October 21st, 2009 / 2:25 pm
Craft Notes

1,000 Hours of Staring

Tom Friedman, "1,000 Hours of Staring," Stare on paper (1992-97)

Tom Friedman, "1,000 Hours of Staring," Stare on paper (1992-97)

I like thinking about Tom Friedman‘s “1,000 Hours of Staring,” (its media literally “stare on paper”) and wonder if he actually stared at that piece of paper for 1000 hours over the course of five years. My guess is yes, due to his excessively compulsive style, and the honor he has earned as a devoted craftsman. But I wonder would it be the “same” if he hadn’t stared at it — if its meaning could be derived solely from its title and conceptual assertion.┬áThis invariably brings us to our notion of what is intrinsic, and whether art is an inherent entity or a vessel of mediated meanings.

I can’t help but think if writing is similar. It seems that it isn’t — that while you are free to stare at a blank ream of paper for 1000 hours, your publisher will only laugh. Jeff Koons can have his interns paint his ideas, John Cage can sit in front of a piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, but writers lack the auspices of conceptual absence. Even conceptual writing requires that slow painful aggregate of words, one at a time, making something from nothing. Every word is work. There is no short cut.

Sometimes I can’t believe that people still write. It’s almost crass, like nailing each letter into a forehead; but our limitless combination of 26 letters is an infinite miracle. Every word is a synapse. Look: butterfly — and there it flies. I love Tom Friedman, but I fuck words.

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88 Comments

  1. Michael James

      i dont get it

  2. Michael James

      i dont get it

  3. Jimmy Chen

      tom friedman’s piece or this post?

  4. Jimmy Chen

      tom friedman’s piece or this post?

  5. Michael James

      hmm… i get what you’re saying about writing. it is quite absurd. I think about this constantly. These objects we create. The fuck? Okay. What do you mean by, “[…] but writers lack the auspices of conceptual absence.”?

  6. Michael James

      hmm… i get what you’re saying about writing. it is quite absurd. I think about this constantly. These objects we create. The fuck? Okay. What do you mean by, “[…] but writers lack the auspices of conceptual absence.”?

  7. Jimmy Chen

      i mean john cage’s silence is art, as is friedman’s stare; but writers can’t ‘not write’ and have it be writing. even when they cull/subtract/edit/appropriate, it’s from something. the end result has to be ‘something.’

  8. Jimmy Chen

      i mean john cage’s silence is art, as is friedman’s stare; but writers can’t ‘not write’ and have it be writing. even when they cull/subtract/edit/appropriate, it’s from something. the end result has to be ‘something.’

  9. Michael James

      there is no difference between friedman not painting on a canvas and calling it a creation and a writer not writing and calling it such.

      i get what you’re saying, though (I think).

      Friedman still painted something. He still did what you say writers are unable to do, feel me? The previous sentence can possibly agree with you, but if you read it the way I intended, in combination with the previous sentences, it does not agree with you. He cannot paint and have it be painting, the same as a writer cannot write and have it be writing.

      Perhaps it is impossible for all sides of the artistics.

  10. Michael James

      there is no difference between friedman not painting on a canvas and calling it a creation and a writer not writing and calling it such.

      i get what you’re saying, though (I think).

      Friedman still painted something. He still did what you say writers are unable to do, feel me? The previous sentence can possibly agree with you, but if you read it the way I intended, in combination with the previous sentences, it does not agree with you. He cannot paint and have it be painting, the same as a writer cannot write and have it be writing.

      Perhaps it is impossible for all sides of the artistics.

