Arlyne Moi

Towards a Justifiable Conception of ‘the Autonomous Artwork’ in Today’s Artworld

Thesis for a "Hovedfag" in Philosophy at the University of Bergen - Spring 2005.

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The goal of this chapter is to compare, evaluate and discuss the various moments of autonomy presented thus far, and then hazard a third synthesis of moments of autonomy for the contemporary artwork. After this, the following question is asked: Even if we can construct a new synthetic understanding of autonomy that fits better with today’s artworks than do the already-established versions of autonomy, is it something we need?

The PH viewed through the lens of the HBD and vice versa

At the end of chapter 4, a list of moments was suggested, of ways in which the contemporary artwork could be understood as autonomous. This provisional hybrid (PH) was as follows: 1a) the artists’ authenticity of expression; 1b) law-likeness without a law; 2) the work’s separation from truth-as-correspondence (the fundamental incommensurability between aesthetic symbolic forms and the symbolic forms of speech and language leaves the work under-determined by language; the work’s dealing in aesthetic ideas, possibly better understood as general concepts that generate more thought than specialized concepts can accommodate); 3) the work’s autonomy understood as related to political decision; 4) the work’s independent value due to the priority of aesthetic features; 5) some sort of double character, one side of which is autonomous in a variety of senses; 6) the indeterminate telos. At the end of chapter five, another list of moments was suggested for how the contemporary artwork could be understood as autonomous. This synthesis of Heidegger, Blanchot and Derrida’s thinking (HBD) gave some preference to Derrida’s undecidability in order to avoid problems experienced with the notion of the double character. The moments of autonomy were as follows: The artwork: 1) is independent from the artist’s intentions for it; 2) is independent from the receiver’s intentions for it; 3) is an unknowable particular fragment, anterior to the truth-as-correspondence discourse but the basis for that discourse; 4) resists determinate appropriation, yet in the very act of doing so, it opens up for all manner of appropriations; 5) has an undecidable character that cannot be conclusively distinguished, either with regard to two distinct characters, form, reference, meaning or value; 6) The undecideable character renders the work’s relation to moral concerns inconclusive, but judging the work is nevertheless a moral responsibility.

To make the task easier, I take the easy decision first: I reject PH 4 (the work’s independent value due to the priority of aesthetic features). Through lengthy discussion,[347] it was found that neither earth nor world could have priority. It is also rejected because, at the level of materials, the artwork is suppressed,[348] and because, in relation to contemporary artworks, it may be irrelevant.[349]

The moment of the work’s autonomy understood as related to political decision (PH 3) is, to a large degree, a sociological/political issue concerning the status of the art institution. The art institution is something created by humans; it is not a natural kind. Therefore, if we want to give artworks various modicums of autonomy, we make a pact of agreement amongst ourselves that this will be a commonly held convention. Still, the question nags: If artworks are inherently undecidable, if the work of our hands exceeds our intentions, what would that indicate in terms of consequences for the institutionalised conventions of agreement which together with human actors, make up the artworld? For one thing, it would indicate that the “nature” of the art institution as the condition for the artwork[350] is nevertheless mutable and can be re-negotiated continuously. This is a huge topic, and very important, yet, as I said in my introduction, I have strategically chosen to not focus on the art institution and its relation to the work’s autonomy, partly in order to comply with the limitation of 115 pages, but also because I see it as an issue which focuses primarily on the institutional setting, not the artwork.[351]

