Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Intention and Interpretation

Intention verses interpretation -- both can work.

A painter painted and exhibited diptychs and triptychs of interiors, scenes and still lifes to varying degrees toward or away from representation -- the direction depending on whether one starts with the most classically representational (looks like what it is) or the more loose, deconstructed abstraction in the different views of the same subject.

A reviewer seemed to focus, with some despair on a stance that the work appeared in the reviewer's eye to take in relation to critical theory, particularly deconstruction and tropes of deconstruction a la conceptualism and painting, which was not the thing that the artist, according to the artist, was tackling. The artist, to paraphrase, was trying to "depicting (sic) simultaneous aspects of how people experience", giving pause to feeling "one continuous field of experience" as opposed to a clear delineation between being inside and outside of oneself, trying to get at something that he believed was ultimately "invisible." The paintings could be considered and analyzed with the reviewer's approach; biases effect our interpretations. But the paintings also worked the way the artist intended -- in my view because of the interplay between deconstruction and reconstruction as the eye moves from one depicted state to another. This perceived relay between reconstruction and deconstruction, form and un-form, is my interpretation, of course, and perhaps not what the artist intended.

Strong work operates on multiple levels, whether or not all the levels originally are intended, and I like that deconstruction, a trope sometimes employed to relegate painting to irrelevance, contrarily could bolster the reconstructive, meditative, and transformative potential of painting.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Time lines

We can view and consider modern art, at least early modern art of cubism, surrealism, Bauhaus, etc., at some distance, with a backward glance, not being in or too near its moment. The distance perhaps feels less with Dada, since conceptualism connects to Duchamp’s Dada.

We are 145 years after Manet's Olympia (which many say ushered in modern art), 100 or so years after Cubism, 60 or so years after Pollack began action painting.

Manet's Olympia, 1863
Cezanne's Mt. Victoire, 1897-1898
Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907
Braque's Houses at L'Estaque L'Estaque, 1908
Malevich's White on White, 1918
Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red, 1921
Jackson Pollack's Cathedral, 1947
Ad Reinhardt's Black Painting(s),1960-67

For comparison, Botticelli's Birth of Venus was 50 years after Van Ecyk's Arnolfini Portrait (advent of oil painting), Da Vinci's Mona Lisa was 70 years after the Arnolfini Portrait, and Rembrandt's Night Watch was a little over 200 years after the Arnolfini Portrait and somewhat more than the same number of years before Manet's Olympia (220 years).

Van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait 1434
Botticelli's Birth of Venus, 1486
Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, 1503–1506
Raphael's School at Athens, 1509-1510
Bruegel's The Tower of Babel (1563)
Parmigianino's Madonna with the Long Neck, 1534-40
Caravaggio's The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1599-1600
Rembrandt's The Night Watch, 1642

Old Found Art

A wikipedia snippet about a controversial ancient human figurine, Venus of Tan-Tan, discovered in Morocco and claimed to date back to between 500,000 and 300,000 BCE, made me think of how old an idea it likely is to turn a found object (a rock) into an artistic expression (a figure).

According to the wiki entry, the Venus of Tan Tan figurine may have been created by natural geological processes but bears evidence of having been painted. If so, it may have been a found object that resembled a figure enough to be picked up and altered with paint to highlight the resemblance. Of course, it may not have been: the wiki entry also notes that the figurine appears to exhibit traces of human tool work.

Perhaps romanticism runs amok, or I just like the contrast between what's alive and what's not: I'm left supposing that the first object of art was made upon spotting resemblance between a natural inanimate form found on the ground and an animate form, perhaps even the self, and in that moment, having the identity of the inanimate form change. It's also possible that original appreciation was more abstract, the same way we have our eyes and/or our imaginations tickled and captured by cracks and pocks in the ground, though I wonder whether we've been schooled to appreciate random compositions.

