On Artistic Duty
The duty of the artist is something that may reflect ubiquity and may reflect nothing but moldering delusion. Reinhardt is a paragon of artistic duty in my eye. He represents a time and place where the ratio was more 1:1 than the seemingly abstruse (i.e. painfully banal?) nowadays. While humorous, he was also devoted to the mystic truths Nauman may or may not have lampooned. His (canonic) visual language was exacting-esque, responsibly pretentious. He died 11 years before I was born. He belongs to another time, a legendary time. What to write of legends? Nothing that I can subscribe to. I can fawn and swoon and wonder and dream and meme, but all that can be said is that there are times when art is ripe to be known and times when it is not—that is the essence of what art can most closely be identified as. Mid-20th century “avant-garde” painting can be seen as a mountain(-range): it was the apex of all the lunacy that bred it and managed to be quite becoming in its evening gowns; it was ripe for mythos, as it had nothing else to fall on (the idea coffers had been decimated). In my mind, Reinhardt avoids the mythic (perhaps it’s because of the cartoons, I don’t know). Reinhardt remains a human who (contrary to obsessions) didn’t totally participate in mystery cults. This sounds like much of the gobbledygook that is most ridiculous about mid-century art postures. But I’m never able to write beyond gobbledygook myself. I mean I could pore over hundreds of Reinhardt images and draw some tentative (perhaps poetic) conclusions, but that’s not what’s good about this whole art thing. Reinhardt could joke about the paradoxes of what art is and isn’t—is and isn’t being one and the same. Perhaps that’s the highest praise I can lavish on a man that stopped living before my life began, a man who is utterly historical to me, and thus not really a person. But his art has been cataloged and called this or that. I know what a lot of that this and that means and means to me, and so I can’t see the art without the name or the history. This is always great. But I like thinking Reinhardt was going for something else: ubiquity of duty; art-as-art and nothing more. Why him? Perhaps any name would do. Depends on one’s perceptual seat of course. From this seat, looking on Reinhardt, I see an honesty that doesn’t impede itself.
DARREN BADER is an artist based in New York.