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

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.