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how to become a non-artist

'How to Become a Non-Artist' (2007) by Norwegian artist Ane Hjort Guttu is a deadpan exploration of the artistic achievements of her four-year-old son, whose oeuvre develops "from sculptures to readymades to functional objects". Initially performed live as a lecture, the work is now shown as a slideshow with voice-over, and is part of the Witte de With exhibition 'Making is Thinking'.

The artist's son's early work includes, for instance, symmetrical arrangements of coat hangers and egg cups, prompting detailed interpretation of the kind that's ubiquitous in the modern art world and which mostly consists of carefully stating the obvious.

They consist of two unitary objects placed together in a symmetrical relation. In this way, the compositions become more abstract and less functional, and are consequently turned into something qualitatively different.

Both compositions express mirroring, perhaps a fundamental human experience of a relation?

Amid all the seriousness of 'Making and Thinking', 'How to Become a Non-Artist' has a refreshingly self-mocking tone, and one imagines Hjort Guttu performing the piece live with a guerilla attitude akin to the Yes Men. But underneath the satire the work also has a more serious point to make, theorizing as it does about the nature of art and whether it's possible at all to distinguish art from non-art. (Does non-art exist? In which case, how does one become a non-artist?)

Of a later work (which most parents would categorize simply as a mess) she notes:

An important work because it's so uncertain whether it has been made like this, or if the objects were randomly tossed there. I couldn't get any certainty in this, and when I thought about it, it suddenly didn't matter any more. The meaning was as clear or unclear whether it was a conscious work or not.

From this point, as her four year old's interventions become "increasingly imperceptible", her conception of art seems to move towards postmodern relativism, where anything goes as long as it's properly framed - or in this case, noticed and photographed. At the same time, however, she finds that with her heightened perception she starts looking at non-art - i.e. the world - with different eyes. As it turns out, becoming a non-artist is 'simply' about that perennial poetic aspiration of learning to look at the world through the eyes of a child...

And, while we went down this road towards a disbandment of the universal idea of good and bad form, this new attitude towards things infected the surroundings. As if I was inside a zone where all things could be the result of a higher formal awareness: The roads, the chewing gum on the side walk, the yellow light over the city on our way home from the kindergarten. Or it could not be, it didn't matter any more. Everything became art, and in the same moment; nothing.

Best seen narrated by the artist, but to get an impression here's the presentation (pdf).

Update: The exhibition's companion publication includes an interview with Hjort Guttu titled 'The emancipation of forms'. Commenting on 'How to Become a Non-Artist' she says:

The work points to a state of affairs where the notion of "good and bad form" no longer exists; where everything, and thus nothing, can be called art, and where we are no longer preoccupied with this distinction. After all, this is an old dream for many artists: a dissolution of the distinction between art and life.


A belated post on the Jean Tinguely exhibition in the Kunsthal , which ended late January... While cool to see such an uncompromising, alternative vision on our material, over-industrious world, the exhibition turned out to be slightly… Read the full post »

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