  11. Jimmy Chen

      my head hurts

  12. Jimmy Chen

      my head hurts

  13. Michael James

      put it in my lap sir, and i shall stroke your head until it aches no more

  14. Michael James

      put it in my lap sir, and i shall stroke your head until it aches no more

  15. Richard

      wow, i feel like i walked in on the middle of something here

      …but I fuck words

      awesome, loved the whole post, especially the last paragraph

      word

  16. Richard

      wow, i feel like i walked in on the middle of something here

      …but I fuck words

      awesome, loved the whole post, especially the last paragraph

      word

  17. reynard

      i’ve thought about this before and i think it’s a good thing

      the closest thing i can think of is that appearing ink thing

      the interesting thing about john cage’s 4’33” though, is that it forces the listener to accept that they and the audience are intrinsically involved in the piece and i think there is hope for interactive or hypertextual writing in the way of some experiments that have already been done by people like john barth’s ‘click’ http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/barth.htm, or as stephane mallarme did in some of his poems http://hahaclever.tumblr.com/page/18, where the reader can have some sort of selection or participation with the piece, or even using (like the appearing ink thing) the anticipation of text in a time-based environment like the web a la tan lin: http://www.ubu.com/contemp/lin/lin2.html

  18. reynard

      i’ve thought about this before and i think it’s a good thing

      the closest thing i can think of is that appearing ink thing

      the interesting thing about john cage’s 4’33” though, is that it forces the listener to accept that they and the audience are intrinsically involved in the piece and i think there is hope for interactive or hypertextual writing in the way of some experiments that have already been done by people like john barth’s ‘click’ http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/barth.htm, or as stephane mallarme did in some of his poems http://hahaclever.tumblr.com/page/18, where the reader can have some sort of selection or participation with the piece, or even using (like the appearing ink thing) the anticipation of text in a time-based environment like the web a la tan lin: http://www.ubu.com/contemp/lin/lin2.html

  19. john sakkis

      “Even conceptual writing requires that slow painful aggregate of words, one at a time, making something from nothing. Every word is work. There is no short cut.”

      see kenny goldsmith’s Day…he didn’t type that whole thing out.

      or an even better example speaking to the “slow aggregate of words” would be kent johnson/blazevox books wholesale appropriation of kenny goldsmith/the figures day into kent johnson’s day…

  20. john sakkis

      “Even conceptual writing requires that slow painful aggregate of words, one at a time, making something from nothing. Every word is work. There is no short cut.”

      see kenny goldsmith’s Day…he didn’t type that whole thing out.

      or an even better example speaking to the “slow aggregate of words” would be kent johnson/blazevox books wholesale appropriation of kenny goldsmith/the figures day into kent johnson’s day…

  21. reynard

      i thought he did type out day, from the newspaper, one word at a time

  22. reynard

      i thought he did type out day, from the newspaper, one word at a time

  23. davidpeak

      as i understand it, he did type out all of day. it took him a year. the point was to spend an entire year being “uncreative”

  24. davidpeak

      as i understand it, he did type out all of day. it took him a year. the point was to spend an entire year being “uncreative”

  25. Mather Schneider

      Bored artist talking about another bored artist…enui squared…or however you spell it…

  26. Mather Schneider

      Bored artist talking about another bored artist…enui squared…or however you spell it…

  27. john sakkis

      no, he didn’t. he says he did, but that’s part of the project. he actually didn’t. he scanned and formatted from there…

  28. john sakkis

      no, he didn’t. he says he did, but that’s part of the project. he actually didn’t. he scanned and formatted from there…

  29. reynard

      jebus

      well, i’ll still never buy it, nor its inbred predecessor. (i like goldsmith a lot, btw)

  30. reynard

      jebus

      well, i’ll still never buy it, nor its inbred predecessor. (i like goldsmith a lot, btw)

  31. john sakkis

      hey reynard,

      your hahaclever is fucking awesome.

      xo

  32. john sakkis

      hey reynard,

      your hahaclever is fucking awesome.

      xo

  33. jvn

      writers can sort of ‘not write’ by not bogging down the prose with overly descriptive things. a butterfly landed. perhaps instead of a red and speckled yellow butterfly fluttered about and landed on a thin twig and flapped its wings twice before becoming completely motionless. perhaps the former is an example of not writing. or at least omission. or perhaps the latter is just verbose

  34. jvn

      writers can sort of ‘not write’ by not bogging down the prose with overly descriptive things. a butterfly landed. perhaps instead of a red and speckled yellow butterfly fluttered about and landed on a thin twig and flapped its wings twice before becoming completely motionless. perhaps the former is an example of not writing. or at least omission. or perhaps the latter is just verbose

  35. Nathan Tyree
  36. Nathan Tyree
  37. Nathan Tyree

      Title: Metaphysical Proof of the existence of God
      substance: blank pages….250 or so or more…
      last page of book at the very bottom: Q.E.D.

