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I paint, make collages and mixed media work. I write poetry. I reflect on the Tao.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Artists & poets on life, art, the source and the destination

Francis Bacon
The contemplation of things as they are without error without or confusion without substitution or imposture is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of inventions.
Francis Bacon On the Interpretation of Nature 1603-4

Gustave Courbet
The state is incompetent in matters of art. When it undertakes to reward, it usurps the public taste. Its intervention is altogether demoralizing, disastrous to the artist, whom it deceives concerning his own merit; disastrous to art which it encloses within official rules, and condemns to the most sterile mediocrity. It would be wisdom for it to abstain. The day the state leaves us free, it will have done its duty towards us.

Gustave Courbet letter to M. Maurice Richard, Minister of Fine Arts 1870

Tom Waits
...dissolving the artificial barriers that separated the creative process from the life that nurtured it. “After a while you realize that music—the writing and enjoying of it—is not off the cost of anything,” [Tom Waits] said. “It’s not sovereign, it’s well-worn, a fabric of everything else: sunglasses, a great martini, Turkish figs, grand pianos.” p.360

“ With the digital revolution wound up and rattling,” [Tom Waits] wrote in a introduction to Hopkin’s 1996 book Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones, “the deconstructionists are combing the wreckage of our age. They are cannibalizing the marooned shuttle to send us on to a place that will sound like a roaring player piano left burning on the beach.” p. 414
From Barney Hoskyns Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits London Faber & Faber 2009

David Hockney art that’s not based on looking inevitably becomes repetitious, whereas one that is based on looking finds the world infinitely interesting, and always finds new ways of looking at ourselves. p.49
The source of creativity is love, the source of all creativity. p.68

When the eye, the hand and the heart come together, that’s when you get the greatest art. ... And the eye links to the hand, and the heart gives the love. That’s where the creativity comes from – the heart. p.68
...the people who are really interested in your ideas will find you. p.72

In abstraction, form is emphasized although the content may have disappeared. In banal illustration, the emphasis is all on content with no form. And, frankly, they are both a bit of a bore. The truth is that content and form rarely merge and become one, and when it happens it’s magical art. p.98
Paul Joyce Hockney on Art Little Brown, 2008

The Circus Animals' Desertion
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.

John Olsen
I find that the artist or poet is not in charge of the destination of his work. p.45

The Duchamp urinal, broken glass sophism has got us nowhere. p. 173
From  John Olsen, Jenny Zimmer, Ken McGregor, John Olsen: Journeys Into 'You Beaut Country' , Macmillan Art Publishing, South Yarra, 2007

John Keats
...several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this,  that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.
From Letter to George and Tom Keats, Hampstead Sunday 22 December 1818

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

From "The Handbook for the Construction of Mental Habitats"

A study for a memory:
between instinct and reason,
cut along the line
familiar and disturbing.

Image, freed from context,
amputates the ritual mask of form and matter,
supplanting an independent life—
the base matter of which we are made.

No place left to leave your thoughts
on each forgotten face refracted.

No different from monstrous nature,
the interior world dissolves
into  deceptive optics,
like white sails in the sun,
and reality joins its own reflection.

This partial inversion of graphic control
has an air of fragmented discipline;
through the eyes of the child
an enigmatic ecstasy.

Nothing further can be removed
by mine own hand:
light suffices

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Just plonk myself down": Fred Williams on painting outdoors

“The source of all my paintings is something that I actually have seen. I don’t sit in the studio and think that I’ll do this or that. The impetus always comes from some notation that I have made outside”

“It starts in the studio and it finishes in the studio. But what I do is, I ...hail, rain or shine, I go to a quiet spot, preferably as close to my doorstep as I possibly can, and just spend the day with no preconceived idea and just let it come to me. Leave early in the morning and return for a good meal and something to drink later.”

“Working outdoors, I don’t have any preconceptions about what it is or how I’m going to go about it. I usually just plonk myself down in a suitable spot, you know, as comfortable as possible, out of the wind, out of the heat and out of the rain and try and let it come to me. And I think in my case, because I actually like painting, it’s easier for me to simply sit there and splash around. Just work like crazy and bring it all home. Stack it away in the studio and don’t look at it for a couple of months. I sort of take the attitude that I’m like an antennae. I let it come to me a little bit, but I certainly don’t try to impose anything. I certainly don’t try to paint pictures out there.”

