Is THAT art?!?!?! I mean a child could have done that?

February 20, 2008

I have much to say and engage with in regards to these two questions and I do not plan on writing it all down now, or even get close to addressing all the problems with these two questions but I wanted the conversation to start. So I have been doing some Saussure reading lately, for a class mind you, I don’t think I could do it for myself yet in life, and well more specifically I have been reading his Lecture Notes from the University of Geneva, 1906-11, compiled and published by his students after his death. Okay that all being said the part of these notes I want to draw attention to is the three ways in which a word, a linguistic sign, is arbitrary. The three ways come from first breaking up the sign into its two parts, signifier (the sound) and signified (the idea or concept). For example when we say “chair”  the sound associated with the concept of a device for sitting on are not inherently combined, that’s easy enough to understand when one travels to a place where one’s native language is not practiced. Try saying chair somewhere where they don’t speak English and see if they understand you. So with these two aspects defined what is then arbitrary? Well as is suggested above the relationship between the signified and the signifier is completely conventional, why call a chair a chair and not a table? It is just what we have chosen. Second the sound itself is arbitrarily defined, why not chairy or chaaaair? Lastly the concept is also arbitrarily defined. A stool and chair are separate in our language, not all languages and a desk chair and table chair both use the word chair, in other languages they don’t have the same signifier.

We can spend all day talking about Saussure but the only thing important for the art question is the arbitrariness of language.  given that I want to know bring up C. S. Pierce who studied sign. Pierce, 1839-1914, defined three different signs: Icons, resembles what it points to, Index, related to its object through forceful interaction, and Symbols, anything that requires information to form the connection. Language as it is arbitrary and conventional falls under that third category. Renaissance paintings fall under the first category and photograph falls under the first two, as it is both representational of what it points to and it is a consequence of it (that’s why photos can be evidence and paintings can’t, for the most part).

Okay NOW back to the question at hand, what is meant when someone says “a child could have done that?” that’s what I am now going to address:

So last weekend I was at our university’s annual sculpture show and had a wonderful and exploratory time observing and being part of the exhibitions. But of course, with the art being student created (ie experimental) there came a slew of questions or rather comments regarding the validity of the art. For example when looking at one of the more hidden pieces that was made up of plaster, grocery bags, hot glue, wax, and a globe it was stated that the piece was not for sale. The response of one individual to that knowledge was “why would someone even be interested in that? they could get it at a supermarket for far less, hell it comes with your order at a supermarket” he was obviously referring to the enormous number of plastic bags used int he sculpture’s creation. So therefore the question becomes creatability? I guess you could say, or rather that he and many others were measuring the “artistic merit” of the works based on how “easy” or “accessible” they were to create. Here is where I bring up Saussure, to remind us that our “conventions” for what is easy and hard, and what is beautiful and ugly, and especially what is and isn’t art is NOT based on any fundamental truth, for there isn’t one, but rather it is based on our own arbitrary definitions. One may be able to easily translate beauty linguistically between English and French but you’d be surprised at how the term may be applied very differently in the two cultures. I bring this up to suggest that when we talk about certain elements that “should” be striven for in art, those elements have no universality in them and furthermore are completely relative based on what we define them as not.

Okay then so let’s briefly talk about what is implied with that child statement. First let me say that I am not going to take the time here to debate it but rather just understand it, later we’ll debate it. So typically the “a child could do that” statement applies to the works of art that appear to have no talent applied during the creative process. One that I always think of in this argument is Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square or Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. In either case the artistic object is not something that requires a mastery of representational ability. By that I mean to suggest that when this statement is applied to either work the implied meaning of it is that neither work achieved the same level of representational, iconic, achievement that say the Mona Lisa did. So in the end I bring this up now to ask, do you think that what is implied by this statement is a comparison with Renaissance art? After all nothing can be defined independently, everything is always negatively defined. Therefore for this to be slated with being less than art, what other artistic objects are being conjured up to mark this objects failure? Furthermore I want to bring up the question of “talent” and to suggest that we are applying to this word an age old convention of something physical. That the talent required to be a superior artist is some sort of mastery over representational, some kind of ability to recreate life through a medium. I would argue that it requires the SAME amount if not MORE talent to produce something so iconistic as to go against convention. Why seek only to use convention when defining art?