Making art from a found object per se may not have deserve accolades as "original" when it came into vogue in the 20th century except that the found objects themselves were also manmade, which carried issues of whether use of the objects in art denies or does not deny the prior functional identities of the objects. Also, to the extent that such art made with found objects denies animation, modern and contemporary art made with found objects differs from finding resemblance between a rock and a human form.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Long Term Engagement

While web surfing, I came across the pages for MOMA's color chart exhibition earlier this year. The MOMA exhibition did not focus so much on the delights of playing with color interaction, but rather focused on conceptual approaches that see colors as standardized -- colors as ready made cloaks.

Among the artists included, Niele Torono has, since the 60s, systematically "painted" by pressing a painted laded No. 50 brush onto surfaces (e.g. walls, etc) to make monochromatic imprints repeatedly at perpendicular 30 centimeter intervals, using pre-existing variations in architectural context and added variations in framing context (meaning the dimensions and placement of the pictorial box) to produce a surprisingly wide variety of work. The volume and range is more interesting to me than is any particular piece.

The MOMA site includes a video interview, in which Torono's speaks about the subtle variations in the brush shaped marks -- no two marks are exactly alike. The marks are individually produced, so the hand remains involved, albeit heavily constrained by the systemic approach. But because the paint application is so limited, the works for me end up being about the alteration of context, and not so much about painting. It would be incredibly difficult, impossible actually, for me to constrain my forms that much for more than a few explorations. I need to come at contextual inquiries from both directions -- varying forms within context and varying contexts around forms.

I wonder how many artists starting out today will be exploring the same processes, systems, or conceptual idea thirty years from now. Apparent originality or ironic appropriation/referential regressions are in vogue. But there is another option, which Torono has adopted -- long term, in depth exploration and engagement -- as did Cezanne and others.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Reflections on Identity

If art is the expression of the self, or of the self in relation to others/the world, it's automatically about identity. Some art practices can be seen as placing this in tension, subverting it, or trying to suppress it into irrelevance.

Appropriation takes that which has been conceived by or made by another. However, appropriation imparts the new relationship of the appropriator to the appropriated idea, image, etc., reflecting identity -- although perhaps confused or heavily borrowed identity.

Anonymity over authorship separates other external aspects of the artist's identity from the work. Even if not specifically identifiable to a particular name/person, identity remains reflected in the work -- but much less so with rigid conventions.

The contemporary practice/convention of situating the conceptual underpinning of an artwork within taking a position in relation to the rubric of critical theory or illustrating theory binds the context for reflecting identity and the scope of identity that is reflected -- more so if critical theory should tend toward inflexibility. Fostering reexamination broadens the space in which to reflect identity.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I am jotting down what I am sure are a few obvious notions about object in art.

Objects moved from being seen as the elements depicted in the artwork to the physical work of art itself to including the artist and/or viewer to being summarily elements installed in a presentation space, which works of solid art always have been, whether specifically viewed that way or not. Objects change a space.

With a video in a monitor, the monitor comes across as a primary object, just as a stretched canvas comes across as a primary object. It's hard for me to view the video shown within the monitor as an object. However, within the duration of projection, I can view a projection not contained within a physical object (or projected onto a shaped physical support), as an object, even if it is less materially solid, because no physical support detracts from it as an element in the presentation space.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Studies: Decor

I am still wrapping my eyes and mind around pattern intersections with representational elements by playing with the intersections and by collapsing and expanding the pattern elements. For now, the representational element is a moving animal.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I've noticed that an artwork that started out feeling fresh can have a frustrating way of feeling a little old, a little dated, a little too known, once it's completed, and certainly once it's sent out into the sea of art, bobbing up and down with other expressions of art.

It can feel like everything has been done visually -- research after what seemed like a "novel" use of material or a "novel" form or a "novel" process can reveal similar uses of the material (or its equivalent) or the form or the process at an earlier time. Even "new" concepts are often retreads and tweaks of old ideas or observations, whether unintentionally mimicked or blatantly aped.

