And now non-visible art

A major trend in the 20th and 21st century art world has to become ever more “minimalist.”  As artists have tried to achieve the least possible gesture that could be called art–going from representations to idealizations to reductions to basic forms to pure forms to color fields to lines to found objects–they arrived at “conceptual art,” in which there is no art at all, just the idea for the art.  Museums and art buyers can purchase and display the notes that record the idea for the work of art, which is never made.  Now we have “The Museum of Non-Visible Art,” in which there is nothing at all.   And it has recorded its first sale:  Woman Pays $10,000 For ‘Non-Visible’ Work Of Art » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

At the link, Joe Carter goes into all of this.  He then offers for sale his own line of non-existent art for a mere $19.95 apiece.   He specifies, however, that he only takes money that is real, not imaginary.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Orianna Laun

    I am reminded of the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon by Bill Watterson where Calvin offers to sell his latest snow art to Hobbes. Hobbes says that there is nothing there. Calvin responds that all that art is dead and all that is left is marketing, so he will sign his name in the snow and sell it to Hobbes for a large sum of money. Hobbes says it doesn’t match his furniture. Calvin says, “The problem with being avaunt-garde is not knowing who’s putting on whom.”

  • Orianna Laun

    I am reminded of the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon by Bill Watterson where Calvin offers to sell his latest snow art to Hobbes. Hobbes says that there is nothing there. Calvin responds that all that art is dead and all that is left is marketing, so he will sign his name in the snow and sell it to Hobbes for a large sum of money. Hobbes says it doesn’t match his furniture. Calvin says, “The problem with being avaunt-garde is not knowing who’s putting on whom.”

  • Dan Kempin

    Ludicrous, at first glance. Upon reflection, I’m not sure it is all that crazy or all that novel. It may even be that the minimalist pursuit has come full circle and attained substance–so to speak.

    This seems to be a version of what the Greek philosophers discussed as form and ideal. An artist (since we are talking art) may have an idea for a work of art, but however compliant their medium or however great their skill, the form of the art will never perfectly attain the ideal. Nothing turns out quite like we “envision” it. I think this whole “non-visible art” thing is an attempt to recognize that. Experience the art in your imaginiation, and you will never be limited by the physical forms.

    Of course the marketing is brilliant. Ten thousand dollars dollars to reflect on my idea–therein lies the true genius of the “artist.”

  • Dan Kempin

    Ludicrous, at first glance. Upon reflection, I’m not sure it is all that crazy or all that novel. It may even be that the minimalist pursuit has come full circle and attained substance–so to speak.

    This seems to be a version of what the Greek philosophers discussed as form and ideal. An artist (since we are talking art) may have an idea for a work of art, but however compliant their medium or however great their skill, the form of the art will never perfectly attain the ideal. Nothing turns out quite like we “envision” it. I think this whole “non-visible art” thing is an attempt to recognize that. Experience the art in your imaginiation, and you will never be limited by the physical forms.

    Of course the marketing is brilliant. Ten thousand dollars dollars to reflect on my idea–therein lies the true genius of the “artist.”

  • DonS

    I’ve been told that my non-visible art is my best work.

  • DonS

    I’ve been told that my non-visible art is my best work.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Hey! The Emperor is wearing no clothes!

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Hey! The Emperor is wearing no clothes!

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    It’s not new, its been “happening” for sometime.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    It’s not new, its been “happening” for sometime.

  • Jonathan

    @3 Your non-visible posts are always appreciated.

  • Jonathan

    @3 Your non-visible posts are always appreciated.

  • DonS

    Thank you, Jonathan @ 6. As are yours ;-)

  • DonS

    Thank you, Jonathan @ 6. As are yours ;-)

  • Joe

    Okay, I might be wrong on this but isn’t art the process of taking the idea and finding a way to express it? And, isn’t the ability to do this what makes one an artist?

    seems like this “non-visual” art is just a way for people aren’t good at what they do to bypass that problem.

  • Joe

    Okay, I might be wrong on this but isn’t art the process of taking the idea and finding a way to express it? And, isn’t the ability to do this what makes one an artist?

    seems like this “non-visual” art is just a way for people aren’t good at what they do to bypass that problem.

  • Arfies

    I am retired, but for those of you who are still preaching, I would be willing (for the right consideration) to share some of my non-audible sermons. I have illustrations unconnected to texts, and thoughts that are quite profound–or at least interesting. I would be willing to part with them for the nominal sum of $25 each; but the price goes up, of course, if I have to write them down.

