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Going Onand On About Art
It's a demonstrable fact
The Creative Act
From the labyrinth beyond time and space
White Collar
California contacts New York to check up onConnecticut

. . .

GoingOn and On About Art

Glenn Trahenir

I never really realized how much people write about artuntil I came across ARTbibliographies: Volume 29,Number 1. It's full of little, one-paragraph summaries ofarticles from a six-month period, and, at nearly eighthundred pages, it's thicker than many phone books!

At first I liked the idea of getting the gist of anarticle without having to trudge through the whole thing.But then I discovered that the summaries were as dreadful atthe articles themselves. In a way, I suppose that's acompliment to the reviewers, since they did such a good jobof condensing without any loss to the original content.

Take, for example, the summary of Shaheen Merali's "UnderDifferent Skies," a piece from Third Text: "Theauthor suggests that the site of a converted slaughterhouse[for an exhibit] conveyed a sense of thevulnerability the artistic community feels in the face ofcuts in funding ..."

Poor pitiful artists!

Jerry Cullums' article in Art Papers showed morepromise; at least it had an amusing title: "On CulturalOwnership and the Migration of Symbols: An Essay ContainingOnly One Quotation from Homi Bhabha." It turned out to beone of those impenetrable treatises with phrases like"explores the notions of syncretism andhybridity ..."

"Syncretism and hybridity," indeed!

A.D. Coleman, one of those rare people who can write wellabout art, and not writing some dreadful, little summary,had an interesting explanation for such (un)aestheticverbosity: "How my colleagues have managed to go on and onabout the stuff can only be explained by the demonstrablefact that many of my colleagues love to go on and on."

. . .

TheCreative Act

Marcel Duchamp


Let us consider two important factors, the two poles ofthe creation of art: the artist on the one hand, and on theother the spectator who later becomes the posterity.

To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumisticbeing who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seekshis way out to a clearing.

If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, wemust then deny him the state of consciousness on theesthetic plane about what he is doing or why he is doing it.All his decisions in the artistic execution of the work restwith pure intuition and cannot be translated into aself-analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out.

T. S. Eliot, in his essay on "Tradition and IndividualTalent," writes: "The more perfect the artist, the morecompletely separate in him will be the man who suffers andthe mind which creates; the more perfectly will the minddigest and transmute the passions which are itsmaterial."

Millions of artists create; only a few thousands arediscussed or accepted by the spectator and many less againare consecrated by posterity.

In the last analysis; the artist may shout from all therooftops that he is a genius; he will have to wait for theverdict of the spectator in order that his declarations takea social value and that, finally, posterity includes him inthe primers of Art History.

I know that this statement will not meet with theapproval of many artists who refuse this mediumistic roleand insist on the validity of their awareness in thecreative act--yet art history has consistently decided uponthe virtues of a work of art through considerationscompletely divorced from the rationalized explanations ofthe artist.

If the artist, as a human being, full of the bestintentions toward himself and the whole world, plays no roleat all in the judgement of his own work, how can onedescribe the phenomenon which prompts the spectator to reactcritically to the work of art? In other words, how does thisreaction come about?

This phenomenon is comparable to a transference from theartist to the spectator in the form of an esthetic osmosistaking place through the inert matter, such as pigment,piano, or marble.

But before we go further, I want to clarify ourunderstanding of the word "art"--to be sure, without anyattempt at a definition.

What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good, orindifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must callit art, and bad art is still art in the same way that a bademotion is still an emotion.

Therefore, when I refer to "art coefficient," it will beunderstood that I refer not only to great art, but I amtrying to describe the subjective mechanism which producesart in the raw state--à l'état brut--bad,good, or indifferent.

In the creative act, the artist goes from intention torealization through a chain of totally subjective reactions.His struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts,pains, satisfactions, refusals, decisions, which also cannotand must not be fully self-conscious, at least on theesthetic plane.

The result of this struggle is a difference between theintention and its realization, a difference which the artistis not aware of.

Consequently, in the chain of reactions accompanying thecreative act, a link is missing. This gap, representing theinability of the artist to express fully his intention, thisdifference between what he intended to realize and didrealize, is the personal "art coefficient contained in thework."

