Lebenskünstler

Meaningless Work – Walter De Maria (R.I.P.)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 07/26/2013

Meaningless Work – Walter De Maria

Meaningless work is obviously the most important and significant art form today. The aesthetic feeling given by meaningless work can not be described exactly because it varies with each individual doing the work. Meaningless work is honest. Meaningless work will be enjoyed and hated by intellectuals – though they should understand it. Meaningless work can not be sold in art galleries or win prizes in museums – though old fasion records of meaningless work (most all paintings) do partake in these indignities. Like ordinary work, meaningless work can make you sweat if you do it long enough. By meaningless work I simply mean work which does not make money or accomplish a conventional purpose. For instance putting wooden blocks from one box to another, then putting them back to the original box, back and forth, back and forth etc., is a fine example of meaningless work. Or digging a hole, then covering it is another example. Filing letters in a filing cabinet could be considered meaningless work, only if one were not considered a secretary, and if one scattered the file on the floor periodically so that one didn’t get any feeling of accomplishment. Digging in the garden is not meaningless work. Weight lifting, though monotonous, is not meaningless work in its aesthetic since because it will give you muscles and you know it. Caution should be taken that the work chosen should not be too pleasurable, lest pleasure becomes the purpose of the work. Hence, sex, though rhythmic, can not strictly be called meaningless – though I’m sure many people consider it so.

Meaningless work is potentially the most abstract, concrete, individual, foolish, indeterminate, exactly determined, varied, important art-action-experience one can undertake today. This concept is not a joke. Try some meaningless work in the privacy of your own room. In fact, to be fully understood, meaningless work should be done alone or else it becomes entertainment for others and the reaction or lack of reaction of the art lover to the meaningless work can not honestly be felt.

Meaningless work can contain all of the best qualities of old art forms such as painting, writing, etc. It can make you feel and think about yourself, the outside world, morality, reality, unconsciousness, nature, history, time, philosophy, nothing at all, politics, etc. without the limitations of the old art forms.

Meaningless work is individual in nature and it can be done in any form and over any span of time – from one second up to the limits of exhaustion. It can be done fast or slow or both. Rhythmically or not. It can be done anywhere in any weather conditions. Clothing, if any, is left to the individual. Whether the meaningless work, as an art form, is meaningless, in the ordinary sense of that term, is of course up to the individual. Meaningless work is the new way to tell who is square.

Grunt
Get to work

March, 1960.

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  1. Jeff said, on 08/30/2013 at 13:22

    Surely the meaning is constructed by the individual worker and the social context they’re in and respond to? For example, to someone in study or training, a low-paid job can carry more meaning than it might typically do for someone without their sense of future. This would seem so regardless of whether they conduct unproductive tasks (which is what De Maria actually describes). But isn’t this a ruse? De Maria’s injunction to do unproductive things as an art form surely charges any active response with art meanings?


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