Figuring It Out – Part 8

You can never do too much drawing. Tintoretto

It is necessary to keep one’s compass in one’s eyes and not in the hand, for the hands execute, but the eye judges. Michelangelo

There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see. Leonardo

It is not enough to know your craft – you have to have feeling. Science is all very well, but for us imagination is worth far more. Manet

An art which isn’t based on feeling isn’t an art at all … feeling is the principle, the beginning and the end; craft, objective, technique – all these are in the middle. Cezanne

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape… Picasso

Every good painter paints what he is. Pollock

During the 1960s, I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don’t think they’ve ever remembered. Warhol

I believe in advertisement and media completely. My art and my personal life are based in it. I think that the art world would probably be a tremendous reservoir for everybody involved in advertising. Koons

Because it’s visual art, a lot of it comes from childhood experience but then a lot comes from the visual language – in advertising and stuff like that – which is around us. Hirst

I thought we’d start with a bunch of loaded quotations pointing out the changes in the way artists talk about art. Loaded because the change has been dramatic. We’ve moved away from a discussion of direct human experience to one of a second hand media experience. There’s no denying that advertising has become a constant in our electronic culture, and that advertising drives a deeper economic idea – consumption. We are constantly barraged, constantly aware, interminably desirous, eternally shopping. The desire to consume is the burning fuel of our everyday economic lives. It is the reason the electronic world – a sleek, efficient vehicle that drives directly into our desires, our subjectivity, our collective imagination – has become the constantly shifting ground for corporate business. The product at the back of these business transactions, the thing in itself, the rising subject does not matter one jot to the functions of advertising. It is the programming that sells anything to anyone at any time by creating and fermenting desire. What we as artists have become infatuated with is this very idea of desire. And as art has become more of a business we’ve fashioned art as a giant machine for creating desire – buying and selling – a transaction – and that program – has become – in itself – the art. By concentrating on and maintaining desire we have turned away from the focus of visual interaction – passion. Passion demands involvement, demands emotional connection and demands that we create a vision. Over the last 30 years this idea of vision has changed just as the quotations of artists have changed.

In the movie the “Black Robe” we can see how cultures clash. Though there are outward similarities to human experience, technologies change the underlying logic of how we relate and understand our lives. The most telling difference in the clip on the left is the example of the written word – the construct that enables the ephemeral, the spoken idea to appear to any that can read (about 4:50 into the video if you want to skip through.) How we understand and relate to one another is always directed through the constructs of our social networks. Our culture has gone through a recent redefinition as well, only today, it’s being directed by the way computers work. I have made a great deal in this series about the WAY that we see, how we interpret what we see and the meaning behind it. Postmodernism, the theory behind most media encounters, encourages precedent, it emphasizes the ground over the subject, it manipulates desire, it keeps us at a distance. Postmodernism promotes processes of stylization (fashionable adjustments) rather than changes of style. And followed to its logical conclusions we wind up like Jeff Koons believing in “advertising and media completely” – minds constantly erased of memory, rebooted, always upgraded to work seamlessly with the New new.

If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories. In this way it is only too easy to obtain what appears to be overwhelming evidence in favor of a theory which, if approached critically, would have been refuted. Karl Popper

DO we see as we once did? Absolutely not. We can not. We don’t have the capacity any longer to do so. We use our senses differently in order to understand what our culture presents us through the means it is being presented. But when we remove those extensions from our nervous systems what happens to our understanding? When presented with a concrete reality of a thing, a rising subject directly in our physical vision how do we understand it? For instance the other day I watched a wireless phone commercial detailing the services available. One of the features is a GPS device that tracks one’s movements on an electronic map allowing one to “find your way.” Never mind that the fellow is in a city full of people of whom he might ask directions. He consults his electronic device, he receives information through the computer. He never has to ask, knowledge of his physical situation is never questioned – he is of a piece with his technology blindly led by the computer. The map, the abstraction becomes the territory, the reality that he moves through. He is a cypher, an avatar within the abstraction. Taleb calls this a Ludic Fallacy. Without the extensions we must find another way to navigate the outer world and become a part in it. We must understand and remember the landmarks, navigate the pathways, make logical assumptions, interconnect with the people around us. The false surety that sense extensions incorporate into their abstractions and the illusion that this technology is the final arbiter of our knowledge creates the fallacy that nothing “worthwhile” remains unmapped, everything can be predicted, everything is programmed or programmable. Abstraction since Postmodernism has expanded this illusion of control by manipulating narratives, recontextualizing history and employing outright sophistry. Postmodernism is a form of plastic contextulization – “Wildensteinism” – a drastic manipulation of information in order to confound individual perception. But in the fleshy reality of the rising subject the clock still ticks, the heart still beats and entropy runs through it all. Outside of the Postmodern ground there can be no real control, no contextual hold button, no denial of the obvious inevitable.

