Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's all been done before.

Speaking of only writing when something makes me mad, I have been involved in something I can no longer countenance.

There seems to be a school of thought circulating in the arts today that all has been done already.

And that we should accept this as some justification for a protracted pessimism about the ontological possibilities of the art object, thus apparently by extension, its metaphysical, phenomenological, ecc. ecc. potentials.

I find this deeply disturbing.

Not because I take particular issue with the termination of ontological ecc. ecc. possibilities for the art object, but I find it very difficult to believe that we can't find some less fatalist method here.

For example, let's consider the art object as the sum total of its constituent parts. I would find it difficult to do otherwise, especially considering that even the smallest of atoms has is constituent parts.

Then, can we not find the new possibilities in the interrelations of these constituent parts? And, then to the whole as the sum total of these parts and interrelations?

That sounds like Minimalism, so we'll have to consider the nature of these constituent parts.

Certainly, they ought not be made of Minimalist parts, though it would be quite fun to obtain a series of Minimalist works and recombine the constituent parts without obligation to the original configurations.

So, perhaps they could be made of regular stuff or junk or shit. Nope. Nope. Nope. Among a million other examples, Rauschenberg, Arman, Manzoni.


For real.

So, maybe they could be made of nothing? But, if we categorize them as art, don't we just end up where Yves Klein started?

They can't be made of everything, if only because of the paradox of the acquisition of everything in an ever-expanding vacuum of a universe. And Manzoni, but I guess he just claimed the Earth.

And, just for giggles, how do we get around Tom Friedman? Or Warhol? Or Duchamp for God's sake, as if we didn't just invoke one of his manifestations.


It occurs that there is another rather persistent pessimism that be useful here. And that is the pejorative nature of Mannerist. Ben Street has already addressed this recently, but you'll have to search the site for it. I certainly don't mean to lay this pessimism on him as it is neither his fault nor, would I ultimately submit, his position. But there seems to be a rather cavalier dismissal of the value of a Mannerist period within the history of art.

First, I think it might be worthwhile to get back down to study, which is one of the things at which Mannerism excels. Obviously, it made for something of a mess at certain points throughout cinquecento Italy, but look what it did for Rubens early on. He's hardly a Mannerist by the end of his career, except in that he maintained throughout his life a certain ability to recombine things that had already been done into forward-looking and thinking innovation. It's one of the fundamental reasons we celebrate him as we do.

Perhaps art should embrace this notion of everything having already been done and get to thinking about how to make new combinations of things that look forward, rather than getting stuck in some kind of pessimistic backwardistic looking.

If nothing else, the work will keep us all occupied away from the pessimism.


  1. not only has it NOT already all been done, we have yet to even begin to start doing it at all.

  2. It's never all already been done. Ever. We see new things all the time when we aren't looking.

  3. this entire post is super good.

    jill wistfulmiller called me dumb in critique for saying that it all hasn't been done before. college taught me to be very cynical and pessimistic about word games.