*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Cassirer’s partial definition of art as symbolic language has dominated art studios in our [20th] century. A new history of culture anchored upon the work of art as a symbolic expression thus came into being. By these means art has been made to connect with the rest of history.
But the price has been high, for while studies of meaning received all our attention, another definition of art, as a system of formal relationships, thereby suffered neglect. This other definition matters more than meaning. In the same sense speech matters more than writing, because speech preceded writing, and because writing is but a special case of speech.
The other definition of art as form remains unfashionable, although every thinking person will accept it as a truism that no meaning can be conveyed without form. Every meaning requires a support, or a vehicle, or a holder. These are the bearers of meaning, and without them no meaning would cross from me to you, or from you to me, or indeed from any part of nature to any other part.
… The structural forms can be sensed independent of meaning. We know from linguistics in particular that the structural elements undergo more or less regular evolutions in time without relation to meaning, as when certain phonetic shifts in the history of cognate languages can be explained only by a hypothesis of regular change. Thus phoneme a occurring in an early stage of language, becomes phoneme b at a later stage, independently of meaning, and only under the rules governing the phonetic structure of the language. The regularity of these changes is such that the phonetic changes can be used to measure durations between recorded but undated examples of speech.
Similar regularities probably govern the formal infrastructure of every art. Whenever symbolic clusters appear, however, we see interferences that may disrupt the regular evolution of the formal system. An interference from visual images is present in almost all art. Even architecture, which is commonly thought to lack figural intention, is guided from one utterance to the next by the images of the admired buildings of the past, both far and near in time.
George Kubler in The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things
Comments are welcome!
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Interviewer: Your work includes a great range of experience, as well as of form. What do you think is the greatest quality a poet can have? Is it formal, or is it a quality of thinking?
Ezra Pound: I don’t know that you can put the needed qualities in hierarchic order, but he must have a continuous curiosity, which of course does not make him a writer. but if he hasn’t got that he will wither. And the question of doing anything about it depends on a persistent energy. A man like Agassiz is never bored, never tired. The transit from the reception of stimuli to the recording, to the correlation, that is what takes the whole energy of a lifetime.
Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews Second Series, edited by George Plimpton and introduced by Van Wyck Brooks
Comments are welcome!
Q: Would you talk about your use of Mexican and Guatemalan folk art as a convenient way to study formal properties such as color, shape, pattern, composition, etc. in your pastel paintings?
A: For me an interesting visual property of these objects is that they readily present themselves as a vehicle for exploring formal artistic properties, like color, pattern, shape, etc. especially compared to my earlier subject matter: hyper-realistic portraits and still-lifes. Intent as I was on creating verisimilitude in the earlier work, there was little room for experimentation.
Many Mexican and Guatemalan folk art objects are wildly painted and being a lover of color, their brilliant colors and patterns are what initially attracted me. As a painter I am free to use their actual appearance as my starting point. I photograph them out-of-focus and through colored gels in order to change their appearance and make them strange, enacting my own particular version of “rendering the familiar strange.” Admittedly these objects are not so familiar to begin with.
When I make a pastel painting I look at my reference photograph and I also look at the objects, positioning them within eye-shot of my easel. There is no need whatsoever to be faithful to their actual appearance so my imagination takes over. As I experiment with thousands of soft pastels, with shape, with pattern, with composition, and all the rest, I have one goal in mind – to create the best pastel-on-sandpaper painting I am capable of making.
Comments are welcome!