Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Boxed In : An Open-Ended Open Thread

I hate being uncertain about things. But every now and then my hard-earned certainty on a subject gets jolted by a seemingly random array of things I read or hear. It's so uncomfortable when that happens, but ...

First I saw a poster the other day: "How am I supposed to think outside the box, when I work in a cubicle?" Ha, ha, I thought...bet your boss is already interviewing your replacement.

Then I had a frustrating but eventually thought-provoking conversation with a collector who was himself rather frustrated with how, despite all their rhetoric, too many artists today seem to be still constrained by one of the delusions of Modernism. The examples he used to illustrate how too many artists were still shackled to working in a way that evidenced they were "in control" were all painters, by the way. The examples he used to illustrate what he felt they should look to see, what they were all missing, were mostly filmmakers. The essence of his frustration was how artists were claiming to be reflecting the current state of humanity (which he feels is chaotic and uncontainable), but doing so through creations relying on wholly self-contained modes or metaphors...creating an oxymoron through their art objects.

Then I read the following on Contemporary Visual Culture, (you might need to read the entire post for context, but this is the part that jolted me):
Perhaps the issue is that at its limits of allegory and illusion painting is a medium marked simply by a set of values that judge quality over content. We speak of someone who “can paint”, by which we mean that someone has the ability to render in its utmost detail. We don’t speak of someone who can “move” or “emote”, but simply of someone who might have the capacity to make it more real than real.

I’m not sure this is an effective framework for understanding the contemporary arts in the present day. By saying this I am not implying the endless endgame of painting, but simply asking a question: “When the frame sets the limits, who really cares what happens inside the frame?”
It occurred to me while talking with the collector that this framework is perhaps a safer starting block for many artists who can see its limitations but haven't quite yet sorted out how to abandon it. I think back to Warhol still leaving some "serious" drips in his early Pop paintings before he decided they weren't necessary.

But then I started getting somewhat confused. What really are the issues here? Will some conceptual or formal twist such as that, as Contemporary Visual Culture's author (Administrator) noted, Eva Hesse had used to "create works in which the work itself becomes its own base, its flatness always already ruptured by a non-pictorial element that it contains" truly convey anything more important about what it means to be human now? Will it set today's artists free?

Rather than the never-ending parade of "make it new" visual language (read: putting A with D, rather than B with C this time) within a frame, are we doomed to an era of experimental, shaped, or otherwise often gimmicky canvases? Will that truly reflect anything new?

The answer is obviously no. The challenge is obviously a conceptual one AND a formal one, but not with the goal of simply "not looking like a frame we'd recognize as such." In fact, I don't really feel the frame is the problem. It's not what goes in the frame that's the problem either. The problem is quite frankly that we've seen far too many images for images alone to get the job done. As Administrator notes: "the problem is that the capacity to rupture our expectations as viewers has become so challenging that simply making a cathartic image isn’t enough."

Which is why I suspect we're turning to film and other time-based media for our examples (I do it here all the time. In trying to explain what I mean about something, I more often than not rely on a film to do so...I see it more and more in how visual artists [painters, sculptors, even photographers] explain their work as well).

But what does that mean? Should everyone put down the paint brush and pick up a camera?

Or looking back to our cubicle worker with the shaky job security; is this simply more evidence that Sloterdijk was right? That having reached an enlightened false consciousness, we're culturally stuck here? Artists and all?

My concern with the examples the collector gave of artists who are working "outside the box" to his mind is that they're doing so either formally or conceptually, but rarely (if ever), to my mind, in tandem. It's this need to go more than two or even three directions at once, to break through into a fourth dimension to capture a deeper sense of what's happening and how it is making us feel, that I think keeps leading folks to use time-based work as our primary analogies.

What does that...what could that...mean for other media though?

This is an open thread.

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43 Comments:

Blogger CAP said...

I think when writers resort to talking about ‘visual culture’ they’ve already lost focus. Conceiving of some ‘frame’ or paradigm is no good when it turns fuzzy or floppy. ‘Culture’ is for people that don’t like art and would rather talk about their haircuts or shoes.

I have nothing to say to them, nor they to me.

Was it Brecht that said (to the effect) that “Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun”?

That’s exactly how I feel about Kultur studies and its so-called students.

Go back to sociology where you belong.

10/07/2009 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Brent said...

The key to success in artistic as well as non artistic, is understanding the "box" to be able to effectively step outside of it. (You see this in technology as well as art - since they are both creative ventures)

The contradiction, is that in any truly creative act, is that you may end up enlargening this "box" to include your new discovery. So fresh-and-new becomes mainstream and then, eventually, cliche. Nothing wrong with that, really, because you have expanded consciousness of the culture.

So I don't see this as being some sort of "false consciousness" just people not understanding this ongoing process of discovery and mind expansion. When something becomes "derivative and cliche" it may just have entered the mainstream, and novelty seekers are on to the next new thing.