In other words, the personal "art coefficient" is like anarithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intendedand the unintentionally expressed.

To avoid a misunderstanding, we must remember that this"art coefficient" is a personal expression of art àl'état brut, that is, still in a raw state, whichmust be "refined" as pure sugar from molasses by thespectator; the digit of this coefficient has no bearingwhatsoever on his verdict. The creative act takes anotheraspect when the spectator experiences the phenomenon oftransmutation: through the change from inert matter into awork of art, an actual transubstantiation has taken place,and the role of the spectator is to determine the weight ofthe work on the esthetic scale.

All in all, the creative act is not performed by theartist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact withthe external world by deciphering and interpreting its innerqualifications and thus adds his contribution to thecreative act. This becomes even more obvious when posteritygives its final verdict and sometimes rehabilitatesforgotten artists.

. . .


Edward Conrad


The short daylight in February brings out the worst infolks. Some get downright meaner than usual, while othersexperiment with ever greater doses of depression. Inresponse to the coldest temperatures of the year, people endup fanning some of the darkest flames of human nature, oftenwith questionable result.

David Sipkoff wasn't having the very best morning. Thetrip from New Rochelle to New London started out much tooearly and then deteriorated rapidly into one of the worstdriving experiences of his life. The unpredicted, earlymorning storm of snow and ice, complete with frequentnear-whiteout conditions, turned the highway into littlemore than a shooting gallery: a carnage of twisted metal,shattered glass, and screaming ambulances. According to theadvertisements offered by Connecticut's Chamber of Commerce,the state lay outside the two major storm tracks on the EastCoast and so avoided the worst effects of North Atlanticwinters, but that morning, for David, it all seemed like alie. He wished he could have met personally with theConnecticut Chamber to let them know verbally and richly thelevel of what might be called charitably their"self-deception," yet such a recital would only have endedup proving that they weren't from New York and that hesurely was.

But, of course, he wasn't really from New York. He'dstarted his life in Philadelphia, but he'd been thrashing itout in Gotham City and the nearby area so long, and sosuccessfully, that they might as well have made him anhonorary native. Unlike those whom he regarded as an army ofinsecure or complacent incompetents hiding behind any numberof inflated titles and tiny job-appointments, Sipkoff haddeliberately grafted himself onto a big-city vein thatflashed him through any number of Bijou financialestablishments on Manhattan at lightning speed. And everystep was just a little bit higher. He may or may not haveclawed his way to the top of the pyramid, but he surely feltimportant when the call came through from Allen, Cathcart,& Reynolds, a firm so prestigious that they no longerneeded a downtown address. Early on, the partners offered toput his name on the masthead, but Sipkoff politely declined.He told them that he did his best work out of the light.Yet, in a funny sort of way, David's working life had beenexactly like the drive he'd made that very morning. Allkinds of slashing and spinning, some of it very gruesome,and all flying this way and that, but he kept it on the roadand kept going no matter what, and no matter who.

That was why he'd been contacted about New London in thefirst place. He didn't suffer from sentiment, and theconglomerate, whose name Sipkoff didn't even care about,needed desperately the services of just such a man. Becauseproblems at a near-invisible corporate arm could hide sodeep and dark, solutions required someone who wouldn't comeup for air even if it took days or weeks, no matter howperilous the water. And that was how bad things might be,and why the conglomerate went so far from the usual paths tofind Sipkoff's special brand of help, regardless of thecost. After all, it wasn't everyday that Californiacontacted New York to check up on Connecticut.

