See this as Art Posted on November 12th
The other day, an article on Artblog.net described art as a continuum, with conceptual art closer to philosophy (and therefore less art-like) and pure formal art unmoored from ideas as most truly art.
Here’s how Franklin puts it:
The pure play of concept-free forms is art. The pure play of form-free concepts is philosophy. The continuum lies between them.
The aim of the article is to classify conceptual art as “less art,” or, if it is too conceptual, to declassify it as art altogether. The example Franklin uses is an artist who declared all the shoes stores in Amsterdam as an exhibition of his work. This, according to Franklin, was an “act of philosophy with art as its topic” but not art. The closer something is to philosophy, the father it must be from art.
Before addressing my protests to the idea of philosophy and art being on opposite poles, I’d like to run-through the shoe store idea. What if a viewer took the artist up on his comment, and toured shoe stores as if they were art?
Picture it. You walk into a shoe store. Rather than simply heading over to your shoe size and rifling through boxes, you instead pause right in the threshold and quietly survey the store as a whole. You notice that athletic shoes far outstrip all other shoe types, taking up three aisles while sandals, work boots, casual and dress shoes only get an aisle each. Is this significant? you wonder. As you try to tease out the implications of so many athletic shoes (are we regressing into a society based on physical strength, like in Neanderthal times? Or is this the artist’s comment on our cultural denial of our increasingly sentient nature?) you walk over to a bin of marked down socks, some of them spilling out over the sides.
You’re careful not to unsettle a single sock, and instead take in the whole disorderly mass, noting some similarities to De Kooning’s late, inferior work. You crane your head to catch a detail of one of the tags: odor eating instep. Quietly, you move away, hands behind your back and begin touring the aisles. On the end of one of the aisles, several sandals are displayed on risers of different heights. You cock your head and consider the aesthetic merit of the arrangement, as a salesperson comes up behind you. “Can I help you?” You freeze. You didn’t read anywhere that this was an interactive piece. “No,” you mutter, not feeling up to participating. The salesperson, after being rebuffed, carefully begins shifting the display shoes this way and that, but by the end of her efforts nothing perceptible has changed. A comment on art-making?
In the middle of an aisle, a stool with a built in foot-mirror reflects a chaos of open boxes, tissue paper, and mismatched shoes. The mirror is a nice touch, you think. It doubles the chaos on the floor, just like a disaster is refracted and repeated in every consciousness that experiences it. New Orleans, Iraq…the stool assemblage is really timely. You like this, and decide you’ve seen all you need to see. On your way out of the store, you stop and pick up a catalogue of the show, which you notice has been cleverly designed to look no different than a sale flyer for women’s walking shoes.
To ask viewers to see a shoe store as art is no different than an Impressionist asking viewers to see the play of light as art or abstract expressionists asking us to see forms and patterns as art. Art-making is a philosophical act, because the artist is choosing what he or she will ask us to see as art–whether it be a bowl of fruit, a shoe store, or a group of forms. No matter how much we romanticize taciturn, idea-wary artists like Jackson Pollock, his consciousness of himself as an artist–a chooser of forms to be presented as art–implicates him in the basic philosophical underpinning of all art. If more formal painting or sculpture does not strike us as philosophical, it is only because the philosophical request inherent in it–that we should see it as art–is so fundamental that we rarely reflect on it.
Conceptual art is not “more philosophical” than formal art; it simply calls more attention to the philosophy intrinsic in all art. It is only different from formal art in that it less deterministic in what it asks you to see as art. Pollock’s painting are finished presentations of what he considers to be art-worthy in the world. Conceptual art–because it is often without form or finality–only hints that there is art to be found. A shoe-store exhibition requires us to search for significance and aesthetic value in the drabbest of circumstances; it requires us to think as if we were artists. Formal art asks us to look at it as art, whereas conceptual art asks us to look for art within it.Trackback URL