  38. Nathan Tyree

      Title: Metaphysical Proof of the existence of God
      substance: blank pages….250 or so or more…
      last page of book at the very bottom: Q.E.D.

  39. mike
  40. mike
  41. reynard

      thx, john

      ^__^

  42. reynard

      thx, john

      ^__^

  43. mike

      oh wait does mean week not start until next week sorry

  44. mike

      oh wait does mean week not start until next week sorry

  45. michaelkimball

      Sterne uses of the idea in Tristram Shandy. And Andy Devine does it in a different way in Words, a book that’s coming out with Publishing Genius in the spring (I’ve seen the msp).

  46. michaelkimball

      Sterne uses of the idea in Tristram Shandy. And Andy Devine does it in a different way in Words, a book that’s coming out with Publishing Genius in the spring (I’ve seen the msp).

  47. Ani Smith

      I heart you Jimmy.

      I think this idea of context is sort of related to what Bobby Alter and some others were talking about (last week? earlier this week?) about that rape tunnel thing (which I maintain was nothing without its context).

      Like there was this installation that was a pile of candy on the gallery room floor and you could eat some and that was fine but then the context, ‘the explanation’ was something ‘meaningful’ like death or something but it was also just a pile of candy on the floor. How do people react to candy.

      The examples you give though, are really more about calling attention to the absence of something by its very absence, right? Maybe the question is not that the writing itself is absent but what can be absent from writing?

      I don’t know, this is jumbled. Sorry. I still heart you, Jimmy.

  48. Ani Smith

      I heart you Jimmy.

      I think this idea of context is sort of related to what Bobby Alter and some others were talking about (last week? earlier this week?) about that rape tunnel thing (which I maintain was nothing without its context).

      Like there was this installation that was a pile of candy on the gallery room floor and you could eat some and that was fine but then the context, ‘the explanation’ was something ‘meaningful’ like death or something but it was also just a pile of candy on the floor. How do people react to candy.

      The examples you give though, are really more about calling attention to the absence of something by its very absence, right? Maybe the question is not that the writing itself is absent but what can be absent from writing?

      I don’t know, this is jumbled. Sorry. I still heart you, Jimmy.

  49. mike

      dang sorry but i have to get all “art nerd” up in here because the “candy” thing is felix gonzalez-torres and i feel “deeply” into his work. i think that the candy piece is sort of a bad comparison: the piece is actually the weight of his lover’s body because the onset of AIDs and a deteriorating immune system made him start losing a lot of weight. if you’re talking about the piece/installation as it was/is (guess i haven’t been in a while) at the Art Institute of Chicago, then I’m *pretty sure* that the placard actually sort of explains that. it’s also situated directly within conceptual art, even in the “wing” of the museum, so I kind of feel like the context of the museum sort of points to the fact that “HEY THERE’S SOMETHING BEYOND CANDY HERE”

      i mean, not to move too far away from your point (which was, it seems, primarily about context–which i totally agree with), but I don’t really think that there should be any situation in which people are just purely “reacting to candy” w/r/t Gonzalez-Torres piece. It is not public art, it is not a piece that is “for sale” to a Private collector, so the only place that it is going to be encountered is either in a book about conceptual or relational art, or in a museum where context is provided. if a viewer in a museum does not read the placard that defines the context the piece exists in, then that is not the fault of the work, rather it is the fault of the spectator.

      i mean, is some one picked up goldsmith’s day had had no idea what was going on he or she would probably assume something along the lines of “oh weird this dude wrote a book of fake newspaper articles” (does the jacket of that provide context? i can’t remember).

      sorry if this comment feels ‘unnecessary’ but positing ‘meaningful’ to a really fucking poetic piece of conceptual art in scare-quotes makes me feel like it’s being marginalized, or something, and i gotta stick up for “my boys” right.

