Monday, 11 August 2008

Jean Michel Basquiat

Image: Jean-Michel Basquiat by James Van Der Zee


Jean-Michel Basquiat


Personal Information

Born December 22, 1960, in Brooklyn, NY; died of a cocaine-heroin overdose August 12, 1988, in New York City; son of Gerard (an accountant) and Matilde Basquiat.
Education: Attended City as School, Brooklyn, NY.


Began painting SAMO graffiti messages on walls around SoHo, 1977; sold painted sweatshirts and postcards and performed in the experimental band Gray, New York, 1977-80; paintings exhibited in first group show, "New York/New Wave," New York, 1981; first one-man show, Modena, Italy, 1981; first one-man show in the U.S., Annina Nosei Gallery, New York, 1982; became youngest artist ever included in prestigious international survey of contemporary art, "Documenta," Kassel, Germany, 1982; paintings included in Museum of Modern Art's re-opening exhibition, "International Survey of Painting and Sculpture," New York, 1984; Basquiat-Warhol collaborative show, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, 1985; first museum retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1992. Paintings and drawings exhibited in 37 galleries (group and one-man shows) throughout the U.S. (including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis, Norfolk, and Boca Raton) and worldwide (including Paris, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, Bologna, Montreal, and Seoul), 1981-88.

Image: Mona Lisa by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Life's Work

No single artist represented the contemporary art scene of the 1980s more than Jean-Michel Basquiat. He rose from an anonymous, homeless graffiti artist spraying cryptic social messages on building walls around New York City's SoHo and East Village in the late 1970s to become, within five years, one of the first African American artists to receive international recognition, with sales of his works grossing millions of dollars. Basquiat's was a life of improbable contradictions and myths. His frenetic and prodigious artistic output--he produced thousands of paintings and drawings over a seven-year span--was often arrested by periods of heroin-induced stupor. During his career, he threw lavish parties, treated crowds to dinners at expensive restaurants, and painted in suits by Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani. When he died from a cocaine-heroin overdose, he was alone and facedown on his bedroom floor on a hot August afternoon in 1988. He was 27.

Assessment of Basquiat's art is diverse and often as tumultuous as the works he created. His admirers claim he was a genius, an untutored primitive whose drug addition provided internal connections among various mental states necessary to his creations. Other views spiral downward from there; while some believe he was a gifted black artist overwhelmed by the pressures of a greedy white art establishment, others feel he was a talented artist who knew and desired too well the price of fame. Finally, his detractors assert that he represented everything that was wrong with the art explosion of the 1980s: a little raw, malnourished talent that was exploited, hyped, and ultimately heated beyond any recognizable value. "His work," Roberta Smith nonetheless wrote in the New York Times, "is one of the singular achievements of the '80s."

Much of the growing legend surrounding Basquiat was self-generated. That he was raised on the streets of the ghetto, ignorant of art and its history, is false; his was an ordinary middle-class upbringing. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 22, 1960. His father was an accountant and would bring home scrap paper for his four-year-old son to paint and draw on. Since that age, Basquiat wanted to do nothing else. "He was like no other kid," the elder Basquiat explained to Phoebe Hoban in New York. "He was always so bright, absolutely an unbelievable mind, a genius.... He wanted to paint and draw all night." The young Basquiat's artistic inclinations were further spurred on by his mother, who took him to various museums around Brooklyn and Manhattan, his growing artistic sensibilities informed by the works of Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Jean Dubuffet, and other modernist masters.

Another early influence was not a painter but a book-- Gray's Anatomy. When he was six, Basquiat was hit by a car; his spleen had to be removed. While recovering, he was given a copy of the medical textbook by his mother. The diagrams, labels, and skeletal structures--the integration of pictures and words--that would come to characterize his art found their genesis here.

Although his surroundings were ordinary, Basquiat was not. "A kid that bright thinks for some reason he is above the school system and teachers and rebels against it," his father told Hoban. Basquiat attended both private and public schools but could not be disciplined. He had already formed his own vision. At 15, he ran away from home, shaved his head, and retreated to Washington Square Park. When his father found him a few days later, as the elder Basquiat related to Hoban, he said, "Papa, I will be very, very famous one day."

While at the progressive City as School in Brooklyn, Basquiat's last attempt at structured schooling, he entertained thoughts of becoming a cartoonist and illustrated the school paper. "His drawings, executed in a bright Peter Max style," Andrew Decker observed in ARTnews, "sympathetically depicted the homeless and sarcastically mocked bourgeois values." They were portentous.

Just before he left school and his home at 17, Basquiat and fellow classmate Al Diaz began spray painting graffiti on walls and bridges around lower Manhattan. Unlike ordinary graffiti, either brightly colored murals or vacuous expletives, theirs was a mixture of strange symbols and social commentary, often poetic. Signed with the name "SAMO," representing both a corporate logo and the phrase "same old shit," the messages "were far more cerebral and literate than the merely vibrant work of some of the pure graffitists," Decker noted. Phrases like SAMO AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO GOD and PAY FOR SOUP, BUILD A FORT, SET IT ON FIRE soon captured attention.

What Basquiat desired, however, was a certain type of attention from a certain type of people. SAMO messages soon appeared on walls near important art galleries and nightclubs. Although anonymous, the young artist sought recognition. Sleeping in Washington Square Park or on the floors of friends' apartments, Basquiat made money by selling handmade postcards and hand-painted sweatshirts on street corners. He also helped form a "noise" band called Gray, in which he played guitar with a file. "I was inspired by [modern American composer] John Cage at the time--music that really wasn't music," he explained to Cathleen McGuigan in the New York Times Magazine. "We were trying to be incomplete, abrasive, oddly beautiful."

What was even more purely abrasive and oddly beautiful were the images and words Basquiat was putting on anything he could find: refrigerators, table tops, lab coats, foam rubber, typewriters. He sold several of his postcards to the Museum of Modern Art, and his other works were displayed in clubs where his band played and at other popular late-night spots where influential people in the art community gathered. His work was getting noticed; he made sure of that. "He knew the most people on the scene," Gray bandmember Michael Holman recalled to Hoban. "He knew what was going on."

Sometime around 1980, the phrase "SAMO IS DEAD" began to appear around SoHo. Basquiat killed off his alter ego after a disagreement with Diaz. But it had served its evolutionary purpose. He turned increasingly to his art, encouraged by individuals such as curator, critic, and artist Diego Cortez, whom Basquiat had met in 1979. "He looked like a combination of a fashion model and a nineteen-year-old Bowery bum," Cortez related to Hoban, describing his first meeting with Basquiat. "I was convinced from the first that he was very talented."

Although a section of a SAMO wall had been displayed at the "Times Square Show" in 1980, garnering Basquiat critical notice, it was Cortez's alternative presentation "New York/New Wave" in January of 1981 that was Basquiat's launching pad. His exhibited works--"generally spare, childlike scrawls in crayon or paint on unprimed canvas," as Decker described--came to the attention of three important dealers: Bruno Bischofberger, a Swiss dealer who would represent Basquiat in Europe beginning in 1982; Emilio Mazzolli, a dealer from Modena, Italy, who would give Basquiat his first one-man show in Europe in the spring of 1981; and Annina Nosei, a SoHo dealer who would take Basquiat on as a gallery artist later that year.

Cloistered in the basement of Nosei's gallery, Basquiat turned out a vast amount of work. Nosei would often bring collectors to see his projects while he painted; she frequently sold them before he thought they were finished. But in this "hothouse" Basquiat's work evolved and flourished. His drawings and symbols, annotated with lists of words, were more detailed and colorful than his previous offerings. In a review of his one-man show at Nosei's gallery in 1982, Lisa Liebman wrote in Art in America , "What has propelled him so quickly is the unmistakable eloquence of his touch," adding that his "mock-ominous figures--apemen, skulls, predatory animals, stick-figures--look incorporeal because of the fleetness of their execution, and in their cryptic half-presence they seem to take on shaman-like characteristics."

