Throughout the decades, artists have attempted to capture the allusive component of creativity and originality. Most institutions of education devote countless hours and resources to ensure students are thinking in a creative manner. However, American poet and founding editor of UbuWeb, Kenneth Goldsmith, would argue that the quest for originality is overrated and in most cases a waste of time.

Drawing inspiration from Warhol’s “Empire,” an “unwatchable” 24-hour film of the Empire State Building, Goldsmith twists the concept of innovation into something “valueless.” In other words, he celebrates the form of conceptual works that encompasses being as uncreative in the process as possible. Goldsmith believes this is one of the “hardest constraints an artist can muster.” Furthermore, he compares his works to conceptual images, such as a book that is written with the intention not to be read. Following behind the examples of Duchamp, Warhol, and Koons, Goldsmith creates art through innovative poetry, in which he describes as a “perfect place to place a valueless practice.”

In September 2000, he wanted to capture this idea in one of the most mundane projects he could think of- copying the New York Times word for word. The objective of this project was to illustrate the uncreative process while fighting the temptation to “cut-and-paste” or alter the simple language. Similarly, one of his volumes, “Soliloquy” (2001), consists of every word he spoke for a week while another, “The Weather” (2005), encompasses a year’s worth of weather bulletins from 1010 WINS, the all-news radio station in New York.

Although most of Goldsmith’s projects remain passive, there are those of his transcribed reports that do not receive the warmest of regards. At a conference called Interrupt 3, Goldsmith read Michael Brown’s St. Louis County controversial autopsy report. The shooting of Michael Brown occurred in 2014 during an altercation with police officer Darren Wilson. The disputed circumstances of the shooting between the unarmed man and the officer ignited the tensions in the majority-black city. As a result, protestors from across the nation generated a vigorous debate about the relationship between African Americans and law enforcement. The “hands-up” movement became the accepted symbol of recognition for justice among these distraught communities. There were three autopsy reports that were performed on Michael Brown’s body, all indicating that Brown was shot at least six times. The local examiner also released a statement that described two gunshot wounds to the back of Brown’s head, along with a wound indicating a shot in the front part of his body. Although the evidence acquitted Wilson, the tension between law and enforcement and the African American community exponentially increased.

For thirty minutes, Goldsmith read these report with only a few altercations of his own. Artist Faith Holland described the reading as “unemotional and relatively even and his feet moved rhythmically the entire time.” Although his reading encompassed direct content from autopsy reports, several online viewers criticized Goldsmith for racist exploitation. In addition, this reading sparked a debate among the artistic community, such as the Mongrel Coalition, concerning the practice of conceptualism. According to the Mongrel Coalition, Goldsmith failed to differentiate between the art of poetry and white supremacy. As a result, Brown University refused to release the video recording of the poem to the public, per requested by Goldsmith.

For some artists, poetry encapsulates the idea of self-expression. It is viewed as a gateway for people to express themselves or in essence “find their voice.” In contrast, Goldsmith would argue that copying, cutting, and recycling original content will teach students more about literature than the pressure to understand original self-expression. Whereas some professors would insist students to imitate the style of Shakespeare’s plays, Goldsmith would simply encourage them to copy the text word for word, page for page. Therefore, the most important factor of conceptual art is the idea or concept of the work. It is the process of conception that takes precedence of the skill of the artist or craftsman. Source:

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