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Post #829 • July 13, 2006, 4:29 PM • 42 Comments
I've become interested in comics again over the last several months, and I've wondered why. I got an answer to that and one or two other things while viewing Nominally Figured at the Fogg.
For one, I finally decided where I stand on Louise Bourgeois. I tend to like her work in stone, in the way I like broccoli - I don't want to make a whole meal out of it, and it's not cause for any great excitement. She can put together a handsome object in a manner that qualifies as contemporary, by whatever metric you might measure that. Her work, installed into a typical exhibition of contemporary work, is often the best in the room. If that is the case, the show is in trouble. For future reference, I'm calling this the Bourgeois Test.
Nominally Figured shows off the Fogg's newer acquisitions, much of which are destined for a renovated version of the facility, and constitute an expected roster of names. I get the sense that the late 20th Century already has a standard canon (even though, if you think about it, that's ridiculous) and the show adheres to it: Andre, Bourgeois, Artschwager, Tuttle, Cragg, Hesse, Piper, McCarthy, Kruger, and one or two dozen more. The Bourgeois Test comes in positive, with one of the stone pieces, juxtaposing a curvilinear element on top with a roughly cut base. A couple of Eva Hesse drawings, crunchy, dark little things, are attractive. There was a Richard Tuttle, consisting of a small stick with a join in it, leaned up against the wall of the case it was in, and I would have enjoyed its restraint and simplicity more if a motorized homunculus by Kristof Kintera wasn't beating its head on the wall loudly enough to hear in the Busch-Reisinger Galleries on the other side of the building. You and me both, I thought. What justifies all this effort on my part as a viewer? It didn't help that I first went to see Beckmann's The Actors, twelve feet of beautiful allegorical insanity. The Actors is a gift to the world, labored over, made large, and pointed like a mirror at aspects of contemporary existence. Much of the comics I've become interested in lately are the same, though using panels and text instead of scale. Nominally Figured is, in contrast, asking for a gift from me - my patience, for one, but also my generosity as an uncompensated viewer. Sometimes, I have it to give. But too many requests use it up.
July 13, 2006, 8:39 PM
Well, I'm relieved. I thought perhaps Harvard might not be entirely (as in hook, line and sinker) on board with The Program. I should have known better. After all, Harvard's not Harvard for nothing. But then again, maybe it is.
July 13, 2006, 8:42 PM
Beckmann's The Actors looks like it would be pretty impressive in full scale. It looks like an illustration of the entire Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies. I like the jpeg for sure.
As for Nominally Figured, of everyone/thing you listed I'd most like to look at the Larner beaker (in the way I like staring into bits of amber with bugs in them); but I wouldn't admit that publicly. Did the curator realize how nominally his exhibit figures, I wonder?
July 13, 2006, 8:45 PM
P.S. That Louise Bourgeois drawing is a stunner, isn't it? I know I'm stunned. Nearly speechless, actually. And the exhibition blurb...it's simply to die for (or deadly; I can't decide which, but like I said, I'm stunned). Ah, relevance! Ah, bullshit!
July 13, 2006, 9:01 PM
Is this Wesley guy what you get when you cross Tom Wesselmann with Licthenstein? Is the result inexpressibly lame, or am I just being nasty again? Does this sort of work belong in a particularly cheesy Lincoln Road (or better yet, Las Olas) art emporium? Are there really that many certified art establishment people with no eye or no shame, or neither? Inquiring minds want to know.
July 13, 2006, 9:53 PM
This just in:
I'm informed, by someone who claims to like me, that yes, I'm being nasty. Again. I don't know. I think nasty is relative. Isn't everything?
July 13, 2006, 10:09 PM
Figurative artists are allways looking at the fact that things (pictures) have been handmade in the past, while speculating manners in which to communicate to an audience of tommorow.
Painters believed that photography f***ed up painting a hundred years ago.
Recently as well, painters and drawers have been wondering what to do about: movies, digital media, the internet, virtual reality, graphic design, film, camera phone imagery,abstraction,pOrno, game boy, x-box, billboards, asian art, inuit art, aztec art, native art, outsider art, nieve art, aborigional art, cave art from both western and eastern contexts, ethnographic art, old mseum art, sidewalk art, ones own creative physical perceptual 3d reality art, Jungian and Freudian art by both male and female interpretations; the list goes on...
