Winter 2000–2001

21 Aphorisms

The truth of the accidental

John Roberts

1. There are no errors in art, only various forms of corrigibility.

2. There are only errors in art, only they are disguised as various forms of incorrigibility.

3. In art we should not confuse errors with mistakes. Just as mistakes are not accidents, accidents are not failures, and failure is not incompetence.

4. To fail in art is to be neither incompetent nor in error, but to fail in art is no excuse for incompetence or error.

5. Some accidents in art demand the undivided attention of the artist; this is because the best accidents are the result of ambition, the worst of incuriousness.

6. Authentic accidents in art are found not made, but what is found is always made.

7. For the artist to recognize an unintended consequence as meaningful is to bring back into reflection the force of the artist’s critical powers. To recognize an unintended consequence, therefore, is to already havetaken value from it.

8. Assimilating the unintended consequence is what drives the risk of meaning.

9. Fashion a coin from every mistake, said Wittgenstein; but this is only worthwhile if you have something in the bank already.

10. In psychoanalysis, to talk of mistakes is to give the inconscient speech; in art, to talk of mistakes is to give the inconscient work to do.

11. The pleasures of recognizing the accidental are not to be confused with the pleasures of interpretation. Rather, they are a recognition of the point where power convulses itself.

12. To grasp the meaning of an error is to grasp the instructiveness of failure, but there can be no instructive failures without the desire to avoid errors.

13. Accidents are what reason leaves unguarded, not what makes reason lose face.

14. Artists cannot make mistakes; however, they can mistake what they think is unmistakable.

15. Acting on errors in philosophy allows thought to reestablish its critical responsibility; acting on accidents in art allows art to recover its future.

16. To know the truth of the accidental is indivisible from self-will.

17. To admit one’s errors from a position of power is to give moral authority to intellectual ambition. To transform one’s errors into an aesthetic is to lose all intellectual ambition.

18. For the philosopher the threat of incompetence is a crisis continually stalled. For the artist the threat of incompetence is a crisis continually performed.

19. The artist wants to resist what is taken for competence, but does not want to be taken to be incompetent.

20. To know the truth of incompetence is to know that art cannot speak from where it is most knowledgeable.

21. The performance of incompetence is the victory of failing over the failure of beauty.

John Roberts is the author of The Art of Interruption: Realism, Photography and the Everyday and has written for a wide number of journals and magazines, including New Left Review, Radical Philosophy, and the Oxford Art Journal. He is currently finishing his first novel.

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