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Journals, diversions, quicksand

Post #1066 • October 2, 2007, 6:57 AM • 39 Comments

Eugene Delacroix, from his journal, February 27, 1824:

What does please me is that I am gaining in reason and good sense, without losing the thrill that beauty arouses in me. I do not want to have any illusions, but I think that I am working more calmly than before and that I have the same love for my work. One thing worries me, however. I cannot understand it but I seem to need diversions, such as meeting my friends and so on. But as regards the temptations that beset most men, I have never been much disturbed by them, and less than ever now. Who would ever believe it? The things that are more real to me are the illusions which I create with my painting. Everything else is a quicksand.

I picked up this at the Village Book Exchange in San Clemente this weekend.

I journaled my way across the country and kept it up for a week after arriving in California. I find it easier to keep up when I'm stressed, for some reason. Consider this an open thread: what is your journal practice, and how does it relate to your studio practice? Do you need diversions? What is your quicksand?



Chris Rywalt

October 2, 2007, 7:36 AM

I've never kept a journal, not really. Last year, during a time when I was really stuck -- just stuck in everything, painting and otherwise -- Stephanie came by for what we resolutely called a studio visit even though I don't really have a studio, just a corner of my bedroom. Stephanie insisted on giving me a list of things to do, the first of which was to start keeping a journal, at least three pages a day, even if all I did was write over and over "I can't believe Stephanie made me do this." The second thing was to take down the painting on my easel, which had been sitting unfinished for six months, and put up something blank.

I kept the journal for maybe three days. I took down the painting and turned it to the wall. Somehow this broke the impasse and I began painting, and in a very different style. The burst lasted through my month at the School of Visual Arts and was only stopped when the program ended and I came home without any surfaces on which to put paint.

What I found during this time -- especially the month I had the studio, which was the first time I had an actual studio -- what I found was that the rest of my life kind of faded away. I felt like I'd found what I was supposed to be doing. Even though I haven't painted since July (I'm still drawing and doing pastels, though) I'm still carrying this detachment with me. As Karl Wallenda is reported to have said, "Being on the tightrope is living; everything else is waiting." For me, time in the studio is living and everything else is waiting.

I find this both exhilarating and somewhat disturbing.



October 2, 2007, 8:51 AM

"The thrill that beauty arouses in me."

This guy obviously didn't get it, and he'd be totally out of it now.

To paraphrase the Tina Turner song, what's beauty got to do with it?


Marc Country

October 2, 2007, 8:59 AM

What does please me is that I am gaining in reason and good sense, without losing the thrill that beauty arouses in me.

Jack, you nailed him on beauty, but you left out reason and good sense, which are just as passé...


Chris Rywalt

October 2, 2007, 9:14 AM

Personally I'm trying to bring beauty back into art.



October 2, 2007, 9:35 AM

Yes, Marc, total reactionary loser. Couldn't even talk the talk. He couldn't get anywhere near the Turner Prize if he sold his soul for it.



October 2, 2007, 9:36 AM

Of course, if he becam a transvestite with bestiality issues, he might have a shot.



October 2, 2007, 10:04 AM

I keep a journal but a drawn one, sometimes like comics, sometimes like some weird cubist information design. I like to think I'm keeping track of what happened and also working out new ways to draw stuff. Mostly I'm scribbling.

One time the journal got my wife out of a parking ticket - when they daid she had parked somewhere I could say without hesitation that we weren't there because of my scribbles. They bought it, so art is good for one thing, I guess. I "interrogated and challenged an established patriarchal order."

And yes, how quaint that Delacroix with all the beauty talk. These days he'd need to throw in some "reappropriation", "male-gaze" and "challenging established hierarchies" to get anywhere. One of those Darby articles has a great re-wording of a figure drawing class to make it more "relevant."



October 2, 2007, 10:11 AM

Artbroken: What Art Is and How We Stopped Making It.



October 2, 2007, 10:23 AM

Thanks Franklin, and thanks for the archive - I stayed up way too late last night reading a lot of it.