10/07/2009 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

Fantastic post! I think Godard said, "Its not just an image, is is just an image."

I think that bit of poetic contradiction typifies the current state of art. Felix Gonzalez Torres, who by just being who he was (gay, Hispanic, HIV positive) stood well outside the box, cited Godard and Brecht as influences and said he gained an understanding that meaning was contingent on context and that formal considerations influence and are determined by many outside factors (the major break with Modernism). The major rupture he created was the relationship with the viewer, the viewer given agency over the creation of meaning and even the overall formal state of work.

But these insights have been so subsumed into our understanding i think it is easy to take them for granted. It is also easy for artists to ignore them and even ghettoize them into academia.

As an artist I feel that for FGT to present something so outside the norm in terms of material, experience, presentation, and distribution, it had to come from a natural spring- his work ruptured because his entire being ruptured.

When I abandoned painting on canvas a few years ago and, instead, developed "the capacity to take an object and use in a way that it wasn't intended", it came naturally. The materials used referred to the painting practice and were determined by sensibilities gained from that practice. The rupture was personal, the only way it can be. I highly doubt that your collector friend would consider that rupture on the macro level.

10/07/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark Stone said...

Hi Edward,
We have been discussing the painting conundrum for a while now, and the problem remains that very few painters are willing to think beyond the confines of academic Postmodern practice. We either wind up facing the object, the surface of the object, or replicated lens-based imagery (either abstract or "real") collaged across the surface of the object. What has been needed for quite some time is a frank discussion of how we actually interpret what we see - how we understand the world around us. It turns out that Warhol's break from Modernism and the years of Mannerism that followed has not been strong enough to create a new kind of painting. We now find ourselves seated in the "cubicle" staring blankly at the flat screen in front of us, hoping for some kind of visual revelation as we click through flickr accounts and Saatchi web pages. Change never comes from within systems or constructs. Changes occurs through vision, within artists themselves, those willing to risk a bit (and I'm not talking about "careers" I'm talking about failure,) and that rarely happens in an institutional environment.

10/07/2009 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Virginia Broersma said...

"The problem is quite frankly that we've seen far too many images for images alone to get the job done. As Administrator notes: 'the problem is that the capacity to rupture our expectations as viewers has become so challenging that simply making a cathartic image isn’t enough.'"

As a painter who is regularly conflicted with the challenges of image-making and their value to viewers, I am really interested in the questions raised here. In the art community, one is constantly barraged with the need to be experimental, break the box, etc., that I regularly wonder if I should continue painting. Yet people continue to respond to images; we are an image driven culture, and it seems to me that often times people respond to an image and have their "expectations ruptured" much more than they do with a challenging conceptual piece that is so obtuse and uninteresting to look at that they take one glance and remain unengaged.

Painting and image-making continues to be discussed as questionably relevant and yet my experience with work that tries so hard to be different usually lacks an engaging concept and any formal elements that I want to continue looking at.

This is not to say that there isn't incredible potential with new media to engage viewers. It just seems to me that quality isn't a qualification anymore as long as it's experimental.

10/07/2009 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I’ll go out on a limb here.

I recall an American art commentator that has pointed out the media of painting (as in Innis and McLuhan) holds time still so that the viewer through their own time comes to understand the work at whatever level. Whereas cinema obligates the viewer to passively await its revelation over time. Now the two “media” both are revealed over time, but in one the viewer is passive and in the other is free to come and go. The point being that art like any technology is likely to fall under “the medium is the message” – and not simply be about its content.

As in storytelling it is not simply the storyline, nor the storytellers eloquence but it is the act of storytelling –that sharing between teller, listener and the insight- which is the “message” and storytelling’s’ inherent value. So likely painting isn’t about its particular insights nor its artisans innovation nor mastery, but that visually those that behold it over time, arrive at some personal insight and are free to ignore or act upon that insight as they wish. Simply trying to be more innovative, apply greater technical expertise, or bring a new punch line to a given subject matter rather misses the key element – that painting is a media that allows the viewer to use time to reach an insight. (Rather then being a media that itself uses time to give the viewer an insight)

Today’s predominant media are time based – often where the user is passive although nextgen media are interactive – so we are habituated to a vocabulary where the “answer” is given to us over time – in our case that time is swift: instant answers- so we are apt to seek a similar vocabulary and access in painting so as to speak with the times as it were. Yet in doing so, we risk ignoring the forte of painting- that it allows one to have time to reach an understanding visually. And where a society is imbued with movement and immediate “gratification”, stasis and revelation become necessary respites- a rebalancing for our daily lives. These are two fundamental aspects of static images and painting. So I am confident that painting still has a role to play in society, but I think it likely we will best understand that role by looking at painting as a media and seeking what that media’s message and so value might be, rather then striving to have painting mirror the times, rather maybe we should seek how painting contributes to the times.

10/07/2009 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger greg said...

