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Table talk

on 15 February & 8 March 97 during DINNER at Kunstraum Elbschloss


INTERVIEWER (I): Did you also have a question [on your plate] about MORALITY in art?

WOMAN (W)1: No, my neighbor did. We tried to translate it for him. But it wasn't so easy.

MAN (M)1: His English isn't good enough to position art between heaven and hell, so to speak. - One always assumes sin to be a prerequisite to MORALITY. For me, MORALITY has nothing to do with art, but one can of course overwork it. I make art with no MORALITY when I can define it as being between sin and whatever.This is what I'm working at.

I: In order to go beyond morality or to rule it out?

M1: To rule it out!

W1: He doesn't have any!

M1: Yes I do. The kind the children from middle-class families have, but there is a certain capriciousness about it even if it is easy to use.

W2: Art is society-related. And society is MORALITY. Art naturally tries to go beyond boundaries and thereby also to bypass MORALITY.

M1: Morality doesn't set up boundary lines anymore.

W2: Morality. Naturally it sets boundaries.

M1: What is MORALITY today? It is the sum of our values.

I: How do you view present-day art which doesn't produce works for eternity?

M: I see it as a trend towards applied art. Such THINGS can be distinguished, above all, from what went before, but won't last long. If you have a painting on a cotton towel with an applique out of some plastic substance that will disintegrate in 20 or 30 years, [...] that is something different from carving a Venus in marble [...]. I think and I still believe that artworks can only be static THINGS [...] if they endure and achieve a certain timelessness or want to exist forever. For if you look at the art in museums, e.g., everything that has been preserved from the time of the ancient Greeks, [...] none of it is "action", none of it in motion. Motion cannot last [...].

I: But what about Beuys? Relics from his actions are now exhibited in museums.

M: Despite this, Beuys is surely not something that will last a long time [...]. I prophesy no great future for him. Just as I don't prophesy any future for some of the literary movements. Take Brecht, for instance, who for decades has been ranked very much in the foreground, and not only in socialist countries [...]. Today it is now becoming clear that Brecht is an author who hardly interests anyone [...]. Which is the way it will be with many an art movement or artist. As much as I esteem Beuys, I suspect that he will be one of these and his honey pump will quite certainly not be running 400 years from now.

W: But it was Beuys himself who said we no longer needed eternal values [...]. When you name Brecht and Beuys, just the fact that they existed and what they started has set the whole thing in motion and brought about its development. One shouldn't forget that.

M: They are time-bound and solely important for the time in which they lived. But not for posterity.

W: I think what really matters to you is eternal values.

M: I believe if I were an artist that I would put great store in creating something that would not just outlast me only briefly. If I write a short story or a novel, I think very precisely about whether I want to produce something that amuses my contemporaries or whether I perhaps - and this would be the higher goal -want to create something that will perhaps be read 200 years from now.

W: I think it's great that you think one can control this oneself.


I: It's time for you to sing for your supper. What is the motto on your plate?

W: I have really plunged into MORALITY. During the first course I was already occupied with MORALITY and sin. And now once more with TASTE, MORALITY, the TRUE and the BEAUTIFUL.

I: And do you prefer the BEAUTIFUL to the TRUE or the GOOD?

W1: We thought about it together and agreed on TRANSITION as the answer. It's all a question of who is responsible for the TRANSITION from where to where. I think that every criterion taken on its own bores me. Which, by the way, tallies with what Martin Turner just told me about my conjunctions [...].

W2: The BEAUTIFUL, the TRUE and the GOOD are actually not antithetical. The GOOD can also be beautiful and TRUTH too. And if the BEAUTIFUL is GOOD as well as TRUE, it is ideal and perfect. If I had to distinguish between the GOOD and BEAUTIFUL, I would have my difficulties. It is hard for me to imagine that good things are not beautiful [...]. Whereas the BEAUTIFUL and the TRUE do not belong together. There are horrible things that happen in the world that are unfortunately true but not at all beautiful.

I: Many people consider TASTE in EVERYDAY LIFE as something completely pointless. What's your idea about it?

W1: I would make most of my decisions emotionally [...]. I think that man, thank God I must say, is still emotional and everyone acts very emotionally and in the end people do what they feel like. Ultimately they only try to rationalize and to retrospectively find an excuse for what they have done. When a man goes off to war, that can't be based on a rational deliberation. It must be more a deliberation that takes place emotionally and is then rationalized.

