Questions from Paul Ramirez-Jonas

I was very excited by my 36 hours in Portland. Could you do me a favor. Could you forward this email to everyone, expressing my thanks, and also to communicate these questions I wrote on the plane. They come from our discussion last night. I also included a PDF of the text by Michael Warner.


1.      How many viewers are enough?
2.      Is one viewer enough?
3.      Are ten viewers enough?
4.      Are a hundred viewers enough?
5.      Are a thousand viewers enough?
6.      Are a hundred thousand viewers enough?
7.      Are a million viewers too many?
8.      Can art change the world?
9.      Can art change one viewer?
10.     What is success?
11.     Am I an author?
12.     Am I a reader?
13.     If I am a reader, don’t i have more in common with the public than with the artists?
14.     If I am only a reader of pre-existing texts, who are the authors?
15.     Can there be an author-public?
16.     Conversely, can there be a public-author?
17.     Can a work make itself?
18.     Can a text write itself?
19.     Who gets to inscribe public space permanently?
20.     Whose voice is it in a monument?
21.     Whose words?
22.     How long does an artwork have to last to be permanent?
23.     How long can an artwork last and still be ephemeral?
24.     Is there a temporal dimension to the world wide web?
25.     Is there a temporal dimension to ideas?
26.     Where do ideas go when they die?
Where do actions go when they are over?
27.     Who am I?
28.     Am I you?
29.     How much of me is in you?
30.     How different am I from you?
31.     If we are 99% alike, is my artwork your artwork?
32.     Whose words?
33.     Whose voice?
34.     Can we make things with words?
35.     Can apathy be emancipatory?
36.     Can participation be meaningless?
37.     Can there be passive engagement?
38.     Why didn’t Gandhi change the whole world?
39.     Can I believe in democracy if I don’t believe in equality?
40.     How can we reconcile equality with individuality? Aren’t they in opposition?
41.     Can I make publics?
42.     Is making publics enough?
43.     Are these desperate times?
44.     If reading is more creative than writing, what is voice?
45.     Is reading out loud enough engagement?
46.     Where is the line between interaction and emancipation?
47.     How can making art be part of democracy?
48.     Can democracy exist only in discussion but not in action?
49.     Where the post-modernists wrong?
50.     Is it better to have faith even while we know we are doomed?
51.     How can one advocate for faith when one has none?
52.     In other words, what is the difference between hope and faith?
53.     What is the difference between publishing and broadcasting?
54.     Are pedestals methods of publishing or of broadcasting?
55.     How about frames?
56.     How about screens?
57.     This or that?
58.     This and that?
59.     If the state speaks through stone and bronze, what is our material?
60.     How can I become we?
61.     What is a public?
62.     What is its shape?
63.     Can our stories ever enter history?
64.     If our stories enter history, en masse, is that the end of history?
65.     Why can’t I accept death?
66.     Why will my work outlive me?
67.     What do I do with that resentment?
68.     Are we a life form? Or is our culture the life form, while we are mere organs that sustain it?
69.     Can organs be authors?
70.     Are we autonomous?
71.     Are we individuals?
72.     Are we a community?
73.     Is a community alive or dead?
74.     How about sourdough?
75.     what is a public?
76.     Why are humans such horrible creatures?
77.     Can you be a democrat and a misanthrope as well?
78.     Why be funny?
79.     How can I stop being funny?
80.     Is it true that God makes one out of every 10 jews funny?
81.     Is that to make it more bearable for the other 9?
82.     Am I sincere?
83.     Can I grow?
84.     Can I erase myself?
85.     Can the artwork make itself?
86.     How long is forever?
87.     What materials are eveready for new impressions?
88.     Can words be mirrors?
89.     Can we really make things with words?
90.     Can we make mirrors?
91.     Is making coercive?
92.     Always?
93.     Without modernism, what is rigor in the arts?
94.     What is public?
95.     What is to make public?
96.     Why is it that we never speak of democracy in relation to making art?
97.     Do we believe that all viewers equal in front of the work?
98.     Do all viewers have the same rights in relation to the work?
99.     Are we equal in front of an artwork?
100.    Are we brothers in front of an artwork?
101.    Are we free in front of an artwork?
102.    Do we have rights in front of an artwork?
103.    What are these rights? Are they inalienable?
104.    Can we breathe together in front of an artwork?
105.    Can we only be bound through culture, texts, objects, i.e. by what we make?

