The Dragon is Slain

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The Dragon is Slain

From Brian Shapiro

Published before 2005


Jeffrey,

Every endeavor involves selection, not just art. You're reserving it to art because you're creating a dichotomy between art and science, so you are reserving yourself to say whenever science uses selection that isn't the heart of the activity, and art somehow is essentially selection and nothing else is essential to it. But still there is no clear way to distinguish practical science that uses selection and art that uses selection. There are so many other ways to make a dichotomy. Between art and science, what is philosophy, art or science? In fact, a lot of the early debate in modern circles had been anti-philosophy and tried to found art on scientific terms. The dichotomy they were creating pushed the idea that philosophy was conscious construction, and art was subconscious expression; i.e. deconstructive and transgressive. There are many other ways to reductively define what art is when you choose a polar concept to oppose it to.

I've been trying to get across that the whole program that dada started which ended up in postmodernism, wasn't just questioning limits to 'art', it was questioning all language. Intellectuals weren't only saying that everything is art, but that ideas and language are subjective, so that everything could be considered good as well as everything being considered art. Wittgenstein argued that if you were to define "good" it would obliterate every other use of the word good, so would be nonsensical. "Good" is however the word is used, which often can be the opposite of the ideal, and has no essence. From this tradition of thinking is where you get Warhol's idea that art is anything you can get away with--because there is no objectivity to language.

At any rate, the heart of art isn't just any type of selection. What makes art differ from science that uses selection? I think the basic gist is that the selection is considered important on its own and in its own right, and can offer an immediate aesthetic response. Ie., the appreciation of the selection isn't dependent on something else, like a scientific diagram. In order to do this, it is a selection within a medium, a language of expression, a context, so that the medium can convey itself. You can say anything can offer an aesthetic response, but not everything will, art may be selection, but just like any communication, depends on an audience---and that depends on it having a -content- readable to an audience.

This doesn't necessarily exclude Duchamp either. There's a reason he just didn't present a toilet, but signed it R. Mutt. Or early modernists. As much as people like to say Cezanne is just a bad painter, you can see his artistic focus express itself in his paintings, which makes him different from someone doing randomly bad painting. Pollock's paintings even though they were made with some idea of removing conscious influence, were a completely conscious effort, and this shows in his paintings, which make them different, at least in this way, from random splashes. It however should challenge common modern beliefs in art--if you realize what makes people who appreciate abstract expressionists as great artists is the conscious endeavor to express the subconscious, and not subconscious expressions itself. So, it should also challenge people who value people like Pollock as great art on the basis of that theory, to show them that their appreciation of art isn't grounded on the foundation they think it is. The fact that art is read should also challenge postmodernists who think they can continue to put found art in museums and have it give a different impact from the objects seen on the street--when the understanding that artists believe everything is art is old hat.

The thrust of modern art theory has been to reduce the definition of art to the practice and creation of art, while it has for the most part ignored the role that art has with its observer. Where a broad audience failed to appreciate it, it was because it didn't appreciate the idea that the factors behind art creation were paramount to what it is. In postmodern theory the audience is important again, just in so far as it causes controversy and leads to question the definition of art.

But a key thing is that art isn't just something to be created, its something to be observed---and appreciated, its a type of communication. If something can't be seen as accomplishing something striking, it will not be looked at as art. Remember, above all, the word 'art' is not the equivalent of the word 'artifact'. I think you are conflating the two.

Artifacts are all byproducts of selection.