Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The conceptualism/flarf debate has been "raging" lately, and Kenny Goldsmith reminds us, once again, that "writing is fifty years behind painting."

Today, I took a shower. It was a pretty good shower. Here are some things I thought:
In painting, a tangible object is rubbed upon a surface of another tangible object. In this way, what does a painter do but mimic the clumsiness of the universe? Even "abstract" or "non-representational" works are hardly difficult to solve — an artist rubbed some stuff together.

In poetry, intangibles. Remaining intangible. Remaining frustrating, and entirely contingent.

For any poem to exist, The Entirety of Human History must first occur. And abstractions remain abstractions.

Why, then, do painting and poetry constantly get lumped together? Can we blame Williams' "considerations" of Brueghel? Poetry lives and dies through the imperfect nature of language and thought. Painting stumbles along, tries its hand at physically conveying, but comes up short; in this way, paintings are just vulgarities.

Poetry always fails. It never reaches the level of desperation that painting does.


Reynard said...

i do most of my thinking in the shower too. if that curtain could talk...

Mike Young said...

what happened to minds and imaginations in all this talk of material

i guess it's all just electricity up there

Bryan Coffelt said...

reynard: if my shower curtain could talk, *HELEN KELLER JOKE*.

mike: maybe minds are just rubbed-together-stuff, too. but what i really was trying to convey is that poetry's impossibility, its failure, is what makes it so exciting for me. that's about as woo woo as i'm willing to get right now, though.

Bryan Coffelt said...

& really what i was bitching about is the comparison of poetry and painting.

painting uses primitive tools, it requires physicality.

poetry uses NOTHING & it requires only that others exist, i guess. & if you say "what about the printed word?" imma fly to mass. & woo woo you in the coccyx.


Mike Young said...

oh, i agree with you then! more or less. on a practical level, maybe poetry requires "less" material/toolage, as defined by being more readily/easily transportable .. painting you have to see, and then to remember a painting your mind can only constantly reconstruct, as visual memories aren't stored on a fascimile basis..

but you can say a poem, read a poem, memorize a poem--with the exception, i guess, of poems that rely on materiality or your experience of them... poems, in other words, of social failure...

but i think that just because painting is more "physical," it can still be obviously heavily involved in mental conveyance: here is what i dreamed last night. except, of course, of the inevitable and asymptotical failure between your dream and your painting of that dream, which can at least be a little more fun of a failure if it exists in language, in a shared agreement to think about the representative nature of language while knowing you won't be sharing the same representations..

anyway, you know what i think about how awesome language is and how ridiculous conceptualism is, so of course my thinking basically leads to a stalwart faith in communicative language especially because no such thing as absolute or "realistic" communication exists

in other words, the way i see it, if you had three kids playing tag blindfolded, two kids would have fun and one kid would whine about his blindfold and playing tag being dangerous to play while you can't see anything, and this kid is conceptual poetics—just because he's technically right doesn't mean the other kids aren't having fun and doesn't make his loud and obvious points any less self-pitying and annoying

Bryan Coffelt said...

ha! i love the kid analogy.

i guess i appreciate the way conceptualism makes me look at things. for example, i rode the train from my apartment to PSU, and i tried to read every sign i saw in succession as a poem. (i.e. couch st. quizno's key bank etc.) -- even though the "poem" was unsuccessful and boring, i still credit the idea of "reframing" for me to even have considered doing something that silly. and it was actually kind of fun.

i guess i appreciate how exciting the banal can actually be if you recontextualize it, or, shit, maybe if you *decontextualize* it. i don't know. i'm really in love with the stupidity and absurdity of language lately. and the possibilities or impossibilities therein.

i'm just excited.

Mike Young said...

sweet! yeah i would say that it's my interests in language's communicative properties and the play between minds that would make me want to read those signs too, but hey, we would both be--whatever the lead-in--reading the signs. and that is a good thing.

Annie Lo said...

I paint and write poetry so this is an interesting debate for me. I think both mediums are intangibles, because very few people own the original paintings and own cheap reproductions. A painting can be accessed intangibly on the internet the same as a poem but there is nothing like seeing it in real life. Perhaps this is because I know how to paint, but I can look at something and see the time that was put into it in the layers which equal hours and hours of painting done over the course of years (I am thinking surrealist artists, old masters, Manet, expressionists).
Writing is a little bit more mysterious, I believe it is supposed to look effortless. But perhaps I am a better painter than a writer and can't see those layers of work yet. However, I once met a painter who would sell his work for 300 dollars a pop even though it only took him 30 minutes to do. His rationalization was, "Maybe it only took me thirty minutes to do, but it took me my whole life to get the point where I could paint this exact thing."

Annie Lo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Annie Lo said...

The opposite of a primitive painter:

Check out the work that he did after he was mostly paralyzed from the neck down.