I'm confused about the "delusions of modernism"and how they relate to the collectors issues with art (paintings) made by "relying on wholly self-contained modes or metaphors." Why use traditional words to express a contemporary thought? Wild gesticulations and groans capture the "chaotic and uncontrollable" world far more effectively...

I think that people concerned too much with thinking outside the frame and breaking the mold are, in a way, lazy. They are concerned with getting the next "upgrade" before everyone else and their collective attention spans have been reduced to time it takes to upload an image to Facebook or, even worse, to Tweet!

What's wrong with a painting that doesn't move, doesn't have to be plugged in, remains silent, and requires the viewer to slow the hell down and think for herself for a change? A nice quiet painting that doesn't spoon feed the viewer mind-numbing data and digital noise?

God forbid there's any artwork being made today that you can't describe in 140 characters or less and actually have to stand in front of--IRL!--to experience!

10/07/2009 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

nice comments, folks...enjoying this immensely.

Today’s predominant media are time based – often where the user is passive although nextgen media are interactive – so we are habituated to a vocabulary where the “answer” is given to us over time – in our case that time is swift: instant answers- so we are apt to seek a similar vocabulary and access in painting so as to speak with the times as it were.

This reminds me of something I read the other day about a murder mystery writer. The critic said the writer was of that class that you could chop off the last chapter (where everything was revealed) of all this writer's books and people would still want to read them. Within the context of murder mysteries, that's quite a compliment. But in the context of our thread (on contemporary art), it also suggests that the revelation (the "answer") itself is/should be besides the point. That it's the contemplation (or, in more popular terms, "the ride") that makes the engagement worth while.

This is actually what the collector I spoke to was getting at with regard to film. He reserved his harshest criticism for films with Hollywood endings and flat characterizations. Who cares if the character lives happily ever after, really? Was the character/story/painting worth spending time with?

Then again, many things that might be nice to spend a little time with, aren't necessarily important...

and round it goes.

10/07/2009 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Brent said...

You know, technological progress is not linear and uniform, but progresses in lumpy leaps and starts where things are played out, put aside, as other things are then payed with, and then someone eventually has an idea and links a couple of things together for a breakthrough. A technology or discovery, or mystery may lay dormant or discarded for decades before being picked up again. (A really good perspective on this is James Burke's history of science and invention). I do not see why art is any different.

Meaning, rather tritely, perhaps painting is resting and waiting a bit until it can start to use the mediums under most intense experimentation for its own breakthrough.

I wouldn't Go With The Crowd and run off into other media just because it is popular. Perhaps take the best ideas there, and synthesize it into something new in painting?

10/07/2009 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Danielle said...

A painter who abandons painting isn't breaking out of the cubicle, s/he is rather transferring to a different department.

Time is another medium for the artist to manipulate. When a viewer looks at a painting, the viewer is in control of time. If they own the painting, time unfolds at the same rate for the duration of the relationship.

When an artist uses film or other time-based work, the artist is in control of time. They speed it up, manipulate it, pre-digest it for the viewer. Hmm...I suppose that is rather more reflective of the current way many people live, not it control of time.

So, perhaps time-based work is more reflective, but not necessarily more subversive now. Slow art seems rather more subversive.

10/07/2009 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous kim matthews said...

Very interesting post and comments. I think that the painfully self aware, exhibitionistic, ADD, novelty-addicted culture in which we live can lead some artists to inadvertent self-sabotage. When you have to pay the bills, it's hard to resist the temptation to make something someone wants to buy--and that's where the trouble begins. How can any discovery take place when one is trying to please or to deliberately create something "new"? This is not just a painting problem; it's an art-object problem. I think Mark Creegan nailed it in his remarks on Felix Gonzales-Torres above.

10/07/2009 12:18:00 PM  
Anonymous J.T. said...

Ed said, "...to capture a deeper sense of what's happening and how it is making us feel..."

I think this, while not necessarily being a formally stated assumption, is a "box" that should be examined. There seems to be implied in some circles that artists should be trying to capture "what's happening" and how we "feel." But isn't what's happening, what's happening? And isn't what we feel, what we feel? Why must we capture that which already exists?

I don't mean to suggest this is a bad way to approach artmaking. Instead, when talking about boxes it concerns me when another gets thrown up, even if only in passing.

In many ways time-based art feels more limiting to me than static images (paintings, sculpture, etc) because of how close to reality it is. In other words, give me Joy Garnett's painting of an explosion over a photograph of the same. Give me that photograph over a video of the explosion. Give me all of those over the actual explosion.

Sorry for the random thoughts. Great post!

10/07/2009 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Perhaps the issue is that at its limits of allegory and illusion painting is a medium marked simply by a set of values that judge quality over content. We speak of someone who “can paint”... bla bla bla.

For most painters Painting IS dead.

Why is it still here?

