PRINT May 1982

Impassioned with Some Song We,

SINCE I WRITE NEITHER neither art history nor art criticism but only primary text, that is, language which is more than it is about, the only way I can and want to write about the works Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth were making between the years 1968 and 1974 is to write with Weiner and Kosuth now. Such a methodology is subjective. Such language describes who is speaking it more than what is being spoken of. Weiner’s and Kosuth’s choices of the artists they wanted to talk to and the artistic subjects they wanted to talk about give the reader “accurate” portraits of Weiner’s and Kosuth’s works.

The more subjective, my dear Media, the more accurate. Let us rely on the most tainted of languages, such as pornography and morality.


Lawrence Weiner, taped conversation: There’s been more of an emphasis on context than on content. OK. I’ll go on record with this, but we find ourselves having to deal with work because it fits into a stylistic context which previously we didn’t deal with. [Weiner is referring to the current expressionist art wave. This seems to be one of the main topics both he and Kosuth want to bring up.] I found myself going to the exhibition of somebody I’m very fond of and whom I’ve known personally for a long time. I’ve watched him mature as an artist. I went into his exhibition. I wanted to have a feeling. It didn’t have anything to do with me. It didn’t relate. I wasn’t against it; I wasn’t for it. There is a lot of art being produced right now that seems to have no use for anybody except as a commercial product.

From Lawrence Weiner’s 1975–1978 notebook on how art is not anecdotal but essential: “The acceptance of individual experience in itself is not fallacious but would in all necessity require its use toward an objective end to avoid the possibility of expressionism.”


Weiner’s argument is that the value or meaning of an artwork must come from itself, not from any outside source such as fashion.

Joseph Kosuth, tape: . . . with the absence of discourse [now] there becomes a vacuum in which the market begins to provide meaning [to art events].
How does an artwork give itself value? How does an artwork mean?
Edmund Husserl in the beginning of Ideas: “The object-giving (or dator) intuition of the first, ‘natural’ sphere of knowledge and of all its sciences is natural experience, and the primordial dator experience is perception in the ordinary sense of the word. . . . The World is the totality of objects that can be known through experience (Erfahrung), known in terms of orderly theoretical thought on the basis of direct present (aktueller) experience.”

The world is the totality of (mental) apparitions. Shiftings, slidings, all that change thus deceive. Uncertainties; therefore dependent on one another for values or meanings. How can I talk about the objective when I’m a human?
From Lawrence Weiner’s 1975–1978 notebook:


Even though, if it is so, fashion is now giving artworks their values and meanings, fashion itself isn’t objective but dependent on other apparitions. Shiftings, slidings, all that change thus deceive—a Derrida-ian language become material. Allowing only subjectivities, where, my dear Moral Majority, there can be no absolute or simplistic morality. These apparitions become material. Not to judge absolutely but to perceive (let be) is to allow (perceive) the objective.

Lawrence Weiner, tape: Why I choose language, why you choose to paint on canvas: that’s a real personal choice. This is what I’ve been saying for 15 years: such a personal choice doesn’t mean anything in the context of art. It’s not the context that counts, it’s the content. This is why Duchamp isn’t an interesting artist. Context doesn’t connote art: context connotes how art is used at a certain time only.

Richard Serra, tape: [The relationship of my art to culture has] never changed, ever, never changed. I mean that may make me a dinosaur, but it has never changed.

Barbara Kruger, tape: So, then, where do these internal interests come from? Are they genetic?

First Repetition: The Mirror

Husserl: “That it [the real world, or appearance] exists—given as it is as a universe out there (daseiendes) in an experience that is continuous, and held persistently together through a thread of widespread unanimity—that is quite indubitable.”

How does what is flux become objective or material? Weiner says he is a realist.

Husserl: “It is thus within the intersubjectivity, which in the phenomenological reduction [or awareness of primary mental causes after allowing, bracketing givenness] has reached empirical givenness on a transcendental level, and is thus itself transcendental [that is, being-for-itself], that the real (reale) world is constituted as ‘objective,’ as being there for everyone.”

Lawrence Weiner, exhibition at the Kitchen, 1976:


To allow apparitions as they are and to bracket all phenomena is to turn the mind on itself and trace primary causes or relation. This is the actual connection between contexts and content or the explanation of how apparitions have meaning for us.

It is obvious that language represents.

Lawrence Weiner, 1981 notebook: “Art (it) functions as and what it REPRESENTS.”

A representation, if it is nonjudgmental, becomes material. The dual nature/function of language is being and meaning. Thus the mirror, the representation becomes the thing, the appearance itself.

