44 ditto, p.24 - -> back to top
45- Paul Dirac, The Evolution of the Physicist's Picture of Nature, Scientific America, May 1963 - -> back to top
46-Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, Intriduction, Robert Motherwell, p11, Da Capo Press. - -> back to top
47-Dennis Dutton's A Darwinian Theory of Beauty, Ted Talk, youtube - -> back to top
48-Michelle Marder Kamhi, Why Discarding the Concept of "Fine Art" Has Been a Grave Error - -> back to top
49-Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, Introduction, Robert Motherwell, p12, Da Capo Press. - -> back to top
50-Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, A Window Into Something Else, p43, Da Capo Press. - -> back to top
51-Ibid. p35 - -> back to top
52-Ibid. p36 - -> back to top
53- Sherwin B. Nuland, p47, Leonardo Da Vinci, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, U.K.2000 - -> back to top
54-Sir Alistair MacFarlane, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) Philosophy Now - June-July 2015 - -> back to top
55- André Breton , Paul Éluard, Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme– [Abridged Dictionary of Surrealism] 1938, - -> back to top
56-Katherine Kuh , The Artist’s Voice, p92, Harper and Row, N.Y. 1960 - -> back to top
57-Duchamp quoted by Harriet & Sidney Janis in 'Marchel Duchamp: Anti-Artist' in View magazine 3/21/45; reprinted in Robert Motherwell, Dada Painters and Poets (1951) - -> back to top
58- The New York school – the painters & sculptors of the fifties, Irving Sandler, Harper & Row, 1978, p. 164
59- Prehistoric Colour Palette, visual-arts-cork.com - -> back to top
60-Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, The Disclosure Of The Agent In Speech And In Action p175 - -> back to top
61- Dario Gamboni, The Destruction of Art, Iconoclasm and Vandalism, p278, Reaktion Books. - -> back to top
62- Albert Mehrabian https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Mehrabian - -> back to top
63- Lorraine Boissoneault, A Brief History of the GIF, Smithsonian.com, - -> back to top
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/brief-history-gif-early-internet-innovation-ubiquitous-relic-180963543/ - W2SG7W2VZcchjom7.99
64- Arthur C. Danto, Marcel Duchamp and the End of Taste: *A Defense of Contemporary Art - -> back to top
65- Katherine Meadowcroft in Huffpost Arts & Culture - March 10, 2015 - -> back to top
66- Thomas Girst, Using Marcel Duchamp: The Concept of the Readymade in Post-War and Contemporary American Art, toutfait.com - -> back to top
67- Newman, in John P. O’Neill (ed.), Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990: p. 208. - -> back to top
68- Newman, in O’Neill 1990: p. 39. - -> back to top
69- Newman, in O’Neill 1990: p, 247. Newman went on to suggest that MoMA should “put on an exhibition of machine guns.” It bears notice that in September 1999, when the New York gallery owner Mary Boone presented Tom Sach’s “Haute Bricolage,” in which firearm paraphernalia were displayed and 9-millimeter bullets were placed in a bowl for visitors to take home, she was briefly arrested by the police for the illegal distribution of live ammunition. - -> back to top
70 – Thierry de Duve, Kant After Ducamp, MIT Press1999 - -> back to top
71- Kyle Ghan, From No Such Thing As Silence: John Cage’s 4’33” Yale University Press, 2010 - -> back to top
72- Wilhelm/Baynes, I CHING, Limitations, p231, Bollingen Foundation, Princeton University Press - -> back to top
73-Matthew McDonald, Jeux de Nombres, Automated Rhythm in The Rites of Spring.Journal of the American Musicology Society, Vol. 63, No.3, Fall 2000, p499. - -> back to top
74- William Deresiewicz, titled “The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur”, The Atlantic, 2015, - -> back to top
75- Francis Naumann, Chapter 112, The Recurrent, Haunting Ghost: Essays on the Art, Life and Legacy of Marcel Duchamp, Readymade Press, 2012. - -> back to top
76-Miklos Legrady, Duchamp and the Science of Art, Contemporary Aesthetics, 2019 (partially supported by the Rhode Island School of Design and the Department of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo, SUNY) - -> back to top
76b-Glyn Thompson, The Magic Chef Mansion Urinal and Marcel Duchamp, Part Two. St. Louis.
- -> back to top
77-Karen Kedmey, 100 Years On, Why Dada still matters, Artsy.net, 2016 - -> back to top
78- McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (p. 7). Gingko Press. Kindle Edition
What If Duchamp Was Wrong?
Deconstructing Marcel Duchamp
Destabilizing Walter Benjamin
Demystifying Sol Lewit
I’m going to hurt your feelings and it’s going to upset you, but Walter Benjamin did not say what you think he said, nor what they said about him, nor what we learned in school. It is hard to believe that we were so delusional for decades, but medieval monks used to debate how many angels could dance on the head of a pin; the human mind has obviously not evolved much. Our beliefs are in fact expectations that need correction with every passing moment.
Benjamin was a poetic writer admired for his literature, his use of language and the beauty of his words. But when great talent earn an audience’s admiration, our hero-worshipping public will then accept and believe everything their prophet says without raising an eyebrow. This paper does not condemn Walter Benjamin as a writer, it praises him; however it does condemn his Marxist propaganda in The Work Of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Marxist thought can be a valuable tool in social sciences such as political analyses and psychology, but it has suffered severe reality checks in practice and is no longer seen as a panacea or as the humanitarian bible it was once believed to be.
