j w stewart
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The Ideal Artist (a satire)

The following was written in reaction to a symposium
and exhibition taking place at the Espace Regional de la Creation
Contemporaine Provence-Alpes in Marseilles on the subject of "The Ideal Artist".
Leading critical and curatorial figures were invited to present papers
and join in discussions over three days March 1 to 4, 1994.

The Ideal Artist is a text.
At least for the critic the Ideal Artist is a text.
We have heard so often that "it all comes down to the work". In our normal critical practice appreciation follows from the interpretation of a single work, proceeds to a body of work and thence to completion in the circumscription of an oeuvre. In an attempt to conceive of the ideal artist I will propose that this process of description, interpretation and contextualization of the work can in effect become the artist.

I would propose to radically call into question the immutability of the foundation of praxis on which traditional interpretive discourse is situated. These crumbling foundations support systems of power that authorise or block by turns what can be said about art. The continual shifting ground of discourse is mainly due to an entropic relationship of consequent and consecutive analytic methodology to the pansyncretic simultaneity and multiplicity of art practices in the world. The indifference of art practice to theory cannot be resolved. If art practice and critical theory cannot, by their very natures, be aligned, then ultimately our efforts can only lead to false conciousness.

The problematic of representing what is "seen" and "seeing" and to have this representation conform to theoretical constructs which are formed in and follow the structure of words and of language is the knot of greatest difficulty confronting discourse. That which is seen, by the nature of seeing and looking include perceptual events and neuronal phenomena which are difficult to reify within the crystaline lattice of letters, words, phrases and sentences and the conceptual energy which flows through them, critical thought.

In defining a model of "ideal artist" we must distinguish it from what I term "the actual artist". In saying that The Ideal Artist is a text it must be understood that the artist of my initial proposition is not the subject of the text but inhabits it. A text eliminates epistemological anomalies encountered in attempting to realize a consistent and unified appreciation of a body of work and by extension the creative force behind it. An incorporeal presence, the artist can be discerned by reading between the lines. For the purposes of critical discourse the artist is thus implicit in the work. So the ideal artist's profile and silhouette need not go beyond the words "profile" and "silhouette".

Having proposed that The Ideal Artist be a creature whose existence depends on the descriptions of the work an opportunity arises to eliminate another normally inescapable burden. Given an artist who exists only within the description of the artwork and, in order to survive critically we should do without the artifact itself, and rely solely on description. It is pointless to idealize the artist without making other critical adjustments which follow from this positioning.

It is ironic that the artist's traditional recourse in attempting to derail or block critical enquiry by declaring that "I am my work" is here the artist's own undoing. Turnabout is fair play. For while an artist who is only an implication in a text may seem a poor thing beside the reality of a human being, the current exercise is to define an ideal of the artist strictly from the point of view and according to the needs of criticism.

In specifying such an incorporeal artist, some among us may feel a certain nostalgia for the "actual artist". I believe that this reflex is a manifestation of the dependence and instability from which criticism has long suffered. Criticism in contrast to philosophy has always required a subject. Efforts in "general criticism" can only palliate this situation, in defining our ideal we must be careful to constitute a regime that is truly empowering.

While the advent of The Ideal Artist may require a very rigorous praxis, it is useful to consider for a moment what we have been dealing with, The Actual Artist. The principal question raised by the example of the typical actual artist is that of a "volitional gap".

An actual artist may have an imperfect or idiosyncratic grasp of theoretical issues, or may indulge in subjective hybridizations of conceptual precepts, creating a toxic cocktail of issues to be disposed of. In the wrong hands the efficacy of theory may also be compromised by the introduction of things of a different nature, adulterating it with visual values which language and description cannot accomodate.

The influence of socialization on the conciousness of the typical actual artist can never be trusted to have penetrated and totally displaced perceptual and cognitive functions which comprise mechanisms other than language, or even pre-language or the ur-grammar which underlies all languages*. So the artifacts produced by artists can comprise elements of the purely visual which may defy the grasp of description. In any event, however socialized the artist and mediated the conception its expression as visual art will reconvert it and reinsert purely visual values by the very process of its making. In being made actual, aspects of an artifact's physicality and prescence are created which in acting on the viewers' nervous systems set up resonances at many levels; from perception to conciousness; from the thalamus to the cerebral cortex, thus compromising the ideal sought.

Even artists who claim to make art according to theoretical formulations may be deceiving themselves and be deriving unavowed gratification from elements of a purely visual nature. Any complete critical assessment of such work would have to take this into account or be inadequate. Another possibility is deception on the part of the actual artist who may strategically declare a theoretical adherence for social, political or material advantage while being secretly indifferent and indulging private imperatives and fulfillments in the tactile, physical or visual manifestations of the making of, or in the affects of, the completed works.

But it is just such difficulties we must grapple with when asked to treat the concept of an Ideal Artist.

Without presuming to supplant art-practice based critical approaches, in the interests of defining the ideal we have come here to discuss, I propose a discipline of what I term "authorial postulates". These constructs of works, of bodies of work and of implied generative conciousnesses [in postulated biographies derived by employing probabilistic rules] would spring from theory, would serve to bookstrate theory. The generative conciousness implied by and derived from the posited works would in extention define a biography of a postulated author. Fully harmonized with theory, these authorial postulates can become a powerful tool in assessing actual art practice and in guiding discourse. In this way an epistemic superstructure of ideal works and authors affords art criticism the conceptual constant nescessary to an autonomous discipline.

Such a discipline would not be intended to bracket out the milieu of actuality, or exclude examination of the ongoing formative effects of art practice on discourse. It is designed to create scales against which actuality can be measured. Tied to actuality, art-based criticism can only be historicist. But actuality has veiled the historical character of art scolarship's entanglements with modernity and has therefore left unexamined its own critical and theoretical dependence on actualist assumptions as well as the cultural conditions that produce, sustain and validate them.

The intractability of the products of the artist, what might be termed its phenomenological concretion, from the point of view of theory has been the (secret) curse of criticism. In seeking our ideal we must confront what is the main impediment to the emancipation of criticism where it addresses art practice.

* Recent research in neurology and cognition show strong evidence of links between the visual cortex and the cerebral cortex which are not dependent on symbol formation and language. Visual impulses have been thought to be in all cases confined to the more primitive precincts of the brain stem. Some form of conversion into symbolic systematization or filtering through experiential matrices has heretofore been thought a prerequisite to access to the higher lobes. The access of visual impulses to the higher functions is now thought to be at times much more direct.

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