Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Found Message on An Aesthetics Mailing List, c. 1996

Subject: Aesthetics: Getting Started

Hello to anyone out there with a spare moment. I am aspiring to become an aesthetician and am looking for advice/information.

I live in a suburb of Los Angeles and I am looking for a reputable place for my education. My particular interest lyes [sic] in the area of facial glycolic treatments.

Thanks to anyone who can offer any suggestions."
Pertinent to discussions of the last few days, and, to my mind, almost criminally unknown: Roger Seamon's "The Conceptual Dimension in Art and the Modern Theory of Artistic Value"  (Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 2001)

Early Christmas gift in the morning mail: Photography After Conceptual Art (nb. not "Conceptual photography")

Why aren't we all eagerly awaiting and discussing this?  OH YEAH: Kanye's new album; the weather; self-congratulatory-insider pats-on-the-back; fashion.

Dan's Chinatown
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Take Duchamp.  For me, he is the most exemplary of the artists we call intermedia artists, or, more accurately, artists-in-general.  An artist-in-general is not designated by his or her practice of a specific metier, but moves freely and promiscuously between all the forms in the Western canon.  (Rauschenberg is an artist-in-general; so too are Elaine Sturtevant and Warhol and Yves Klein and Marcel Broodthaers and Rodney Graham and Beuys.  But these are the first names that come to mind when I think of the category, and Duchamp is the best of them).

Duchamp overthrew the tyranny of the "crafty hand."  He proved, definitively in my view, that art can not only be made, but designated, or, in his phrase, "chosen."  This doesn't mean that a work like his Fountain (above) is aesthetically better, or of higher quality, than a handmade sculpture like Michaelangelo's David because it is selected and not made.  What it does mean is that there is no longer any morphological basis for excluding a work like Fountain from the category called "art."  After Duchamp, anything and everything is at least potentially a work of art.  I say "potentially" because a work of art, even one made of radio waves or canned shit must still satisfy, must still demonstrate its aesthetic quality by surviving rigorous comparison with a broad group of peers.  It is not hard to "come up for the count" as art these days, but it is still hard -- must still be hard -- to count as good art.

Is Duchamp's Fountain a sculpture?  Yes, nominally.  Is it successful because of its sculptural qualities?  Or in spite of them?

Some of Fountain's defenders invoked its sculptural qualities to defend it against the Society of Independent Artists' skeptical jury: nice shape, glossy enamel finish, yadda yadda yadda.  Duchamp never did.  All his defenses of Mr. Richard Mutt's peculiar object stressed its significance as an object of aesthetic designation.  "Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object."  Which is not to say that Fountain's sculptural qualities are unimportant, only that to focus on them to the exclusion of all else elides the "new title and point of view" that Duchamp tied to Mott Iron Works' urinal like a thought balloon.

"Some Comments on the Claims Pro and Against Painting"

Painting as the most conspicuous of the "canonical forms": check.  But I don't agree with the assertion, made here and elsewhere, that the canonical forms are canonical because of the quality that inheres in them ("burdened by their own notions of quality...") as opposed to intermedia.  I've seen lots of bad painting, photography and sculpture over the years, and lots of bad intermedia too.  The "depictive arts" have a several hundred year head start on intermedia; the criteria that enable us to differentiate between depictive works of art, essentially saying, "This one is not as good as/is better than that one," have been auto-evolving for a long time.  Intermedia's criteria had a late start (I disagree that they are "suspended," or nonexistent) but are no less rigorous.  The works ask to be judged as something other than "canonical forms."  Example: Felix Gonzalez-Torres' offprints, lightbulb strings, and candy piles.  If I judge the offprints as "photographs," or the strings and piles as "sculptures" I reduce them through the application of these terms; their assimilation to the "canonical forms" elides those aspects of their presence which I might, if pressed, call "conceptual" and thus unique to them.  I cannot point to this precisely, as specific aspects of their form, but I intuitively sense that it is there, and that it is this quality that distinguishes Gonzalez-Torres' work from that of other sculptors like Judd or Tony Smith.

(Images: Edwin Dickinson, The Gas Tank, 1937; untitled Felix Gonzalez-Torres lightbulb string)
Monday, November 22, 2010

"The plaintiff owns commercial property near the intersection of Second Avenue and Ontario Street in Vancouver.  It says that Ontario Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues has become known as 'cash corner' because individuals looking for short term or temporary employment wait there each day to meet potential employers.  The plaintiff says that on weekday mornings up to 35 individuals, predominantly men, gather on the street, sidewalks, driveways and loading bays in the block.  Potential employers arrive in vehicles to negotiate wages with these day labourers and, if agreement is reached, usually transport them to job sites."

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