But I must also add that by bringing up Saussure we are going down a path of arbitrariness that may conclude with that unnerving realization that art itself is arbitrary.


Let the discussion begin,


On the power of imagination

February 18, 2008

After a long day at the library, something I am looking forward not to saying in the near future, I have come to realize or rather remember as it is something I have realized many times in my short life that there is a growing list of artistic expressions (I use as general a term as possible to emphasize the idea that there is no medium in particular by which this idea is communicated) that when interacted with (this list pertains only to me but I believe each of us has our own list) creates such a euphoric response like nothing else. Now what exactly do I mean by this, well I’ll tell yo through an anecdotal example.

As I mentioned before I spent today in the library reading some French and writing about Native Americans, interesting stuff I’ll admit but still there were many other places I would have rather been. Regardless this story is not about those other places.  I had my Ipod with me and was listening to an album, one specific album or rather soundtrack in particular. The soundtrack to Hook. A film that embodies both the early 90s and my childhood for me. And this happy thought as Williams would say in the movie did come from just that. The simple melody that played through my magnetically enhanced earphones blinded my vision from the dreary scene that was the library on a Sunday afternoon to that of home (New York) and toys, and a sense of imagination that one tries desperately to hold onto in life but only knows so purely as a child.

I was there again in that movie, believing in fairies and trying to fly. And though I have no specific memory with Hook (I don’t even remember seeing it in theaters though I am sure that I did) it brought a smile to my face. It made me happy. I didn’t need to explain it or understand it, it just made me smile and ultimately dance a little, perhaps throw a crow in there, I mean who really knows. The point is this. That list that holds that power should both never be written down or forgotten. Its active existence in our memories is what gives it its power.

I paused in the middle of writing this post to sit down and watch the movie. I smiled again.


When heart and the heart come together to spend one long night, not in bed though

February 15, 2008

I saw once a flash of hope that triggered an outflow of creative anthologies just waiting to organize through the meloncholy of distant thought in order to find some kind of order in an unordered discourse of angioplasty tPA. Common to the 4.18 joules that one should never just consume lies the 1st and 2nd laws of energirical output of a neruotransmition kind. One that causes the junctions and boutons to disperse aneurisms of an Ischemic nature. What we must look to do is dislocate the coronary trifugal elements and allocate all electrical output to the thrombosis inordial aortic valve of the upper semiautomatic neurological neuron. Despite the 5 watt recovery rate of a simple cardiac cycle at one second intervals, we cannot use strepokionace but rather should look to atrial ventriculation of an isovolumetric kind. Don’t be deceived by the difference in variance. The mechanical output of the SA node is by far electrical and chemical. We need sodium and chloride to help florinate the disjunction between the ganglia and the symphonic instruments. Fear the Diastasis and know that Windkessel will rapidly change the pressure of your dicrotic notch. I count four but hear 2 and only the E-wave can figure out the difference between Q, R, and T. S is dead. Go damn the A-wave, S is dead.

Aorta disorta and atrial ventricular malfunctions of the left sonic nodal centrifugal disfornication membrane.

Happy Valentine’s Day. and that is the creativity that lasted through the romantically festive environment of studying for a heart test on the day of hearts.

Good night and good luck,


one of 17

February 14, 2008

This is one of seventeen posts published this second.

Maybe Partying Will Help

February 8, 2008

As the suspense of the U.S. presidential primaries continues on unbroken, I thought I’d just drop in to remind everyone that They are watching on in amusement as we vote on which of Their puppets They will string into the White House next.

Yes, I have been reading Pynchon. And no, I’m not serious, but the problem of co-opted resistance is one that has been bothering me lately. I am currently writing a thesis about the literature of the carnival, a time in which the norms and boundaries of society are temporarily removed in favor of universal hedonism, and I can’t decide what to think – is this really a form of transgression, or does it only reinforce the social norms that return once everyone goes back to work?