Painting is the most conceptual of all the plastic arts, it is solely about the manipulation of visual symbols in order top produce an experience in the consciousness of the viewer. Most artists have lost touch with this simple fact and are producing endless variations of hand-painted-decorative-objects-that-look-like-paintings. (they do fill a need of sorts)

Unlike other 'new media' which can fall back on infinite object variation for novelty, painting as a medium is neutral, it is a well defined language with a history of master practitioners for reference and inspiration.

As we enter into the new millennium the general formalist definitions for painting are fairly complete and function as the definition of painting as a language. If we have a fairly decent dictionary, do we continue to invent endless new words, or do we write poetry?

10/07/2009 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

But what does that mean? Should everyone put down the paint brush and pick up a camera?

Artists who don't understand what they are doing with a paintbrush won't understand what they are doing with a camera.

10/07/2009 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

In other words, give me Joy Garnett's painting of an explosion over a photograph of the same...

JT: I won't give it to you, but I'd be happy to sell it to you. ;)

10/07/2009 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher Quirk said...

Ed,

Interesting debates here. I do not understand some things about the collector's comment that instigated your meditations:

1) What does the collector mean by "self-contained modes or metaphors"? This appears to either indicate a desire to get outside of contexts, so to speak, which is impossible, or for a fresh vocabulary, available to any media or none, depending on how one views our inventory of possible images. Is there more here? It's sounds a bit vague and wishful.

2) I don't know too many artists that claim to be "reflecting the current state of humanity." That is more typical of the Modernism the collector derides, isn't it? I know a lot of artists that are participating in the current state of humanity, but none that I can think of that claim to be holding up a mirror. (Now I see Gam said something like that above...I second it.)

3) Who were the filmmakers? Was the collector speaking of art/gallery context? "Avant garde"? Feature-length? Love to know.

4) One certainly cannot disagree with the collector's feeling about "spending time with" the work. Again, though, any media has the potential to fulfill that.

Re: formal/conceptual, there is no such thing as a good painting that is not conceptually rich any more than a good conceptual work that is not formally resolved, even if that resolution takes no form.

Anyone consciously trying to get "outside the box" has already trapped themselves. Stop thinking about the box and the box goes away. Then you can get to work.

10/07/2009 03:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Call me naive, but...."new media" is not really the issue. Art made with new media can be as dull and mediocre as paintings made the old-fashioned way, or just as ground-breaking and extraordinary. The tools (or masters degrees...) do no matter as much as the vision and soul state of the artist. A true visionary is a rare and brave thing indeed, no matter what the art form, genre, or time.

10/07/2009 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I think that some artists respond to their environment (a world of youtube, TV, video billboards, hyperreal video games) by speaking back in the same language. Other artists respond to the very same stimuli by being reactive and creating something that is completely the opposite of what inundates our senses every day.

I was trained as a painter, but as our world becomes more virtual, I find myself increasingly drawn to looking at, and making, tactile, handmade, craft-based things because I feel that is what humans (and I) need and crave.

10/07/2009 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

I think tho that the internal and external drive to present something new, whether its to push a medium, material or experience, is the same for a painter or filmmaker or whatever. I think its a basic responsibility and struggle of an artist to find a unique language, one that is based on a process of distillation and/or synthesis.

Easier said than done but its not all "fetish of the new" ( that may be an initial drive) but rather sincere discovery mode.

10/07/2009 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

outside the box... too many artists today seem to be still constrained by one of the delusions of Modernism... were "in control"

The head spins, but I agree with the sentiments. Most artists think they know what "good art" is and that is what they attempt to do, to be "in control" and make good art.

Consider, "outside the box" and being "in control" against the greatest painting of the 20th century Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso. Made in 1907 this painting was so radical it took Picasso several years to assimilate what he had done. Out of control and outside the box. An awful painting if judged within the context of the time.

On the other hand, in todays newly expanded art market, driven by fashion and celebrity as it attempts to create new customers for the endless supply of competent "good art" well made by college educated professionals.

An then there is the other five or so percent of art which will enter history as part of the genetic code of aesthetics for artists in the future. I think this is what the collector is looking for.

10/07/2009 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

If I understand this correctly, the collector thinks that the current state of humanity is chaotic and uncontainable, and therefore cannot be reflected by a medium that can be controlled, and that such control is a delusion of Modernism. This is wrong in too many ways to list. The state of humanity is not so chaotic that he can't sit and have a chat about art with you. Coaxing a medium into any shape whatsoever requires control. Modernist practice ranges from the rectalinear to the gestural, and contemporary modernists are agnostic about process.

CVC is incorrect that we say that someone "can paint" if they can render every detail. Nobody outside the airbrushing community thinks that. By all means, it's useless for "understanding the contemporary arts in the present day" - and for everything else as well.

Ed, you have committed what I call the Shahn Fallacy, named for Ben Shahn, who was praised for producing something better than either abstraction or figurative painting alone by putting both together at the same time. Except in your case, it's working formally and conceptually. This is not more likely to produce successful or innovative work than either component practiced in a lively way.