Documentary video: Patterns of Landscape: Through the Eyes of Fred Williams 1927–1982

Some examples of Fred Williams work can be viewed on Google Art Project and on the National Gallery of Victoria site 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Artists as angelic spies: Excerpts on art/ spirit/ the viewer

Jane Ann Wynn
My work seems to require an intimate relationship with my audience. When you take a moment to look at something that is small, it requires coming closer to inspect it. The physical distance is narrowed and you have the full attention of yourself and your viewer. From that moment on, your message has changed from a statement to a dialogue. You can share an emotional moment and it becomes personal.
...For a short moment in time, there is a spiritual connection.
Altered Curiosities, North Light Books p.39
Jane’s website
Thomas Moore objects are lures attracting certain kinds of spirits and they’re containers for that spirit. Our task is not to explain images but to expose ourselves to them and have our thinking and feeling affected by them. Images are inherently and necessarily mysterious. They invite us to enjoy a life where mystery deepen the level of our thought and experience. (p 174)
Art can be merely aesthetically pleasing, philosophically meaningful, and personally expressive, or it can have the special power to evoke and transmit a particular spirit to those who come in contact with it. (p204)
Poets and artists of all kinds are intimately familiar with edification by puzzlement. The best of them will tell you that they don’t always know what their work means. In their art they use word or images in ways that speak more directly and more profoundly than reason of our world and our experience. They trust the images that come to them as being rich in implication and complex in their truthfulness. (p.365)
The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life
Art, broadly speaking, is that which invites us into contemplation. ... In that moment of contemplation, art intensifies the presence of the world. We see it more vividly and more deeply
Care of the Soul
Thomas’s website
Agnes Martin: I do believe we unfold out of ourselves and we do what we are born to do sooner or later, anyway.
Dorothea Tanning: My work is about the enigmatic; it’s about leaving the door open to imagination. You see, enigma is a very healthy thing, because it encourages the viewer to look beyond the obvious and the commonplace. I have always liked to create images wherein the viewer sees something else every time he looks at them. 
John Gruen The Artist Observed, A. Cappella Books, 1991
John Olsen
“An artist’s life is a secret life, artists focus on thingsbarely noticed, they perceive, they inhabit magical shadows not yet appreciated. Artists are a particular genus of angelic spies – like blotting paper, absorbing visual facts and bargaining that information within themselves, hazarding ideas and conjuring with possibilities.
Jenny Zimmerman and Ken McGregor John Olsen; Journeys into the You Beaut Country

Monday, November 5, 2012

Writing on art: the contemporary art scene, capturing essence

I consistently record the words of others on art, which I find stimulating. Sometimes because they say what I believe to be true, but say it so more elegantly or eloquently than I could. Sometimes, because they extend a thought I had and take it into new territory. And sometimes (the best times) because they give voice to something that I only dimly glimpsed. So I have decided to place this on-growing collection here on the blog, because I believe that these words deserve to be recorded and shared. And selfishly, I can find them a lot easier here than scattered about in various notebooks.

I won't be sorting and ordering them by topic or by author or any other classification system devisable by the rational mind. They will simply be recorded as they come. But, not to be totally mean, I will caption them.

So here to begin is the quote attached to Against intellect and therapy, art as a dance

The contemporary art scene

Will Gompertz, the BBC's arts editor:

"Money and celebrity has cast a shadow over the art world which is prohibiting ideas and debate from coming to the fore," he said yesterday, adding that the current system of collectors, galleries, museums and art dealers colluding to maintain the value and status of artists quashed open debate on art.

"I hope this is the start of something that breaks the system. At the moment it feels like the Paris salon of the 19th century, where bureaucrats and conservatives combined to stifle the field of work. It was the Impressionists who forced a new system, led by the artists themselves. It created modern art and a whole new way of looking at things.

"Lord knows we need that now more than anything. We need artists to work outside the establishment and start looking at the world in a different way – to start challenging preconceptions instead of reinforcing them."

