Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bern Porter and Unintentional Art

Is a novelist a novelist because others consider him a novelist, because he has published novels and is embraced by other novelists as one of their own?

Or is a novelist simply one who contains and expresses his creativity in novels? How about if they're never published or never even written, but remain in the imagination? Is it enough to think a novel, or do you have to scribble down somewhere?

Does a sonata exist in the composer's mind as a sonata, or is it not a sonata until someone else hears it or reads the score?

Where do we draw the line? What makes an artist an artist? What makes art something other than non-art? Being non-utilitarian and extraordinary in design?

When we strictly define "art" and "artist", according to some whimsy of Mind as it attempts to differentiate, categorize, and understand, we arbitrarily negate much that is existing artistically without being labeled or "considered" such.

One would think that after Adorno, critics would no longer define art by what men called art in ages past, but would evaluate items according to their inner necessity and external impact on an audience.

Today we look at Unintentional Art and the Artist's Intentions.

"If I'm humming or whistling it, it's music," the composer said.

"If I'm reading a long story, it's a novel," the reader replied.

"I paint, therefore I am...a painter," the painter explained.

What about that splotch of color, the result of rain on iron, is it a "painting"? What if the image attracts the eye and pleases it? Those clouds above in the sky: are they white and grey vapor paintings in motion against a blue backdrop?

Intentionalism states that a novelist is someone who has decided to write something and he calls that something a novel and it resembles, to some degree, other novels that exist and are referred to as "novels".

Unintentionalism states that randomly occurring images, non-self-aware constructions, accidental art that does not think of itself as art, is not presented or packaged as art, that may not even have an identifiable artist as cause and holder of intellectual property rights over it, may still be Art.

We've all seen it.

You're walking along, and something colorful, beautiful, glittering catches your attention. You bend toward it to get a better, a closer view. You reach for it, to pick it up...then draw back, repulsed.

It was just a mutilated toy, apparently chopped up by some lawnmower, a headless action figure, a plastic playtime hero, with bright clothing, shining garments, a radiant uniform.

For a moment, until you knew what it was, that lump of plastic was, for you, an object of art.

Bern Porter called these stumbled upon (and sometimes re-assembled) items "Founds".

He assembled scraps of text and discarded photos into collages and called them art ("something to look at").

You may view a large number of selected Bern Porter "Founds" at Ubu Web, from the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art, NYC) collection.

Back when I was about 13 years old, I used to cut comic strips out of the Sunday newspaper, then glue them into a notebook in a Dada manner, mixing up the narrative, forcing things out of context, artistic mayhem and creative contortions.

But who is the artist, Bern or me? Or both? Or neither? Mind, which rests in categorical constructions, wants to know!

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