Saturday, July 19, 2008

The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths

Bruce Nauman, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign), neon, 1967.

There’s an interview on Catherine Spaeth’s blog with gallery owner and blogger Ed Winkleman, where he says, “I don’t have much interest in anti-formalist conceptualism…I have seen tons of conceptual art that doesn’t raise the bar for formalism…my idea of conceptual art is that it must be compelling visually.”

Agreed. And I’ll add that to be compelling visually, art must also be compelling conceptually. We’re in a new century, and it’s time we stopped categorizing art by medium—photography, painting, sculpture, video, installation, and so on, with conceptual art in another category. To succeed, all art must be conceptual, just as it must address formally its reason for being considered visual art.

The test is in how well the conceptual and the formal elements are synthesized—to the point that the ultimate experience of the art is about neither, but something else entirely.

Of course the wonderful thing about art is that it operates in a realm beyond language, so we may not be able to explain the concept—in fact it may be better if we can’t, because if it can be grasped fully in words, then the execution has no role other than that of illustration. Further, the best art may engage numerous concepts, which may or may not have been intended by the artist.

[And BTW, unless I’m doing graduate crits, I’m not interested in the “artist’s intention.” The experience is the experience, and what the artist was trying to do is of no value. This is why artists’ statements are irrelevant and, in fact, if not on a par with the art, can detract from it.]

So while we can’t define concept—or “content” as we’ve become accustomed to calling it—we know when it’s there and when it’s not. We can tell when abstraction crosses the line and becomes simply “design.” We know when realism is about rendering rather than something bigger, or when “concept” turns out to be no more than novelty.

The last century was about experimentation with media—as well as what could be done without it. But we’re over that. We’re over being excited about something just because it’s video, or because the artist figured out how to make something out of bat shit, and we’ve discovered that painting is still interesting because it’s the most plastic, and therefore most expressive of materials. Now that the toolbox has been opened and found to hold every possibility, the question is, in service to what? And how do we evaluate the results?

My garden, at the moment, is very visually compelling--and edible. Now if I could just plant a little concept...



10 comments:

cjagers said...

That last paragraph was beautiful (and true). Artists have to choose an illusion in the face of nothing.

And they better care about what they are doing, because there are no more structures that are inherently meaningful (maybe there never was). That's why I don't understand super-ironic art today ... nobody cares. I like artists who are fighting for something sincere.

CAP said...
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Spatula said...

I like to think of it as "fuck the how, what's the what?" question of art. Or, how something gets made lives in the service of what's being made, and what's being made is the relevant thing at the end.

Mmm... Edible concepts...

cjagers said...

Spatula, I think the "how" is central to the "what." Here are some quotes from Wynn Kramarsky about his process of looking:

"before I even begin to think about “what does this mean?” I look at “how did it get made?” and “how did it get put together?” And from there you begin to think of “why was it put together?”

… there is a certain amount of basic skill that, unless it is there, the work doesn’t work … There is real knowledge of what artists want to say, but there is not a real knowledge of how to skillfully put it together.

I look at so many things and say, “you know, just a little mechanical knowledge would make that look more solid.”

Carol Diehl said...
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Anonymous said...

Interesting posts. cj found the last paragraph beautiful 'choose an illusion in the face of nothing'. Aint't it the truth!

An artist that continually faces themselves in an open-ended play is not looking for things to do, or things to say, because there is nothing to do, and nothing to say, except what you do and say.
A Hammons quote. "I decided a long time ago that the less I do the more of an artist I am," Irwin has said it, Duchamp said it. Rossana Martínez, a young concept-based artist, talks about the time it takes for an idea to come forward. This all has something to do with ideas developing through duration. And as such the focus no longer fixes on points, edible facts, or formal object, instead fills the whole where usually we put would in. We are talking actual unfettered experience, not closing the door.
For Carol, the garden, one edible, the other delicious, both born out of necessity's 'experience'.
c.p.

Franklin said...

And I’ll add that to be compelling visually, art must also be compelling conceptually.

I like symmetrical arguments as much as anyone, but I'm not convinced that art must do any particular thing or any other. Ideas cling to all human activities and most artists start out with some kind of idea. But by the time the finished work comes into being, it takes on an existence of its own. This is why intentions don't matter much, and when it comes to art, all ideas are a kind of intention.

So while we can’t define concept—or “content” as we’ve become accustomed to calling it—we know when it’s there and when it’s not.

Concept and content are not the same thing and we can define both of them. Concept is the idea that goes into the work. Content is anything and everything that the work can be said to contain. I prefer calling them "ideas" and "traits" respectively because I think that's more clear. What can't be defined is goodness, which can only be known by experiencing it.

CAP said...

Carol, let me see if I can re-phrase my comment on more acceptable terms.

It seems to me the contrast between conceptual and formal qualities to a work is wayward from the start. Conceptual Art (capitalized here as a style), at its most ambitious, is as deeply committed to formal values of representation (be they pictorial, text, audio, tactile, olfactory or 3-D) as abstraction (in 2-D or 3-D). The difficulty is they are very different, even elusive terms to detect, (and all the more rewarding for the challenge) for the viewer used to more traditional works. Even ‘Anti-formalism’ seeks only to install a different set of formal values for a work – is ‘anti’ only of an established definition for ‘formal’.

Because there is no form without content, there is no content that does not depend upon a form. The ‘anti-formal’, does not announce the wholesale acquisition of content, rather it announces only a different content. Moreover the formal is not restricted to the abstract or stylised, even in pictures. ‘Formal’ analysis in art history comfortably applies to Classical, Renaissance and Baroque painting, for example.

So the distinction between Conceptual Art with ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ leanings is more accurately one of ambition or tastefulness. ‘Compelling visual’ qualities in this context sounds a little too much like the obvious and convenient, the mediocre and safe.

Conceptual Art is now well established, even academic, and inevitably much new work begins to look a little decorative and doctrinaire, and attracts just that following.

Equally, it is wrong to attribute a Conceptual agenda to painting, just because the content seems important. Impressive content is not exclusively a property of Conceptual Art, obviously.

My own views on Conceptual Art are on my blog on various posts, particularly,

http://currentartpics.blogspot.com/2007/09/4-sophie-calle-versus-tracey-emin.html

http://currentartpics.blogspot.com/2007/09/17.html

http://currentartpics.blogspot.com/2007/09/22.htm

http://currentartpics.blogspot.com/2007/09/33.html

http://currentartpics.blogspot.com/2008/01/68.html

chris said...

[And BTW, unless I’m doing graduate crits, I’m not interested in the “artist’s intention.” The experience is the experience, and what the artist was trying to do is of no value. This is why artists’ statements are irrelevant and, in fact, if not on a par with the art, can detract from it.]


..."This always
Happens. As in the game where
A whispered phrase passed around the room
Ends up as something compltely different.
It is the principle that makes works of art so unlike
What the artist intended. Often he finds
He has omitted the thing he started out to say
In the first place. Seduced by flowers,
Explicit pleasures, he blames himself (though
Secretly satisfied with the result), imagining
He had a say in the matter and exercised
An option of which he was hardly conscious,
Unaware that necessity circumvents such resolutions
So as to create something new
For itself, that there is no other way,
That the history of creation proceeds according to
Stringent laws, and that things
Do get done in this way, but never the things
We set out to accomplish and wanted so desperately
To see come into being..."

from "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" by John Ashbery

Carol Diehl said...

Thank you for this, Chris. It says it perfectly. That's why I've always been against using outlines when writing, because they don't leave room for the exploration that could lead to a more profound conclusion. It's the same with "intentions" and art--just a place to start.