From The Guardian ~ Doyen of American critics turns his back on the 'nasty, stupid' world of modern art.
Dave Hickey condemns world he says has become calcified by too much money, celebrity and self-reverence. by Edward Helmore and Paul Gallagher
The Observer, Sunday 28 October 2012

Capturing the essence of the subject
But the deception of photography is not confined to the deliberate corrections, manipulations, enhancements and outright falsifications to which it can be subjected. There is also a fundamental problem in the fact it passively registers a luminous imprint of the visible world - in other words, a flaw at the heart of the argument for truth.
The point is that such an objective registration of visual phenomena is no more the truth of the world than a dead body is the truth of the deceased person. Consider the perennial problem of portraits painted from photographs: they are easy because all you have to do is copy a flat image. But they are lifeless because a person is not a flat image; a person is not even a three-dimensional thing, not in fact an object that can be copied but a subject with whom you must engage as another subject.
The same is true, less obviously, of trees and plants, and even apparently inanimate things such as mountains and bodies of water. A landscape painted from a photograph is as lifeless as a portrait; the painter cannot copy a pictorial imprint of the scene but must try to capture and re-enact its life, what Chinese writers about art called its chi or breath.
American angst in the photographs of Gregory Crewdson
·         From:The Australian 
November 03, 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Grains of Sand

A little collection of recent small poems.

In the silence in between
the notes of bird song
I have hung suspended
in the perfect balance
of a deeper mystery.

In the slowly living mist
 the searching pilgrims gaze upon
 the great cathedral morning.

No voice can hope
 to echo the night’s sad wash
 against the rocks of dawn.

A veiled revelation
 dressed in shadows of sound
 foraging in the luminous dark
The unbound ocean wildly
 beats against the bulwark
 of my sober mind.
Across the border between you and I
 the wilful wind carries
the whispered secrets of my heart.

Unholy black voices
compelling me to blunder
 into grace

Unbroken circles opening
to the keening
of my heart.
Watching the miner’s canary
down deep in the darkness
of my soul

In the hour before the darkness
 let me lay my burdens down
 and drink in the fading light

As we walk together
will you carry for me
my broken wings?

For so long I stood
before tears washed away
all but the years

Tears: soft rain
feeding the moss that grows
on the stones deep
within the valley of my soul

feathers on the warm evening breeze
bottles on the late morning tide
papers on the hot swirling wind:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Cri de Coeur

Sometime ago— I suspect toward the end of the Dark Ages, if not sooner—mainstream western civilization made its pact with the devil and traded spiritual  livingness for the power to manipulate.

By retiring God and the angels to a heavenly rest home and separating the human and the natural, western civilization opened the Pandora’s Box of exploitation, development, conquest and control.

The emergence of virtual reality, the transformation of carriers of spiritual experience into art and entertainment, and the replacement of creativity with innovation are the inevitable outcomes of this historical trajectory.

And yes, there have been counter movements, such as the Romantics and neo-pagans, but these have been swept up in the inexorable movement of dispassionate, detached manipulative control. Each successive movement seems to have been less connected to the source and increasingly irrelevant. I doubt no-one’s sincerity, but some manifestations of  the desire for deep and real meaning are just plain silly.

Consider the alternative, still present in some peoples of the world: nature (including human) as the living embodiment of the gods, nature (including human) in a continuing process of being created, humans as partners of the gods in this process of endless, moment-to-moment creation.

I am not so naive as to reinvent the Noble Savage. All peoples at all times have interacted with, and changed, the environment to meet their purposes. We cannot return to some imagined state of pre-Fall innocence.

But we do need somehow to build a real bridge back to genuine sense of spirituality in-dwelling within the natural world which is also us, before we become disembodied entities with an existence only as a particular configuration within a vast network of electronic signals.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Against intellect and therapy, art as a dance

The dominant art trend since Impressionism has been towards what I would term intellectual art. This is art in which
  • value judgements cannot be based on the quality of the execution, canons of beauty or taste, or personal response
  • art cannot be judged as good or bad, only as successful or unsuccessful; either in terms of its marketability as a commodity or in terms of approved ideological positioning (e.g. promoting community, promoting social inclusion, critiquing sexism & discrimination)
  • images become mere signifiers to be decoded
  • approved socio-political issues can be “read” into the work
  • the art work is to be interpreted as text
  • all meanings are equal and therefore meaningless
  • the writing about the art work (by the artists and academicians) becomes more relevant than the work itself.
This trend in the art world is, as would be expected, a mere side-stream in the massive flow of change. We are moving inexorably towards a state in which the physical and social worlds are merely analogues of a logically consistent virtual world and therefore subject to even greater control, manipulation and exploitation. Part of this flow is the neutralisation of human activities (art, religion, psychology, philosophy) which could challenge this hegemony.  