Image: Untitled (Skull) by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Basquiat rose to prominence. After two years his works were selling for $2,000 to $10,000, and by the time the artist was 24, his efforts earned $10,000 to $25,000 from private collectors and graced museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art. In February of 1985 he made the cover of the New York Times Magazine. But the intensity of his artistic success was matched by that of his economic excess. Basquiat's lifestyle became extravagant. He spent thousands of dollars on designer suits, only to ruin them by painting in them. He staged elaborate parties and dinners. He gave away paintings and money to friends and to people he didn't even know. "He always clung to the notion of making a name for himself," William Wilson wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "He started out wanting to be a cartoonist and wound up wanting to be a Star. Fatal desire."

"Since I was 17," Basquiat explained to New York Times Magazine contributor McGuigan, "I thought I might be a star. I'd think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix.... I had a romantic feeling of how people had become famous." These romantic notions were often unrestrained and contradictory. In 1978 he told a Village Voice reporter, as related by New York' s Hoban, that New York was "crawling with uptight, middle-class pseudos trying to look like the money they don't have; status symbols.... It's like they're walking around with price tags stapled to their heads. People should live more spiritually." But within a few years Basquiat would himself spend tens of thousands of dollars on televisions, stereo equipment, recording systems, and suits. He would fill his refrigerator with expensive French pastries, only to let them spoil. He would spend $150 a day on health food.

Image: Worthy Constituant by Jean-Michel Basquiat

And he was spending $2,000 a week on cocaine and heroin. "He had a real romantic myth of heroin and of being a junkie," Lee Jaffe, a musician and friend of Basquiat, told Hoban. "He saw himself as painting's Charlie Parker." Indeed, some critics detected similarities between the ill-fated jazz saxophone great and the young painter. "Jazz was more than pleasant, syncopated patterns to Basquiat ... it was an analogue of life," Kay Larson proposed in New York. "His style is one fierce don't-look-back pulsation of words, diagrams, screeching colors, and over-the-edge bravado, much like that of his hero Charlie Parker."

One who helped rein in Basquiat's excesses was Andy Warhol. Since his days of selling postcards on street corners, Basquiat had idolized and sought out the 1960s pop-art icon. The close relationship the two men developed beginning in 1983 was symbiotic; from Basquiat, Warhol drew energy and a link to the contemporary art scene. In return, Warhol gave his colleague business advice and a healthy-living spirit. He encouraged Basquiat to exercise and helped wean him from his heavy drug use. The two artists began to work together; but after a 1985 collaborative show that was critically panned and from which only one piece was sold, Basquiat cooled relations with Warhol. Many critics felt Basquiat's work suffered from Warhol's slick Factory influence. And the art community, which only a few years earlier had reveled in Basquiat's neo-expressionism, began to change its mind. At that time, Basquiat's "wasn't a raw, screeching line," dealer Guillaume Gallozzi told Decker. "If you came really close to it, you could see where it quivered. He was vamping himself, turning out works a la maniere de Jean-Michel Basquiat." He did not exhibit in New York again until 1987.

"It was, in every sense, a triumphant return," Decker noted. "The works--which returned with a vengeance to the densely written style, most influenced by graffiti, that Basquiat had been using less and less--had a heavily layered, hieroglyphic feeling to them, and there was modest use of color." But the resurgence would not last. Warhol's death in February of 1987 unleashed any remaining tethers on Basquiat's emotional lid. He became reclusive. He produced many works, but his heroin intake increased. He rebounded slightly in 1988 with three shows, two of them abroad. Reviews were mixed. That summer Basquiat traveled to Hawaii for a retreat. He returned to New York in August, planning on seeking a cure for his heroin addiction--but not before one final "binge."

In retrospect, some felt "he was too concerned about prices and money," Mary Boone, one of Basquiat's many dealers, explained to Hoban. "He was too conscious of his place in the world and who he had dinner with and everything that implies. He was too externalized; he didn't have a strong enough internal life." Art critic Robert Hughes, writing in Time, agreed: "Basquiat had talent--more than some of the younger painters who were his contemporaries, though this may not be saying much. The trouble was that it did not develop; it was frozen by celebrity, like a deer in a jacklight beam."

Others contend, however, that Basquiat--in spite of the hype and the pressures of the 1980s art world--was a force of and for his time. Like any artist of depth, he saw and responded with both anger and vitality. And in his career there was an "often astounding sense of growth and maturation," Smith concluded in the New York Times, "a freewheeling physical inventiveness, ... and an agile curious mind. Basquiat's rich tapestry of subject matter ranges through the history and culture of the world, of America and of black America, tying things together in fresh ways."

Jean Michel Basquiat

Image: Andy Warhol vs Jean Michel Basquiat by Michael Halsband

Source: Wikipedia

Jean-Michel Basquiat
22th December 1960, Brooklyn - August 12, 1988, New York, New York

Basguait was an artist who gained popularity, first as a graffiti artist in New York City, and then as a successful 1980s-era Neo-expressionist artist.

Basquiat's paintings continue to influence modern day artists and command high prices.

Image: Untitled, 1981 by Jean-Michel Basquiat


Basquiat's mother, Matilde, was Puerto Rican and his father, Gerard Jean-Baptiste, is of Haitian origin and a former Haitian Minister of the Interior. Because of his parents' nationalities, Basquiat was fluent in French, Spanish, and English and often read Symbolist poetry, mythology, history and medical texts, particularly Gray's Anatomy in those languages.[1] At an early age, Basquiat displayed an aptitude for art and was encouraged by his mother to draw, paint, and to participate in other art-related activities. In 1977, when he was 17, Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz started spray-painting graffiti art on slum buildings in lower Manhattan, adding the infamous signature of "SAMO" or "SAMO shit" (i.e., "same ol' shit"). The graphics were pithy messages such as "Plush safe he think; SAMO" and "SAMO is an escape clause". In December 1978, the Village Voice published an article about the writings. The SAMO project ended with the epitaph SAMO IS DEAD written on the walls of SoHo buildings.

In 1978, Basquiat dropped out of high school and left home, a year before graduating. He moved into the city and lived with friends, surviving by selling T-shirts and postcards on the street, and working in the Unique Clothing Warehouse on Broadway. By 1979, however, Basquiat gained a certain celebrity status amidst the thriving art scene of Manhattan's East Village, for his regular appearances on Glenn O'Brien's live public-access cable show, TV Party . In the late 1970s, Basquiat formed a band called Gray, with the then-unknown musician and actor Vincent Gallo. Gray played at clubs such as Max's Kansas City, CBGB, Hurrahs, and the Mudd Club. Basquiat worked with Gallo again in a film Downtown 81 (a.k.a New York Beat Movie) which featured some of Gray's rare recordings on its soundtrack.[3] He also appeared in Blondie's video "Rapture" as a replacement for DJ Grandmaster Flash when he was a no-show.

Basquiat first started to gain recognition as an artist in June 1980, when he participated in The Times Square Show, a multi-artist exhibition, sponsored by Collaborative Projects Incorporated (Colab). In 1981, poet, art critic and cultural provocateur Rene Ricard published "The Radiant Child" in Artforum magazine, helping to launch Basquiat's career to an international stage. During the next few years, he continued exhibiting his works around New York alongside artists such as Keith Haring, Barbara Kruger, as well as internationally, promoted by such gallery owners and patrons as Annina Nosei, Vrej Baghoomian, Larry Gagosian, Mary Boone and Bruno Bischofberger.

By 1982, Basquiat was showing regularly alongside Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi, thus becoming part of a loose-knit group that art-writers, curators, and collectors would soon be calling the Neo-expressionist movement. He started dating an aspiring and then-unknown performer named Madonna in the fall of 1982. In 1982, Basquiat met Andy Warhol, with whom he collaborated extensively, eventually forging a close, if strained, friendship. He was also briefly involved with artist David Bowes.