PH 2 (the work’s separation from truth-as-correspondence) harmonizes well with HBD 3 (an unknowable particular fragment, anterior to the truth-as-correspondence discourse but the basis for that discourse). However, in the discussions of chapter 5, HBD 3 was highly disputed because truth-as-correspondence can obtain, by the grace of conventionalized agreements, even if positivism is ruled out. To think of the work in terms of a double character and the indeterminate telos (PH 5, 6) would be an improvement over HBD 3 because on the one hand, the work can be true in terms of correspondence, it can be meaningful and return to a telos, while on the other hand it is subject to a scepticism that renders it independent from truth as correspondence. Still, the sceptical solution expressed in PH 5 and 6 is, as I see it, greatly enriched by HBD 4, 5, and 6 (4: resists determinate appropriation, yet in doing so, opens up for all manner of appropriations; 5: the undecidability thesis; 6: The undecideable character renders the work’s relation to moral concerns inconclusive, but judging the work is nevertheless a moral responsibility) because HBD 4, 5 and 6, while also sceptical—in light of undecidability, we are incapable of saying anything conclusive about the artwork—nevertheless, disallows “bad faith” and a radical-sceptical “anything-goes” relativism. With undecidability, the artwork is addressed, scrutinized—it is not just a mirror of the receiver’s attitudes—but it still “throws” the artist and the receiver back on themselves to confront their own attitudes and responsibilities.

With regard to authenticity of expression (PH 1a): We recall that this was a far cry from what autonomy usually means (self-legislation, independence). Meanwhile, law-likeness without a law (PH 1b) did not exclude the artist-work relation from also following innumerable external laws and therefore it was only partial. A similar partiality obtained for HBD 1: independence from the artist’s intentions, and HBD 2, independence from the receiver’s intentions. Therefore, PH 1, HBD 1 and HBD 2 bear being discussed in light of undecidability (HBD 5 and 6) because autonomy founded on a sceptical undecidability warrants no foregone conclusions. Furthermore, since the disinterested attitude was cancelled out of the PH, in light of undecidability, the question warrants re-opening. The next paragraphs will therefore focus on 1) the artist’s authenticity of expression and 2) the receiver’s responsibility in light of the work’s undecidability.[352]

The artist’s authenticity of expression in light of undecidability

In chapter 4, the artist’s ‘authenticity’ was interpreted as “to make the expression one’s own”; to take some expression already found in the culture and somehow personalizing it, such that it gives no impression of being copied or second-hand (e.g., Pollock’s drip technique was “his own” even though Max Ernst had drip-painted before him.) But could authenticity of expression be expanded in a relevant way for the contemporary artwork (which was glossed as a work that does not bear all the hallmarks of Modernism, such as separation from political and moral judgments), precisely by viewing it “through the lens” of the work’s undecidability? To put it more crudely: In light of the work’s undecidability, how can artistic practice be the artist’s authentic expression?

In light of undecidability and the many things it entails,[353] the artist is thrown back on herself. By this idiom, what is meant is: 1) her artistic practice is lawlike without a law, both agency and product; the work is not an effect of some external thing. 2) The artist takes responsibility for her expression; she really means what she intends to say; it is an expression of her genuine conviction. These points need further explanation.

Law-likeness without a law: agency and product

On p. 21, law-likeness without a law was described as what the artist habitually does; it was simultaneously an agency and a product, “the oyster shell” secreted by artistic practice.[354] This still holds. But in light of undecidability we can now add the following thought: While the choices an artist makes depend on the kind of person she is, her historical situation—an enormous network of factors, lived experiences (a world)—as such, her practice follows external rules. But all the factors that determine what the artist is capable or incapable of are not the only things that determine the work. Undecidability enunciates the artist’s own agency; she is free to make significant choices; In some respects this is analogous to Kant’s “Copernican Turn” (see p. 2) because it is not what the world holds for the artist as a source of influence, things that cause her to do x, but what she brings to the work.