One response to this development has been the emergence of a counter-culture of what I would term therapeutic art outside the approved mainstream. This is art whose creed is
  • follow(only) your instincts and  your heart,
  • let the creative genius within you out
  • silence your internal critic, let go of self-criticism, overcome the fear, doubt and insecurity that discourage artmaking
  • let it all flow and amazing things happen
  • there is no right or wrong way as long as it comes from within the inner self
  • be authentic, expressive  and spontaneous
  • don’t concern yourself with the outcome or the product; it’s the process of creating that is the important thing.
Christopher Allen, writing about the Australian artist David Boyd (Review, The Australian September 8-9, 2012), makes a critical point, which I think should be taken to heart by every intuitive artist. He contrasts David’s more highly regarded brother, Arthur ( who

...was an almost purely intuitive artist with very little capacity for intellectual analysis or self-criticism, and an often defective level of quality control. But he did possess a poetic mind that expressed itself in subjects that arose from the imagination rather than from any ideological preconception; and he regularly sought renewal in landscape, which forced him to attend to a world outside his own thoughts.

Arthur Boyd: Bride Running Away
Arthur Boyd: Rocks and Trees at the Shoalhaven River

On the other hand, David Boyd (
did not apply himself to looking carefully and patiently at the world, that he did not try to stretch himself, as Arthur instinctively knew he needed to do, beyond the orbit of his own inner life.
David Boyd: from the Murrembeena series

I believe that art must be rescued from the dead end of intellectual art. Art making needs to be revitalised to serve the human spirit —it is literally a matter of life or death for us all. (see My Art Credo). We need to restore the intuitive, holistic, relational side of our natures to artmaking, without, however, wallowing in the self-indulgent excess of art as therapy. As Christopher Allen points out, there are two aspects to this dance which are overlooked by the art-as-therapy practitioners: self-critical reflection and looking long and closely at the world.

In both the contemporary intellectual and therapeutic art there is a fundamental turning inwards and a turning away from the world as experienced. In rejecting the inner aspects of human experience, the intellectual impulse ends in the current reductio ad absurdum, where meaning exists only within a self-contained virtual system.  Such art lacks the depth arising from human experience. In rejecting the value of intellectual detachment, the therapeutic impulse ends in art which has depth and meaning only for the maker. Such art lacks the depth that arises from relationship between self and other.

In both movements, there is also a turning away from the craft of artmaking—a rejection, not merely of technique, but of attaching any importance at all to the manipulation of materials

Art making requires a sacred relationship between self and other, which often comes from that long, slow, patient and careful looking at the world and from wrestling with the materials of artmaking. It is in the dance between the two aspects of our natures— the intellectual, critical and manipulative—the intuitive, relational and holistic— that creativity and poetry flowers. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Waste not: frugality in oil painting

My parents were children of the Great Depression and young adults of the Second World War. From them I learned two, possibly contradictory, things about money: Spend like there's no tomorrow (because there may just not be) and waste nothing.

So I'm a profligate hoarder, kept in check (sort of) by common sense, circumstances and a smart wife. Of course, I can be sneaky...I'm not entirely sure that part of the motivation for making bricolage and assemblage might not be I get to hoard lots of lovely potentially useful art materials.

I also don't like to throw out the leftover oil paint at the end of a session or, like a lot of artists, let the crud build up on the palette.

I use up all the paint in two ways.

Using a palette knife, I scrape, dab and smear the leftover paint onto prepared canvases, boards or oil painting papers. This is great for covering up or partly covering paintings that haven't come together, which is how the Red Mandala set of paintings began.

When this is done, I use turpentine and a rag to clean the palette. I rub the rag over a prepared surface to create an imprimatur for new paintings. Sometimes, I rub back over one of these previously created surface to create a second layer. And sometimes, this comes together as a painting in its own right, or one that just requires a touch or two to bring it out. Like this:

(Oil on  paper, A4, c. 12 x 8 inches)

Perhaps, this may give you some ideas for using up all of your paint, even if your practice is based on acrylics, rather than oil paints. If you have any other ideas, I would love you to share them; please post a comment.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Poem-collage or collage-poem: Behind Her Eyes

In a post or two ago (here), I said I would try to develop a new poem-collage combine using an existing collage by musing on the already created collage and see what emerged. The challenge for me is to avoid writing a poem which is merely illustrative of the images contained in the collage. Rather I want to write a poem which goes to the essence of the matter, but in a different way to the collage.