The conventions of painting have been thoroughly hammered out. Those of time-based media are not. This doesn't really amount to anything except that for a finite period of time, it will be much easier to make something unprecedented in a time-based medium than in painting. Too, it is easier to introduce sound and motion into the latter, and for anyone who believes that the state of humanity is chaotic, sound and motion, especially if composed frenetically, will better flatter that belief. Unless you're particularly tuned into chaos as an artist, there is no reason to work with it.

Making art requires an alignment of material, technique, and feeling that cannot be thought out ahead of time, and has a lot more to do with managing desire and boredom than thinking it all through, although that's necessary at some point. It also resists the kind of generalizations I see in the original post, in the same way that people resist generalizations.

10/07/2009 07:38:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed says,"The challenge is obviously a conceptual one AND a formal one..."

I think Ed's right on the money here, with the operative word being "AND." There is no logical fallacy here, formal and conceptual are not mutually exclusive, to the contrary they can be self reinforcing.

Ed continues, "The problem is quite frankly that we've seen far too many images for images alone to get the job done."

If I take the basis for this observation, the idea that the 'painted image' (as metaphor for artist generated images of any kind) must compete in a world awash in images I would tend to agree. What has resulted from this process has been an endless series of gimmicky images and a single image replicated to the point of nausea. I agree that this is the wrong approach and that something different is needed.

The 'collector' Ed mentions sounds like someone I'd like to meet at a neutral spot for a drink or two. It is really easy as an artist to assume that we 'know' what we are doing and that the audience is dumb. (At an opening this evening, I was told that exact point by another artist) The audience is dumb?

Excuse me but we are not listening: The essence of his frustration was how artists were claiming to be reflecting the current state of humanity (which he feels is chaotic and uncontainable)... Rephrase this, read between the lines, this is a member of the audience expressing themselves.

Moreover, he (she) is expressing a feeling of dissatisfaction, incompleteness, boredom or just plain lack of sympathy with the art he is seeing. How dare anyone tell him that his feelings and perceptions are wrong? This IS an attempt top contain something, to contain it within our own comfort zone for "good art" because we know what's right and the audience should be educated.

Nonsense. We are not hearing the zeitgeist rumbling in dissatisfaction looking for something not only new but relevant. It is our own self reflexive concern for propriety, for what we think is "good art" that is standing in the way.

The funny thing is that if I talk with other artists about the auto industry, they have a lot to say about how the corporations botched the job, how they failed to see what was really needed and wanted in the future, all in the name of selling high profit SUV's. What the heck, get back in the studio and make another stripe painting.

PS. I'm in a mood tonight, this isn't directed at you Franklin and I'm surprised that when I insulted 95% of the painters in my previous comment, no one said a word. What a bunch of wimps.

10/07/2009 09:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The Shahn Fallacy isn't a logical fallacy, but a nonfunctional application of a sensible-sounding idea. Virtue, success, goodness, fitness or what have you is a holistic quality, not merely an aggregate one. This is true across the board. You could take two good tools, let's say a hammer and a pair of pliers, and you don't get a better tool by combining them. Aggregates can be successful, but success is not itself an aggregate. Ed talked about the possibility working formally and conceptually in tandem to "capture a deeper sense of what's happening and how it is making us feel," and I maintain that a tandem approach is not more likely to accomplish this than any other. Or less likely. The problem is a lot more idiosyncratic than that. It involves a particular kind of personal action that doesn't lend itself to a program until the requisite moodling, as Brenda Ueland called it, has been been adequately moodled. And this collector just seems to be confusing himself with generalities.

The phrase "when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun" has interesting origins.

10/07/2009 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

Aha! Synchronicity! Kara Walker has some very interesting and sincere comments on James Kalm's latest video. Its a must see!

10/07/2009 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

There are two elements I'd like to throw in which are no doubt more worthy to be thrown out.

The first - maybe our way of seeing has been radically changed by conditioning. From early infancy the moving image - television/film has conditioned us into associating the act of focalised looking with entertainment through visual movement & we find looking at a non-moving object for any period of time more difficult & less satisfying than was the case in the pre-television age.

Point the second -visual 'blindness' through visual overkill. If you walk down any street there is so much man-made visual animation going on that we have conditioned ourselves into suppressing the greater part in order to avoid overload of non-essentials & when it comes to looking specifically at an object like a painting, where we don't move either, it is becoming increasingly difficult to switch off the visual censorship mechanism.

Put the two together & it seems to make a sufficiently potent sort of cocktail to wobble the very perceptual roots of painting - either for the spectator or creator.

* What was once 'outside the box' now makes up part of its walls. Never did like that phrase - always seemed to promise more than it delivers.

10/08/2009 02:04:00 AM  
Blogger tony said...

Addendum :

I should have explained myself more clearly about my dislike for the phrase 'outside the box'. What would once have been considered outside the box now makes up part of the walls of the box yet can still remain intrinsically 'outside the box'. Picasso's 'young ladies' would not be too bad an example.

