Give the doughnut who defaced the Rothko some credit, he had me looking up his website. Give his website a little credit also, it had me thinking about the visual and conceptual arts. However, I quickly concluded that I like books more.
If you don’t know what I am blathering about, the other day a man called Vladimir Umanets wrote his name, the year and the phrase ‘a potential piece of yellowism’ on a painting in the Tate Modern. He claimed it was part of his movement ‘yellowism’.
Having read the yellowism manifesto on his website, I boiled it down to the following points.
- It’s all about experiencing the yellow in stuff. Though the colour yellow is a distraction from the pure abstractness of yellowness.
- It’s not art, it’s yellowism.
- Yellowism can only be experience in yellow chambers.
- It’s yellowist because it is.
I’d agree, mostly pretentious wankery of the first degree but I did find it interesting in how it revealed a big difference between books and art.
In art the object itself is important. A print on the wall is not the same thing as a Van Goch. People come all around the world to see the art in the Tate Modern, including the Rothkos. Yellowism, as far as I can see, abstracts this further. Merely seeing something in a yellow chamber makes the object yellowist, so the act of putting a piece in a gallery and calling it art makes it art.
Books are different.
Even when I am visiting the British Library and seeing the manuscripts it is not like I am visiting the true version of a book of which the others are pale copies. As exciting as it is to be close to the version of the book closest to the author and as interesting as it is to see the author’s process through the draft.
Whereas a piece of art consists of the paint and the canvas, a book does not consist of the ink and the paper, but the words.
It is impossible to deface the work of a novelist as the Rothko was defaced. Deface one copy of a novelist’s work and hundreds exist still. If book burner’s went burning, the chance of a copy surviving would be large but were the Rothko burnt, it would be no more. This is the joy of books and words, come the age of the e-book, and the words will still survive.
Lastly, there could never be a yellowist movement for books and novelists. As long as writers concentrate on story or argument or point, those words could never become so self-reflexive as art. Not even a book like Tristram Shandy, which makes a virtue of curling into itself (and away) becomes something which is not quite itself. Similarly, as the object itself is not a huge issue and the seeing of it not a thing in itself, yellowism would be impossible.
Which is a relief.