  50. mike

      dang sorry but i have to get all “art nerd” up in here because the “candy” thing is felix gonzalez-torres and i feel “deeply” into his work. i think that the candy piece is sort of a bad comparison: the piece is actually the weight of his lover’s body because the onset of AIDs and a deteriorating immune system made him start losing a lot of weight. if you’re talking about the piece/installation as it was/is (guess i haven’t been in a while) at the Art Institute of Chicago, then I’m *pretty sure* that the placard actually sort of explains that. it’s also situated directly within conceptual art, even in the “wing” of the museum, so I kind of feel like the context of the museum sort of points to the fact that “HEY THERE’S SOMETHING BEYOND CANDY HERE”

      i mean, not to move too far away from your point (which was, it seems, primarily about context–which i totally agree with), but I don’t really think that there should be any situation in which people are just purely “reacting to candy” w/r/t Gonzalez-Torres piece. It is not public art, it is not a piece that is “for sale” to a Private collector, so the only place that it is going to be encountered is either in a book about conceptual or relational art, or in a museum where context is provided. if a viewer in a museum does not read the placard that defines the context the piece exists in, then that is not the fault of the work, rather it is the fault of the spectator.

      i mean, is some one picked up goldsmith’s day had had no idea what was going on he or she would probably assume something along the lines of “oh weird this dude wrote a book of fake newspaper articles” (does the jacket of that provide context? i can’t remember).

      sorry if this comment feels ‘unnecessary’ but positing ‘meaningful’ to a really fucking poetic piece of conceptual art in scare-quotes makes me feel like it’s being marginalized, or something, and i gotta stick up for “my boys” right.

  51. davidpeak

      i’ve seen it. there is mos def a placard explaining the purpose/context

  52. davidpeak

      i’ve seen it. there is mos def a placard explaining the purpose/context

  53. Ani Smith

      That’s it! Totally necessary comment, thanks Mike. I didn’t mean to rile, I’d honestly forgotten what the explanation was. I also didn’t mean to suggest that it wasn’t meaningful, thinking back on it when I read the explanation I was like damn yo forreal? Soft heart.

      My only problem is that I don’t like needing a placard to explain the context to me, I just prefer stuff to speak for itself.

      So you are right, it was a pretty bad comparison because the staring thing and Cage’s thing do speak for themselves.

  54. Ani Smith

      That’s it! Totally necessary comment, thanks Mike. I didn’t mean to rile, I’d honestly forgotten what the explanation was. I also didn’t mean to suggest that it wasn’t meaningful, thinking back on it when I read the explanation I was like damn yo forreal? Soft heart.

      My only problem is that I don’t like needing a placard to explain the context to me, I just prefer stuff to speak for itself.

      So you are right, it was a pretty bad comparison because the staring thing and Cage’s thing do speak for themselves.

  55. Ani Smith

      p.s. people should purely react to candy more often.

  56. Ani Smith

      p.s. people should purely react to candy more often.

  57. cmr

      i think most “conceptual art” wouldn’t be understood without out someone jotting down or saying a few words about it, even if it’s just the artist explaining himself. a writer doing this about something hes (not)written might seem besides the point. maybe if the writer painted a picture or wrote a song to accompany his “conceptual ‘written’ word” piece or something… i dunno but i think this all definitely reeks of pretense… maybe. i’m really digging on the subject of this post though.

  58. cmr

      i think most “conceptual art” wouldn’t be understood without out someone jotting down or saying a few words about it, even if it’s just the artist explaining himself. a writer doing this about something hes (not)written might seem besides the point. maybe if the writer painted a picture or wrote a song to accompany his “conceptual ‘written’ word” piece or something… i dunno but i think this all definitely reeks of pretense… maybe. i’m really digging on the subject of this post though.

