Ann Hamilton: Making Not Knowing

Not knowing is a permissive and rigorous willingness to trust, leaving knowing in suspension, trusting in possibility without result, regarding as possible all manner of response. The responsibility of the artist … is the practice of recognising.

At the end of Ann Hamilton’s Essay “Making not Knowing,” she addresses a common worry among both aspiring and practising artists: does making or not making art cause the world to change in any way? The responsiveness of work!

New knowledge: One way to look at this is to start with the assumption that art has been made for years and that the job of the aspiring artist is to absorb all that has come before in order to facilitate creating, generation of the new, something that adds to the history of a long practice or tradition: art making.
Hamilton touches on the importance of this briefly by quoting Salman Rushdie when he said, “It has never been more important for the world’s voices to be heard in America.” For so long, the only voices that have been heard have come from a very specific minority: white, influential men. So much so that it may seem that the experience of the white, influential man is a universal experience, that he is in essence the “common man” (or woman) that everyone can relate to. We know that this is not true, that a women experiences the world differently than a man, and that a black woman experiences the world differently still, and that a black woman in Nicaragua will experience the world differently than one in the united states, and so on and so on until our experiences can only be described by one individual.
In this train of thought, the aspiring artist can change the art world by adding their unique experience.  Their making produces change in that our knowledge of the world through art is expanded by a little bit.
However, what if we were to evaluate the importance of the existence of art entirely instead of the addition of new art. What if, from the beginning of time, every human being had decided to “unmake,” and art was not a part of our society. What would happen then? How would our existence change, or would it change at all?

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