Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fountain is, and is not, a urinal


I've been reading Robert Hopkins' essay "Speaking Through Silence," on conceptual art.* I take issue with this paragraph:
While I might appreciate, say the audacity of Fountain on seeing it, my experience is not altered by my awareness of that feature. The urinal looks the same whether I'm engaging with audacity or not (...) The idea is that for other art, sense experience plays the role of medium of appreciation; whereas for conceptual art it provides nothing more than means of access to the work.
So, according to Hopkins, whereas my sense of horror is the medium of appreciation to Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes,

 the same feeling cannot apply in the case of Puto (2007), by Michael Rees.

Why is the "means to access(ing)" my horror NOT a sort of "medium of appreciation"?

Hopkins obsesses too much with the urinal and overlooks Fountain. He takes them to be exactly the same. They are not: Fountain is, and is not, a urinal.

My red sentence is not a logical proposition. Take it as aesthetic license. Ready-making automatically turns something into something else.** This act of investing instant "artness" (on urinals, or anything for that matter) is described in this letter sent to the Blind Man by Duchamp himself:
Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.
For Hopkins Caravaggio makes you feel more, instead of just, differently than Duchamp.*** For example, in A Propos of Readymades, Duchamp's goes for elimination of the experience (i.e., the dissolving of aesthetic sense):
(...) I want very much to establish is that the choice of these "readymades" was never dictated by aesthetic delectation.This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste – in fact a complete anesthesia.
I don't know about Hopkins, but I when see Fountain I don't see a urinal. I see instant coffee. 
*"Speaking Through Silence," in Philosophy and Conceptual Art, by Peter Goldie, Elisabeth Schellekens (Oxford University Press: 2007). p. 56-58. **Remember Russell's famous 5 Minutes Hypothesis?  ***Keep in mind that different sytyles may demand different analyses. The ways in which we apprehend objects though conceptual cerebration is different from that of more traditional forms of representation. Piero Manzoni's Merda d'artista is not apprehended in the same way than Monet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe.


Danescience said...

Great post Triff! It's hard for many people to dissociate what is seen as a representation of 'artificial' beauty, and the philosophical statement or aim of conceptual art. I use the word 'artificial' as a way of saying "enhanced", the signature of most notable 'beautiful' art being that it is somehow an enhanced depiction in which the subject matter is elevated beyond its generally accepted design. Such is the difference between an Annie Leibowitz photo which adds a certain level of elevation and signature which is particular to her vision of her subject, which most people may not catch when seeing the object; and a random photo. Most viewers put this job on the artist, and it is to show US something that ADDS to what we have already seen or imagined or read. Artists put this job on themselves also. They want to share their particular vision, their understanding of the world. What ready-mades do is a big 360 I think. They draw you into an object you have seen, in the way you have seen it. Then they let you see how an artist can "conceptualize" it differently without portraying an actual change to the viewer. This is the part that stumps most viewers. It begs for a urinal to be not what it is while being exactly what we understand it to be. This bending of schemas confuses ppl to the point of devaluing the vision that the artist IS trying to portray. Ultimately it ends up being a small experience of elevation for the readymade because our life experience will get in the way of keeping on to the artist's vision of an object which we use and understand.

xian_valderas said...

Well,…… I was going to post something I was ruminating over about the picture of the punching bag I saw in last class but, unfortunately the picture is no longer here. =( Funny how fluid the Universe is and how suddenly we must take notice and adapt to avoid from drowning as we white-water raft ourselves down this twisting and turning river that serves a METAPHOR for the screwed-up, co-dependent relationship that SPACE and TIME have with each other in which we are all caught in the middle of. (I forget, it’s been a while since ENC1102. Is it grammatically proper to end a sentence with “of”?... Oh well, whatever!) So as I was saying, I had intended to write something about the picture of the punching bag because it was about something that, I guess you could say, is very “dear to me”. But since it’s not here anymore (or was it ever there in the first place?...), I suppose I’ll have to take some more time, not that I will take the abstract concept of “Time” itself anywhere, but “time” in the chronological context to look at these other pictures and ruminate about something else to post. Be back soon. =)… 僊 (Xian)
p.s. I hope that’s 150 words.

miamibourbaki said...

What ready-mades do is a big 360 I think.

What a nice way to put it!

Feminista said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Feminista said...

Triff: I've enjoyed this one. Many don't see the posibilities of conceptual art vis-a-vis creation. Danescience: Right on target.

judith ghashghaei said...

“Keep in mind that different styles may demand different analyze” I guess it must! By interpreting the artifact in relation to multiple interacting contexts rather that just one we maybe found “Horror” all over each artist body of work. This “horror” sound for me like ritual purification and bowel movement.. To found out I rather read the author by my own...Any way, is good to read your interpretation, interesting article,I missed some ideas or all of them, keep trying it. Saludos, Judith G.

LYDIA said...

This is what I love about art, the debate! I spent a freezing February morning in Paris waiting in line for a Christian Boltanski exhibit. I had no knowledge of his work but decided to attend after a girlfriend suggested it. When I finally entered the Grand Palais, I was greeted by a wall of rusted boxes holding the ashes of individuals that now were only identified by numbers. The sound of 15,000 heartbeat reverberated off the walls and when I rounded the partition of remains, I found piles and piles of clothes. I know it may sound silly, like the urinal I suppose, for some one to simply accumulate old sweaters, dresses, and coats, place them in on a floor in large squares while heartbeats beat and call it art, but to me it was. I spent almost two hours in the chilly exhibit wondering, who wore these sweaters? A body used to occupy the now tattered weaving that no longer exists. Boltanski’s made me think of people I know and people I’ve lost, while another could view his exhibit as merely piles of old sweaters.

Here's a link to an article of the exhibit:

Lydia Lane

miamibourbaki said...

Feminist, Judith and Lydia, thanks. Keep visiting.

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