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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Artist’s Art of Engagement


Due to the island’s relative isolation, accessible only by ferry until 1963, Fairweather was able to engage with the outside world— on his own terms.
Angela Goddard Ian Fairweather Late Works 1953–74, Queensland Art Gallery 2012                                

Every artist needs to set their own terms for engagement with the outside world. The shape and extent of that engagement will vary from artist to artist, but the crucial thing is to be able to control it so that it feeds, rather than erodes, the creative impulse.


The world has been weighing heavily on me of late: revelations about the power of corporate greed and totalitarian surveillance in the United States; the callousness of the Australian government towards asylum seekers, the usual parade of murder, rape, racist and religious violence and war.

Then I came across this brilliant article by Bernard-Henri Lévy, Why Contemporary Art Matters Now at the Daily Beast. This hit me right between the eyes:-

And God knows current events have moved me, will continue to move me, and move me each week in these columns.
But I also know that giving oneself up entirely to current events is a threat to the spirit.
To array oneself on the side of death and its accumulation of despair and hopelessness, or to stand on the side of life and the inner hopefulness that is always present in the work of the artist. 

Engaged how?

Every age produces art in the spirit of its times: is contemporary art merely entertainment based on techno-gimmickry? Is it the modern opium of the masses? Has it become, like sport, just one more distraction on the road between birth and death? Existential valium? Prolefeed?

So it is the 80s that we have to thank for all the exploitative sub-artistic product manufactured by Jeff Koons and his like, but also for the blatant domination of contemporary art by money and fashion (Christopher Allen Follow the Money The Australian Review June 15-16 2013)

And in the same issue

What is Koons if not an avatar, an ego overtaken by a whole system of market-induced appetites? (Sebastian Smee, Masters of invention: MoMA in Perth The Australian Review June 15-16 2013)

Maybe, to quote Alan Watts: We have become so tied up in our minds we have lost our senses.

Perhaps we should rethink the role of art and our relationship to it:

Ryckmans emphasises the high value placed on the work of the amateur in Chinese art. A professional artist was considered merely a craftsman, working with ‘slick fluency’ and “technical virtuosity” for reward. Conversely for the amateur, painting was seen as a contemplative act of self-cultivation and spiritual discipline.
Dael Allison Isolation and Creativity: Ian Fairweather’s 1952 Raft Journey,                                        

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reflecting on my art

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reflecting on my art of late, spurred on by a sense of vague dissatisfaction and stagnation (the Sargasso Sea of the soul).  It seems to be some sort of turning point, which hopefully will spit me out into a new fresh current.  This is a bit of me talking to an imaginary audience and trying to make sense.

A great man once said something like this:
“The creative force cannot be captured in words. Oh, you can talk about it, but the only way to know it is to experience it.”

In a much smaller way, this is true for one type of art, which I call poetic or real art. It’s the only type of art which I am interested in. It’s the type of art which I have the intention to create. Whether I succeed or not (and I think it’s more often not), is an entirely different question.

So, you can infer from that, that I am not the kind of artist who has an idea, or selects a theme from a set of social or political issues and then sets about exploring those ideas or themes. If I wanted to do that, I would use the tools of the mind—words, concepts, notions, logic—not the tools of the senses, the emotions and the imagination.

I don’t, indeed cannot, begin with an idea; the idea comes later, much later, in the process, if at all. It’s part of the “talking about”, rather than the experiencing. In fact, to talk about any of my works of art, I need to distance myself from them and approach them as a stranger would. Out of that encounter and that experience, I might be able to talk about the work and distil some themes.

Actually, I have been doing quite a deal of reflecting on my art practice lately and I am starting to understand (as apart from know) that what interests me centres around the visceral, perceptual, emotive and imaginative encounter with the real. A work of art concentrates and distils that encounter down to its essence. By doing that, in Shelley’s words, “it purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being.” (A Defence of Poetry) and enables us to re-encounter and re-experience the real world with refreshed senses.

Hence, the “themes” which interest me:

  • Ambiguity—how one thing can be seem as something else or several things at once
  • Transformation—how something can morph into another
  • Pareidolia—how images can be suddenly perceived from amorphous and vague shapes
  • Viscerality—how the body feels movement and position sympathetically with an image or object
  • Essence—how to reveal the virtue beyond the virtuality
  • Enigma, paradox, mystery—how to numb the mind so understanding no longer blocks knowing.
  • Transitional states—where something is neither what it was or what it will yet become, and yet is both
  • Flow—of time, of things, of events, of paint.
This is combined with an aesthetic sensibility which values asymmetry and organic order over geometric precision and constructed order; which values the poignant patina of age and wear over the flash gimmickry of the fashionable state-of-the-art; which values beauty, in all its naked terror, over mere prettiness and decoration.

As for subject matter—in the sense of what motifs—I am attracted to the figure and the face, landscapes and seascapes, and organic forms.