Keith Arnatt

Art as an Act of Omission


Not on display

Keith Arnatt 1930–2008
Printed paper on board
Image: 599 × 504 mm
frame: 650 × 570 × 30 mm
Transferred from Tate Archive 2010


The work Art as an Act of Omission 1971 quotes 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? Arnatt’s presentation of this text has taken a number of forms – here it is printed onto a single panel for wall display, but it also exists as a typed or printed card that Arnatt sent to close friends and colleagues, examples of which can be found in Tate Archive (TGA 830.2.1.12 is a typed postcard to the critic Charles Harrison, postmarked March 1971; TGA 786.5.2.6 is a printed postcard sent to the critic Barbara Reise – undated but sent later, most likely in the same year). It was also reproduced on the back cover of the September 1971 issue of the German art magazine Interfunktionen.

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 (Television Interference Project) 1969 (Tate T01747). In 1972 the latter work was exhibited as part of Arnatt’s participation in Seven Exhibitions at the Tate Gallery with the title The Disappearance of the Artist. Later in 1970 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 839.12.1.11).

Art as an Act of Omission is one of a group of existing materials that were proposed by Keith Arnatt at the time of his participation in Seven Exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, London in 1972. Other works that were exhibited alongside it included 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, exhibited with the title Tate Work), Rejected Proposal for the Peter Stuyvesant ‘City Sculpture Project’ (For Cardiff City) 1972 (Tate P13141), Self-Burial (Television Interference Project) 1969 (Tate T01747, exhibited with the title The Disappearance of the Artist), 2448000–0000000 1969/1972 (described as ‘an “exhibition” of the duration of the exhibition by the following means: a digital count-down system will count down the duration of the exhibition in seconds’), Type-Token 1970, Art and Egocentricity – a perlocutionary act? 1971 and Tate Gallery Staff Exhibition 1972. The content of the exhibition changed during its run. Because of widespread power-cuts at the start of the exhibition, 2448000–0000000 was initially replaced by Tate Gallery Staff Exhibition, though this – a presentation of the staff cards of all employees of the gallery – was removed after three days and it is thought that 2448000–0000000 was activated on the seventh day of the exhibition. In their range, the works brought together as Arnatt’s presentation for Seven Exhibitions illustrate the move in his work from the making of situational sculptures to a documentation of actions 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 work was transferred from the Tate Gallery Archive in 2010.

Further reading
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.
Conceptual Art in Britain 1964–1979, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2016, p.48, reproduced p.49.

Andrew Wilson
May 2010
Revised February and July 2019, December 2020

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