  • Arfies

    I am retired, but for those of you who are still preaching, I would be willing (for the right consideration) to share some of my non-audible sermons. I have illustrations unconnected to texts, and thoughts that are quite profound–or at least interesting. I would be willing to part with them for the nominal sum of $25 each; but the price goes up, of course, if I have to write them down.

  • Tom Hering

    The art world is all about who “gets it” and who doesn’t – who’s cool and who isn’t. Which is why, as an artist, I stay as far away from that world as I can get. I’d rather be successful creating honest art. Like a package design for laundry detergent. Or a blog header with a creepy serpent thing. Or something.

  • Tom Hering

    The art world is all about who “gets it” and who doesn’t – who’s cool and who isn’t. Which is why, as an artist, I stay as far away from that world as I can get. I’d rather be successful creating honest art. Like a package design for laundry detergent. Or a blog header with a creepy serpent thing. Or something.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I don’t remember which art museum I was in, but I think it was the Milwaukee Art Museum. They had a work very much like this, though it was likely several decades old. The artist had written down his idea for an artwork (though the ideas described a piece of visual art, not a conceptual one). They had on display both an implementation of the artwork, as well as the card describing it. It seemed like they weren’t sure which was the real art. Or, barring that, they didn’t feel cheeky enough to just display the card. So there’s that.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I don’t remember which art museum I was in, but I think it was the Milwaukee Art Museum. They had a work very much like this, though it was likely several decades old. The artist had written down his idea for an artwork (though the ideas described a piece of visual art, not a conceptual one). They had on display both an implementation of the artwork, as well as the card describing it. It seemed like they weren’t sure which was the real art. Or, barring that, they didn’t feel cheeky enough to just display the card. So there’s that.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    On the other hand, it’s too easy to mock this sort of thing. The fact is, people will pay crazy amounts of money for anything related to celebrity. Is it any crazier to pay thousands of dollars for this, um, work than it is to pay thousands of dollars for a celebrity’s signature? Either way, isn’t the idea to display some kind of proximity or access to the celebrity in question — access that one couldn’t otherwise normally obtain?

    Besides, it appears that the art may not be “non-visible”, after all. According to that same Paste magazine article, “buyers … will instead by presented with a written description of their purchase.” So she’s paying for the piece of paper. She still gets her memorobilia, something in return.

    Oh, and free publicity. Or did no one else notice that the purchaser is a “social media marketer” who just got her name mentioned on NPR, in the Huffington Post, and hundreds of other media outlets? I doubt she could have gotten that kind of exposure through “proper” advertising outlets. So who’s really being had here?

    Oh, and one more thing. If this idea is so crazy, then what are we to make of sheet music? Isn’t it more or less the same thing? Some composer somewhere has an idea for music, and he wants to tell us about it. He won’t play it for us — in fact, we have to play it ourselves! But he’ll write down notes (literally) on how the piece should be performed. If his notes are nothing but words, then certain cultural types will yammer on about the emporer’s clothes. Ah, but if he uses the approved symbolic notation, then most everyone agrees it’s a proper work of art. Funny how that works.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    On the other hand, it’s too easy to mock this sort of thing. The fact is, people will pay crazy amounts of money for anything related to celebrity. Is it any crazier to pay thousands of dollars for this, um, work than it is to pay thousands of dollars for a celebrity’s signature? Either way, isn’t the idea to display some kind of proximity or access to the celebrity in question — access that one couldn’t otherwise normally obtain?

    Besides, it appears that the art may not be “non-visible”, after all. According to that same Paste magazine article, “buyers … will instead by presented with a written description of their purchase.” So she’s paying for the piece of paper. She still gets her memorobilia, something in return.

    Oh, and free publicity. Or did no one else notice that the purchaser is a “social media marketer” who just got her name mentioned on NPR, in the Huffington Post, and hundreds of other media outlets? I doubt she could have gotten that kind of exposure through “proper” advertising outlets. So who’s really being had here?

    Oh, and one more thing. If this idea is so crazy, then what are we to make of sheet music? Isn’t it more or less the same thing? Some composer somewhere has an idea for music, and he wants to tell us about it. He won’t play it for us — in fact, we have to play it ourselves! But he’ll write down notes (literally) on how the piece should be performed. If his notes are nothing but words, then certain cultural types will yammer on about the emporer’s clothes. Ah, but if he uses the approved symbolic notation, then most everyone agrees it’s a proper work of art. Funny how that works.

  • Tom Hering

    Since when does sheet music cost $10,000? Or get your name mentioned all over the place because you bought it?