One thing is for sure… a text may have no author, but it cannot read itself.

Week 6 (gasp!)

Essay Assignment for First-Years

Write a 1-2 page essay on a subject of your choice that develops a single theme or idea. Analyzing a particular work of an artist (yourself or another), writer, filmmaker, etc. may be a good lens through which to work. Alternatively, you may choose to write about a recent event, a personal experience, a memory… Though it is not a requirement, it may be useful to think about your choice in terms of your program work and current research.

In choosing what you will write about and how to structure your piece, consider the difference, in formal art analysis, between subject and content. The subject of a Dutch vanitas painting may be a still life with flowers or a bowl of fruit. The content, however, would be the brevity of life, the futility of all earthly striving, etc. In two of the essays we are reading, Paul Chan and Thomas Hirschhorn ostensibly write about the philosophy of Jacques Rancière. But their point is not so much to explicate Rancière’s thought; rather they examine their own relationships to Rancière’s work to express personal statements about art (focusing on one or two ideas).

To help you decide on an approach, think about the essays we have read in class (including the readings at the beginning of the term):

  • What were the main points?
  • Can you identify subject and content as separate elements?
  • What kinds of examples, anecdotes, images or metaphors were used to illustrate and/or tie things together?
  • What was the point of entry and how did the writer take you through? Can you trace the pattern of movement of ideas, images, etc. from the beginning to the end?
  • What kind of language was used (active, passive, first-person, etc.)?
  • Was the work engaging? Why or why not?

Feel free to experiment with forms of organization, style and voice—but remember that you want to write something that is clear and compelling.

When you have chosen a subject, spend some time focusing your ideas. A good way to start is through a free-write. Begin with what you already know about your subject and go from there. Do necessary research and expand. Then take a look at your first draft with an eye toward structure. Don’t try to say too much. Clearly state the point you are trying to make, and organize your writing around that.

Develop examples, metaphors, observations and feelings. Use this as an occasion for personal reflection. What is interesting about your subject? Why do you care? Why should your reader care?

Divide your paper into paragraphs. Though you may want to do something that messes with a classic essay form, your piece should not be a random free-flow of ideas. It needs to grab the interest of the reader and present ideas in a clear, concise, and cogent manner.

Review your work at the sentence level. Use good sentence structure. Do not pack your sentences full of ideas; keep them focused. Fragments can work in a conversational tone, but be aware of and ready to justify the stylistic choices that you make. Varied sentence length and structure keeps readers engaged.

Choose language that expresses your meaning. Simplicity brings clarity (read the George Orwell post below). Use language that fits your subject.

Read your draft out loud several times to consider the rhythm and sound of words. Listen to yourself as you read to see if you are making sense, if your sequence and transitions are working.

Take your draft through at least two revisions. Bring 2 copies + one question for your readers to class on 2/10.

Week Five

On February 3, we will meet as usual for the 3-5 pm class. Readings for first-years are on the course homepage, with the exception of “Her Kindling Voice: The Artist Interview According to Louise Lawler,” by Rhea Anastas in TEXTE ZUR KUNST. The accompanying assignment is to draft the first version of the interview for the (so-called) Monograph Project (maybe now more like the “Polygraph Project”?).

THERE WILL BE NO 6-8PM CLASS MEETING ON FEBRUARY 3 due to the preview reception at Elizabeth Leach Gallery for Re-Present: Pat Boas, Adam Chapman, Isaac Layman, Joe Park and Xiaoze Xie.

Second-year students turn in your Project Statement outlines to my mailbox by Monday, February 1 (if you haven’t already given them to me). Your assignment for February 10 is to complete a full rough draft of your statement (see the handout from last class, available on the course homepage) and to read Seth Price’s “Dispersion” (pdf in the readings folder on course home page, also available widely on the web).

