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January 24, 2014

The “Secret Id Economy” (aka Appetite for Destruction)

by Brendan
Fountain, by R Mutt

Fountain, by R Mutt

Georges Bataille, the French philosopher\literary theorist\culture critic, wrote that beneath the Superego Economy of gaining, striving, and thriving, there’s a “secret Id Economy” dedicated to waste and loss.

Take the Dada movement in art (if there really is such a thing as the Dada movement).  It’s very name tends to infantilize art, and it’s sometimes referred to as “anti-Art”; fair enough, I guess.  After all, submitting a urinal bought in a plumbing supply store, as Marcel Duchamp did for the 1914 Dada Exhibition in New York City, is hardly artistic in the usual way.  Well yes, he signed and dated it (“R Mutt, 1917”), but he didn’t create it out of his own materials with his own hands — just dropped by a plumbing supply store.  Oh yes, he did invert it and call it “Fountain,” and that’s the manifestation of an idea (the idea that water coming out, as in a fountain, is the opposite of urine going in, as in a urinal).

Duchamp’s Readymades are and are-not art.  It’s easy to say, on the one hand, why an aspiring artist might reject what Duchamp called “the tyranny of the hand” — art that is about craft and expertise, and really nothing more, just one more beautifully-rendered portrait.  As Samuel Beckett, who wrote during the Surrealist period, said about his own work: “doing again the same old thing, going a little further down the same weary road.”

No wonder Picasso, whose painterly skills were manifestly at age 14 and for a few years more (his father was a painting professor at the University of Barcelona) decided to go Abstract and Cubist.  Just couldn’t bring himself to paint the same expert, representational painting for what was starting to feel like the millionth time.

And then there are more recent artists like Chris Burden.  Burden became famous for a piece in which he arranged for another person to shoot him with a 22-caliber pistol in the shoulder.  And that was his contribution to Performance Art, a new genre in the 1960s.  (I also like his bank lobby piece, a pyramid of a$million dollars in gold bars — as he said, “If art is about the money, why not just show the money?”

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