kenneth goldsmith trained as a visual artist at the rhode island school of design. in the 1980s, his work became wildly popular with collectors and was shown at some of the best galleries in new york city. but he grew frustrated with the byproducts of that success. “what i had become was a businessman,” goldsmith says. “and i did this so i wouldn’t have to become a businessman!”
goldsmith quit the art world. looking for his next move, he remembered a book from his college days: silence, the 1961 collection of lectures and essays by avant-garde composer john cage. “i began seeing that there was a whole other way to be an artist in the world other than that which i was taught,” goldsmith says. “cage gave me license to become an artist by doing less and saying less and fearing less.”
he turned to poetry, transcribing and reframing a year of radio weather reports into a narrative of the four seasons. although he served as the first poet laureate at the museum of modern art, goldsmith admits he hasn’t been able to make a living off of his poetry alone. but he has no regrets. “when we give up things, we get something else — and i think that’s cage’s message.”
i am a dumb writer, perhaps one of the dumbest that’s ever lived. whenever i have an idea, i question myself whether it is sufficiently dumb. i ask myself, is it possible that this, in any way, could be considered smart? if the answer is no, i proceed. i don’t write anything new or original. i copy pre-existing texts and move information from one place to another. a child could do what i do, but wouldn’t dare to for fear of being called stupid.
so what’s the future of file-sharing from your point of view? does it have one?
"there will always be file-sharing. the thing is that megaupload was shut down because they were serving lady gaga and microsoft products, not john cage. the avant-garde is always safe because it files way beneath the radar. it’s funny because ubuweb is available in china, although it contains loads of sexual, violent and politically subversive work. but if the authorities come to the front page of ubu, they see a lot of red and black text with names they’ve never heard of and an image of an old man, samuel beckett. they must think it’s a site for pensioners."
— kenneth goldsmith —