There has been some debate recently in the blogs (see David Minton – Dead and Dying Flowers post #50) in regards to resolving the desire to work intuitively and the desire to enter artistic/stylistic debate which has lead to discussion of post-modernist failings (if I can sum it up that way). Jon Bowen makes a point that modernism reflected the ‘tenuous and fragile creatures we truly are’ and that post-modernism is ‘a thinly-veiled attempt to disguise this’.

While I can’t disagree with Jon’s summation, I think it is a little more involved than that. Certainly, I see a lot of sarcastic, contemptuous, angry work but I’ve recently come to realize that this work is as expressive as modernist work. What I see behind the irony and contempt is a real almost panicked desire to understand this global reality we now live in and perhaps frustration at the complexities of living which make us feel impotent.

The world has changed and living has become more difficult in many ways. We are losing touch with the things that keep us feeling. Simply stated, I think we feel overwhelmed. Who wants to feel the emotions of seeing our planet destroyed in front of our very eyes, or watch helplessly as other cultures are destroyed, or feel fear at the threat of catastrophic illness, or realize the our lives can be irrevocably changed by someone risking monies somewhere else on the planet. Dire vision perhaps, but all things we have witnessed recently.

Art has always reflected our view of the world and how we see ourselves in it, post-modernism is no exception.

It may seem crass; the business of doing art, but it is just that, it is business. And while some artists feel it is ‘defending one’s corner’ (to quote Jon Bowen again) in order to justify one’s work, I think of it as explaining my intentions. Let’s face it, communicating is at best ambiguous and if our spoken words can easily be misunderstood, what chances do our visual efforts have. And as such, in business people want to know where they stand and what they’re dealing with.

I’m not trying to defend post-modernism, in fact there is no defense for it, a feeling many had once about modernism, but I do think it is important to remember that it expresses our time; it reflects the issues were thinking about, even if some artists would refute that publicly.

In regard to intuition, I think it is important not to confuse impulse with intuition. David Minton says, ‘Intuition can be simply a polite term for blindness. Gut reaction: all sorts of crimes are committed on the basis of it. Trusting one’s intuition might be the negation of judgment. Intuition is taste, which in turn is internalized learned value appearing as natural.’ I would apply those terms to impulse rather than intuition. But then I freely admit that I have perhaps had a different experience of intuition.

However you look at it, it’s all good debate and good material for pondering.


Here are some lessons I’ve learned from reading art history:

– Don’t feel you have to destroy your work if you didn’t succeed, hold onto it and when they find you it will all be there for them to see (lesson from Louise Bourgeois).

– Sometimes it takes 25 years for someone to buy for a song and resell for a small fortune, that dusty work in your studio corner, turning it into a masterpiece and you a genius (lesson from Picasso).

– Keep working and follow your own path (from Phillip Guston).

– Art historians are trying to figure this stuff out too.

– Make friends in the art world, it’s a cold indifferent place and having someone to talk to is nice (learned from Robert Rauschenberg).

– Keep working, it takes a long time for people to find you and listen.

– Only if you are young & British, have a degree show and have Charles Saatchi actively collecting at the same time will you have instant success.

– Hook up with a gallery when it’s emerging too, chances are you will make your mark together (learned from Leo Castelli).

– Think for yourself, nobody wants a copycat, unless you’re Sturtevant

– Anything goes in art – up to a point. Art that looks at old issues in a new way or new issues that haven’t been realized yet get noticed (learned from Gillian wearing).

– Make time to read, you’ll see more clearly how you stand.

– Write plain English and don’t use art-speak, it’s a piss-off and it only looks like it covers the fact you have nothing to say and know it (learned from E.H. Gombrich – meaning his explanations are perfect).

– Learn the vocabulary so you know when someone is trying to cover the fact they have nothing to say and know it (learned from Rosalind Krauss – meaning she is never fooled).

– The art-speak vocabulary comes from philosophy and we all know how straight forward those guys are!