So my point here is that Tom Wesselmann has something working that is valuable, clear, and interesting - simplicity, clarity and thought provolking content; a definate investment folks!
July 13, 2006, 10:31 PM
Jack I like you and I don't even know you. So the Jack I like is the Jack that floats across my computer screen as a bunch of little dots. The exact Jack that the "someone" says is nasty. I say you are just a sharp wit. You are one of the treasures found on artblog.
July 13, 2006, 10:34 PM
Jordan, artists don't really communicate. They make things that please (sometimes). There is a difference.
July 13, 2006, 10:43 PM
Thanks, catfish. Even if I'm just managing to amuse you and the odd nonconformist now and then, at least that's something. Besides, to paraphrase Gordon Gekko, nastiness is good. But I would think that, wouldn't I?
July 13, 2006, 11:00 PM
I'm working on minimalist art criticism (I'm always looking to better myself and, perhaps, pass for hip--emphasis on pass).
So, what might a minimalist critic say about the Bourgeois above?
July 13, 2006, 11:20 PM
I'm an odd noncomformist. Keep on truckin, Jack.
Nice list, Jordan, but, once again, all that matters is: is it any good?
July 13, 2006, 11:33 PM
An artist should at least be conscious of how they are to communicate and to whom however.
July 13, 2006, 11:41 PM
Oldpro, I'm not in the position to say - however I'm working on it and it will take a few more years I guess - I see a lot of "good" things in "bad'"Art, and a lot of "bad" things in "good" Art.
Art communicates these things to me...
July 13, 2006, 11:50 PM
"Should" is not a very important word for making art. No offense intended. That's just how it works.
July 14, 2006, 1:34 AM
For the sake of helping me understand your intended meaning, yellow ribbon, pretend you're an artist for a sec: How are you to communicate and to whom?
July 14, 2006, 1:44 AM
Maybe appreciating Bourgeois is a girl thing. I think that she is brilliant on most occasions (not that the above is a particularly good example)... "tapped in" to a primal psychological frankness that sometimes fits into popular contemporary "dumb drawing" parameters (speaking in formal terms only-see above), and sometimes becomes pure poetry, as in her spider installations.
Re: John Wesley, he came to prominance around the same time as Wesselmann, with similar influences, so it would be difficult to determine who was influenced by who...
July 14, 2006, 10:43 AM
I don't think the problem with Bourgeois is that it's a girl thing, though I suppose I wouldn't know. I think it's a discrepancy between what's read into or interpreted out of the work and what is actually, visibly there as the work. If the work presumes to be visual art, it must succeed visually and formally. I will not settle for any non-visual substitute, regardless of intended or imputed meaning. In other words, whatever the content or message of the work may be, for Bourgeois or anybody else, it only interests me as visual art if it in fact is visual art (as opposed to illustration for a psychology treatise, symbols for the author's philosophy, political statement, etc.).
July 14, 2006, 11:41 AM
the Bourgeois image above works for me visually. Not because of the artist's philosophy, but because of mine.
July 14, 2006, 12:11 PM
It works well enough for me too, but for that kind of thing at a sustained level, I much prefer Susan Rothenberg.
July 14, 2006, 12:22 PM
It works because of your philosophy, Craig?
July 14, 2006, 12:54 PM
July 14, 2006, 4:13 PM
What happens when you use your eyes?
July 14, 2006, 4:30 PM
"I've become interested in comics again over the last several months, and I've wondered why. I got an answer to that..."
Are you gonna share the answer with us here, Franklin?
Or, did you already supply the answer, that the comics you like are "pointed like a mirror at aspects of contemporary existence"?
I suppose there's a lot, good and bad, out there that could be said to be 'pointed like a mirror at aspects of contemporary existence', although, to me, this hardly seems suffficient to ensure 'quality', or even 'interest', for that matter (unless one is a sociologist, I suppose).