  59. cmr

      and by “besides the point” i just mean, if the author used words to describe why he hadn’t used words, then why not just have included the necessary words in the first place?

      this is all kind of maddening though. i want to eat an 1/8th of shrooms and run around the woods naked for a few hours.

  60. cmr

      and by “besides the point” i just mean, if the author used words to describe why he hadn’t used words, then why not just have included the necessary words in the first place?

      this is all kind of maddening though. i want to eat an 1/8th of shrooms and run around the woods naked for a few hours.

  61. Ross Brighton

      I’m not sure about (back at the beginning of this thread) writing always being work, making something, etc…. I tend to just pile words. I also often use found text, fuck with, sculpt it…
      it seems exactly the same as in the visual arts – piling shit together.
      Cf. possible comparison between Clark Coolige and Jackson Pollock.

  62. Ross Brighton

      I’m not sure about (back at the beginning of this thread) writing always being work, making something, etc…. I tend to just pile words. I also often use found text, fuck with, sculpt it…
      it seems exactly the same as in the visual arts – piling shit together.
      Cf. possible comparison between Clark Coolige and Jackson Pollock.

  63. mimi

      _______________________

  64. mimi

      _______________________

  65. Ross Brighton

      touche. I think.

  66. Ross Brighton

      touche. I think.

  67. darby

      i like this post. yeah, people don’t exactly fall into a trance of transient anti-words when they stare at a blank page. With music, there is a subtle sound environment that music rests on, so absent music, the environment reveals itself. With reading, the environment is neurological and particular to each individual, so absent words, people just think about something else. Actually that ‘thinking about something else’ is probably the analog to Cage’s listening to something else.

  68. darby

      i like this post. yeah, people don’t exactly fall into a trance of transient anti-words when they stare at a blank page. With music, there is a subtle sound environment that music rests on, so absent music, the environment reveals itself. With reading, the environment is neurological and particular to each individual, so absent words, people just think about something else. Actually that ‘thinking about something else’ is probably the analog to Cage’s listening to something else.

  69. Ross Brighton

      Yeah, that’s what cage was getting at – it occurs in a lot of his other work as well. But don’t underestimate the semantic value of space – It’s integral (though in a less radical sense) to Ron Johnson’s RADI OS, to much of Myung Mi Kim’s work – there’s a really good collection of essays called (i think) “Space in the thought of Foucalt, Deleuze and Kristeva” that goes into this kind of thing.

      Tan Lin: “the most beautiful page makes you look away accidentally from what you were reading” (preface to BLIPSOAK01)

  70. Ross Brighton

      Yeah, that’s what cage was getting at – it occurs in a lot of his other work as well. But don’t underestimate the semantic value of space – It’s integral (though in a less radical sense) to Ron Johnson’s RADI OS, to much of Myung Mi Kim’s work – there’s a really good collection of essays called (i think) “Space in the thought of Foucalt, Deleuze and Kristeva” that goes into this kind of thing.

      Tan Lin: “the most beautiful page makes you look away accidentally from what you were reading” (preface to BLIPSOAK01)

  71. andrew

      i do this. but i didnt read the comments so im irrelevant.

  72. andrew

      i do this. but i didnt read the comments so im irrelevant.

  73. Tim Horvath

      There’s Danielewski’s House of Leaves, where there’s enough blank space on the page to make some readers nervous about where their money has gone. Page 460, with one word, stands out.

      Then there are examples approaching the concept, such as Marcel Benabou’s Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books. Along the way, Benabou gives an ode to completely and relatively blank pages: “There are those who set out from the blank white page and those rarer persons who end up there” (78). He goes on to describe “Beautiful sheets of a nearly blinding whiteness that I imagined from what I could see to be light, fine, and crackly: some were completely virginal, others had a letterhead…” It’s like a Lolita of the blank page.

      I once bought a copy of Dan Simmons’s Hyperion which had, due to a publisher’s error, interpolated a number of a blank pages periodically in the opening pages. I was like, holy shit, this is the most postmodern science fiction novel ever, until I realized that um, no, it wasn’t.