Lawrence Weiner, 1981 notebook: “Art is presentational. . . . Art (it) functions as and is what it REPRESENTS.”

Context and content are not dualities.

Second Repetition: Desire

Lawrence Weiner, tape: Where does desire come in? We know it’s a misnomer that desire equates ideology; it doesn’t. . . . But desire might be the same thing as an idea.

This world of shiftings, slidings, all who change are changing thus deceive. Lawrence Weiner, 1980 notebook: “. . . figure (in female clothes) with both binocular and arm obscuring face, . . . looking out of . . . street window or out of boat window: obverse. L.W. is at present traveling.”

Above all, this is the world of desire. Of my inability to know anything and of my questioning.

Lawrence Weiner, tape: As long as I can accept the fact that my job as an artist is to find the question.

David Salle, tape: How do you know what kind of research you’re going to do?

Lawrence Weiner, tape: We are sure of the questions that we’re addressing but we have no way of being sure of the answers.

Kathy Acker, tape: You are sure of the questions you’re addressing?

Lawrence Weiner, tape: Once material has a certain imperative about requiring certain questions that have not previously been adequately asked of it. This may sound really egotistical but when presented with a material, I begin to address its imperative. For instance, a cigarette. One of the imperatives, the one that Richard Serra presents, is that a cigarette seems to produce cancer. Another of its imperatives is that it seems to have a taste structure. The third is the fact that it burns. It burns with chemicals and without chemicals and now we’re getting closer to the materiality that I can understand. I understand then that the things that burn with chemicals and without chemicals are capable of producing cancer as well as doing X and Y and Z. That’s an imperative of the material. It doesn’t matter what the material is.

This model of art-making resembles my belief or model that writing is listening.

Kathy Acker, tape: Are you so sure of your perception?

Lawrence Weiner, tape: I am sure of my perception around the structures of [the given] knowledge and I have to take a chance on my sureness or else I would spend my life in total self-doubt of my being sure enough of the structures of what to question.

But here the most dangerous area of self-doubt might be the clue. I remember a college professor of mine, Kurt Wolff, said that the crux of a person’s work—I believe he was talking about Marx—could be found where Marx was contradicting himself.

Lawrence Weiner, 1980 notebook:


Content is not function and content determines function. Function cannot determine content.


The turnings and twistings, the language of uncertainty the uncertain language, must be left to turn and twist.

Lawrence Weiner, tape: Where does desire come in? We know it’s a misnomer that desire equates ideology, it doesn’t. Desire is not the same thing as ideology. But desire might be the same thing as an idea.

David Salle, tape: If you say that, then this is an idea/desire. It’s a desire to have this thing here, you know, to look at it and then to react to it.

Kosuth in quoting Jürgen Habermas’ “Why More Philosophy,” 1971, partially explains why art language in order to be language can no longer be scientific or pure (as is Weiner’s): “Philosophical thought after Hegel has passed into a new medium . . . we understand it as critique. Critical of the philosophy of origins, it dispenses with ultimate grounds and with an affirmative exegesis of the whole of things in being. . . . Critical, finally, of the elitist manner in which traditional philosophy is understood, the new philosophy insists on universal enlightenment [without absolutes, without any language in which any meaning is absolute] including enlightenment about itself.”


On the Nature of Conceptual Art Language

(All of the following statements by Joseph Kosuth except those indicated as abstracted from the taped conversation come from the recent catalogue of his work The Making of Meaning, Selected Writings and Documentation of Investigations on Art Since 1965, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Kunsthalle Bielefeld. The quotations from Hart Crane are from his 1930 poem The Bridge.)

Joseph Kosuth: “Our youth was spent in an environment clouded over by the prospect of a nuclear holocaust; our children face an equally grisly, and more likely, prospect: life under the merged bureaucracies of multi-national corporations and Communist state capitalism . . .”

Hart Crane: I started walking home across the Bridge . . .

Joseph Kosuth: “Art cannot be apolitical. When I realize this I must ask myself: if art is necessarily political (though not necessarily about politics) is it not necessary to make one’s politics explicit? If art is context dependent (as I’ve always maintained) then it cannot escape a socio-political context of meaning (ignoring this issue only means that one’s art drifts into one).”

Richard Serra, tape: It’s all very 19th century for probably all of us. Somebody else controls the money, the power, the framing, the distribution, for all of us.

Sandro Chia, tape: The power is very clear. Because it’s not in fact a political power, it’s economic power and economic power is something that decides how to split the world, the amount that South America belongs to the United States and Eastern Europe belongs to the Russians and there is nothing to do in relation to this situation. Nothing can change it.