Because the collage already had a title, which had come to me during the process of making the collage originally, that became the opening line of the poem. A period of looking at the collage was followed by a period of not looking, but writing. The writing of the poem followed my usual practice, which could best be described as a stream of consciousness approach, followed by speaking and editing, in a cycle until the poem seems to be settled.

Then it was a (not so) simple matter of arranging the words around the existing collage. I might mention a bit of "cheating" here, in that the two collages I have selected to work with, both have a considerable amount of space not taken up with images.

Here is the final result:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Straight forward art practice statement & funny bit

I make stuff. Sometimes I make stuff out of things I find or things other people throw away. Sometimes I make stuff by carving wood or concrete or stone. Sometimes I make stuff by putting different things together.

I make pictures by painting and drawing. Sometimes I use oil paints and sometimes I use watercolours. I don’t use acrylics much. Sometimes I use leftover house paint. I also draw with coloured pencils and pastels and pencils and ink and anything that will make a mark.

I also make pictures by gluing images together. Sometimes I take these images and play with them on the computer. Sometimes I add words to them.

Mostly I make art by playing with materials. I usually start off with a vague idea of what sort of thing I want to do and let the piece grow from there. Often what I want to do is sparked by something I have seen or intuited or imagined or just fallen into. Sometimes I might look at what other artists have done and use that as a starting point.

I hate art that doesn’t have poetry—everything by Damien Hirst, anything that is conceptual, pop art and anything where the artist uses the term "referencing". Contemporary justifications of art are rubbish, banal or derivative. Art with poetry is its own justification.

And now for the funny bit...I played around with a starter from artybollocks (a free automatic generator of artist statements), to make it far more academically acceptable and post-post-modern. I hope you enjoy it:

My art practice investigates the duality inherent in the intersection of acquired synesthesia and romance tourism. Significations embedded in the ephemera of tourism textualisations and discourse are deconstructed through the prism of synesthesia. The artworks, considered both as simulacrum and synecdoche, reference Rousseauvian depictions of the bon sauvage and the social critique implicit in arte povera , performative street art and the music of John Cage. They negotiate the indeterminate socio-political space between the appropriated “native” and the Other, in an attempt to re-engage with this reconstructed dialectic.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Poem-collage or collage-poem: further thoughts on combining poetry and collage

Thoughts of seductionI have been reading through my poems, looking to find one that would combine with an existing collage from my Flickr gallery 
to create a poem collage combine, as in my previous post (Poem collage or collage poem?)

What I have realised is how many of my poems are full of visual imagery. For example, this extract from a longer poem called "Of All Things That May Come":

     Down a pageant street, where
     strolling players wondered
     and every noble Mummer
     turned in at the door,
     the threshold of our trespasses.

     In the dimly lit church gathering
     the biblical fair maiden
     gathers the mouth of her prey
     to the kell of careless grace.

     In captive corners, the monks
     sink back into Latin reveries.
     No longer the only actors
     drawn sideways by Herodotus
     in the fourteenth cycle.

I suppose, given my love of both visual and written poetry, that I should not have been surprised that my poems contain so much visual imagery.

The "problem" is that such visually rich poetry just does not combine well with the actual visual imagery of the collage. There is a clash between the image in the reader's mind and the image on the page, rather than a working together of the words and the image, as in a poem-collage combine.

The alternative, to create collages which use the images from the poems themselves, would destroy the impact of the poem, as it would rob the reader of the power of  their own imagination. As I have remarked elsewhere (Jottings from the June 2012 Notebook) I want my art works to be portals to reverie.

A possible way through this impasse, which I shall try next, is to meditate and muse on the collage itself and see what (if anything) comes up in the way of poetry. Apparently this is called Ekphrastic poetry, that is, "poetry that reacts to or describes a visual work of art." Shadows of Doubt Poetry Art: Combining Poetry and Visual Art  and When Two Worlds Collide: Poetry and the Visual Arts have useful introductions to the concept and interesting insights. 

Postscript: Visual poetry (search on Google Images for examples) is based on signage and political slogans.It doesn't seem poetical to me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Poem collage or collage poem

For some time I have been wrestling with the question of how to combine text and image successfully in the one art work. The problem is that, given the dominance of literacy in our culture, the spoken word seems to dominate the image.

 I don't want the text to be explaining the image or the image to be illustrating the text. What I want is a synthesis in which both are given equal weight, with both text and image working together to evoke a response that neither could achieve alone.

