My name is Rebecca Heald and I’m the curator of Adult Programmes here at Tate Britain and I want to welcome you all here tonight to a very special event, the fourth in a series of Contested Territories, organised in collaboration with Chelsea school of art and design, and special mention to Naked Punch Review, for helping to bring this unique occasion together. As you can well imagine, we are delighted to have with us tonight’s 3 speakers Arthur Danto, Thierry de Duve and Richard Shusterman. Notably, there will be nobody chairing tonight’s discussion. The three speakers have been in contact with each other prior to the event, and decided to give their presentations in order of seniority. First, Professor Danto, then Professor de Duve, then Professor Shusterman. So as to acknowledge Prof. Danto’s anteriority in dealing with the issues that concern them and the need to situate the issues in relation to Danto’s ground-breaking work. So in terms of format, each speaker will give a short presentation of approximately ten minutes, they will then join together in conversation and there will then be an opportunity for you in the audience to ask questions. While tonight’s speakers require no real introduction, I shall give some brief biographical detail by way of suggestion, as to why we have brought them together here tonight. Arthur Danto is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, and since the publication of his essay The Artworld in 1964, he has consistently proven himself one of the most important philosophers of art of the past 50 years. He is perhaps best known for his contemporary version of Hegel’s End of Art thesis, first enunciated in 1984 and later developed in his book After the end of art in 1997. He has of course authored numerous other key volumes including The Transfiguration of the Commonplace, and Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art. Thierry de Duve is an historian and theorist of contemporary art committed to the reinterpretation of modernism. He is a Professor at the university of Lille 3. His work has long revolved around Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made and its implications for aesthetic and he is now finding a new centre of interest in the work of Manet. De Duve is the author of several books including the celebrated Kant after Duchamp. He is currently involved in a thorough reckoning of his own aesthetic theory. Richard Shusterman is Dorothy F. Schmidt Eminent Scholar in the humanities and Professor of philosophy at Florida Atlantic University. Over the years his work has challenged elitist aesthetics, defending the richness of popular culture and the cruciality of aesthetic experience. His books include Pragmatist Aesthetics, Living Beauty Rethinking Art, and Surface and Depth – Dialectics of Criticism and Culture as well as the provocative essay The End of Aesthetic Experience. Today, together, they will consider the current interaction between art history and aesthetics. I’d like to thank our three very distinguished speakers for being here, but before we get fully started, I’d like to remind you to turn off your mobile phones. I’d also like to remind you that tonight’s event is being webcast, so when we come to the end of the talk, if you wish to ask a question, please make sure you wait until you have the microphone for the benefit of not only the audience here, but also the audience online.
Arthur Danto (AD)
I’m really a bit surprised that this was going to be built around the essay from 1964, called the Artworld. Since I had no idea that that essay was widely known outside academic circles and particularly American academic circles. Because it’s an essay that is widely anthologised so that in the nature of things if people think of courses on aesthetics, they’d be familiar with it. I don’t know how people get familiar with it over here, but I’m not going to try to summarize the paper, but presumably the configuration of the argument will emerge in the course of the discussion. My presentation, what I call “the origins of The Artworld”, that is to say the origins of that particular paper and why I wrote it and what I thought about it, or what I think I thought about it, which is now really quite a long time ago.
But the impetus for that essay came from seeing a painting by Roy Lichtenstein which was reproduced in Art News in 1962. At that time Art News was the defining American publication on what was happening in art. The title of the painting was The Kiss and it showed what looked like a panel from an adventure comic strip like Terry and the Pirates, in which a pilot and a girl are kissing. I was living in France at that time and I’d gone to the American Library on a trip to Paris to check out what was happening in the galleries back home. The shock of seeing that work in that venue was like reading that St John the Divine, which is the episcopal cathedral in New York, had appointed a horse as a deacon. And I use that analogy deliberately to convey the sense of sacrilege that seeing that painting in that magazine created in my mind: how, what could they be thinking of. In 1959, the MoMA had put on an exhibition called New images of man. The almost ecclesiastical invective with which that show was reviewed by the apostles of abstraction demonstrate that the New York artworld at that time was deeply sectarian, like Europe in the 16th century. When MoMA thought there might still be some energy left in “doing the figure”, it had in mind Giacometti, Bacon, Leon Golub and Jackson Pollock, who had as you know vehemently attacked De Kooning for his paintings of women shown in 1953 at the Janis Gallery. But nobody would have imagined Pop as the new image of man. MoMA wanted to show that it was possible to do the figure and still be contemporary. But even when the late director of MoMA put comic strips in his High and Low show in the 1980s there was an uproar from the critical establishment in New York. But my feeling on seeing the Kiss was that everything was now possible; that the difference between abstraction and the figure was like the difference between the US and the national league in baseball, that is to say the outcome was just something that didn’t mean very much for very long. No one outside the extreme avant-garde of the 60s would have said that anything could be a work of art, which emerged as a position I think in the next decade, with Boyce in particular. Fluxus made art out of ordinary objects, but then it drew a line, only certain ordinary objects would have been considered a Fluxus object – there must have been considerable discussion of which objects were Fluxus and which weren’t.
What struck me when I began to follow Pop on my return to New York was that art work being shown consisted of things that in the traditional picture would have contrasted with art. What particularly got me excited, there were beds, which Plato used as his paradigm of reality higher than artwork as a class, that is to say in Plato’s Republic there is the form of the bed, there’s the actual bed that the carpenter makes and then there are the beds that artists execute, f.e. in showing Achilles and Priam in some kind of discussion on the side of a Grecian vase. Suddenly you’re beginning to see beds turning up at galleries by Rauschenberg, by George Segal or even by De Kooning. That was the difference in ontology rather than what one might call genre. I realised that a revolution of philosophical order had taken place. The boundary between art and reality was again in philosophical receivership. That’s what the paper The Artworld was all about. I think one of the questions was what was the impact of that essay on art history. That had to have been limited, since art history is not a discipline greatly given I think to ontological speculation. Which in the nature of the case has to take the form of a quest for what philosophers call necessary and sufficient conditions.