By 1984, many of Basquiat's friends were concerned about his excessive drug use and increasingly erratic behavior, including signs of paranoia. Basquiat had developed a frequent heroin habit by this point, starting from his early years living among the junkies and street artists in New York's underground. On February 10, 1985, Basquiat appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist". As Basquiat's international success heightened, his works were shown in solo exhibitions across major European capitals.

Basquiat died of mixed-drug toxicity (he had been combining cocaine and heroin, known as "speedballing") in his Great Jones Street loft/studio in 1988 several days before what would have been Basquiat's second trip to the Côte d'Ivoire. After his death, a film biography entitled Basquiat was made, directed by Julian Schnabel, with actor Jeffrey Wright playing Basquiat.

Image: Boy and Dog in a Johnnyjump, 1982 (Cropped)

Artistic Activities

Basquiat's art career is known for his three broad, though overlapping styles. In the earliest period, from 1980 to late 1982, Basquiat used painterly gestures on canvas, often depicting skeletal figures and mask-like faces that expressed his obsession with mortality. Other frequently depicted imagery such as automobiles, buildings, police, children's sidewalk games, and graffiti came from his experience painting on the city streets. A middle period from late 1982 to 1985 featured multipanel paintings and individual canvases with exposed stretcher bars, the surface dense with writing, collage and seemingly unrelated imagery.

These works reveal a strong interest in Basquiat's black identity and his identification with historical and contemporary black figures and events. On one occasion Basquiat painted his girlfriend's dress, with his words, a "Little Shit Brown". The final period, from about 1986 to Basquiat's death in 1988, displays a new type of figurative depiction, in a new style with different symbols and content from new sources. This period seems to have also had a profound impact on the styles of artists who admired Basquiat's work. Basquiat's lasting creative influence is immediately recognizable in the work of subsequent and self-taught generational artists such as Mark Gonzales, Kelly D. Williams, and Raymond Morris.

In 1982, Basquiat became friends with pop artist Andy Warhol and the two made a number of collaborative works. They also painted together, influencing each others' work. Some speculated that Andy Warhol was merely using Basquiat for some of his techniques and insight. Their relationship continued until Warhol's death in 1987. Warhol's death was very distressing for Basquiat, and it is speculated by Phoebe Hoban, in Basquiat, her 1998 biography on the artist, that Warhol's death was a turning point for Basquiat, and that afterwards his drug addiction and depression began to spiral.

Up until 2002, the highest mark that was paid for an original work of Basquiat's was $3,302,500 (set on 12 November 1998). On 14 May 2002 Basquiat's "Profit I" (a large piece of art measuring 86.5" by 157.5"), owned by heavy metal band Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, was put up for auction at Christie's. It was there that the highest mark for a work of Basquiat's was set when "Profit I" sold for $5,509,500.[6] The proceedings of the auction are documented in the film Some Kind of Monster. On 15 May 2007, an untitled Basquiat work from 1981 smashed his previous record, selling at Sotheby's in New York for $14.6 million.[7].


"Every single line means something."
"Since I was seventeen I thought I might be a star. I'd think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix… I had a romantic feeling about how these people became famous."
"I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life."
"Believe it or not, I can actually draw."
"I don't listen to what art critics say. I don't know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is."
"I wanted to be a star, not a gallery mascot."

Art and Cognition: Mimesis versus the Avant Garde

Source: Aristos
Date: January 2003

Art and Cognition: Mimesis vs. the Avant Garde

Author Michelle Marder Kamhi

[A]rtists themselves have been pushing the boundaries of any . . . definition [of 'art'], challenging our preconceptions, and leaving most philosophers, psychologists and critics well behind--to say nothing of the general public. . . . Environmental art pushes the definitional boundaries by placing art outside the museum, in a (more) natural environment. Well known examples include earthworks, e.g., by Robert Smithson, and wrapped buildings by Christos [sic]. --Joseph A. Goguen, "What is Art?" (Introduction to Art and the Brain, Part 2, Journal of Consciousness Studies, special issue, August-September 2000)
One of the hottest topics of academic inquiry in recent years has been the relationship between art and cognition. This interest is a natural outgrowth of the cognitive revolution that began in the early 1960s, producing a growing body of knowledge about cognitive processes. As philosopher of art Cynthia Freeland noted two years ago, in an article on "Teaching Cognitive Science and the Arts," scholars in her field increasingly recognize that the burgeoning understanding of cognition should influence their approach to their own discipline. Along these lines, several prominent colleagues of hers--including Jerrold Levinson, president of the American Society for Aesthetics--organized an academic institute entitled "Art, Mind, and Cognitive Science," at the University of Maryland last summer. It was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), with an express aim to develop a set of resources to aid humanistic scholars of the arts wishing to take account of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind in their undergraduate courses.

Scholarly journals have also been active in this area. The interdisciplinary Journal of Consciousness Studies (JCS)--edited by Joseph Goguen, a computer scientist at the University of California-San Diego, whom I quote in the epigraph above--devoted two special issues to "Art and the Brain" in 1999 and 2000, to be followed by a third, "Art, Brain and Consciousness," in 2004. In addition, the philosophic journal The Monist plans an issue next year entitled "Art and the Mind."

These are but a few of the many recent explorations of how cognitive processes are involved in the creation and perception of works of art. Nor have such efforts been confined to higher education. Art educators concerned with elementary and high school students have also been keenly pursuing this line of inquiry. Cognitivist approaches to the teaching of art occupied numerous sessions at the 2002 annual meeting of the National Art Education Association in Miami last spring. Further symptomatic of this trend is a book entitled Art and Cognition--by Arthur Efland, professor emeritus of art education at Ohio State University--published by Teachers College Press last year.

Examining Basic Premises
Little of value is likely to come of all this ferment, however, without a fundamental reassessment of what exactly is meant by the key term, art, in relation to cognition. Scholars must begin by asking themselves whether that term can coherently encompass all the modernist and postmodernist innovations of the past hundred years. Some of those innovations are alluded to in the epigraph above, taken from Goguen's Editorial Introduction for one of the special issues of JCS on art and the brain. Others mentioned by him in that essay include Marcel Duchamp's "readymades" (such as the urinal he dubbed Fountain), Andy Warhol's images of Campbell soup cans, and John Cage's use of chance operations in his musical compositions. One would be hard pressed to discover, for example, how such works fit a view of art as "a particularly poignant manifestation of human consciousness"--to quote from the call for papers posted by JCS for its forthcoming issue on "Art, Brain, and Consciousness."

The Overview for the NEH summer institute on art and cognition aptly notes that when the eighteenth-century philosopher Alexander Baumgarten coined the term "aesthetics," he envisioned it as pertaining to the study of "sensuous cognition." As the Overview continues:

Because of the connection of the arts to perception (the sensuous element in this formulation), aesthetics made the arts its central domain. However, the perception of artworks is not merely an affair of sensation. Memory, expectation, imagination, emotion and reason (including narrative reasoning) play an ineliminable role as well. Consequently, since its advent, the field of aesthetics has been concerned with the operation of fundamental psychological and cognitive processes.
Baumgarten was ahead of his time in understanding that the arts constitute a distinctive and significant realm of "sensuous cognition," in which emotion also plays an important part. It was Baumgarten who coined the term aesthetik (from the Greek aisthtikos, "perceptible to the senses") to designate a new branch of philosophic inquiry--which he defined broadly as "the science of perception." It was with the nature of perceptual knowledge conveyed through the arts, however, that he was exclusively concerned. In fact, the work in which he first used the term aesthetik was his Reflections on Poetry. The treatise aimed mainly to persuade his fellow rationalist philosophers that questions of art were as worthy of their attention as the more abstract spheres of thought with which they had theretofore concerned themselves. Baumgarten's view of art was largely shared by his younger contemporary, Immanuel Kant--though Kant has often been mistakenly associated with formalist theories that attempt to divorce art from cognitive considerations.