As such circumstances might suggest, the job had demandedextensive research, far beyond the usual. For better than amonth, Sipkoff had been analyzing every lead from everydocument he could secretly pry out of Connecticut via themain headquarters in Los Angeles, working to isolate andthen reconstitute the disparate elements. But the processneeded more than what he could gather from conventionalmeans. Despite the best use of his contacts, he'd had to hopimpromptu flights to California, Quebec, Massachusetts, and,oddly enough, Ohio. All very secretive. All chasing downvery dirty information. And, after considerable travel,after staying up repeatedly on informational jags, two andmaybe three days at a time, Sipkoff had perhaps made his waytoward powerful and even dangerous results. At least, thatwas what he could suggest to his employers, but matters ofabsolute proof were not so simple. Certain names keptappearing, but disappearing: Hopkins, DellaGuardia, Fowler,Davis. He'd found tracks to phantom bank accounts andmysterious money transfers, but it was difficult toestablish the kind of detail that would stand up in a courtof law, everything being lost and not lost in an unusuallyindustrious backwater of documents and not documents.

So, even with the best research, he might not be entirelyconvincing, although he could be entirely sure. To obtainthe best results, somebody was going to have to jump off thedeep end to help him, although they might need a littlepush. This was also why Sipkoff was perfect for the job.David knew timing, how to find the exact moment and forcethe maximum profit from what he'd obtained. And that waswhy, just the evening before, he'd settled on DellaGuardiaas the most vulnerable target and decided to make the drivethe next morning. After all, he'd had to. He sensed that thefile on New London had reached that critical stage at whichit threatened to melt down to nothing in the cabinet. So itdidn't matter to Sipkoff what the next morning was going todo, it was time. He might also have been reacting tosomething like his pride. But, regardless, after one finallate-night pass to select the most devastating materials,Sipkoff stuffed near-pure heat into his black, clothbriefcase and pulled the straps tighter than usual in hopesthat the unstable nature of it all would hold togetherthrough the next thirty-six hours of test and trial. Really,it wouldn't take much longer than that.

Or maybe it would. Despite David's melting cabinet, orofficial pronouncements from the Connecticut Chamber, theparticularly low barometric isobar, coupled with that mostdeleterious shift of the oceanic air mass, threatened tospoil everybody's fun. Of course, nothing lethal happened onthe drive, not to David anyway, a near miracle, but whenSipkoff arrived at the Unidyne Building in New London, anear-anonymous building in a near-anonymous industrialcomplex, its vast parking lot boasted far too many openspaces for a work day. It was almost as if David hadoutsmarted himself. All that perfect timing ending upsuddenly on an almost empty stage. But, even if Sipkoff wasanxious for a fraction of a second, he was experiencedenough that he wouldn't let it show.

As a matter of fact, he was so experienced that he knewenough to plan for unexpected eventualities. Now standingbeside the car door in the subsiding storm, carefullyholding the dangerous briefcase, he knew the situationrequired him to appear appropriate to the surroundings,safe, just in case anyone happened to notice that he wasn'texactly a character from the everyday. To that end, he'dleft his expensive car at home and dressed a bit lessManhattan. After all, New London offered a rathercomplicated atmosphere. The town still openly depended moston its coastal identity as opposed to the relatively newindustrial and commercial parks that had taken hold on itsperiphery. Errors of appearance were certainly possible, butgross errors of ostentation he left to those foolish enoughto make them. DellaGuardia came to mind. Sipkoff rememberedan interview in Malden, Massachusetts, when an informantwent on and on about the expensive bad taste ofDellaGuardia's ever-changing wardrobe. As David now movedthrough the last of the crystalline sleet toward Unidyne'sglass front, he congratulated himself on selecting a modest,black trench coat and a near-anonymous gray jacket beneath,choices calculated to give the impression of a world belowthe board room, but not that far below. Still, if necessary,he probably could have passed for believable down on thedocks. He'd carefully developed a number of faces to fit avariety of situations and even could be very ingratiating ifit ever served his ends.

And maybe that's what made it so easy for the mainreceptionist to like him. Maybe, looking into what shethought were his eyes, she believed he was more or less justlike she was. Perhaps, on such a cold morning, she sawsomething that made her wish she was somewhere else withsomeone just like him. And she was sorry to send him on soquickly to DellaGuardia's office on the sixth floor, almostthe top floor, because there was something so warm and sopersonable about him and the way that he thanked her.

