Tag Archives: Quotes

The function of artists (according to William V. Dunning)

“Artists have traditionally examined the relationship between reality, illusion, and how the mind experiences these phenomena–the influence of human visual perception. In tune with recent philosophers, recent artists have focused on how language, or a mind that is constructed to invent and understand the world through language, influences our perception of reality.”

From Advice to Young Artists in a Postmodern Era by William V. Dunning

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Jerry Saltz’s abandoned illuminations for “The Divine Comedy”

The following is a combination of quotes from the critic Jerry Saltz’s article “My Life as a Failed Artist.”

“Before I became a critic, I was an artist, and for about ten years, beginning in the early 1970s, I feverishly devoted myself to a single, gigantic project: illustrating the entirety of Dante’s Divine Comedy — starting with Inferno.

“These are the gates of hell. The famous inscription appears above the portal, the one that begins, in first person, “I Am the Way Into the City of Woe, I Am the Way to a Forsaken People.” There are no doors on the Gates of Hell because anyone who ventures too close can easily enter. Around the gate are ten diagrammatic spinning spheres, one for each of the levels of hell.”

[Why Dante?] Dante is a paradigmatic figure of the canon — therefore a perfect picture of the dream of artistic canonization — but he’s also a weirdo Boschian fantasist and so satisfied my obsession with hermetic traditions, indexes, myth, archaic cultures, and mystics and visionaries like William Blake. This late-medieval universe freed me from making choices; the story and structure told me exactly what to do, what to draw, where to draw it, what came next, what shape things should be, everything, even sometimes governing colors, as with making Virgil blue and Dante red according to past art. Without knowing it but in desperate need, I’d contrived a machine that allowed me to make things that I couldn’t predict; I still think of this as one of an artist’s first jobs.

“These are the gates of the citadel of Limbo, the First Circle of Hell, the Virtuous Pagans. Here Dante meets Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Horace, Ovid, Lucan, Hector, Aeneas, and many others whose only punishment is to live without hope. The gold, silver, and bronze spheres represent the souls of those who Dante meets there.”

The project was meant to take me 25 years, but I only made it to the fourth canto by the time I quit; nevertheless, in that time I had developed an unbelievably intricate language that would allow me, a technically poor draughtsman and even worse painter, to depict Dante’s complex narrative.

“A large diagrammatic drawing of the Opportunists being blown in all different directions in the tempest of hell.”

[Oscar Wilde] wrote that art that’s too obvious, that we “know too quickly,” that is “too intelligible,” fails. “The one thing not worth looking at is the obvious.” This sort of art tells you everything in an instant and can only tell you the same thing forever. My work had the opposite problem. It was vague, arcane, and therefore obsolete. Only I could decipher it.

I often judge young artists based on whether I think they have the character necessary to solve the inevitable problems in their work….Oscar Wilde said, “Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation at all.” Artists have to be self-critical enough not to just attack everything they do. I had self-doubt but not a real self-critical facility; instead I indiscriminately loved or hated everything I did. Instead of gearing up and fighting back, I gave in and got out.”

You can find more images from this project here.

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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: Art according to Hans Hofmann

The Search for the Real by Hans Hofmann

The Search for the Real by Hans Hofmann. I definitely recommend getting your hands on a copy of this book. 

“Creation is dominated by three absolutely different factors: first, nature, which affects us by its laws; second, the artist, who creates a spiritual contact with nature and with his materials; and third, the medium of expression through which the artist translates his inner world…The impulse of nature, fused through the personality of the artist by laws arising from the particular nature of the medium, produces the rhythm and personal expression of a work.”

It should be noted that what Hofmann means by “spiritual” should not be confused with the religious use of word. For him the spiritual is an emotional and intellectual synthesis of relationships perceived in nature, rationally, or intuitively.

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Thursday Thoughts: T.S. Eliot Quote

T. S. Eliot had a theory about poetry, which he explained in an essay called Tradition and the Individual Talent. “Most of us,” Eliot wrote, “think of poets as people who express their feelings in verse.” He thought poetry was stranger than that. As Eliot saw it, poets were less like people and more like laboratories. “The poet has, not a ‘personality’ to express,” he wrote, “but a particular medium . . . in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways.” Within this medium, ordinary emotions are compressed together until they produce an “art emotion”—an emotion that doesn’t exist in ordinary life, and is available only through the poem. That’s the whole point of poetry: while we’re under its spell, we’re not ourselves, or anyone; we feel things no ordinary person feels. “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality,” he concluded.

The above is quoted from a New Yorker article.

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Thursday Thoughts: Line

“There is a certain kind of penmanship made in schools which seems to draw around the letters of a word like a wire, and there is another kind of penmanship, much more human, that seems to be the word.

…Don’t become a victim of line.”

~Robert Henri from The Art Spirit

Find a way to make lines express what you see. Lines are not how nature expresses herself, they are a notational system for recording the experience of seeing. Properly employing that system is one of the primary concerns of drawing.

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Thursday Thoughts: On Nonconformity

Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn

“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

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