In the sections of his influential Critique of Judgment that focus on the "fine arts" per se (as contrasted with the broader discussion of aesthetic attributes in general), Kant makes clear that the value of an art work depends on its presenting what he terms "aesthetical Ideas." He explains:

[B]y an aesthetical Idea I understand that representation of the Imagination which . . . cannot be completely compassed and made intelligible by language. . . . [It] is the counterpart (pendant) of a rational Idea. . . .
The Imagination (as a productive faculty of cognition) is very powerful in creating another nature, as it were, out of the material that actual nature gives it . . . , and by it we remould experience, always indeed in accordance with analogical laws. . . .
Such representations of the Imagination we may call Ideas, partly because they at least strive after something which lies beyond the bounds of experience, and so seek to approximate to a presentation of concepts of Reason (intellectual Ideas), thus giving to the latter the appearance of objective reality.
What Kant seems to be saying is that the arts present perceptual embodiments of important ideas--not only ideas about existential phenomena, such as death, envy, love, and fame, but also conceptions of other-worldly things, such as heaven and hell. In all cases, Kant implies, the products of the artist's imagination are essentially mimetic, for they resemble to some degree the appearance of nature, or "objective reality." As he indicates, however, a work of art does not merely copy nature, for it embodies concepts more fully than any single instance in nature. Philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand--one of whose four essays presenting her theory of art was entitled "Art and Cognition" (written in 1971, when the cognitive revolution was just getting underway)--suggested much the same thing when she argued that, through the "selective re-creation of reality," art "brings man's concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts."

Anyone wishing to understand art in relation to "sensuous cognition" needs to begin by recalling what sorts of objects Baumgarten and other eighteenth-century aesthetic theorists had in mind when they spoke of "art." For them, this term meant, pre-eminently, the mimetic arts-- which came to be known, however misleadingly, as the "fine arts." What basic forms of expression did they include? According to a broad consensus from antiquity until the mid eighteenth century, the mimetic arts comprised, chiefly, painting and sculpture (that is, two- and three-dimensional visual representations), "poetry" (which, in Aristotle's view, included all imaginative literature), music, and dance. The mimetic arts did not include either architecture or objects of "decorative art"--whose primary function was physical, rather than cognitive or emotional. Nor, obviously, did they include such things as "abstract" (nonobjective) art, noise music, conceptual art, performance art, film, photography, video, or digital art--none of which had yet been invented.

If the nature of art is now to be examined scientifically in relation to cognition, the question must first be asked, what coherently qualifies as art? Does every new art form invented since the advent of modernism constitute a medium of "sensuous cognition" in the sense meant by Baumgarten? If works of art are held to be "cognitive devices aimed at the production of rich cognitive effects" (to quote The Monist's call for papers on "Art and the Mind"), then aestheticians need to reconsider whether certain phenomena of modernism and postmodernism qualify as art at all. In considering art forms unknown to the eighteenth century, it is easy to envision that feature films, for example, may be readily subsumed by the concept of mimetic art, which has always included forms of dramatic and narrative story-telling. But the status of much so-called avant-garde art is highly questionable.

Would what Baumgarten wrote in his Reflections on Poetry be applicable to the largely incoherent postmodernist "poems" of John Ashbery, for example? Can they be said to exemplify his concept of sensuous cognition? Further, can the phrase "rich cognitive effects" meaningfully apply to works ranging from Mondrian's grid paintings to Duchamp's "readymades," much less to Minimalist works such as Ad Reinhardt's all-black paintings or Carl Andre's "floor pieces," or to John Cage's chance compositions? Finally, can there be any but the most flimsy connection between "sensuous cognition" and the whole postmodernist category of "conceptual art"--defined by the 1988 Oxford Dictionary of Art as "various forms of art in which the idea for a work is considered more important than the finished product, if any"?

In attempting to analyze or define art, contemporary aestheticians are apt to cite avant-garde innovations as conceptually difficult cases, implying that they are essentially incommensurate with the traditional categories of art. Yet on the basis of such deviant work, most aestheticians have adopted "institutional" definitions of art--which hold, implicitly or explicitly, that "art is anything an artist declares it is." While some philosophers of art are critical of such definitions, they nonetheless tend to accept as "art" the contemporary works they subsume, no matter how outrageous or absurd.

To discuss art rationally in today's context, however, requires admitting the possibility that the answer to the ubiquitous question But is it art? may well be No. That question appears as the title of a recent Oxford University Press book by Cynthia Freeland, for example. Yet, as is so often the case when it is raised in a title, the question is never dealt with head-on in the text. Nevertheless, Freeland seems to imply that the answer is always Yes, for she discusses as "art" twentieth-century examples ranging from Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes to the French "performance artist" Orlan's surgical manipulations of her own body and the scenarios with "counterfeit currency" enacted by another postmodernist, J. S. G. Boggs. Though Freeland is critical of some aspects of such work, her tacit assumption appears to be that all of it is art.

Re-Examining the History of the Avant Garde
In pursuing the question, But is it art? it is instructive to retrace the history of the twentieth-century "avant garde," beginning with the development of abstract (i.e., "nonobjective") art in the early 1900s. The art historical record leaves no doubt that the pioneers of abstract painting--Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Malevich--abandoned mimesis because they were seeking escape from the material conditions of existence. While each in his own way earnestly strove to embody metaphysical and spiritual values in his work and to engage the emotions (as artists always have), the means they employed were wholly inadequate to the task. As their ample theoretical writings reveal, however, they based their work on unwittingly mistaken conceptions of the relationship between perception, cognition, and emotion (on this point, see chapter 8 of What Art Is). All the same, they were well aware that art had always depended on mimesis for the perceptual embodiment of meaning, and they were therefore haunted by fears that, having rejected mimesis, their work would be perceived as merely "decorative"--as indeed it still is by many art lovers, even after a century of cultural habituation. It was owing largely to influential critics, collectors, and curators, that "abstract art" nonetheless soon gained legitimacy in the art world.

A half century after the European pioneers' invention of nonobjective painting, artists in America drastically shifted its focus and aims, attempting to employ it as a means of direct personal "expression." Yet they, too, had persistent doubts that their work would be understood. Like the pioneers of abstraction, leading Abstract Expressionists such as Mark Rothko feared their canvases would be perceived as mainly decorative. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to see a typical Rothko canvas reproduced and advertised for sale in the Fall 2002 home furnishings catalog from Crate & Barrel, with the caption: "Bright yet soothing, this appealing . . . abstract Rothko reproduction makes a contemporary color statement."

The postmodernist reaction that began with Pop art in the mid 1950s was, on the whole, a deliberate reaction to the dominance of Abstract Expressionism, and of all that it stood for in the artworld. Since the view of art that the abstract movement was based on was a largely false one, a reaction was surely in order. But the postmodernists went to another false extreme. True, they reintroduced imagery, on which the intelligibility of visual art depends, but it was an imagery deliberately devoid of values, either personal or social. Their work therefore controverted the very purpose of art. It was, in effect, anti-art. Influential early postmodernists such as Henry Flynt and Allan Kaprow frankly admitted that their work had virtually nothing in common with past art, as such. Nonetheless, they appropriated the term for their own work. And their successors have shown no hesitation in calling themselves artists, although the means they employ--mechanical reproduction, and the appropriation of both readymade objects and images--are the antithesis of the "selective re-creation of reality" (to borrow Rand's phrase) characteristic of artistic mimesis.

While more recent postmodernists have ostensibly reintroduced value and meaning into their work, mainly in the guise of political and social critique, they continue to employ spurious forms such as "conceptual art" and "installations," which grew out of the anti-art impulses of the 1960s. A major tendency of those impulses was the deliberate blurring of the distinction between art and life. But if so-called art works can now be "indiscernible" (to use philosopher-critic Arthur Danto's term) from the stream of everyday experience, then what becomes of the special significance that philosophers originally placed on art in relation to "sensuous cognition"? If there is nothing distinctive about art, why study it at all in this context?

