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The Upside Down

Finding art in a change of direction.

In the last few years, I’ve found myself increasingly inspired by the subversion of expectations, by pushing the boundaries of art in new directions.

It’s how you get Kind of Blue, Miles Davis’ masterpiece and arguably the greatest jazz album of all time. It’s an album that’s entirely improvised. Performers were given some very general musical themes a few hours before recording then told, “Play in the sound of these scales.”

Photo of the author's copy of Miles' Davis' __Kind of Blue_. Also known as the greatest jazz album of all time.

It’s the spirit that inspired the Dada movement and the Beat poets.

In early 2020—while visiting things was still something you could just, you know, go do—I visited the Marcel Duchamp exhibit at DC’s Hirshhorn Museum. If we’re ever out of quarantine, I highly recommend it.

While there I was reminded of one of my favorite Duchamp lines, regarding his (in)famous readymades:

One simply notes that it is a bottle rack or that it was a bottle rack and has changed direction.

That an object that has changed direction can be an entirely new thing—a work of art, even—requires us to see things in juxtaposition.

A bottle rack upside down presumes an understanding of a bottle rack. It’s only by way of understanding how a bottle rack works that we can see why changing direction makes it a new thing.

For more context

Deconstruction is the art of turning a text upside down.

What to read next

You'll never know what writing rules you can break unless you know the writing rules you're breaking.

Other items of interest

I'd like to read more about your lousy views on art.

What would it look like for an essay to change directions?

What's with this new obsession with subverting expectations?

Referenced in

McLuhan Strikes Again

It’s a book that has changed directions—one that makes sense only when it’s understood as a reaction to the fundamental nature of bookishness. It’s a story that both understands the ways that people can use a book and then plays with those conventions.