Tuesday, December 01, 2009

AM paradox

I love how art can simultaneously seem like both the most important thing in the world, and the least important thing in the world. So of course I took note (and had to share) when I came across this comment by Marcel Duchamp (a hero of mine, yes):

I've decided that art is a habit-forming drug. That's all it is, for the artist, for the collector, for anybody connected with it. Art has absolutely no existence as veracity, as truth. People always speak of it with this great, religious reverence, but why should it be so revered? It's a drug, that's all. The more I go on, the more I'm convinced of it. The onlooker is as important as the artist. In spite of what the artist thinks he is doing, something stays on that is completely independent of what he intended, and that something is grabbed by society -- if he's lucky. The artist himself doesn't count. Society just takes what it wants. The work of art is always based on these two poles of the maker and the onlooker, and the spark that comes from this bi-polar action gives birth to something, like electricity. But the artist shouldn't concern himself with this because it has nothing to do with him -- it's the onlooker who has the last word. Fifty years later there will be another generation and another critical language, an entirely different approach. No, the thing to do is try to make a painting that will be alive in your own lifetime.


I'm afraid I'm an agnostic in art. I just don't believe in it with all the mystical trimmings. As a drug it's probably very useful for a number of people, very sedative, but as religion it's not even as good as God.

(From The Bride and the Bachelors, by Calvin Tomkins.)

[photo credit: Arenamontanus]


docker said...

How wonderful to come across something on the Internet, anything on the Internet, that I can agree with 100%.

Thanks for posting.

Andrew Durkin... said...

My pleasure, of course!

cinderkeys said...

Ohhh, I like this.

But I'm not sure art-as-drug and art-as-truth are mutually exclusive.

Drugs work because they synthesize natural substances that give us pleasure, producing their effects more quickly and efficiently.

What do we do when we make art? We abstract. We distill ideas and emotions down to their essence. We simplify the truth to the point that it becomes a lie, and the lie expresses the truth in a pure and powerful way.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Interesting. The notion of what "truth" is, exactly, makes the quote a lot more complicated.

I wonder if it would have been more effective for him to have said "reality," or maybe just "honesty," instead of "truth"? (All those things are hard to define, of course.)

I think he was responding to the idea of art as an abstract construction, and to the notion that art is a way of escaping everyday experience, as opposed to a way of reflecting and amplifying it. At least that's the interpretation that I had.

Thanks for the comment!

cinderkeys said...

I think you're right about what he meant. The paradoxical thing is that mainlining truth via art can be a form of escapism.

Shoot, now I've gotta use "mainlining truth" in a song. :)