Saturday 29 December 2018

How Not to Look at Non-Art

"I began to pay attention to how much this act of brushing my teeth had become routinized, unconscious behavior, compared with my first efforts to do it as a child. I began to suspect that 99 percent of my daily life was just as routinized and unnoticed; that my mind was always somewhere else; and that the thousand signals my body was sending me each minute were ignored. I guessed also that most people were like me in this respect.
Brushing my teeth attentively for two weeks, I gradually became aware of the tension in my elbow and fingers (was it there before?), the pressure of the brush on my gums, their slight bleeding (should I visit the dentist?). I looked up once and saw, really saw, my face in the mirror. I rarely looked at myself when I got up, perhaps because I wanted to avoid the puffy face I’d see, at least until it could be washed and smoothed to match the public image I prefer."

This is how Allan Kaprow describes his own experiences watching himself brushing his teeth in the morning. Because of the strange effect this daily routine has had on him, he infers that the activity itself must have been special in its own way and it doesn't take him long before he concludes that even the mundanest of activities could and should be considered as art.

Although I am a great fan of mr. Kaprow's captively written texts, I rarely agree with their contents. Just because a thing can be looked at as if it were art does not mean there is any necessary correlation to that thing being art.
The specific method of looking that Kaprow employs in his argument only seems to regularly occur when viewing artworks, hence his confused understanding. Yet this does not mean that merely letting an intense gaze fall upon an object changes the inherent characteristics of that object. It should go without saying that nothing changes in the interaction except the perception of the viewer.

One can make any object appear unique and disjointed from its surroundings by fixing one's gaze upon it and then moving one's body. It's incredibly easy to try this out for yourself. If you can, stand up and choose a random object in your surroundings. Fix your gaze upon this object and start walking around, never taking your eyes of the object. Without falter whatever you are looking at will appear separated from its surroundings, bestowing upon it some special status that this object never previously possessed.

While this more intense way of directing one's attention is a useful tool when looking at art, to deem it a sufficient condition for art to occur is as foolish as proclaiming beer goggles are all one needs to understand that the world is truly beautiful.