Mikhail Bakhtin, who wrote one of the classic studies of carnival (or at least of Rabelais, whose work was a large part of its culture in France), thinks that carnival cannot be co-opted. Laughter, he says, will always remain a free weapon in the hands of the people. But I can’t see how laugh tracks are in any way in the people’s hands. Theodore Adorno, to pick on a particularly sad curmudgeon, argues that television comedy makes light of social inequalities to distract from their seriousness, and to keep people from feeling outrage where they rightly should. Couldn’t the carnival be seen in the same way? As a way of quelling all the people’s rebellious and transgressive urges at once in, say, one week of utter revelry, so that the rest of the year they will be docile?

It has been. The debate has been swinging in that direction since the 90s or so. But it hasn’t exactly ended. The original arguments for carnival’s power got sort of abstract after Bakhtin – Julia Kristeva writes that carnival forms are different from modern forms like television because in their language they do not allow for binary distinctions, instead letting opposites coexist. There is truth to this – the forms of parody that occurred in medieval carnival were not unilaterally negative as modern forms often are, but instead tore down and elevated at once, like insults exchanged jokingly between friends – but the way that sort of argument goes is too structuralist for the present taste. Mine too, but I still tend to agree with the conclusion even if I don’t like the argument. True dissent is possible, or at least I’d like to think so so much that I’m going to think so regardless.

But even if it’s possible, it might not happen much anymore. Kristeva agrees with Adorno that the supposed boundary-breaking we see in modern forms of humor (like, say, Family Guy) is evidence of nothing but a “law anticipating its own transgression;” in such cases, the transgression comes from the same system that makes the laws. If we accept that there is one, unified “system,” then this is certainly true. There’s where Pynchon comes in. The whole basis of his novels is the belief that everything is controlled by the same, invisible Force – both the squares and the rebels, both the Allies and the Axis. If we accept this, there can be no real escape because all the means of escape that are open to you have been specially designed to lead you right back into Their clutches. Scary.

But Pynchon writes satire. As much as I think Pynchon’s novels reflect on his times, I don’t take all the elaborate paranoid systems he constructs as anything more than grotesque absurdities. He’s not advocating that sort of thought – he’s making fun of it. I imagine he’s a bit of a paranoid himself, but I’m sure he’s painfully aware that it’s a delusion. What he’s saying with all the paranoia has more to do with our unfulfilled need for structure than with the actual order of our society. It’s more about the lack of structure in our world than anything. Of course I don’t think there’s a Them.

Even so, dissent is often corralled into a fenced-off place by one institution or another, and that must weaken its power to some extent. The obvious example is those “free-speech zones,” but you can also think of television shows like South Park that break norms just to shock people – ultimately, this sort of comedy does nothing but underscore the norms that it breaks.

The solution, of course, is to avoid defining your new position in terms of the thing you’re trying to escape. This means that art must become ambivalent again. Art that leaves some of the thinking up to the reader can’t be filed away so easily as art that really, overtly attempts to tear things down – it’s better to let dissent flow than to crystallize it. And as for revelry, I’m all for it, but you shouldn’t just drink to forget.

An experiment in experimentation

February 7, 2008

What is this election?

can we see it from other points of view?

Let the revolution really begin here.

Politically art that drives me

February 6, 2008

Song & video by of The Black Eyed Peas.
Inspired by Barack Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ speech.

This inspires. I don’t mean to bring politics into my blog, well no, I do, but I bring this also as a work of art. Yes, you can call it propaganda and to many it probably is. But I believe it, I remember the speech, I’ll remember where I was when it was given (New York City) and I will look to it and this video when needing courage and hope in that better tomorrow for this country. I support Barack Obama!

Thank you Dipdive for giving this to the people.


(I had to find it on youtube to be able to host it here. Does anyone know how to embed on wordpress from the original site,, so I don’t have to find it on youtube?)

Ps. what is of relative value to this blog is the artistic merit of such a video. Is this art? Is this just propaganda? Or better yet is it just an advertisement, and therefore should not even qualify to be art as its “purpose” is not artistic. But is that so true and furthermore who defines an “artistic” purpose. In looking at this (and I know it is very hard for me to separate my own political bias from it, so I do understand that that is in this next statement) I believe it is art. It is raw emotion, harnessed by the creators and yes it does support a politician but it also supports so much more. I see real heart in this and would argue that the emotional energy used to create and give this project to the world places it squarely in the realm of art, perhaps a subgenre of political art, but art none the less.

Happy Super Tuesday everyone!