Tuesday 24 July 2012

The artist's hand

When I was at the Turing 12 art exhibition Intuition and Ingenuity at Birmingham University, I overheard Anna Dumitriu explaining to another visitor about the movement to remove the artist's hand from art. I found myself wondering how much of the artist they were wanting to eliminate. How far away are you pushing the artist? In terms of the layers and trapeziums, I can think of it being about removing the artist from the lower layers, but how far up do you go? The artist presumably must still be there at the top? There must be some idea; some emotion; some something to communicate?

But then I was once told that some artists would baulk at talking about art as communication. I remain to be convinced about that. I can't see how it could be about anything other than communication in the most general sense.  It is true, however, that I've no expertise in art, so when I say 'I remain to be convinced', I'm not meaning 'I'm not going to let you convince me'. If someone could explain art to me in way that doesn't involve communication, I would learn a lot from it. (It would be lots of information for me, because low probability = high information, in the Shannon sense.)

Well anyway, I could do with finding out more about this movement and the 'hand of the artist', so to start with here's a couple of things from a google search.

Making sense of Marcel Duchamp:
If you want to break all the rules of the artistic tradition, Duchamp reasoned, why not begin by discarding its most fundamental values: beauty and artisanship. The readymades were Duchamp’s answer to the question, How can one make works of art that are not “of art”?

It was an audacious proposal, and to execute it Duchamp employed an equally audacious method: he withdrew the hand of the artist from the process of making art, substituting manufactured articles (some custom-made, some ready-made) for articles made by the artist, and substituting random or nonrational procedures for conscious design.

The results are works of art without any pretense of artifice, and unconcerned with imitating reality in any way. [...]

Duchamp’s most notorious readymade was a manufactured urinal entitled Fountain. Conceived for a show promoting avant-garde art, Fountain took advantage of the show’s lack of juried panels, which invariably excluded forward-looking artists.

Under a pseudonym, “R. Mutt,” Duchamp submitted Fountain. It was a prank, meant to taunt his avant-garde peers. [...]

As surely as it was a prank, Fountain was also, like the other readymades, a calculated attack on the most basic conventions of art. Duchamp defended the piece in an unsigned article in The Blind Man, a one-shot magazine published by his friend Beatrice Wood. To the charge that Fountain was mere plagiarism, “a plain piece of plumbing,” he replied “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 the new title and point of view — created a new thought for that object.”
The Art Damien Hirst Stole:
In 1995, Damien Hirst defended his work with the rationale, "It's very easy to say, 'I could have done that,' after someone's done it. But I did it. You didn't. It didn't exist until I did it."

In 2000, he decided that doing it was not the justification after all: "I don't think the hand of the artist is important on any level, because you're trying to communicate an idea."

In 2006, the idea of the artist was not important on any level either: "Lucky for me, when I went to art school we were a generation where we didn't have any shame about stealing other people's ideas. You call it a tribute".
It's good to come to Damien Hirst, here, and especially since the spot paintings come in to the discussion (as you see if you follow the link above - remember that Hirst gets other people to do the painting) since I played around with the spot paintings a while back.

Notice that Hirst does (did) say "you're trying to communicate an idea", but that was in 2000  Then we're told that in 2006 "the idea of the artist was not important on any level either".

Is this the onion again? You keep peeling to get to the pure essence of art until there's nothing left? That's what it's starting to look like to me.

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