At the same time the impact on philosophy was considerable due to what I call a creative misreading of the ideas that the paper set forth by George Dickie, who was founder of the institutional theory of art. I found myself heralded as the founder of the institutional theory of art, according to which when and whether something is an artwork is a matter of an institution, specifically the artworld, decreeing as much. Now, the standard use of the expression artworld does refer to a body of artists, dealers, critics, collectors and the like who really do make decisions about art and maybe even decisions as to what objects are works of art. I by contrast use the term to refer to the world of art works. It was almost a community consisting of all and only the art works. My sense was at the time that to be an art work is to be part of that particular world. The members of which have certain rights, certain privileges, and my question was how something gets enfranchised to be an art work. That’s a political question. I just read a piece about a Belgian artist whose work consists at the moment in tattooed pigskins. He tattoos the pig and when the pig dies, the skin gets bought by a museum. He says in dying I was able to give the pig a green card and that’s tantamount to a kind of enfranchisement as an artwork. He’s transfigured from just a pig into an artwork. That’s the kind of question I was concerned with. My sense being that to be an art work is to be part of that world and so to speak to have rights and privileges. And in 1964, the year The Artworld was published, that saw that year the summer of freedom, when concerned people went to the US south to help blacks claim their constitutional rights and privileges, that is to say the rights and privileges to which they were constitutionally entitled. And I was struck by the fact that Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes was enfranchised as a work of art when the boxes it exactly resembled languished in the limbos of mere objects, though they resembled Warhol’s boxes exactly, or let’s say at least exactly as blacks resemble whites which is in all relevant respect exactly. The relationship between the two Brillo boxes was that one was about the other.
The relationship between Warhol’s Brillo box and the other members of the world of art works was more complex. They were as curators like to say in dialogue with one another. The Brillo Box was cool for example, while Pollock She-Wolf was passionate. I develop the idea of a style matrix in the artworld at the end of that paper, in which all art works could be fitted in terms of the absence or presence of affinities or counter-affinities if you like. At the time, my strategy was to argue that however much they resembled one another, the two Brillo boxes have disjoint causal history. Warhol’s boxes have a place in the history of art, through being part of a movement – Pop Art, whose criteria they satisfy. He had established himself as a pop artist through his first show which was in the window of Lord and Taylor, an upscale women’s store on 5th Avenue for 2 weeks in April 1961, where Warhol displayed in large ads from Pop magazines as well as certain comic strip panels. As we now know, the commercial Brillo box was designed by an artist, James Harvey, but that was not part of a movement. Actually James Harvey was second generation abstract expressionist, and very gifted one at that. The ordinary Brillo box had no location in the history of art. It was a kind of reality that Pop Art appropriated, but in itself was just a piece of everyday reality, something out of the Lebenswelt, as phenomenologists say. When I said in that paper, to see something as art one had to know something about the recent theory and history of art, Warhol’s box seemed to me enfranchised by the theory and the history of pop, which excluded Harvey’s boxes except as subject matter. The theory of pop again was political. It insisted that the differences between high and vernacular art were entirely artificial. That’s how Lichtenstein saw the matter, and with qualification, that’s the way I think that the British theorists of Pop, like Lawrence Alloway, one of my predecessor as art critic for the Nation magazine saw the matter as well. That in a way opened a path for Harvey’s box to come into the artworld by the back door, that is to say Alloway was really interested in commercial art, in popular music and pop literature and he thought it was at least as complicated as high music and high lit and so forth, and I suppose by that criterion, Harvey’s box would be as a matter of fact more complicated than meets the eye, and I’ve tried to give a kind of art historical analysis of Harvey’s box which is in many ways much richer than Warhol’s box, which is boring in a certain sense. I’d like to say since this again was a question that was raised, that aesthetics has nothing to do with the enfranchisement of something as art. I think aesthetically speaking, Harvey’s Brillo box was fairly exciting, whereas Warhol’s box was not. Anything that seems aesthetically distinctive of Warhol’s box, he owes to Harvey’s gifts as a package designer.
Twenty years later, in my book The Transfiguration of the Commonplace, I was in a position to advance a definition of artworks as what I called “embodied meanings”. I suppose an indirect contribution of the paper The Artworld was to split the philosophy of art off from what had been the dreary subject of aesthetics. It was if I may be allowed another political concept, a declaration of independence, that is to say of the philosophy of art from aesthetics; a subject for which until quite recently I had no use. Years later I tried to drain some of the dreariness away and even show how aesthetics can be assimilated to issues of meaning. That did interest me as a philosopher but that’s another story. Putting art works outside life as objects of contemplation, disinterested contemplation, was like putting women on pedestals as ornaments I thought. And I like to think that the Pop revolution, and later the feminist revolution were stages in the same struggle for emancipation which was the history of the 1960s. How clear most of that was to me when I wrote the paper is difficult to say. I thought of it as a piece of analytical philosophy, somewhat iconoclastic, but most of my writing at the time was in a somewhat iconoclastic spirit. I spent a lot of time in the galleries, more than most philosophers – I think probably more than any philosopher at that time I’m pretty sure. And Robert Morris’s early show of minimalist boxes at the Green Gallery on 57th Street inflected my thinking. Though not as much as Warhol’s boxes, that I like to say that the better of my mature life has been spent in cogitating Warhol’s Brillo boxes. What gets more and more clear to me is that The Artworld was part of its time; part of a spiritual movement that embraced politics, religion and Manhattan life.
And I count myself as blessed to have been alive in that dawn, to steal from Wordsworth, and open to forces I confess that I hardly understood: the upheaval of the 60s remains a mystery to me.
Thierry de Duve (TD)
Arthur is 20 years older than me, and since each of his books on art state and restate that the initial impulse for his philosophising about art came from having attended The Artworld’s seminal 1964 show at the Stable Gallery in New York, where the Brillo Boxes were first displayed, as he just told you, I thought only fair to begin with an autobiographical statement myself. I was 19 when I first visited New York, and it was precisely in the summer of 1964. Thought didn’t attend W’s show which was in the spring, that’s when I became brutally exposed to pop art for the first time. I was then a student at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany, wanting to become an industrial designer. And those of you who know the Hochschule also know what this entails. I was in the process of being thoroughly bred in, or brainwashed by, the post-Bauhaus ideology, that art, or rather good design – the word “art” was taboo in Ulm – would make the world a better place to live in. With this in mind you can realise how much pop art came as a shock to me. I had never encountered as radically non utopian an art form before. I resisted. But I also vividly remember having thought at the time that if I had been an artist, and if I had been American, that’s what I would have done. Contrast this avowal to Arthur’s candid admission, also rehearsed in several of his books though not tonight, that he started out as a painter, before he became a philosopher, and you will have some insight into our respective trajectories. I resisted to pop art for another 5 years or so, but by 1969, I was convinced that Warhol was among the greatest living artists. By then I had abandoned the idea of becoming a designer. I was a student in experimental psychology, and I was engaged in rather positivistic and preposterous endeavours to turn aesthetics into a verifiable science.
