To be clear, the intent of this paper is to explore, with as little filtering as possible, my preceding papers (Contemplating an Experience & Conceptual Confinement) along with my studio work, research, and musings on the interplay of all those things. I will attempt to avoid making this a biographical piece of my semester so far; however making that my goal would be counterproductive for the understanding, if not already a challenge, of you as the reader. If you have not had chance to review the two papers prior to this, along with the notes I received in each case, you may wish to now as to follow my written thoughts. In the case of those who are uninterested in what may seem excessive reading, I will sum up some key points.

In my first paper I reviewed my experiences of the June residency and the ultimate conclusion I must make new explorative work to understand my chosen imagery or symbolism and process of working. Judith reviewed my paper and mentioned in one note how many artists like completing the meaning of a work through their engagement in making it. My reply to this was to site John Dewey’s Art As Experience, which I had begun to read while writing my first paper. I struggle with the conflicting views of artists working intuitively with only a general understanding of the goal of each piece they begin, or artist planning a work and then executing that plan. I certainly don’t make a specific plan, but I build an idea of what the work will be and then what each piece would be and how it all goes together and in what order. This idea of what the work will be is a goal and guide with loose limits on change or variation.

My second paper was not implicitly related to my first, but in it I compared Sol LeWitt’s Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, Robert Smithson’s Cultural Confinement, and my own issues of art making. In my reading, or rather multiple re-readings for the second paper, I was hoping to find more guidance on my dilemma of how to work on art and the result of different methods of making art. I still find it against my nature to make art without a clear idea of what I am aiming to create. This is partly to do with how rapidly my ideas progress and build on one another. Imagine you see a photo of someone’s face, then your mind sketches a mental picture of that photo, then it sketches another of the initial sketch, and it changes with each new mental sketch. It’s not unlike the lose of resolution as you make a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy… The idea of a work comes and changes or gets completely lost. This can happen faster than I get up to get a pen and paper. In writing my second paper, however, I was forcing my conflicting view or feelings on art making and its sources, to work into a cohesive paper without a distinct point to argue or conclude. I am ready to admit that my second paper doesn’t hold a candle to my first. I pushed it, and for that reason it suffered.

I addressed the issue of Smithson’s desire for an art, which is made in a kind of harmony with nature. He did not want art to be separate from the world we experience each day: to be esoteric or only representing ideas. I tried playing this against, or at least alongside, Sol LeWitt’s explanation of making art out of ideas to the point the artist doesn’t even physically need to make the final work. I’d like to briefly hold Sol LeWitt’s comment up to the most easily identifiable work of Smithson, his Spiral Jetty made in 1970. LeWitt believed there was danger in “making the physicality of the materials so important that it becomes the idea of the work.” Can this be true of Smithson’s work? Is not Smithson’s idea of art “that takes into account the direct effect of the elements” expressed in the use of the natural materials, expected to do exactly as he says? In this way, Smithson and LeWitt seem in agreement with each other’s views on art. Robert Rosenblum’s Notes on Sol LeWitt has lead me to another perspective which brings LeWitt’s and Smithson’s views under one umbrella. Rosenblum speaks of artists in the second half of the twentieth century as desiring to “strip art of everything but elemental truths.” Sol LeWitt does this with the visual elements of art, as many artists have done throughout history, and Smithson seeks a more natural route, using the earth. As I begin to grasp the artist’s arguments, their words lose me. Smithson seems to speak against “occult notions of concept” and “isolated occurrence,” or representation. Though considering his Spiral Jetty, it is a work isolated from social environments, representing his views of art. Those views must be communicated through writing, and in Smithson’s own words, “writing does not bring one closer to the physical world.” This conflict drives me back to LeWitt who argues that “No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea.” Placing this adjacent to his comment “The idea, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product,” and further to his statement that “The work of art can only be perceived after it is completed,” draws me to a conclusion only describable as intentionally blank.

My digesting of Smithson’s article produces only a mild curiosity as to the relationship of my art to natural elements. At this point, I see concrete in different settings, with different kinds of aging, and in each case I experience something breathtaking as if walking into a gallery or museum and seeing a stunning work of art. The thing about this view is, I see it in the world and in particular settings, which enhance that experience. I am not interested in mimicking my view of beauty as someone who seeing a beautiful forest or beach or sky paints that vision. If I were to try and recreate, in order to communicate, the exceptional qualities I perceive in concrete environments, I would not be expressing anything, or making any intelligent comment. The work I would produce in that situation would only be an object pointing to my experience and saying, “Look at how gorgeous this is!”

I had been more attracted to LeWitt’s ideas without much consideration, as I was inspired by his wall drawings in June after forgetting that I had read his article earlier that month. This led me to use LeWitt’s paragraphs to guide some experimental artworks. I was thrilled that an artist had inspired me to return to the beginning of my character forms and had written what could be loosely understood to be an instruction manual for conceptual art. I wanted to expand on my understanding of LeWitt’s writing, which is why I paralleled his article to Smithson’s. I am still fascinated with LeWitt’s art, but cannot anchor myself to his explanation of art making as merely a “perfunctory affair.”

Advertisements