As Ashes or An Overcast Sky: Variations on Gray

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I see every art as importantly documentary. Everything is already invented; we merely articulate and arrange. We look not with a pre-disposition as to meaning, selecting items according to some prior sense of importance, but rather with an eye that roves, catching only the unforeseen patterns across a field. Things matter in documentary as embodiment, not argument.

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More than in any other kind of film, I’m aware of the camera. The missing cameraman, a presence that informs, a fierceness that’s effaced; that’s as close as I can get to being reminded of the strangeness of being in a body, oneself, in the world, always facing out.

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That they call this documentary is absurd. It’s more like banditry. I loot someone’s life and make off with a point of view that’s really mine, not his. Always, when you’re making these things, somehow, deep down, you know you’re him.

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I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago and she was telling me all about this project she was working on. She was so excited, but in my head I was freaking out... She was basically reciting back to me, you know, verbatim, this project I told her about a couple of years ago—some project I did some work on for another artist. While she was yakking on and on about it I was thinking: What the fuck!?! Is this really happening? Does she not remember? Is this a joke? Well, it wasn’t. I didn’t say anything though, I just didn’t have the heart to tell her.

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Is there anyone more fraudulent than Bob Dylan?

Is there anyone more original than Bob Dylan?

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Production, after all, is the excretory phase in a process of appropriation.

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Certainly among the prime impulses of man is the impulse to create. By directly and actively manipulating any matter whatsoever present in his surroundings, he is bringing into existence some very definite thing, quite distinct from that which previously existed. 

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I don’t feel any of the guilt normally attached to plagiarism, which seems to me organically connected to creativity itself.

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I, Ann Beattie, wrote the introduction to Sally Mann’s At Twelve. I then produced a novel, Picturing Will, which contains unmistakable parallels to Mann’s life and work. Maybe all three were one project. I have no way of knowing.

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You adulterate the truth as you write. There isn’t any pretense that you can arrive at the literal truth. The only consolation when you confess this flaw is that you are seeking to arrive at poetic truth, which can be reached only through fabrication, imagination, and stylization. Though none of it is real.

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The work has no inherent message. There is no meaning, no story.

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SD: Yes? Well here, this is obviously the elegant lines of schooners and their rigging.

JW: U-huh.

SD: Unfortunately, they’re no longer present, they don’t use them any more. The foreground had its origins in some buildings and the ground and certain nautical elements that happened to be strewn about.

JW: Mr. D, let me ask you this, it’s obviously quite clear to you...

SD: ...yes, it is...

JW: ...can you understand why the average man would find it perhaps unclear, and would not see the riggings of the schooners?

SD: Well, one of the reasons is that there is no rigging of the schooners here. I was only describing the origin of the subject.

JW: Mmm. Well, what is there? That’s what we would like to get.

SD: What is here... is an objective order... do I need to hold this up?... no... It is an objective order consisting of colors in different positional relationships. That is a tangible, physical thing... a thing that makes it public... a piece of public property. The particular order of this painting is established by a subjective determination, as in all art.

JW: As you see it, in other words?

SD: Well, as you feel it.

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To Bed: Around midnight. I don’t dream about work. I have a lot of restless nights because of all the things we have to deal with. It definitely affects how I sleep, but it’s not active dreams about them.

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In art, dwelling on craftsmanship can look like evasion, special pleading, or compulsion. In craft, The Idea passes without question, a lovely sideshow to the craftsmanship that, if you let it, will enhance what you think you know. The implied secret is that one of the smartest ways to make craft today is to say you that you’re not, and then to do whatever you very well please. Crafters, take note. Some of the best craft is now being made as art.

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Apparently-solid ground is no rock, but thin air.

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Jonathan Monk’s Before a Bigger Splash and After a Bigger Splash. Richard Pettibone’s miniatures and endless columns. Eric Doeringer on the street. Everything Picasso ever did that was great. Tris Vonna-Michel telling and retelling. Elaine Sturtevant. Tomma Abts. Girl Talk.

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In the panoply of objects and images he has collected and subsequently rendered, we can find traces of the artist’s persistent struggle. This seemingly unending swath of assimilation extends into the last details of his work. Even the titles are found phrases that have been recycled. Every nuance outlines an elegiac despair over his inability to invent.

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Is there something to be found in the space between here and the next?

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Let’s not overreach. The question is whether everything is always the same, whether it is in fact possible that by the age of thirty-two a person has seen all that has been and ever will be. Must I consult art to understand that identity is administered, power exploits, resistance is predetermined, all is shit?

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No system of meaning can have a monopoly on the truth, but we still have to render the truth through our chosen system of meaning. Is it fair to say that we’re all becoming more comfortable holding these irreconcilable ideas in our heads? 

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Paths and Deviations: Sometimes we’ll do that for most of a day. The path is always similar: Macchiatos at Cafe Grumpy, then we make our way along 19th to Zwirner. From there it’s a long zig-zag north. Even on a bad day there are always good surprises. Of course, by the time we reach 25th our stomachs are growling and our feet are hurting, but we keep plodding along, ducking our heads in and out of doors until we can’t take any more. Then, it’s a quick trip up the stairs and we’re heading south on the High Line to the Chelsea Market. Sandwiches, macchiatos, regroup.

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Maybe you figured out that yours is not so much a conscious effort to apply some concept or another, but is a more organic, or subconscious, conceptualism, which can be just as powerful, just as influential.

