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Statement for The Importance of What We Care About

Post #1213 • July 22, 2008, 2:09 PM • 10 Comments

The title of this exhibition comes from a Harry Frankfurt essay which has guided me throughout the production of this work. This essay concludes:

What makes it more suitable, then, for a person to make one object rather than another important to himself? It seems that it must be the fact that it is possible for him to care about the one and not about the other, or to care about the one in a way which is more important to him than the way in which it is possible for him to care about the other. When a person makes something important to himself, accordingly, the situation resembles an instance of divine agape at least in a certain respect. The person does not care about the object because its worthiness commands that he do so. On the other hand, the worthiness of the activity of caring commands that he choose an object which he will be able to care about.

As an artist, one might well take the worthiness of the activity of caring for granted. But really, this sums up the impulse that underlies the making of art - the establishment and orientation of one's care as an inherently worthwhile use of one's effort.

Non-artists do not adequately appreciate how easily artists can derail themselves, even if they know better. No consequences lie in store for neglecting one's studio practice, or filling one's hours with something besides art-making, except the inherent ones - that you will have no art to show for your time, and that your game goes out, just as if you had neglected practicing a sport. This lesson made itself harshly apparent to me over the course of a yearlong teaching appointment that required a move from Boston to Orange County, California, and a considerable amount of time preparing for classes in a new environment. The practice of painting with which I have always identified gave way to a drawing practice made to fit around other responsibilities and my excessively various interests. In permitting this I made a mistake. Your value as an artist, if you possess any to begin with, comes out of contact with your materials. Sporadic contact results in sporadic value. Uncertainty displaces faith that you will arrive at solutions. You become interested in problems you have already exhausted because your body itself, it seems, has forgotten about going through the effort of doing so. Disuse engenders atrophy. Art turns out to have much in common with dance.

I share with the proprietors of Common Sense a high estimation of self-criticism, as we understand it in the modernist sense: a pervasive pressure to make better work, determined intuitively by sight and feeling. In fact, we've been doing intellectual work at to reformulate modernism for our contemporary purposes, away from the triumphs of postwar abstraction, which we nevertheless continue to revere. Modernism at once represents the easiest and the hardest kind of labor: to act according to your truest perceptions. True perceptions occur naturally, without effort, but you can talk yourself out of them. Some people do this all day long. Modernism requires that you talk yourself into your true perceptions, to trust looking and feeling over thoughts and intentions. It requires that you know yourself. Or rather, thyself. Once you start poking around in your perceptions - what you see and how you feel about it - you mostly find uncertainty and the provisionally true.

But over time in the studio, particular threads become apparent. My threads include gesture, which I have always understood instinctively, color, which I find endlessly fascinating, and a kind of summarizing impulse that wants to capture things economically, sometimes humorously so. I have come to trust these things again. I realize that I could care about them forever. With that comes a sense of modernism as a practice, a living, physical practice that provides a path as wide as a tightrope but an infinitude of ways to move along it.




July 22, 2008, 2:14 PM

I should say explicitly that this is submitted for your criticisms.



July 22, 2008, 3:11 PM

Well then, I prefer to just call it "Common Sense", without the "Gallery" attached... Otherwise, thanks is about all I have to say.



July 22, 2008, 3:24 PM

Updated accordingly with minor edits.



July 22, 2008, 7:01 PM

Updated again according to suggestions sent privately by Jack and with a reworked penultimate paragraph.


Chris Rywalt

July 22, 2008, 7:23 PM

I haven't read through the whole thing yet -- my brain's off-kilter due to taking my pills late and then programming in PHP for a few hours -- but the last sentence caught my eye. Do you think "an infinitude of ways" might be better as just "infinite ways"? George Orwell would approve, I think.



July 22, 2008, 7:28 PM

"But an infinitude of ways" sounds better to me than "but infinite ways" even if the latter is shorter. "But an infinity of ways" maybe?


Chris Rywalt

July 22, 2008, 7:31 PM

I think it needs a with:

" wide as a tightrope but with infinite ways to move along it."

Or maybe:

" wide as a tightrope but with infinite ways of moving along it."

Okay, brain done now.



July 22, 2008, 7:37 PM

I liked "infinitude" when I first read it... I agree, it sounds better.


Ed T.

July 22, 2008, 11:27 PM

Wow, I totally agree with you, what great insights you have into the creative process. Sometimes though when I take breaks from the everyday practice of creating art, and focus on maybe photographing the work, framing, finishing, marketing, or whatever, that when I come back to the art my perspective is fresh and new. I agree that any extended breaks though, are bad!


Chris Rywalt

July 23, 2008, 7:25 AM

"Infinitude" is okay, it's just a little pretentious. Like using "recall" instead of "remember". I try -- when writing seriously, not so much when posting on blogs and stuff -- to keep in mind Orwell's advice in "Politics and the English Language". I don't necessarily agree with his (somewhat postmodern) idea that what you can't say you can't think; but I do think his advice is good. (And I can say so!)

As usual, of course, I offer this suggestion, not as a prescription, but as a data point. I wouldn't think you were a bad person, Franklin, if you left it as is.



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