October 2, 2007, 10:25 AM

"An example of evolving could be changing a course description from "figure drawing" to "strategies for recontextualizing the archetypal male gaze to map external signifiers in a two-dimensional modality." And then, of course, you go ahead and teach figure drawing."

So good.


Chris Rywalt

October 2, 2007, 10:30 AM

Hilarious and true, yes. Perfect.

Often when reading something Darby wrote I find myself thinking I should stop writing and just post links to his essays.



October 2, 2007, 11:34 AM

I keep a 1-paragraph per day journal which just notes times & facts. 3 pages would be torture. You might just confess something!


Chris Rywalt

October 2, 2007, 11:40 AM

Mostly what I confessed was that my hand hurt.



October 2, 2007, 12:21 PM

Hopefully from writing.



Chris Rywalt

October 2, 2007, 12:58 PM

I gave up self-flagellation years ago, so, yes, from writing.

Although I can't rule out previous repetitive motion injuries....



October 2, 2007, 1:53 PM

I keep an active sketch book which doubles as a journal. I've been keeping a journal in one form or another for nearly a decade, but I certainly write less now than I had. I've always had a sketch book as well but I find I draw much less than I had. One would think that doing less of either is a bad thing, but I find my writing is much more concise and my drawings are better composed and more finished. I suppose that having my time highly restricted through the end of undergrad caused me to be much more deliberate in both sketching and writing. These two elements are both the core of my studio practice however; the writing the concept and the drawing the composition. If i didn't write I would have nothing to draw and vice versa, often both are done at the same time and on the same page.


Pretty Lady

October 2, 2007, 2:21 PM

Journals are my trash can; I cannot function without them. They enable me to get the garbage out of my head so that the art can emerge. Fortunately my handwriting is virtually unreadable; the graduate student who will be writing my biography after I am safely dead may be able to decipher it, but nobody else would have the patience.

The journals are NOT creative writing. They consist of dreams, emotional venting, 'to do' lists, and boring psychoanalysis of self and others. They are also full of 'sketches' which have no aesthetic value whatsoever; they're the closest I get to conceptual blueprints of new pieces. They consist of circles, squiggles, and notes with arrows that say 'blue here.'

Sketchbooks are something else entirely; these contain actual drawings. Creative, focused writing that makes a point or engages in a conversation goes into my blogs. The journals make everything else possible.



October 3, 2007, 6:39 AM

while i agree with the statement of keeping a journal while stressed being more natural, i find the bannard speech, you later linked to, to be filled with lethargic excuses that counter the evolution of self-expression.
that said, most observations on complacency in regards to art fads, styles, and whatever else are mostly always cloaked with the ability to be persistent with an art problem that has been solved eons the abex thing bannard is blindfully adherent of...


Chris Rywalt

October 3, 2007, 6:50 AM

In that sense, then, I do keep a journal. For a while now -- a couple of years, I guess -- I've kept a small spiral-bound sketchpad with me most of the time. I draw in it, but also keep to-do lists, phone numbers, and so on.

I like Canson pads because they're perforated so I can tear out pages and remove the spiral fuzz if I want to give away a drawing. Recently I gave one to the cashier at the local pharmacy because she loaned me 12 cents. Come to think of it, I haven't seen her since. I hope I didn't scare her off. (I often feel like Dr. Jekyll in that Bugs Bunny cartoon.)



October 3, 2007, 10:44 AM

Knowless, I'm still waiting for the person who can refute Darby's writings with the eloquence and clarity that he displays. What about the essay is lethargic or an excuse? An excuse for what? Has self-expression evolved, and is the essay against it if it has? Is AbEx a solved problem? See if you can counter what he actually said, not what you think he or his work are about.


Chris Rywalt

October 3, 2007, 11:05 AM

Franklin, you didn't hear? Abstract Expressionism was completed in 1982. Since then all painters have been legally required to include the words "repurpose" and "recontextualize" in their statements.


Geoff Bunn Art

October 3, 2007, 11:12 AM

Oh god. So thats where I've been going wrong.

I have no idea what repurpose recontextualise or a host of other such rewords might mean!


