Richard Serra, Commencement Address, “If Not Now, When?” See our previous discussion of Serra’s speech. I am surprised that no one noticed the obvious: His speech was a parody.

The constant need for referents prevents direct experience. Experience does not always need to be compared and related. The habit of recalling stored imagery subverts both what’s present and what’s being re-called. Analogies and metaphors fail to impress a solid image on us. I have no problem with the virtual reality on your screens as long as you are aware that it is virtual. My concern is that experience by proxy is a poor substitute for the reality of the interactive space we inhabit. As a sculptor I believe that perception structures thought and that to see is to think and conversely to think is to see. The virtual reality of the media, be it television or internet, limits our perception in that it affects our sense of space. It immobilizes our ability to apprehend actual physical space. Don’t let the rhetoric of simulation steal away the immediacy of your experience. Keep it real, keep it in the moment.

Ha! Don’t you get it? Serra spent the first part of the speech telling the graduates to give “little heed to those who will attempt to quell your aspiration” to “challenge others” to not “suffer fools gladly” and to “invent your own tools.” The signature line of the speech is “If it’s not broken, break it.”

All good stuff. But then he acts, at the end, as if the only way to do art (or live life) is in the here and now, that we must abandon the virtual, that only “actual physical space” matters. This is, obviously, in direct contradiction of what he has said before. He says, at the end, that we must follow his, and his generation’s rules and use their tools. No virtual worlds for you!

Either Serra is a very smart guy and purposely constructed his speech in this way, hoping that a few listeners would notice and would understand the real message: The future of art is virtual! Don’t follow me and work in steel. Work in a medium that no one has worked in before. Or Serra is not a smart guy and is to shallow the see the contradiction. Here’s hoping for the former!

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