The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mile 10.

This is it! The final push, and you, my traveling companions have decided to leave the comforts of camp to hike the last mile with me. Your encouragement and support is beyond words, so let's go!

Future Present -

This sounds like something I learned in grammar school. However, it's the title of final chapter of Williams' book, and an appropriate one. He concludes that today, we are still working through postmodernist art. Its theoretical sources continue to be sifted critically. The jury is still out. What are the last few steps that bring us to the end of this journey? This part of the trail begins at the end of the Cold War in 1989:

We have a new world order of global issues: capitalism, environmentalism, human rights issues, and all the social, political, and philosophical thinking that goes along with it. This has caught the attention of the art world, and so has technology. As I stated under "comments" earlier, the visual arts tend to reflect the world as it's perceived by the individual artists. We aren't the engine that drives change ... we're the caboose that is carried along by it. We reflect and react. However, our reactions can be controversial. For instance, in this country, there were bitter public controversies over the work of Serra, Mapplethorpe, and Serrano ... not to mention the elephant dung thing more recently.

According to Williams, The most pervasive theme in art of the past 25 years has been identity politics, the investigation of the ways in which individual and collective identity are mediated by representation. In other words, we're very hung up on identity: gender, ethnicity, cultural, racial, etc. This is the art of the 1980's and 90's. But, there's also the adoption of available technology. For instance, computer art or new mediums that transform and enhance the effects of traditional ones. And then, some contemporary art is intended to critique our relationships to objects and how we use them to define ourselves by utilizing readymade objects. The attenuation of art through the expansion of ideas and methods also includes performance art, constructed environments, and so on. The sky is the limit!

Williams asks: What role will art play in the future. and What role can it play? Two great questions! Recent theory is exploring the possibility of collapsing "art" into the category "medium" or "mediation." This may have something to do with Friedrich Kittler's idea that, as a result of advancing technology, humans may become obsolete and that knowledge will no longer have to center around the limitations of the human brain. On the other hand, Mark Hansen thinks that technology will lead us back to our "humanness." My opinion is that human nature cannot be suppressed for very long, and our desire to create in any form according to our own ideas will prevail.

The final words about the future of art belong to Dr. Williams:

In the complex patterns of human action and interaction that make up history, meaning becomes attached to things but then, after a time, also falls away from them. Art participates in this process, but also tries to correct it: in the past it has been a means of making signs with obvious social functions, usually in the service of power; more recently, it has exercised its prerogative to revise or replace them, and thus insist on alternative values. With modernism, art has discovered the power of its own negativity... Even when, in ages past, art addressed itself to the ideal, it performed a critical function: to suggest the ideal - to negate the world as it is and to reconstitute it as it ought to be... Art has always reminded us that all signs are merely signs, that they are arbitrary and provisional... Art has always involved the work of deploying its own form of negativity against the negativity of history...Art continues to do the same kind of work it has done. The more complex our culture becomes - the more we need art and the more attenuated and complex art probably needs to be. And: The more complex art becomes, the more we need theory.

To recognize that art is thus essential to whatever it is we are or can be is not only to define its task in the most urgent and all-inclusive way, but also to have found the place from which we can begin to write its history.

Many thanks Professor Robert Williams for writing your book Art Theory: An Historical Introduction. You provided me with a wonderful guide!

Folks, we made it! We've reached the end of this trail. But, wait. What do I see? Clouds ahead, lots of them. Oh no, there's so much more that I haven't yet discovered, that's still obscured. Maybe, another day. Right now, it's time to summarize:


First , that I have wonderful blogging friends who are knowledgable, supportive, and kind enough to read through all this and make substantive comments! Thank you! I learned a lot from you.

Second, The importance of "knowing." Knowing the influences on my work and way of thinking; knowing how and why I create the type of art I do; knowing the possibilities that I've never even considered before; knowing the importance of ideas, and how our artist ancestors developed and utilized them. This type of knowledge is useful to me, but I also acknowledge that the creation of unique and meaningful art doesn't require it and that others might not benefit from this type of journey.

Third, the theories and artists that most influenced my work are the ones from my early formative years as an artist. They are the skeleton upon which everything else hangs and all other theories and "isms" have been wedged into it. I haven't put enough muscle over that skeleton and have limited myself to work within its confines. Perhaps I should bulk-up and expand!

Fourth, a realization of the lifespan of my work. It is highly likely that within a few decades, those who collect my work will be gone and their heirs will clean out their houses. It is also highly likely that somewhere along the road of successive heirs, all of my work will end up in a landfill or burned. There will be no legacy, and no museum will have assigned any importance to what I've done. I don't say this out of depression or self-pity. It's just a matter of fact. UNLESS - I contribute something that actually matters. Hmmmm... how did our artist ancestors do that? I know ... I'll initiate another "ism!"

But, what would it be? At one end of the spectrum I could start the school of Simplism. Its manifesto would read something like this: We recognize no theory. Simplism is rooted in disgust with thinking at any level. It is our aim to create mindless art in the simplest possible way without the burden of an idea or disciplined method.

