Notes from Course Work: “Art Is Everything You Don’t Have to Do”

We just watched a lecture online in my doctoral seminar that Brian Eno gave in 2016 at the AA School of Architecture in London. In it, Eno addresses the question: “What is Art actually for?” A meandering, entertaining and thought-provoking series of insights are offered, although apparently not completed, according to Eno, who ran out of time before he could fully wrap his thoughts up. A lot of ideas were crammed into that tiny hour, however one in particular stood out for me. Albeit, hard to take out of context, given that the whole premise of his talk was how all these processes in art and design exist on a continuum, from function through to style, I’ll nonetheless pinpoint one pearl, at the risk of misinterpreting and misrepresenting his eloquent treatise (which I encourage anyone who is interested in musings about art to check out, in any case).

Eno reflects on the question of aesthetics and stylistic decisions, on how “context means everything” especially in formulating any coherent understanding of what we might be seeing or experiencing – in particular in the face of more opaque works of art. In unpacking this (and so many related notions) Eno refers to Morse Peckham and to the idea that art comes after things we need to do. He says, “You have to move around, but you don’t have to dance; you have to speak but you don’t have to develop poetry; you have to make noise but you don’t have to make music.” According to Eno, Peckham’s concept of “non-functional stylistic dynamism” apparently addresses how the “not having to” moves along this continuum to become a (artful) thing you do – a thing conceptualized, crafted, created… toward being an “artful moment.”

Eno conceives this as: “Art Is Everything You Don’t Have to Do.”

I’ve been contemplating what it means to “do nothing” for the last four years. In particular I’ve been wondering about what it means to make, and whether/how “making” is necessary. This raises many questions about the role of the artist, my role as an artist (and maker) and my evolving relationship to the notion of aesthetic value (apparently) inherent in (works of) art. In furtive and infiltrating performative practice if there is any kind of aesthetic being enlisted it is an “aesthetic of the everyday,” essentially underscoring what is already around us, elevating this (as it were) to the realm of artful living/experiencing. Seeing the world artfully. Listening to Eno discuss and interpret Peckham’s concept of “non-functional stylistic dynamism” brought me straight back to these questions again: where/how am I (am I?) choosing, making, doing, enacting “stylistic decisions?” Where does the notion of “style” come into these infiltrating, relational processes? How am I considering/constructing/integrating these? How do places of pause (the crux of my current preoccupation) render style visible? How does “style” render space? Can style inform more artfully rendered moments of pause, of doing nothing?

How do I think – and RE-think aesthetics? In particular in the context of rest, and “doing nothing?”

Perhaps doing nothing is everything that art doesn’t have to do. Or everything that art is, in fact, doing?

Author: Victoria Stanton

Montreal-based performance artist, writer, and educator Victoria Stanton explores live action, human interaction, video, film, photography, and drawing.

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