Chris Rywalt

October 3, 2007, 11:24 AM

repurpose: Someone else made it for something else but I found it and am calling it "art." Bow down before my genius!

recontextualize: Someone else made it for something else and called it art but now I'm calling it "my art" because I moved it. Bow down before my genius!



October 3, 2007, 12:24 PM

You guys are being too hard on poor knowless.

After all, someone who can come up with "counter the evolution of self-expression", "cloaked with the ability to be persistent with an art problem" and "blindfully adherent of" must have a real spark of genius in there somewhare



October 3, 2007, 1:58 PM

Sometimes these comment threads seem like Whack-A-Mole. or rather Whack-a-PoMole.



October 3, 2007, 2:24 PM

Yes, they've all the rigour of a travelling fairground. Leaves me with weak knees and an upset stomach.



October 3, 2007, 6:22 PM


Oh, this gives me an idea.



October 3, 2007, 6:25 PM

Be gentle with them Franklin.



October 3, 2007, 8:32 PM

Journals. I've kept them almost daily since 1996 but have slacked off in the last year. Brain drain, lists of great things, things to do, etc. Blogs have entered into this somewhat.
Sketchbooks, constantly, sometimes 2 at a time. Especially great on road trips. Trying to draw cars quickly, 10 I drew a portion of the street on the way home from the post office. Irresistible: an old tree, accompanied by a street sign covered in a bag, trash can next to both, cars on either side, construction site on the far side, beyond that--old brownstones, neglected, but with character, and many orange and white striped street cones--the boxy kind with unusually large handles on top.
So while drawing, with beloved Taiwanese felt-tipped pens, I noticed two cars moved from their parking places, there was a traffic jam when a car double parked in front of the post office and a truck was trying to squeeze through (construction, space is tight) and a group of friends gathered in front of the tree. I was reminded of Rackstraw Downe's journal about painting in situ for a year, and how being a fixture in the landscape invariably involved him within its machinations.
Copies of compositions in museums, notes and quotes from artists, street life, people waiting for trains--it all goes in. I fall in love with the speed of the process, it is so satisfying to 'capture' something, grab it for invention later.


corazon amigo

October 4, 2007, 6:32 AM

Here is to the death of "good looking" Professors and the student evaluations that jog along with...
"Be well".



October 4, 2007, 9:59 AM

"My beauty protects me"



October 4, 2007, 10:38 AM

We thought you might like to know that we have just released
an e book on our web site. [Not really. - F.]



October 4, 2007, 6:20 PM

first of all blogging is not for geniuses who already have it all figured out. sorry that "poor knowess" (me) is so dumb and irrelevant...but this is what i was referring to:

"But the stark, simple, unassuming old-fashioned utilitarian character of most traditional foundations works against them in the academic postmodernist marketplace because they cannot compete with the intimidating jargon, blustering self-importance and beguiling mystique of the theories and so called "issues" that are thrown, like so much trash, onto the path that art must take."

this is a cop out statement, where the inadeqacies of the art, or artist, within the context of the market -which i absolutely loathe!- are minimized to excuse what is being expressed, even if it's unitelligible art for art's sake that is made with flawless talent and "traditional foundation."
so, is it that art shouldn't have the need of an idea/concept? maybe not for some but it's just not enough to make something beautiful....vacuous, regardless of the talent it takes to make it!
this doesn't mean the art market today isn't flooded with unsubstantial crap! the great stuff is somewhere, not readily exposed with form and content, and it keeps the mind flowing with examples, ideals, and regenerating positions on art making and the endless media the world has to offer.
what is great art anyway? is there anything contemporary that would qualify?
i'm not being as clear as i'd wish...nonetheles, as eloquence is purposeful, it won't suffice as the backbone of a piece, the process, or anything expressive...

anyhoot, WHO CARES about abex? only those who care are those still figuring it out! (perfect example of self-importance by the way!) and all that's fine but it's not all there is...and neither is the art market. thinking -on the other hand, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, will leak into your art making and define something -if not everything- you make!



October 4, 2007, 7:47 PM

I believe the quote relates to foundtion teaching, knowless, not "Abex".