Unlike the scene he'd played in the lobby, however,Sipkoff didn't need anything out of DellaGuardia'sreceptionist. When he looked at her, he saw mountains ofpuffed-up hair, washed out to look beige, a middle-agedwoman who thought she was a "professional," trying to foolthe world with applications of beautician-recommended,anti-aging make-up and lots and lots of bad theater. Sipkoffrecognized her more as a caricature than a character, moreof a creature than a person. She probably wasn't much betterthan her boss. Maybe she was just as arrogant. David thoughtit might be amusing to allow her full opportunity todemonstrate what she'd turned herself into.

Typing at a computer when he entered, she did not looktoward him. Sipkoff shifted the briefcase from his side todirectly in front, grasping the handle with both hands, notonly to round his shoulders down and look more sheepish, butalso to appear defensive and insecure. Further, he wageredto himself that the movement might cause her instinctivelyto look in his direction. He won the bet, although shedidn't stop what she was doing, and only turned for asecond. After looking him up and down quickly, she went backto the world of keyboard and screen: the not-so-subtle signof an instant dismissal.

"Good morning," she said automatically. And then, with atone floating gently on the surface of an undercurrent ofbother, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

Sipkoff reasoned that she was entirely uninterested indoing anything for anyone other than herself.

"Good morning," he said with a feigned timidity. "My nameis David Sipkoff. I'd like to see Mr. DellaGuardia, if he'sin. I don't have an appointment, but Mr. Cathcart, he's beendoing business with Unidyne for some time, he called me lastnight about some figures negotiated at the close of the yearrequiring Mr. DellaGuardia's immediate personal review." Andthen, with a carefully practiced whine designed to fosterirritation rather than sympathy, he added, "I had to driveall the way up from New York."

Of course, Sipkoff knew that his having driven all theway from New York, or Newcastle for that matter, wouldn'thave made the slightest difference.

It didn't.

"Well, Mr. Sipkoff, at the very least, you should havecalled. As it happens, Mr. DellaGuardia hasn't been able tomake it in as of yet. And, although I expect him shortly, hehas considerable important business that may take most ofthe morning. I certainly can't guarantee that he'll havetime to see you personally. Perhaps you could leave thepackage and he could get back to you?"

David was pleased that she hadn't even glanced at himwhile reciting what he knew to be nothing other than astring of often-rehearsed phrases. Still, he had beenimpressed with the smile that flashed across her face atwhat he could only read as moments when she richly enjoyedthe petty meanness of what she was saying. Finally, however,he knew that he had a script much better than hers. He knewabout the Los Angeles message that DellaGuardia would findwhen he arrived and the kind of paroxysms it would cause.Still, it was time to heighten the effect, and David thoughthe ought to stutter.

"N-No. Mr. C-Cathcart told me that he needed Mr.DellaGuardia's signature, and I-I think he'd want me towait."

The receptionist sighed something in response, and therewas a needle of contempt in her voice, but David had a hardtime not laughing openly at her performance. The irritatingdelay that he had expected from the moment he arrived hadnot been without its entertaining aspects. Though held up bythe storm, DellaGuardia would be in shortly, and it didn'tseem as if anybody knew what would be waiting for him. So,in part to be as comfortable as possible, Sipkoff asked thesecretary with the mountainous hair where he could find theclosest lounge. Because as far as she knew he was nothingother than a minor annoyance, she directed him down twofloors, over to the right, then to the left, and far, faraway from where she otherwise might have sent him if she hadany real idea of what he was just about to do. Not that heminded. As a matter of fact, he would have been worried ifit had happened any other way. He was always an invisibletraveler until the very last second, and it would not be toomuch to suggest that he'd come to enjoy the sudden look ofrecognition on the faces of those who had failed toappreciate just what could happen when they weren't looking.But it wasn't the very last second, so Sipkoff exited theoffice temporarily to discover just where DellaGuardia's"left arm" had sent him.

The lounge was truly awful, a hole-in-the-wall created nodoubt by executives to address a "low morale problem,"basically with the effect of making it worse. As could bededuced from the polyester decor, cheap appliances, blaringcolors, and meaningless art, executives spent no time there,and they didn't think much of those who did. Not thatSipkoff didn't somewhat share the same opinion. As a matterof fact, when he noticed the two near-invisible employees inthe lounge, along with the other furniture, a man and womanquietly involved in an impassioned conversation, he wonderedif he wouldn't have yet a bit more entertainment to pass thetime.