The "cognitive turn in aesthetics" of recent decades is often attributed to the publication of the late Nelson Goodman's Languages of Art (1968)--which focused on the study of "representation and other symbol systems and processes." Goodman's emphasis on symbol systems (his book is subtitled An Approach to a Theory of Symbols), however, was itself a major step in the wrong direction, in my view, for it diverted attention from the mimetic nature of the major arts. That nature was not only recognized by Western thinkers from Aristotle and Plato to Baumgarten and Kant, but seems clearly implied in the thought of other cultures as well. The language of art is fundamentally mimetic, not symbolic, for it depends primarily on what the art historian Erwin Panofsky referred to as the "natural meanings" of representations--in contrast with the arbitrary, culture-specific meanings assigned to symbols.

It must be stressed that (contrary to Plato's view) the mimetic arts never merely "held a mirror up to nature." As classics scholar Stephen Halliwell argues in his recent book, The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems, mimesis applies to a wide variety of artistic styles, ranging from realism to idealism. Imagination, stylization, and selectivity have always played their part in the mimetic re-creation of reality--even in the most ostensibly "realistic" styles--just as the highly stylized art of ancient Egypt, tribal Africa, and the Cyclades are all mimetic, albeit in varying degree. In the Yoruba culture of Africa, for instance, mimesis is said to involve depicting "general principles of humanity, not exact likeness. . . . It is 'midpoint mimesis' between absolute abstraction and absolute likeness"--to quote art historian Robert Farris Thompson. As Thompson has noted, moreover, the distinction between art and reality is always maintained by the Yoruba people (in striking contrast with postmodernist tendencies in Western culture).

Why Mimesis?
One must then ask why mimesis is the primary means by which art performs its cognitive and emotional function. In his Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition, published in 1991 (as well as in his more recent book, A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness), the Canadian neuropsychologist Merlin Donald has proposed a promising answer to this key question. He suggests that mimesis played a crucial role in human cognitive evolution, serving as the primary means of representing reality among the immediate ancestors of Homo sapiens, just prior to the emergence of language and symbolic thought. Mimesis, in Donald's view, refers to intentional means of representing reality that utilize vocal tone, facial expression, bodily movement, manual gestures, and other nonlinguistic means. As he insists, it is "fundamentally different" from both mimicry and imitation. Whereas mimicry attempts to render an exact duplicate of an event or phenomenon, and imitation also seeks to copy an original (albeit less literally so than mimicry), mimesis adds a new dimension: it "re-enact[s] and re-present[s] an event or relationship" in a nonliteral yet clearly intelligible way. Here, again, I am reminded of Rand's concept of the "selective re-creation of reality."

As Donald further emphasizes, mimetic representation remains "a central factor in human society" and is "at the very center of the arts." While it is logically prior to language, it shares certain essential characteristics with language, and its emergence in prehistory would have paved the way for the subsequent evolution of speech. Yet mimetic behavior, he stresses, can be clearly separated from the symbolic and semiotic devices of modern culture. Not only does it function in different contexts, it is still "far more efficient than language in diffusing certain kinds of knowledge . . . [and in] communicating emotions." Moreover, the capacity for

mimetic representation remains [fundamental] . . . in the operation of the human brain. . . . When [it] is destroyed [through disease or injury], the patient is classified as demented, out of touch with reality. . . . But when language alone is lost, even completely lost, there is often considerable residual representational capacity.
Commenting on the power of mimetic representation in his Anthropologist on Mars, neurologist Oliver Sacks writes of Stephen--an autistic boy whose capacity for abstract and symbolic thought and communication are severely impaired--that he comes fully to life through artistic expression, through his "genius for concrete or mimetic representations, whether drawing a cathedral, a canyon, a flower, or enacting a scene, a drama, a song." Mimesis, in Sacks's view, is "itself a power of mind, a way of representing reality with one's body and senses, a uniquely human capacity no less important than symbol or language."

If, as Donald suggests, this prelinguistic mode of representation and communication developed relatively early in the course of human evolution, it would have been closely linked to the evolving psychological and physical mechanisms for emotional response, which play a crucial role in both social interaction and the arts. That would help to explain the emotional immediacy of the mimetic arts. Mimesis is not the end of art, but it is the powerful means by which art works convey their cognitive and emotional content. The avant-gardist tendencies of both modernism (most notably, abstract art) and postmodernism have flouted this basic truth, to the detriment of both art and cognition.

This is a note from a friend of this blog, Michelle:

The articles were "Anti-Art Is Not Art"
and "Art and Cognition:
Mimesis vs. the Avant-Garde" 03/art&cog.htm> . You might want to tell your readers about our latest
issue at as well.

Best regards,

Michelle Kamhi
Co-Editor, Aristos

Pop Goes the Easel | Andy Warhol

Pop Goes the Easel
by Marina Saint Martin
Source: Gold Coast - Australia

Date: 10Nov07

Only a handful of 20th-century artists -- Pablo Picasso is an obvious one -- have managed to change the direction of art and the way in which art is viewed, as Andy Warhol has done.

Even fewer have had such impact on both the art world and the general public as Warhol. Perhaps the main reason for his enormous recognition and popularity was in his ability to create a bridge between cultures . . . in allowing the fine art world to converge with that of popular culture.

He became the ambassador, the spokesperson -- the icon, in fact -- for popular art culture. Mr Pop Art himself.

Australia's first major Andy Warhol retrospective will open at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, on December 8, bringing together more than 300 works of the one of the most influential of artists.

Warhol has remained relevant to both art and society, says Queensland Art Gallery director Tony Ellwood.

"We still see a lot of his influence today in terms of graphic design and in the merging of celebrity into fine art," he says.

Mr Ellwood says the exhibition was three years in planning and considered one of the 'largest and most significant' Warhol retrospectives ever held.

He calls it a coup for both Queensland and Australia, drawing national as well as international visitors.

The exhibition spans all his important stages from his first exhibited works in the early 1950s to his untimely death in 1987.

The Warhol retrospective, exclusive to Brisbane, will show paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, photographs, films and installations and has been organised by the Queensland Art Gallery and the Andy Warhol Museum, of Warhol's native Pittsburgh.

Works like his Marilyn Monroe portraits or his endlessly-reproduced Campbell's Soup Cans are instantly recognisable, even by those not seriously interested in art. Perhaps because they are not only art images per se, but definitive images of an era, stepping stones of a specific culture. Yet Andy Warhol's influence reached beyond fine art. Warhol, although world famous in his lifetime as a painter, was also recognised as a ground-breaking, avant-garde filmmaker, record producer and author.

He was somewhat of a media 'star', a public figure, a cultural spokesperson, an easily recognisable figure with his mop of platinum hair, his dapper clothing, his large spectacles. His fame and influence covered a wide social framework, with a presence in diverse social circles which included bohemians, street people, intellectuals, movie stars, celebrities, leading business people and aristocrats.

Always controversial (his work was sometimes dismissed by critics as being somewhat of a hoax, poking fun at art, rather than being art), Warhol survived then and survives now.

Curator of International Art at the GoMA, David Burnett says Warhol was and remains important because he merged high art culture with popular culture.

"He confused the demarcation lines, which is why he upset a few critics. But it was not an attack, rather a questioning of elitism in art and in life," he says.

"He had the intuition to see things for what they were, drawing attention to what was already obvious but unrecognised.

"Art was his life and his life was art."

In the 20 years since his death Warhol has been the subject of retrospectives, books, endless articles and documentary/feature films. The GoMA exhibition, however, is the first really serious retrospective to be shown in Australia.

Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1928, named Andrew Warhola, son of immigrant parents to the US from what was northeastern Slovakia.

He studied in Pittsburgh until 1949, when at 21 he graduated from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), with a bachelor's degree in pictorial design.

He moved to New York and established himself as a commercial artist and designer, working for some of Manhattan's major fashion stores, labels and advertising agencies. He worked as an illustrator for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Glamour and The NewYorker, creating advertisements and window displays for leading retail stores such as Bonwit Teller.

