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Archive for the ‘On Art’ Category

What Art is for

I had some days ago finished reading a collection of short stories by Mark Samuels and though I was able to appreciate them, being fine examples of the weird tradition in the current literature of this kind, I cannot say that I enjoyed them particularly.  Yet threaded throughout were a number of well considered thoughts wonderfully expressed.  One pseudo excerpt in particular, the author having attributed it to Thomas De Quincey is still rattling around my head.  It runs thus:

“We continually regard what is miraculous as merely commonplace by virtue of extreme familiarity.”

I agree.

In short, for those in search of the miraculous: look no further but rather, Look!

The author is of course concerned with language, something that is suggestive of great mystery; a proof, he says, that this cosmos is not easily explained!  It’s occurred to me that, perhaps coeval to speech, there was a desire to express our wonder at what came to us through the eyes so that image making may not have been too long upon the heels of the spoken word.  Between what is written and what is painted there has always been a shared affinity; a constant since antiquity when it was chiefly the poet who determined in what manner a thing ought to be represented – its secondary detailing and embellishment alone being left to the creative powers of the artist to suggest.

It follows – and I do not fancy this to be mere conjecture – that the concerns of both Artist and Author are closely united.  Each unveils in a manner appropriate to their mode of expression a facet of the common place heightened to the imminence and reality of experience renewed; a peak experience as Colin Wilson terms it, divested from the short sighted preoccupations of immediate physical and emotional concerns.  An artist wishes to replace the opinions and fancies one might have about a thing with the thing itself uncoloured by our doubts and miseries.

We must retain our curiousity and wonder, otherwise the world becomes a boring and benighted procession of catalogued forms pointlessly self repeating.  Not only is our will sapped when an unbalanced view of this kind prevails but we soon find our depth of experience prey to the emptiness of promised novelty and distraction.  Only a debased view of the world contracts fine art and great literature to a condition of mere entertainment.

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Art and Politics

Art is not some free floating agent miraculously cut loose from the common life of social and historical realities.

Art is political in that it addresses the broader issues of workable concepts – the foundations upon which politicians build their careers and evolve their rhetoric if not necessarily their policies.

When art is joined to politics of the moment it becomes a fade away affair notable only for its connection to the historical incident that necessitated it.

Li Huayi is a fantastic Chinese painter whose earlier artistic career illustrates something of what I mean by the above statement.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHizMRo_T_M

In counterpoint, here is a brilliant painter who worked happily enough in collusion with any regime that happened to be in power…Jacques-Louis David.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJVCtPrJ7NQ

A minor though more pernicious variant of this abuse is evident when a dominant contemporary preoccupation – that is to say, any more or less transient issue with which we distract ourselves, including all preoccupation with celebrity and entertainment – is transformed into a visual conceit; a kind of meager intellectual affectation with a shelf life comparable to the brevity and relevance of the very thing that caused it to come about.

Whereas the former may be categorized as work done under the gun (I’m not talking about speed of production here ladies and gentlemen) the latter is plainly novelty capriciously exploited in the hopes of getting ones hook into the public imagination.

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Artists need solitude.  Too much time is wasted on the pose, playing the part, attempting to seduce the world at large with a glittering surface.
Solitude is necessary if you wish to cut through the noise of expectation, self image and desire.

An effort must also be made to avoid the false echo of private romance. It may charm but its preoccupation prevents any genuine contact with reality.  It is little more than a conceptual shackle foisted upon a world that would otherwise freely yield, without coercion, a host of conceptions and ideas, harmonizing the many facets of its own nature to our own level of understanding and ability as painters.  The glittering surface has no claim to permanence if depth is neglected.

Artists also need one another.  They need friendship.  They need criticism that can be learned from and admiration that strengthens rather than corrupts.  This becomes especially important when your work happens to be reviewed as there is no guarantee that it will be assessed by highly competent and constructive critics.  It is more likely that you will be either pointlessly trashed or stupidly celebrated.  Examples abound I’m afraid.

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It’s Still Life

It’s Still life

Anyone looking through my body of work will not find a visual vocabulary entirely unfamiliar to their experience.  There is fabric, the posed figure and the placed still life alongside a host of other things ritually encountered in life.  Yet these things, when finally painted show themselves to be, if only outwardly, little more than mere occasion and mask, visual sign posts familiarly clothed and concealing through inanimation what can only be rightly called still life.

There have been times when I’ve suspected the objects around me of having revealed or perhaps taken up curious and unlooked for suggestion, pulling a host of strange significances and fascination from what might be called imaginations thin air.

Moreover, it may be that I am someone merely passing through, exercising at best a kind of temporary stewardship over everything I have come to view as my own.  I catch myself looking at a particular book placed irregularly upon the shelf or regarding a clump of melted wax – curious testimony to an evening passed in happiness – my chess set whose chipped edge remains beautifully marred from accident or play and I am left with a feeling that I am surrounded by things possessing a sentience I would normally not suppose them to have and a life that may very well continue to exist in some vital way beyond the diverting tangent that is my own.

A sense of being observed is also intuited – such has been my experience anyway.  A dialogue that might be called co-natural appears to develop between the observer and a world that looks back, regarding the artist in turn, with its own questions and requirements.

Whether this dialogue can be considered inspiration proper, I cannot say.  I think it is more likely a means to inspiration rather than the thing itself.  Whatever the case it is always there and its promptings never fully abate until the impulse to do whatever is required of me is finally realised on canvas.  Is it any wonder that we can’t look at a painting without thinking of it as still life?

In`an`i`ma´tion

n. 1. Lack of animation; lifeless; dullness.

1. Infusion of life or vigor; animation; inspiration.

The inanimation of Christ living and breathing within us.

– Bp. Hall.

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Picasso’s Confession

“From the moment that art ceases to be food that feeds the best minds, the artist can use his talents to perform all the tricks of the intellectual charlatan.  Most people can today no longer expect to receive consolation and exaltation from art. The ‘re-fined, ‘the rich, the professional ‘do-nothing, ‘the distillers of quintessence desire only the peculiar, the sensational, the eccen-tric, the scandalous in today’s art.  I myself, since the advent of Cubism, have fed these fellows what they wanted and satisfied these critics with all the ridiculous ideas that have passed through my mind.  The less they understood them, the more they admired me. Through amusing myself with all absurd farces, I became celebrated, and very rapidly.  For a painter, celebrity means sales and consequent affluence. Today as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich.  But when I am alone, I do not have the effrontery to consider myself an artist at all, not it the grand old meaning of the word; Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, were great painters.  I am only a public clown – a mountebank. I have understood my time and have exploited the imbecility, the vanity, the greed of my contemporaries.  It is a bitter con-fession, this confession of mine, more painful than it may seem. But at least and at last it does have the merit of being honest.”

Pablo Picasso, 1952

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