10/08/2009 03:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

soap box part 2

I would even describe paintings centripetal moment as being a counterbalance to science's moment. Science in its probing theories and algorithms of synthesis, is as a media concerned with the commonality of moments. All things being equal, such and such shall be. It is concerned with the repeatability of identical moments. Compared to that, painting, (and art I would argue) seeks the unique in a given moment. Not that which is identical to any other moment, but that which makes this specific moment utterly different and precious in the world. These series of uniquely special moments, as an ensemble reveal our commonality within their differences. Without painting and art to say - look at the uniqueness of this given moment - science risks overwhelming us all into believing the world is nothing but a place of predictable common denominators. If we only interact with the world as if it was just another day, revelation and even beauty would have no refuge in which to take seed.

Painting has something unique to say in our world. It is more then just graphic design or an attempt to mirror what is around us. More so within the greater realm of art, painting still has the essential role of allowing us to see otherwise, it acts as a crucial counter balance to scientific thought. Without art - painting - we would not be offered so many insights into how we currently know and see the world via our shifting technologies.

Every way of being -becomes a way of knowing, and every way of knowing -becomes a way of being. Art intercedes in our knowing, allowing us to become otherwise. Art reveals how we see the world, showing how we understand it, allowing us to counterbalance how our technology has conditioned and proscribes our interactions with the world. Art - painting, in allowing us to know and so be otherwise, opens tomorrows that might otherwise be lost.

Painting has much still to offer our worlds, it is far from being dead. Its voice may be muted in a cacophony of sister arts, but its' clarion call still sounds for those that will nurture it. For heroic remains its' future. It is so much more then its' themes, schools, markets, techniques, practioners. collectioners, adorers and detractors.

Science and art complement each other, acting like the proverbial checks and balances in American democracy.

Painting lives. It still has much to offer its proponents.


heck the soapbox just broke under my weight!


Being goaded is annoying-it freezes my brain.

10/08/2009 06:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

George I took your insuation/insult as a simple goad. But seeing it repeated in the idea that painting's conventions are hammered out makes me sigh as well.

So please excuse my rant on the soap box, and if I stray from the threads topic too much Ed, simply delete away.




Painting as dead ... ?!

ah no. I think not. I'm not simply dancing with the zombies here.

Maybe painting has evolved in how it defines itself. Maybe the "subject" of painting has many discarded avenues . Maybe painting no longer has the cultural center stage to itself. Maybe the expertise of painterly techniques has seemingly reached some kind of plateau. Yet as stated eloquently above, maybe painting is just catching its breath before it's next leap into the darkness.

I really believe painting still has a noble role to fulfill in society. (no no I'm not simply a deluded soul lost in the wilderness George.) The reason I harp on the concept of painting as a media a la Innis and McLuhan, is because for me painting is really about more then just graphic vocabulary that convey some mystical message either eloquently or in a deliberate paradigmatic schism.

To illustrate, compare photography to painting. It has been argued in the past that photography surpassed painting as it was the better able to illustrate a given scene with better fidelity. If you only measured painting by this yardstick you may not realize an essential difference between these two medias. If you look at photography as a media, it becomes apparent that photography -what ever its sophistication (which I risk belittling in this description)- gravitates around "capturing" the moment. Regardless of how much that moment is informed and imbued with visual vocabularies, artistic sensibilities and its subject matter of particular relevance for our times - photography at its core- yet remains about the photographer being a witness to that exact moment. (hence the reluctance of many photographic exhibitions to allow digitally post-manipulated images- the moment rules in photography -even if it is staged moment)

Compared to that, I would say that painting too is about a moment, but it isn't the moment of the painter being there, it isn't even about a creatively imagined moment or the moment when a painter conceives of their concept or the moments when they bring into this world their painting. I would place paintings centripetal moment where the viewer finally connects to the painting. That is the moment, everything else was in preparation for the possible birth of that moment- whether it is an aaahhh ... moment, or an ah ha! moment, or a ha ha : ) moment. Whatever the insight, cerebral or emotive, it is expressed viscerally- the collector falls in love, wanting to possess the art/painting but aware they are but custodians, regarding their works as a parent does there children. Smitten tinged with respect. It is that moment, (whether instantaneous or arrived at over time and memory) - the beginning of their relationship where the viewer and painting connect that the painter has fulfilled them self and their craft. It isn't about a prior moment, it is that moment of the viewers and paintings rapport. (hence part of my respect for gallerists and curators) Painting's centripetal moment is quite distinct from Ansel Adams moment of perfect lighting, or the press photographers precise moment of action. Painting's moment is a viewer centric moment, beyond the painter or his subject.

Soapbox 1

10/08/2009 06:29:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

"The essence of his frustration was how artists were claiming to be reflecting the current state of humanity (which he feels is chaotic and uncontainable) ..."

