Pearls from artists* # 436
*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
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Pearls from artists* # 364
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
If we are left unmoved by a painting of the Virgin, it is likely because the artist was unmoved in the painting of her. The subject matter is mostly irrelevant; it is important only as a vehicle for the artist’s attention. Authenticity comes from how deeply the artist felt. And this is the key to how much silence, how much consciousness or attention, the art contains.
… subject matter, if the artist is even using it, is just an armature for the artist to engage his intensity of feeling. It is the quality of your attention that influences how you see and how deeply you feel. Different artists have affinities for different subject matter as a way into expressing themselves deeply. And that depth is the quality, we, the viewers, respond to. It is what we continue to respond to over the centuries in great works of art. The fact that things last, that we continue to admire them, is in the end a good indicator of their quality, of their silence. Art museums therefore, have little nodes of silence nestling in their galleries. They are filled with, to use André Malraux’s expression, “the voices of silence.”
Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision
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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!