July 14, 2006, 4:47 PM
Obviously, my position is just that, but it is very clear: If something is presented to me as visual art, I will not accept it as such unless it satisfies me visually. My eye is the gatekeeper, and in that crucial initial function, it doesn't really care what is meant or implied or signified by the work; it mainly cares about what it sees. Once (and if) it is satisfied that way, then other things will be taken into consideration, examined, appreciated and weighed.
My interaction with the work is never limited to the purely visual, because I want to get everything possible out of it, but the work must get past the gate for the process to continue or proceed. Otherwise, I'm not likely to invest time and energy in reading the instruction manual, so to speak, because lack of visual success, for me, disqualifies the work as visual art. It may have merit or purpose as something else, but that puts it in a different ballpark. When I'm in the art mode, my eye will not be denied.
July 15, 2006, 1:59 PM
I do use my eyes. It's how I see. What are you getting at Pappy?
July 15, 2006, 2:03 PM
So, when you see something and it "fits your philosophy", it is good art? I am just having a hard time understanding how this works. Maybe you could give me an example.
July 15, 2006, 2:41 PM
Gee wiz, does anybody here think painting is more than just finding a way to cover the canvas so it looks pretty, or good, whatever?
Well do ya?
July 16, 2006, 4:59 AM
- thanks Kate; to me they are very similar aesthetically - these Tom guys that is...
July 16, 2006, 11:07 AM
I think that painting is more than finding a way to cover the canvas so it looks good.
When I look at the Bourgeois drawing above, the information goes in through my eyes, up to my brain, and resonates, as the quality of the line and the image itself describe a psychological state that would be impossible to articulate in any other way. It is an effective, expresive drawing.
I think that if you've had lots of therapy, you appreciate Bourgeois on a whole other level, maybe that's it, more than a girl thing.
By the way, Jordan, I also like your list, above.....
July 16, 2006, 12:30 PM
Kate, I think it would be possible to say that the drawing might induce or affect a psycholofical state, or be influenced by one in the making, but it cannot be said to "describe" one.
This sounds like nit-picking, but, while art can happen all different ways, it is best to be precise when talking about it.
July 16, 2006, 1:06 PM
#31. oldpro said:
I think it would be possible to say that the drawing might induce or affect a psycholofical state, or be influenced by one in the making, but it cannot be said to "describe" one.
I think the drawing functions as a symbolic token.
"A symbol, in its basic sense, is a conventional representation of a concept or quantity; i.e., an idea, object, concept, quality, etc. In more psychological and philosophical terms, all concepts are symbolic in nature, and representations for these concepts are simply token artifacts that are allegorical to (but do not directly codify) a symbolic meaning, or symbolism." [Wiki]
A little further down... "Symbols can also be analysed by parsing them into the artifact and the metafact.
** An artifact is a humanly constructed object that can be perceived by the senses. It can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched, or felt.
** In contrast, a metafact is a human constructed object that can only be held in the mind. A favorite song, the concept of a nation or a cause, or the idea of economic value are each metafacts.
When artifacts and metafacts combine, they form a symbol. A woven piece of cloth is just an artifact until it is invested with the metafact of a cause or a nation, then it becomes a flag, and that flag is a symbol. A stamped piece of metal is just an oddly shaped bit of metal until the stamped image stands for a measure of economic value, then it becomes a coin. The difference is in the metafact captured in the symbol." [Wiki, emphasis mine]
See the whole Wiki article for a fairly clear description of symbols. It is a rich concept, the core of painting itself.
July 16, 2006, 3:16 PM
It is a matter of how you see it, George. A symbol is by its nature a simplification, something very easy to grasp, which represents something more complex and usually indefinite. Anything can become symbolic of anything, and this is part of the basis of a lot of very confused thinking which has permeated the academy for a generation.
But it is important to use the idea of symbol precisely. it has limitations. I am not sure this has been worked out. There should be a difference, for example, between symbol and representation. To what extent is the coin a symbol and to what extent is it a representation? And so forth and so on. It is a semantic matter, and it is for those academics to figure out; it gives me a headache.