As an artist, I've never claimed to reflect the current state of anything but me.

Perhaps this collector is frustrated that no one expresses the "uncontained chaos" he himself feels, or would like to feel. If so, then he should:

1. Wait. Some artist will come along, sooner or later, who expresses this for him.

2. Act. Commission someone to express this for him.

3. Create. Pick up a tool and express it himself.

It isn't necessary for all artists to question what they're doing in order for this collector to satisfy himself.

10/08/2009 06:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark Stone said...

Edward,
Great comments, but in discussing the "media" as simply time based we keep missing the point. The "media" is lens based. Whether it's photography, video, movies, digital communications, reproductions or replications it all starts with the lens and how we SEE the world through that lens. Time is contained within the program that guides that piece of glass - whether it is film, video tape or digital memory. It is the glass that directs our vision, determines our understanding and hones our participation in today's culture. Even the screen that you are reading this on is the other side of lens based programming. As visual artists, as painters looking to question the academy, isn't this where we should begin?

10/08/2009 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

"Art made with new media can be as dull and mediocre as..."

We call it "new mediocre" in my house. (ba-dum cha)

Great post and comments, everyone - thanks for it. A lot of wonderful things have been said already, and there's one point I'll add: some of the most interesting new media work I've seen looks to traditional media - such as painting - just as Edward has said many painters look to describe their work / for inspiration through film. Yes, some painters may get "stuck" in old debates; it is also easy to get stuck in the idea of "new" or the technology in front of you. I believe a combination of the forms and conceptual understandings of both new and trad media enable modes of exploration and expression that may be somewhat familiar, but also accomplish invocation and provocation in strange and moving (not "new," but perhaps uncanny or alien or strange) ways. Someone mentioned Joy's paintings being appreciated more than the original photographs that inspired them, for example, and Kentridge also comes to mind.

10/08/2009 08:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reviews of paintings:

"The paintings of xxxxxxxx.... have the power to stop people in their tracks."
- Candice Russell, CITYLINK

"xxxxxxxxx’s work is decidedly literary... everything plays against other elements and viewer expectation and experience to create stories capable of penetrating the television-addled consciousness of contemporary viewers.”
- Neil Herring, ART PAPERS

"It's unusual in this TV/Internet/YouTube age for a painting to captivate the nation, but that's exactly what xxxxxx did... "
- Adam Bernard, FOAM Magazine

10/08/2009 09:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Film can be as painterly as painting can be cinematic.

I think you have Aesthetic and Topic (subject/idea/etc) in any piece of art made out of any media, and it's a mutable spectrum for both, of which a perfect balance would be 50/50.


What is great about film, and moving images in general, is how it is not constrained by frame like I believe painting or photography are. When you compare it to photography (or painting), it's like 2 sides of one continuating hourglass. One on side, the whole world falls flat onto a tiny point which is the fixed photography (or fixed image in general). In cinema, you start from that tiny fixed point and you expand to another world that exists beyond the frame. This is strictly formal (cinema is as much coded a medium as painting, by the way), but regarding how moving images are culturally received, the medium is powerfully immaterial. It's not structured by its physical presence as painting is. Wrether it's in a cinema theater, a dvd on your tv, Youtube, a projection on a building, or within a gallery, a film remains the same. Unless you are told in a gallery that a piece of moving images is actually a piece of Fine Art, it is always first and foremost a "film" that can be deconstructed by film language (by anyone who has some notions on film aesthetics), which is a language universal across any piece of moving images. Basically, the film or video media is strong enough that it keeps its characteristics and values as a media across whatever level and context it is being broadcasted, what is highly different when we speak of fixed images, especially because fine art has claimed for so long that it could categorize them. For example, paintings are not just "images", they are material objects, and how these materials are constructed and where they are shown have an impact on their value. Painting is limited by the framing of where it is being exhibited. Not seeing the painting in person means you haven't seen it. You can't really say you haven't seen moving images even though the broadcast quality may vary. But you could say both medias are "boxed", painting by physicality, and film by immateriality.

Photography stands in between. It is merely boxed by immutability. But here is how it doesn't have the same power as film: If you take a random picture of your newborn baby, and put it on Flickr, it will likely not look like Art (or Fine Art). If you record your Skype video conversation and put it up on Youtube, it automatically borrows an aesthetic of cinema, even in the most mundane of details. How? Because moving images are always suspenseful, always urging the viewer to expect what's coming, and this is how one tends to pay more attention to what they're saying, regardless of when and how they are being broadcasted.


This said, cinema can be as much about its inner aesthetics than painting being about what's outside. If you refuse an artist's proposition it's a whole different story.

Cedric Casp

10/08/2009 10:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

What I meant about the Skype broadcast example is that there is always a storytelling appeal to moving images, very often flirting with the artistic. Even when you watch the monitor of a surveillance camera, you're
looking out with voyeuritic expectations. Moving images are intrinsically unreal and "cinematic".



