The creative process remains as baffling and unpredictable to me today as it did when I began my journey over forty years ago. On the one hand, it seems entirely logical – insight building on insight; figures from my past, the culture, and everyday life sparking scenes and images on canvas; and all of it – subject, narrative, theme – working together with gesture, form, light to capture deeply felt experience. But in real time the process is a blur, a state that precludes consciousness or any kind of rational thinking. When I’m working well, I’m lost in the moment, painting quickly and intuitively, reacting to forms on the canvas, allowing their meaning to reveal itself to me. In every painting I make I’m looking for some kind of revelation, something I didn’t see before. If it surprises me, hopefully it will surprise the viewer, too.
Eric Fischl and Michael Stone in Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas
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To collect photographs is to collect the world. Movies and television programs light up walls, flicker, and go out; but with still photographs the image is also an object, lightweight, cheap to produce, easy to carry about, accumulate, store.
In Godard’s Les Carabiniers (1963), two sluggish lumpen-peasants are lured into joining the king’s army by the promise that they will be able to loot, rape, kill, or do whatever else they please to the enemy, and get rich. But the suitcase of booty that Michel-Ange and Ulysse triumphantly bring home, years later, to their wives turns out to contain only picture postcards, hundreds of them, of monuments, department stores, mammals, wonders of nature, methods of transport, works of art, and other classified treasures from around the globe.
Godard’s gag vividly parodies the equivocal magic of the photographic image. Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognize as modern.
Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.
Susan Sontag in On Photography
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After we have responded to a work of art, we leave it, carrying in our consciousness something which we didn’t have before. This something amounts to more than our memory of the incident represented, and also more than our memory of the shapes and colours and spaces which the artist used and arranged. What we take away with us – on the most profound level – is the memory of the artist’s way of looking at the world. The representation of a recognizable incident (an incident here can simply mean a tree or a head) offers us the chance of relating the artist’s way of looking to our own. The forms he uses are the means by which he expresses his way of looking. The truth of this is confirmed by the fact that we can often recall the experience of a work, having forgotten both its precise subject and its precise formal arrangement.
Yet why should an artist’s way of looking at the world have any meaning for us? Because, I believe, it increases our awareness of our own potentiality. Not of course our awareness of our potentiality as artists ourselves. But a way of looking at the world implies a certain relationship with the world, and every relationship implies action. The kind of actions implied vary a great deal. A classical Greek sculpture increases our awareness of our own potential physical dignity; a Rembrandt of our potential moral courage; a Matisse of our potential sensual awareness. Yet each of these examples is too personal and too narrow to contain the whole truth of the matter. A work can, to some extent, increase an awareness of different potentialities in different people. The important point is that a valid work of art promises in some way or another the possibility of an increase, an improvement. Nor need the work be optimistic to achieve this; indeed, its subject may be tragic. For it is not the subject matter that makes the promise, it is the artist’s way of viewing his subject. Goya’s way of looking at a massacre amounts to the contention that we ought to be able to do without massacres.
John Berger, Selected Essays
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