‘Authenticity’ as taking responsibility for one’s artistic expression

If the contemporary artwork has an undecidable character, it is seemingly in conflict with itself in a number of ways, including its relation to the artist: On the one hand, the artist is responsible for the authenticity of her expression, in the sense that she is morally responsible for the purpose she intends. On the other hand, she is not responsible for what receivers actually do with the work. The artist is led into a paradox because she cannot mean what she intends by her work; the phenomena can, in part, master her and not she it. As such, the work exercises the artist’s un-freedom (un-autonomy), and this causes some artists, with seemingly good conscience, to disclaim responsibility for the effects of their work. This renders unto undecidability a rather fixed-looking character!—and it lands the artist in an ambivalent position (precisely where avant-garde artists found it comfortable to be): Under cloak of undecidability, she can treat it as a foregone conclusion that all responsibility is fully laden on the receiver. In the same manoeuvre however, the artist is irresponsible, dishonest, unreliabile and inauthentic; acting in “bad faith”.[355] It may be that accusing the artist of these vices is a result of viewing the work’s autonomous slope from the vista of its “dead” slope. I submit however, that this predicament makes viewing the work as undecidable more appealing than to view it as having a double character, because it emphasizes the artist as having no moral carte blanche. The artist would now be seen as just as responsible for her works, for what she intends to say, as for anything else she does in life. It presents the artist as an obligated being, living in community, having to be sensitive to fellow human beings, subject to the same law as everyone else. A part of artistic practice would be self-questioning: In what way am I trying to expand culture and aid the interest of social communication? But more than this: Am I my brother’s keeper? What about the weaker brother? Who is my neighbour? These are surely questions it behoves everyone to reflect on. To take undecidability seriously would cause the artist to be authentic by taking responsibility to own up to the intentions she is trying to communicate, express genuine conviction over those intentions she is aware of, but admit the existence of other goals beyond her horizon that may obtain. Take Serrano—when he claims he did not intend sacrilege with Piss Christ; he still does not exonerate himself or the work, for whatever else the artwork is, it is also sacrilegious.[356] By owning up to the multiple meanings, the artist takes responsibility for them. This also indicates that the artist, in the interest of authenticity of expression, must admit that her works can be hurtful. Irresponsibility arises when the artist responds with “Since I did not mean x, my expression cannot mean x, therefore I am absolved of accountability.” This is irresponsible because it does not admit the work’s poly-vocal character. To extrapolate from Toril Moi,[357] the artist has responsibility for the situation that arises whether she likes it or not, albeit not in an absolute sense, since undecidability forces her to make choices that will never be sufficient or absolute.

Yet while saying this, it is important to distinguish between the artist’s intentions as a source of meaning, and her intentions as a source of responsibility; the distinction reveals, on the one hand, that an artwork will always mean more than the artist intends, and such intentions may be irrelevant for the receiver’s interpretation. On the other hand, the artists’ intentions are not irrelevant for determining the artist’s responsibility for her work (Moi exemplifies the distinction by pointing to the way we judge premeditated murder as opposed to involuntary manslaughter). Evaluating the artist’s responsibility for her work can entail considering her intentions, still, oft times the artist does not understand what she is saying/expressing/intending (and this creates work for critics and historians).

But regardless, an attitude common in High Modernism’s artworld is now illegitimate, for under the regime of undecidability, it is impossible to treat political and moral judgments as external and thus invalid. Through the lens of undecidability, the artist cannot claim, as was exemplified in the survey on the artist’s moral responsibility mentioned in the introductory chapter, “A morally responsible artist is no artist.”[358] or “An artist is morally responsible as a human being, not as an artist”.[359] Under Modernism, artists gave interviews and some wrote their own catalogue texts, but today, broadcasting the artist’s claimed intention is common, not least because of undecidability, even hanging up signs with the curator’s intentions.[360] Institutions are now known to admit exercising bad taste; subdued admission of blame has been expressed.[361] What does not happen, which still is different from everyday life, is that artists usually do not admit that their works can be effective in a negative way,[362] nor do artists admit thwarting the interest of social communication. Why does this not generally happen in the artworld? This is also what it means to be authentic—to take responsibility for what we express.[363] Would such an admission be so detrimental to the artist’s freedom of speech?

