On Friday afternoons the sculpture majors at my art school would gather for the weekly critique. Sometimes it was very cozy; one of the graduate students would put up a piece that we all knew he’d been working on, and knew would be good. We’d spend ten or fifteen minutes smiling and nodding and agreeing about how good it was.
Then somebody would put up some catastrophe. Silence would fall. We’d all sit there and wonder what could possibly be said about such a zero object. Sometimes everyone just sat there until the humiliated presenter retrieved the object and bore it away. That was hard on him, but it made everyone else uneasy as well. Nobody wants to be a yahoo rejectionist.
On one occasion the piece was pretty nothing, but someone, making an effort, said something about there being a sadness to it, sort of an angst. Someone else picked up on that and said that angst was existential. That set us on our feet. Soon we were all chatting away about Nietzsche and Sartre and Nausea as if what we were saying had any relation to what was in front of us. Which didn’t enlighten the artist or advance art, but the mere fact of the discussion dignified the nothing object, however absurdly, and proved that nothingness works if it is received as a conceptual somethingness sufficient to stimulate chatter.