As an aside, Joseph Henry uses the title “The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducability”. He writes “the title of the essay in the original German is “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit,” and its now the canonical translation following the work of Benjamin scholars like Michael Jennings. If you can read German, you’ll know the suffixes “-bar” and “-barkeit” indicate ability, as in “greifbar,” meaning graspable or available. The direct word for “reproduction” in Benjamin’s title would be “Reproduzierung.”(1)
The paradox is that a direct translation may not convey the writer’s intention. An immediate objection to Jenning’s canonical translation is that it is unpalatable, the language both awkward and inaccurate in conveying the intended meaning; Benjamin was a poetic writer for whom linguistic resonance was important; the “age of technological reproducability” is distasteful compared to “the age of mechanical reproduction”, and if anything Benjamin prized good writing. Jenning’ and Henry’s proposal reads like scholarly vanity. It was that kind of submission to canonical authority that doomed Benjamin’s vision, turned social science into science fiction.
Benjamin’s Marxist assumption of art is that of a process ritualized by priests to control a gullible populace. Benjamin then says that in the nineteenth century “the age of mechanical reproduction separated art from its basis in cult, the semblance of its autonomy disappeared forever… the very invention of photography had… transformed the entire nature of art”.
Walter Benjamin has been praised as an early Marshall McLuhan, a social scientist able to discern the cultural effects of media. But where we thought The Work Of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction was research similar to today's academic scholarship, it is in fact Marxist propaganda. As a communist intellectual Benjamin was versed in the classical Marxist tradition, Marx, Engels, their contemporaries, and then Kautsky, Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg. History reminds us that Communists saw truth and accuracy as useful when convenient; here we find a political message that strays from the truth and then ignores it. We cannot read Benjamin innocently when the work has such political antecedents.
Benjamin writes that all we can ask of art is to reproduce reality, that creativity is an outmoded concept; his political agenda is unreliable. The reductions, contradictions, and leaps of faith are obvious.
In one of his last works, Theses on the Philosophy of History, Benjamin seemingly doubted Karl Marx's claims to scientific objectivity, appeared to reject the past as a continuum of progress, even implied historical materialism is a quasi-religious fraud. But that comes later; Mechanical Reproduction is grounded in dialectic materialism, social realism and political propaganda. In contrast to the Hegelian dialectic which emphasized human experience as dependent on the mind's perceptions, Marxist dialectic emphasizes materialistic conditions like class, labor, socio-economic forces, denies individuals in favor of the collective.
Since then science shows Hegel hit closer to the mark; among the mind's perceptions, aesthetics and its complex differentiations are crucial for mental health. In the 1970s Abraham Moles and Frieder Nake analyzed links between beauty, information processing, and information theory. Physicist Paul Dirac said that if one works at getting beauty in one's equations, and if one has a really sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress.
Benjamin was no beauty, he was an awkward man. Hannah Arendt writes of him that “with a precision suggesting a sleepwalker his clumsiness invariably guided him to the very centre of a misfortune” (2) For example, to escape the bombing of Paris he so feared, he had moved to the outlying districts of the city and unwittingly ended up in a small village that was one of the first to be destroyed. Benjamin had not realised this apparently insignificant place was at the centre of an important rail network, and therefore liable to be targeted. Arendt also referenced Benjamin with the same remarks made by Jacques Rivière about Proust: “He died of the same inexperience that permitted him to write his works. He died of ignorance of the world, because he did not know how to make a fire or open a window.”
In Mechanical Reproduction we see Benjamin as social scientist stumbling from one bad idea to the next. But here his misfortune comes from what seemed, at the time, the one ideology to correctly predict the future and bring about the true Bortherhood of Man (though women had already gotten the vote, the language remained sexist). He explained art as if Marx’s prognosis of capitalism and socialism was accurate, when it was not. For that, like dominoes faced with a reality check, both thesis and conclusions fall flat. The essay starts with flawed dogma, compounds the inaccuracy with layers of expectation based on assumptions until eventually we see the “prognostic” narrative as a fantasy, a tall tale.
“The criterion we use to test the genuineness of apparent statements is the criterion of verifiability”, Oxford’s A.J. Ayers writes in Language, Truth, and Logic. “We say that a sentence is factually significant to any given person if, and only if, they know how to verify the proposition it purports to express” (3) Georgy Pyatakov, who was twice expelled from the Communist Party and eventually shot, wrote that a true Bolshevik is “ready to believe [not just assert] that black was white and white was black, if the Party required it.” In Orwell’s book 1984, O’Brien proclaims this very doctrine - two plus two is really five if the Party says it is - which he calls “collective solipsism.” (4)
On Bolshevik intellectuals during the Russian Revolution, Richard Pipe wrote that their criterion of truth was not taken from life. They created their own reality, or rather, surreality, subject to verification only with reference to opinions of which they approved. Contradictory evidence was ignored: anyone inclined to heed such evidence was ruthlessly destroyed. (5) In Mechanical Reproduction we find such beliefs, they are incredible without a Marxist indoctrination.
