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13 . T H E I D E A B E C O M E S A M A C H I N E T H AT M A K E S T H E A R T Since the gradual withdrawal of the notion of practical skill as a necessary constituent of artistic practice it has been difficult to define with any degree of finality what it is exactly that an artist does, and what it is that constitutes the work of an artist, other than the tautological response: an artist is one who makes art.1 Undoubtedly the most persistent answer, prevalent at least since the late 1960s heyday of conceptual art, is that the primary talent of the artist consists in the ability to generate ideas. However, this would seem to entail that the essence of the creative work must take place in advance of its construction and that the work of art always proceeds from a conscious plan rather than taking shape only in and through its enactment. In which case, the implementation of a “good idea” would be a mere formality, as no. 33 of Sol LeWitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art baldly states: “It is difficult to bungle a good idea.”2 On this model the physical manifestation is a mere vehicle and the artist must go about constructing it so as to maximize the clarity and impact of this animating principle. For instance, when considering the dimensions of a work, LeWitt writes, “the piece must be large enough to give the viewer whatever information he needs to understand the work and placed in such a way that will facilitate this understanding.”3 The enactment is a wholly pragmatic affair whose function is to expedite the transmission of its ideational content. However, is it possible to repudiate this radical pragmatism without overemphasizing or fetishizing the corporeal, sensual, or “performative ” aspect of artistic creation? Carl Andre, often associated with conceptual art but vocally critical of its rhetoric, rejects the notion of the idea as sovereign. For Andre, “all ideas are the same except in execution. They lie in the head. In terms of the artist, the only difference between one idea and 1 14 T h e I d e a B e c o m e s a M a c h i n e t h a t M a k e s t h e Art . another is how it is executed.”4 And elsewhere he states, “if abstract art is art as its own content, then conceptual art is pure content without art. Following Reinhardt, I desire art-­ as-­ art, not art-­ as-­ idea.”5 These questions surrounding the dialectical relationship between the idea­ tional and the material (aesthetic) dimensions of art in the wake of conceptualism have recently been given fresh critical impetus by theorists engaging with the category of the “post-­ conceptual.”6 However, my central postulate in this opening chapter is that emergent neurotechnologies whose purpose is to automatically execute the intention or thought of the user cast this relationship in an entirely new light and call for a new theoretical framework. For if the idea is paramount, as first generation conceptual artists believed, would a technological bypassing of the corporeal negotiation involved in transmuting this idea into reality facilitate a more direct, true, or faithful realization? As John Dewey writes, “[the] act of expression that constitutes a work of art is a construction in time, not an instantaneous emission.”7 So if the artist is to have at her disposal a mechanism which precisely does enable the “instantaneous emission” of an idea it becomes necessary to ask how such a development would impact upon the act of artistic creation and to consider what kind of creation we would be dealing with. Neurotechnologies, in their idealized form, would not be one medium among others, which the practitioner must gain mastery over or at least obtain a degree of competency with. On the contrary, they promise the possibility of bypassing such skillful negotiation altogether, with the outcome being directly produced by a mental process. After all, even Duchamp’s readymades involved a minimal degree of practical engagement with specific materials.8 Too Much, Too Little: Beckett and Joyce, Cage and Boulez Kant writes in his Anthropology that “actuality is always more limited than the idea that serves as a pattern for realisation.”9 Undeniably, the process of physically realizing an artistic idea can often be experienced by practitioners as something...


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