    On the other hand, the notion of sheet art isn’t a bad one. But really, under $5 please – especially since I have to make it myself (just like I have to play sheet music myself).
    :-D

  • Tom Hering

    Since when does sheet music cost $10,000? Or get your name mentioned all over the place because you bought it?

    On the other hand, the notion of sheet art isn’t a bad one. But really, under $5 please – especially since I have to make it myself (just like I have to play sheet music myself).
    :-D

  • http://Www.Toddstadler.com tODD

    Tom (@13), your reply indicates it’s not the idea here that’s bothersome, but merely the price paid for it. That’s an entirely different framework for judging this story. Heck, I think any number of artworks go for an outrageous sum of money! That said, I still think the purchaser in this case likely got her money’s worth. Just not in terms of art.

  • http://Www.Toddstadler.com tODD

    Tom (@13), your reply indicates it’s not the idea here that’s bothersome, but merely the price paid for it. That’s an entirely different framework for judging this story. Heck, I think any number of artworks go for an outrageous sum of money! That said, I still think the purchaser in this case likely got her money’s worth. Just not in terms of art.

  • Orianna Laun

    There is one slight difference with sheet music: music is “timed” art. It is meant to be enjoyed within the confines of time. The artist is aware of this and writes music accordingly for another person to perform within the confines of time. I’m sure a composer would play a piece for anyone and never print the sheet music for distribution. I bet one could find a composer willing to do such for $10,000.
    If an artist would write down the conceptual notes and then expect any number of people to actually create the art he has conceived, then it would be more like sheet music.

  • Orianna Laun

    There is one slight difference with sheet music: music is “timed” art. It is meant to be enjoyed within the confines of time. The artist is aware of this and writes music accordingly for another person to perform within the confines of time. I’m sure a composer would play a piece for anyone and never print the sheet music for distribution. I bet one could find a composer willing to do such for $10,000.
    If an artist would write down the conceptual notes and then expect any number of people to actually create the art he has conceived, then it would be more like sheet music.

  • Tom Hering

    Todd @ 14, it depends on the kind of places where her name appeared. If it was mostly art world media, she did fine. If it was mostly regular news media, she got $10,000 worth of looking like a fool.

  • Tom Hering

    Todd @ 14, it depends on the kind of places where her name appeared. If it was mostly art world media, she did fine. If it was mostly regular news media, she got $10,000 worth of looking like a fool.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Tom asked (@13):

    Since when does sheet music cost $10,000? Or get your name mentioned all over the place because you bought it?

    Well, in 2010, someone paid $506,500 for sheet music for “The Star-Spangled Banner”. It made the news “all over the place”. Of course, I don’t think it was pitched as a “that’s so crazy!” story like the one that started this conversation. Just the normal amount of crazy that somehow escapes comment from the average art critic, I guess.

    And I’d posit that “sheet art” already exists in any number of books, magazines, and Web sites. Of course, some of those get denigrated as being merely “crafty”, not art. What’s funny is that in such cases, someone following the instructions that others have written will often take pride in their own craftmanship, rather than crediting their source of inspiration.

    As to your other comment (@16), you’re thinking too much like an artist (“If it was mostly art world media, she did fine”). Again, she’s, among other things, a “social media marketer”. She’ll do far better for herself getting her name out there (which, of course, only proves her abilities as a social media marketer) than to have some particular subset of the art world laud her cred.

    Orianna (@15), I’m not sure I really got your point, but I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of composers are unable to play all the parts they’ve written. I seriously doubt most symphonic composers can play every instrument in a symphony. These days, all you really have to know is how to play the piano. And that’s apparently okay. But if I found an artist unable to implement his own ideas (besides Dale Chihuly), people would decry him as a fraud. Like I said, it’s a weird standard we’ve got going here.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Tom asked (@13):

    Since when does sheet music cost $10,000? Or get your name mentioned all over the place because you bought it?

    Well, in 2010, someone paid $506,500 for sheet music for “The Star-Spangled Banner”. It made the news “all over the place”. Of course, I don’t think it was pitched as a “that’s so crazy!” story like the one that started this conversation. Just the normal amount of crazy that somehow escapes comment from the average art critic, I guess.

    And I’d posit that “sheet art” already exists in any number of books, magazines, and Web sites. Of course, some of those get denigrated as being merely “crafty”, not art. What’s funny is that in such cases, someone following the instructions that others have written will often take pride in their own craftmanship, rather than crediting their source of inspiration.