  74. Tim Horvath

      There’s Danielewski’s House of Leaves, where there’s enough blank space on the page to make some readers nervous about where their money has gone. Page 460, with one word, stands out.

      Then there are examples approaching the concept, such as Marcel Benabou’s Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books. Along the way, Benabou gives an ode to completely and relatively blank pages: “There are those who set out from the blank white page and those rarer persons who end up there” (78). He goes on to describe “Beautiful sheets of a nearly blinding whiteness that I imagined from what I could see to be light, fine, and crackly: some were completely virginal, others had a letterhead…” It’s like a Lolita of the blank page.

      I once bought a copy of Dan Simmons’s Hyperion which had, due to a publisher’s error, interpolated a number of a blank pages periodically in the opening pages. I was like, holy shit, this is the most postmodern science fiction novel ever, until I realized that um, no, it wasn’t.

  75. mike
  76. mike
  77. mike

      i go back and forth on the whole “work speaking for itself” thing. i struggled with this a lot, trying to articulate myself, in any number of art history classes. i think the best thing to remember, regarding any sort of conceptual work, is that the “placard” or description or “whatever” is actually part of the work, and not outside of the work as in a general “traditional” artwork. the work is working towards the idea, and the idea is contextualized by the placard, so really the “entirety” of the work is the placard + the material piece itself + the idea.

  78. mike

      i go back and forth on the whole “work speaking for itself” thing. i struggled with this a lot, trying to articulate myself, in any number of art history classes. i think the best thing to remember, regarding any sort of conceptual work, is that the “placard” or description or “whatever” is actually part of the work, and not outside of the work as in a general “traditional” artwork. the work is working towards the idea, and the idea is contextualized by the placard, so really the “entirety” of the work is the placard + the material piece itself + the idea.

  79. Ben Segal

      Why I Have Not Written… is great.

      Also, for anyone interested in this stuff, I highly recommend ‘Bartleby & Co.’ by Enrique Vila-Matas. It’s an account of ‘Writers of the No’ or the refusal to write. It’s a pretty wonderful book.

  80. Ben Segal

      Why I Have Not Written… is great.

      Also, for anyone interested in this stuff, I highly recommend ‘Bartleby & Co.’ by Enrique Vila-Matas. It’s an account of ‘Writers of the No’ or the refusal to write. It’s a pretty wonderful book.

  81. Kevin

      I feel like that and a lot of examples listed above will still be considered ‘art’, not writing.
      I feel that the fact that there is no example of this in writing shows that there is still,
      fundamentally, some integrity to writing.
      There are thousands of unrecognized people doing artwork that has value and yet this
      gets talked about.

  82. Kevin

      I feel like that and a lot of examples listed above will still be considered ‘art’, not writing.
      I feel that the fact that there is no example of this in writing shows that there is still,
      fundamentally, some integrity to writing.
      There are thousands of unrecognized people doing artwork that has value and yet this
      gets talked about.

  83. Kevin

      seems strange that a necessary part of a piece of art is someone explaining what it means to you (I believe you used the word ‘context’).

  84. Kevin

      seems strange that a necessary part of a piece of art is someone explaining what it means to you (I believe you used the word ‘context’).

  85. Blake Butler

      my hearts swells with ani

  86. Blake Butler

      my hearts swells with ani

  87. Tan

      hi reynard

      I thought you might be interested in this link: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Lin-Video.html

      it contains some lengthier meditational pieces, where anticipation is also key and where there is some sort of relaxed tension between an author giving up control, via resorting to a mechanical device, counter, or voice generator, and the audience, on the other hand as some sort of interactive presence

      t

  88. Tan

      hi reynard

      I thought you might be interested in this link: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Lin-Video.html

      it contains some lengthier meditational pieces, where anticipation is also key and where there is some sort of relaxed tension between an author giving up control, via resorting to a mechanical device, counter, or voice generator, and the audience, on the other hand as some sort of interactive presence

      t