Yet, and perhaps informed by these frustrations, uniqueness can emerge in an interplay between concept, process and visual language.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pic-A-Day: Mistakes

Separating Execution From Conception

To extent that there is a "deskilling" involved in outsourcing the execution stage of art objects from the artist to skilled craftspeople, it is different from deskilling that excuses absence of quality as irrelevant, or worse, elevates and enshrines feebleness because feebleness is a way to illustrate quality is illusory.

Did denigration of quality have to accompany or flow from isolating execution from conception? What knowledge is lost to the artist from making something with his/own hands does not necessarily mean the body of knowledge is lost: though knowledge may suffer in translation, it’s split between the artist as conceiver and the craftsperson as maker, unless the value of the craft is so reduced that there is no one passing on or picking up the knowledge of the craftsperson.

I think there’s a benefit to making the art objects with one’s own hand, or at least, in exercising this skill as a regular discipline. Making the objects – collaboration between the mind and the hand/body, between thought and tactile sensation - tends to slow down logical articulation and to spread out associational articulation, fostering deeper reflection. The tension and struggle in making art with one’s own hands reduces the likelihood of art that merely illustrates a concept.

On the other hand, limitations in the height of skill in particular medium should not preclude an artist from realizing work in that medium, even if this means collaborating with those who have reached the height of skill in the medium.

Pic-A-Day: Location

Fragility of Position

Path: Ode to Klee

Paradigm Shift: Quantum Philosophy

From an article about Quantum Philosophy.:

"Other philosophers call for a sea change in our very modes of thought. After Einstein introduced his theory of relativity, ... 'we threw out the old Euclidean notion of space and time, and now we have a more generalised notion.' Quantum theory may demand a similar revamping of our concepts of rationality and logic, Bub says. Boolean logic, which is based on either- or propositions, suffices for a world in which an atom goes either through one slit or the other, but not both slits. "Quantum mechanical logic is non-Boolean," he comments. " Once you understand that, it may make sense." Bub concedes, however, that none of the so-called quantum logic systems devised so far has proved very convincing."

"A different kind of paradigm shift is envisioned by Wheeler.The most profound lesson of quantum mechanics, he remarks, is that physical phenomena are somehow defined by the questions we ask of them. " This is in some sense a participatory universe," he says. The basis of reality may not be the quantum, which despite its elusiveness is still a physical phenomenon, but the bit, the answer to a yes-or-no question,which is the fundamental currency of computing and communications. Wheeler calls his idea "the it from bit. Following Wheeler's lead, various theorists are trying to recast quantum physics in terms of information theory..."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yawn: More than being tired or bored.

Discovery news suggests yawning is a response to brain temperature.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Accessibility in Art

Remembering back, I had a professor once who proposed that a piece of conceptual art -- leaving pieces of paper with partial quotes in subway cars and on buses for random strangers to pick up and posting copies of the quotes on a gallery wall with explanatory text of "the project" -- was more accessible to viewers/an audience than a "classically" representational figurative painting.

His premises? As I understood, accessing the figurative painting required awareness of the history and lines of development of representational figurative painting to really "get" the painting (beyond seeing it as a pretty picture) since the painting referenced Balthas, who referenced ..., etc, on back in time, while the piece of conceptual art did not suffer from the need to have awareness of the past and make connections to it. The reference within reference within reference was true of the particular painting that he used as an example. To a degree, painting does promote an "in the know" insularity: we can be part of the special club that can pat themselves on the back from getting it, our breadth of exposure and knowledge being greater than that of most others. However, a painting can be received on its own terms as much as a collection of posted quotes, and since the painting may at least be visually interesting, more so. In any case, to get the irony, even the one line kind, of much of conceptual art, we must be in on the references illustrated, whether the references are artistic or philosophical or political or cultural or consumerist snippets.

