The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)
Chapter 4: The Art of Making Art Without Lifting a Finger
Art on one level already may be a state of mind. Of course it is first of all a physical object with which we interact in the moment. But after we have seen a work, what do we take away except a memory of it? And memory is thought, a mental seed planted by the artist, which is reproduced in as many different variations as the number of people in whom the memory exists. What makes art good is partly its power to proliferate as a variable memory, an intangible concept, filtered through individual consciousness.
To support this point of view, Kimmelman provides the interesting tale of Pop Art’s Ray Johnson. Johnson (1927 – 1995) was primarily a collage artist (photo), but also engaged in performance and conceptual art. One of his great contributions was the innovation known as “Mail Art.” His final artistic creation was his own suicide. Before jumping off the bridge into the frigid January waters of Long Island Sound at the age of 67 (6+7=13), he checked into Room 247 (2+4+7=13) of the Baron’s Cove Inn at Sag Harbor Cove (both of which to 13 letters). He also left behind an enormous puzzle of his collages on a wall in his house: a forensic challenge. It is interesting that his body was found floating upon the waters face up with his arms neatly folded across his chest – a work completed. This artwork now exists only in our minds, which as Kimmelman suggests is reproduced in as many different variations as the number of people in whom the memory exists.
Of course, this way of thinking erases the boundary between “art” and “not art.” Is every thought, every manufactured thing a work of art just because we think it is? Duschamp’s ready-mades support that notion. Robert Rauschenberg declared it to be “art” when he erased a drawing of de Kooning. Artist Yves Klein’s show, “Le Vide” (“The Void”), at a gallery in Paris attracted mobs of people into a gallery that contained no art at all. The list of artists who engaged in conceptual art is endless. The point was to “elevate the ordinary” and to achieve a “heightened state of awareness.” So, everday life became a work of art.
Is the “idea” more durable than the physical work of art itself? If so, then there is no line drawn between art and everyday life. They are, as Kimmelman suggests, one.
What are your thoughts?