I: Do you think that TASTE plays a role in emotional decisions?

W1: TASTE has a lot to do with emotion. TASTE is a question of feeling [...]. That's why tastes are so different. Everyone has his own subjective taste and that has to do with emotion, with one's own personal view of things.

M1: I am more likely to keep my INCLINATIONS in the background [...]. I in fact tend to judge according to serviceability. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't also acquire beautiful things that are impractical. But for me serviceability is first and foremost [...].

W2: I also don't at all agree with the thesis that TASTE DECISIONS are purely subjective and arbitrary [...]. TASTE DECISIONS are always dependent on publicity and on a lot of other things. When many people say, "that's great", and something is often on display and I see it a lot, that too changes my taste. With some fast, with others slower. In any case there are strong outside influences.

I: Then TASTE would turn out to be something very TIME-dependent?

M2: I tend to think not. Most people's TASTE is programmed very early. Like the liking for certain desserts (concretely: southern German apple strudel) which has its origin in childhood and never leaves you. That is a thoroughly TIME-dependent obsession [...]. And other aesthetic programming is just as obsessive. Like a preference for small or large eyes is never TIME-dependent. I simply find big eyes beautiful.

M3: Just so. In Japan the parents feed a disgusting bean dish to boys. They do this until the boys get older and find this revolting bean stuff good. In that case their TASTE DECISIONS are unfortunately not so subjective and arbitrary [...].


I: Have you looked at your question yet? It's about aesthetic EDUCATION in EVERYDAY LIFE.

M1: That can't be pure chance; I have licked everything nice and clean. But the fact that EVERYDAY LIFE is ruled by necessities is simply not true. It wouldn't work at all if it were true. EVERYDAY LIFE is ruled by many excessive components that have more to do with luxury than with necessity. It may from another angle seem that it's ruled by necessities. But it's then the taste of another class that sees it this way [...]. As far as aesthetic EDUCATION goes, it is as a rule a colonization process. The others are supposed to think like the ones who consider themselves aesthetically educated. Then it goes wrong [...]. It sounds here like aesthetic EDUCATION is supposed to lead to art. It will probably have failed at that, or to lead to modern art [...].

M2: We of course always try out aesthetic EDUCATION on ourselves.

I: Your neighbor seems to be successful in achieving a transition from life to art. Is there an art of transition?

W1: I don't know what I should say to that [...]. I don't understand the term TRANSITION as it is used here. I only know of TRANSITIONS in life: birth is a TRANSITION, puberty, pregnancy and then child-bearing are transitions; to die is a TRANSITION. But art as a phenomenon of the TRANSITION between PAST and FUTURE I can do nothing with. I only know that you can't decide now in the PRESENT whether something is art [...], that will first be revealed in 100 or 200 years [...]. And in which TIME would I liked to have lived? I think I like living now.

M3: At first it seemed to me an arbitrary statement that art is a phenomenon of TRANSITION. I would revise that now. The idea hadn't yet occurred to me to define art as a TRANSITION to LOVE, whatever a TRANSITION to LOVE is. I am HATED by everybody. Probably most of all by myself.

I: Would you say after tonight's experience that your plate inscription is right and art can originate from aesthetic COMMUNICATION?

M1: I think that art does not originate from COMMUNICATION. Art comes about more from fanaticism, accomplishment and calling [...]. The reverse is correct: aesthetic COMMUNICATION comes about through art. When you walk around here and look at everything and then talk about it, you become more conscious of a lot of things. COMMUNICATION helps you understand. But I don't think that COMMUNICATION makes art. The artist must make art [...].

M2: I also don't believe that dining and talking in the presence of art is to be counted as art; I regard it as something secondary [...].

W1: I find dinner and dining in the midst of art quite positive. Almost all the people here I know only slightly or not at all. And what was written on the invitation, that COMMUNICATION is a component of art, is something I can only subscribe to [...].

M3: To be here makes in any case more sense then to stand around some opening or other and make the usual small talk according to the motto: "Does it bowl you over too?" or: "What are you feeling?"

Translated by Jeanne Haunschild

Table talk is an adaptation by Michael LINGNER of the more than 30-page transcript taken from the tapes of the dinner conversations, extractions of which have been abridged but not changed in wording.

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