Sipkoff noticed that the lady was a little overweight andthat she was crying, or trying not to cry.

She sobbed, "I-I know I screwed up. I didn't get any ofthe answers right. I-I just know I didn't say what theywanted."

She jerked her head back, a reflex gesture to toss thelong, dark hair away from the front of her face. But hergaze remained downcast. She was seated, and the man wasstanding, and Sipkoff reasoned that she was asking forcomfort, but her companion appeared puzzled.

He asked, "When did all this happen?"

"Yesterday afternoon," she replied, shuddering slightlyin a way that made Sipkoff want to cover his mouth.

Her companion continued, "Have you heard from them? Havethey turned you down?"

The woman looked up somewhat surprised.

"No, but I-I screwed up so bad. I just know I didn't makeit." And then she said, "I can't seem to make anything workout right."

Her head lowered again.

Sipkoff watched invisibly as the companion's eyes driftedfrom one side to another and the corners of his mouth turneddown for just a moment.

"Well," he said, "I'm not sure, but it seems a bit soonto be so worried. I think you ought to let them call you andsay one way or the other before you get yourself so strungout."

No effect; or, the wrong effect. The lady sighed heavilyand shook her head.

The companion tried something else: "Well, look at itthis way, even if they turn you down, you'll know betterwhat to say next time."

But the lady might as well have been dead. Sipkoff, stillinvisible, leaned forward with interest, keeping his hand onthe briefcase. The woman's companion colored slightly andscowled; his eyes went dark, and he said to her with a quietspeed, almost as if he were impatient:

"Look, I'm not sure this'll do any good, but I grew up inone of those rotten, little towns, you know, small enough tobe one of those everybody-knows-everybody-else's-businesskind of places. And that's really not so bad. Lots of folksget born in places like that. Lots of them grow up and staythere. Just because I ended up somewhere else doesn't meanmuch of anything.

"And, back there, too long ago, I knew this kid a coupleof years younger than I was. I might not have known him atall except, when I was really little, my parents made me goto church. This other kid's parents did the same, so I knewwho he was and who his parents were, but I never reallytalked with him. Church didn't let you make muchconversation. Besides, he was a couple of years younger, andthat kind of thing mattered a lot back then.

"But, later on, it didn't matter so much. After the daysof school and church, the world allowed a larger tribe, andI saw Tom out and about during the week, or on the weekends.I'm sure he and I met up in the same bunch now and then ortalked a few words from time to time, but we were neverclose, not like, 'tight friends' or anything. Still, heseemed right enough."

The woman looked up quizzically toward her companion, andSipkoff wondered what any of this had to do with anything.The speaker continued:

"But I can see you don't exactly understand where allthis is going. I figured I'd say something about my mom.She's almost seventy now. She's still ok, gets aroundalright, goes to work and the grocery store. But even thoughI moved out of town at least twenty-five years back, I guessshe suddenly thought I might enjoy reading items from thelocal newspaper. Mostly without warning, she'd sendsomething about somebody who I hung around with opening anew business or something about a storm knocking a fewhouses and phone poles around. When I'd write or call, I'dsay something like, 'How interesting,' or 'Glad to hear thatso-and-so's doing ok,' that sort of thing. After all, whatwas I supposed to say? Local papers are most interesting tolocals. For all I know, it was her way of thinking that Iwas still there. Of course, I'll never really know, andshe'll never really tell me."

From the far-left corner of the room, a soda machinesuddenly whirred into high-gear.

"But imagine my surprise when I opened the letter thatpopped up in my mailbox only last week. The small-town paperhad a really big story, jam-packed with exciting detail.Evidently, just a couple of weeks before, the body of atwenty-nine-year-old woman was found scraping against thepilings of one of the wharves. Pretty steamy stuff forFebruary, particularly for midday, and there it wassplattered all across the front page with as many picturesas the local cameraboy could snap. Better still, there wasabsolutely no mystery. Everybody knew everything, even if itwas a bit after the fact.

