Part 1

I wonder sometimes if I will ever be able to learn enough (I already know the answer to that is, no).

I just finished reading an essay by Rosalind Krauss called Line as Language. It was first published as catalogue text for the exhibition ‘Line as Language: Six Artists Draw’ at Princeton University Art Museum, February 23 – March 31, 1974. This essay is part of Krauss’ anthology, Perpetual Inventory. It is an important essay for me because it discusses many of the issues I grapple with in my own work, the self, context, space and the interaction of these things on each other.

Being 1974, Krauss is discussing post painterly abstraction – Jasper Johns and Frank Stella, minimalism – Donald Judd, Robert Morris, conceptualism – Sol Lewitt, Mel Bochner and other artists involved in these movements. Her discussion revolves around the changing view of the self. In the forties and fifties abstract expressionism worked from the view of the self as interior; a private space known only to the individual and therefore any communication from this space must move outward as an act of expression. The artists who came after the abstract expressionists (we call them postmodern now) conceived of the self in direct opposition to this former view. The self was not a private interior space but a public space where stimulus and information remained visible. These artists saw meaning not as originating from the private self but passing into the self, annulling any idea of autonomy.

Philosophically, according to Krauss, this concept of the self, as not being formed before receiving outside stimulus, started with Wittgenstein in his Blue Book when he asks what it means to know a tune. In literature of the late 50’s, Samuel Beckett and others, in the nouveau roman, were already working with this concept of the self. This of course, led to the ‘death of the author’ concept by Barthes. It seems to me, even though the ‘death of the author’ has been invalidated, this question of ‘what comes first, the self or the stimulus’ has moved to materiality, in terms of concept, ownership and communication, and we’ve seen the de-materialization of medium. Krauss speaking of LeWitt’s wall drawings says, ‘…the wall drawings testify to the possibility of executing any system of combination the artist can think of. One might say that they stand for the predicates of any proposition, which once made (or imagined) must be able to achieve itself physically. This attacks the notion of privacy by eating away at an idea of imagination as a special mental precinct that is truly unavailable to other minds…The significance of the wall as a medium for line or drawing is, then, that it becomes the ground of a refusal to separate idea form existence.’


Part 2

I’m relieved to feel I’m on a similar track in my own work with regards to self and context. Reading Sean Burke’s Death and Return of the Author, which I have mentioned before in my blog, was a good basis for this concept. And it is born out in Krauss’ essay. I also feel quite relieved to realize that I do in fact find limitations in both views of the self as conceived by abstract expressionists and postmodernists. There is an answer to be sought to the question ‘what does it mean to intend?’ because an intention is never fully realized as conceived. Both the self and context affect each other. The self is neither private nor public, but both. What is the significance of that? Which part is private and which part is public? These questions seem very relevant in our age of social media communication, where we in effect, are made ‘formless’ by the nature of this media and our thoughts float around the ether.

Aside from the question of intention, a growing issue in my work is that of space – figure and ground. Perhaps, everyone feels this issue has been resolved and put to bed a thousand times over. But in Krauss’ essay she goes on to discuss boundary conditions in regards to figure and ground; the bounding edges of a figure and the space around the figure. The issue is one of space being formed by the figure or space forming the figure. (Just like the question of self and context.) She goes on to suggest that in questioning what constitutes a background, ‘by making the background generative rather than passive, one passes through the limits of painting considered as a formal system closed under investigation.’ Granted, she’s discussing this in 1974 when this was a new discovery in painting. But I wonder if it was fully investigated. I can’t really think of that many painters outside Frank Stella and Mel Bochner, who Krauss is discussing at this point in her essay, who did this.

I need to research this and it is why I question if I will ever be able to learn enough. I think maybe I should start cataloguing the questions I have:

What functions now to propel art production forward in place of the defunct avant-garde? (from previous posts)

Where do we go after dematerializing medium?

Can medium truly be redefined?

What does it mean to intend?

Has a generative background been fully explored?

Can chance be directed into intention?

(Gosh, and I haven’t even finished my morning tea yet.)