A work of art may not be symblc because a pure symbol need have no relationship to what it symbolizes - it merely allegorizes, or "stands for" - while the essence of a work of art is that it incorporates a series of judgements, made by an artist with materials of some sort, which it externaizes. When we are familiar enough with the particulars of the art form and look at (or read, or listen to) that work of art we perceive it as the product of those judgements and we have a perception (or don't) which is at the same time an experience and a judgement of the value of, the "goodness" of, the working out process of the artist under specialized circumstances. The judgement is intuitive and presumably an internalization of what the artist made external in the work. In an unforgiveably broad sense we are "experiencing the mind of the artist", or at least, we hope, that part of it that is functioning well. I am not prepared to say just how that works right now, but I am working on it.
This is a rough personal version, if I recall correctly, of Suzanne Langer's analysis made half a century ago. I think she said art was a symbol (someone please correct me on this). If you say that a symbol is anything that stands for anything else, I suppose art must be a symbol. But such usage begs for refinement.
Do me a favor, and if you want to continue this, please understand exactly what I am saying and what I am not saying here. I don't want to start the usual frustrating round of explanation and reexplanation of what was stated in the first place.,
July 16, 2006, 5:49 PM
This is long because I quoted OP verbatim to keep the references clear. Italics are hard to read, so quotations are marked "-- --"
First off, I have no problem with the general concept you have previously stated that a painting must be visually "good" . That "the visual" is one of the primary characteristics of a painting and any "good" painting must address the visual successfully.
In addition to "visual goodness", it is my contention that how a painting functions symbolically is also of primary importance. It is a quality of all paintings from the very beginning of painting itself.
I am willing to accept that "visual goodness" can be conceptually separated from symbolic meaning, that "visual goodness" is the result of successfully reconciling the pictorial, the very forms which come into existence from a meditation on their symbolic value.
At the present I would suggest it is the primary issue in painting
"-- It is a matter of how you see it, George. A symbol is by its nature a simplification, something very easy to grasp, which represents something more complex and usually indefinite. Anything can become symbolic of anything, and this is part of the basis of a lot of very confused thinking which has permeated the academy for a generation. [op]--"
"--A symbol, in its basic sense, is a conventional representation of a concept or quantity; i.e., an idea, object, concept, quality, etc.--"[Wiki]
The key word here is "representation", as, something which stands for, elicits the thought of, evokes a memory, in essence causes the viewer to make a conceptual link with something else. The "meaning" of a "symbol" does not reside in the symbol, but exists for the viewer who may or may not make the connection. When successful, it becomes an expansion of the viewers experience and I think this is both desirable and good.
"-- But it is important to use the idea of symbol precisely. it has limitations. I am not sure this has been worked out. There should be a difference, for example, between symbol and representation. To what extent is the coin a symbol and to what extent is it a representation? And so forth and so on. It is a semantic matter, and it is for those academics to figure out; it gives me a headache. --" [op]
Mimetic or not, "representation" is symbolic. The richness of the visual language allows for a multiplicity of meanings just like written languages do. As in any endeavor, it can add the richness of complexity or create confusion, depending on the way it is used.
"-- A work of art may not be symbolic because a pure symbol need have no relationship to what it symbolizes - it merely allegorizes, or "stands for" - while the essence of a work of art is that it incorporates a series of judgements, made by an artist with materials of some sort, which it externalizes. --" [op]
I get what you are implying here. I think you are making an unnecessary restriction on the concept of the symbol. A symbol may be coincident with what it symbolizes. For a painting this is the root level of the symbolic, it must succeed here or it fails as a painting. At this level I would suggest the visual and the symbolic merge.
"-- When we are familiar enough with the particulars of the art form and look at (or read, or listen to) that work of art we perceive it as the product of those judgements and we have a perception (or don't) which is at the same time an experience and a judgement of the value of, the "goodness" of, the working out process of the artist under specialized circumstances. The judgement is intuitive and presumably an internalization of what the artist made external in the work. In an unforgivably broad sense we are "experiencing the mind of the artist", or at least, we hope, that part of it that is functioning well. I am not prepared to say just how that works right now, but I am working on it. --" [op]
Basically I agree with the above in principle. The idea that the viewer is "experiencing the mind of the artist" occurs because this information, expressed as a cumulative series of decisions, is embodied in the painting symbolically. Yes, it can be a result of the evidence of the process. However, it should be clear now that you [op] and I approach a painting differently, we think differently about the process but we have the same end in mind. These difference in approach are the differences in the mind of the artist. It is a result of the subtle differences in focus, how the artist address a painting which allow for such a wide range of results. It is not that I think your approach is less valid, it is that I approach the problem of making a painting differently, in essence with more of a meditation on the symbolic but with a desire for the same end result.
