When Does a Doodle Become an Art Piece?

Of all the dozen or so museums Will and I saw in Europe last month, the exhibit that keeps coming up is one that neither of us liked.  At all.

At the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin we saw the exhibit Secret Universe, the works of Horst Ademeit.

Each day of Ademeit’s life, he would take a Polaroid of something that bothered him about the world and record his thoughts and complaints all over the edges.  He would number them, so he could keep track.

Horst Ademeit "5805" Archiv-Nr.: Ad 621 Mischtechnik / Polaroid 11 x 9 cm © Courtesy Galerie Susanne Zander, Köln

Only after Ademeit’s death, as the exhibit related, was his “body of work was discovered.” This body of work — these thousands of Polaroids lined were up, one by one, in numerical order forming a grid stretching through three rooms.

The ramblings of a disturbed man set out in the meticulous fashion in which he formed them for all to see.  This obsessive tracking of each day is something we have come to associate with psychosis or other mental illness.

Though we didn’t like the exhibit especially, we are still talking about.  It strikes me now as a wonderful glimpse into the pain of what it is to be human.  At least this man had an outlet for all the complaints that many of us swallow in the effort to be gracious human beings!

But at the same time, I don’t know if it’s art.  I wonder if perhaps it would be better characterized as anthropology.

But when a doodle become an art piece?  When you have thousands of them lined up side by side?

Since we’ve been back at home, I’ve been indulging my months-long-neglected artistic streak.  I started by creating the drawing to the right during my many Wednesday meetings last week. A fellow Board Member looked at it, named it a doodle but related that he liked it.  I call it City on a Hill. Original, eh?

Whatever the product, for me the act of creating is a form of release. Just as, I hope, Ademeit felt release from the creation his daily Polaroid of complaints.

Is art defined by the intent of the artist? The release he or she feels to create?  Is it defined by the experience of the viewer?  Or by something else entirely?

What do you think?

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One thought on “When Does a Doodle Become an Art Piece?

  1. I agree with what that Norwegian guy in Berlin was (I think) trying to say. It’s a matter of social convention. Had the museum-goers of Paris a century ago laughed Duchamp out onto the streets and thrown his “Fountain” after him, then our social definition of what constitutes “art” might still be governed by the aesthetic regulations that prevailed before then (art is supposed to be beautiful, art is supposed to involve craftsmanship, &c). Instead, we have accepted that whether something is art depends on its status: is it put in the foreground, or relegated to the periphery? Anything on display in a gallery or art museum is by social convention “art”, while people in different cultures will disagree about whether the most beautiful grafitti can be so considered. The function of something like “the Fountain” is precisely to call our attention to this situation, and this is why we’re still talking about it: it poses the subversive question of whether other status arrangements may be equally haphazard.

    This can all be viewed as an ongoing crisis response to a labor-displacing technological shock: the camera. The invention of photography changed the game: no longer did it require training and expertise to represent the world. Anyone with the bread to buy a camera could do it. And yet the impulse to express oneself remained, just as the impulse to work on something remains when employment is absent. So artists had to scramble to change the definition of “art” so that it was no longer strictly associated with mimicking the reality of appearances, and was instead about expressing “deeper” realities: the results were first impressionism, then cubism, and finally abstract art and the above sort of exercises. It’s a stunning shift. But at the same time, it represents a regression of sorts, since the strict realism of the Renaissance/modern era was itself a shift away from earlier conventions.

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