It’s a curious thing to look at the contradictions in your own thinking. The last few conversations here with David Riley, Annabel Tilley, David Minton and others as well as the research I’m doing at the moment into the avant-garde has put my contradictory ideas into relief. It’s a good thing. Here are some of the things in opposition in my thinking:

Anything can be art but not everything should be accepted as art.

This is perhaps at the heart of my dilemma. I do believe art can be made from anything or rather; anything can be transformed into a work of art. It is one of the fascinating things about art. It is also one of the fascinating things about human nature, the fact that we want to transform mud into something (speaking prehistorically) which we then imbue with meaning. It’s fascinating that we find meaning in things beyond ourselves; surroundings, events and objects, for example. The whole of creating and understanding is a fascination to me.

I don’t believe however that everything made or presented as art is art. How can I say that when I just said ‘the whole of creation and understanding is a fascination’? Why does this statement not allow acceptance of everything as art? I don’t know, but perhaps it has something to do with a change of perspective. As an artist I stand over there with the joy and wonderment of creating, as a spectator I stand here struggling to comprehend what I’m looking at. Why can I find meaning in some things but not in others? Does it really come down to taste after all?

Within the scope of an industry called ‘Art’ I feel strongly that critical thinking is important. It seems to bring balance. What I mean is an artist presents something as art and critical thinking of the viewer (whoever that is, as you say David R.) says ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’, nothing complicated in that. But it seems to me to be a real problem when critical thinking doesn’t do its job. But that then begs the question how far does the reach of critical thinking extend?

I guess it comes down to this; I like to have boundaries, not because I want to know my limits but because I want something to push against. With wide acceptance of everything presented as art I feel those boundaries disappear and I just fall over. And sometimes I do want to know other people’s opinion because I don’t have enough information or just can’t decide for myself.

I want to make art but I’m not content to make art and leave it at that.

This is a real head buster for me. All I want, all I have ever wanted is to make art, but I’m not content to carry on my little life doing that in my own way, in my own time. I don’t feel I’m making anything worth anything if I just do it in seclusion. I feel what I produce must be put to the litmus test with other art. Am I nuts? I’ve often thought so.

I strive to live a life of integrity but I aspire to a position in an industry which often is grossly lacking in integrity.

This one makes me squirm. I detest the greedy, arrogant, manipulative and unethical attitudes involved in this business but it is my chosen profession. I’ve got no answer for this one except to work with integrity, strive for integrity within the relationships I form and support efforts of ethical conduct within the industry.

Plurality is excellent but where is the main goal.

Why does there need to be a main goal? I don’t know but I don’t function well in chaos and that’s where plurality often leads me, I don’t mean destructive chaos, I just mean scattered activity. I can’t think in a cacophony of voices.

I’m sure I could come up with a raft of more contradictions but I had better leave it there before the crisis of confidence, followed on the heels of an identity crisis finds me…

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I’m doing some research into the avant-garde after viewing an exhibition called BigMinis here in Bordeaux at the contemporary art museum, CAPC, and my head is spinning with questions.

One of the really interesting things about BigMinis was the juxtaposition of work from the early twentieth century with contemporary works from the twenty first century. All of them arguably works of the avant-garde. I make that qualification because as my research is showing me the definition of the avant-garde has changed and with it, art production.

One of the defining factors for art to have been considered avant-garde was its relationship to the art market – basically art produced for no financial gain (it is a bit more involved than that, but for simplicity’s sake…) was considered avant-garde. It also had an element of critique; social, political, moral etc. This took art production out of the service of the state or the church and placed it squarely within the artistic intentions of the artist – art became art for art’s sake.

And that’s where we were with modernism; artists had to be philosophers, designers, critics, inventors, commentators, political activist, social observers etc. No longer were artists specialized craftspeople who were given the subject of their work by their patrons. It meant that the emphasis on technical skill in medium was no longer the main area of interest for artists because they suddenly had so many other areas they could explore.

However, soon the market subsumed the avant-garde and social critique became the norm for art production. So where are we now with the avant-garde? I think it is a question a lot of people are trying to answer. We have de-skilled, dissolved and disappeared medium, removed aesthetics – obliterated the visual all together. Where do we go from here?