July 16, 2006, 6:52 PM
I did not say that a painting had to be "good". I only used the word "goodness", in quotes, to allude to the matter of value that seems to be at the root of art as art. It is what we "get out" of art. I am not willing to put it into words right now, or I should say, noty willing to try to put it into words.
Much of the other things you say seem to be mired in semantic considerations. Just for example: "symbolic value". I understand what a symbol is but apart from particular utilitarian functions I do not know what "symbolic value" is, or why it is important to belabor the matter of painting being symbolic at all. The same goes for "symbolic meaning". I think the work that needs to be done is to differentiate between classes of symbols, to create a taxonomy of symbols, and that, as I said, is not something I want to have anything to do with. It certainly would help if someone would.
"Representation" may be a diffrerent kind of symbol, for example, because it will contain characteristics of the original. As I said, I don't want to get into it.
I also do not understand that "a symbol may be coincident with what it symbolizes". Doesn't "coincident" mean "the same as", or at least, "in the same time and place"?
I think the only problem is that I think the whole symbol matter is a semantic one and I can't understand why it makes much difference to art, whatever way you see it, no more than, say, the materials and such like. They are incidental. That is, the process of making, exhibiting and getting something from art may have. as part of the process, elements that can be called symbols, but, except for descriptive utility, so what?
July 16, 2006, 8:03 PM
"Gee wiz, does anybody here think painting is more than just finding a way to cover the canvas so it looks pretty, or good, whatever?"
"Beauty is enough."
July 16, 2006, 10:10 PM
Re #35: Oldpro
"-- I did not say that a painting had to be "good"…. --" [op]
No, I brought it up initially just so we wouldn't get mired in the "goodness" question, with which I generally agree is a goal.
"-- Much of the other things you say seem to be mired in semantic considerations. Just for example: "symbolic value". I understand what a symbol is but apart from particular utilitarian functions I do not know what "symbolic value" is, or why it is important to belabor the matter of painting being symbolic at all. The same goes for "symbolic meaning". I think the work that needs to be done is to differentiate between classes of symbols, to create a taxonomy of symbols, and that, as I said, is not something I want to have anything to do with. It certainly would help if someone would. --" [op]
I think painting is a language, so semantic considerations shouldn't be outside of its scope. In particular. I think all painting is symbolic.
By "symbolic value" and/or "symbolic meaning" I was referring to being consciously aware, or thinking about, how the symbolic aspects function in a painting. How they can potentially be seen or experienced by the viewer as "meaning" I view this as complementary to the visual experience. (MC's "beauty")
Your point about creating a taxonomy of symbols is an interesting one, I've thought a lot about it but I'm not ready to talk about.
"-- "Representation" may be a different kind of symbol, for example, because it will contain characteristics of the original. --" [op]
This is true, but I feel it is also true for all different forms of the symbolic,
"-- I also do not understand that "a symbol may be coincident with what it symbolizes". Doesn't "coincident" mean "the same as", or at least, "in the same time and place"? --" [op]
I could have used the term "merged" it would cover both.
"-- I think the only problem is that I think the whole symbol matter is a semantic one and I can't understand why it makes much difference to art, whatever way you see it, no more than, say, the materials and such like. They are incidental. That is, the process of making, exhibiting and getting something from art may have. as part of the process, elements that can be called symbols, but, except for descriptive utility, so what? --" [op]
When I use the word "symbolic" I am not referring to glyphs and the like. I am suggesting that every painting is inherently a symbolic object. First off, a painting is 'just a painting', a cultural object or marking process which has been around for centuries. As such, it is seen as a "symbol" and open to interpretation by the viewer.
This does not mean that a painting has to represent anything at all, it can just be about painting itself and that becomes its symbolic content. Or, it can have an image by referring to something outside itself, that becomes part of its symbolic content. In either case the viewer will have an (intuitive) experience, it may be either emotional or cognitive or both.