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Whose tumblr is this, anyway?

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I’ve never been completely straightforward; I like work that frustrates me. I don’t like when things are spelled out, and when I feel I’m spelling things out too easily, I’ll back away and try to make it confusing for myself.

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Like Carter says, it’s always got to be a little bit entertaining. Like, I want stuff that’s gonna be intriguing. Even if you don’t want to make boring art, there’s still something interesting about Andy Warhol’s boring films. You’re still like, Oh, that’s great. Conceptually, it’s exciting.

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Another smile. He chuckles... Yeah, I’ve heard that. I could even dig that for what it is. It doesn’t floor me like some things. I’m the type of cat that would listen to black soul music or black gospel music... that’s what I listen to. But if something comes along like what Patti Smith is doing, I have a tendency now to accept it as what it is and I get off... it’s just what it is and I enjoy it that way.

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Quotation without annotation.

Appropriation without connotation.

Meaning, ultimately is a matter of adjacent data.

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If the surface differences are not striking we assume that there are no differences. But if we go deeply enough, or far enough, we nearly always find that between every _____ and every _____ there is an unaccounted-for quantity from which new understanding can be born.

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Every form is as sensitive as smoke. Meaning, ultimately, is more than a matter of adjacent data.

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Donald Judd’s works were handmade. Do you know how much work goes into making an individual object appear manufactured? I do, and it’s a lot. A lot of hand-work. Judd was primarily a craftsman. A fanatical, quality-driven craftsman. Don’t fuck with me on this.

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Craft is always the vehicle.

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Though it pains me, it sickens me to say, everything is at first a matter of feeling. Even if the general structure may be formulated theoretically, there is still an additional something which constitutes the soul of creation. Any theoretical scheme will be lacking in the essential of creation—the internal desire for expression—which cannot be formulated.

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The artist must bow to the demands of internal necessity. All means are sacred which are called for by internal necessity. All means are sinful which are not drawn from inner necessity.

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Emotion sits behind the wheel.

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We are now, officially lost.

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In the final moment, the goal is truth-telling rather than illusion-making.

In the final moment, that it is exactly like this also means that it must be exactly like this, because it could just as easily be different. 

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Appropriationism can be taken as a somewhat shoddy and inferior philosophy, something relatively straightforward and uninspiring. But if it is looked at from just the right angle, tilted in just the right way, it will reflect brilliant, harsh light back upon the maker—nay, all makers.

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The backslide is an old dance move from the 40's, though it wasn't quite the same as what we know now. Bill Bailey did it 1955 and James Brown after that. Marcel Marceau walking against the wind looked similar, but his was high art and he didn’t so much dance. Pop'n Pete of The Electric Boogaloo dance crew did it on Soul Train in 1980 and so did Jeffrey Shalamar on Top of the Pops in 1982. 

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Michael debuted his version in ’83.

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Every form is as sensitive as smoke. The slightest wind will fundamentally alter it.

tufte fish web.jpg

 

This text may be wholly, partially, or in no way attributable to the following sources:

David Shields, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto / James Franco in conversation with Carter, interviewed by Ross Simonini, Believer / Ben Marcus, “The Genre Artist,” Believer / John D’ Agata, The Next American Essay / Elmyr de Hory, quoted in Orson Welles, F is for Fake / Jonathan Lethem, interviewed by Harvey Blume, Boston Globe / W. G. Sebald, quoted in The Emergence of Memory, ed. Lynne Sharon Schwartz / Jenny Gage, interviewed by Heidi Julavits, Believer / Ad copy from Curb Your Enthusiasm / Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own / Anne Carson, Decreation / Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence,” Harpers / Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis / Miwon Kwon, “The Wrong Place,” Art Journal / John Berger, Drawing / Thomas Kuhn, The Essential Tension / Wassily Kandinsky, The Doctrine of Internal Neccesity / Doron Rabina, exhibition introduction for “Blowing on a Hairy Shoulder: Grief Hunters,” ICA Philadelphia / James Webb, A Technique for Producing Ideas / Seth Price, Dispersion / Dennis Crowley, “Sunday Routine,” New York Times / Hillery Hugg, in interview with Robyn O’Neil, Believer / Joseph Beuys, Energy Plan for the Western Man / Stuart Davis, in interview with John Wingate, “Night Beat,” WABD-TV / Tony Cragg, in interview with Jon Wood, In and Out of Material / Jan Verwoert, “Tomma Abts,” Modern Art: Today / Trent Reznor, interviewed by Terry Gross, “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” WHYY-FM / Mark Prince, “Beyond Appropriation Art,” Art Monthly / Arthur Danto, 1997 lecture, “Criticism, Advocacy, and the End-of-Art Condition,” CAA / Benedict Carey, “How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect,” New York Times / Gillo Dorfles, in The Man-Made Object, ed. Gyorgy Kepes / Anselm Reyle, in interview with Richard Flood, Unmonumental / Anselm Reyle in interview with Jens Asthoff, Flash Art / Neonzebra, ask.com / Heimo Zobernig, “Heimo Zobernig and the Tate Collection,” tate.org.uk / Josiah McElheny, pbs.org/art21 / J. Hillis Miller, in Deconstructing Communication, ed. Briankle Chang / Edward Docx, “Postmodernism is Dead,” Prospect / Van Morrison, in interview with Cameron Crowe, Rolling Stone #239

Mathew McConnell,  January 2012