I’m baffled by bottles of brand named mineral water filled with opaque flesh-colored silicone, Pamela Rosenkranz, Firm Bodies (2009), one of the pieces in BigMinis. What is Des Hughes asking us to consider with his group of Pea Cubes (1999-2001), rolled latex balls stacked into irregular and sometimes squashed cube forms. These works might have been called avant-garde once but can they be called that now because they came to BigMinis via the galleries who represent these artists. If I dig deep and try really hard to make associations I might be able to come up with some sort of social commentary by the artist, but even trying my best to do this (and I did) I don’t see any particular or poignant comment on anything. So what are these works and others like them? Where are we when we no longer have a haven of classification in which to set our mind at ease? Are these works of art? Do we still need an avant-garde? Have we reached the point that anything an artist ‘touches’ becomes art by the very fact of coming from an ‘artist’? This reaches beyond Duchamp’s statement that an artist’s idea for something is as important as an object created by an artist, because if we readily accept something from an artist as art, it makes little difference what the artist’s idea is, we’ve already accepted it as art. If we are at that point aren’t we strutting behind the emperor in his new clothes?

Frankly, I can see no other way of calling the spade anything but a spade.


Part 1

Can a work of art really be connected to the artist when the artist hasn’t made it or perhaps even touched it? The answer to that is of course, yes as Rob Turner, Nicola Dale and David Riley and David Minton have generously pointed out in their comments to my last post. The obtuse nature of that question was intentional because it has become common for artists to not be involved in the making process and I think we must question it at times. What I’m getting at here really is intent.

I’m questioning the validity of an artist’s intent when work is produced, whether that artist made the work or not. I’ll use two examples, Jeff Koons and Richard Serra, both superstar artists who have work produced by others. (This relates to the discourse with Nicola in the comments of my last post, #37.)

Personally, I will never trust Jeff Koons as an artist because his original intent in making art was to take the piss and make lots of money – sorry Nicola. To be fair, Jeff Koons has done an important thing (even though I think it was in spite of himself and through no real intent of his own) in art. He has shown the shallowness and crassness of it all. That anyone would take his work seriously – sorry Nicola – shows the absurdity of the whole art world. His position is like the court jester or the clown in Native American cultures – they were there to point out the absurdities in their societies, not that I think Jeff Koons had the intelligence to know that or the seriousness to position himself that way – sorry, Nicola, mea culpa, mea culpa. However, now Jeff Koons is accepted as an artist and nobody will be changing that opinion. The question of whether he made his work I think is important because his intentions were not to make art which explored any issues or raised any questions – even though the art machine has explored issues and raised questions for him. He had no art education and as far as I can tell no particular interest in art, there was no and continues to be no artistic progression. He’s got nothing behind him except all the collectors who collect his work and a bundle of dough in the bank.

I saw the puppy at the Guggenheim in Bilbao several years ago and it was cute – well perhaps cute isn’t the word because it was too massive to be cute. Honestly, I was impressed by the topiary of it and I thought of the skilled topiary artists who created and maintained it, not of Jeff Koons.

That brings up another point of consideration, what is happening when an artist’s work makes us think of those involved in producing the work rather than the artists themselves? Ai Wei Wei’s sunflower seeds made me think of the craftspeople that made those seeds, not only the ocean of humanity symbolized by those seeds. It’s a curious thing and I wonder if an artist like Ai Wei Wei makes a conscious effort to highlight the work/presence of others through a work with his name on it? That would be a novel approach, making art to spotlight someone who is anonymous as maker/artist rather than yourself. Of course, artists like Sherry Levine and others who appropriated art did that, but they were using works of already famous artists so it wasn’t quite the same thing.

My second example is Richard Serra, one of my favorite artists. I respect his work immensely. He couldn’t possibly make his massive steel sculptures, but it doesn’t matter because I trust his intentions. I know he has worked with many media and I know he is serious in his intent. His artistic exploration is evident and shows mature progression. There is no question in my mind that Richard Serra is behind and involved with every aspect of the production, directing, planning of the work. The question of whether Serra’s hands ever touched the work is moot because the intent and artistic vision is evident.