Somewhere in Kelley writes, “Silence is often construed as a sign of intelligence, so the best tactic is to play dumb,” a notion he obviously rejects in his own practice.
He argues various times that the artist is “infantilized” by a relationship where critics act as intermediary between artist and audience, interpreting the artist’s thoughts and gestures, which belong to the realm of the “magical.” What makes Rosler’s and Kelley’s books so valuable is their disavowal of the concept of the artist as shamanistic creator, spiritually possessed to create work that’s somehow intrinsically “inside them,” waiting to be expressed.
Ruscha cloaks himself in enigma throughout the book, much of which is interviews.
It’s important to remember that Ruscha represented a key link between West Coast pop and conceptual art, and an artist’s public attitude (constructed or otherwise) played an important role in how their work was received.
He’s just as comfortable talking about the Yippies or Iggy and the Stooges as he is about Freud, & Oyvind Fahlström, or sports-deifying rec rooms of major state colleges, and his art, which can look aggressively immature or pointless, makes total sense after reading his statements and essays on it.
He ascribes this in large part to his background at the conceptualist-heavy Cal Arts, notorious for emphasizing the primacy of language over the visual.
Although his writing style is surprisingly dry for someone whose art is often so funny, the anecdotes that dot these volumes are terrific fodder for future psychoanalysts of Kelley’s work.
In the funniest of the bunch, Kelly describes his sarcastic creation—a dummy for an “effigy-burning contest” during his time at the jock-heavy University of Michigan.
In a 1970 drawing with arrows chaotically zigzagging all over the place, most with captions like “Someone chickens out,” or “Commercial for bananas,” Ruscha writes, “This is a typical drawing that reminds me of what I was watching on TV while doing it.” Ruscha’s art is best when it postures as an exercise in pointlessness.
The relevance of pointlessness or superfluity to the consumer revolution in the second half of the American century is obvious, and Ruscha pursues it most effectively in his photo books and small drawings, both of which were the highlights of his recent show at the Whitney.