Withdrawn, An Installation Art Work by Luke Jarram 2015
There are divided opinions as to what artists try to achieve when they create works of art. There are those who think an artist should make superbly crafted objects that are meaningful to society and can be understood by their relevance to our concerns and beliefs in life, but there are also those who think an artist should avoid these refinements because they distract us from sensing the world in a more natural way. Filling art full of technique and meaningful content suppresses, rather than reveals, an emotive 'inner' experience of mind that is only sensed when our thoughts are free of intellectual intelligent commands.
Art that avoids skill and technique can bring natural intuitive sensations back into how we perceive objects and events, but our powers of observation have evolved to vanquish this experience in all we see and do. Natural intuitive sensations are generated from a deeper older arena of our mind that once allowed our distant animal ancestors to survive without intelligent learned understanding. This experience is inherent from our past but we now act to overpower and replace this sensation in our day-to-day view of the world. Our intelligence has evolved to take these impulses, generated in this old part of our mind, and transform them into learned understanding before we can become conscious of the inherent view, and our old way of sensing by instinct is lost to us because of this process at work in our powers of observation. However, the old way of sensing is still alive in the depth of our minds, and it works without conscious input. Sometimes, when we come across an object or an event that fails to meet our learned understanding of what confront us, we find the old experience returns to disturb our ordered controlled thoughts. This often happens in unusual situations, and is especially true in the world of art. Here you will often find people reject art that fails to uphold traditional values on the grounds that it requires no skill to create and, therefore, is thought to be dubious art. You do not have to be an artists to think up an idea that requires you to take an everyday object and place it in the world of art, you just need the money to be able to act in this way. You could, for example, pay someone to kill a shark and preserve it in a tank of formaldehyde (Hirst 2011), and this, in itself, has nothing to do with art. It is just an act that takes a natural object and brings it into the world of art by exhibiting it in an art gallery. This creates a sensation of uncertainty, and to understand how this relates to art you have to realise art is a sensation of mind and not an object an artist makes. This realisation was first advanced when the free-thinker Marcel Duchamp (Sanouillet & Peterson 1989) took a mass produced toilet urinal and submitted it as a work of art at the New York Society of Independent Artists in 1917. He used the pseudonym of R Mutt and, as you might expect, his gesture was promptly rejected. This laid the foundations for a new understanding of what the art experience is about, and the idea of presenting an everyday object as a work of art has become commonplace. You can find unmade beds (Tracy Emin), an old shed (Simon Starling) and fishing boats (Luke Jarram) now taking pride of place within the contemporary art scene.
This, to those outside the elitist attitude that now pervades the art world, seems like a bad joke. The history of art has always been dominated by the idea that the art experience should be portrayed through crafts like painting, sculpture, music or dance, and that these creations are useful to us because they tell stories, are decorative and collectable. This way of thinking arose from prehistory and began with the portraying of hunting and fertility rituals in primitive societies and, later, this usefulness of art was reinforced by artists finding a market for their skills by creating images of gods for temples or painting religious icons for churches. This brought about the traditional idea of art that believes the experience is created as a product of skill and meaningful content that has entrenched itself in the mass psyche. Today, this belief that art is a useful collectable product can be found in the popularity of images like those of repetitive cans of soup by Andy Warhol, or the " badly conceived soft porn "(Renolds 2007), or "brainless erotica "(Collins 2012) of Jack Vettriano. This has resulted in modern art becoming a business that Dave Hickey alluded to as “ calcified, self-reverential and a hostage to rich collectors who have no respect for what they are doing ” (Helmore & Gallagher 2012).
To counter this view a line of enquiry has emerged that looks to the artist as an individual who possess a more intuitive emotive inner experience of the world that cannot be translated into a product. These artists will not be concerned with portraying art as something that can be bought and valued because their efforts are directed to draw our attention to a part of our own minds that most of us look to keep out of our day-to-day experience. To do this these artist will not be making traditional forms of art, but will be working to reveal the art experience as an event that has to be directly experienced so that it embeds itself in our memory to bring recall of a far older way of sensing that we inherit from our animal origins. These artists work to draw our attention to raw experience. That is to say they try to stop us fantasising about the material value of an object as we do when we look at art in the traditional way. Also, the old view of art directs our thoughts away from the raw reality of what we see to an imaginary world that is created inside the illusion of a picture frame; or performed on a stage. We see landscapes, buildings, portraits or still-life, etc. and we watch plays and listen to music that create a fantasy withdrawal from the reality of the real world. What we experience is not real but is recognised through our learned knowledge of how things look in an illusion of time and space. We know how to recognise the shape of real world landscapes and buildings, etc. and we call upon this learned knowledge to recognise a picture by ignoring the reality of paint and canvas. This is clear to understand when we look at images in paintings or photographs because we ignore the canvas or paper that the image in arranged upon. However, this principle also applies to everyday objects and events because we recognise them through learned understanding rather than intuitive insight, and this leads some artists to want to make art as a real experience rather than a product that calls to imaginary worlds. A real world experience requires removing all imagined ideas of the usefulness and purpose that we impose over everyday objects, and, therefore, a picture would have to be sensed without calling to mind the learning that allows you to recognise the image. You would fail to see the image if you could look using intuition and instinct because these sensations cannot learn, as intelligence does, to 'imagine' an object that is not there. You would only experience the reality of the object, which, in the case of a picture, is canvas or paper with smudges of paint or ink upon its surface. The recognisable image requires you to learn to ignore your old intuitive and instinctive powers of perception and look through learned understanding, and, therefore, an older way of sensing through intuition and instinct is lost to us because of this thought process. We have all evolved to overwrite an older way of looking at the world without intelligent understanding, and our way of looking is now dominated by a view that filters out the old experience and replaces it with ideas of objects that we project over everything that surround us to suppress the old view. The bed we sleep upon, the cup we use for our first drink of the day, the trees we see outside our windows, etc. are all recognised through intelligent learned ideas and this deadens any experience of these objects that could be sensed by instinct. This is the way the human mind commands perception over the animal view, but this experience bequeaths, for a few individuals, the unsettling sensation that the way we look at the world creates a hidden reality.