It was only when I had in turn abandoned this fantasy, and had become a young teacher of aesthetics, semiotics and other art historical matters, at a Brussels art school, that I bumped into the work of Duchamp, and that his ready-mades became for me exactly the same kind of test case Warhol’s Brillo Boxes had been for Danto. This happened in 75. Just figure yourself the young man I was at the time, and his background. Once upon a time, I had dreamt of making the world a better place to live in, by designing everyday objects both functional and beautiful. Urinals were plausible candidates. We at the Ulm school had no contempt at all for such low body functions as urinating. Well-designed urinals might express the true art of our time, provided they were not called art. And now I had to deal with a man who in perfect chiasmatic opposition to my original utopia, had seen to it that a plain urinal that was not the work of a designer would be called art, without claiming in the slightest to have made the world a better place to live in. Richard Shusterman would say, without any attempt at meliorism, his name for making the world a better place to live in, which is the purpose he assigns to art, culture and aesthetic experience at large.
So I find myself in this debate, sitting between Arthur and Richard, in more than one sense. Actually I’m not sitting in the middle, but I am temporally and conceptually perhaps. Although I come from a tradition very different from American pragmatism, I cannot help but having the greatest sympathy for Richard Shusterman’s normative enterprise. For him, popular culture is not unlike what industrial design was for me and my comrades from the Ulm school. Neither popular culture nor industrial design would supplant high art or totally reverse existing hierarchies, but both were entitled to the same claims on aesthetic legitimacy as high art, minus one, its autonomy. When I bumped into Duchamp’s ready-mades, perhaps as a belated after-effect of my encounter with pop art in 1964, I found myself facing a challenge of a non-normative nature. To make sense of an aesthetically indifferent – if not illegitimate – object, whose one and only claim was to proclaim the autonomy of art. It’s the chiasmus again. For Duchamp’s urinal was either art pure and simple or else it was nothing. In Danto’s words, a “mere real thing”. And the dividing line ran between two indiscernibles. What accounts for their difference?
I had no idea in 1975 that in the wake of his bumping into Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, Arthur Danto had asked himself the same question in a piece entitled The Artworld, which is now famous, and which we were kindly asked to take as our starting point for today’s discussion. I read it if I remember in 1979, as well as many other essays by Paul Ziff, William Kennick, Morris Weitz and others, all struggling with the same or similar question from within the to me rather esoterical framework of analytic philosophy. So I had not read Danto at the time, but my initial response to the ready-mades was the same as his regarding the Brillo Boxes, and I quote you in the The Artworld: “what in the end makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo box is a certain theory of art”. Like him, like you Arthur, I saw it as my task to discover this theory. And almost like him, I formally took the problem in terms of the necessary and sufficient conditions for something, anything, to be called art. The emphasis on called is our slight difference. Unlike him, I approached the problem as a formalist art critic, not as a philosopher. Greenberg’s lesson, that modernist art was an enquiry into its own conditions of possibility, and that its history advanced by dumping conditions one by one, as soon as they were discovered to be expendable, was not lost on me. My working hypothesis was that if Duchamp’s ready-mades were art, they were self referentially stating their own conditions of existence, and had reduced them to the bare essentials. I was soon rewarded. Three months later, I had a theory, drawn from Duchamp’s work. 1: if any given thing was an object with material existence. 2: if an author could be ascribed to it. 3: if it found an audience; 4: if the first three conditions were framed by the adequate institutional context, then the thing in question could be art. It soon occurred to me that this theory would not have been required if Duchamp’s work had not been called art already. Imagine the 20th century without Duchamp. To account for Picasso and all the rest, any good old theory of taste or à la rigueur of aesthetic attitude, would do. What I had done with my Duchampian theory was behaving like an anthropologist from outer space who looked at the artworld and consider that these people were ready to call art anything that satisfied the four conditions in question. I was the new true observer of a sociological fact. By the same token, I had come dangerously close to an institutional theory of art. Even though mine was not a theory of the performative power of calling something art, but rather an after the fact enunciative theory in Michel Foucault’s sense. Given that something has been called art, let us look at what its conditions of enunciation were.
And at that point I realised something absolutely decisive: that I could not uphold this theory without personally endorsing Duchamp’s ready-mades as art. I mean endorsing them explicitly, not merely taking them for granted. I was part of the artworld, and not an anthropologist from outer space, and it was my personal responsibility to baptise the thing myself. What was the nature of this responsibility? Epistemological? Yes. The theory is incoherent otherwise because it is unnecessary. Ethical? Definitely, and political too. As even George Dickie, the main proponent of the institutional theory of art had to admit I quote him “every person who sees himself as a member of the artworld is thereby a member”. For me this was not so much a reality as it was a principle. I had to put my head under block, and run the risk of seeing my theory disenfranchised by those people who dismissed the ready-mades and the art done in their wake, Brillo Boxes included, as mere hoaxes. It is then that I understood that my responsibility was aesthetic, as well as epistemological and ethical. Aesthetic because at once epistemological and ethical. Aesthetic because bridging the gap between epistemological and ethical is what aesthetic judgments do. I was right for Kant, even though at the end of the 70s I was only confusedly aware of it.
But 1982 I had come up with a new working hypothesis, that I presented at a conference around Jean-François Lyotard in Cerisy, entitled “Comment juger”? It was extremely primitive and revolved around the idea that Duchamp’s ready-mades had forced us to suppose that Kant’s antinomy of taste had made way to an antinomy of art with quasi the same philosophical consequences. This became the core of Kant after Duchamp written in the 80s and published 10 years ago, which Arthur knows well, since he generously wrote what is generally called a blurb for its back cover, thank you again Arthur. Its thesis is that is that when it comes to understanding what we do when we make aesthetic judgments, and what is at stake in them, Kant basically got it right. But that in order to be updated, his critique of judgment ought to be re-read after Duchamp, that is mentally replacing the word beauty with the word art. And not implying that the meaning has been transferred from one name to the other, just mechanically replacing. Otherwise said, whereas in Kant’s time the paradigmatic formula for an aesthetic judgment regarding works of art would have been this as a piece of sculpture or music or painting etc is beautiful, it would now express itself by the naked sentence: “this is art”. In contrast to my Kant-after-Duchamp approach to aesthetics and art theory, Arthur Danto’s might be termed the Hegel-after-Warhol approach. And Richard Shusterman, perhaps with less stringency, the Dewey-after-Stetsasonic approach. We each couple a philosopher with an artist or an art movement, and update or reinterpret the philosopher with a view on the art. Ready produced everyday objects in my case, pop art and pop culture in the case of my colleagues. Our differences, and needless to say they are huge, come from our choices of the philosopher. We will come to that in the debate I suppose. Richard still has to speak so I won’t anticipate. But there are more than enough similarities among our chosen objects to establish a common ground of concerns, uniting the three of us on this panel. Although ironically enough perhaps it will show in the debate that what unites us may turn out to be what also divides us. Quite independently of our philosophical preferences. But let’s also leave this for the debate.
