Sunday, June 26, 2011

practicing ...

It is a practice. It is all a practice. Each day is filled with subtle adjustments edging infinitesimally toward the goal of a project destined for failure. It is ever this striving that moves us … and I mean us … the collective … forward.

I have thought for a long time on the meaning of “goodness.” What can it possibly mean? In some limited way it is a measuring against some criteria. People say over and over again, all meaning many different things … “Is it a ‘good’ painting?” is he or she “a ‘good’ painter.” You would think, used in this context that “good” would have no real ethical content, that it would simply refer to some quality … some ascertainable quality.

I have known for some time that art is so much religion and that the conceptions of it inspires as much passion as any religious belief. There are attached to our definitions a vigor that spills over into the world with righteousness. With that “good” represents clearly a passing of judgment on something other than the quality of a work – or in addition. The appellation of “good painter”, “good artist” transcends these limits and extends to the quality of humanity … to be revered … or conversely … “a poor painter, a bad painter” … to be reviled.

I am as fervent in these opinions as all my associates.

A good painter:

• A commitment to the practice – a love and a longing to take up the challenges of that history and that material.
• A dwelling on a goal … ever moving forward … a program within the work – (for me it has been the goal of making manifest in material ideas in the same kind of why that the Gothic Cathedrals embody the ideas of Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Abbot Suger. So that my work is not an illustration but a body.)
• For the work to be driven by an internal dialogue, which incorporates and responds to the external but which has a subject of its own.


  1. Thanks Lane!

    I have been wondering about some of these same issues in relationship to my own conceptualizations and goals as an artist.
    I think "good" is dependent upon on what criteria of judgment we rely on as artists. For many of us, it is the balance between the phenomenal sense of "rightness" and our situational goals.

    In my framing this phenomenal "rightness" is based on those visual experiences that we are drawn to as young artists and that evolve over time. I think that the phenomenal experiences that I am describing are distinct from decisions that are just made just based on mimicry and design, as they represent a movement towards that which one is uniquely positioned to express. Of course getting to this point is elusive….working through influences, establishing a feedback loop within practice, developing personal insights into why this visual experience over that takes some of us a long time to get there and some of us never do.

    In writing this I can't help but think of the similarity of this framing with the thought of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty as both rely on notions of authenticity (rightness) a measure of success. While I don't quite feel comfortable with notions of the authentic, I do think, at least for me, that finding one's project as an artist is a combination of finding embodied phenomenal themes of interest that are embedded in our evolving characters and yet are also inversely a part of a unique self construction/project. Sorry to slip between self as a product and art as project, obviously this framing sees them as being similar.

    So what drives us to move beyond the initial recognition of a phenomenal theme/interest? It varies no doubt, but I think it is driven for many by the process of coming to terms with artistic practice as situated. To lean on Heidegger again, it is in the process of coming to terms with our “throwness” or the ways in which our projects recognize that they are not just our own phenomenological embodiments, and their communicative intents, rather they are communicative intents that enter into a network of meaning that is a differential construction and dependent on history. Here the question of defining /achieving unique constructions becomes much more difficult. The crux is the differential, and the difficulty of creating difference that still is measured as “right”, without our project just becoming strategic difference.

    This is the real rub isn’t it?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Lately, I have been thinking about what implications thinking about art as "post historical" might have on this line of thinking.

    If art's language is not really evolving except through infinite variation of projects that are very close to being the same, is art "post-historical" and as such, does it, as manifested in culture just become about situational topicality and/or the cycle of fashions?


    Instead of avant-gardism would the literary model of striving to renew metaphorical expressions of "dead metaphors" be more productive?

  4. Beautiful, wonderful response! Thank you Phillip! and it hurts none at all that I agree with all that you say.

    I recently read and was thinking about "Cezanne's Doubt" ... and subsequently thinking in tandem with this about this ongoing existentialist doubt that Painting seems to suffer from.

    You are right about coming to terms with "a situated practice and you are right that "they are communicative intents that enter into a network of meaning..." and maybe not as a Post-historical condition, their relevance relies not on the uniqueness of construction but on the resonance of that construction ... (as in the literary model you cited.)

    I find interesting the disconnect between the performance of art, Painting, before the audience ... and what this call and response verifies ... in contrast with these kinds of explorations.

  5. Lane, my thinking on the post-historical is in relationship to the teleological direction of the history of art as one of achieve the freedom of a multiplicity of approaches.

    What is resonance? I would feel more comfortable with something along the lines of 'truth' in Adorno's aesthetics. We recognize the artwork's 'truth' (correspondence, coherence, appropriate creative/innovative response) In his thinking there is a dialectic at work within art works between their form and their content. This relationship, and this speaks to your next question, asks for critical interpretive engagement about the works relationship to truth content either within its own internal relations, and/or its relationship to that which is external to it. To truly engage with an artwork one has to understand the complexity of its internal dynamics but also the sociohistorical context from which it emerges.

    So in this framing, artistic practice is an interpretive practice that asks for interpretations/evaluations from its audience. The verification would be an acknowledgement of the appropriateness of the artist's interpretive project. The value of this relation to the viewer is that allows audiences to practice the complex process of engagement with interpretative modalities.

    The linchpin in my thinking revolves around, Adorno again here, the artwork's relationship to autonomy. Artworks are both free and not free in his thinking. They maintain the illusion of freedom, yet in actuality are constrained in some respects to their sociohistorical moment. They are, like in the above, situated, so to what degree do they become appropriate and beneficial dynamic manifestations of the inter-mixture of form/content / free/not free is the question here. ... As it is for us as individuals.

    So art in this framework becomes an analog of self interpretation on the part of the artist, but also on the viewer. Art is a heuristic.

  6. Communicative praxis weaves a space for interpretive subjectivity.

  7. We see things very similarly. The balance between internal and external is present in all of these considerations. I don't think it's possible in that exchange to fully emancipate the artist or the work from history - to do so would produce a naive and uninformed art. Nevertheless it is always the work of a certain kind of artist, I won't say authentic or true, to push against that frame and to try to hear clearly the internal dialogue.

    There is a kind of practice that is not as driven by product as it is by search and research. This kind of practice is slow and takes a good deal of time to mature ... as you say ... if ever. In this the internal dialogue has primacy.