Medieval artists and comic book artists achieve this by sectioning off the text in a ribbon, a box or speech balloon.

Colin McCahon achieved it by making the text the image. (As his work is still subject to copyright, I can't provide an example, but you can find an excellent example here

Chinese and Japanese artists combine calligraphy with the image, as for example in this painting by Gong Xian (17 century)

                                     (Recommended visit to see more examples and learn about Gong Xian and more)

My present exploration involves integrating a poem with a collage in the style of pulp noir novel covers. The poem and the collage were created independently, but when I was looking for material to bring together in the style of pulp noir, I felt intuitively that they seemed to belong together.

Personally I am pleased with this poem collage (or is it a collage poem or a collage-poem combine?).

I also love Naomi Backer's quite different visual response to the poem, which is far more joyous than the somewhat darker overtones of the poem collage.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wings hidden

Needle memories in the reaper box:
the valley roses, a broken clock,
long organ chords (can’t you sing
“Old Rivers Run”?), dreaming
bleached fish bones, red stones,
sea pillars like broken teeth
and ribbons out of time.

Everywhere I go to pray
out of this world
monkeys mark where I went down
in the boiling sea of special sin
which everyone must faithfully deny.

Red wine dogs taxi-walk in the doorway huddle,
dustman dogs and shipwrecked umbrellas dance
to a forgotten tango of cyanide dreams,
Rose of Ravens whispers to me “you’ll never dance broken,
for I am the ripe dreaming picker of minds
and there are wings hidden beneath your cloak.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Don't move

"Don’t move” the poet said
“Don’t move. Don’t move.
Your perfect beauty
in my verse eternal.”

“Don’t move” the artist said
“Don’t move. Don’t move.
Your form exquisite
in my line forever.”

“Don’t move” the lover said
“Don’t move. Don’t move.
Your  heart exulted
in my heart for always."

“Don’t move” you laughing said
“Don’t move. Don’t move."
slipping like a silver fish
through nets of glass.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Modern Tao Tale

“That’s not my rubbish!” the old man said, pointing to the gum wrapper near his feet. “I just sat down.”
“No matter,” the cleaner said, sweeping it into his scoop.

“People are so inconsiderate, throwing their rubbish on the floor like that.” said the old man.

“It’s a good thing they do,” the cleaner said smiling. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have a job.”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Foxtrot with MONA: Contemporary art & the Zeitgeist

Art is a sensitive barometer of shifts in the Zeitgeist.

Thanks to a recent visit to the Museum of Old and New Art ( ), I can now see clearly through the contemporary art scene’s

“...darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

David Walsh created MONA, not as a stuffy, or even classy, art museum, but rather as an adult Disneyland, a playground for the artistic mind.

We, the two adults and a teenage boy, were entranced and delighted by its wonders. Of course, there was some that wasn’t to my taste. This included the items like the CLOACA (See my earlier blog) which relied in part on shock or disgust (My post on art that shocks). But then, I don’t like horror movies, either.

And that was one clue to the insight.

Clue number two was the reaction of the teenage a kid in a games store. Leaping from exhibit to exhibit, “this is cool”, “wow, check this out”, ...and skipping past the boring ones.

Clue number three was my slower, more considered pace (I was always getting left behind) and the rhythm of that pace. Remember it’s the Museum of OLD and New Art. Most people focus only on the new art, but there are some wonderful antiquities and older pieces of art in the Museum. I fox-trotted through the museum. Quick, quick (past the bits that held no interest for me), slow (look at the interesting new art) hold (long contemplation at the old stuff).

Now, you could say that I’m just an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, not able to move with the times. (In my own defence, it’s not that I don’t want to move with the times, it’s that the times don’t want to move with me. ...I guess. I’ll need to explain that some time).However, my pace past the new art was about the same as everyone else’s.

Clue number 4 was why I took longer to look at the old compared to the new art. Looking at the new art was like solving a cryptic crossword puzzle. It required some understanding of the possible formation of the clues and a modest amount of intellectual effort to get to the Eureka moment of insight and appreciation of the elegance and cleverness of the solution. The old art drew me beyond a primarily intellectual and emotive response to something deeper. The mind stilled and I entered a wordless reverie.

So here is the conclusion (& forgive me, dear reader, for leaping to it and not taking you gently there):

The primary defining characteristic of successful contemporary art is that it is entertainment.