The one thing I enthusiastically share with both Arthur’s and Richard’s theories, though perhaps in a roundabout way, is their radical pluralism. Anything goes; not that I think that this situation is the result of the philosophical task of art being accomplished, and not that I would endorse the fine art of rap music as being on the level of Mozart. But in the sense that I conceive of aesthetics, and I mean this very seriously, as a discipline that needs to be practiced from the point of view of the moron. By moron I mean for example the member of the 1863 Salon Jury who rejected Manet’s Déjeuner sur L’herbe. We learn more by adopting his point of view than by taking the verdict of history for granted. By moron I mean the layman who is not impressed by the snobbism of the artworld and dares say that he has seen the emperor’s new clothes, and that a box is just a box, a urinal just a urinal. By moron I mean you and me with respect to those things that our aesthetic judgments prove unable to assimilate, and since I don’t want to insult you, by moron I mean myself when I pest at the rap music pouring from the blaster of the guy sitting in his 4 wheel drive next to me at the red light while my radio is turned on Mozart, or on Bob Dylan for that matter. It’s not a question of high and low, it’s a question of what hurts and what pleases my ears. And I can no more honestly say that I listen to rap than I can fancy myself in the black skin of a kid from the Bronx, for whom rap is full of meaning and deserves genuine connoisseurship.
Pardon me Richard, your defence of hip hop really enlightened me. I found it convincing, well argued and politically founded. But I can’t help it, aesthetic judgments are involuntary and impervious to rational argumentation. Just as I put my head on the block when resting my theory of art on the case of the ready-mades, so did you when you state p. 201 of Pragmatic Aesthetics: “since I enjoy this music, I have a personal stake in defending its aesthetic legitimacy”. This statement, to my eyes, legitimises both the music you enjoy and your theory of art. It throws light on the aesthetic responsibility we take as theorists in personally endorsing our test cases. Arthur also put his head on the block when p. 37 of Beyond the Brillo Box, he said regarding the boxes in question: “I thought they were art”. Adding with true candour: “but that was in no sense part of the artworld at that point”. In blunter and unfair terms, “I was the moron”. Here Arthur, is one of the very rare instances in your writings where you acknowledge that your theory of art, though not an aesthetic theory, hinges on your own personal aesthetic judgments. I bet you will dispute this and that’s fine. We are here to articulate not settle our difference. All the same, my sense of our common ground is that the three of us have put our heads on the block inasmuch as we ran the risk of constructing theories of art verifiable, or falsifiable by the moron, the layman, Mr or Miss Anybody.
Richard Shusterman (RS)
One element that impresses me in Arthur’s beautifully evocative recollection of the genesis and impact of his article The Artworld is the religious rhetoric of his story. In the text he prepared for tonight’s conversation, he speaks of sacrilege, apostles, theological invective, etc. And such theological tonality pervades his theory of the artworld, from its inception, as in the way he argues, in that article, that “the artworld stands to the real world… [as] the City of God stands to the Earthly City”, so that art works are transfigured into a higher, sacred ontological realm wholly different from mere real things from which they may be visually or otherwise sensorily indiscernible. The religious rhetoric continues to percolate in his book The Transfiguration of the Commonplace, and still further into recent books such as The Madonna of the Future and After the End of Art where he affirms that art’s role is to convey “the kind of meaning that religion was capable of providing”, an idea similar to Hegel’s idea of art belonging to the realm of Absolute Spirit, but with the twist that rather than religion superseding art (as in Hegel’s story, art instead supersedes religion, as various aesthetes of the last fin-de-siècle argued.
When Danto’s Artworld article appeared I was barely fourteen years old, with no real concern for the world it theorized. At that time, I wouldn’t have noticed or cared about the “sacrilege” of Rauschenberg’s Bed, Warhol’s Brillo boxes, or Lichtenstein’s comic-strip Kiss; and only the last might have captured my attention, as a comic-reading teen-ager fascinated by the excitements of flight and sex. I first encountered Danto’s essay in the early seventies, while an undergraduate philosophy major in Jerusalem, and then while doing my doctorate at St. John’s College Oxford. I came to know Arthur, not through the artworld but through the academic world of Anglo-American philosophical aesthetics where his influence has been positively enormous, even if his views have sometimes been adapted in ways I find unfortunate and unproductive. Let me begin by briefly noting some of the ways he has enriched and reshaped this philosophical field.
In Western modernity, philosophy of art has been essentially pursued under the notion of aesthetics, a term originally coined by Alexander Baumgarten to designate a much larger project of sensory knowledge but which soon came to be identified with the study of art and beauty, which were regarded as essentially imaginative fictions and attractive appearances rather than the solid knowledge of ultimate reality and principles of real action that formed the stuff of other, more serious branches of philosophy. Anglo-American philosophy of art, in my Oxford days of the late-seventies, was still dominated by this aesthetic orientation. Aesthetic appreciation, even in the understanding of art, was essentially a matter of surface appearance and immediacy of perceptual experience. This concentration on sensory data fit perfectly the dominant empiricism of British and American philosophy. My Oxford supervisor, J. O. Urmson, a leading proponent of J.L. Austin’s linguistic philosophy, had influentially defined aesthetic focus as “not even skin-deep”, as a matter of “the way the object looks.” Monroe Beardsley, then the reigning doyen of American aesthetics defined art objects as mere “complexes of qualities, of surfaces.” Meanwhile, Wittgenstein-inspired pluralists were urging that we focus on the obvious surface differences of different media, genres, and individual works of art and reject the urge define art in terms of some deep, ethereal universal essence (like form or expression) that had made aesthetics so tediously vague and dreary.
Danto’s The Artworld jolted this dominant narrow aesthetic focus on the surface qualities and immediate experiences of art by showing that we could not even identify a work of art as such by relying simply on its immediately perceived properties of surface; indeed that the same visual array would be perceived or experienced quite differently according to our interpretation of whether that array was an artwork and what that artwork was about: “To see something as art, wrote Danto, requires something the eye cannot decry – an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art: an artworld.”
