ART IS POINTLESS
Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean by the word “art”? Of course we do; in fact, the number of answers is legion. I shall attempt to offer some idea of my own.
First off, from my perspective, only people make art, no other animal. It is a human activity, in, for and about the human universe. You will note that I imply that art is something that is made—it matters not what from—stuff, sounds, words, thought experiments. While Joseph Beuys posited that everyone is an artist, my definition is such that not everyone is, and in fact, in a deep sense of the word, not many are.
A surgeon (who may indeed employ a scalpel with artistry) has a point to the procedure at hand: to remove, repair, restore well-being. Mechanics, likewise, have a point to their labors, as is true of all trades. An attorney certainly has a point to his or her prosecution or defense, that is to say, to establish innocence or guilt. Stockbrokers, currency traders and above all hedge fund managers have a point to their pursuits, which is to generate for themselves as great a profit as possible; that clearly is the point. Unlike these endeavors, however, I insist that art is pointless, which is precisely what makes it worth doing.
While it is widely acknowledged that currency traders and hedge fund managers contribute nothing to society, this is seldom said about artists, indeed, far from it. This is one of the reasons why we should be grateful that art is pointless. One might be tempted to venture that the degree of authenticity of an artwork is directly proportional to the purity of its pointlessness.
Artists have long investigated the ways in which ordinary objects and so-called art objects differ. Spatially the arena they occupy is identical, yet a kind of tension manifests between the two. It is known as the problem of the ontological status of the object. And it’s a problem that doesn’t go away.
The dialog that unites artists from Lascaux to this morning, the concept of the union of opposites, the passion of the human universe: these are some of my concerns. The assemblages point outward towards the world; they are metropolitan, referential, tactile. Seeing as much that goes into them is technically in working order, from the standpoint of the machinery of commerce they can be judged counterproductive, even sublimely so.
Half the planet has become a city. Soon, it will be far more than half. Cities are magnificent, sensuous and awe-inspiring, but they do create problems. In this they are like artists, who, in the final analysis, do nothing if not present themselves with problems to be solved.
John Zaklikowski 2014