PRINT December 1980

An Imprint Is Never Alone

1. ART IS EXEMPLARILY PRODUCTION for consumption. Work of art: consumed product. The work is apparently consumable anywhere, any time, eternally. It is preserved in its being consumed. It is a nonperishable commodity and always fresh, even though a preserve. Herein lies the great art: that of the “confectioner.”

Art could produce not an appearance but a total reality—whose “presence” would be unmasked and beautiful because it would be exhibited without shame, without lack, hiding nothing; with everything visibly there.

This is the way a work of art “touches” us. It is in us directly: the imprint of the beautiful, harmony, peace. It produces nothing, communicates nothing, it is communion.

The work of art, then, is often something to swallow. It goes down or it doesn’t, we like it or we don’t. Art makes itself invisible; this is how it is exhibited, how the work goes over, blindly and in silence. White wall, flat. White canvas, painted. Smooth paint, white surface. White, all white. Wall, canvas, paint, brush, etc., are scrupulously obliterated. The work is apparently independent of its constraints. It is “free” because it has no necessities. It represents a vain liberty, useless, embarrassing and illusory, free from nothing. The work, however, is something. But it isn’t as such. It isn’t something as a work of art. That which is, and is effectively visible, inasmuch as it appears and is there, does not show. Nothing actually disappears, everything is still visible: but from the work’s “point of view” the visible is seen from nowhere—seen only from “art’s” point of view. What is effectively is no longer, since it appears unrelated.

To be unrelated is the point of view of art, from whence the work “exists” absolutely. Nothing is without reference, the work isn’t without meaning, but it is relevant to art, that’s to say relevant to nothing. The work isn’t nothing. It is merely without reference to the fact that it is and without reference to anything which effectively is. The work obliterates itself as product. It is simply the extent to which the work “appears.” The product however is not erased. It is still there, but it repeats itself. It is no longer anything but identical repetition, that in which the work is always the same. It is not repeated, it is “produced” as repetition. It is not “the same”—nor the same thing, nor the thing itself—it “is” indifferently. The product and the work are the same, confused. The product goes into the work, and passes unnoticed. What we call a work of art is conceived only in name. What remains to us is what we can say, all the fuss we make about it, even as we note that the words do not mean anything, that what we say has “nothing to do” with it.

The discussion about art, esthetics, is the support of the work. The work of art exists only in relation to this discussion. Its point of view is strictly ideological. The “freedom” of art is in the service of the ideology which makes it appear. That the artist takes the role of the scene-shifter doesn’t change art. The wings come to the stagefront, they become part of the scene. Nothing is changed. The reversal of an esthetic proposition remains esthetic. The reverse side has the same value as the other side. Both are always on the same side, the side of art. Art is ideology’s refuge, it is the immediate instancy, order and word, impression and imprint. Art is never anything but its own discussion. The discussion is the work, it is one with the “work.” In the “absolute” appearance of the work of art, the discussion is unquestionable. The discussions themselves, on art and on the work, reply endlessly to the work, they confirm and justify it, they repeat it.

All art criticism is the discussion of the work as an imprint of its ideology. It re-marks it, repeats it. It depends on the ideological “imprint” which is the work—noted not as ideology but as imprint/impression. The work is the so-called imprint, exhibited as “imprint,” not as discussion. The discussion, as the reality of ideology, leaves no mark. It is the support of the work, the support is always mixed up with the work, even when used as support. Either the support is named, designated as “support,” and it enters into the discussion replying to the work, confirming art; or else (because) the support is the work, it is entirely the work. The critic’s discussion about the work of art re-marks it. It is the re-impression, as discussion, of the work, as imprint; it repeats the same ideology. If it criticizes the work, it is always from the “unquestionable” point of view of ideology which makes it possible “as discussion,” since it is also the point of view which makes possible the “work” as subject for discussion. The “critical” discussion criticizes nothing. Because it does not question itself, what it criticizes is not questioned. What remains is the approbation or misapprobation, the value judgments, the questions of interest. Art as art, the work as work of art, are never in question.

2. Art is the alibi of ideology, its last refuge. It is a value. The value of art is art. “Art” is in itself a magical word. It is firstly a value because of the magic of the word. It does not need to be praised. It is the last and the only possible value, because it imposes no obligation. Art does not have to be art, it is—and this, because it is never questioned. All questions debate here, since it is up to everyone to find what he wants; as a result pleasure is the rule. Art is what pleases. If you do not like it, forget it. There is no obligation. Art imposes itself as the art of pleasing, and it is by pleasure that we are obliged. Art’s obligation is our pleasure; that it displeases or provokes remains the free obligation of pleasure.

Art pleases because it is art. It has value, not because it pleases but because pleasure finds its value in it. The word art by itself valorizes what it names. Pleasure is signified as pleasure as long as it has art for subject. Art in this way is what gives pleasure its specific esthetic impression and imprint. It is the expression of pleasure, since it would be the pleasure of expression, not the desire to express. Art is the place of sublimation of desire and of its repression in the form of pleasure realized as esthetic. Art is the necessary affirmation of pleasure of being, as freedom to exist. It is also the dicta of ideology, repression and censure—as affirmation of a must, as freedom, in the exclusive form of esthetic pleasure.

