“La Belle [Dame] Sans Merci”
‘The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates’ ( T. S. Elliot quoted in ‘The Creative Act ,’ Marcel Duchamp 1957)
‘R.E.A.D.Y.M.A.I.D.’ is really about consciousness. But first this. Trying to get thing-thoughts in my own words or pictures–my metaphors–so I can claim, if only to myself, I understand. There’s phenomena on one side and history on the other, with me in the confused middle.
And this. The title of the drawing is a pun on the Marcel Duchamp art form and the subjects of the drawing are therefore a ‘readymade,’ art i.e. the beautiful and a ready ‘maid,’ a ‘la belle dame’ The drawing is about a thing and a she, an art object and an art subject, an art creator and an art observer.
The Two Mediums
My reading of Duchamp is that he thinks the creative act is a continuum from some space beyond and a time before the artist through him/her, through the art object, and finally through the contemporaneous spectator (speculator,) on to a posterity that, in turns, remembers and forgets the acts of all those before it, the artists, the spectators and speculators, alike.
So you have the artist as medium, in the sense of a communicator with spirits. the artist receives an intuition that he/she can’t explain, the artist’s “…struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfaction, refusals, decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully self-conscious…” (Duchamp.) The artist is also a medium in the material sense of the word, no different then the paint on the canvas in this respect. She/he is simply a part of the phenomenon that is the process between spirit and spectator/speculator
The Four Maids
La Belle Dame Sans Merci, from the Keats poem, drawn four times here, is that spectator and that spirit. The former is the hip young art lover at the trendy opening and the latter is–with ‘lady’ bracketed out– as the several paintings in the drawing, the Beautiful in general. She as ‘paint’ is the intuited vision from the artist’s past, from both his personal or collective unconsciousnesses and she as ‘flesh’ is the spectator/speculator (observer-judge) of both the here/now and the future.
The maid and the art objects are the symbols of all that known and not known but felt. symbols of what is both desired and feared, but kept at a constant (sad but safe) distance by desire’s and fear’s equal powers. in sight but out of reach.
The artist’s realizations–what he knows, his art objects–are the circles of light he casts upon the paintings in the dark room. the paintings are the intuitions that came to him unbidden.– not known but felt. Are they any different from his realizations from his perceptions of the others in the rectangle of light that is the next room? In one he looks in, in the other he looks out. And, further down a hermeneutic spiral, are his realizations any different from him seeing and recording the cleavage-staring of the art speculator in the lit room?
Blank is to art as lust is to blank? The artist paints a beautiful nude by carefully studying the play of light on the flesh of the model and the art speculator carefully studies the play of light on flesh as well. How are they different. is it just that the one holds a brush and the other a drink? ‘[B]ad art is still art in the same way that a bad emotion is still an emotion.’ (Duchamp, 1957)
Duchamp simply chose a thing and declared it ‘art’ by signing it and submitting to an art show. He said, “The choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste … in fact a complete anaesthesia.” (‘Apropos of Readymades,’ Duchamp, 1961.) Right, Marcel, if you say so.
So what you have here with my ready-making, actually my recording of an imaginary ready-making, of a flashlight (not a brush nor a drink as they would be of good and bad taste, respectively) is a stepping back–a phenomenological-aesthetical bracketing gesture. It’s a hermeneutic circle/spiral again, a [drawing of a] an ordinary thing, al la Duchamp, declared an art by an ‘artist’ (formerly known as art creator) and accepted as such by art spectators/speculators. The question I ask is, ‘Do I, from my stepped back, bracketed out distance, have the right to make such a declaration?
“Millions of artists create; only a few thousands are discussed or accepted by the spectator and many less again are consecrated by posterity.” (Duchamp, 1957)
“…I have for the most part dash’d of[f] my lines in a hurry” said Keats of above-mentioned poem. Read it yourself, it’s short. you’ll see how I could read it as both ‘Belle,’ a woman, and ‘belle,’ the Beautiful. The Waterhouse painting is the best of the illustrations for it, look that up. Read the Eliot essay, “Tradition and Individual Talent,” too.
…and back I go to palely loitering.