Saturday, March 08, 2014
Paul Valéry, no slouch in the thinking department, anticipates and shuts down Ken Johnson in 1928:

"Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art."


"Works of art will acquire a kind of ubiquity. We shall only have to summon them and there they will be…They will not merely exist in themselves but will exist wherever someone with a certain apparatus happens to be. "


"Just as water, gas and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign."

(Paul Valéry, "The Conquest of Ubiquity," translated by Ralph Manheim.  Collected in Aesthetics, Pantheon Books, New York, 1964, p. 225)

Neither Valéry nor I claim that these technological changes -- ubiquity; reproducibility;  manipulatibility -- are, in and of themselves, aesthetically positive or negative.  Aesthetic judgment and/or satisfaction only transpires in the necessarily subjective experience of an individual work of art.  Contemporary artworks can and will continue to provide the same kind of aesthetic satisfactions as those provided by the best Matisses, Picassos, or  Pollocks.  But it's counterintuitive -- and wrong -- to expect the best contemporary artworks to bear any stylistic resemblance to great art of the past.  I think my repetitions force this point by foregrounding significant stylistic and technical differences between them and the artworks they are blatantly derived from (Wall's view camera or Carpenter & Spielberg's professional film cameras v. my consumer-grade digital camera; Hockney's negatives v. my JPEGs and RAW files; Hockney's scissors and glue v. my digital seams).

Richard Brody has a fascinating essay up at the New Yorker at the moment in which he argues that shot-for-shot recreations of films (eg., Gus Van Sant's Psycho) are impossible because of specific changes in the craft of film acting and because of technological changes in the filmmaking process between source and recreation.

Brody effectively argues that exact recreations [what I would call, with Sturtevant, "copies"] are doomed from the outset; the best a contemporary director can hope for is to produce a repetition, which acknowledges, and in some sense corresponds to its source, while maintaining a critical distance from it.  Repetitions aren't, can't be, exact copies.  They're original works, however much they might stylistically resemble a source.

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