I thought of the professor's distinction as I was reading commentary by Matthew Collings on Clement Greenberg's birthday, written with an insider's tone of disdain, particularly this comment: "Even the art writers who produce small-audience, faux-intellectually rigorous magazines such as 'October' in America or 'Texte Zur Kunst' in Germany are nurtured pets of society not its opponents. The aim of these publications is power within a certain morally unassailable context, the university being its main institution. The aim of the circle of writers connected to each of these magazines is not to define an alternative world but to caress and polish certain long established creeds of alterity, congratulating themselves (like shallow versions of medieval scholastics) on ever more subtle and pointless re-castings of what they and their friends already know."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Neo-Fill In The Blank

“Neo”, beyond short hand utility of demarking that time has come between, imparts oppositional value judgments:

- It can be pejorative, suggesting that the rediscovery pales in comparison to that which is being rediscovered (mannerism).

- It can be abusive suggesting a connection that does not really exist.

- It can be neutral, simply demarking that some kernel of what is being offered up rests on something that came before it.

- Or it can be affirmative, suggesting a “new” and presumably interesting take on ideas that came before while skipping over a presumptively unsatisfying in-between period a practitioner/critic doesn’t want to be associated with or connected to.

Minding the apparent gap(s) -- most things being dismissed still operate outside the spotlight -- what is “neo” is still a continuation – even if it drives the rediscovered idea/approach either to absurdity or to banality. For those content to accept the absurdity and banality and leave it at that, the vacuum is filled by arbitrariness for which the authority of power offers the only validation presumptively available. For those who don’t accept the absurdity and banality, it would seem the attack shouldn’t be against a term. Rather, the attack should consider what underlying misperceptions/misconceptions might have led to the absurdity or banality, which requires looking at the apparent continuum and its premises.

The ontological continues to be worth taking on rather than illustrated.

Macro: There Is Meaning

Sometimes it feels like we (a cultural, intellectual, perhaps pseudo intellectual we) tired of perceptions unfolding with the movement of the observer and deconstructed simultaneity into meaningless. Before the hey day of relativism, duality was tangled with, but accepted -- and not as rendering the concept of truth meaningless (we can't really know anything, so nothing means anything). Two sides of a coin. Death helps one understand life, or at least the brevity of life (mortality) helps one appreciate the experience of life, come what may afterward.

We have very few real paradigmatic shifts like the one that accompanied modernism (or more particularly, Cezanne, cubism, etc) … we remain subsumed in the age in which relativism/relationships and acute awareness of the limitations of the observer is the underlying operative framework for our thinking about meanings. Still, on the macro day to day level in which we generally operate, ordinary cause and effect has meaning, at least to the the ones who feel the effects: it can't be disregarded. With out the intervention of a surgeon (and perhaps even with it), a bullet to the heart will kill.

Is it possible we are unable to fully articulate/comprehend a universal that nonetheless exists? Can we judge one construct against another without the need for a universal truth? It's easy enough to spout everything is relative, all constructs devolve into power battles, and none is worse or better than the other since there is no universal reality/truth against which to judge the constructs or principles underlying the constructs. But is it really so that some constructs in practice don't leave more people better off than do other constructs long term? Or that some don't offer more mobility to change position than others, as beyond the construct makers who would put themselves in a position of privilege, one does not know beforehand what position one will occupy in a given construct? Or that some constructs do not require ignoring cause and effect (at least probabilistic cause and effect) on a macro level?

If every "reality" we experience/occupy is a construct, with no standard to judge one construct against the other, I'd suggest there are means of questioning the utility, if nothing else, of the construct. Does the construct denies cause and effect on a macro level? What is the construct's internal consistency: does it meet the values it purports to elevate or does it simply devolve into hypocrisy?

Pic-A-Day: Patterns

Experience and Intellect

Squaring experience with intellectual exercise is a challenge. Recall of experience is inaccurate and biased and exercise of the intellect can be faulty and short circuited. Back and forth between the two is needed to show the holes in one and to ground the other. We can deconstruct and logically deprive experience of meaning, and yet, most of us will still feel that there is meaning. Tools of deconstruction apply to reconstructions as well -- anything can be reduced to nothing. No one likes a vacuum -- the vacuum either will be filled by constructs of faith, which concede they must be accepted despite illogic -- or dissembled by a better understanding of the premises and utility of tools of deconstruction and the manner of their application.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Playing In The Box: Working on a Two Dimensional Surface