But would such an understanding of authenticity of expression entail that the contemporary artist should always give interviews, write essays in gallery catalogues, augment her visual or otherwise artwork with her stated intentions? Well, certainly if a problem in interpretation arises this would seem appropriate. But otherwise? Such a question cannot be answered in advance of a specific situation, since foregone conclusions are hard to come by with undecidability. Authenticity of expression in light of undecidability opens into questions having to do with differences between doing a thing inexactly, partially strangely, ineptly, badly—or not doing the thing at all[364] Hence undecidability addresses a further region of the artist’s agency: It has been noted that there are many ways in which an action can go wrong, but it would be incorrect to suppose that the artist is obligated to take precautions to insure, whenever she undertakes to do anything, that none of these wrongs will come to pass; her obligation may be limited to avoiding doing something that is highly likely to result in some misfortune, to avoid carelessness, or to be especially careful where the action is dangerous or delicate. Still, such a sentiment sounds like a recipe for paralysing the artist’s agency; it is hard to see how any avant-garde artworks could be made. Also, what if the intention is to offend, and that in being offended, the receiver is morally exercised and improved? Say she learns tolerance? But should the artist offend so that the receiver’s grace will abound? Thankfully the artworld is accustomed to controversy, and it has proved to be a place that tolerates more of it than other institutions in society, witness Turner Prize exhibitions of recent years. Moreover, in late capitalist societies we have freedom of speech and expression, and there are laws defending our right to it, so this also bolsters the tolerance of the artworld. Still, even at this point in history, it may be argued that there are some subjects, which are too dangerous or at least unwise to deal with through radically undecidable means.[365]

Finally, when undecidability throws the artist back on herself, it is her responsibility to reflect over whom she wants to share her created world with—her contemporary receiver—for to intend one’s work for a certain sort of receiver is also to choose the issues with which one deals and the goals one intends. It is to this cluster of issues—how the receiver receives the undecidable work and the goal of undecidable contemporary artworks—we now turn.

The receiver’s responsibility in light of undecidability

When confronted with an undecidable artwork, the receiver is also thrown back on herself: She must judge the work, but whatever judgment is made, it is not conclusive. Furthermore, because of undecidability, we cannot say before hand that the receiver should exercise proactive sympathy and attentiveness toward the work because other attitudes might also be useful and appropriate, depending on the situation. It is the receiver’s choice to meet the work with anything from enthusiasm to indifference, disgust or silence. The work may be judged useless, it belongs to her freedom to reject it, but no matter what, she will always be responsible for her attitude; there is no excuse for bad faith.

Viewing the artwork through the lens of undecidability, the receiver is thrown back on herself. She must decide for herself to what the work will return. And if as she returns it to anything other than to itself, this at least belatedly puts the work in a relation with some sort of truth: The contemporary artist’s aspirations for their work’s purposefulness render them subject to the truth-as-correspondence discourses the instant the receiver tries to evaluate the artist’s intentions. Truth in the sense of unconcealedness of being will always be the case with every artwork, since this is not exclusively either material or metaphysical unconcealedness. But what about opening the work up to a pragmatic understanding of truth? A pragmatic view of truth would entail that the work is true if it brings about success—social communication.[366] If we recall the discussion of Gonzales-Torres’ Placebo, receivers judge the work false with regard to truth-as-correspondence if they disagree with the artist’s claims about it, i.e., they do not feel personally responsible for the deaths of AIDS sufferers. Nevertheless, this artwork has proved to be successful in communicating the common humanity of AIDS sufferers and as such, it can be said to be true in a pragmatic sense. Undecidable artworks cause the responsibility to fall back upon the receiver, to decide what sort of truth—be it correspondence, Heideggarian or pragmatic—is at stake, and to make a fallible decision in light of the situation at hand.

This situation moves the focus from the personal responsibility of individual receivers to public opinion on the whole. It is the case that in democratic societies, public opinion behaves as a sort of courtroom where artists, curators, gallery directors and other members of the art institution are called to account for their choices, “cross-examined” as it were. It seems right that public opinion is “the courtroom” because, if artists and museums receive taxpaye-funding, this presupposes that those involved in the art institution in some way or another contribute to the good of society, directly or indirectly; it means that the purpose of artworks is to contribute to the good of humanity. It may be argued that such a view conflicts with the undecidable artwork, the receiver cannot say definitively what the purpose of the work is. Yet if we look at how contemporary artworks are in fact used (this was addressed in the introductory chapter), it certainly seems they are used in a way that is an embroidering up CJ §44:306, where Kant states that beautiful art should “advance the culture of mental powers in the interest of social communication”. The contemporary artwork is instrumental, it would fall in line with Heidegger’s world, Blanchot’s “dead” art, the sort of work that is “man’s greatest hope, his only hope of being man”,[367] and, as we saw in chapters 4 and 5, it is a sort of artwork which, while not necessarily always enmeshed in the truth-as-correspondence discourse, is the basis for it.