That our immediate surface perceptions are essentially shaped by a background depth of specific practices, histories, and broader cultural forms of life was in fact a very Wittgensteinian insight that the superficial Wittgensteinians failed to grasp; just as Danto’s crucial strategy of noting the differences of indiscernibles (Warhol’s and ordinary Brillo boxes, Rauschenberg’s and ordinary beds) was a also a key Wittgensteinian device deployed in different ways in his discussion of the duck-rabbit image and his famous question in philosophy of action as to the difference between the visually identical appearances of willful raising one’s hand, say to ask a question, and of one’s hand simply going up.
In contrast, institutionalist philosophers like George Dickie defined the artwork as any artefact any agent of the artworld decrees as such, locating its essence not in any perceptible qualities but in the underlying social institution that granted art status, though failing miserably to explain that institution without any of the sort of theoretical depth of insight or breadth of empirical detail that makes Pierre Bourdieu’s social theory of art so much more compelling. If art can be understood as an intensification of experience through a dramatizing frame, then the institutionalists reduce art only to the structuring frame, while the perceptualists only see the framed surface. The genius of Danto’s theory is manifest in the way he skilfully links both surface and depth, liberating art from the limits of surface appearances but respecting those appearances (as philosopher and as critic) for their interpretative meaning and depth without which they would not appear as they do to those who can rightly see them, just as the saint can see his stigmata as a divine mark of love rather than a mere blemish of the skin. I return, as you see to the rhetoric of theology that pervades Danto’s theory, suggesting that art is somehow a substitute, analogue, or expression of other-worldly religion. In his view, there is an ineliminable gap between art and life, between its sanctified transfigured objects and what he calls mere real things or (quoting Hegel) the prose of the world: an ineliminable divide between the otherworldly sacredness of the artistic and the profanity of real life.
This theological aura of Danto’s work has always enthralled me in a disturbing ambivalence of fascinated appreciation and distinct unease. As a secular Israeli who had suffered from the intensities of religious fanaticism and the disrespect of real life that religion’s love of superior realities -- of cities of god or divinely-endorsed settlements -- so often inspire, I was troubled by such theologizing of the artworld. I was worried that this transcendental religious language, no matter how emancipatory the intention, had dangers for the “this-worldy”, sensuous, body-centered, fun-lovingly profane and irreverent energies that had been unleashed in the cultural world of the sixties and seventies. This was perhaps most paradigmatically evident in popular arts that did not belong to the artworld of which Danto spoke in 1964, yet which I think profoundly influenced that artworld. Warhol’s Brillo boxes, in Danto’s brilliant interpretation, becomes the surprising icon of art’s transfiguration into otherworldliness, artworldliness.
But for myself, as a child of the sixties –influenced more by its music, sex, drugs, and mass-media visual culture than its museum and gallery art, I interpret Warhol in a different, more earthly way, as insisting on bringing art and life much closer together by showing the artistry in so-called ordinary objects, popular entertainments, and self-stylizing practices that were not seen as art in the artworld sense. Seeing his art through his colorful, stylized art of living at the Factory and Studio 54, I construed it as deflating the transcendental ideology of art shared by modernism and romanticism, while asserting that today’s most vital and important art is not in the museum but in the products, designs, and entertainments of everyday living: Campbell's Soup and Coca Cola, Elvis and Marilyn, Superman and Dick Tracey. In this interpretation, real Brillo boxes (like blue jeans, which Andy Warhol wished he had invented) don't need to be interpreted as art to become art, they already are art – attractive, expressive exemplars of graphic design, the field in which he first made his name. The message I got is that art needs to overcome its old-fashioned transcendental theology and absorb itself into the real world, a world effectively made and remade through human artistry in forms unrecognized by the artworld. Warhol declared that "making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art" proudly asserting that his "art had gone into the stream of commerce, out into the real world. It was very heady to be able to look and see our movie out there in the real world on a marquee instead of in there in the artworld."
This bringing art down from its transcendental pedestal into life can be interpreted cynically as a cynical iconoclastic deflation, but it can also be positively construed as investing life itself with the enriched meaning, critical care, and intensity of experience with which art is associated. Religious passion and beauty can be brought to earth, evident, as Zen recognizes, in the humblest of objects, untransfigured by the artworld. I am happy here to defer to Arthur’s superior knowledge of Andy Warhol, but if Arthur is also right that "The distinction between art and reality is absolute"(Beyond the Brillo Box 94, 96), then philosophy of art seems essentially confined to the artworld and has nothing to do with discerning and improving the opportunities of beauty and meaning in the real world. And if that is true, Arthur’s enormously inspiring work has provided a powerful reason for defining myself not narrowly as a philosopher of art, but as an aesthetic philosopher, as much concerned with the art of living (and its erotic pleasures that Duchamp wittily personified in Rrose Sélavy) as with artworld art.
AD: I certainly used a lot of religious language, though I’m about as far from a religious person as I suppose you could find, at least as secular as you Richard. But I feel nevertheless drawn to the conceptual questions that are raised by religion and Christianity, and I don’t know whether these problems really would exist if it hadn’t been for this incredible conception that Christianity put forward that God has got to be like a human, in fact has to be a human, has to be brought into the world by a human mother, has to bleed. For example the paintings of the circumcision, the first blood that is drawn are terribly important for Christianity because you’re establishing the humanity of Jesus, that he bleeds, and I suppose to carry the Christian concept a little bit further, that he really has to suffer. For whatever reason suffering is connected with wiping us clean of original sin. Actually has to suffer and as a human being would suffer. And I thought to myself that the problem of art and reality is a lot like the problem of Jesus and somebody that looks just like Jesus, that is to say, but this one happens to be a god. And the humanity is easy enough to show: it bleeds, or it suffers. But how do you show the divinity? That’s not so easy. And this is the Warhol problem exactly. The reality we can handle, but where does the art come from? That has to be invisible. And in a certain sense a matter of faith, you might say. And I don’t know any tradition in which that question could have arisen for art as it has in the Christian West, because after all those are the parameters in which we were.
And why I suppose, although this is another question entirely, why art has in consequence to be such an exalted kind of thing, what makes Warhol such a fascinating figure is that it’s exalted because it’s art, there’s not difference between it and let’s say the ordinary Brillo box. So I have to say that the Brillo box a little bit hijacked the whole question in that show at the Stable Gallery. There were 6 cartons as a matter of fact, there was Kellog’s corn flakes, there was Del Monte peach halves, there was Heinz’s Ketchup I think, there was Campbell’s Soup, there were 6 different boxes and all of them raised the same question that the Brillo box raised, they were all raising the same question, but nobody talked about any of the rest of them because the Brillo box happened to be a superior piece of design and that’s what James Harvey gets all the credit for the brilliant visual rhetoric with which he celebrates Brillo in that kind of thing.