    As to your other comment (@16), you’re thinking too much like an artist (“If it was mostly art world media, she did fine”). Again, she’s, among other things, a “social media marketer”. She’ll do far better for herself getting her name out there (which, of course, only proves her abilities as a social media marketer) than to have some particular subset of the art world laud her cred.

    Orianna (@15), I’m not sure I really got your point, but I’m willing to bet that a good percentage of composers are unable to play all the parts they’ve written. I seriously doubt most symphonic composers can play every instrument in a symphony. These days, all you really have to know is how to play the piano. And that’s apparently okay. But if I found an artist unable to implement his own ideas (besides Dale Chihuly), people would decry him as a fraud. Like I said, it’s a weird standard we’ve got going here.

  • Tom Hering

    But again, Todd, her name is now associated with foolishness. I’m unclear how that helps her career as a social media marketer. Please explain. :-)

  • Tom Hering

    But again, Todd, her name is now associated with foolishness. I’m unclear how that helps her career as a social media marketer. Please explain. :-)

  • Joe

    I am having trouble with the sheet music comparison. In my mind, the sheet music is the painting. It is the idea expressed. Going to your local music story and buying a copy of the sheet music is akin to buying a print of a van Gogh. What I understand this non-visible art to be would be the composer’s notes about a piece he thought about composing but never did.

  • Joe

    I am having trouble with the sheet music comparison. In my mind, the sheet music is the painting. It is the idea expressed. Going to your local music story and buying a copy of the sheet music is akin to buying a print of a van Gogh. What I understand this non-visible art to be would be the composer’s notes about a piece he thought about composing but never did.

  • Orianna Laun

    Todd@17, you are right; there are some composers out there who can’t play their own music. I went to college with one of them. He could write the most fabulous compositions for class, but one of our classmates had to play it for us. He could read music and write music and sing, but he could play no instrument. Yet his still was being able to “hear” the notes in his head and put them together in an order. That was his craft.
    Writing music is little different than writing words. (I can say that because I am trained in both.) You take the idea and express it in the way you want your intended audience to experience.
    To have the concept of visual art without the actual visual is like trying to have someone imagine the punchline of a joke that you can’t really explain to them. At least, it seems to me.

  • Orianna Laun

    Todd@17, you are right; there are some composers out there who can’t play their own music. I went to college with one of them. He could write the most fabulous compositions for class, but one of our classmates had to play it for us. He could read music and write music and sing, but he could play no instrument. Yet his still was being able to “hear” the notes in his head and put them together in an order. That was his craft.
    Writing music is little different than writing words. (I can say that because I am trained in both.) You take the idea and express it in the way you want your intended audience to experience.
    To have the concept of visual art without the actual visual is like trying to have someone imagine the punchline of a joke that you can’t really explain to them. At least, it seems to me.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe said (@19), “The sheet music is the painting. It is the idea expressed.” But it’s not. It’s instructions on how to create, or express, the intended work. This is self-obvious from the fact that sheet music is a physical, visual medium, whereas the artwork in question is an invisible, audible, musical one. By and large, most sheet music is not framed and admired, it is stuck on a stand, interpreted, and followed. Sheet music itself is silent.

    Again, consider Dale Chihuly, a famous glass sculptor. He used to blow his own glass, but due to injuries, he is no longer able to do so. Now he merely comes up with ideas for how the glass should be blown (and how pieces of glass should be arranged). As he said about himself, he is:

    more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor

    But it wouldn’t be all that unimaginable for Chihuly’s directions, his “choreography”, to be written down on paper. The question for us here is then: when does something become art? If it’s not in the envisioning and the writing down of instructions, then we have reduced art to nothing but craft. In that case, Chihuly isn’t an artist, and neither was Beethoven — only Chihuly’s glass-blowers and the musicians who play Beethoven. But surely we don’t think that, even if we agree that in both cases, competent implementers are needed for the artwork to be enjoyed as it was intended.

    One could argue that art requires both vision and implementation, but again, that leaves us in a strange position when it comes to Beethoven. If no one ever played his music, he would, ipso facto, not have been an artist. Composing, according to this thinking, would not be creation — at least, not in full.

    But if sheet music “is the idea expressed”, then what are we to make of the sheet music to John Cage’s “4′ 33″“, which gets us back to the original topic of this discussion?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joe said (@19), “The sheet music is the painting. It is the idea expressed.” But it’s not. It’s instructions on how to create, or express, the intended work. This is self-obvious from the fact that sheet music is a physical, visual medium, whereas the artwork in question is an invisible, audible, musical one. By and large, most sheet music is not framed and admired, it is stuck on a stand, interpreted, and followed. Sheet music itself is silent.

