Art as an Act of Omission is a single panel text work quoting from the philosopher Eric D’Arcy’s book Human Acts – An Essay in their Moral Evaluation (1963). D’Arcy considers an omission to be the ‘not-doing’ of something that was expected to be done, leading Arnatt to ask the question: ‘If art is what we do and culture is what is done to us – what would culture do to us if art is what we didn’t do?’ In other words, Arnatt asks that if art was an expected action that was not carried out, how would this particular omission affect our lives, if at all? This work also exists as a printed card that Arnatt sent to close friends and colleagues, examples of which can be found in Tate Archive (TGA 7220.127.116.11 and TGA 818.104.22.168, the latter postmarked March 1971).
A significant aspect of Arnatt’s work at this time addressed ‘non-production’ or ‘not-doing’ as a form of artistic practice. For instance, for the exhibition Idea Structures at the Camden Arts Centre in London in 1970, he presented the text work Is It Possible for Me to Do Nothing as My Contribution to This Exhibition, alongside Self-Burial 1969 (Tate T01747). Later that same year he sent a card to Charles Harrison on which was typed ‘10.9.70. 8.25pm. THE DECISION TO DO NO ART WORK FOR AN INDEFINITE PERIOD OF TIME IS THE WORK (the work ceases to exist upon production of a subsequent work)’. This card is also in Tate Archive (TGA 822.214.171.124).
Art as an Act of Omission is one of a group of works which were exhibited, or intended to be exhibited in Keith Arnatt’s participation in Seven Exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, London in 1972. Other works from this group are Invisible Hole Revealed by the Shadow of the Artist 1968 (Tate P13145), Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self 1969–72 (Tate P13143), Art as an Act of Retraction 1971 (Tate P13140), I Have Decided to Go to the Tate Gallery next Friday 1971 (Tate P13142) and Rejected Proposal for the Peter Stuyvesant ‘City Sculpture Project’ (For Cardiff City) 1972 (Tate P13141). In their range they illustrate the move in Arnatt’s work from the making of situational sculptures to a documentation of performative acts that question – through a linking of philosophical text with image – the status of art and the role and identity of the artist, whom Arnatt shows to be in different states of disappearance. This group of work was presented by the artist to Tate Gallery Archive in 1972 and transferred to the collection in 2010.
Seven Exhibitions, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1972.
The New Art, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1972.
I’m a Real Photographer: Keith Arnatt Photographs 1974–2002, exhibition catalogue, Photographer’s Gallery, London 2007.