October 4, 2007, 10:18 PM

The article doesn't mention abstraction. I've learned to watch out for this: the counterargument going against something that's not in the argument. It's a kind of ad hominem - I disagree with your thesis, and my case against it is an attack on other things you believe.

i'm not being as clear as i'd wish...nonetheles, as eloquence is purposeful, it won't suffice as the backbone of a piece, the process, or anything expressive...

Too bad. Eloquence doesn't make your art come out better, but we're talking about a piece of writing and we're writing to each other. For writing, eloquence is the very soul of expression. One of the things that interests me about Darby's writing is that he can talk so clearly about a subject that defies clarity. I await an equally clear counterargument because I don't believe one can be made. The counterargument requires that you remain confused, on purpose if need be.

is it that art shouldn't have the need of an idea/concept?

No, but that the idea or concept is not in itself good or bad. Ideas are sound or unsound, not good or bad in the way that form is good or bad. You can make good art out of unsound ideas. Thinking, of course, is fine, but it's not the whole picture. Where it works, we should make sure that we're doing it copiously, clearly, and critically. (We could prove that we're doing so with our words.) When making art, however, thinking does not provide all the solutions. Anyone who thinks otherwise is doomed to mediocrity.

what is great art anyway?

I wouldn't presume to tell you. You have to keep asking yourself this and be honest about the answers. You claim to loathe the market, but couldn't something on the market be great? You say that beauty is not enough, but if not, then what is? I would say instead that high levels of beauty are consummately difficult to achieve. When someone does so, it's not only enough, it's the very thing that we come to art for when we come to it for the right reasons.

anyhoot, WHO CARES about abex?

I do. If you don't, I think you're missing out on some great work, contemporary and otherwise, but that's all I think. If you think it's a solved problem, then share the solution with me, because I'd love to know what it is. Do you disagree with the author because he paints abstractly? That's foolish. You might as well disregard thinkers throughout history because they did different things than you.



October 5, 2007, 9:10 AM

i just used the abex practice as an example...i have no answers about anything and i'm sure i'm missing out on lots of great things..!

so what is the argument? to me, it seems to be that concept isn't on your top-ten most favorite things...fine, let's agree to disagree and keep making beautiful work that lives and quickly dies, hanging proudly in your/my living room.

that said, you speak of the counter argument (is that really supposed to be one word?) and it's simple: it's not o.k. to say that "...we stopped making it (art)." says, who? who is we? what does bannard know outside of (u.of M.) academia? what do we know? how am i staying confused? i happen to make some beautiful art, as other people say so, but so what? is it enough for me? no. it simply isn't. i don't know exactly what is always great but i enjoy figuring it out, and that's my reason to keep looking...

there aren't any resolute art problems if one person out there is still thinking about it...ooops, there's that thinking thing again...yikes!



October 5, 2007, 11:16 AM

beautiful work that lives and quickly dies

Beauty is astoundingly persistent. People put themselves through an enormous amount of expense and trouble to preserve beautiful objects, and consequently we have some that are thousands of years old. It's ideas that die quickly. There's probably not one person in 5000 that can tell you the meaning of all the flowers in Botticelli's Allegory of Spring, but perhaps all of them might recognize that it's an extraordinary painting.

The title of the article is obviously an exaggeration for effect. His point is that foundational skills ought not to be rendered useless or discarded for the sake of postmodernization. If you think that's incorrect, make your case.

As I said already, thinking is fine, used for what it's good for.



October 8, 2007, 8:52 AM

I've read Bannard's speech before and was glad to have another look at that sucker. The stumbling block that emerges with his thesis is the same one that consistantly comes up from my reading of this blog.

I don't love art only because of its intrinsic qualities, but because of the feeling (I'll call it the art experience) it creates in me. If I admit to being one of the old-fashioned people out there seeking Great Art, then why in the name of God would I exclude the "non visual", as Bannard says, in my attempts to experience it? I mean, why does it have to be one or the other? If I get the same indescribable, intuitive thrill from seeing a Pollack, as I do from Bas Jan Ader, what difference does it make to Art?



October 8, 2007, 10:44 AM

Probably none whatsoever, Craig.



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