Another Communist writer who left the party disillusioned was Arthur Koestler. InThe God That FailedandThe Invisible Writinghe described the logical contradictions and resultingsacrificium intellectusthat Communist writers suffered. The unavoidable emotional damage may well explain Benjamin's catastrophic failure of morale and his resulting suicide, always a risk for Communists when they are left alone with themselves for too long. “With a precision suggesting a sleepwalker his clumsiness invariably guided him to the very centre of a misfortune”.
Arthur Koestler wrote of Benjamin's death in France during the 1940s inThe Invisible Writing.“Just before we left, I ran into an old friend, the German writer Walter Benjamin. He was making preparations for his own escape to England. He has thirty tablets of a morphia-compound, which he intended to swallow if caught: he said they were enough to kill a horse, and gave me half the tablets, just in case. The day after the final refusal of my visa, I learned that Walter Benjamin, having managed to cross the Pyrenees, had been arrested on the Spanish side, and threatened with being sent back to France the next morning. The next morning the Spanish gendarmes had changed their mind, but by that time Benjamin had swallowed his remaining half of the pills and was dead.”(6)
Benjamin’s literary talent shines best in Passagenwerk or Arcades Project, an unfinished work written between 1927 and 1940. An enormous collection of writings on the city life of Parisin the 19th century, many scholars consider Arcades might have become one of the great texts of 20th-century cultural criticism, but was never completed due to his suicide. This extract is from his notes on Marseilles;
He spoke of the role of art in prehistoric times as a religious opiate, invented by priest questing for control. We know that to an illiterate mind, religion, politics, and personal life were entwined in mysticism, magic and gods experienced everywhere; a crash of lighting accompanied by horrendous thunder was quite demonstrative of any god’s anger. Art was not restricted to sacred objects, there was an aesthetic process in daily objects that gave them a beauty quite unnecessary to their utilitarian practice. The separation of the sacred from the profane in Western civilization did not occur till the Renaissance.
In clothing, jewellery, body decoration and tool making began the practice of an art whose etymology can best be understood when we speak of the art of cuisine or the art of conversation. We instinctively create aesthetic orderly patterns, expressions of an algorithm born in the depths of the unconscious mind. Denis Dutton was a philosophy professor and editor of Arts & Letters Daily, who, in The Art Instinct, suggested that humans are hard-wired to seek beauty. “There is evidence that perceptions of beauty are evolutionarily determined, that things, aspects of people and landscapes that are considered beautiful are typically found in situations likely to give enhanced survival of the perceiving human's genes.” Duton argues, with forceful logic and hard evidence, that art criticism needs to be premised on an understanding of evolution, not political theory.
We also notice music awakening aesthetic sensibility. In preliterate England songs were everywhere; the maid milking or the farmer driving his cows to pasture had their song, the soldiers had their own. The effect of music on the soul was there in primitive hunter-gatherer culture. It is likely a complex sense of beauty and a finesse of feelings and moods was awakened by music and art, this value put into both religious objects and daily usage. We question Benjamin’s oppressor-oppressed binary as the dominant process of culture and civilization. There are other drives and motivations beside class struggle; conflicts are constant but they’re not the only template by which history is read.
The Work Of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction opens with a 1931 quote by Paul Valéry that industrial technology is transforming culture so much that it may bring about an amazing change in our very notion of art. Today’s sciences of archaeology and psychology disagree, instead they see the nature of art as relatively unaffected by any specific technology because it is instinct-driven; the medium is the message, the art of our ancestors does not differ in intent from a work by performance artist Marina Abramovi. In Benjamin’s paper a materialistic philosophy denies personal spirituality and individual values; Marxism is the cult of the collective.
Benjamin’s preface therefore contains the seeds of it’s own demise when he writes of Marx’s critique having prognostic value. Marx described how capitalism would exploit the proletariat with increasing brutality and ultimately create the conditions which would make it possible to abolish capitalism itself through the worker’s revolution. What actually happened was the opposite. In Russia the serfs had been freed in 1861 and were economically part of the middle class; the 1917 revolution occurred not from brutal oppression and poverty but was wrought by educated generations frustrated at being denied political power. Meanwhile, dramatically contradicting Marx, in the rest of Europe and North America’s unions created a newly risen middle class, where retirement funds invested in the stock market also made capitalists of the working classes. The proletariat had become owners of the means of production. As a result Benjamin’s words stumble like dominoes;
In chapter 1 Benjamin writes that for the first time in the process of pictorial reproduction, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions, this most important artistic function is later explained as an accurate representation of reality (chapter XI). Marxists believed consciousness to contain the sum total of existence, that conscious intent and conscious behavior were the sum total of reality.
Today we hear of an unconscious language from Albert Mehrabian, born in 1939 to an Armenian family in Iran and currently Professor Emeritus of Psychology, UCLA. He is known for his publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messaging. His findings on inconsistent messages have become known as the 7%-38%-55% rule (8) on the relative impact of words, tone of voice, and body language in speech.Ditto the relative importance of the hand in painting; the unconscious and subliminal codes of body language in his brush strokes are what make Van Gogh’s work so popular. Psychology describes consciousness as always the last to know in the hierarchy of thinking, with unconscious processes accounting for the majority of brain activity, contradicting the Marxist dialectic.
