22 January 2009

Aleatory art

So I've been thinking about artists' intentions and the illusory nature of the self, and then I read The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. Now, this is one of those books that I've been meaning to read for 20 years or so. Friends have raved about it, and The Fall wrote a doozy of a song about it.

I quite enjoyed the book at the start, but then it paled. But first, some background.

There are several arguments for why neither the world nor the self exist. I'm not going to go into them now (though I do quite like this one). The Dice Man recognises this, and comes up with a method for allowing what he calls the minority selves to come into their own by giving over his free will to the dice.

The philosophers of art reckon artists' intentions are important. It's another complicated area I won't get into in any detail now. Basically, for example, an allegorical painting can't be allegorical unless it was intended to be allegorical. But if the artist's self is illusory, who or what is doing the intending?

There is a good tradition of randomness in art. Hans Arp ripped up pieces of paper and dropped them on to another piece of paper, then glued them where they fell. Tristan Tzara applied this idea to poetry and pulled words out of a hat (which was then ripped off by Billy Burroughs to become what he called the cut-up method). Duchamp did Three standard stoppages, where he dropped three metre-length strings from a metre's height and glued them where they lay, to use as measurements (ye gods, he did do some shit work, didn't he!?).

In each of these cases, randomness, rather than the artist, determines the work. Intentions don't come into it (well, directly at least).

So is the answer simply to randomly determine the form and content of art work?

I'm afraid the answer is no. This is the problem I had with the Dice Man. Replacing the dictatorship of an illusory self by the dictatorship of chance is no advance at all - you're still suffering under a dictatorship. A system based on randomness is still a system.

I'm not sure what the solution is.


Anonymous said...

You just don't get it, maybe? Arp and the others were just trying to break out of the known techniques and traditions that the universities have been shoving down our throats since the day they decided they could make money off of us. Only a minority of the world's best contemporary artists hold diplomas- just like those of the past.

Art has turned into a philosophical thing for some- a minority in the art world, critics try to dig up deep meanings and all that psychological crap about a creative process that started in the caves with simple depictions inspired by all time greatest random art generator- Nature and her buddy, Physics. And now even the artists themselves (mostly the college grads I bet) delve into the deep meaning of it all as well, just to please the critics, I think. I have not run across a collector who bought a piece of art for all of that. They say we are all decendants of Africans, and just the same, all artists have a little roll of the dice in their work, to a degree. I know you wordy types would be out of a hobby if all this got out so we'll keep it between you and I.

Lindsay Newland Bowker said...
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