All Hail Joan of Art, Joan of Art is Dead: Arts Nullity Provides Our Existence

Mike Watson

Preface: On why Art might serve us better in its non-existence.

- Blind Theory: I will be your ears if you will be my eyes.

- Deaf Artist: [No answer].

1). Logical Regression: Unmaking the Artwork

Art must not exist. Its uselessness has always been the basis of its critical import.

Today art's utter nullity is robbed from it and given to the rich. They want to feel its total abandon, and in attaching a price to it give it a purpose which is at odds with its existence.

What to do? I see art migrating from uselessness to nothingness. And yet art might resurrect its power in playing this very trick. Art must migrate into non-existence so that it remains ever elusive to an administrative global-capitalist venture that threatens to otherwise block its every intervention by assimilating and selling off the image of freedom that it conveys.

Arts non-existence is, in fact, prefigured by a progressive history that can be seen as running from the works of Courbet to Duchamp to Beuys. For example, Courbet, in sloughing off the head arms and legs of his nude figure in 'The Origin of Mankind', can be seen to offer up in the artwork the reality of human perception as limited: we see in frames, not in expanses extending to a golden horizon. His title is an act of god-killing, the picture itself focusing on the depicted models vulva: we, humanity are purely physiological and this, this being where we hailed from. Pubis as hubris. Thus the artwork performs a reduction of the gap between man and the absolute — we are absolutely all that we are...even the origin of humankind in its moral/conceptual capacity is humankind itself. Physically, this point could not be pushed further to the forefront of the picture plane. Here, the artwork's transcendent capacity (a remnant left over from iconography) becomes inverted as a capacity to throw the viewer back on themselves — it becomes a capacity for truth only, and not for otherworldly truth.

Duchamp, in claiming the banal readymade object as an artwork took this one step further: not even the made artwork was necessary for the art viewer to experience the truth that art conveys. Anything can be art, Duchamp reasoned, and so art and truth were thus reduced to immediate experience. This gesture has robbed us of any imaginary transcendental capacity, yet has gifted us with the ability to experience the object as is.

Beuys, in proclaiming that we are all artists, cures Duchamp's reasoning of its main fault line: Where Duchamp's artwork needed to have been declared an artwork on the say so of an 'artist', making it a system still dependent on the whims of 'competent' individual, Beuys declares all humanity to be 'artists'. Thus, taking Beuys' and Duchamp's declarations together (what we might term the 'Duchampian-Beuysian' turn) we can all now experience truth via the designation of any object as 'art' on our own say so.

Interestingly, this process, whilst performing a reduction of the absolute to the banal, also frees art from the auspices of the market. Conceptual art in its purest form is decidedly more difficult to package and market than physically existent art. That is not to say that money has not been made out of it, not least of all by Duchamp, Beuys and their various executors and collectors, but it does point to how art might exist outside of the art market. Art's truth as the 'thought of truth' evades that truth being credited to the bankers account, and thus nullified.

2) The Non-Artist: Not making art for the masses.

If art has in the past thrown the viewer upon an introspection which results in a realisation of the truth of their own self as being the necessary starting point of truth and of positive experience, conceptual art taken to its 'nth degree beckons that this truth has to be realised first from within, without recourse to the art-object. From there this truth may be projected outwards. It may indeed even be projected outwards as painting, sculpture or as the declaration of an object as an artistic readymade, but this, whilst being entirely credible, would be superfluous to the object of this truth's communication. These varied means of communicating truth, employing the old tools of the artist, exist as few amongst many.

How might we communicate that the truth which art tells is, and which is arguably now best experienced in arts wilful 'non-existence', as the pure 'thinking of truth'?

We might first start by drawing on the lesson that art tells us. If the Duchampian-Beuysian turn does anything, it is to wring the mystical from the artwork and to leave it out to hang until it is bone dry. It pulls the rug of comfortable fantasy from beneath us and confronts us with having to make for ourselves a more comfortable world. It does, in short, to art what Nietzsche did to spirituality when he proclaimed the death of God. It removes the possibility of beatific transcendence from art and places beauty directly in front of us, to be appreciated or missed entirely, depending on our own assessment and adjustment of that immediate reality.

In the case of the non-existent artwork that follows as a progression upon the Duchampian-Beuysian turn, the need for the art-object is removed, just as Nietzsche removes God as a mediator between ourselves and the absolute otherness of all that exists outside our selves. If Nietzsche proclaimed that we are all that is, the Duchampian-Beuysian turn declares that there is no transcendent experience to be found even in our most applauded sensual achievement — 'high' or 'fine' art. This is a truth that art has alluded to, but only realises fully when it is prepared to cede even its own claim to majesty. What is now needed is for artists to make a final break, and to realise as true what Duchamp and Beuys beckoned forth. We need 'Über-artists' to match Nietzsche's call for the Übermensch ('Over-man' or 'Superman'), artists who are willing to wrench every aspect of self-pitying self-aggrandisement in a exemplary effort to do what is best for the community, even if that means meeting with the scorn and fear of the art world as every fibre of what art traditionally stands for is picked apart and reconstituted as something entirely 'other', as, in fact 'nothing.' Who, indeed, might be 'futuristic' enough to step aside from the daily 'struggle' of the artist and to directly approach truth in the wider sphere that is 'life'?

We might first argue that issues surrounding 'my art' as opposed to 'your art' need be abandoned. This process of ownership and competition accords a special interest to the art object that is completely in cahoots with the processes that underlay capitalist gain. What may be needed is an individual proclamation of the validity of the truth that is art, and a willingness to pursue this truth outside of the want for personal artistic gain and aside from systems of production and commodification. What then is needed is the realisation of the truth of art 'as is' — it is the truth of the vulnerability of our singular mortal existence. Then all is needed is to do away with the term 'art', for once we have become self supporting in the truth of our existence, and once we are willing to progress aside from the 'wish-making' that offers false hope that art is, there will be no need for art. We are now left to reckon with ourselves.

Final Word

Deaf Artist: [sign language]: I will be your eyes if you will be my ears.

Art-Theorist: (no answer).

Mike Watson, Making Love not Art. 2007 ©