– Think for yourself, you’ll find other artists around the world have already had the same thoughts, proving two things: 1. there is no original thought 2. you’re connected

– Be patient and let a concept develop. What you’re working on now may not be relevant but it may lead you to something that is (learned from Jackson Pollock)

– Artists are made not taught (learned from Rob Turner)

– Keep your personal and artistic integrity. You may become an influence first and a success second (learned from Richard Diebenkorn)



I have always been kind of awed reading about artists who read philosophy. It seemed so very intellectual, so ‘New York’, so removed from my own experiences. Now I’m an artist reading philosophy and it’s not so impressive. It strikes me as a lot of circular thinking trying to state the obvious, kind of like art.

That is the interesting thing about The Death and Return of the Author by Seán Burke; he is straightening out the circular logic of Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. Burke is looking logically at the theory of ‘death of the author’ and basically showing it to be ‘philosophically untenable’. The question of identity, I believe, has never been more important than it is now and basing ideology on theories which are perhaps not all they should be in terms of ‘truth and logic’ can be misguided, to say the least.

My own work has passed through several theoretical phases in an attempt to find meaning and understanding of what I produce. A question of identity always seems to be at the bottom of it all. It’s not necessarily a search for my own identity; I feel it is more general than that. Reading art history makes me feel more secure in following that question of identity because it seems that most artists are questioning identity in terms of a society that shapes and impacts living, indeed our very selves.

Medium and the debate of structuralism vs. post-structuralism is a big part of this identity question I think. So much of art is non-structured in the sense that it is conceptual in nature and doesn’t adhere to traditional media. But an interesting thing I see from reading art history is so many of the artists working in a post-structuralistic way find their way back to painting or other traditional, structured media.

I find this compelling and it makes me consider seriously not only theory/concept but also media for my own work. The debate over ‘the object’ and commercialism is a valid one, but perhaps one that is moot, because let’s face it, all new ideologies will be subsumed by the market eventually.

I’m looking for what is true to the work rather than what is fashionable at the moment.


This is the first time I have kept a blog and I feel a little apprehensive about making my thoughts public. But no matter, it’s all about deeper understanding and this is a great way to experience both sides of it.

I read a lot of art history. In fact, a few years ago I made the decision to stop reading literature, which I love, and focus my efforts on art history, which I love even more. And I have never regretted a minute’s time reading.

Currently I’m reading two books, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, edited by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz and The Death and Return of the Author, by Seán Burke. I’ve had Theories and Documents for years and have picked my way through, reading bits I was interested in, but I determined I would read the whole thing from beginning to end this time. It of course has led me off on tangents, which is how I found my way to The Death and Return of the Author. I took a turn looking into Roland Barthes and his ‘Death of the Author’. I was searching for the original essay of this title but came upon Burke’s book and bought it because it was exactly what I was looking for.

The detour paid off because I found the very nugget of truth I was trying to find in my own theorizing and statement writing. I had been walking all around it but hadn’t stumbled on it until I read this:

‘Even if the author-creator had created the most perfect autobiography, or confession, he would , nonetheless have remained, in so far as he had produced it, outside of the universe represented within it. If I tell (orally or in writing) an event that I have just lived, in so far as ‘I am telling'(orally or in writing) this event, I find myself already outside of the time-space in which the event occurred. To identify oneself absolutely with oneself, to identify one’s ‘I’ with the ‘I’ that I tell is as impossible as to lift oneself up by one’s hair…’

Mikhail Bakhtin

This quote allowed me to revise my artist statement and nail the concept I was trying to formulate but couldn’t. My artist statement now reads, with the introduction of the quote above:

I’m exploring this impossibility of self identity, not only in terms of time-space but also in terms of forces outside of myself which influence my actions. An artist never creates alone and the intent of the artist is never fully realized as conceived. There are always things outside the artist which impact the moment of creation.

This reinterpreted gesture is not a search for identity; it’s not a search at all. It simply is realization. It realizes the paradox that the ‘I’ exists only within context and the ‘I’ faces obliteration from that same context.

And I hope this is a good introduction into this blog and my head.