It is in chapter 2 that we find the core of Walter Benjamin’s argument on how art is transformed by technology; “that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art”.The facts in the ground say that this is wrong.. Books are made by mechanical reproduction yet stories and authors retain their magic as much as any work of art. Munch'sThe Screamis known from reproduction yet remains haunting, as haunting as any Raven perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door.
In writing that the presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity, Benjamin forgets that works made by the artist were of a higher quality than copies made for sale to the public by the master’s less skilled assistants; the practical standard wasn’t originality but quality; the master’s work was better than the apprentice’s. There’s also a point in that art has a spiritual element which is often reproduced by mechanical reproduction such as prints, a magic whose existence Marxists deny which astounds us in a work of art.
Chapter 3 offers a fuzzy definition of aura as “the unique phenomenon of distance”, that theme also present in Benjamin’s work titled Aura. “ A strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be. To follow with the eye –while resting on a summer afternoon – a mountain range on the horizon or a branch that casts its shadow on the beholder is to breathe the aura of those mountains, of that branch. In light of this description, we can readily grasp the social basis of the aura’s present decay.” As Mark Twain quipped “The reports ofmy deathare greatly exaggerated.” The aura of art has grown rather than decayed.
Benjamin wrote that the masses on their assumption of power will no longer let works of art be kept at that distance, which supposedly created the aura of mystery. instead the working classes will own that art; this was expected to create a familiarity that breeds contempt, so reproductions would devalue the image. In fact the opposite happened. Instagram’s billion dollar evaluation reflects a public’s avid addiction to their images.
Benjamin talks of “the adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality”, with a nod to communist thought control. Once religious mystery is dispelled from a work of art, art turns political to adjust the masses to a communist reality. It is worth noting similarities between Marxist thought and the Protestant Reformation, where Puritans stripped the church of incense, candles, rich colors and all distractions. The devout sat between whitewashed walls, free to reflect and think of God instead of being seduced to God by the richness of the senses. Historically, revolutionary cleansing seem part of an instinct to develop the intellect through diminished sensory distraction.
In chapter 4 the aura is also described as uniqueness; “the unique value of the ‘authentic’ work of art”… mechanical reproduction destroys this uniqueness thereby destroying the aura. Photography is given as an example “The status of a work of art will no longer depend on a parasitic ritual (of authorship).From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the ‘authentic’ print makes no sense”. History has not been kind to Benjamin; an authentic print by Ansel Adams 100 years later sold for $722,000 because of the uniqueness of the work. Original photographs are defined as photographs printed by Ansel Adams from the negatives he photographed and developed.
Baudrillard didn’t get it right either. JeanBaudrillardwas a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. He is best known for his analyses of media. Baudrillard argues that copies or even forgeries were not as denigrated in the past as today in part because art was more the collective product of artist's studios, whereas in the 1980s art was supposed to be the "authentic" product of an individual creator as part of her or his oeuvre. (9) As we see below, he stands corrected. Lisa Jardine writes in Going Dutch
The master’s work was sold to the wealthy while studio apprentices made copies at a lower price for the public. Talent and skill make a difference today as in the past, though postmodernism has developed a philosophy that argues for a lack of skill. It fails logic since that which is done without skill is always shoddy.
Through chapters 5 onward, Benjamin writes about film as the final form of an art that dominates all other media by being the most realistic.
That’s Social Realism 1920s, but today we know nothing is free of personal bias and we expect more from art than the obvious. In fact what’s valued today is bias and personal vision; Van Gogh’s paintings are filled with it and so is work by Anish Kapoor.
Benjamin saw painting as reactionary and film as comparatively progressive: “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie.” Viewing a painting is a personal affair; “there was no way for the masses to organize and control themselves in their reception”.
We’re surprised to think of the masses organizing and controlling their reception… but the masse’s intake of ideology was important to Communists. So was ideological control by the communist party who, in the name of the working class, told the working class what to think. Benjamin mentions Duhamel’s reaction while watching a movie; “I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.”(11) A film better lends itself to indoctrination because it is viewed collectively.
The Epilogue turns toword salad unless one understands the context. Benjamin was thinking of Nazi graphics, symbols and branding, as displayed at the Reichsparteitag orNuremberg Rallies, the annual rally of the Nazi Party in Germany, held from 1923 to 1938. They were large Nazi propaganda events, especially after Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933. Benjamin follows;
We can also learn from what Paul Valéry wrote, of his expectations that since our technology is so much more powerful than that of the ancients, the forms of art not only change but they transform us too. In retrospect technology has hardly changed us at all. Our lives are marked instead by the evolution of civilization, which does have its up and downs. It is not our technology that changes us but our civic interaction. Add aviation technology to local change and there’s global change. But the basic rules of who we are and what we want remain much the same, except for an increase in general intelligence and social awareness, an increase in our collective consciousness.
All conclusions must acknowledge Benjamin’s creative expression and the discipline of his political thinking, which lend a hypnotic gravitas to his essay. Marxism enhanced his credibility among the greatest thinkers of his times; John Berger’s major essay Ways of Seeing owes a big debt to Benjamin. Which also means that Berger’s views are flawed and invalid where based on Benjamin’s writing. Science disproved much of what Benjamin wrote, political realities disowned the rest; Marxism lost its aura after the dissolution of the Soviet empire in 1991.
