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The emperor’s old clothes

19 July 2014

Untitled-1Wittgenstein remarked that in art, it is hard to say anything as good as saying nothing at all. The British philosopher R. G. Collingwood divided writers about the philosophy of art into artist-aestheticians, who knew what they were talking about, but could only talk nonsense about it, and philosopher-aestheticians, who talked sense but without knowing what they were talking about. He omitted contemporary artists who talk nonsense about that of which there is nothing to know. The joke started by Marcel Duchamp nearly a hundred years ago has now worn very thin. I hope you like my conribution to conceptual art, at the head of this blog (see left: with apologies to Laurence Sterne).

I was going to write about a recent story of one of these pieces in which the Ockham’s razor of the law had severed the physical object from the concept. But I failed at the first hurdle when I examined the dismally unimpressive piece of paper purporting to certify authenticity: written in secondary modern handwriting, including a spelling mistake of whose intentionality I was unpersuaded, its inadequate instructions (a second-hand idea itself borrowed from the far more competent Sol Lewitt) simply didn’t seem worthy of careful analysis.

That of course has not stopped the artist from making a great deal of money from this line of work. Private collectors are welcome to spend their money as they choose, but public money is also being expended on these things by salaried staff who cannot distinguish skill from chutzpah.

In art, it is hard to buy anything as good as buying nothing.


From → Art history

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