    Again, consider Dale Chihuly, a famous glass sculptor. He used to blow his own glass, but due to injuries, he is no longer able to do so. Now he merely comes up with ideas for how the glass should be blown (and how pieces of glass should be arranged). As he said about himself, he is:

    more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor

    But it wouldn’t be all that unimaginable for Chihuly’s directions, his “choreography”, to be written down on paper. The question for us here is then: when does something become art? If it’s not in the envisioning and the writing down of instructions, then we have reduced art to nothing but craft. In that case, Chihuly isn’t an artist, and neither was Beethoven — only Chihuly’s glass-blowers and the musicians who play Beethoven. But surely we don’t think that, even if we agree that in both cases, competent implementers are needed for the artwork to be enjoyed as it was intended.

    One could argue that art requires both vision and implementation, but again, that leaves us in a strange position when it comes to Beethoven. If no one ever played his music, he would, ipso facto, not have been an artist. Composing, according to this thinking, would not be creation — at least, not in full.

    But if sheet music “is the idea expressed”, then what are we to make of the sheet music to John Cage’s “4′ 33″“, which gets us back to the original topic of this discussion?

  • Joe

    Perhaps my the sheet music is the painting is not quite correct.

    But the idea that art requires both idea and implementation, I think you may have something with that notion. It is kind of what I meant by idea and expression – but this formulation is better and probably would exclude sheet music.

    And if that means that Beethoven is a wonderfully gifted composer but not an artist – I’m okay with that. If no one ever played his music, I guess he would be irrelevant, unknown and not part of this conversation. Which kind of proves the point that there needs to be more to it than just the idea. With your glass blowing example I would say that there was collaboration in the making of a piece of art.

  • Joe

    Perhaps my the sheet music is the painting is not quite correct.

    But the idea that art requires both idea and implementation, I think you may have something with that notion. It is kind of what I meant by idea and expression – but this formulation is better and probably would exclude sheet music.

    And if that means that Beethoven is a wonderfully gifted composer but not an artist – I’m okay with that. If no one ever played his music, I guess he would be irrelevant, unknown and not part of this conversation. Which kind of proves the point that there needs to be more to it than just the idea. With your glass blowing example I would say that there was collaboration in the making of a piece of art.

  • Joanne

    Are we talking about intentional art, potential art? And, did the lady pay for art or did she pay for publicity, documentation (a what I’d do if I did it document), and the celebrity artist’s signature? Did she pay for a right to have the art realized or will that cost her much, much more? Whatever.

    I must say I am so happy to see art talk on Cranach, a nach in my mind. I just saw yesterday a short on Catalonian sculptor Jaume Plensa and was excited by what I saw in how I thought his vision could be used in church art. I find his work figural, literal, verbal, and human. Do a google image search on Plensa and think about how those visual ideas could be used to carry the Word of God and images from the Bible. Plensa’s use of alphabets and words in his art opens the doors.

  • Joanne

    Are we talking about intentional art, potential art? And, did the lady pay for art or did she pay for publicity, documentation (a what I’d do if I did it document), and the celebrity artist’s signature? Did she pay for a right to have the art realized or will that cost her much, much more? Whatever.

    I must say I am so happy to see art talk on Cranach, a nach in my mind. I just saw yesterday a short on Catalonian sculptor Jaume Plensa and was excited by what I saw in how I thought his vision could be used in church art. I find his work figural, literal, verbal, and human. Do a google image search on Plensa and think about how those visual ideas could be used to carry the Word of God and images from the Bible. Plensa’s use of alphabets and words in his art opens the doors.

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD, #21,

    “The question for us here is then: when does something become art? If it’s not in the envisioning and the writing down of instructions, then we have reduced art to nothing but craft. In that case, Chihuly isn’t an artist, and neither was Beethoven — only Chihuly’s glass-blowers and the musicians who play Beethoven. But surely we don’t think that, even if we agree that in both cases, competent implementers are needed for the artwork to be enjoyed as it was intended.”

    I agree.

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD, #21,

    “The question for us here is then: when does something become art? If it’s not in the envisioning and the writing down of instructions, then we have reduced art to nothing but craft. In that case, Chihuly isn’t an artist, and neither was Beethoven — only Chihuly’s glass-blowers and the musicians who play Beethoven. But surely we don’t think that, even if we agree that in both cases, competent implementers are needed for the artwork to be enjoyed as it was intended.”

    I agree.


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