Yesterday, I visited Egon’s @egonzippel studio on Grand Street not far from where I live. It was an old-school artist’s loft we rarely see these days, especially in Manhattan—an open space with a high ceiling, countless paintings leaning on each other towards the walls. He lives there too.
The composer, John Cage, pioneered this way of living. From 1946 to 1953, he lived at 326 Monroe Street near Grand Street. He used the I Ching to circumvent his own intentions, defying the assumption that artistic intention is the essential kernel of art. He wanted to be surprised by his own work. In his collaboration with Merce Cunningham, whatever happened between the music and the dance was a surprise to them just as much as it was to the audience.
Egon employes a similar philosophy. He embraces everything from randomness, accidents, fate, to happenstance, but what I found striking was what he did with the results. Many artists embrace accidents as a way to create something better than what they could come up with themselves. They evaluate the results against some standards they hold. I asked Egon what he does with his work if the result was disappointing. He said he keeps them all because what isn’t interesting today might be interesting tomorrow. He not only circumvents his artistic intentions but also suspends his artistic judgment.
I was thinking about this all day today. In a way, art has an inescapable contradiction. When it is measured against a standard, it is reduced to one dimension, yet what would be the value of it if every art was as good as all others? Something measurable doesn’t become better tomorrow if it’s bad today. If the quality of ingredients is the standard by which you measure all foods, a bad dish made the same way wouldn’t suddenly become better tomorrow. The pursuit of quality will ultimately lead to science, not art.
Applying this idea to people, on one end, we would have a robot that performs everything perfectly and predictably, and on the other end, a human being who defies every attempt at understanding him. Perhaps Egon is right; judging art, even for your own work, is ultimately misguided.
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