The Debate

A friend of the artist stands at the front of the room. They are flanked by two debaters, each concentrating on their notecards, ready to spring into action. At the back of the gallery is a panel of judges seated at a table. The artist, waiting in the wings, nods. The friend begins speaking.

“Hi! I’m a friend of the organizer, he’s an artist. I am not an artist, and definitely not a studio assistant or anything, just a friend. The organizer asked me–as a friend–to stand here and say that what I’m currently doing is definitely not art, and I agreed to do that in a completely non-artist capacity. The debaters will now each make their case for and against, then the panel of judges will provide their response. The judges are all artists, by the way. Okay! What I’m doing is not art. Go.”

The first debater takes the position that the friend is indeed not doing art. The context for the friend’s actions is itself an artistic expression, as the artist designed it and set it into motion. But the friend’s standing declarations can be taken at face value. It is not art, because it is not their expression. It is not a performance, just an ordinary act. They are, in fact, the sole island of honest existence in an otherwise overengineered social charade. Though complicit, they are not guilty of committing an act of art.

The second debater disagrees. Even if we take the friend’s words as earnest statements of their own beliefs, their actions are still deliberately part of an artistic effort. Their disavowal of “artist” status does not make them innocent of behaving like a studio assistant, executing the will of the artist. For centuries we’ve acknowledged it isn’t the person holding the brush, but the mind that conceives and is ultimately responsible for the execution who is the artist. The friend is the brush, their statement is the artist’s, their action is art.

The friend introduces the three judges, all of whom are artists. One judge, a photographer, produces a polaroid taken during the debate. A second judge, a writer, reads a piece of constrained writing they wrote during the debate, quoting and adapting the words of the debaters. The third judge, a magician, performs a trick in which the debaters each choose a card, then find that the cards have changed places.

The friend declares the event is over. The writing, the photograph, and the cards are immediately hung on the gallery walls, labelled Judgment #1-#3.

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