I have discussed this before in other posts, but it bears revisiting. Vision has irrevocably changed, and I believe that we have to develop a new way of using our senses in order to find a deeper understanding of 21st century life. First these electronic extensions aren’t going away, in fact, they are becoming more invasive, more saturated in our encounters. Vision has been amplified while becoming more easily directed and blinkered through electronic programming. Lenses have become more powerful and can pinpoint and read license plates from satellites circling the globe. Computers and lenses programmed to interpret sound, heat and x-rays can see through your body while creating 3 dimensional maps of your inner workings. Camera’s cover nearly every 10 feet of many urban landscapes mapping and documenting the flow of people, commerce and money through every city. Online we abstract and capture every second of our lives and instantly upload and broadcast those intimate moments to millions of people. Many of us can no longer remember even the simplest details of our lives without the aid of our electronic extensions. There is no time to incorporate the rising subject into our being, no way to physically remember anything, no way to contemplate or process one’s emotional connections once the abstraction takes over, no way to physically see as we once did. The all encompassing ground has become the focus and director of all of our relationships – economic, political, cultural and personal. For those of us wanting to unplug, to emerge from the ground – it is imperative that we find a solution….

In Touch
Michelangelo torsoI have been extremely interested in Tintoretto’s admonition to draw for a number of years. I believe this solves a deep disconnect in today’s visual practices. Drawing has been limited as a basic planning tool in the POMO environment. Now there’s nothing wrong with this – I believe this shorthand is imperative to finding new ideas, but I also believe that drawing as a full blown activity for making painting is no longer practiced in a way that realizes visual form and space. Drawing should work in several ways. One should be able to visualize and document abstract form within the rising subject while translating that form into an encounter with emotional visual content. This is a visceral physical way of engaging which demands real concentration, interaction and memory. It is a way to grapple with one’s mind allowing the eye to feel while the hand defines. In Michelangelo’s torso on the left the emergence of the forms comes directly from the line, the value and the negative spaces. First the line that defines the outer form moves from indecision to accuracy – in parts of the outline Michele is feeling his way around the muscles, the line shreads and shapes the contour. Then suddenly the line becomes decisive and full, as if he finally understood his way around the form. The values push the torso into a reality raising it out of the second dimension, filling up the idea of a human abstraction with the visual depth of the actual rising subject. Finally the spaces ignite through the intimate areas between and around the full forms, the “negative” space becomes the defining last feature as the ground recedes. But if we look further we can see a deeper abstraction – the process of mark making – which is a 20th century predisposition – in the cross hatching defining the form. We find that as Michele questions his relationship to the rising subject he has “zoomed in” on the right hand – seperated it for deeper study, committed it to a deeper memory. He wants to understand not only how he sees it but how he feels it.

HorsesThe photographer Steve Durbin’s series of horse photographs are a good example of how the lens approximates the directed drawn vision just described.Steve writes – “This ongoing study of horses, with subjects close and constantly moving, called for a radical change in technique: camera handheld, zone of focus narrow, click rate high. Animals loom into the frame, the arrangement of shapes an ever-changing collage. I try to capture configurations that have an abstract appeal, while being portraits of individuals or sets I am coming to know.” Steve is working between the lens and the idea of drawing as I see it. He is in close, an intimate part of the photograph and the composition itself. The lens pushes into the rising subject and as it does other areas fall back out of focus. Similarly in the drawing above the line falls away, the forms flatten into the abstract ground, the cross hatching empties. These are similar processes. The difference is in the composition. The photograph of the rising subject fills the vision, in the drawing the figure is placed within the larger context of the ground. This is part of the point. Today technologies allow us a visual intimacy and immediacy that was not part of the distanced viewing of classical western vision. This intimacy is something we have to come to terms with.

Now I must allow for my inner nerd and ask your indulgence for the clip on the left. What I want to point out is how the camera is working in combination with the computer. First it never stops moving, and as it moves, view points change dramatically heightening certain moments and pushing other things quickly into the background. Additionally, the speed of the lens captured movement is slowed or sped up to enhance this visual focus. From the drawing and photograph above you can see that these visual applications (both eye and lens) have been pumped up. The point I am getting at is to see how this programming works on our understanding and involvement in the visual experience. Programming changes and enhances visual intimacy and quickly sets up a physical imperative within the viewer. It’s why when you’re in a theater watching this sort of movie you can see the audience swaying and moving along with the action on the screen. In painting I believe that defining these sorts of mechanics are imperative to finding a new visual experience in paint – one connected to both vision and lens based programming. In my own work I put the viewer in close to the rising subject – compose like a photograph, draw like a draftsman. I draw with paint to push form and ground into movement. I let the drawing move into and away from the ground emerging again at a different focal point. The compositions are constantly moving beneath the touch of an eye. I want to enhance the tactile qualities of vision without resorting to the 20th century fallback – the physicality of materials. But mostly I want the intimacy of the life around me to come through in the paintings – both abstract and figurative – thought and feeling. Vision is about living, feeling and thinking.

fragment_1Copying lens based images in paint (either figurative or abstract) is not the same thing as understanding and employing the ways programmed lenses and fleshy vision work. For many of us reality isn’t defined by the constant flow of advertising, media images, programming or historical models, but through our intimate relationships, our emotions and our thoughts. We don’t have any real connection to passing encounters with products or fashion, though we may find those things interesting and fun. Life is so much thicker and more alive than the surface of things. We can no longer afford the premise that what we see is what we get. We hunger for visual relationships that move us, inspire us, demand our attention and involvement. Postmodernism can not do justice to our everyday lives. POMO is a tool for obfuscation and sophistry and it’s being used to sell products, politics and unfortunately art. Its high time we began to find new ways to engage in our changed visual experience. While we play at the surface of things we lose the understanding of things. So I’ll finish this post with a quote from one of the greats which explains my position perfectly…

“I am unable to make any distinction between the feeling I get from life and the way I translate that feeling into painting.” Matisse

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