Saturday, July 27, 2013
i am for an art
I may have only seen Claes Oldenburg's art 'sit on its ass in a museum' (currently at MoMA through Aug 5- plenty blog posts elsewhere online about his work and this show), but it just happens to inhabit that white space the way it once inhabited a grimy downtown storefront and before that a city of scavenged materials, and reminded me that his 1961 writing "I Am for an Art", below, is one of my favorite art manifestos. From before I knew there was such a thing.
I read it in 1997 as part of a class at Cornell about Pop Art and pop culture, first time I learned about any of those artists and what they were about. I was just starting to figure things out and not even sure what kind of art I'd make and even if I'd make any, beyond living-- as I vaguely envisioned it-- 'a creative life'. Then all those texts I read that year, and then the subsequent years at SVA, lodged themselves in the back of my brain until I noticed that what I was so drawn to, what kept me living a few more years in the changing city to walk and look, to photograph objects, was the art of the everyday. I didn't know that what I would want to paint would fit into this, whether it would ever matter or not (I still don't know). But it resonated with me before I understood why.
"I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something
other than sit on its ass in a museum.
I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all, an art given
the chance of having a starting point of zero.
I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes
out on top.
I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or
violent, or whatever is necessary.
I am for all art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists
and extends and accumulates and spits and drips, and is heavy and coarse
and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.
I am for an artist who vanishes, turning up in a white cap painting
signs or hallways.
I am for art that comes out of a chimney like black hair and scatters
in the sky.
I am for art that spills out of an old mans purse when he is bounced
off a passing fender.
I am for the art out of a doggy's mouth, falling five stories from the roof.
I am for the art that a kid licks, after peeling away the wrapper.
I am for an art that joggles like everyone’s knees, when the bus
traverses an excavation.
I am for art that is smoked, like a cigarette, smells, like a pair of shoes.
I am for art that flaps like a flag, or helps blow noses, like a handkerchief.
I am for art that is put on and taken off , like pants, which develops
holes, like socks, which is eaten, like a piece of pie, or abandoned with
great contempt, like a piece of shit.
I am for art covered with bandages, I am for art that limps and rolls
and runs and jumps. I am for art that comes in a can or washes up on
I am for art that coils and grunts like a wrestler. I am for art that sheds
I am for art you can sit on. I am for art you can pick your nose with
or stub your toes on.
I am for art from a pocket, from deep channels of the ear, from the
edge of a knife, from the corners of the mouth, stuck in the eye or worn
on the wrist.
I am for art under the skirts, and the art of pinching cockroaches.
I am for the art of conversation between the sidewalk and a blind
man’s metal stick.
I am for the art that grows in a pot, that comes down out of the skies
at night, like lightning, that hides in the clouds and growls. I am for art
that is flipped on and off with a switch.
I am for art that unfolds like a map, that you can squeeze, like your
sweety's arm, or kiss, like a pet dog. Which expands and squeaks, like
an accordion, which you can spill your dinner on, like an old tablecloth.
I am for an art that you can hammer with, stitch with, sew with, paste
with, file with.
I am for an art that tells you the time of day, or where such and such
a street is.
I am for an art that helps old ladies across the street.
I am for the art of the washing machine. I am for the art of a government
check. I am for the art of last wars raincoat.
I am for the art that comes up in fogs from sewer-holes in winter. I
am for the art that splits when you step on a frozen puddle. I am for the
worms art inside the apple. I am for the art of sweat that develops
between crossed legs.
I am for the art of neck-hair and caked tea-cups, for the art between
the tines of restaurant forks, for the odor of boiling dishwater.
I am for the art of sailing on Sunday, and the art of red and white
I am for the art of bright blue factory columns and blinking biscuit
I am for the art of cheap plaster and enamel. I am for the art of worn
marble and smashed slate. I am for the art of rolling cobblestones and
sliding sand. I am for the art of slag and black coal. I am for the art of
I am for the art of scratchings in the asphalt, daubing at the walls. I
am for the art of bending and kicking metal and breaking glass, and
pulling at things to make them fall down.
I am for the art of punching and skinned knees and sat-on bananas. I
am for the art of kids smells. I am for the art of mama-babble.
I am for the art of bar-babble, tooth-picking, beerdrinking, egg-salting,
in-sulting. I am for the art of falling off a barstool.
I am for the art of underwear and the art of taxicabs. I am for the art
of ice-cream cones dropped on concrete. I am for the majestic art of
dog-turds, rising like cathedrals.
I am for the blinking arts, lighting up the night. I am for art falling,
splashing, wiggling, jumping, going on and off .
I am for the art of fat truck-tyres and black eyes.
I am for Kool-art, 7-UP art, Pepsi-art, Sunshine art, 39 cents art, 15 cents
art, Vatronol art, Dro-bomb art, Vam art, Menthol art, L & M art, Ex-lax
art, Venida art, Heaven Hill art, Pamryl art, San-o-med art, Rx art, 9.99
art, Now art, New art, How art, Fire sale art, Last Chance art, Only art,
Diamond art, Tomorrow art, Franks art, Ducks art, Meat-o-rama art.
I am for the art of bread wet by rain. I am for the rat’s dance between
I am for the art of flies walking on a slick pear in the electric light. I
am for the art of soggy onions and firm green shoots. I am for the art
of clicking among the nuts when the roaches come and go. I am for the
brown sad art of rotting apples.
I am for the art of meowls and clatter of cats and for the art of their
dumb electric eyes.
I am for the white art of refrigerators and their muscular openings
I am for the art of rust and mould. I am for the art of hearts, funeral
hearts or sweetheart hearts, full of nougat. I am for the art of worn
meathooks and singing barrels of red, white, blue and yellow meat.
I am for the art of things lost or thrown away, coming home from
school. I am for the art of cock-and-ball trees and flying cows and the
noise of rectangles and squares. I am for the art of crayons and weak
grey pencil-lead, and grainy wash and sticky oil paint, and the art of
windshield wipers and the art of the finger on a cold window, on dusty
steel or in the bubbles on the sides of a bathtub.
I am for the art of teddy-bears and guns and decapitated rabbits,
exploded umbrellas, raped beds, chairs with their brown bones broken,
burning trees, firecracker ends, chicken bones, pigeon bones and boxes
with men sleeping in them.
I am for the art of slightly rotten funeral flowers, hung bloody rabbits
and wrinkly yellow chickens, bass drums & tambourines, and plastic
I am for the art of abandoned boxes, tied like pharaohs. I am for an
art of watertanks and speeding clouds and flapping shades.
I am for US Government Inspected Art, Grade A art, Regular Price
art, Yellow Ripe art, Extra Fancy art, Ready-to-eat art, Best-for-less art,
Ready-to-cook art, Fully cleaned art, Spend Less art, Eat Better art, Ham
art, pork art, chicken art, tomato art, banana art, apple art, turkey art,
cake art, cookie art.
I am for an art that is combed down, that is hung from each ear, that is
laid on the lips and under the eyes, that is shaved from the legs, that is
brushed on the teeth, that is fixed on the thighs, that is slipped on the
square which becomes blobby"
--Claes Oldenburg, 1961