Sunday, 13 June 2010
Over the years I’ve grown to distrust reductive art practices. In the visual arts these usually take the form I’ve often thought of as ‘one idea art’ (not to be confused with minimalism). This is an art which seems to rely on a simple conceptual base capable of infinite extension. The distinction can be a subtle one. Jeff Koons is, I think, a ‘one-idea’ artist whereas Claes Oldenberg isn’t (even if so much of his work involves the gigantic reproduction of common objects). In poetry ‘one idea art’ is often the product of a desire to remove one’s work from the perceived social conditioning of language. Chance procedures are one way of doing this. But even Jackson MacLow seemed to realise that chance alone is not enough; that social conditioning is already inscribed in the modes we use to disrupt our practices. The problem with reliance on artificial methodologies (and the problem with ‘one idea’ art is that it primarily consists of a set of concepts which is then (often painstakingly) realized (why not just print the idea or a set of instructions?). Chance can and does certainly play its part in a lot of great works but to turn it into a method, the only method, is to make it into something else, an already conditioned state that the operation was supposed to remove us from. There are some important differences in the way this practice occurs across the arts. In visual work it tends to play into the hands of curators and rapidly becomes a tic or ‘signature’. With poetry I suspect it has as much to do with a certain kind of puritanism, and here the post-avant shares some elements with the neo-conservative. I keep thinking of Frank O’Hara’s comment that so much American writing had the feel about it of a ‘good design’ show ‘where everyone becomes friends at the wake of Art’. Of course it is often argued that without a methodology the writer/artist simply falls into an accustomed style and an unquestioning relationship with language. But isn’t this going to happen with all bad art? Constant vigilance I’d say, is the only way out. Unfortunately or otherwise it’s not (as I've suggested in an earlier post) a teaching method.