If there’s a thing, a scene, maybe, an image that you want to see real bad, that you need to see but it doesn’t exist in the world around you, at least not in the form that you envision, then you create it so that you can look at it and have it around, or show it to other people who wouldn’t have imagined it because they perceive reality in a more narrow, predictable way. And that’s it. That’s all an artist does.
The fact is that we are living in a time when the decision to be an artist, to continue to create in spite of everything that’s happening around us, IS a radical political act. This is, I feel, quite a dark time, potentially destructive to the best and most noble aspects of the human spirit. And that’s precisely why it is terribly important for artists in all disciplines to continue to create, even when it feels like there’s little market and little appreciation for our work. Just doing it, and making the difficult decision to continue to do it - to live creative lives that celebrate what life is and can be - is both defiant and affirming, and it’s crucially important. People need to know that someone they know - a neighbor, a friend, a cousin - is committed to the arts. Young people particularly need to know this.
How to look at art
I saw a lot of this at the Picasso exhibit at the AGO.
Edward Tufte has an interesting pamphlet called SEEING AROUND — in it he talks about how important it is to make the label and description the last thing you look at when you look at art in a museum:
Pre-installed narratives, categories, metaphors, points of view, and deformation professional all interfere with how and what we see. In looking at art, once story-telling starts, it’s hard to see anything else….
For a while… let the artwork stand on its own. Walk around, see intensely, view from up down sideways close afar above below, enjoy… Your only language is vision.
Joe Brainard said the same thing:
the first thing to do when looking at a work of art was to do just that—look. Let your eyes take in what is in front of them. Look at a picture from different distances. Look away and then look back, but, since each picture suggests a visual starting point in it, choose a different point each time you look. At this stage, try not to have any thoughts about the work, such as where it fits in the artist’s oeuvre or in art history or social history. You can do that later. If you allow such thoughts at this point, they will distance you from your seeing.
Something I try really hard to do now when I look at art — and as Goodfellas shows us, it’s so much more fun to make up your own stories about a painting…
But sounds don’t worry about whether they make sense or whether they are heading in the right direction. They don’t need that direction or mis-direction to be themselves. They are, and that’s enough for them. And for me too…
A sound possesses nothing, no more than I possess it. A sound doesn’t have its being, it can’t be sure of existing in the following second. What’s strange is that it came to be there, this very second. And that it goes away. The riddle is the process.
–from Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson
With thanks to 108zenbooks
Looking through a book of drawings by Holbein I realize several moments of truth. A nose (a line) so nose-like. So line-like. And then I think to myself “so what?” It’s not going to solve any of my problems. And then I realize that at the very moment of appreciation I have no problems. Then I decide that this is a pretty profound thought. And that I ought to write it down. This is what I have just done. But it doesn’t sound so profound any more. That’s art for you.
–Joe Brainard, “Art” in The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard.
Mark Rothko, Green Over Blue, 1956
Photograph by Lothar Wolleh: Gerhard Richter, between 1968 and 1970.
“Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense. It is like the religious search for God.”
“Violinists practicing scales and dancers repeating the same movements over decades are not simply warming up or mechanically training their muscles. they are learning how to attend unswervingly, moment by moment, to themselves and their art; learning to come into steady presence…Yet however it is brought into being, true concentration appears—paradoxically—at the moment willed effort drops away…At such moments, there may be some strong emotion present—a feeling of joy, or even grief—but as often, in deep concentration, the self disappears. We seem to fall utterly into the object of our attention, or else vanish into attentiveness itself. This may explain why the creative is so often descried as impersonal and beyond self, as if inspiration were literally what its etymology implies, something “breathed in”.
Great art, we might say, is thought that has been concentrated in just this way: honed and shaped by a silky attention brought to bear on the recalcitrant matter of earth and of life.”