1-Joseph Henry, “All Awareness Becomes Base”: Jens Hoffmann’s Reduction of The Arcades Project, MOMUS
http://momus.ca/awareness-becomes-base-jens-hoffmanns-reduction-arcades-project/ --> - -> back to top
2- Benjamin, Walter. “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.” In Illuminations,
edited by Hannah Arendt. New york: Schocken Books, 1969. --> - -> back to top
3- A.J., Language, Truth and Logic, Pelican Books. p48, --> - -> back to top
4- Gary Saul Morson, The house is on fire! On the hidden horrors of Soviet life. The new Criterion, 2016
https://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-house-is-on-fire--8466 --> - -> back to top
5. Richard Pipe, The Russian Revolution, p.130, Vintage Books. --> - -> back to top
6- Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing, 1954, Hamish, Hamilton & Collins, p. 421, --> - -> back to top
7- Walter Benjamin, Neue schweizer Rundschau, April 1929. Gesammelte Schriften, IV, 359-364. --> - -> back to top
Translated by Edmund Jephcott. It has been collected in English translation in his Selected Writings II
(Belknap Press 1999).
8- Albert Mehrabian, Nonverbal communication, 2007, Aldine Transaction --> - -> back to top
9- Jean Baudrillar, Critique, p. 102. --> - -> back to top
10- Going Dutch, pps. 105, 108, 123, 124, Lisa Jardine, Harper Perenial, 2009. --> - -> back to top
11-Georges Duhamel, Scènes de la vie future, p. 52. Paris, Mercure de France, 1930, --> - -> back to top
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What If Duchamp Was Wrong?
Deconstructing Marcel Duchamp
Destabilizing Walter Benjamin
Demystifying Sol Lewit
Sol LeWitt was a friendly man, a great artist, his famous letter to Eva Hesse is poetic and passionate…in fact Benedict Cumberbacht recorded it. Can we find a different approach with Lewitt because he ‘s empathic? Everyone’s emotionally exhausted after this deconstruction of Benjamin and Duchamp, author and reader alike will appreciate a gentler, kinder approach. And Sol Lewitt was different; Benjamin was a talented and passionate, yet flawed political writer, a literary genius whose writing bent to his Marxist beliefs, while Duchamp wanted to destroy art. Lewitt on the other hand suffered neither handicaps, he was an artist who loved art and helped other artists, he was an art poster child, he led a good life, produced great work.
Sol Lewitt is a founder of Minimalism, his work is a geometric bridge linking visual art and mathematics. LeWitt is also a highly respected art theorist known as a founder of Conceptual Art, but unfortunately his best-known writing on conceptual art is flawed, contradictory, and illogical. To err is human, to forgive divine, but divine is outside our mandate; how was it Lewitt made great art but his writing is nonsense?
He wrote that conceptual artists were mystics and that’s not something we’d agree with today, unless we include all artists working with the creative unconscious, a process that can be described as mystical and spiritual. We also need remember that Lewitt did not sit and visually think his art, imagining his images from line to line on a mental wall,. Like all visual artists, he did sketches and drawings, made visual art; often a visitor would leave his studio with a drawing as a gift. And from his visual art one would never think of him as a conceptual artist. Lewitt is a graphic artist, his work is graphic art, genus Abstract Expressionism. Which could explain why Lewitt adopted a conceptual brand , hitching a ride on that new art movement.
Lewitt was obviously a graphic artist but so talented that his graphics reach the level of art, he rose above the norm and earned this global reputation. Lewitt may have been one of those able to bake a chocolate cake using only lemon peels, it’s obvious he had a gift, but at the same time there was something quirky in that head of his, his crayons always stayed inside the lines, as if his images needed discipline to tame a wayward spirit. In using the word mystic, he was obviously aware of non-intellectual languages such as feelings and intuition, conscious of the powerful depths of the unconscious mind.
Perhaps his misadventure was not of his making but that of his times. He was a fish swimming through the waters of art movements of his time; influential artists are often attuned to their time.
In2984, visiting the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, I walked in as Lewitt’s work was being drawn on large walls by a crew of assistants guided by Sol Lewitt. Since I didn’t know his work I didn’t look at the workers but did appreciated the work. Those pencil drawing enlarged to monumental scale made all the difference, created the a magic in his work; even his small drawings appear as monuments scaled down for convenience. Same with Open Modular Cubes, they look like large versions of 3D models normally seen on small screens. His work is art writ large, Sol was a monumental artist.
Paul Dirac said that when he found beauty in his equations, he knew he was on the right track to progress, and Lewitt correctly equates aesthetics to ethics, ethics being the pragmatic form of truth. There’s also Lewitt’s admirable modesty, his refusal to become an art personality, his financial assistance to numerous artists who never knew he was the patron behind some major purchases. Overall a poster boy in the very real sense, an ideal artist, and since no one’s perfect he had his flaw; his Sentences and Paragraphs on Conceptual art are refuted by experience and often contradicted by logic, as seen earlier.
That raises curious question about his writing and critical theory. He identified himself as a conceptual artist but that’s as open to question as much as his writing. While the letter to Eva Hesse shows a poetic side in shades of Gertrude Stein,, his instruction to art crews far away shows an organization of thought as clear as the architectural lines of his mural works. But when we get to his Sentences on Conceptual Art and his Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, Sol writes nonsense.
