The Job of The Artist

by Paddy Johnson on September 27, 2011 · 5 comments Blurb

Tony Cragg

From Carol Kino’s interview with sculptor Tony Cragg in The Art Economist (no story link – you have to subscribe to read the piece):

Tony Cragg: Duchamp did a very valuable and important thing in introducing manmade objects into the world of art. That provided us with an enormous vocabulary of new materials but, more importantly, it made us realize that we do not have to change the object if we can change the terms around it. That made the world into two different kinds of specifies, with every object having two facets, one being its physical qualities, and the other being its metaphysical qualities. It’s not the soup can on the shelf, but the the soup can we all have in our  heads.

So when you’re asking how does a sculptor change the world, that’s what we’re doing. Whether you change the material or not, you’re changing things in your head. You give people new forms and suddenly they see the world differently.

This is a different version of the increasingly popular job description of the artist — making the unseen seen — but I like it. Valuable communication, whatever the medium, changes or adds to our perspective.


Sean CrapOne September 27, 2011 at 2:40 pm

I don’t know that seeing automatically translates into meaning. We have an overloaded visual culture and most ‘new forms’ are just one in a procession of novelty. Change doesn’t happen in a flash, especially when most people are going into an art viewing experience with their minds already made up about what they can tolerate. I think this type of influence has to be more slow burning to be effective. The “enormous vocabulary of new materials” of which Cragg speaks is 99% of the time used as a visual shorthand by lazy thinkers, freighting half ass works with levels of meaning meaning they can’t bear the weight of. 

Signed, Mr. Crankypants

Jesse P. Martin September 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I don’t know that meaning automatically translates into weight. I’m sure we all understand the metaphor of how meaning can be ‘heavy’ or ‘light,’ but doesn’t employing that kind of linguistic liberty express the same “unseen” “metaphysical qualities” that Paddy is championing (by way of Cragg via his interview)? Your response — based on its brevity, its existing in a comment-thread format, its vast and vague generalizations — could be viewed as a textual example of (and analogous to) the “shorthand by lazy thinkers” that you’re condemning, at least as it pertains to certain (unnamed) artists and their paltry meaning-to-material ratioed works.

Sven September 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm

could someone copy this interview and post a link so we don’t have to pay to read it? it looks good. thank you.

Anonymous September 27, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I totally agree with the blurb provided.  The additional link to this whole discussion for me revolves around the “relational – fluxus” component which you so eloquently exploit not only here on your blog but in the recent project you completed, “The Sound of Art.”  Anyway, thanks for your brashness and for keeping us on our toes. 

In the name of “Aught”…have a great day!

R. Emora September 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm

If art is about valuable communication why is it so confusing?

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