"I mean, apparently, on Friday evening of the weekbefore, a very important person arrived in town. He'd comeall the way from New Bedford with a very important package.The paper said he was forty-one years old, nearly my age,and that his name was Dan. The package contained what, whenI was much younger, would have been called 'junk'--heroin.But nobody talks about 'junkies' anymore. You know how it iswith fashion. They're all pretty rich these days.

"Anyway, Dan meets up with Tom, the kid who used to go tochurch, who also happens to be forty-one years old, and thetwenty-nine-year-old lady. And I guess they decided to havesome fun, the kind of fun where you pull down the shades fora long time--a long time. And they decided that Tom'smother's house would offer the most comfortable yet discreetsurroundings. So off they go.

"You see, Tom was living at home, as they say. His fatherdied a couple of years back, and his mother just didn't knowwhat to do. I guess she took it real hard, wouldn't go outof the house, wouldn't see anybody. The property startedhaving real problems--the lawn, the fence, the paint, stufflike that--and because it was in one of those neighborhoodswhere appearances mattered, Tom had to come to the rescue,if you know what I mean. Years and years ago, WashingtonAvenue was one of those byways down below the bluff, near toMain Street, but not so near as to be in the sameneighborhood with the wealthier folks who really ran thetown. Washington Avenue started out as nothing but fishingpeople, workers, folks like that. But time marches on, asthey say, and a bunch of lawyers, doctors, and real estatedealers marched right in along with it. That's whyappearances came to matter as much as they did in theneighborhood, and that's how Tom ended up back at hismother's house, why they all went there late that Fridaynight, and why the surroundings were so comfortable anddiscreet."

Sipkoff was practically beside himself, and it was all hecould do to keep from roaring with laughter. And he wasn'tthe only one amazed by the inappropriate story. The speakercontinued:

"But it probably seemed to take forever to get from wherethey met up to where they wanted to be. It's like thatsometimes. Anyway, after they made their way to the house,the part that was purely Tom's, at about the same instantthat the bottom of the shade hit the windowsill, the veryimportant package, probably full of equally important tinierpackages, hit the table. And, like I said before, off theygo.

"And fun is suddenly everywhere and everything, so muchfun that the twenty-nine-year-old lady stops breathing. Thepaper didn't say whether she turned a couple of colorsbefore she went South, but I figure that doesn't mean shewasn't still having fun. At least that might explain whythere was so little detail. What the paper did say was thatthe two gentlemen eventually noticed, and that they thoughtshe might be more comfortable wrapped in a blanket. They puther under a bed. Then I guess they forgot all about her forthe better part of a day and a half, when suddenly it'ssomewhere around three o'clock Monday morning, and everybodyremembers to go for a walk down by the beach. And then it'ssuddenly midday, and the twenty-nine-year-old-lady isdiscovered getting to know the barnacles along the pilingsof North Wharf."

The unhappy woman in the lounge had heard enough and waspractically at the point of exploding. Her friend had turnedinto a horrible bastard, and his irrelevant story sounded toher like little other than ridiculous garbage.

"Why are you telling me this?" she loudly insisted. Shewas having a difficult time holding back the hot tears offailure and all that could happen to her if she was rightabout her interview. She almost shouted, "What does thishave to do with anything?"

Perhaps she was right. There was something like crueltyin his voice.

He answered her more forcefully than the way he had toldthe story, "I guess I'm just trying to say that folks seemto enjoy shooting up lots of stuff these days." And, as hemade a quick gesture with his right hand jamming a phantomhypodermic into his left arm, he said, "It all seems like alot of self-indulgent, poisonous crap to me."

He was wrong, of course.

And, suddenly, DellaGuardia's receptionist appeared inthe doorway. Her eyes wide, she looked pale and almost as ifshe were visibly shaking.

Sipkoff turned, stared deeply into her panic, and thensmiled so broadly as to make himself, finally, entirelyvisible.

Any comment or inquiry regarding this work, specificor general, may be addressed to Conrad's literary executorat archivcon@stare.com.

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