PRINT April 1981

Dorothea Rockburne’s “Egyptian Paintings”

WORKS OF ART ARE TOKENS of an artist’s activity. They are gratuitous in practical terms unless and until we spectators can turn them into tokens of some activity on our part as well. Doing that means learning something of the difference between real and spurious activity in our own lives and in those we witness. We are burdened with this problem of knowledge because we live in a culture that profits from our confusion of action with obedience, and works tend to promote that confusion.

Central to the concept and experience of activity is the fact that we can refrain from it at will, not just for a moment, but for as long as we please. (Thus, breathing is not really an activity, while reading is.) For this reason, to experience oneself as truly active is to taste the only freedom realistically available to us in the contemporary world: inner detachment from the compulsions that shape our

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