How can the contemporary artwork achieve its goal with regard to receivers? Gavin Jantjes, former director of the Hennie Onstad Senter for Art puts it thus: The work achieves its goals through confronting the receiver’s consciousness—say by creating visions of how the society should ideally be.[368] To Jantjes’ notion could be added that the artist can even present a dystopi—such visions set in motion a questioning of society, intellectual discussions and debate about what kind of world we want to live in. We become aware of our surroundings, of our own humanity and that of others. This in turn may undermine those value systems that thwart human progress. All this contributes to our gaining greater insight, and the culture expands. Meanwhile, this exposes a great difference between the Kantian sensus communis and the sort of community the undecidable contemporary artwork engenders: For Kant, it was not possible to discuss artworks, we must all just agree; for contemporary art, discussion is essential, but it is not necessary to agree. Still, both the Kantian and contemporary positions are united in the view that the goal for art is nevertheless not determinate; we do not know how the society will change via the art-discourse, culture will expand, but it is unclear what will in fact transpire.


Based on the discussions in chapters 4, 5 and thus far in 6, I hazard to suggest that the contemporary artwork has moments of autonomy as follows: 1) the work has an undecidable character,[369] which favours neither its metaphysical nor physical aspects. 2) The work is probably always related to truth in a Heideggarian sense, since it must necessarily have aspects of earth and world; however, it may or may not be related to truth-as-correspondence, or to truth in a pragmatic sense. It is up to the receiver to judge. 3) The work’s autonomy is related to political decision. 4) With regard to the artist, the work’s undecidability throws the artist back on herself: she is responsible for the authenticity of her expression and sincere in her intentions for the work, even though her intentions may fail. There is no excuse for an artist’s bad faith. 5) Artistic practice is, at least in part, akin to law-likeness without a law. 6) The undecidable artwork throws the receiver back on herself; it is the receiver’s choice to meet the work with anything from enthusiasm to indifference, disgust or silence. She may find the work useless, it belongs to her freedom to reject it, but regardless, she will always be responsible for her attitude towards it. There is no excuse for the receiver exercising bad faith.

I used the verb “to hazard” in the above paragraph’s first sentence. This is because I am not convinced of the adequacy of this list; I could easily have come up with a different list. The whole project of constructing a new understanding of autonomy for today’s art, built up gradually through 3 chapters—crashes down to, at best, partial autonomy: partly undecidable, partly separate from truth-as-correspondence, partly law-like without law, and it is fully enmeshed in moral judgments. Still, it seems wise to construct a sober and careful list that does not make large claims about the work’s independence, for what remains of it is still significant.

In the mean time, another defeatist thought rears up: What if the project [of constructing a conception of ‘autonomous artwork’ that would be justifiable for contemporary artworks] is obsolete? Lambert Zuiderwaart[370] suggests that in Western-democratic-capitalist societies, we do not need the artwork to be autonomous in order to challenge the status quo and to disclose human aspirations. Adorno thought artworks needed to be autonomous for just this task, but it is hard to imagine why this would have to be so today. Perhaps relative independence/autonomy would allow the work to present its challenge and disclosure in a more concentrated and sophisticated way, but the self-referential tendency of autonomous artworks could just as easily prevent this challenge and disclosure.[371] Perhaps some degree of autonomy helps in this task, but to claim that autonomy is a precondition for the subsequent truth discourse? Could not an artwork on the side of the world—a dead artwork—also challenge the status quo, even in ways more effective than those available to autonomous works? And could it not also disclose human aspirations and aid social communication? Non-autonomous artworks can be the point of origin for discussions that deal in truth-as-correspondence too. They can make strange, disorient us, such that we begin to see the everyday mundane things in fresh ways. What comes immediately to mind is Reinhard Haverkamp’s Norge 2000 [Illustration 22a and 22b]; with elegance and simplicity, it uses well-known, “dead” symbols to make strange the everyday. What about the Black Madonna of Poland [Illustration 23] under the Communist’s regime? This clearly non-autonomous icon was stages as a device to subvert un-freedom. So what do we need ‘the autonomous artwork’ for?