At the other end of the spectrum, I could start the school of Obfuscationism. Its manifesto, after being translated into everyday language, would read something like this: We recognize the theories that no one can understand. Obfuscationsim is rooted in disgust with recognizable meaning. It is our aim to create art that is confusing, even to us, and to encourage art critics to write about it in prose that completely obfuscates any possibility of understanding it.

Or... perhaps I should aim for something between these two extremes. I know ... how about something that relates to the work of my generation: Boomerism! Our manifesto reads like this: We recognize the coolness of any theory, especially the far-out ones. Boomerism is rooted in our apparent willingness to try anything, think anything, and express everything the moment we think of it without inhibition or filters. We have no disgust for anything. It is our aim to create art that's egocentric and provides instant gratification.

Oops! I just learned something else on this journey: I really like sarcasm, or is that sarcism??

In reality, the journey is never over. But, for now, I'll just rest. Perhaps you can share with us your "trail" through art. Cheers to you, my loyal hiking companions! I look forward to many more journeys with you.


Mark Sheeky said...

Swig. Gulp. Yay to Boomerism! When creative machines appear art will change again I'm sure... but what would they say? Ultimately art is communication, and often the communciation of one self-important person to the rest of the world.

Whether idealist or realist, art is critical of the current situation. So, is it critical to strive for some new ideal or put forward a new point of view? Yes! If the idea existed it wouldn't need striving for, and if it doesn't exist the suggestion of the idea is a criticism of the lack of it (or at least a suggestion that "my idea is better that what is out there").

Perhaps art as criticism is too strong, more like art can fill the social needs of group, a nation, or (at its most self-important) the world/universe.

A very philosophical discussion! Hee hee. Will it affect your art?

Unknown said...

Mark - first, a sincere thank you for taking this journey with me and offering substantive comments! You're a truly generous and thoughtful person, and your ideas are provocative. I can appreciate your insight into the the critical role of art as you put it. You ask if it's critical to strive for a new ideal, and that's precisely what art did for centuries - and still does to a certain extent. I like your reasoning on this one. And, I also agree that art fulfills social needs.. but, more fundamentally, creative expression is an inherent part of human nature. We can't live without it. Will this discussion affect my art, you ask? Yes! But it will take time. Thanks again, Mark!

Carolyn Abrams said...

"My opinion is that human nature cannot be suppressed for very long, and our desire to create in any form according to our own ideas will prevail." Kathy, this comment is perfect as far as i'm concerned. It can only be our own ideas that will surface through our art in a genuine way. Otherwise the artwork will look processed or produced because it is based on the "idea of the day". And on the other side of the coin, those who view the artwork are going to form their own opinion with their own ideas in mind and those critics who also follow the "idea of the day" will provide reviews that are not sincere or genuine. So, i don't know if that makes any sense to you all but i think it follows all the way back to creating your artwork through the "truth" of your own he"art" and soul.

This has been a blast! Kathy, please provide us with another thought provoking topic!!

M said...

Kathy, I've certainly enjoyed this journey even if I was running to catch up most of the time because of the busy month I'm having. As you were sorting through what the different aspects of art history meant for your practice, I was struggling to put it all in perspective for my own work. The opportunity to discuss and hear other opinions is always an opportunity for growth. It's what I've missed about being a self taught artist. It's lonely in a school of one. While I keep a journal when I read and write responses to myself, it's narrow.

I think that in the end art will always be about the connection of people to the world in which they live. If there is to be any hope for the world we will always revert to considering our humanness. I have to think that as I watch my three year old engage with various aspects of technology. As I expressed before, the best art is created out of a deep interest in what is being communicated. For me that will always be connected to consideration of the temporal nature of our lives and making the most of our time in the world. I'm now off to engage in those fleeting life moments.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Carolyn! What you wrote does make sense, and is important for all of us to keep in mind. And, a sincere thank you for taking this journey with me and for providing insights and encouragement all along the way!

Unknown said...

Well stated, Margaret! For most of us, art is a personal venture, as you say. And, sincere thanks for taking this journey with me and all the substantive comments you made along the way. I truly appreciate it!

-Don said...

Wow, that was a long run with many obstacles and steep climbs to overcome. I'm exhausted, and as often happens when I get tired, I get grumpy. So prepare yourself...

I feel that true art needs input and reaction from our heart, our soul and our mind. Sure, machines may one day be "smart" enough to make some beautiful art all by their perfectly programmed selves, but the work will always lack those human elements of heart and soul. The world may "ooo" and "awe" at these beautifully perfect pieces that the machine can make, but within minutes there will be reactive work coming out by humans who need to create and are reacting to the work of the machines - and thus the cycles we just spent 10 miles going over would continue. And if, heaven forbid, the humans have become obsolete, why would the machines even make art? With no heart and soul to respond to the work their perfectly programmed brains would deem it irrelevant.

I can appreciate your conundrum regarding your legacy as an artist. I ask myself the same things. I feel that no matter what the ism we may be associated with our legacy must be our honesty with our work. Paint what we feel. Paint what we believe. Paint for the joy of painting. The rest will happen, or it won't. It's good to know where we've been and it's good to know what got us to the point we're at. But to over-think where we want to go could cause us to stumble, quit, or choose another path.

