Category Archives: Thursday Thoughts

Thursday Thoughts: Robert Smithson Quote

“In the illusory babel of language, an artist might advance specifically to get lost, and to intoxicate himself in dizzying syntaxes, seeking odd intersections of meaning, strange corridors of history, unexpected echoes, unknown humors, or voids of knowledge..but this quest is risky, full of bottomless fictions and endless architectures and counter-architectures…and at the end, if there is an end, are perhaps only meaningless reverberations…

Here language ‘covers’ rather than ‘discovers’ its sites and situations. Here, language ‘closes’ rather than ‘discloses’ doors to utilitarian interpretations and explanations. The language of the artists and critics become paradigmatic reflections in a looking-glass babel that is fabricated according to Pascal’s remark, ‘Nature is an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’ Language becomes an infinite museum, whose center is everywhere and whose limits are nowhere.

Language is built not written… Words for mental processes are all derived from physical things.”

-Robert Smithson from “A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art”

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Thursday Thoughts: Circles

“The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary picture is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his essay “Circles”

Circuit. Ink, acrylic, flashe, and mylar on watercolor paper. 24″x18″ © Jacob Rowan

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Thursday Thoughts: White and Red

Red is the most joyful and dreadful thing in the physical universe; it is the fiercest note, it is the highest light, it is the place where the walls of this world of ours wear thinnest and something beyond burns through.

White is not a mere absence of color; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. God paints in many colors; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white.”

~G.K. Chesterton

Choruses

 

Does anybody have any good quotes about black as a color?

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Thursday Thoughts:

Art exists adjacent to the artist’s performed persona.

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Thursday Thoughts: Interesting Object, Semantic Gesture, or Speculative Fiction

I want to make art that functions at three levels:

  1. As an interesting object that invites consideration. Because an artwork is a thing and a sign rather than a language or code it can invoke a variety of images and feelings in a viewer that become closely connected to their personal experiences. At that level I’m not communicating through art so much as sending interesting (and hopefully beautiful) objects out into the world for others to enjoy.
  2. As a semantic gesture. Rather than seeing art in terms of form and content I like to think of art as a gesture of communication that has its own internal logic and structure. My hope is that a patient viewer who saw several of my pieces and perhaps read my artist’s statement could construct their perceptions into something resembling the sense I had while creating the work. Of course it’s not an exact translation (that’s half the fun of art), but perhaps they can see a gesture of my idea.
  3. As a speculative fiction. Every aspect of my process from the theorizing I do here to the practical decisions made in the studio construct a speculative fiction–a metaphorical microcosm within the fullness of reality and lived experience. To make art is to isolate and imaginatively engage with a facet of life. Just as a work of fiction like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 presents a picture for how the world might be, I hope the entire scope of my practice presents a model for how the world might be seen or engaged with.

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Thursday Thoughts: A possible definition of creativity

The official definition of creativity (according to the New Oxford American Dictionary) is: the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

I would like to suggest an alternative definition.

Creativity is the structuring of the chaos and brokenness of our world into some kind of order.

Within that definition everyone from air traffic controllers and bankers to painters and bakers are engaged in creative activity.

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Thursday Thoughts: How a painting works

Proteus, Cy Twombly, 1984

The following is paraphrased from Roland Barthes’ The Wisdom of Art.

Whenever we look at a painting the question is, “what is happening here?” The picture is a kind of theater, the curtain parts, we watch, we wait, we receive, we understand, and when the scene is over and the picture gone, we remember. In a painting there occurs a fact, an accident, an outcome, a surprise, and an action.

The fact is the tangible substance we see. We imbue everything we see with meaning; the alchemy of painting is that despite the meaning the materials also remain stubbornly things (facts). Even if the painting is a result of precise calculation, there is still the impression of accident. We sometimes call this inspiration, a creative force that is the euphoria of chance. The fact and the accident together created an outcome, which is the overall effect of the work. This effect can not be located or described in a series of details. The outcome creates a surprise. In the Christian tradition we would call this illumination, a kind of mental shock which grants access, regardless of all known intellectual means, to truth. Last is the action, which is the viewer’s engagement with the painting. One can engage the painting from a place of culture (a familiarity with the references contained), from a place of specialization (an awareness of the historical and technical tradition), from a place of pleasure (aesthetic or conceptual enjoyment), from a place of memory (the ghost that follows the viewer long after they have left the painting), and from a place of production (the desire to re-produce the work that arises from an awareness of how the work was made).