Pleasure as art, art as pleasure, this is the ambiguity of art, the play of reversal, the reversal of play, the freedom to circle around, to come back to the same. No escape, art is the axis and the mirror of a freedom which goes round in circles, which dizzies itself, which desires itself and gives itself pleasure because it recognizes itself, finds itself, admires itself, insofar as it walks only in its own traces, giving itself the impression that each step is a new one. Art has a value as axis and mirror, that is to say as the imprint of a freedom which would be a freedom to be, to exist as it is, not with a view to what it should be.

Representation in art does not appear as image, degraded copy, fallen relative to the true value of a model. It exists as representation; it is the imprint, expressed as imprint. Art exhibits the existence of the representation, not as representation, but as presence of an existence which presents itself as it is. The slipping of representation to presentation is the game of art. Art is the impostor of an absolute imprint, the illusion of existence represented as existence. What exists is an illusion, but the wished-for illusion of an existence without illusion, worthwhile by itself and for itself. With art, what exists is beautiful inasmuch as it is.

It remains that art is the clear conscience of what is, inasmuch as it is as it should be. Not that there is no shame any longer in existing, but shameless existence needs art and artists. Such is the imprint of the ideology that art exhibits as imprint, as the experience, not of what should be, in the name of transcendent values, but of what really is and is worthwhile simply in terms of existence.

3. In what way is what is presented as imprints of brush no. 50 repeated at regular intervals (30 centimeters) a work of art? It remains to be seen.

What are imprints of brush no. 50? To be seen. To see: first, to apply on a given material a no. 50 brush impregnated with paint, in such a way that it leaves an imprint. Then let us see.

The imprint is what is left. Left on: paint covering the material on which the brush has been applied; there where it has been applied, a colored mark. Left, “the imprint” leaves no imprints. What shows is that which is imprinted, impressed, this imprint, not its imprint.

What shows does not appear as an imprint, it is in fact imprints. An imprint is never alone. There is no reproduction, no representation. There is no visible “imprint,” not one. What there is, is all that shows. All there is, is to be seen. To see is not to represent or to reproduce identically. To see cannot be reproduced. It is never the same. It is repeated: it does not repeat. Repetition is the expression and the manifest experience of repeated proof of difference. It repeats nothing. It is a search to be able effectively to recognize and point out each time what is from that which exists. The imprint is, to the extent that it is (its difference) and remains to be seen differently—in the differences of seeing. This is the essential power of repetition, of which “to see” is the repeated experience and always different. That there are “imprints of brush no. 50 repeated at regular intervals (30 centimeters),” is nothing else but the specific accomplishment of this ability; this is the proof, as effectual practice and rigorous exercise. It is the experience of painting, of what it is to paint. But such a proof—being able to be seen—can also be read in the context of art, as critical experience of art and of esthetic perception.

Reading as critical experience is the experience of difference. It necessarily originates from the same power of structural repetition as that which is to be seen, insofar as it repeats and reveals, in the order of discourse, the difference of what there is to see, on the level of a reading. It reads as the difference of the visible from the readable, denouncing in this way the usual confusion of the seeing and the reading in the traditional optics of art.

By comparison with the literal definition “imprint of brush” there is a possible legibility of what is “to be seen,” which does not imply the visibility. The visibility is only possible and real insofar as “imprint” shows itself in each imprint as covering by paint. The imprint is, each time, what shows and is visible as this covering. Each imprint is a covering, a different covering. All the imprints are, as imprints, different. These differences are not the result of a system, they are not ideally different; they are not different in principle, but in effect.

It is in the visibility of the imprints, in the way they show themselves, that the work exists, and not in the definition. The definition comes from the work; the legibility from the visibility. This implies that a necessity of structure must be visible, findable through material data that are indispensable to the carrying out of the work, the work as work of painting: the covering of a given material, with the help of a given brush, with a given paint, etc. The legibility remains a structural level of experience parallel to that of the visibility by which the work appears. There is not then a background, a distance between visibility and legibility. Any distinction between visible and legible originates from an obvious textual gap. This gap is distinguishable by the occurrence of a sign as reference and repetition, as differentiation. Thus “imprint”; the reference to the imprint originates from a literal description of the work. “Imprint” means literally what is to be seen, it designates that. But the imprint is, at the level of the seen work, insignificant. It is significant only as a spot of color, as paint. The word “imprint” is the sign of this difference, of this gap: the designated sign.

The sign signs, signals; it can be only as such, in difference, in divergence, de-signated. The sign as it signals, signing the space it occupies as effective mark, does not mean “imprint.” It appears as covering, distinct from that which it covers, signified (page, writing, canvas, paint, etc.). It is de-signated as “imprint,” from the imprint that there is and not from the sense, the signification, the concept of imprint.

It is paint which is visible, which is given form by the application of a brush. The imprint left by the brush is effectively produced and it is only in that way a product of necessary relationships, a structural coherence of all the elements related to this production (paper, canvas, paint, brush, surface, space, place, etc.).

The “work” is always unexpected. It surprises all definition. It is formally awaited: the unexpected is not spectacular. The work has a strict formal signification: it can be formulated. It is not for this that it exists, even if by this it is rigorously possible. The imprint has no previous existence to its production. Neither is it an original creation. It is the imprint produced by the regular application of the brush. It is not privileged. There are imprints of brush no. 50 repeated at regular intervals (30 centimeters). An imprint is never alone.*

*See: René Denizot, Une empreinte nest jamais seule, Ed. Yvon Lambert, Paris. 1975.

René Denizot is a French philosopher.

Translated from the French by Diane Chrestien.