Saturday, January 31, 2015

Giving Due Respect to Erasing

In 2008, then again in 2015, birguslatro wrote approvingly of suicide in Respecting and Erasing, where she metaphorizes a profitable and celebrated Rauschenberg work, in which Rauschenberg erased someone else's drawing and put it on display to great acclaim. Here's a picture of the result, followed by this one's response:

You see a blank piece of paper, and say, "[I]t’s a beautiful object, evocative and moving in its silence."

You used the right word, because you've objectified it. It is nothing except an almost-blank piece of paper. It could be switched with another, similar, paper, and you wouldn't know the difference.

1) Would that paper's exact duplicate (or unidentifiably-similar copy) be equally beautiful, evocative, and moving?

2) Are all blank pieces of paper beautiful, evocative, and moving?

3) How does it affect a blank piece of paper's beauty if that paper is art-quality bond paper, stained slightly brown, or pulled from a college-ruled notebook?

4) Are all erased drawings beautiful, or only this one?

You're memorializing the paper as a symbol of your excitement at Rauschenberg's act. Children erase drawings all the time--why is that not equally exciting? Is their act--the elimination of art--any less original or exciting than Rauschenberg's act? No; actually, it's likely to be more original and exciting, performed by the child as part of a wholly artistic desire. Rauschenberg knew he could get fame and fortune by his act, and did so for attention. What he's done is equivalent to an earnest version of the Sokal hoax--yet, decades later, people are still discussing how wonderful the Emperor's new clothes look.

5) Are you cognizant of the American Central Intelligence Agency's role in promoting postmodern and abstract art, partly for domestic cultural effects and partly to make the U.S. appear to be intellectually advanced in comparison to Soviet Russia?

6) What other pieces of paper are not silent? Paper usually doesn't make noise on its own. What makes this particular piece of paper's own brand of silence "moving"?

If the paper's emptiness was really meaningful to you, you would be able to see that meaning in all blank papers. You'd also be able to see it in all paper mills. All trees. All specks of sunlight. All waking moments. All blocky diagrams of photosynthesis.

By doing so--by seeing the beauty of "possibility" or "endings" in all things--you would realize that you were using this particular object, and those like it, as fetishes. Here is the dictionary link for fetish so you see what I mean. You're excited about an idea, so you choose to vest some foreign object with the power to stimulate your feelings about that idea. The actual object isn't important, anymore than if looking at a dairy cow, or a number 2 pencil, filled you with awe of Rauschenberg. His choice to poop in one particular can, or to take a picture of one particular condemned subway station, gets confused with the definition of "art." That's a definition that's only useful if it doesn't include everything, ever.

(As I've said before, my work of art is the universe, which I have framed. Therefore, as creator, my interpretation of this work is that, when I portrayed Rauschenberg framing that particular piece of paper, I was portraying the futility of people who think that art is all-encompassing. When I portrayed you as looking upon my Rauschenberg-work, I did so to demonstrate what error was. Soon, time will bring us to the part in my work where you realize how correct I am. You're welcome. If art is everything, then it's nothing.)

It's just fine for you to see beauty in, say, "life," or "sorrow," or "self-determination." The danger of projecting your feelings onto fetishes, though, is that your mind can become too distended, and lose its coherency as it attempts to outsource emotional data onto extra-neural storage. Fetishes gradually take over your original feelings, becoming more important than the feelings which originally gave them power. This is the root of the biblical hostility toward icons: if you worship God through a golden calf--or a cross, a mother planet, a particular ritual, et cetera--your connection to the icon becomes more important than what the icon was supposed to facilitate. Like an insurance policy or a transfer tax, the "helpful middleman" gradually overwhelms the original purpose, until the original purpose no longer even exists, and the real purpose becomes supporting the middleman. This is how abstract art gained its power over the minds of so many, who were then compelled to defend audacious nothings with the same fervor that they once felt for beauty, truth, and freedom. Enough time spent associating those concepts with empty picture frames, canned feces, and a handful of green dots on a white background, caused them to imagine that those things were beauty, truth, and freedom--and while they cheered rows of umbrellas stuck in the dirt and exchanged five figures for photographs of an old man's bunion, they marginalized decades of actual creative beauty.

That particular tension between academics and rural folk is often caused by the rural folk's realization that academic fetish is the hypervalidation of metaphors of marginal illustrative utility. Yes, a raven is like a writing desk in some ways, and a man fumbling for his glasses and knocking them off the nightstand could be a metaphor for all of our lives from start to finish; yet, metaphor, too, loses its meaning when it ceases being metaphor and starts being definition. It is correct of the uneducated to laugh at all the pedigreedy academic lemmings who vest their jargon with otherworldly powers. If we compare ravens and writing desks too thoroughly, we find that we no longer know which is different--after all, differences are mere illusions caused by our prejudices, yes? Not only do we lose our ability to distinguish between "raven" and "writing desk," we also lose our ability to compare them. Overusing metaphors kills the beauty, and the communicative potential, of the act of metaphorizing. COINTELPRO America, land of evolved propaganda, worked hard at eliminating the complexity of language, in order to reduce our available possibilities for communication and understanding. The end goal, as in the matter of Newspeak, is obvious.

A corpse may turn to rot; the rot may feed grass, the grass may be eaten by faun; the faun may grow to adulthood; the doe may poop in a field; the wheat may grow higher; the farmer may harvest the wheat; the wheat may become bread; the baby may eat the bread; the baby may grow up, and paint a beautiful painting. If the corpse, though, is the painting, then there is no painting. We call the corpse a "rotting corpse" not because it is forever immutable, but because, by our language, we are identifying that, at this particular time, with this particular observation, it is a corpse. Later on, some molecule may pass through the baby who eats the bread, help it grow larger, and help it paint a painting--but the painting is not the corpse. Our words, and our ability to define things at different points in time, are part of how we grant ourselves the beauty of distinguishing between those different stages of being. While it may seem "free and artsy" to disregard them, it in fact robs from us the ability to appreciate what makes each stage unique.

The confused fool who erases a drawing, or who shoots apart a statue, may indeed be part of a greater process whereby new drawings are created or new statues built. If we wish to recognize the distinct beauty of the actions of Robert Rauschenberg and the Taliban, we should do so using different kinds of words than those we use to celebrate people who draw pictures or sculpt statues. After all, it would be unfair to degrade the unique wonder of Neo-Dadaist landfill-gluers and radical-Islamist Buddha-shooters with the work of mere illustrators or sculptors.

* * *

If you're not familiar with the Taliban's work, and are interested in learning more, you can read some about it here. The article is by the Telegraph, although that particular work was covered extensively by American papers, as well. The Taliban were a group of Islamists funded by the CIA to fight Russia.

If you're not familiar with Robert Rauschenberg's work, and are interested in learning more, you can read about it here. His first major showing was in 1951, through the Betty Parsons Gallery, which had been started by the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family from New York and Paris. The Jewish Museum of New York offered Rauschenberg a career retrospective in 1963, and during the middle years of the Cold War, the Smithsonian later collected many of his works of glued-together garbage and pictures of famous people, and exhibited them worldwide at taxpayer expense.

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