Thank you for giving name to the school of art I feel most closely associated with. It's a marriage of two of your isms. You may now call me a Simplistic Sarcisist. I'm working on a manifesto, but so far all I've got is, "Who gives a rat's ass? My art is the communication of one self-important person to the rest of the world." (thanks for the quote, Mark.)

OK, where's the Tylenol???


Unknown said...

Hi Don - I mean Simplistic Sarcisist. Amen to all your comments! I completely agree. And, a sincere thanks for your unflagging support and substantive comments throughout this journey of mine. Although I'm constantly in danger of overthinking things, I've also realized that it's an inherent part of my process. I was born this way. I suppose this blog is an effective warning to the rest of the art world to avoid my solution.

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Casey Klahn said...

Add my vote as a sarcasist! Har har!

I will add that I think the last individual on Earth will be an artist. What I mean, simply, is that individualism and self autonomy is the office the artist has held for centuries. When that ends, then creativity will go with it.

Casey Klahn said...

My 2 cents on legacy.

One great way to ensure that is to document your art well. Marry a photo with the painting to identify it, and some evidentiary stuff like size, medium, maybe date (I am bad at recording the date).

An area I want to better for myself is that of getting this data out to the patron. I don't give out certificates or the like, since I am doing originals.

Another hopeful thought I had recently was this. As long as I am striving to make my art to the standards of the great art of history, I will have a legacy. I got that out of reading the bio on deKooning.

hw (hallie) farber said...

I'm surprised to learn that I left the campfire and actually hiked for that last mile (my mind stayed behind and played with the empty marshmallow bag).

Yours is an amazing journey and I'm glad you"re are such a great teacher.

I usually stay away from groups--all groups have expectations.

Most of what I've learned has been from observation--I had never seen an actual painting or known anyone who painted until I moved to D.C. at age 18, yet I had always recorded what I saw. Words were never enough. Someplace I read that art is one soul speaking to another. I believe that and agree that creative expression is an inherent part of human nature.

Seeing some of the world's great art in the D.C. museums and in N.Y. (even on the internet) helped expand my definition of art--i.e., made me comfortable trying new and stranger things. For this I am grateful.

I await your "ism."

hw (hallie) farber said...

Your journey reminds me of Anne Truitt's. She went far and wrote well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy and Fellow Travelers,

You all write such thoughtful, insightful comments; I’m humbled. Kathy, this has been a powerful journey up the mountain. You are incredibly generous to encourage us along the way! You know how to generate discussion and that's a gift! Thank you!

I really enjoyed your summary....what you learned. I think it’s an interesting idea to examine the roots of our art. It’s a fitting tribute to the artists who have gone before and upon whose shoulders we continue to build this wonderful, cultural legacy of art.

Unknown said...

Hi PAMO - it's really great to learn about how you place yourself as an artist. Thank you for taking the time to explain, and for the important things you have to say. I think you reflect what most of us really do feel in our hearts - that the act of self-expression is one of desire - passion - to simply create art in some form. Without that passion, what's the point? As for -isms, well, I'm just kidding. After reading about so many of them I just had to go there. PAMO - thank you very much for wading through all these posts, for taking the journey with me and supporting me along the way! Your comments are important and I'm glad you added a lot today!

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - great points and good suggestions! Thank you, and thank you for travelling with me on this journey. Your insights are instructive and have given me much more to think about. And, I agree that as long as we humans inhabit the planet, art will have a life. We are inherently creative.

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - You put it well when you wrote "art is one soul speaking to another." Thank you very much for taking this journey with me! Your comments are insightful and your humor is uplifting. I'm so very appreciative!

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy - Thank you for hiking through all this with me. It WAS an important journey for me, but I also feel like it's the just the beginning of a much longer trail. At least, I hope so. Truly, I appreciate your comments along the way and all the encouragement you've given me!!

Mary Paquet said...

Travelers, thanks for your very intellectual discussion. There is much to think about in Kathy's original posts and the resulting discussion. I surreptitiously joined the campfire around mile 5 and I could never catch up. I finally finished reading this morning. My critical thinking skills have not been so challenged since I left my formal university education. Somehow the business world is not very philosophical.

I came to art in the simplist of ways -- I saw some original art I liked in my mid-fifties and I suddenly wanted to create art. Through the years I've gained some knowledge of technique and visual expression. I've studied major artworks in some of the great museums of the world and I've read books about respected artists. This is the best quick romp through art history I've experienced. Kudos, Kathy and Travellers.

Unknown said...

Hi Mary - thank you for joining this group of weary travelers! I appreciate your input and taking the time to read the blog. It's always great to know how artists "begin." Although you've begun a little later than some, you're really making up for it! Happy painting!

Celeste Bergin said...

What a fantastic series! I have not finished reading it-- tomorrow I am going to pour myself a BIG hot chocolate and finish reading where I left off. Katharine A. Cartwright...a very generous traveler indeed! You are a deep thinker who cares about what WE are all doing. I could not be more impressed.

Unknown said...

Celeste, Thank you so much for your support and encouragement - and, for reading all this. I'll be interested in knowing more about your trail through art!