Sol LeWitt laid out the terms for conceptual art in his seminal “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” published in the June 2967 issue of Artforum. “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work”. His “Sentences on Conceptual Art”. proclaim that “Ideas alone can be works of art. Ideas “need not be made physical,” he continued. “A work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist’s mind to the viewer’s. There’s the possibility that the idea may never reach the viewer, or that the idea may never leave the artist’s mind. But all ideas are art if they are concerned with art and fall within the conventions of art.”"(2)Lewitt was a major influence in the academic foundation of conceptual art. How would that change if his concepts were de questioned?
The introduction to this critique reminds us that taxonomy counts. An idea isn’t art, it’s science. In Wiki, science is “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe”. That sounds like ideas. The Oxford dictionary says an idea is a thought or a suggestion of a possible course of action. Merriam-Webster defines art not as an idea, but as a skill acquired by experience, study, or observation, art is a quality and a product. But all dictionaries agree; a work of art takes work.
“When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.“"(3)
A fascinating tale revolves around this line from of his Sentences, where Lewitt speaks of execution as perfunctory. He addressed this numerous times in his career, each time the results taught him that cannot be. He was not satisfied with the results of his exhibitions unless his crew consisted of skilled artists who took great care and effort in the execution,. And yet he never revised Sentences nor Paragraphs. These primers on conceptual art are a theoretic foundation for undergraduate today, yet Lewitt may have left them behind as uncorrected mistakes.
Sentences no 28 “Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist's mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly.” At the time, LeWitt believed that with the instructions anyone could finish the piece. The Vogels bought the instructions for Wall Drawing 65 by Lewitt in 2972. Dorothy Vogels tried her had at installing it on a bathroom wall. “When Sol saw what I had done” she recalled, “that’s when I think he changed his policy – no more trusting amateurs.“"(4)
Conceptual art claims the idea’s dominant, yet logic says an idea needs a reality to distinguish a great ideas from a brilliant mistakes.
Lewitt saw that the work couldn’t be perfunctory. And yet it’s as if t a hypertrophy of the intellect would not acknowledge a reality denied until then. Matter is vital it is the physical side of ideas, material is half the equation. A meeting with Dan Flavin and Donald Judd tested LeWitt’s credo that the idea was more important than the execution in a work of art. Based on the evidence, Judd and Flavin agreed with him. Lewitt’s ideas for his pieces, they said, were a lot better than his execution, which they dismissed as crude."(6) Perhaps the monotony of repetition bored him whereas a crew of hired artists would be highly motivated by what they considered an important art project. In that case we understand his intellectual art, and be equally surprised his intellectual expression was so vulnerable to critique.
In seeing how the mind works, the processes involved, Carl Jung writes of four mental functions; sensation, feeling, intellect, and intuition, each with qualities of equal value to consciousness. We all have a dominant function; some are more intellectual, others more sensory or feeling types. Jung also notes a person relying only on their main function is a rather shallow character… while engaging more functions creates depth of personality. For example when an intellectual listens to their feelings and intuition, when a dancer also engages their intellect, we have a well-rounded person.
The visual cortex is located at the back of the head in the occipital lobe; Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas are language functions found on the left and right sides of the brain. Such areas can grow at different rates, and a weakness in one can lead to hypertrophy in another, as seen with legendary blind musicians Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder. I suggest Sol LeWitt’s admirable visual ability counterweighed a lesser intellectual complexity. Not that LeWitt was less intelligent, but he was less intellectual; the exceptional complexity of his main function was a visual language processed in the visual cortex, leaving fewer resources for intellectual acuity.
Lewitt was capable of complex visual concepts and able to write instructions for the making of his art. But when he wasn’t dealing with the reality-based concepts of his own work, and instead thinking about what it was, how he did it, and why, unfortunately Lewitt lacked the necessary foundation and practice in logic and analytic thinking that would have prompted him to fact check his ideas. For that reason he fell back of intellectual mysticism, the writing of conceptual mythology. And so we come to this critical teardown of his writing, following which we may have enough evidence to understand how it came about that Sol Lewitt was such an amazing artist and an empathic human being, but his thinking was unclear.
“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work”. Work can only happen by working, during which adaptations are inevitable, they’re improvements. The idea is always a starting point. When asked where he gets his ideas, Robert Rauschenberg wrote that "every time I have an idea, it's too limiting and usually turns out to be a disappointment. But I haven't run out of curiosity."
A work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist's mind to the viewer's. But it may never reach the viewer, or it may never leave the artist's mind. The contradiction is obvious; if art is a conductor by that same rule any ideas remaining in the mind cannot conduct, so can’t be ar. Art is not a conductor but a judgment of quality; it’s the medium that’s the conductor. Idea are a precursor and art is the final product . Art is the highest quality of production.
Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution. Paul Dirac said when he sees beauty in his equations he knows he's on the right path to progress, while if beauty's lacking, the math is probably wrong. It makes sense to ask if this science of beauty also applies to art. The answer is yes, banal ideas are rescued when the work is guided by a quest for excellence.
“Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.” There are no conclusions that logic cannot reach, even illogical ones. Logic is pragmatic, and no one thinks of conceptual artists as mystics. If anything they’re seen as deconstructive rationalists. Lewitt may here attempt to account for unconscious processes, but he didn’t know about studies in psychology that would have given him the words to express himself.