Prophetically, his first assignment was for Glamour magazine for an article entitled Success is a job in New York.

It certainly was so for the young Warhol, who had lopped off the final A in his surname early in his career and shortened his first name to Andy.

Although he won several commendations from the Art Director's Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts, he began quite early to turn his attention -- seriously and successfully -- to fine art.

In 1952, Warhol had his first solo show, Fifteen Drawings Based on the Writings of Truman Capote, at the Hugo Gallery.

His work was exhibited in several other well-known venues, including a group show at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1956.

The '60s was a productive decade for him, beginning with a series of iconic pop paintings which used as inspiration a number of ordinary objects from daily life such as TVs, baths, soup cans, cars and Coca-Cola bottles.

Appropriating such images from popular culture, he created paintings that remain icons, such as the Campbell's Soup Cans, the 'Disaster' works and the 'Marilyns'. Today this does not seem so unusual or controversial, but at the time it was an unexpected use of subject material in the art world.

In 1962 the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, exhibited his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans 1961-62, instantly establishing his place in Pop Art. His fame and productivity accelerated from that time.

Some of the magic lay in his repetitive themes, echoing TV and print media, where images became banal by repetition. Warhol was the mirror for American commercial society, which worshipped all levels of fame from images of living persons to simply famous brands or logos.

The soup cans were a statement about the sameness of society -- same brand, same size, same paint surface, same fame, same ubiquity, seen in homes around the nation from the very poor to the super rich.

His work commented on the power of mass advertising, a world Warhol knew only too well.

He later continued this fame/same theme in star portraits (Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando) -- all part of the 20th century's media-saturated culture.

Warhol himself had been part of that manufacture, but his work was neither an apology, nor a justification. It was rather an awakening, a comment on what was going on and involving people, even just passively as they stared out the bus windows or gazed at their TV screens' advertising imagery.

Warhol also began to make films and created many classics of avant-garde cinema over a five-year period from 1963 including Sleep (1963), Empire (1963), Kiss (1963-64), and The Chelsea Girls (1966).

Amazingly, he made about 600 films, ranging from almost 500 short screen tests (four-minute portrait films) to the 25-hour long film (Four Stars, in 1967-68).

These films were considered at the time, and indeed later, as some of the most radical experiments in filmmaking and continue to inspire today.

While hugely popular with the young, the sophisticated and the trendy, not everyone liked Andy Warhol. Some critics accused him of playing or toying with art, calling his work practical jokes and art hoaxes, something he didn't refute, quipping, 'art is what you can get away with'.

He faced some personal and artistic abuse, and in 1968 real physical trauma, when one Valerie Solanas, the founder and sole member of SCUM (Society for Cutting up Men) walked into his New York studio, known as The Factory, and shot him. Solanas had been a minor figure in The Factory scene, appearing in a Warhol film, I, a Man (1967).

It is believed that on the day of the shooting, Solanas had been there asking for a script she had given Warhol. This had apparently been misplaced. She returned later in the day with a gun.

Andy Warhol barely survived the attack. His chest had to be opened and his heart massaged. He was to suffer the physical effects of this assassination attempt for the rest of his life and was deeply emotionally affected by it. Some believe he never fully recovered, his most important working period ending with the attack.

Immediately the informal Factory environment -- which was both Warhol's atelier and his office -- became much more controlled and security conscious.

For many members of the magical Factory circle, it was the end of an era, the end of the mood with its bohemian, creative, artistically supportive atmosphere.

Despite this, Warhol continued on his personal creative path, pushing the boundaries of both technology and creativity.

Perhaps most importantly, he was a new eye in the world of art.

He looked at things in a different way, once commenting he saw art in everything.

"I don't know where the artificial stops and the real starts," he once said.

Compared with the successes, excesses and scandals of the Swinging Sixties, Warhol's '70s were relatively peaceful.

Warhol 'grew up' during that decade and became more entrepreneurial.

He passed on ideas in the traditional style of the classic maestro with students and apprentices. He devoted more time to securing portrait commissions including Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, John Lennon, Diana Ross, Brigitte Bardot and Michael Jackson. His famous portrait of the Chinese Communist dictator Mao Zedong was done in 1973.

It was in the '70s that Warhol began publishing Interview magazine, a product of his fascination with fame, dedicated to the cult of celebrity with candid interviews with the famous and about-to-be famous.

"My idea of a good picture is one that's in focus and of a famous person," he said of Interview -- a fore-runner of the celebrity magazines which abound today.

He also renewed his focus on painting. Works created in this decade include Skull, Hammer and Sickle, Torso and Shadow.

Warhol also published The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again).

Firmly established as a major 20th-century artist, an A-grade celebrity, a media 'star', he was invited everywhere and exhibited around the world, drawing huge crowds.

Warhol had a fascination with, and perhaps even a yearning for, the higher forms of tawdry Hollywood glamour and glitz.

He once said: "I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're so beautiful. Everything's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic."

As a child he had spent hours reading movie magazines about screen idols of his era. He had learnt the power of celebrity.

Although Warhol's work has been described by some as 'asexual', or as that of a 'voyeur', art scholars, art historians and biographers tend to disagree.

The interesting question is rather how much Warhol's sexuality influenced his work and shaped his relationship with his art and the art world. Warhol himself addressed this in interviews, as well as in conversation and in his publications.

Certainly, all through his career Warhol produced a series of erotic male nudes.

Some of his works drew upon the gay underground culture and a number of his films premiered in gay theatres. Among the first works that he submitted to a gallery were drawings of male nudes which were rejected as being too openly gay.

While his sexuality remained, on the whole, relatively private and somewhat ambiguous, Warhol's religious practices were even more so.

He was a practising Catholic and regularly volunteered to work in homeless shelters in New York.

Although he once said: "I am a deeply superficial person," he did, however, see himself as a religious one.

His later works contained semi-hidden religious themes or subjects, and a body of religious-themed work was found posthumously in his estate.

Warhol certainly regularly attended Mass, according to the priest at Warhol's local church, St Vincent's.

Eastern Christian iconography and images are also noticeable influences in his art.

John Warhola described his brother as 'really religious', adding the artist did not want people to know as he felt it was private.

Warhol began what was to be his last decade, the 1980s, with the publication POPism: The Warhol '60s and with exhibitions in 1982 of the Gun, Knives, Cross and Dollar Sign paintings in New York and Madrid. He also created two cable television shows, Andy Warhol's TV in 1982 and Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes for MTV in 1986.

His best-known paintings from the 1980s include the Self-Portraits, The Last Supper, Rorschach and Camouflage series.

At the height of his personal fame and at a newly-productive time in his career, Warhol somewhat hesitantly underwent what was described as 'routine gall bladder surgery'. He died of complications on February 22, 1987, aged 59.

Warhol may have had a premonition. He certainly delayed having his recurring gall bladder problems attended to, perhaps because of a reticence for hospitals and doctors following the 1968 shooting.

The international art world mourned the loss of one of its most recognisable and iconic figures.

After his burial in Pittsburgh, friends held a memorial mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York, attended by more than 2000 mourners.

In 1989, just two years after the artist's death, the Museum of Modern Art in New York held a major retrospective of his works.

The Andy Warhol Museum opened in his birthplace Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1994, and is a major source of material for the Australian event.

The GoMA exhibition will include many of Warhol's most important works presented in periods: the 1950s and his early works as an illustrator, the first forays into fine art, the early Pop/commodity works and box sculptures: the Death in America series 1963-68, considered seminal works of post-war US.

Later works will include his experiments with abstraction and, of course, his iconic portrait images of Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Onassis, Mao Zedong and Elvis Presley, the reknowned Brillo, Heinz and Campbell's box sculptures.

But it will delve far more deeply into the artist's productive years.

On show for the first time in Australia will be Warhol's early commercial work and issues of Interview magazine. The exhibition will investigate how the artist represented himself through his art including his famous -- some say infamous -- self-promotion, Self-Portrait paintings, his own Time Capsules (boxed papers and objects of his life), books and diaries and even gossipy insights.