 

 

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Thursday Thoughts: Art as Alchemy

I was looking through Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols and found this description of Alchemy:

Alchemy is a symbolic technique which seeks to materialize spiritual truths. It is a poetic, religious, and scientific endeavor. The goal is to experience material phenomena as symbols which point to a complete theory of the universe and the destiny of the soul (the secret of discovering gold would be a mark of divine favor and thus success). [paraphrased from my notes and memory rather than quoted word for word]

While it’s not a perfect metaphor, the notion of Alchemy is a helpful model for my own artistic process.

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Thursday Thoughts: Selected Quotes from “The Aesthetics of Silence” by Susan Sontag

“Every era has to reinvent the project of “spirituality” for itself. (Spirituality = plans, terminologies, ideas of deportment aimed at the resolution of painful structural contradictions inherent in the human situation, at the completion of human consciousness, at transcendence.) In the modern era, one of the most active metaphors for the spiritual project is “art.”

…The newer myth, derived from a post-psychological conception of consciousness, installs within the activity of art many of the paradoxes involved in attaining an absolute state of being described by the great religious mystics. As the activity of the mystic must end in a via negative, a theology of God’s absence, a craving for the cloud of unknowingness beyond knowledge and for the silence beyond speech, so art must tend toward anti-art, the elimination of the “subject” (the “object,” the “image”), the substitution of chance for intention, and the pursuit of silence.

…no longer a confession, art is more than ever a deliverance, an exercise in asceticism. Through it, the artist becomes purified — of himself and, eventually, of his art, The artist (if not art itself) is still engaged in a progress toward “the good.” But formerly, the artist’s good was mastery of and fulfillment in his art. Now it’s suggested that the highest good for the artist is to reach that point where those goals of excellence become insignificant to him, emotionally and ethically, and he is more satisfied by being silent than by finding a voice in art.

…Committed to the idea that the power of art is located in its power to negate, the ultimate weapon in the artist’s inconsistent war with his audience is to verge closer and closer to silence… And none of the aggressions committed intentionally or inadvertently by modern artists have succeeded in either abolishing the audience or transforming it into something else. (A community engaged in a common activity?) They cannot. As long as art is understood and valued as an “absolute” activity, it will be a separate, elitist one. Elites presuppose masses. So far as the best art defines itself by essentially “priestly” aims, it presupposes and confirms the existence of a relatively passive, never fully initiated, voyeuristic laity which is regularly convoked to watch, listen, read, or hear — and then sent away.

…But these programs for art’s impoverishment must not be understood simply as terroristic admonitions to audiences, but as strategies for improving the audience’s experience. The notions of silence, emptiness, reduction, sketch out new prescriptions for looking, hearing, etc. — specifically, either for having a more immediate, sensuous experience of art or for confronting the art work in a more conscious, conceptual way.

…Contemporary art, no matter how much it’s defined itself by a taste for negation, can still be analyzed as a set of assertions, of a formal kind. For instance, each work of art gives us a form or paradigm or model of knowing something, an epistemology.”

You can find the complete essay online or in her collection Styles of Radical Will.

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Thursday Thoughts: John Dewey on what makes bad art

“We derive the impression that the artist is trying to regulate by conscious intent the nature of the emotion aroused. We are irritated by a feeling that he is manipulating materials to secure an effect decided upon in advance. The facets of the work are held together by some external force. The author, not the subject matter, is the arbiter.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way that I make art. Aesthetically, I find order and structure fascinating. A problem arises when that interest in order expands into a desire for control over every facet of the creative process and the subsequent experience of my work. I want to know ahead of time how a piece will turn out how my viewer’s will “read” it. When an artist starts with a message and stays on task, analyzing every element to be in as much control as possible over his audience, that is propaganda. Good art is made by those who are looking for truth and meaning, not those who already have all the answers. I want to have a posture of openness and humility as I work. In an undergraduate paper I once wrote, “art-making is a process of discovery and response,” a sentiment I’d like to hold on to. I could just make pretty pictures from a place of comfortable control, but the whole reason I make art is to learn and discover.

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