In Numbers at X Initiative

In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists

This exhibition represents the first serious effort to define a neglected art form—the serial publication.  Artists have long seized on magazines and postcards to create new kinds of art, often the most avant-garde of its time. The exhibition will survey these works—from Wallace Berman’s Semina through Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots, Robert Heinecken’s modified Periodicals, the Japanese Provoke group, to Raymond Pettibon’s Tripping Corpse and Maurizio Cattelan’s Permanent Food—and will offer a glimpse of rare works by Continuous Project, and a special appearance by North Drive Press. These works have had a profound effect on a diverse range of contemporary artists—such as Terence Koh, Tom Sachs, Scott Hug, and Roni Horn—who have embraced the form and contributed to an explosion of new artists’ publications. The fully illustrated 450-page reference book, In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955, edited by Andrew Roth and Philip Aarons documents the histories of 60 such publications, alongside completely illustrated bibliographies by Victor Brand and essays and interviews by Clive Phillpot, Nancy Princethal and others.

X is a not-for-profit initiative of the global contemporary art community that will exist for one year and present exhibitions and programming. Advised by a 50+ advisory board comprised of artists, curators, museum professionals, gallerists, collectors, art historians and critics, X is reaching across traditional boundaries to form a consortium interested in responding quickly to the major philosophical and economic shifts impacting culture.

George Orwell’s Rules

Check out the NPR essay by Lawrence Wright (audio and written) on George Orwell’s rules for clarity in writing, in which Wright cites Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.”

Orwell’s proposition is that modern English, especially written English, is so corrupted by bad habits that it has become impossible to think clearly. The main enemy, he believed, was insincerity, which hides behind the long words and empty phrases that stand between what is said and what is really meant.

A scrupulous writer, Orwell notes, will ask himself: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What fresh image will make it clearer? Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?


Orwell’s candor, his steadiness, his stern and scrupulous impartiality are qualities that make this essay still sound contemporary and urgent, at a time when the reputation of so many of his contemporaries has faded. I think the secret of Orwell’s timelessness is that he doesn’t seek to please or entertain; instead, he captures the reader with a style as intimate and frank as a handshake. It is that quality of common humanity that makes his essay so luminous and his voice so familiar.

A pdf of the full “Politics and the English Language” can be found at the link under the book cover to the left of Wright’s essay.

Wright does not enumerate Orwell’s six rules, but here they are:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Not exactly a manifesto, but some words on abstraction

Saccoccio, Jackie. “What State Abstraction, Week 1: Dan Walsh & Amy Sillman” Bomblog November 20, 2009,

What State Abstraction

Week 1: Dan Walsh & Amy Sillman

By Jackie Saccoccio

Earlier this year I posed a question to 12 admired painters: “What is the current state of abstraction?” The following is a collection of their responses, spanning the absurd, the analytical, and the visionary, all linked by an undercurrent of curiosity for the unknown.

In this climate of hyper-referential non-paint(ed) abstraction, where critical relevance relies on a connection to an established idea of a preexisting form, the focus of many of these artists on the undiscovered that awaits them in their studios is—despite or because of the critical nature of their investigation—a welcome shift.

Dystopic commonalities weave together occasionally, but seldom linger. They reflect the very lack of established rules and boundaries that many of these artists cite as the reason they choose abstraction. Jessica Dickinson describes this openness as a result of the recent debunking of the meta-narrative myth that followed abstraction in the 20th century. Philip Taaffe speaks of abstraction as a place for synthesis, where multiple frameworks (cultural, intellectual, gestural) can converge. Dan Walsh guides us along a rollercoaster ride of abstractions possibilities, from a place of absolute freedom to wasteland. Embracing the farcical, Steve DiBenedetto conducts a conversation with himself on the pros and cons of committing to an abstract painting. An epistolary contribution from Amy Sillman announces a breakup with abstraction. Keltie Ferris and Carroll Dunham take an objective stance and divide the spectrum of abstraction into camps, to name a few.

