Thursday, May 10, 2007

duchampian religion

it occurs to me that what I wrote about scripture being "in the eye of the beholder" is very similar to the lesson Marcel Duchamp taught us about art. What makes an object "art" is not an aspect inherent in the object, but is a quality in the attention given to the object by a viewer. That artful way of looking can be invited by the artist in the way they present the object: putting a frame around it, placing it in a gallery, adding their signature.

In this week's issue of the New Yorker in an article on the artist Chris Burden, Peter Schjeldahl offers this definition of art: "In pragmatic terms, art is a privileged zone of gratuitous activity, with boundaries maintained by the agreement of the vested authorities."

The "privileged zone" is the frame. The "gratuitous activity" is the painting, or collage, or anything at all. In the case of Chris Burden it meant allowing himself to be shot in the arm. What makes it art are the agreements made by those involved in the art world. Chris Burden's art plays at the extremes of that definition but the definition applies equally well to Monet and Michaelangelo. It's art because an artist says it is, and art viewers with influence or money collude in the naming.

In the religious world people with influence and money (churches and those allied withthe power of churches) invest in calling certain texts "scripture" and certain utterances "revelation" and certain people "prophets" but it's not an inherent quality in the texts and speech and people so named, it's an agreement maintained by the vested authorities.

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