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Chapter 23. “It is almost dry” – Being gentle within capitalist consumption.

In an interview on Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon Pusha T explains the title of his new album: “It is almost dry”. The phrase means, that the masterpiece you are making is almost ready, yet it is not. Everyone keeps asking the artist, when it will be done. It is obvious that the phrase relates to the practice of painting, and painting is the prime category of producing art – even if you are a rapper.  

From a hydrofeminist point of view, the discourse of painting, and when a painting is finished, relates to the fact of dry paint. Paint, when it is used, should not be dry. Instead, it should be kind of flexible, have a viscosity that makes it applicable on the canvas. Not every paint contains water. But water seems to be the relation between the practice of painting, the ontological status of the finished masterpiece and the material. The imagination of artistic process is watery even if liquids in paints like mineral spirits making pigments flow and oil paints contain … oil. 

Dried paint marks the end of a process, in which the subject expresses him/herself, ending with a product. Dryness of the paint also expresses the masculine urge to make something unique, a masterpiece, which cannot and will not be transformable, otherwise it would be destroyed. So, you can think of “It is almost dry” as a counternarrative to the masculine perfection within arts since Kant and the romantic order. Why Kant and why romantic order?

In short: Kant in his agenda of enlightenment argues that the non-human world is only in reference to the human subject real. Meaning can only be constituted through and in relation to the human mind. The romantic order pushes the Kantian subject towards an artistic configuration: the human subject becomes the genius. The “Einbildungskraft” manages what can be produced artistically. It is almost always the male subject that creates. 

But the discourse about the dry image is older and opens up the ontological question whether an artwork is finished or not. Can it be finished? Or is it always in process? Why do we have (as humans) the urge to finish something, while live itself continues to flow?

Recall those paintings at the Lascaux caves, where humans painted their surroundings like animals and plants over years on the walls. They possibly never thought about finishing a masterpiece but telling a story. In this context “It is almost dry” becomes an existential meaning relating dryness with death. As long as they lived, they painted and transformed the image. 

Instead, the modern artwork has to be “dry”, it has to become ready, and immutable. Bruno Latour calls immutable mobiles those artifacts which can circulate without getting transformed by the motion of circulating. For example, you play “Chinese whisper” (a quite racist name for a children’s game) or in German “Stille Post” what would mean “silent postal service”. You whisper your message to the other person. Because auf the poor connection, it is possible, that the next person will not receive the whole message and therefore deliver a transformed message to the next player. We all know that the goal is to send the complete message and therefore train ourselves (as children) to send and receive data. 

An immutable mobile on the other hand – because it is shaped through various processes and by various actors like scientists, artists, computers, etc. – will be still understandable either you send it loud or silent, because it circulated through a process of transformation, that makes it understandable in almost every situation. 

A masterpiece seems to be an immutable mobile, only transporting one message: itself. The message is: this artifact is a masterpiece. It is perfect as it is, and nothing will change it. Any change to it will destroy the identity and unity of the piece. 

But by saying it is “almost dry” the phrase hints towards the watery situation of art itself: paintings always already contain water (or other liquids), otherwise colors could not be applied onto the canvas as easily as we want them to. Colors need to be watery to flow. The same goes for ink. If you write with ink or print a text there is a short timespan where the text is not dry and could transform into something else, something monstrous. 

The space for possible transformation, for mistakes, corrections and withdrawal, but also for the agency of the material opens up. And even if it is clear that Pusha T’s album is well produced, a well-placed object or artefact commodified for the audience to listen to in bright quality on every device modernism has to offer, the title gives space for the doubt. Is it finished yet? Is the artist a subject, who knows when it the artwork is ready? Or is the subjectivity transforming into a waterier ontology hence making artworks unfinished?

Another example might be Kanye West’s album The Life of Pablo (2016) which not only sounded unfinished, it made being in process, in other words becoming its key signature. After the release West worked on those tracks constantly changing, expanding and transforming the songs. He wanted the album to be in motion, a software that updates every once in a while, changing itself and becoming something else while also be recognizable as that album. 

The monstrosity of an unfinished artwork lies in its inconclusiveness. How do we interpret something that changes? Hermeneutics cannot engage with “living” beings. The status of the interpretation slides and changes: it is temporally true, but might lose its truth to the change. It has to constantly adjust to the other. Michel Foucault once argued that with Marx, Nietzsche and Freud our modern discourse learned how to interpret endlessly. For artworks to produce constant meaning is not an idea that comes with art itself. It is not art’s nature to have that endless resource of meaning and truth. This is an invention of the 19th century. 

This does not mean that art has only one meaning and we just imagine to give them more meaning. This does not mean that there is one meaning, the meaning of the author on the one hand, and the meaning of the reader on the other (recall Roland Barthes’ death of the author and birth of the reader), but that searching for meaning and continuously interpreting artworks is a special function to the modern discourse which for my opinion comes to an end. 

Let’s get back to the phrase “it is almost dry”. Is it subversive? Does it mean (and I know I engage in the endless perpetuum mobile of interpretation) that art is never finished and everything is only temporally true?

Are we still trapped in that old discourse Foucault mentions? Or is it even an idea of capitalism giving the consumer a not yet fully developed product because they will buy everything the market offers them? We see that often with computer games: many games were released to the public audience in its beta or even alpha stage of development, so the audience, or the mass one can say will take part in the process of making the product better and also making it cheaper because professional developers must not be paid to test games before they were released.  

Almost dry does not mean, that the artwork is not ready in the sense, a computer game in its alpha phase is not full developed and therefore not fully playable. There is nothing to fix or to debug. But it is not ready to be touched or handled. Or better: it has to be handled with care. 

Almost dry means it is a little bit wet to the touch. Please be careful with me it might say. It is a message that can be overheard easily even misunderstood if it has to travel from one subject to another. It also deconstructs our imagination of perfection, but also denotating a specific concept of genius – the humble one. We can learn from the wet paint that we should engage with the process not with the finished piece, because this piece is a phantasma produced by our own ideology of perfection. But it also gives room to the idea to let something go: clinging to the artifact makes the situation not better. “It is almost dry” but it is also released to the audience. Be gentle, be careful, and also stay wet.



Cite this blog post
Martin Bartelmus (2022, May 26). Chapter 23. “It is almost dry” – Being gentle within capitalist consumption. Dark Hermeneutics. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/ngx9

By Martin Bartelmus

Martin Bartelmus is a Postdoctoral Scholar of German Literary, Media, and Cultural Theory at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. He studied German Literature, Philosophy, Political and Social Studies at Julius Maximilians University Würzburg and received his PhD in Media and Cultural Studies as part of the DFG graduate program “Materiality and Production” from Heinrich Heine University. His PhD-Thesis is entitled Cultural Born Killer: Poetics of Killing around 1900. Before joining the department of German Literature at Heinrich Heine University for his current postdoctoral position, he worked as a curator for the Museum of Natural History of the Benrath Palace and Park Foundation and as a freelancer for the Julia Stoschek Collection. He is interested in Animal and Plant Studies, killing in literature and film, French theory, Object-Oriented Ontology, and literature without humans.

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