Cedric C

10/08/2009 10:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I haven't heard of the The Shahn Fallacy before. Is this Ben Shahn?

... but I could see a hammer and pair of pliers being the source for a hammer that pinches the nail in place and so then gives source to a hammer with a magnetized head that holds the nail in place for the first hit, or maybe the pliers become hammer claw like and are one piece so no longer pince but snag if you.

Whatever, I'd concur aggregates won't necessarily be better at accomplishing the initial tools tasks, but they definitely could open doors to new tasks and uses.

Most new technologies are intially applied to old tasks, its when they start to be applied to tasks taht are revealed in their usage that they become really interesting.

So maybe painting and nano technology give source to a new plasticity in the painting materials which allows artists to have paintings that actually morph (whether composition or color) according to the emotional state of the viewer (scanned via the galleries latest emotasensor model - maybe built into the frame) so the painting either rebalances or reflects the state of the viewer.

The point really being that maybe the aggregate as a creative inspiration likely can succeed when the intended usage changes.
So maybe the why of painting is what drives the what of painting.

10/08/2009 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Painting? Of the ten ArtPrize finalists, only one is a painting. And it's a BIG painting. In fact, all the finalists are large-to-giant size works, which it's clear the public prefers. (Like the Blue Bridge furniture from Irwin Allen's "Land Of The Giants.") Maybe this preference among ArtPrize voters is a combination of regional culture and the expectations of visitors and vacationers. Drive around up north and you'll see a 30 ft. tall downhill skier, a 50 ft. tall Hiawatha ("World's Tallest Indian") and a Muskie that's half-a-block long and 4 1/2 stories high. Maybe it's just that a theme park atmosphere was created in Grand Rapids. Without a doubt, we Americans like big, three-dimensional attractions. And movement is a plus - three of the finalists are kinetic, one sits in a flowing river, and another is wearable balloon "characters" that walk the streets (think Mickey and Donald at Disney World and Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade).

10/08/2009 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, aren't film and video constrained by frames? The edges of the theater screen, the housings of cell phones, laptops, monitors and TV sets - not to mention format dimensions.

10/08/2009 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Tom, Painting may not be the most popular art form, but it remains a source of inspiration none the less. (I had forgotten about that prize!)

We don't run around saying horses are dead because we have bicycles cars and trains and planes and segways.

there are packaging labels that change color when a food product is about to go bad,so too paint can be modified to change color under differing conditions (even mood rings did that) a painting may be static but that's the artists decision. Paints can change color - even if you simply view it under different lighting you have a painting that changes and can offer different intents but isn't changing simply based upon time as the condition for change.

I like that paintings are very similar to what they were when I do return to them. Pilgrimages are good for us. the changes one finds are within ourselves which make them all the more profound.

It likely isn't stasis which defines a painting but their "consistency" over time. Such as winter remains winter even though each day it may be differentfrom the last or as a friend can change but remains identifiable as your friend.

sorry for rambling on

10/08/2009 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Tom, in moving images the diegesis is very strong and intrinsic to the medium. The frame chooses where to look at any time, but because the image is moving, your natural cognitive sense of space apprehends or formulates that there is a part of the world that exists outside what it being shown, and it's not just imagination, there IS a part going on outside, even if it's actually just the cinema crew. Contrary to photography, in cinema you can have the expectation that at any time, the frame will move toward where you want it to go. It doesn't matter if it doesn't. You know that it "could". Narratively, this is spatial diegesis.

It's been a while since I read Bazin and the likes, but take for example that Vito Acconci video where he runs around a movie camera fixed to a tripod. You could interprete this as being about the frame, the incapability of moving images to capture the whole of living reality, but I think it's really about showing that in moving images there is a world going on outside the frame.


Cheers,

Cedric Casp

10/08/2009 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Gam, my apologies. I didn't mean it to sound as if I was making an argument for the death of painting. (I'm a 2D artist myself!) I only meant to show that painting is not the sort of art that's preferred by the public - unless (I guess) it's a big, spectacular nature painting in the tradition of Frederic Edwin Church. It's what Komar and Melamid predicted: a realistic outdoor scene in a traditional style, with lots of blues and greens (the colors are really only visible in one photo on the ArtPrize site).

10/08/2009 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I meant that Acconci demonstrates how the outside and inside of the moving image frame are co-dependant, versus opposed.



Cedric C

10/08/2009 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Wow, it sounds like ArtPrize is the sort of exhibit I just adore.
Outside, Remote, Big, Within Natural Settings, Photographable.

The kind that's in a cozy place where you are glad to stay a few days to experiment something truly different.


Cheers,

Cedric C

10/08/2009 01:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We speak of someone who “can paint”, by which we mean that someone has the ability to render in its utmost detail" Who is this WE? Tom Nozkowski is someone who can paint and it has nothing to do with the idea that he can really paint a zipper.

10/08/2009 02:15:00 PM  

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