ABSTRACT

Duchamp’s ready-mades had already raised a fundamental question about what it means to make a work of art. Must the artist’s hands and/or body play a necessary role in that process? Can the “work” that goes into a work of art be primarily or exclusively a labor of the intelligence? Can the artist-and this question is particularly vexing with regard to choreographers-function principally as a Cartesian mind pried loose from a body? And an even more basic question: Can a work of art (most poignantly, a work of choreographic art) exist as a purely “conceptual” experience? Duchamp, the father of so much of what we now describe as conceptual art, once confessed:

I was interested in ideas, not merely in visual products. I wanted to put painting once again at the service of the mind…. This is the direction in which art should turn: to an intellectual expression rather than to an animal expression. (d’Harnoncourt 1973, 16)

This emphasis on mind-over-instinct helps explain Duchamp’s penchant for equating the painter’s hand with the animal’s “paw”:

In French there is an old expression, la patte, meaning the artist’s touch, his personal style, his “paw.” I wanted to get away from la patte…. The only man in the past whom I really respected was Seurat…. He didn’t let his hand interfere with his mind. (Tomkins 1968, 16)

Joseph Kossuth once argued that “After Duchamp, all art is conceptual” (Meyer 1972, x). Does Kossuth’s maxim apply to dance as well as to the visual arts? Much of what follows in this chapter grapples with that question.