October 7th, 2009

In Reply to Chip Schwartz on Escape Into Life

Photo : tommy the pariah

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Chip: “Do you think there is any difference in aesthetic sensibility in terms of conceptual or thought-based art versus that which provokes an emotional response?”

My Reply: I do think there is a difference between the two, Chip. I do not have a preference for either one, I think they’re both on their own terms equally valid. What I do think is that the delicate balance that exists between the two, can get disrupted. When that happens, as it does in some of the artwork I criticize here, the question of what art is gets distorted.

I don’t think conceptual or thought-based art is a bad thing in itself, in fact “creativity” – and “receptivity” of what is seen, heard, felt, or tasted – demands a conceptual vision, or grasp of what it is that’s experienced. Kant speaks of the “free play of faculties“. But things go awry when artists and their critics forget that art is related first and foremost to the “senses” and not the “intellect”. You “experience” a work of art. With a painting for example, you obviously use your eyes, and you need your intellect only so far as to successfully interpret what you “see”.

I’m afraid what masquerades as art today, are basically fashionable ideas expressed through art. The problem with this is: 1. that only those academically schooled in those theories can appreciate it on basis of those theories 2. The fact that those ideas are expressed in art, says nothing of their inherent merit or value for art, nor for anything else, and 3. What is often forgotten, is that art is form, so it shouldn’t be about the ideas per se, but about the form in which they find expression! That is composition, color use, use of light, perspective, style, etc. etc. etc.

The true artists among us only use ideas insofar as they find inspiration in them, otherwise they’ll discard them. Because what really matters for the creative mind is to freely cultivate its powers of sensory differentiation, so as to give full expression to its vision. This simply means that you’re able to differentiate between a dull and a vibrant color, a full or a flat note – or like a cook: to discern what ingredients make for a harmonious meal.

Ideas are necessary of course, but they should never dominate the subject matter, nor prescribe the way in which art expresses itself. Theory is fascinating, but art is not algebra or mathematics. I do believe there can be beauty in theory and even mathematics, but it’s always in the expression…

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