The autonomist advocate rallies: First of all, we need to keep it because it describes aspects of our actual experience with artworks. For example, even the new basis exhibition at the National Museum in Oslo, designed to reveal the artwork as non-autonomous, fails in its goal; works placed in supposedly highly explicit contexts are still ambiguous.[372] Secondly, the artist needs ‘the autonomous artwork’ in the contemporary artworld in order to avoid the fate of the poet in Plato’s Republic X: being evicted from political life. Autonomy understood along Kantian lines already was an eviction from political life, so if the expression ‘autonomous artwork’ can be used in the effort to safeguard freedom for contemporary political artworks, it needs to be re-construed in such a way that artistic knowing can be practical (moral) knowing and political practice while still maintaining the work’s autonomy. This can be achieved by understanding the work’s autonomy as related to the undecidable, possibly double character. Thirdly, ‘autonomous artwork’ is worth keeping because it helps maintain an important distinction between domains in our culture. Not everything needs to be subsumed under scientific rationality (formålsrasjonaliteten).[373] Particularly for human beings, we do not want to have to always be instrumental in order to justify our existence. ‘Autonomous artwork’ is worth keeping because it is a symbol of just this human freedom. Fourthly, ‘the autonomous artwork’ is a problematic promise—a partly empty promise (‘The autonomous artwork’ harkens to a utopian desire to return to a time without concepts. We want to look at artworks with wondering innocent eyes, all while, it was concepts that gave us freedom from being determined by nature[374]) but for all its emptiness, powerful—of freedom for us all. It gives aesthetic expression to visions, possibly utopian, of freedoms we could have. Even in democracies, groups considered by the mainstream as dangerous experience their freedom of speech is curtailed—say Marxists in the USA. When we lack freedom of expression, artworks are stages as having the freedom to speak in our behalf.

Seen in this light, the ‘autonomous artwork’—the ultimate description an artwork under Modernism could achieve—may be a poseur, but it may be a necessary one. For just as the independence for individuals and societies has increasingly pronounced itself throughout the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries, the artwork’s freedom remains an emblem of that freedom the individual seeks. In Kantian terms, it is a regulative idea, something we cannot confirm the existence of, but we postulate it in order to subvert oppressive economies, political or otherwise. The notion confronts us, its maker. It inquires, asking: How independent are you?

To this, the dissenter replies: On the illusion of freedom, un-freedom freely develops.



[348] See pp. 58-59; 76.

[349] See pp. 75-76.

[350] See p. 32.

[351] A book worth reading on this issue is Douglas Crimp, On the Museum’s Ruins, Cambridge Mass.: MIT, 1993.

[352] A composite list of what is tentatively kept thus far is as follows: PH 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, and HBD 3, 4, 5 and 6.

[353] For instance, there is always a problem with distinguishing formal finality, it is never the case that the artwork is “in order”, i.e., that it fulfils a purpose according to normal conditions of everyday life; the artist aims for one sort of receiver but gets another, the artist cannot know what the effects of her work will be (witness the effects of Fountain); maybe for the artist to say what she really means, she would have to say something different, but that again would be a failure; when the artist tries to express what she means through the work, the work falls into paradox because symbolic form is always open to more than one interpretation; the artist does not have control over the world she sets up. In light of Wittgenstein, 1958, §87, we can imagine another rendition of a double character for artworks: Wittgenstein pointing to all the times we do understand, while Derrida points to all times we misunderstand.

[354] Woolf, 1994, pp. 549-550.

[355] It will be recalled that ‘bad faith’, mauvaise foi, (Sartre) describes someone who views herself as being determined by a relatively fixed character and external circumstances beyond her control. Under the pretence of un-freedom, she disclaims responsibility with a good conscience.