Sol LeWitt laid out the terms for conceptual art in his seminal “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” published in the June 2967 issue of Artforum. “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work,” which cannot logically be correct. Semantics are important here. The idea comes first, followed by work to realize it, and since no idea is perfect in its first manifestation, improvements are inevitable. The first state cannot be the most important because it’s always the starting point; when an idea enters the external world it changes by acquiring a physical form, even if that form is just a spoken or written word. Idea by necessity change because an idea is not work - Lewitt used that specific word; work means process.
A failure to appreciate tone’s medium would be a serious mistake; Lewitt avoided that in his actual work but embedded that error in his writing, and he failed to correct the published text once the idea was disproved. The etymology insists that art occurs in the physical world, be it the art of cuisine or the art of conversation, the art of medicine or the art of decoration. Specifically, it is the effort over time, the experience, which gives the artist their mastery. Is that final product less important than the original idea? To answer we consider the valuation implied by using the word important. Importance is that which affects us, and an idea that does not leave the artist’s mind cannot affect us and is unimportant.
“If an artist changes his mind through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results.” In actual practice it’s the opposite; it’s when you don’t change your mind that you repeat past results. As LeWitt himself revised his own work when problems arose, he really should have corrected this one . Unfortunately the consequence of his uncorrected and later disproved Sentences and Paragraphs was their influence on academic thought and practice. Art historian and critic Barbara Rose complained of ignorant and lazy artists whose thinking stops at the idea of putting a found object in a museum, "(7) today we complain of Cattelan’s Comedian, a banana that sold three copies at $225k each.
Sol LeWitt further confuses us when he writes “the idea becomes the machine that makes the art … Like an architect who creates a blueprint for a building and then turns the project over to a construction crew, an artist should be able to conceive of a work and then either delegate its actual production to others or perhaps even never make it at all.”"(8)This worked for Lewitt because his visual art stayed at the level of architecture, of straight and curved lines Yet it was what Sol Lewitt did with the idea that made the art; the artist was the machine that made the idea into a comprehensible project. The idea only gave him a start on the concept and the instructions he passed on to the hired artists who were also the machine that did the work. Except those hired artists were not machines They each contributed skill, talent, and their own interpretation when needed.
“LeWitt would provide an assistant or a group of assistants with directions for producing a work of art. Instructions for these works, whether large-scale wall drawings or outdoor sculptures, were deliberately vague so that the end result was not completely controlled by the artist that conceived the work."(9)” But Lewitt also made a distinction between assistants who could draw lines and those who could bring something deeper to the projects . Nor should we forget that in all these cases, the assistants are co-creators, although LeWitt denies credit both to them and himself… in favor of the idea. Quality must enter somehow, for without quality no art is outstanding, no art art stands out. Consider how work suffers if assistants are amateurs, or else poorly paid, ill motivated and uninspired.
“For LeWitt, the directions for producing a work of art became the work itself; work was no longer required to have an actual material presence in order to be considered art”"(10). Imagine an audience enters an auditorium, at which point the orchestra rises from their chairs and leaves, so the public could experience the event as a frame for the rustling of their chairs and feet, with the occasional cough. . John Cage’s 4’22 is clever but it is not a masterpiece; nobody returns for seconds; the work lacks depth, it’s a one trick pony. The magic of language is that you can say many things that make no sense, and sometimes we explore nonsense, but we should not take that too seriously, let’s not fetishize nonsense.
Dictionaries tell us that inspiration, (from the Latin inspirare, meaning “to breathe into”) refers to an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or other artistic endeavour. The concept has origins in both Hellenism and Hebraism. The Greeks believed that inspiration or “enthusiasm” came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Inspiration is prior to consciousness and outside of skill (ingenium in Latin). Technique and performance are independent of inspiration, and therefore it is possible for the non-poet to be inspired and for a poet or painter’s skill to be insufficient to the inspiration."(11)
On e.flux in a conversation with Benjamin Buchloh, Lawrence Weiner said thatart is not about skill."(12)How can this be if one’s skill needs to be sufficient to the inspiration? The etymology of art is found in apothegms like the art of conversation or the art of cuisine? We know that what is done without skill is shoddy, which suggests Weiner’s inspiration is a lesser kind of art . He identifies as a “non-artist” and he calls his work “non-art”; simply put, Lawrence Weiner’s work is not art. It is nothing more nor less than what it always was, sentences written on a wall by assistants, is work is interior decoration.
Taking a position against skill, Buchloh also argues the slapdash look of Sigmar Polke’s drawings, which he admires tremendously, is grounded in a self-conscious avant-garde rejection of virtuosity. Buchloh calls for artists to “de-skill”, to lose our skill in order to bring about a golden age of the simple mind. But then notice that Sigmar Polke’s work is juvenilia; he just never learned to draw. No crippling of one’s ability, nor downsizing one’s skill, will by any miracle exceed the mastery of a skilled practice. And that is the difference between one’s genius and the other’s lack of it. As much goes in so much comes out. Unfortunately In LeWitt’s case his brilliant visual statements garner such authority that his error-prone writing is followed without question or comprehension. Not such a good thing.
