Tag Archives: art
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.
“Neither style nor form, in their essence, are derived from convention; they always must be, and are, created anew, and establish and follow their own laws. It is undeniable that certain period–and the most fortunate ones–have established clearly defined patterns or standards which give the artist a basis on which to create freely. Our own is not one of these; today the individual is obliged to discover his own language before he has completed the master of it. Where such standards exist, however, they retain their vitality only as long as they are in the process of development. After this process has stopped they wither and die and can be re-created only by a conscious and essentially artificial effort, since they are produced by unique and unrecoverable impulse, and are suited only to the content which has grown with them.”
~Roger Sessions: The Composer and His Message
I am intrigued by this quote and the dichotomy between the need for the form (or style) to emerge organically from the content of a work of art and the value of established patterns or standards which serve as a base from which the artists can operate. The dominant langue of art-making during my undergraduate education was of “finding your unique voice or visual vocabulary.” I love making art in this way–responding to my materials and discovering a unique vocabulary through constant making. However, it is a daunting task to be asked to create a language while seeking to master the seemingly infinitely possibility of various media. I wonder if the strength of early modern art is a result of the established patterns they were operating out of, and in many cases rejecting. They were artists who were educated in the traditional schools of thought and from that basis set about to free art and find their own vision and a suitable language for it. Now there is no dominant standard to respond to, whether positively or negatively and all art exists in a free for all to be passively accepted or rejected. This is something I intend to continue mulling over.
“But it seems to be less obvious somehow that to create anything at all in any field, and especially anything of outstanding worth, requires nonconformity, or want of satisfaction with things as they are. The creative person–the nonconformist–may be in profound disagreement with the present way of things, or he may simply wish to add his views, to render a personal account of matters…
…Without the person of outspoken opinion, however, without the critic, without the visionary, with the nonconformist, any society of whatever degree of perfection must fall into decay. Its habits (let us say its virtues) will inevitably become entrenched and tyrannical; its controls will become inaccessible to the ordinary citizen.
But I do not wish to underrate the importance of the conformist himself–or perhaps an apter term would be the conservative. In art, the conservative is the vigorous custodian of the artistic treasures of a civilization, of its established values and its tastes…However greatly the creative artist may chafe at entrenched conservatism, it is still quite true that his own work is both sustained and enriched by it…
…Nonconformity is the basic pre-condition of art, as it is the precondition of good thinking and therefore of growth and greatness in a people.”
~Ben Shahn, On Nonconformity
This is part of an old drawing from early 2014 which I wasn’t satisfied with and which has been tucked way in an unused corner of my studio. Recently I’ve developed some new techniques involving graphite over ink and I thought I’d try to breath some new life into this drawing. The working title is Babel.
In every field of human endeavor there is a specific practice that most directly speaks to the fundamental nature of that field. That practice serves as the philosophical manifestation of its arena—not an academic philosophy, but a lived-in, worked-in philosophy. To study philosophy is to study the core of a thing – the why, how, and what – and every discipline has such a core. Literature has poetry, the pure exploration of language and structure; music has the piano, the most versatile and complete of instruments. Science has research, the pursuit of pure understanding. The visual arts have fine art or gallery art, art that exists for its own sake and which explores the formal and conceptual limits of the field. Within fine art, however, there is an even more specific category that most directly touches on the philosophy of art: drawing.
Traditionally, drawing has often been defined in negative terms, by what it is not—a finished piece, a work using a full range of colors, a complex multi-layered work, etc. The contemporary description is more generous: “Drawing as an art form is principally understood to have an essential quality of directness and transparency: Its great strength is the clarity and simplicity through which the viewer can grasp the artist’s actions, ideas, or emotions.” (Drury/Stryker, Ch. 1) This explanation gets at the heart of what drawing does rather dealing with surface questions of medium and appearance. The emphasis on “clarity and simplicity” is a key aspect in understanding drawing as philosophy.
I would like to suggest here that drawing serves as the necessary base or core for art and is the most direct means of studying the theoretical basis of aesthetic experience. Continue reading