[356] Here, clearly, the contemporary artwork is more than the aesthetic picture; it includes a concept and a title.

[357] Moi, 2003, p. 60-75. In this essay, Toril Moi reflects over Stanley Cavell’s ”Must We Mean What We Say?” and the writings of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

[358] Frigstad, p. 56. Quote from the author Anne B. Ragde.

[359] Frigstad, p. 57. Quote from Åsmund Torkildsen, professor of art theory and director of Drammens Museum.

[360] This is the case with the new thematically hung basis exhibition at the Oslo National Museum, Spring, 2005.

[361] I refer to the the Dror Feiler incident, January 18, 2004, where Sweden's ambassador to Israel, Robert Rydberg, was summoned to discuss the issue at the Foreign Ministry, agreed that the artwork “may very well be in bad taste (but) [is] not a justification of suicide bombers”. In Norway, gallery owner Andreas Engelstad removed Chris Reddy’s Anti Semite in the Name of God from an exhibition in 2004, out of respect for Holocaust survivors.

[362] Here I think of the invasion of privacy (Richard Billingham’s family photos (1997)) and exploiting the bereaved (Marcus Harvy’s Myra (1997)). The role of the curator/exhibition organiser in being an interface between, on the one hand the artist’s right and freedom to make work, and on the other hand, the right of the public to be protected against offensive or harmful images, appears to be crucial. The curator creates an appropriate context for the presentation of the work to the public. She must understand the laws of indecency, etc., in order to strike the right balance.

[363] Socrates is a good instance of someone who was authentic; he drank the hemlock.

[364] It should once again be noted that Derrida’s undecidability appears now as one slope of miscommunication, whereas Wittgenstein’s “in order” points to the other slope, the “dead” artwork that successfully communicates.

[365] This view was expressed by a visitor to the (Stomach) Turner Prize exhibition in 2003: “[…] paedophilia is a subject so crammed full of dangers that it should not really be touched upon by art - a virus that should be contained rather than bringing it out into the open as his [Grayson Perry’s] art does”.

[366] I base this on the explication of the pragmatic understanding of truth in Mauthner, Thomas, Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, London, 1996, p. p. 573.

[367] Blanchot, 1995, p. 336-337: “There is being—that is to say, a logical and expressible truth—and there is a world, because we can destroy things and suspend existence. This is why we can say that there is being because there is nothingness; death is man’s possibility, his chance, it is through death that the future of a finished world is still there for us; death is man’s greatest hope, his only hope of being man.”

[368] Jantjes, pp. 97-109.

[369] For a review of what undecidability entails, see pp. 81-100; 104 offers a short summary.

[370] Zuidervaart, 1990, pp. 61-77.

[371] Zuiderwaart, 1990, p. 71.

[372] The curators assume that the work is non-autonomous in the sense that, in order to be meaningful, something external must provide a context for interpretation: ”I museet framstår det enkelte kunstverket som løsrevet fra sin opprinnelige, autentiske sammenheng. I monteringen har vi derfor søkt å tydeliggjøre hvordan vi som arbeider i museer går inn og kompenserer for dette meningstapet ved å produsere nye forståelsesrammer.” (“In the museum, individual artworks are presented as divorced from their original, authentic context. In mounting the exhibition, we have therefore tried to be explicit about how we who work in the museum go in and compensate for this loss of meaning by producing new contexts for understanding.”) (My translation) (Kunst 1 Guidebok, Oslo: Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arkitektur og Design, 2005, pp. 4-5.) But even though the curators subsume Harriet Backer’s Blue Interior (1883) under the rubric ‘Modern Life’ (pp. 44-45), the picture seems to have less to do with modern life and more to do with solving formal painterly problems: composition, depiction of depth and atmosphere, colour harmony, light-shadow contrasts. And for today’s viewer, it is a far cry from ‘modern life’.

[373] See pp. 33, 34, and 54.

[374] Thanks to Deirdre C. P. Smith for this thought.