So for me the religious language comes inevitably in discussing that. In the first page of the Transfiguration I use the actual language of the biblical language of the transfiguration where Christ shows himself bright and blistering, then I talk about like the urinal and the woman who read it said I will not have my saviour compared to a toilet, but that was impudence on my part but I was taking these questions so naturally, and I’d like to say one word to Thierry about his idea that if it’s not just pure art it’s nothing, and I think the urinal is charged, it’s not just pure art, it’s there because of the challenge that it mounts. It comes out of the tradition just as much as Warhol does. Warhol comes out of Pop Art, Duchamp comes out of Dada, and Dada was out to attack the values of the swine that caused WW1 and millions of wonderful people were killed and they said why should we make beauty for a ruling class like that ? We’re gonna make art that’s not beautiful, or anti beautiful, in a certain way. My paradigm for that is the Mona Lisa with a Moustache, where he desecrates this envelope, this exalted object by drawing a moustache on it, but I think the urinal does the same kind of thing. The criterion for him it’s true that his language when he talks about the ready made is that it should have no aesthetic distinction one way or another, but I think that that narrows the notion of aesthetic. It has an aesthetic, it’s just not the aesthetic of beauty as his patron thought it was, it was a very different kind of aesthetic
TD: That doesn’t make it into art.
AD: But when I say it was art when I first saw it is that for me it was art even though I was in no way part of the artworld at that point. I saw it from the perspective of a philosophical question. I saw it as: here are two things that are exactly alike but tremendously different. Because one is art and one is not.
TD: How did you know it was art?
AD: Because that’s what it was, it was in an art gallery. I was a person who was trying an epistemology and a philosophy of art, and here is reality and here is dream and there is no difference between them. Phenomenologically no difference between them and yet the differences are supposed to be momentous, so thinking in those terms from the perspective of somebody who’s obsessed with the questions of scepticism as were raised by figures like Sextus Empiricus and specifically Descartes, I thought if there are two things that are exactly alike and momentously different and this is art, and this is real, then where do we go from there? It was art only in the sense of a framework for a question of epistemology, practically, so I took it for granted.
TD: But that would be a great misunderstanding if we continued to rehearse our respective positions based on that, because we’re talking about two different things. When you say “the urinal is not nothing because it has certain aesthetic qualities or anti qualities and it was laid in with all sorts of things, Dadaism included”, I’m not talking about this.
You judge that this thing is art or you don’t. If you don’t then it isn’t art. Your two indiscernibles are two identical objects one of which is art and one of which is not. My indiscernibles is the same object twice. Once to judge it art, and once to judge that it is not art. It’s a totally different question. When you say that in the end what makes the difference between a Warhol Brillo box and Harvey’s Brillo box is a certain theory, and your sentence said “well that is what makes the difference”. I will go along with you to say that the theory, the kind of theory that I myself concocted in the 70s, that the theory will account for the difference perhaps, but the theory is not what makes the difference, it’s the judgment that makes the difference. So I’m coming back to you with the question: how do you know that this thing is art? Unless you accept the institutional theory of art and say “yes it was in an art gallery”.
AD: Let me recreate the experience, because you came a little too late to have had it.
TD: I grant you that! I took the precaution of granting that on paper because I know it was gonna come!
AD: Let me describe the Stable Gallery in 1964. It was in one of those classy east side white stone town houses. It was very classy, that’s high market real estate. And when you walk into that building, you have black and white tiles, there’s a staircase that goes up of an elegant sort, and you can still see it today because that building has since then been incorporated as the side entrance of the Whitney Museum. That’s the employee entrance on 74th street, just off Madison avenue. Now imagine going into that building, and you turn left, and you walk into what’s supposed to be an art gallery, and it’s piled up with Brillo boxes. It was like a surrealistic experience, it was like something if you remember, that film Dreams that money can buy by Hans Richter. It was like entering wonderland in a certain sense because it was so incongruent with the rest. It was a very powerful experience, so it wasn’t just an object, it was an object in a context, the context of the reality of the Stable Gallery.
Eleanor Ward, who was the dealer, the gallerist as they say today, she felt it was a desecration, there were mocking her by doing that. But the shock was very powerful. It was difficult to see it as anything but art for that reason it seems to me. It was an intense experience. In a way in which if you just saw the boxes alone I feel, you probably wouldn’t have felt that that has to be art. So you have to give the institutional theory that much credit even though as you say Richard, the contribution that that was making had nothing to do with surface quality. But these were not surface qualities, these were qualities derivative from displacement.
TD: Just one thing: now it’s interesting because you moved from the institutional theory and you told us it was a very powerful experience. Wasn’t that an aesthetic experience?
AD: Of course.
TD: So when I say that you hinge your theory on your initial aesthetic judgment, I’m right.
AD: Yeah, it was aesthetic for sure.
RS: But it was interpretive. If I may speak for you, although I also speak against you, I think Arthur’s understanding of “that is art” was immediately perceptual. He didn’t need to look at the catalogue, he saw it as art because he had digested so many theories of art where one of the ways of being art in one of the matrices is to shock, and you know this was after Duchamp, after Dada, so he could immediately experience the shock value, and interpret that as art without what at least in the Anglo US field we thought of as the aesthetic experience, in terms of beauty and consummation and harmony and building up. So there was an artworld-mediated immediate interpretation without needing to rely on a positive experience. I think Arthur Danto can have his version of the artworld where it’s immediately perceived through his mediation, I mean again this is why Bourdieu’s work is so much superior to George Dickie’s, because he explains how the institution educates the perceivers, so that the perceivers don’t need the institution in an immediate way, because they’ve already been trained to see the way the institution structures the perception, again with the religious analogy in the same way that a religious person immediately sees the religious meaning without having to say oh I’m in a church, oh I remember in catechism, such and such really is the host, and also without that reaction.
To come back to the religious issue - and it’s again a question because it’s not as famous as the Artworld I’d say - but Arthur Danto wrote a very lovely essay called upper west side Buddhism, where he talks about the influence of Zen as mediated by Suzuki, who spent some time at Columbia and had probably an important influence in the artworld through Cage and Merce Cunningham. The question is : can we understand art without the platonic Christian ontology. If we wanna say that there’s art in China and in Japan, very fine and developed art, without that difference between the real world and some sacralised transcendental realm, where art is different from ordinary life but different in a sense that it’s more special, it’s invested more with meaning, and this goes back to Thierry de Duve and this kind of Bauhaus ideology, I mean, is that possible? Can there be art without the ontological leap?