To coin any type of real consensus from these spirited comments seems artificial given the nature of the responses. They sizzle in their dissimilarity, conveying the mercurial ground that abstraction in painting still, and again, provides. Check back weekly for responses to Jackie’s question.

Dan Walsh and Amy Sillman

Dan Walsh

Abstraction is historically about essences, intuitions; something one cannot put into words. But today it seems like everything can be put into words. This has certainly diluted abstraction’s position and mystery. Although what distinguishes it from other forms is no longer clear, we continue to embrace it. Still, I would say abstraction is alive and well. One can exist there with absolute freedom; there are no more rules or ideologies to uphold or hierarchies to respect. And the formal has shown itself to be an incredibly flexible vocabulary—any idea can stick to it. I think this is just what we wanted: to have many ways to understand abstraction, history, and the world.

On the other hand, with contents interchangeable and contexts so fluid, how can abstraction be meaningful, significant? Would not a “relevant” work today be too didactic? I don’t doubt that a commitment to painting/art has its rewards. A sensibility’s journey into historical awareness and clarity of expression is very meaningful—think of Morandi. But today, aren’t we more concerned with the cultural status of abstraction, not the health of the artist’s activity?

Something has to be at stake in the studio. But what is there to believe in? Exactly what we had to give up in order to continue is now haunting us. Idealism is still at the core of making an abstract painting. I am certainly not going to propose restoring it to its past glory, or mourn its loss. But can we work there without giving in to the gratuitous quotation? Maybe just wrestling one’s work from the grips of codification and determinism is good enough. Intention and embodiment still seem to have more traction than the reflection of culture.

Wait! I changed my mind. Abstraction today is an anemic wasteland; but for me, it’s still the best vehicle with which to think.

Amy Silman

Dear Jackie,

I guess you didn’t know this but me and Abstraction broke up!!!!! Last summer!!!! Well, I mean, I’ve been feeling like kind of confused for a long time, like years. I’m friends with all of A’s friends and stuff, and I think A’s really cool and I totally learned a LOT from A, but you know what? I don’t want to say anything bad about A but I have to TOTALLY MOVE ON with my LIFE. I started to really feel like A’s been holding me back and even like kind of manipulative. I mean, when I moved to NYC it was kind of incredible to get to know A … but you know what? I am super worried that when you get really to the core of things, A is just super conceited and can’t talk to me. I feel really bad saying this but I KIND OF WONDER sometimes if A is just DEAD INSIDE. I don’t know, maybe A is like a meal ticket for me. I mean, I get invited to a lot of shows and things because of A, but when I’m there, A just kind of talks to other people. Like I don’t feel A can really concentrate on one person at a time—A always addresses the whole room, if you know what I mean. I mean, it’s not like Representation even knows I exist either. I feel like when I come into the room, R is like all glassy and actually really conservative; it’s a weird feeling, too. But anyway I just started to feel like I can’t be tied down and I have to play the field. I guess all of you know that I was always like that and totally non-monogamous, but that’s why you didn’t hear from me all winter. I totally learned a lot from A, and I even got to be friends w/ Cézanne who I didn’t even LIKE before and now I like totally, like, LOVE, and I super love Cubism, (I am so mad at my friend Kerstin in Berlin because she doesn’t even LIKE Cubism but I feel like Cubism is like so amazing. It’s basically a diagram, if you know what I mean.) OH, and also, I never would have understood Process without A but I just feel like A’s really old friends are just WEIRD. And kind of pompous? Or something? Well, anyway, I feel really bad telling you this like you’ll be pissed, but I hope you know this has nothing to do with you and I really love you and the part of A’s friends that are really open like you are AMAZING and everything. But basically I kicked A out of my studio this summer, and afterwards I felt really good. I had this amazing fling, don’t tell anyone, but I had this fling with this face, and I don’t know, that was the straw that tipped the iceberg and I just went with it. I feel like me and A can be good friends after a while, though, and I am super hoping that all of A’s friends will still be friends with me, but, sometimes I almost kind of wish, you know, I was sleeping ALONE. You know what I mean????

Love, Amy