This realisation of a lost inner way of sensing the world, that we have inherited from the past, now drives some modern artists to look to the idea that they need to find ways to stop our intelligence dominating our experience of what we see. This requires creating art that provokes raw experiences of objects and events, and this is in direct opposition to the traditional idea of art, that looks to create a refined intellectual. The latter view, whilst more appealing, is shallow compared to this search for raw experience. It is easy to comprehend the idea that the art experience is created through the clever content that a work displays because you can direct your thoughts to technical perfection and subjective meaning. One can talk of the way the paint has been applied to the canvas to create a perfect likeness, or how the clay has been moulded into a recognisable image, and one can discuss the subject of the work with just as much ease. The biblical stories, the hypnotic mosque decorations or the comic strip images of superheroes are the subjects of the day, but beyond this surface observation lies a far deeper insight. There is more to art than appearance, and arts true analysis lies in its power to help us recall a far older way of sensing the world that our minds now work to keep out of our day-to-day view.
It is this deeper, older, way of sensing that a true artist will be attuned to recalling, and it drives them to want to show us objects in a more direct emotive way. Placing everyday objects in an art environment is one way to do this. It forces us to look through a loss of our learned ideas. Our idea of art – the traditional idea of technique and meaningful content – is removed when an artist places an everyday object in an art gallery. All the old values associated to art are not available in what we see because the artist has not had to do any skilled work to create this object. She, or he, has just had to place the ready-made into the gallery. This, on its own , would discredit the work but, as Marcel Duchamp (Tomkins 2013) tried to show us, this act has far greater significance than we at first realise. Our minds will reject the ready-made gesture because it provokes recall of an older inherent way of sensing without learned ideas. Our minds have evolved to suppress this experience in all we see and do, and so we feel discomfort and we set to work to remove this sensation by the act of rebuff. A ready-made in an art gallery removes our idea of art, and, because the object is in an alien environment to that which it would normally occupy it acts to remove our learned understanding of the functional use we associate to what we see. A toilet urinal in an art gallery does not allow us to apply our traditional ideas of art to it. If it is mass produced it is unlikely to possess any unique skilled workmanship and perfected technical accomplishment that is associated to our ideas of art, and our belief in what a urinal is made for is also removed. You cannot urinate into the Duchamp urinal on show in an art gallery without incurring the wrath of authority, and the same principle applies to other ready-made art installations. Fishing boats dragged into a wood, a shark in a tank of formaldehyde, an old shed or an unmade bed in an art gallery are all works that create a sensation of uncertainty within your day-to-day command of perception.
For those who care to stand and look towards uncertainty and not knowing this kind of experience offers an unexplored sensation of the mind. This requires you to look without all the clever learned ideas you normally associate to what you see, and in this experience you will begin to get recall of an older inherent way of sensing by instinct. Where this direct 'inner' experience originates from is questionable, but, with modern understanding of our animal origins, the view has emerged that it could be a recollection of the remains of an older way of sensing the world being glimpsed through what remains of our animal intuition and instinct.
Looking at object without learned ideas is an 'animal' experience and your mind will try to stop you sensing in this way. It is very difficult to look at a toilet urinal in an art gallery and not recognise it, and it is equally as difficult to do this with old fishing boats in a forest, a shark in a tank of formaldehyde, an old shed or an unmade bed. The intuitive experience generated by these objects being removed from their rightful place in the world should bring recall of our old instinctive view of what we see, but it seems this is not an easy thing to achieve. The artist creates the sensation of not knowing by depositing the ready-made in an alien environment. We wander into an art gallery to be confronted by a toilet urinal exhibited as a work of art, or we meander through woodland and come face-to-face with old fishing boats. We find this disrupts our learned understanding of what we expect to see but, this act on its own, is not enough. To get us to sense an object by instinct, and to bring recall of our natural powers of observation, an artist would need to find a way to stop us recognising what we see. This has yet to be achieved.
Collins 2012. Amy Collins, The Singing Butler Did it. Vanity Fair July 2012
Helmore & Gallagher 2012. Edward Helmore & Paul Gallagher. www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/oct/28/art-critic-dave-hickey-quits-art-world
Damien Hirst, ‘ We’re Here for a Good Time, not a Long Time ’, Interview with Alastair Sooke, The Telegraph, 2011
Renolds 2007. Nigel Renolds, Jack Vettriano's £1.8 m Bluebirds of happiness. The Daily Telegraph 18 July 2007
Sanouillet & Peterson 1989. Michel Sanouillet & Elmer Peterson, Ed. The Writings Of Marcel Duchamp. Da Capo.
Tomkins 2013. Calvin Tomkins, Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews. Badlands Unlimited