[-empyre-] Objecthood and Ephemerality

Cynthia Beth Rubin cbr at cbrubin.net
Sat Apr 18 03:30:40 EST 2009

Greetings -

As a (digital) visual artist I want to respond to Joseph Tabbi (and  
Davin Heckman)

Without quoting the entire wonderfully thoughtful post - Joseph - is  
it your intention to consider art as only those works which endure  
because of the "objecthood" qualities that make them collectable?

> Another thing, about literary reading: the things "collected" are  
> collected not in rooms, but in our minds. And these collectibles -  
> written words - happen to be the same things that are present  
> during conscious thought. The things we read are also the things we  
> think with.  However: over time, we have had other thoughts, our  
> words have acquired associations with new experiences, and this  
> means we can experience a written work quite differently when we go  
> back to it, at another time, for more.

Are images not collectable in the mind of the viewer as well?  Why  
does the public flock to museums to paintings that they will never  
own?  If it were only to be in the presence of something collectable,  
the design museums, complete with objects made of precious metals and  
jewels, would be far more populated than the "art" museums.

Certainly you do not intend to imply that working with image rather  
than word does not involve the layering of meanings and perception  
that you describe for texts.  That in the pre-digital days the visual  
arts resulted in commodities that could be embraced by capitalist  
"traders" renders the thinking behind these works no less profound  
than the writers whose hand-written manuscripts or first edition  
texts are buried away in the rare books sections of libraries.  It is  
the ideas that stir, not the object itself.

As for the question:

>  (But has the digital artist somewhere secured a canonical text,  
> before it gets purposefully washed away by rain? These are  
> questions we need to bring to each work of e-lit we encounter, I  
> should think.)

Assuming that this is describing literary art, which grows from a  
linear tradition, this may be the case (I am not in a position to  
judge, but actually my guess is no).  As a visual artist, however, I  
can offer the thought that visual art in our culture is strongly  
influenced by the practice of engaging an object (painting) which has  
multiple reading from the start.  Visual artists do not make one  
collectable moment, but rather strive to create what Hans Hofmann  
described as "relations of relations" --- setting little tensions of  
ambiguity in place and then letting those play against other bits of  
ambiguity until the entire work breathes with "push - pull" space.   
(Hofmann's term)

If this can apply to a physically still painting, without  
representational imagery, even more can happen in the world of  
digital art, in which we move more easily into inter-plays of  
referential image and formal qualities, and can introduce time-based  
work and inter-activity alongside still imagery.

You are right about collectability in the mind of the reader/ 
audience, and the layering that takes place.  Substitute image (and  
no doubt sound as well) and your great descriptions still ring true.

> Words need to be collectable, and they need to be collected in the  
> mind of a reader, retained, forgotten, and recoverable in re- 
> reading. Without this continuity of thought and literary object,  
> one leaves the realm of conscious reading and moves into more  
> perceptual or communicative realms.
> (Always keeping in mind, that perception, consciousness, and  
> communication happen at the same time - even as we can attend to a  
> conversation and still have our own thoughts: this layering is very  
> important I think to any aesthetic experience, where material and  
> mental activities are constantly interacting.)

Please remember, however, that just because an object can be  
commodified, this is not necessarily the reason why it is produced.   
Still, it would be naive not to recognize that there are some people  
in the art world who do produce only to participate in the art  
market, and one of the few positives in our current economic  
situation is that these "careerists" are finding themselves out in  
the cold.  This is going to lead to something interesting.  Already a  
number of visual artists' groups are springing up where artists share  
slides of works in a variety of media for discussion with those  
interested in the ideas, in situations in which the commodity aspect  
is hardly a factor.

As for the distinction between "reading and perceiving" as described  
by Davin Heckman, his analysis reminds me of a line I just heard in a  
country western song by Brad Paisley "When you see a priceless French  
painting, I see a drunk, naked girl". It is easier to talk about the  
subject, it is easier to talk about the monetary value, it is even  
easier to talk about Manet's life, but the real resonance of the work  
comes from the way in which the subject matter is depicted. Color,  
texture and spatial illusion still count as the grammar of visual  
art, and their creative application is essential to making any  
enduring work.  The readers of visual art also too often settle for  
surface analysis over the deeper discourse.


Cynthia Beth Rubin

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