For me, drawing and painting are intellectual exercises as much as transformative engagements of material. Having broken out of the picture plane, I sometimes forget that one really can do what feels like infinite amount of thinking laying out an image inside the four corners (eight if you count the ground plane) of the picture box, and have endless fun and engagement watching interactions between lines, shapes, colors, complexes and seeing the depth of captured space vacillate with each new marking while predicting what each mark will do to the spatial balance. Three vectors set up the space (at least one can be imaginary or zero, and if one thinks in terms of the mark as figure and the background as ground, only one actual mark is needed). After that, there's freedom within the constraint of the edges.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Deconstructing Deconstruction

"The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits, and all the more when one does not suspect it. Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old structure, borrowing them structurally, that is to say, without being able to isolate their elements and atoms, the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain way falls prey to its own work." - Derrida (emphasis added)

We ought to think about the utility of the tools of deconstruction as applied and whether the leveling of all necessarily leaves a fertile field that can bear fruit capable of withstanding deconstruction or, instead, leaves barren ground. Yes, this involves value judgments, but the concerted, and perhaps illusory, effort to absent any value judgment is in itself a judgment of value.

(Re)Treading Old Ground

Judgments about Identity are influenced by context, in large measure because of expectations. Context then helps define identity? Does sticking a frame around something transform the something from what it was into Art? Plenty of artists, critics, etc., would think it silly to still be asking. Didn't we settle this -- art is Art so long as the artist intends it to be Art?

Empty frames hanging on the wall may offer the illusion of art on the wall: the visual impression plays with long ingrained expectations; if it's inside a frame, it's art. But it's an illusion. Beyond the initial play on expectations, the section of the wall inside the frame offers no more to viewers than the section of wall outside the frame.

A vase on a table in a house is taken as a container for water and flowers, although a particularly elegant, distorted or otherwise visually interesting vase will also feel like Art, or at least, Decor. A vase under lights on a pedestal in a gallery is taken as art. It helps if the vase looks more than functional, that is, if the form is either elegant or distorted or otherwise visually interesting. Simply setting an ordinary object inside a gallery or museum space with a clever or not so clever label conveys the expectation of art but it does not transform the ordinary object. On the other hand, an object or objects can be the "materials" for art and set in a way that transform the whole into something that offers more than functional objects.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Does All Art Illustrate?

Can, and if so, when does art evoke rather than illustrate? Is it either or? Do we fool ourselves into thinking we are doing more than illustrating? How does an artist not illustrate -- illustrate a narrative, illustrate a concept, illustrate a feeling or emotion, illustrate a formal idea or theory?

Perhaps we evoke something in ourselves as the viewer of our own work in progress, with us the maker as the proxy for them the viewer whom we are trying to reach? Even through the lens of the viewer, are we doing more than reading the illustration?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Visual Art: Architectural Servant?

I recently heard a caution that visual art not return to the role of a servant to architecture ... it had taken long enough to break painting (and perhaps sculpture) free from architecture ... and that installation in a sense locks these mediums back into serving architecture.

The comment had more to do with art history and the church (followed by merchant patrons, etc) as historical patron of art, a time when the artist was a servant to the patron's tastes. But the comment made me think about how the objects -- paintings and sculptures -- did gain greater freedom as expressions for their own sake, a painting as a painting, a sculpture as a sculpture, both in making and appreciation, regardless of whether they fit into a larger context of display. So too, artifacts from days past, e.g. ruins, are displayed in museums, etc., regardless of whether they fit the context of display. The fact of such severed display however does not eliminate the relevance that spatial context has on the viewer's reception and perception of the work.

Sculpture and painting, while becoming distinct mediums of there own right, and breaking free of being relegated to decorating and serving architectural space, can never really break free of the context in which they are shown. Installation, or mindfulness of the ultimate display context, by acknowledging the relevance of context, does not make the object or the space the servant; rather, it integrates the two.

Perhaps we've gone a bit silly on the other end, turning buildings into sculptural forms rather than functional spaces.