These are gleaned via loans from the National Gallery of Australia; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; the National Gallery of Victoria; and a number of private collections.

As part of the exhibition, the Australian Cinémathèque will present one of the largest and most complete surveys of Andy Warhol's film work, with a program of 53 films and 279 screen tests, many never before seen in Australia.

Children will not be left out of the Warhol exhibition diary.

The Silver Factory: Andy Warhol for Kids, will be a specially curated free program for the Children's Art Centre, from January 18 to 28.

During the opening weekend of December 8 to 9, a range of programs will be presented with symposia, special lectures, talks, panel discussions, films and performances.

From early January to the end of March, GoMA will be the place to be on Friday nights, when the Warhol exhibition will be open until 9pm (excluding Good Friday) for live entertainment, celebrity talks and films.

"GoMA, and indeed the whole precinct, looks magnificent lit up at night. Locals and visitors will love it," says Ellwood.

But, of course, the main focus will remain Warhol himself.

Few artists have changed the direction of art -- and indeed the way art is viewed by both the art world and the general public -- in the way in which Andy Warhol did.

He embraced the popular and turned it into fine art. He took an inter-disciplinary approach, unusual in his time, though currently very popular, he made an art from out of creating the extraordinary out of the ordinary.

Warhol moved effortlessly between the divisions of society, the divisions of culture and the divisions of the arts. We are perhaps just beginning to see the effect of his work on the art of the late 20th and early 21st centuries in the two decades which have followed his death.

What he began, what he experimented and toyed with, has become for many artists now the base and the norm. Some of the questions he asked are beginning, if not to be actually answered, then at least seriously considered.

Warhol even now remains part of our language.

"In the future," he said, "everybody in the world will be famous for 15 minutes."

This oft-repeated Warhol comment is now a cliché. Andy Warhol's own 15 minutes of fame have lasted 20 years beyond his lifespan, and are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

* Andy Warhol exhibition, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, December 8 to March 30.

Marcel Duchamp | Hate Him or Love Him

Reinventing the wheel | Love it or hate it, Marcel Duchamp's urinal revolutionised modern culture in 1917

Did the 20th century's cleverest artist play a great joke on history, asks Jonathan Jones of the Guardian.

Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, 1917. Photograph: © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ Paris and DACS, London 2007

The object in Tate Modern is white and shiny, cast in porcelain, its slender upper part curving outward as it descends to a receiving bowl - into which I urinate. It's just a brief walk from here in the fifth-floor men's loo to Marcel Duchamp's Fountain, an object sealed in a plastic display case on a plinth that is nevertheless almost identical to the receptacle into which I've just pissed. This museum treasure is no more or less than Duchamp described it to his sister in a letter of spring 1917: une pissotière en porcelaine. Duchamp warned against an attitude of "aesthetic delectation" that would transfigure his urinal into something artistic. Yet, as a visual form, it is bizarrely lovely, so white and incongruously ethereal, and as art it is ... well, there's a question already tripping me up. Is it art?

The eminent New Yorkers who ran the American Society of Independent Artists decided in April 1917 that it wasn't. The Independents congratulated themselves on championing all that was new and progressive in art, and to ensure openness to the new they agreed to the idea of one of their directors, Duchamp himself, that anyone who paid a $6 fee should be able to show in their inaugural exhibition. This meant that technically there were no grounds to refuse the mysterious R Mutt's last-minute entry of a men's urinal entitled Fountain - for he had paid his fee. An emergency meeting nevertheless rejected it.

The next month, a little magazine called The Blind Man, which was co-edited by Duchamp, defended Mr Mutt's Fountain: "Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view - and created a new thought for that object."

These words resonate as excitingly, provocatively, philosophically today as they did in the early 20th century. A vast proportion of 21st-century art traces its origins to these words, that pissotière. The editorial in The Blind Man - whose authorship Duchamp never formally acknowledged, any more than he officially owned up to being R Mutt - is actually more important than the urinal itself, which was not his first "readymade" work of art. Rather, it allowed him to make explicit an idea that until then was only a private musing. How did he come up with such a notion?

This, it seems to me, is the question no one asks about Duchamp. His big idea - that any ordinary "readymade" object can be chosen by the artist as a work of art - has sunk so deep into modern culture that he is imagined almost as a biblical prophet, a remote figure of authority. It's as if contemporary art history begins with him. Art is steeped in tradition - today, there is a tradition of the readymade - and to make a painting, a film, a photograph is to know you are contributing to a form that has been shaped and defined by predecessors. Even the most radical film is a film. But Duchamp did something for which there was no precedent. Love or hate the art that claims him as ancestor, you can't deny the originality of the thought itself, which I suspect was all that mattered to Duchamp. The readymade was a new concept of art, rather than just an ingenious and idle way of making it. No wonder that most serious discussions tend to assimilate it to philosophy, from Richard Wollheim's famous 1965 essay that took the urinal as a paradigm of "minimal art" to more recent ruminations on Duchamp and Kant's aesthetics. But I think we need to stick to the simple problem: how did anyone ever have such a wild idea?

With Tate Modern about to open an exhibition on Duchamp and his friendships with the brilliant playboy painter Francis Picabia and the subversive photographer Man Ray, let's try to imagine a time when no one dreamed of separating art from manual labour.

Duchamp grew up with art. He was born in 1887, the youngest son of a prosperous notary in Blainville, Normandy. Duchamp's grandfather had been an artist even as he prospered in business; there was art in the family and, as well as Marcel, two of his brothers and one of his sisters set their hearts on becoming artists. His brother Gaston was a painter who took the name Jacques Villon in homage to Villon the poet; another brother was Raymond Duchamp-Villon, the important cubist sculptor; his sister Suzanne also struggled to become a painter.

Young Marcel's early paintings were unpromising, ordinary enough to give ammunition to hostile critics who portray him as the original conceptualist fraud, a man who couldn't hack it on talent alone so discovered a wheeze to make "talent" seem unsophisticated. Yet such great painters as Piet Mondrian and Kasimir Malevich had equally weak starts. Like them, Duchamp eventually excelled as a painter, and it was his depiction of a body as a fluttering mechanism, Nude Descending a Staircase No 2 (1912), that made him famous in America when it was shown in the Armory show that popularised modern art in New York in 1913.

Duchamp settled in Paris in 1906 at a moment when decades of courageous experiment by French artists were about to ignite modernism. It was the year Cézanne died, the year Picasso finished his portrait of Gertrude Stein with a carved wooden mask for a face. Duchamp - six years younger than Picasso - was part of the generation who were influenced and inspired by this revolution. His two older brothers lived in the suburb of Paris that gave its name to the Puteaux group, the minor wing of the cubist movement.

Picasso and Georges Braque, the originators of cubism, were relearning the idea of painting with every new canvas. Their cubist paintings are to this day impossible to summarise or to explain away. The Puteaux cubists, by contrast, used shards and planes of fragmented colour to convey the drama of modern life in an easy-to-decode way. Jean Metzinger's 1913 painting The Cyclist, for instance, clearly and iconically portrays a cyclist hunched forward on his racing bike. It's a celebration of the modern world, of the clean-minded technology of the bicycle, and points immediately to the ideas that were in Duchamp's mind when he dreamed up his first "readymade" work of art - a spoked wheel suspended in a metal fork fixed to the seat of a wooden stool. It might be the eye of a cyclops, or an astronomical model, or a bizarre evocation of a nude. You can't help thinking it means something, but interpretation is vain. It just is. It simply stands there in its light-hearted, lovable glory.

Bicycle Wheel was recognised later by Duchamp as his first "readymade", though he hadn't yet come up with the term or finalised the idea. Nor did he think of exhibiting the piece. He just liked to have it in his studio: "To set the wheel turning was very soothing, very comforting, a sort of opening of avenues on other things than the material life of every day ... I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace."