AD: One of the things that I think New York was ready for was the Brillo boxes. It had to be ready for it but I didn’t appreciate it at the time because it was only later that I realised the deep penetration into artistic culture of Suzuki’s ideas. I mean everybody came and it was the Duchamp-Suzuki conception that there doesn’t have to be anything remarkable about an object to be an art work, just as there doesn’t have to be anything remarkable about it for it to be a religious object.
That was the teaching of Zen, and in “the Artworld”, I used a passage from a Chinese writer that I learnt from Dr Suzuki – Ch’ing Yuan- where Ch’ing Yuan said When I was young, I saw mountains as mountains and waters as waters, and then when I became philosophically sophisticated I realised that mountains weren’t really mountains and that waters weren’t really waters, but now that I’ve found Zen, I realise again that mountains are mountains and waters are waters. And imagine 3 landscapes, 3 stages by Jin Yuan, and they all look alike, mountains and waters, mountains and waters, mountains and waters, but this is a Zen painting, and this is just an ordinary landscape, and this is what, this is the veil of Maia or something.
TD: Well but they wouldn’t look all alike to him.
AD: But that was the idea that I think Suzuki presented to people.
TD: This beautiful Zen story that you just told us actually illustrates perfectly what I mean by practicing aesthetics from the point of view of the moron, because the man in position 3 is back to position 1, position 3 is indiscernible from position 1.
TD: But now we’re not talking about indiscernibility of two objects anymore, but of two experiences, of two life experiences, of two life philosophies and so one. It’s the subjectivity that I’m interested in, and of course I grant you all the rest. It just throws light, without saying that anyone is better than the other, but their philosophical consequences are totally different. Of course the art theorist or the aesthetician is supposed to be more or less enlightened, but inasmuch as he adopts the point of view of the moron, he is like your Zen man in position 3 and 1 at the same time.
That is I deeply respect the opinion of the guy who says “fuck you, this is just a bloody box” or “this is just a bloody urinal, and I’m not going to let myself be intimidated by these people of the artworld”. So my sense of democracy, we’re all 3 democrats on this panel, profoundly so, but we justify our democracy differently, and that is how I would justify mine.
RS: And I guess I would say that in that third stage, the enlightened moron really does see things differently. He would say “those are Brillo boxes” but the meaning of Brillo box for him would be altogether different. And that difference, as you show very well in your work, is an experiential one, and not something that’s imposed by an artworld institution. We should open the floor for about 8 minutes of them.
In the Zen story I think your observation is incorrect. In the first story the subject and the object are distinct : the subject sees the mountains and the subject is distinct from the mountain. In the second story there’s confusion as to what is subject and object, I don’t know the difference anymore. And in the third story he sees the mountains as mountain, not as a mountain, so in other words the subject and object are united together through this change in vision. And so it’s not the same vision, [sentence missing] there’s an ontological shift.
AD: I think the important presupposition here is that as far as experience is concerned, they’re all alike or it really wouldn’t be the kind of parable that I take it to be. They’re all alike but deeply different. One is what philosophers would have called naïve realism, the second one would have been somebody who sees the world as a naïve realist but realises that that’s a curse: “If only I could escape from this world of Maia and into the realm of being”, and then the third one is the Zen picture. The differences are momentous but invisible, a conjunction that I like to employ, and I think that they really live in different worlds though the worlds are exactly the same. It would be kind of disillusioning if somebody said “well, I’m gonna go to heaven” and you go to heaven and it wounds up looking like 42nd street. The differences are invisible but you really earned your right to be here or something. I don’t know, the homiletician would solve that.
Q2: Can you talk about reality mimicking the viewer, in a sense? The question is about contemporary photography and the way that many use documentary photography. Today we see both documentary and fine art photography in the same context, that of the institution and of the museum, and for myself, I find it very difficult to know what I’m looking at sometimes, to know whether to have an aesthetic judgment about it, I don’t know whether the intension of the photographer was to deconstruct the documentary or construct reality. There seems to be a similarity in the readymade. The documentary photography and today’s art photography which is mimicking documentary but with very different intensions. Is that something that you’ve thought about?
AD: I’m not sure I got the question, it’s an observation more than a question. But I do think that the history of photography, there’s been a kind of dialectic between photography and art : was photography art or wasn’t it?
Stieglitz, who was the one who photographed Fountain, if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t know what it looked like, he admired Duchamp because he was challenging the authorities on art who wouldn’t consider photography art. So he felt that he and Duchamp were actually on the same side there. But there was that dialectic again. I think with Stieglitz, his photography did make an effort to be arty in some kind of way, and Steichen and the people in the Photo Secession in New York at that time were very involved in making artistic photographs in some way.
And then you get a revolution where you say it doesn’t have to be like that, you can begin to cherish a photograph just for its photographic qualities and begin to take from vernacular photography everything that you need, as for example in Cindy Sherman’s great work that you wouldn’t know the difference between what she did and some ordinary still. She told me that she used to find these stills in thrift shops in downtown New York where she bought her clothes there were these bins of old stills and she would look at them and try to figure out what the movie would have been about, what the story would have been about. She said they were 25 cents each and she would buy these things. That was vernacular photography, which she then turned into art without necessarily doing anything that would make them look like anything except stills. So I think that there are those parallels.
TD: There’s one other link between the readymade and the photograph, is that every photograph is a readymade drawing or painting. Among the origins of the readymades in Duchamp’s mind I think we ought to take that into account. That he as a painter felt like everybody else in the 19th century – threatened by the existence of photography, that is a machine that would do his job. But of course with his sense of irony, he turned the threat into an advantage and part of the subjects of the readymade is that it’s about photography. Not because readymades are photographs but on the contrary because photographs are readymades.
Q3: A lot of the talk was around faith and the language of faith, be it Christian or otherwise. Our visual culture today, after decades of staring away from issues of faith, seems to be putting up with them, whether it be films, , or comic strips as with the Danish cartoons, or in what we call high art going back to faith. What part does the aesthetic judgement have to play now, when it looks at this visual culture dealing with faith?
RS: One of the arguments for the view that there is still some sort of autonomy, or sense of autonomy of art is the sense that all sorts of things that would be censored for all kinds of reasons looks to the aesthetic as a device to save them. If we look historically, I’m a big believer in bringing art into life, although I’m very aware of the dangers, when I wrote about rap music it was before Ice T did Cop Killer and the Gangsta album, so when in the days of Grandmaster Flash, rap was both musically more interesting and also politically more progressive.
