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Pearls from artists* # 436

View from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

View from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

*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!  

Pearls from artists* # 338

Pastels

Pastels

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Beauty without symbolic depth results in ornament.  Symbol without beauty results in psychoanalysis.  Only when the two meet can we speak of art.  The artistic works that combine the two elements most compellingly are what are called the classics.  In his magisterial book The Analogical Imagination, the theologian David Tracy defines the classic as a work exhibiting a permanent “excess of meaning.” We speak of classics as “timeless,” he says, not because they belong to time, but because they are perpetually timely; their relevance never wanes, and each generation, each percipient, must interpret them anew.  According to Tracy, we know we are dealing with a classic when a work makes us realize that our general outlook on life is not as complete as we thought it was, that “something else might be the case.”  In the light that the classic emanates, things suddenly seem less clear-cut than they used to seem – we find ourselves in the presence of something greater than we are, something potentially infinite.  Classics take us to the apex of the numinous, the point of what Werner Herzog calls “ecstatic truth.”    

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 336

Barbara’s studio

Barbara’s studio

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Beauty and symbol are the two faces of the numinous, that enigmatic force that bestows upon certain things, places, and moments an otherworldly power.  It is the combination of radical beauty and symbolic resonance – of apparition and death – that makes aesthetic objects so overpowering.  While at the surface there may appear to be an insurmountable difference between a Shinto shrine and a Tom Waits concert, both use beauty and symbol to confront us with what is strange and sacred in life.  Their similarity is as profound as their differences. 

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress, 58" x 38"

Work in progress, 58″ x 38″

A:  Today is a day off to let my fingers heal.  When I start a new painting, I need to rub my fingers against raw sandpaper in order to blend the pastel.  With each layer the tooth of the paper gets filled up and becomes smooth, but until then my fingers suffer.  Here is what I’ve been working on.

This pastel-on-sandpaper painting is an experiment, an attempt to push myself to work with bigger and bolder imagery.  The photograph clipped to the easel is one of my favorites.  It depicts a Judas that Bryan and I found in a dusty shop in Oaxaca.  Among the Mexican and Guatemalan folk art pieces that I’ve collected are five papier mâché Judases.  This particular one is unusual because it has a cat’s head attached at the forehead (the purple shape in the painting).  They are not made to last.  In some Mexican towns large Judases are hung from church steeples, loaded with fireworks, and burned in effigy.  This takes place at 10:00 a.m. on the Saturday morning before Easter.  Mexico is primarily a Catholic nation, of course, so effigy burning is done as symbolic revenge against Judas for his betrayal of Christ.  The Judas in the photo is small and meant for private burning by a family (rather than in public at a church) so by bringing it back to New York I rescued it from a fire-y death!  In sympathy with Mexican tradition, I began this painting last Saturday (the day before Easter) at 10 a.m.

Comments are welcome!

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