As you suggested earlier, the viewer has the opportunity of "experiencing the mind of the artist" I thought it was a poignant remark, it is something I have also thought about.
Over the years I have spent more than a trivial amount of time writing or debugging computer software. It is a process which requires a particular kind of thinking and I assumed it would have an affect on my painting. I am sure it does although I cannot say specifically how. I would guess that from the same starting point, we would arrive at quite different conclusions. From my point of view, neither would be right or wrong, it is just two different thought processes in action.
July 16, 2006, 10:32 PM
I settled this matter pretty well for myself by dividing art's value into intrinsic and extrinsic. High extrinsic value appears as being interesting. High intrinsic value appears as being good.
People make art about this and that. It's natural to want to do so. It's interesting to perceive the artist's mind in the work, insofar as one can. But the ideas that prompt one to make art in the end don't matter much. In fact, contending otherwise amounts to an intentional fallacy. One might argue (George has done so, if I'm not mistaken) that the ideas are intrinsic. But if the ideas are intrinsic, then so is what the artist had for breakfast the Tuesday morning before the work was executed; the whole of history leads up to the work and becomes intrinsic to it. I draw the line at object's objecthood: what it's made out of, and how those elements are arranged. That's intrinsic and possibly good. The rest is extrinsic and possibly interesting.
One ought to think long and hard about how symbols work if that helps the art improve. One ought to stop if it doesn't.
July 17, 2006, 12:26 AM
I know you are being careful, George, but you are slipping away from me again.
Saying "painting is a language" and therefore "semantic considerations shouldn't be outside of its scope" is either disingenuous or ludicrous. Painting is not words. This is apples and oranges.
"By 'symbolic value' and/or 'symbolic meaning' I was referring to being consciously aware, or thinking about, how the symbolic aspects function in a painting. How they can potentially be seen or experienced by the viewer as 'meaning' I view this as complementary to the visual experience".
This clarifies nothing and in fact makes little sense. How do "symbolic aspects" "function"? What are "symbolic aspects" anyway? And, again, so what? Why should we be particularly interested in whether or not painting fits the definition of "symbol"? How does this help us understand what art is and does?
Y0u say: "This is true, but I feel it is also true for all different forms of the symbolic"
That's why we need clear definition of these 'forms", as I have relentlessly been trying to point out. Otherwise we are in the dark.
How is "painting about painting itself"? How is it "about" anything?
We are swimming through Jello again...
Franklin we have not been talking about "symbols" but "painting (art) as a symbol" or "is painting a symbol". I think a very cautious consideration of this question could come up with interesting stuff but it is not happening at the moment, and I don't think it will without further refinement of the terminology. Right now "symbol" is just hovering around as yet another implied but persistently ephemeral value term.
July 17, 2006, 2:15 AM
In response to#28-" Does anybody here think painting is more than just finding a way to cover the canvas so that it looks pretty,or good ..." Yes. The difficulty is in talking about anything other than the results .
July 17, 2006, 8:16 AM
True, Noah, and there is a real danger lurking in that "more than" syndrome. We sense that there is something in art that is very important to us, and this too often leads us to feel that it can only come in the guise of "importance" in the vulgar understanding of importance, all decked out with heavy, grandiose solemnity and intellectual complexity, when in fact it reaches us through simple joy.
Fortunately art, like life, persists, despite all the obstacles we put in its path.
July 19, 2006, 7:49 AM
thanks for mentioning Max Beckman hadn t really looked at that til a few days ago when I stumbled into a book on his work (it was a big deal in the "80/s) For us painting is a practice so looking at the work of others is like comparinng response to experience how the work communicates seems to be beyond rules but it would be hard to actually talk about it without words like structure(composition , content and form so talking about art is a more flawed practice than making it
Beckman s great because his images are rich and complex full of implied action/movement just like the way I experience life . their formal qualities like the use of black lines or the crowded compositions or the use of (tryptich) frames in a single piece imply movement, the passage of time reinforce the figurative content and strengthen the whole thing.Any new work around with this level of complexity?-David
July 13, 2006, 5:08 PM
I can certainly second one thing you say: if the best thing in the room is by Louise Bourgeois, the show is in trouble.