LeWitt again contradicts himself in “Sentences on Conceptual Art”; “The artist cannot imagine his art, and cannot perceive it until it is complete.” If the idea is already art why would it need to be complete? How can an artist have an idea they cannot imagine or perceive. Being conscious of the idea, knowing what you’re thinking, is a prerequisite to actually having that idea.
LeWitt retorts that “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.” There are no conclusions that logic cannot reach, even illogical ones. Logic is pragmatic while mystics are irrational… but we live in a competitive world of budgets and credibility, and we do not accept mysticism as the condition of conceptual art. As perceived above, Lewitt is trying to explain creative intuition while lacking the vocabulary that psychology had already developed for creativity.
LeWitt said art is about ideas yet it is vision that allows us to appreciate his visual work. Lacking vision or other senses an idea is not visible, nor can we see LeWitts work by reading his instructions, we see the work once it’s produced; his Sentences are “senseless” since art is empirical, grounded in the senses. Duchamp proved this when he made painting intellectual and was no longer able to paint. Sol LeWitt was an amazing visual artist, a visual genius… although Walter Benjamin writes that geniuses do not exist. Benjamin is a great writer denying reality, LeWitt is a great artist who fails at theory. Their words do not make sense and are debunked by simple reasoning, and yet so far no one dared judge and dispute these gods.
When the most important artwork is a blank, it means anyone claiming the conceptual mantle can no longer rely on Sol LeWitt’s assumptions nor Duchamp’s. One would have to answer how such destabilization could be justified when the theory contradicts itself, when Duchamp serves as a cautionary tale of how an intellectual approach is destructive to art practice. We need to reinterpret Sol Lewitt as a brilliant artist and an exemplary human being, appreciate his visual art and ignore his writing. His gifts were in visual language and he had a poetic mind, but he was not an intellectual.
We also bear blame for where Lewitt went wrong; the cultural canon and the most influential art theories of our time are flawed yet remain the base for academic teaching and artistic practice. Hence the highly praised yet equally deplorable state of contemporary art, for which we are responsible. For decades academia spread a cult of jargon to cover a lapse of judgment. That happens when the garage mechanic says your brakes are shot but people still go for a drive.
1- SOL LEWITT, film, directed by Chris Teerink http://www.sollewittfilm.org/about.html - -> back to top
2- Sol LeWitt, Sentences on Conceptual art http://www.altx.com/vizarts/conceptual.html - -> back to top
3-Sol LeWitt, American conceptual artist and painter, The Art Story, Museum Art Insight,
http://www.theartstory.org/artist-LeWitt-sol.htm - -> back to top
4-Larry Bloom, Sol Lewitt, a life of ideas. p.99-100, Garnet Books, Wesleyan University Press, 2029 - -> back to top
5- Ibid, p153. - -> back to top
6- Ibid. p101. - -> back to top
7- Barbara Rose, rethinking Duchamp, Brooklyn Rail
https://brooklynrail.org/2014/12/art/rethinking-duchamp - -> back to top
8- Sol LeWitt, Rosenthal Fine Art http://www.rosenthalfineart.com/sol-LeWitt/ - -> back to top
9- Larry Bloom, Sol Lewitt, a life of ideas. p.152, Garnet Books, Wesleyan University Press, 2029 - -> back to top
1-0 Sol LeWitt, SummaryThe Art Story, Museum Art Insight,
https://www.theartstory.org/artist/lewitt-sol/ - -> back to top
11- Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artistic_inspiration - -> back to top
12- Benjamin Buchloh interviews Lawrence Weiner: “Art is not about skill. e-flux conversations - -> back to top
What If Duchamp Was Wrong?
Deconstructing Marcel Duchamp
Destabilizing Walter Benjamin
Demystifying Sol Lewit
Duchamp said we should not try to define art; generations of artists did their best, blind tothe fatality of not understanding what you cannot define. When no one understands what art is, of cvourse it becomes anything you can get away with. Marcel was wrong, there is no avoiding it. We should try to define art. We shouldn't aim to destroy it, to get rid of it the way some people got rid of religion. Brutalism has had its day.
Duchamp did that to shock, he wanted to Dada, and so came the rabbit hole, the great misunderstanding. Had the art world taken Duchamp at his word on destroying art things would be different today. Duchamp wanted to step beyondd the furthest frontier, but when you have non-anything, there is a vacancy or emptiness, a limit beyond which lies no new frontier but rather a non-existent waste.
Of course when you make not-art you have no art. But the art world, the academic-curatorial complex from the 1960s on, could not relate to the concept, couldn’t grasp “non-art”. Duchamp was an artist they said, everything he did was art… while Duchamp’s memory whispered no… no… it's "non-art". Fascinating note: Duchamp’s inadvertent guidance to contemporary art was apoptosis, non-art being work that has nothing to do with art.
Yet the etymology of that word art can be deduced from the vernacular; “the art of cuisine” or “the art of conversation”. Art is the highest form of any pursuit, art is excellence in achievement. So when Duchamp sought non-art, he sought, without knowing it, the opposite of excellence and the converse to highest achievement, he sought the worst we can do. Which explains some of the social problems we’re going through today.
Art! What is it? A strange organization of the physical brain, a biological evolution equivalent to the mathematician’s blackboard scribbles, art plans our future. When we seek non-art, certainly the future looks bleak."