Joseph Kosuth: “For this [reason] it is necessary to make one’s politics explicit (in some way) and work toward constructing a socio-political context of one’s own in which (cultural) actions are anchored for meaning.”

Joseph Kosuth, tape: There are no new forms only new meanings. An artist is engaged in the making of meaning, whether it’s the cancellation of meaning or not.

Hart Crane: “What do you want? getting weak on the links?
fandaddle daddy don’t ask for change—IS THIS
FOURTEENTH? it’s half past six she said—if
you don’t like my gate why did you
swing on it, why didja
swing on it anyhow—”

The Personal

To destroy meaning. Where will I find my clue among those humans who refuse to speak, who don’t let go and move outward without meaning, among those who only judge?

Hart Crane: And when they dragged your retching flesh,
Your trembling hands that night through Baltimore—
That last night on the ballot rounds, did you
Shaking, did you deny the ticket, Poe?

An art magazine in language defines. An art magazine mediates between the artist and/or the artwork and the reader who may or may not actually see the work by defining the meanings and the values of the work. By giving language. The purposes of these definitions, as with all media definitions, are at least partially economic and power control, in this case, in the realm of culture. Not to know where my language is going. To be unsure of my subject matter. Not to know my tools.

The Key
Hart Crane: This answer lives like verdigris, like hair
Beyond extinction, surcease of the bone;

The Lack of Anything Personal
Joseph Kosuth, tape: Art issues can’t be separated from the other issues. [For instance, an issue:] The market is one form of authority. A particular kind of cultural authority. Expressionism, which is more about the ism than about the expression, is organized to function within the matrix, i.e., a sort of map of power relations within the culture. So the artwork that is expressing itself is expressing itself within an art market which is giving this “expression” its real meaning. Therefore the art critics and the art historians love expressionism because they can control it[s values and meanings], that is, they can make culture out of it. The art critics and the art historians want those artists the meanings of whose work they can define.

And culture is one of the tools the power elite uses to control a populace. For instance, in 18th- and 19th-century Ireland, Irish children learned in their schools English history and literature, rather than Irish, as do Americans. What does it mean when a child is educated in this country?

Hart Crane: And does the Daemon take you home, also,
Wop washerwoman, with the bandaged hair?
After the corridors are swept, the cuspidors—
The gaunt sky-barracks cleanly now, and bare,

On the Art Market
Joseph Kosuth, tape: I have no competitive feelings toward Lawrence [Weiner]. We share a certain history from a period and in that sense it’s that we’re separated by that which we share, almost. I mean, we share history, too. [To Richard Serra] You were uncomfortable standing next to me in the portrait for Leo [Castelli’s] anniversary, remember?

Richard Serra, tape: Only because I was pushed into the bathroom.
Of course the personal is only trivial.

Joseph Kosuth: “The other men—Robert Barry and Lawrence Weiner—have watched their [own] work take on a ‘Conceptual Art’ association almost by accident. . . . Lawrence Weiner, who gave up painting in the spring of 1968, [Purely conceptual art is first seen . . . around 1966] changed his notion of ‘place’ (in the [Carl] Andrean sense) from the context of the canvas (which could only be specific) to a context which was ‘general,’ yet all the while continuing his concern with specific materials and processes.”

Hart Crane: Daemon, demurring and eventful yawn!
Whose hideous laughter is a bellows mirth

Two Kinds of Language

Last night I slept with and fell in love with a painter.
Joseph Kosuth: “One initiates change by first clarifying and articulating, that is, raising one’s consciousness of the present in its particularity as the arena of one’s cultural engagement.”

I was so nervous because it is the first time in a year I’m sleeping with someone I like, I can’t talk.

Joseph Kosuth: “The project now for art can be seen as both sides of the hermeneutic circle: demystification and restoration of meaning.”

Hart Crane: Impassioned with some song we fail to keep.

Personal sexual or any of the personal details of a life are not mentioned in an art magazine.

Joseph Kosuth: “Philosophical (theoretical) language is (momentarily) a parole within the langue of art. Such an understanding, however, tells us at the same moment that the langue of art is itself a parole within that larger world of significance; that discourse which is both social and historical. The circularity of which one speaks is the circularity of language, a language, culture.” I, eye, aye. The subject subjective is the one who perceives out through physical and mental senses. The personal, when not limited and rigidified but used to see, as in Joyce’s writings, is actual language that is taking place. Not to define absolutely, even if language is confusing, but to keep moving outward,
Hart Crane: Kiss of our agony Thou gatherest,
O Hand of Fire

Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner are artists who live in New York. Kathy Acker is a writer whose most recent novel is Great Expectations; she is also author of The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula.