Friday, March 2, 2012

The Creative Act

“Let us consider two important factors, the two poles of the creation of art: the artist on the one hand, and on the other the spectator who later becomes posterity.” ~Marcel Duchamp

In 1957 Marcel Duchamp gave a speech at the meeting of the American Federation of the Arts. The roundtable consisted of several other notables from Princeton and elsewhere. Duchamp referred to himself as a “mere artist.”

Whereas today there is a kind of leveling going on where we find voices exclaiming that every artist’s work is important and significant, DuChamp came down heavy on the other side.

“Millions of artists create; only a few thousands are discussed or accepted by the spectator and many less again are consecrated by posterity," He said.

“In the last analysis, the artist may shout from all the rooftops that he is a genius; he will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of Art History.”

Duchamp concludes, after refining and defining the “art coefficient,” that the creative act is not performed by the artist alone, but rather that the spectator brings the work into a new place in the world by “deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” Ultimately, posterity itself gives a final verdict “and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.”

It's now more than fifty years later, and the verdict regarding Duchamp is unchanged. His "significance" according to art historians, is paramount. How did this happen? Like many things in life, it's partly who you know, partly where you go. Hence, actors and actresses flock to Broadway and Hollywood. As Sinatra sang, of New York, "If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere."

This is why pure conceptual art must be mediated in order to win over what might be an otherwise confused public. Art critics help explain what the work means, why it is important to the person creating the piece and why it was important enough for this gallery to house it. Art journalism helps broaden the reach of an artist as well. Art magazines, and now online artist communities, help explain the foundational ideas that support the artist's work and put that work into its larger historical context.

Every creative act, birthed as it is within a context, has significance. But not every creative expression is created equal. The picture of a robin scribbled in a fourth grade elementary school art class may show excitement and even a measure of giftedness in the youthful student, but it cannot possibly be said to have the same importance as Gaugin's "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" The mother of that student may disagree, but Duchamp stands on the other side in this matter.

In the meantime, if you get a chance, tomorrow evening there's an art opening at Ochre Ghost, Irresistible Sorcery: new work by Jessica Liszewski, 6 p.m. till ten. Hope to see you there.

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