Monday, 10 March 2014

Appropriation of Text (On Kawara and Joseph Kosuth)

I have chosen these two artists, Joseph Kosuth and On Kawara, as their work appears in New Art in the 60s and 70s, in this way I have the opporutnity of looking and reading about their work, rather than merely looking at images without any idea of what I am looking at. 

The book quotes a questioner's remarks: 'Your work seems to have even less resemblance to anything we previously considered art' to which Kosuth replies: "My work is a continual kind of primary concern has been with abstraction".  That Kosuth's work is a continual investigation is not in dispute, as I think most practising artists would think that, but as to "abstraction" the question of context and semantics makes it unclear as to what Kosuth is referring.  From his early work we are meant to understand the properties of his objects.

In terms of image construction or composition all available methods up until 70s and 80s are available, i.e. the field painting of Jackson Pollock eliminated "frames" to work and abstraction modified the way we once viewed an image as if through a window.  In a way Kosuth, in his Clear Square Glass Leaning is bringing the window to mind through metaphor and the properties of glass which might be a window. and how we might see through it or observe reflections. 

I think Kosuth in his pursuit of words as meaning and by substituting linguistic definitions for visual depictions strays outside of art into linguistics or ideas but attempts to justify it in the way that Duchamp justified his Mutt Urinal by saying 'if I say it is art then it is art'.  This statement clearly cannot stand up to scrutiny, I think only the purveyors and curators have the perogative over this assertion.  Kosuth is almost right in saying "Art as Idea as Idea" except I believe it should read' Idea is idea as idea,' it is not possible in my view to insert a unrelated definition, I think it is probably like positing a predicate. ipso facto: art as the cat sat on the mat. If visual form is dispensed with at the expense of language then the concept has changed from art to idea, which in my view is what conceptual 'art' is about.  To the conceptual artist, art is dead so he branches off into an ideas (as in philosophy) based pursuit which is interesting but it is not art (in my view). The essence of art being pleasurable or the word I prefer 'rewarding' is also lost so that the two main tenets of art, i.e. a presentation of visual form that has value, for amongst other things giving pleasure, are demeaned.

The difference between oriental calligraphy and child-like scribble are similar in that they both involve text, but one involves the artists hand and is about something other than itself and the other is, apparently necessarily, non-authorial and self reflexive.

The difficulties in using text is in relaying to the viewer its meaning.  If it reinforces an image or object then it might be easier to comprehend but without explanation it becomes an exercise in cold objectivity that  appears to go nowhere. Kosuth's One and Three Hammers is a case in point.  Kosuth wants to say that art is not concerned with questions of empirical fact, yet that is precisely what One and Three Hammers does say but in three ways.  It is actually four ways because the final image of all three represents the fourth. 

On Kawara's work, because it is conceptual , it follows the same Ideas based pursuit which has interesting things to say about the time life continuum which would have been much more effective if written up in the form of a thesis rather than trying to squeeze it into the narrow confines of conceptual art, where it does not fit, nor belong. I find some of these ideas presumptuous in the same way that I cannot understand Twitter feeds and social media.  Why is it important to know what someone else is doing in their daily lives?  Getting up, getting dressed, going for a drink.  It seems to me the height of self absorption and self indulgence which in itself is OK but it is presumptive to assume that I might be interested.  I think the whole thing has come about as the result of the so called cult of celebrity.  Why should I be interested?  I have met celebrities through real life situations but have never afforded them any special or hierarchical status, it is a ridiculous thing to do.  You might admire their work, music, films but why does that assume exceptional status over and above the great work of scientists, charity workers, thinkers and other "movers and shakers" who try to improve the world,  its environment and its people? (The same applies to Jean-Michel Basquiat's work). At least Kawara's One Million Years - Past, appears to have been produced as a book, so that it falls into the category of a literary indeavour even if he still wants to call it art. Shirin Neshat and artists like her who have something to say do not fall into this category because there is meaning in their work the message has value to a wider audience and is not merely an academic process.

The advantages of using found text is that, if you haven't got a pc you can find all sorts of nicely printed font types readymade, the 'readymades' of the linguistic world. The difficulty is finding the right words to use in appropriate places. Also a specific colour might work better than, say, black typeface, but it may not always be possible to find it.  The effect of white text on a dark ground can be more alluring that black on white, therefore it can have stronger force. The same applies to images, but that assumes you know what you want to say, if you don't and it is an exercise in shapes and colours with no meaning then there are no advantages nor disadvantages.


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