I like this Robert Rauschenberg quote regarding the explosion of “art theory” in its many forms – he having not paid a whole lot of consideration to such until (or I expect after).
“moving on to theory and its possibilities was like being handed a ghost bouquet of flowers”
It is a topic where I’ve always tended to intuit it was better ignored from the ancient days of high school art critiques at claude watson, where yoni and I would act the couple of cocky little bastards we no doubt were – in a good way 🙂 but taking the piss out of all art critiques – considering it all part of the ‘art bullshit’ thing.
Ultimately 20 or so years on I feel that what we sensed then as young artists – arming ourselves against any and all threats to just making work – ignoring any insecurity, doubt or other deadly type of thinking we somehow were able to (no doubt helped by attacking the art mission as a duo helped greatly at 16 or 17) stick to a dictum that of just doing, making, keeping it going.
Talk and words and analysis always seemed secondary to what was, after all, supposed to be VISUAL Art. As the quote evokes — at minimum an empty waste of time when it comes to artmaking, and it practice I think Tom Wolfe is pretty much bang on in his skewering of the art world’s ridiculous decline into some illusory pure nothingness (in his ‘the painted word’) – the worst of which probably was arrived at in 70s, but the morphing of ‘visual art’ to ‘contemporary art’ and a good amount of cold crappy arrogant conceptual and installation art IMHO has continued to pollute and engage the art world as too many have a case of the emperors new clothes.
The odd thing about the whole topic for me is just how in love with philosophy and exploring a wide range of abstract thought I have become in my 30s – thanks no doubt to my audiobook addiction (which I’ll no doubt refer to endlessly as I continue to ramble in bursts on my re-launched site) and complex piles of metaphor we have built into conceptual ant-hills.
What seems to be a common theme I end up noting is how often forgetting that they all are – even mathematics, computation or other powerfully convincing and useful systems, tools and maps – incomplete and human creations. They bring meaning and richness to our life experiences but there is nothing inherently ‘real’ about any of them.
It is I think in realizing and continuing to explore that line of thinking – through grappling with Godel’s incompleteness theorem and Turing’s similar proofs in computing (math and science were among the first courses i dropped the moment i could – never cared back then, so it doesnt come naturally) that ultimately brings me back full circle.
Some people – scientists, materialists and the overly rational minded, secular and well educated reasonable people 🙂 those ones… seem convinced – in some cases with the blind faith of the religious (psychological projection at work no doubt) that these activities, scientific progress (dangerous word!) and study have an ultimate trajectory of growth towards a final grand answer.
I think for artists – those who know their task isn’t about an elusive end point but the inevitable failure of hitting the mark. That in accepting ourselves as human and indeed even celebrating our limitations through making the effort and process – and the many resulting works – the best of which tend to suggest some transcendent realm through that essential ingredient of imperfection. To apply ‘art theory’ so easily and probably inevitably always spoisons the magic of the act, like a black hole sucking all that is meaningful, beautiful and human out of being an artist and the work itself.
I know that while working any real artist is unsure of what the hell is going on and hooked on the discovery of what comes about – that privileged perspective of watching oneself create, knowing something key to the whole thing working best involves ‘getting out of one’s own way’ – thought, let alone theory, are the last thing needed in this zone. I make art and am drawn back to it seemingly forcibly and whether I like it or not at times! It’s not a choice I have but what I do.
Rauschenberg happens to be one of my few top inspirations and browsing the outpouring of work his long career resulted in it is impossible to not recognize the same thrill for pure art making – visual and contemporary, beautiful and complex. An artist who knew that the only thing is the work and working on it, over and over and always.
Let theorists and critics try to heal their sorrow for not being dealt the artist hand – all the yammering and analysis can’t compete with the way it feels to be immersed in artmaking or the feeling of encountering and taking in (or being taken over by) a work of good visual art (contemporary or otherwise).