[PD] Am I alone?

Jonathan Wilkes jancsika at yahoo.com
Thu Mar 24 19:29:32 CET 2011

--- On Thu, 3/24/11, Mathieu Bouchard <matju at artengine.ca> wrote:

> From: Mathieu Bouchard <matju at artengine.ca>
> Subject: Re: [PD] Am I alone?
> To: "ailo" <ailo.at at gmail.com>
> Cc: "Jonathan Wilkes" <jancsika at yahoo.com>, pd-list at iem.at
> Date: Thursday, March 24, 2011, 6:24 PM
> On Mon, 21 Mar 2011, ailo wrote:
> > "Art is the product or process of deliberately
> arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way
> that influences and affects one or more of the senses,
> emotions, and intellect."
> This sounds like it would include advertisement,
> spin-doctoring, agitation-propaganda, religion, ... what
> else ?
> > Perhaps Matju is correct when stating:
> > "By extension, the word « art » is often used to
> mean whatever skill is
> > considered unexplainable or mysterious. "
> > 
> > That wouldn't include interpreting any event as being
> art.
> > Isn't interpreting something as art what makes it art.
> Not what
> > "creates" it?
> There are several concurrent meanings being used by
> different groups of people. "Art" is a word with certain
> linguistic functions serving different purposes in different
> places.
> The "interpretational" meaning of art often doesn't apply
> to the general public. Artists may think that artists are
> the ones who have the right to decide whether something is
> art or not. Thus art is what artists make, and artists are
> people who make art. It's not a circular definition, it's a
> feedback loop. There's also that art is what artists think
> it is, and the more you think like that, the more you're
> (like) an artist.

That definition often ends up with the "artist" (I'd rather call the 
person an "artkeeper") being a hypocrite.  That's not the necessary 
outcome, but it often happens because it's really hard for people to 
form an exclusive group while at the same time remain fair minded across 
those group boundaries.  (Because there _must_ be some benefit to the 
group members in forming the group-- otherwise why form it at all?)

For example:
If we adore Shakespeare's line "The lady doth protest too much, methinks," 
as artists, what are we doing?  Using that definition above, we are 
looking at it from the standpoint of a writer, who (may) admire the way 
Shakespeare can take a simple, seemingly innocuous sentence and imbue it 
with a deep sense of irony by virtue of its context within the larger 
work (implying that we as artists understand that larger context), while 
at the same time being iambic pentameter and creating a convincing 
rhythm.  Notice that in this interpretation "protest" means to affirm or 

Now do a test-- if you're ever around some "artists" and one of them is 
objecting to something-- anything-- make some art: say the Shakespeare 
phrase above as a taunt.  I hypothesize that what you will find is that 
the more someone in that group thinks of him/herself as an artist (a 
writer, in this case) the more they will feel a pressure to correct you 
by noting that Shakespeare used "protest" in the sense of "avow" and 
not "object".  Also, the more of an outsider you are to that group, the 
harsher the correction will be.  Finally, if you are an outsider 
with hopes of becoming an insider (e.g., student), there will probably 
be some condescension mixed in for good measure.

The hypocrisy comes because Shakespeare is allowed to take a phrase from 
the public domain and add meaning to it, but the student of the artkeepers 
is not.  In situations like this I find the professed justification for 
the correction is always that the student's usage doesn't display a 
deeper awareness of the roots of the phrase (or melody, or gesture, or 
whatever).  But rarely will you hear the artkeeper articulate an awareness 
of the "art" to a corresponding degree-- in this instance, this would be 
a history of the word "protest" (especially as it relates to women) before 
Shakespeare ever used it.  This hypocrisy is doubly bad-- it not only 
creates anxiety in the student but also creates an imaginary finish line 
where intellectual laziness can tacitly creep in (e.g., learn as much as 
"artists" care about, and then you too will be an artist and can 
just coast downhill from that point onward if you so choose).

> The "mysterious skill" meaning of art is closer to the
> original meaning of the word. "Tech" is a greek word that
> means "Art"... etc. But university artists tend to ignore
> this use of the word... it's foreign to them. Their art-word
> is about Duchamp and John Cage and stuff.

Your feedback loop seems unnecessarily strict.  If Romantic period 
composers found a way to give Mozart an honorary membership, surely you 
can find an inlet for something by Cage in your feedback loop.


> _______________________________________________________________________
> | Mathieu Bouchard ---- tél: +1.514.383.3801 ----
> Villeray, Montréal, QC


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