But in the long history of art, the aesthetic had a purpose of allowing all kinds of subjects that were critical of faith to actually get a purchase (?). It allowed people to paint naked women by putting them in a mythological Greek context, at a time when it would have been sacrilege to do nudes of women if they weren’t made remote in the form of Venus or some Greek heroine or nymph. So I think the role of the aesthetic is to allow expression of things that faith, dogma would not allow. One of the interesting questions is whether there is room for aesthetic censorship, i.e. censoring an artwork because it’s aesthetically bad rather than politically bad. There are cases of that even in this country, I think Ruskin destroyed a lot of drawings that he thought were aesthetically inferior. So I am addressing your question but I know I’m not satisfying you because I’m not going to make a statement. I haven’t looked at those cartoons, that were published in Copenhagen, but I think I know that there’s some big storm in France because Le Monde published them.
TD: It was France Soir.
RS: France Soir, ok. I think there are a lot of things that are more important than art and aesthetics, I don’t wanna say that aesthetics is a carte blanche for all sorts of hate speech. But what I do think that the aesthetic has done, and art has done, positively, is that it has allowed a space for all sorts of ideas to be expressed that historically couldn’t have been expressed, so in terms of my view of things, I justify historically a kind of cloisonnement or separation of art from real life but what I think we need to do now is to bring it back into real life, and I think there’s no way of avoiding aesthetic uses of art in politics and so it would be naïve for philosophers of aesthetics, which I think includes philosophy of art, to just say well art is its own autonomous domain and it should be kept out of the political issues. I think we all agree that there’s tremendous political power to art and art is also inevitably influenced by politics.
TD: The issue of faith itself as a philosophical problem is unfathomable, probably. Since the philosopher that I chose to be, the one that accompanies me in my endeavours is Kant, I am totally convinced that the definition of an aesthetic judgment may be the first totally secularised definition of faith. I’m serious, but I’m not gonna argue. Faith as opposed to belief. The only thing I want you to understand at this point, it’s absolutely necessary: faith is an act, belief is a state. Belief is for me superstition. Faith requires an act of faith, and an act of faith is by definition a declaration of faith, that is you make your faith public and in that sense it is something like a testimony of confidence in the other. To have faith is to have confidence, right? And you cannot have confidence in yourself, it’s also addressed to the other. So that’s enough for the basic thing, that is why the religious issue is so complicated that we cannot look at it from simply what is coming back at us and the return of the religious that is surrounding us everywhere, for which most of us, at least the 3 of us on the panel I’m sure, are rather afraid of. Ok? So that’s one thing I want to say as far as my convictions about philosophy are concerned.
The second thing is historical. We have like, how old is art? At least as old as humanity. Or at least as old as the minute people began to bury their dead; at that point you have the first manifestations of art. That’s at least 40 thousand years old. So you draw a line, 40 000 millimetres let’s say. And modernity is the last 200 years; that’s 2 centimetres. That’s nothing. So for all that duration, art and religion were together. High art was religious art. Even when it’s ornamental art, abstract art in some cultures, it was laden with symbols, and therefore it had this spiritual thing. And then we killed God 200 years ago with the French revolution and Nietzsche saying God is dead. So we don’t have the distance to imagine at this point whether the thing that we have been calling art for that long will survive the death of God. I don’t know, I really don’t know. What I am convinced of is that modernity is a struggle for that deep question. And whether God will come back and people of the future will return to religion I don’t know either. At this point the signs go in all directions. So that’s all I wanted to say to address that issue. But I wanted to say one more thing which gets us back to the Brillo boxes. I’ve said something very serious and now I want to say something very funny. Do you remember Arthur when we were at this Bielefeld conference around you and your work, when Karl Lüdeking, our common friend invited you and a number of other friends; and then Boris Groys said something fantastic: that Christ had done his second coming in the shape of a Brillo box?
AD: He knocked us out!
TD: He knocked us out and I think there is some deep, deep truth in there, all faiths and religious beliefs set aside, and I think that has to do with the theory of the image, that you know, that I am convinced, you know I’m not gonna talk about that, but just two things.
At that conference, many important things happened. One of them was that, and one of them was Martin Seel, finally yielding after having resisted to you for a number of years and finally saying that perhaps you’ve got it right: there is an essence of art, you’ve put your finger on the ontological definition of art when you say “it’s embodied-aboutness”. But embodied-aboutness – I have to jog my memory but it’s very interesting with regards to this debate, you quote Richard Rorty as saying that humans are nothing but “incarnated vocabularies”?
RS: That’s right.
TD: So between incarnated vocabularies, the way Rorty defines that human beings, and embodied-aboutness regarding the object, the similarity is enormous. In one case you define people and in the other you define objects. So that your indiscernibles being objects, my indiscernibles being the subjective judgement of people, somehow we are talking about the same thing even though we are not talking about the same thing. But in the end what I think your work is deeply involved with, and that is what touches me, moves me, interests me also, the most, is that you are talking about the human condition all the time. That’s what you’re talking about. You’re not talking about Brillo boxes and… and of course I am persuaded that art also talks about the human condition, at a deep level, so we will agree with that.
And you are obsessed with this idea of embodied meanings, and to me these are extremely interesting questions that your approach not only works in relations with the works of art but also elsewhere in your writings, and I’m thinking in an exemplary fashion of that book called The Body-Body Problem, where finally, everything put to rest it’s not the body-mind problem that’s the problem it’s the body-body problem, given that we are incarnated thoughts, let us leave all these neurosciences debate for the specialists but we are incarnated thoughts and it’s the difference between the body and the body, but I’ll let you talk about that subject. So we went from religion to secular humanism.
RS: And the question is how divine is that and what sort of divinity.
TD: I don’t give a shit about divine at all.
RS: Cos that’s really the basic issue about having a sense of humanity that is deep and important without having to make it hang from some transcendental realm in any ontological way.
TD: Please don’t use the word transcendental –
RS: I’m not the one who introduces the religious Christian vocabulary!
TD: No but let’s just make sure that the audience understands that Kant’s transcendental is not Walt Whitman’s transcendental. Transcendental for Kant means it’s an idea. I cannot prove it, it’s just an idea. So we use the word transcendental differently.
RS: No of course. And I wasn’t talking about Kant I was talking about some kind of religious transcendental. You know I mean the layman’s sense.
Transcript by Emilie L’Hôte published in Cahiers philosophiques 131, « Marcel Duchamp », SCÉRÉN-CNDP, 2012.