This toy was a step into intellectual realms no one had entered before. And yet, it is so charmingly of its time, celebrating the very machine Metzinger praises in his cubist painting. The long thin spokes and unbending mount of Bicycle Wheel vividly evoke the Paris of 1913: look into those spokes and it's not hard to picture the iron lattices of the Eiffel Tower. A graceful modernity, optimistic and young, is balanced on that stool. And what of the stool itself? It might even make you think of Van Gogh's painting of his wooden chair. Perhaps the walk from Van Gogh's studio to Duchamp's is not so far.

The idea of the readymade seems to have something to do with the idea of the studio as a utopian refuge from the workaday world. In 19th- and early 20th-century France, this idea of the studio was fundamental to the new way of life of the avant garde. You can see it in Cézanne's early painting The Stove in the Studio, and read it in Zola's novel The Masterpiece - this sense of the studio as a hideout where the artist is free to explore non-bourgeois habits and dreams. Picasso's studio in the ramshackle Bateau-Lavoir was a workshop of cubist experiment: photographs of Picasso and other artists of this time in their studios, surrounded by African masks and their unexhibited paintings, depict magic worlds.

In the studio, sex, drink and drugs contributed to a hallucinatory focus on ordinary things that suddenly seemed fascinating. Duchamp's discovery of the readymade is deeply rooted in the cubist obsession with real, tangible, solid things that are close to hand. Picasso and Braque rediscovered one of the oldest and humblest painting genres: the still life. In a cubist masterpiece such as Picasso's Absinthe Glass, Bottle, Pipe and Musical Instruments On a Piano (1910-11), it is the immediate world of objects that is broken and shattered and strained for.

It was actually Picasso who first used found objects in art. In 1912 he stuck a piece of oilcloth, with a printed design imitating a caned chair-seat, on to a cubist canvas. Still Life with Chair Caning gave him and Braque a new weapon in their struggle to give art the force of reality. Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel is a cubist masterpiece, rivalling the complexity and resistance of Picasso's and Braque's art. It belongs recognisably to the Paris of that time, which is even more true of Duchamp's Bottle Dryer (or Bottle Rack) - a spiky metal tower widely used in France to dry used wine bottles.

Yet Duchamp didn't name these objects that he had in his Paris studio as "readymades" until later. Nor did he show them as "art". The "readymade", a word he only ever used in his second language, English, came about when he made the leap from one culture to another. It is an idea found in translation.

In 1915 Duchamp sailed for New York. He felt instantly liberated by America. "For a Frenchman, used to class distinctions, you had the feeling of what a real democracy could be," he later said. Learning a new language set his mind completely free of all influences, to achieve a simple, relaxed revolution quite unconnected with anything in the art of cubism.

In January 1916 he wrote to his sister Suzanne asking her to preserve what he now regarded as two important works left in Paris: "Now if you went up to my place you saw in my studio a bicycle wheel and a bottle rack. I had purchased this as a sculpture already made. And I have an idea concerning this and the bottle rack: Listen. Here in NY I bought some objects in the same vein and I treat them as 'readymade'. You know English well enough to understand the sense of 'readymade' that I gave these objects ..."

In 1915 he saw a pile of snow shovels with big square steel scoops lined up in a shop for the New York winter. He bought one and hung it from the ceiling of his studio. It was inscribed "In Advance of the Broken Arm, from Marcel Duchamp, 1915". This signature was a way of thinking about the readymade as art - it was not by, but "from" the artist. The object - which exists, like most of Duchamp's long-lost readymades, only in replica - is menacing, with its sharp metal edges and title prophesying injury. It is as uncomfortable as the bicycle wheel is likeable. Perhaps this is the art of it - that undeniable atmosphere.

A spikiness of feeling similarly clings to the steel comb that in February 1916 Duchamp inscribed "Three or four drops of height have nothing to do with savagery". In December 1916 he enclosed a hollow ball of twine inside two metal plates and asked his friend and patron Walter Arensberg to hide a small object inside without letting him see; it is called With Hidden Noise. This and the comb survive as originals.

All this was a private game, until in April 1917 Duchamp, Arensberg and the artist Joseph Stella visited the Mott ironworks in New York to purchase a porcelain urinal that would shock the worthies of the Manhattan art world and give Duchamp the opportunity to explain Mr Mutt's philosophy of art: "He CHOSE it ... and created a new thought for that object."

Their fight to raise themselves above the status of mere craftsman has led artists, since the 15th century, to seek to be seen as intellectuals. In the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci typified the artist as thinker. Duchamp identified with Leonardo, a fandom you might not guess from his infamous 1919 "rectified readymade", when he drew a moustache on the Mona Lisa. In all the years during which he was evolving the idea of the readymade, Duchamp was working on an immensely ambitious masterwork, The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, which involved elaborate research, starting in a Paris library with his reading treatises on perspective. Like Leonardo, he made copious, quasi-scientific notes, many of which he published in The Green Box.

Duchamp's idea of the readymade is the final, triumphant endgame in western art's long campaign to establish the intellectual status of the artist (Duchamp, who officially gave up art to play tournament chess, was an authority on endgames). In this, his predecessors are not just Leonardo, but Sir Joshua Reynolds and all those academicians who insisted that theirs was a mental calling.

And yet, he didn't just select any object and call it art. One of his notes in The Green Box reminds himself to limit his output of readymades. There are not that many. Something connects them all; their meaning and purpose are clear. They are all manufactured objects: he never named a landscape or a natural object as a work of art. He saw art not just anywhere in the stuff of everyday life, but specifically in the capitalist industrialised world. Anthropology was a passion of artists at the beginning of the 20th century, and photos of Duchamp's studio show totems of mass production. They find magic in the modern world, and their key is The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even.

The great work he eventually abandoned as "definitively unfinished" in 1923 is an allegory of virtual desire in a machine world. It imagines two realms, defined by separate glass panels. In the upper panel is the "bride", like a Renaissance Madonna ascending to a paradise supported not by angels but by some kind of metallic insect. Below are the "malic moulds", bachelors who vainly send emanations up towards the object of their desires (or prayers). Duchamp's bachelor machines may be happy enough grinding chocolate, but they will never get the bride.

Richard Hamilton, one of Marcel Duchamp's most profound interpreters, made the copie conforme of The Bride Stripped Bare that is on permanent view at Tate Modern. In their preface to The White Box, an English edition of some of Duchamp's more abstruse notes, Hamilton and his co-translator, Ekke Bonk, compare Duchamp's masterpiece with the magazine Astounding Science Fiction - an idea that helps us understand the idea of the readymade. New York must have struck Duchamp as a spectacle from the future. From Otis elevators and skyscrapers to ultra-modern bathrooms and steel combs, "all the great modern things", as Andy Warhol was to call them, were already in place in America in 1915 while Europe was still struggling free of its ancien régimes. It must be this translation to the future that gave Duchamp his unparalleled intellectual freedom, an alienated liberation familiar to travellers. He sought the estrangement to which his readymades are eerie monuments.

There is not really any other art like his, despite his infamous "influence". He discovered something new; no one can discover it again. The cleverest artist of the 20th century played a great joke on history, for Duchamp, who sanctioned and signed replicas of his works and is the prophet of the simulacrum, is in truth inimitable. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Friday, 1 August 2008

Made in England

I wrote a poem.


Made in England

Hedge Fund Managers basing their bonuses on the huge profits gained
while betting the Market will go the wrong way, as a country crumbles!

Casino for the Bolton boys who play God with us all. The stakes
are too high but the country will pay.
The children are hanging in England today.

We, their elders have betrayed our young. Stripped them
of their sanity and civil liberties while watching 'em worship the pound.

Splashing in waves of constant paranoia, our children
are busy swimming in blood from their knives of Respect!

Placing CCTV on every street corner, like ribbed condoms
"Made for our pleasure" so the Government would say.
Thank you to our Leaders for creating the UK.


Only an African heart can save us now!