06 October 2007

Notes to Dave Hickey

I was looking through a few old sketchbooks the other day and came across these notes I'd taken at lectures given by Dave Hickey. I've actually photocopied these notes for people before, so they've been of some value to me, and others. In transcribing them I've attempted to follow my rather idiosyncratic mode of note taking--arrows, wacky lines and all.

Dallas Museum of Art
16 November 1998

not what causes art, but the consequences

Edward Ruscha “Well, I may be misinterpreting it myself.”

Art & writing—creates the occasion for argument about what [the artwork] might have meant

each era gets the art world it deserves

brings us together so we can sort ourselves out

a-historical culture—no change in A[rt]
revolutionary culture—change in A[rt]

change from an iconic to a representative art
from presence to likenessstands for absence

embodied meaning—relationship of one sign to things like it
designative meaning—word refers to something unlike it

icon—presence, incarnation

real art world (ours) begins in the 16th century

Salvatore & Guido—Raphael and Michelangelo
Sal: I like the Raphael better
Guido: How can you like it better? Michelangelo is from an old family. Raphael is a street kid.

Discourse begins, has nothing to do with what paintings mean, has to do with economic conditions

Idiosyncratic Styles

commercial competitiveness
distinct styles embody identical info

Sal likes that object best. Meaning is unimportant.

[the artwork is] invested w/ secular grace by the beholder

developed constituencies of people who talked about vaina
before the discourse was before [in front of] the work of art

“Did you see Fra. Angelico’s angels? Totally bitchin’, there’s some stuff there I can steal.”
years later:
“Couldn’t we replace this?”

1 individual person saying “we’ll keep it, we’ll preserve it.”
do we like it? is it worth saving?
that is how works are preserved.

Botticelli stuck in the basement
pre-Raphaelites bring it out

has to do with how works of art are invested with value from without

[works of art] have no intrinsic value
meanings come from without

If we like how something looks, but not what it means,
so we change what it means

oil glaze—to represent the incarnate word
later: look at the realism, [the] divine humanism of [the] Renaissance
look at the push-pull
crack it up with another meaning

paintings have no meaning
What are we arguing about?
we’re arguing about what we belive in, what we desire

communities of desire

object serve as locus of external endowments of value and meaning

Libby [Lumpkin] “we artist historians study how objects look, physicists study objects.
we ascribe meaning”

the interesting thing about the present moment is not that art is becoming more commercial, but that the commercial is becoming more artistic. the president drinks Coke, I drink Coke, if the Queen of England wants a Coke, it has to be a Coke, ‘cause nothing else will do.

democracy of objects
a world of originals infinitely dispersed

hard for Europeans; deeply hierarchical
meaning displaced—irony—vertical repression

we [Americans] can’t do irony,
we do cool

[effortlessly] asserting yourself among peers
being who you are and not making a big deal of it

George Washington—talk about what he did

cool is an idea of incarnation

Monica Vitti—premodern creator

embodying something but not insisting upon it

The Americans Daniel Boorstin

all these diverse Americans:
people talk about their Ford
discourse of icons that hold the country together & help us sort ourselves out
discourse of value

world he grew up into [there were] Stones people & Beatles people, George Clinton people & Motown people

morality: Paul & Keith

non-exclusive communities

It didn’t matter what Mick meant or what Lennon meant, it was the discourse that mattered

Jasper Johns—first to understand that meaning and value come from with out:
flag—what matters is who salutes it

when the talk stops the object stops being art & becomes an artifact, unless it’s rescued

what’s the difference between The Simpsons and Frank Sellar(?)?
the audience

Whole genres can move from high to low or low to high

“high” art causes writing instead of talk

demonizes writing:
institutional and bureaucratic discourse

metaphysics of presence

painting and sculpture function like a high popular art, like jazz

[there is] art that causes writing and art that causes talk.
writing is there to control the talk.
writing wins because the talk goes away.

you don’t look at Las Meninas and say “wow, I think I’ll go home and write something about it.”


Peter Saul—“It’s hard to keep them ugly. My goal is to come back 50 years after I’m dead and find two people standing in front of my paintings screaming at each other.”

things that survive:
raw information
less privative/reductive survives

reductive force=Donald Judd

[the] first time you like a work of art you Love what it doesn’t do.
This is great; this young woman is not doing anything I hate.
but the stuff that lasts has other qualities.

that which survives is that which allows itself to reallegorization
reductive art doesn’t have the staying power
at first you like it ‘cause it’s fresh (Marylin)

discourse is about “conflict of interest.”
there is no disinterested position from which to see the world.

90% poll watchers and 10% voters
If everyone in the art world works for it disinterestedly, what’s to be bought & sold or done?

Duchamp—artist as liberal artist
arts of the mind versus arts of the hand

Johns [&] Warhol:
carefully aimed at subverting the discourse

If three people unrelated to the artist don’t call it art, I don’t think it is


with the current art world we deal with things with the attention span of AM radio

over heard talking to Vernon Fisher before [the talk]:
“…and what it’s done is it’s created a whole generation of students who think that painting is pinko.”

Blanton 20th Century Series
1 November 2001

Beaux-Arts tradition

“single source” tradition

way of looking at art that disregards the intentions of the artist

artworks: occasions for creating new communities

competing ataliers (subcontractors) unique styles

repeats Guido and Salvatore story

embodiment of values
not talking about content, but composition & XXXX

“this is art”—look at this in the context of all the other art objects you’ve seen

we don’t study objects,
physicists study objects.
we study the way objects look.
[Libby Lumpkin again]

representation of constituency
embodiment of values

Works do not have “content”
they are not containers.
they have a subject in a grammatical sense.

subject vs. attribute
which is which

roots & occasions of abstract art in [the] U.S.

(Philip Fisher, Still the New World)


USA=blandness, assimilation, generalization

20s identity politics

Germanic retribalization
tribal feudalism
(tribal cultural identity)

early 20th century
“people could have their own culture & stay the hell out of ours”

reaction [coupled with assimilation]

(generalization & abstraction)
hearths about which the country could gather

election (constituency)
(we elect abstract presidents, why not abstract art?)
“We will root out the evil ones who hide.”
What the hell? Is this George Bush and the Goblet of Fire?

American artists as redeemed commercial illustrators
synthetic nature of painting
(a Rothko is always a hearth or a landscape)
(de Kooning, pictorial) (Pollock, dance of the artist)

objective correlatives in a public discourse of value
(all about the people in front of the painting, not the ones behind them)

writing & language in nonlinguistic aspects: process, image

a painting with a painting over it with another painting painting it out

occassions for discourse
could you imagine a misinterpretation for these paintings?

David Reed
freedom dramatized and designed.

art presented as expression of community
usually exclusive
(has anyone ever used “community” as a permissive term?)

statistical generalization of a complex culture

what wins never wins for long

the only works that live are those that are defined as beautiful or ugly.
we don’t notice/see what’s in between: the normative


“If we’re not self interested we’re dead, or soon will be.”

“nothing is profoundly what we want it to be”

give absence presence

the idea of the artist is a fiction we create to talk about the works.

Biography is embodiment of critical attitude

Ed, how can you stand that everybody misinterprets your art?”
“Hey, I may be misinterpreting it myself.”

“the marketplace”
a place where people like art more than money


Mediterranean [culture] vs. Germanic [culture]

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