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Paul Corio – Romanticism

Visions!  omens!  hallucinations!  miracles!  ecstasies!
gone down the American river!
Dreams!  adorations!  illuminations!  religions!  the whole
boatload of sensitive bullshit!
-from “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg, 1955

I’ve always considered myself pretty tough-minded when it comes to the evaluation of art – I don’t go in for mysticism, or, at the other end of the spectrum, jargon-laced psuedo-science (which is the new mysticism).  But of late, I’ve been periodically meeting up with Mark Stone (the principle here at Henri Mag), and two other artists for whom I hold a great deal of respect; Michael Zahn and Dennis Bellone.  And when I talk about art with this crew, it would appear, much to my chagrin, that I am an inveterate romantic.  O, horrors!

Paul Corio

So how does my romanticism manifest itself?  In the form of earnestness, and faith.  I want to speak about these things mainly in terms of how I make art, but it carries over to the way I write about art as well.  The work that I admire and the work that I make rarely takes a bird’s-eye look at itself, with the attendant critical distance that suggests.  Much art since postmodernism has proposed the following equation:  The work you are looking at is not “X,” it is about “X.”  And “X” can be any number of things: abstract painting, bad painting, art, my identity, and on and on.   An old friend of mine used a smart analogy for this phenomenon, calling it the “second lap around the track.”

This second lap serves a lot of purposes; the most obvious is that it insulates the maker from a great deal of criticism.  To go back to the proposition above: “The work you are looking at is not bad painting it is about bad painting.”  Without this declaration of purpose, a given work would have to be critiqued with painting criteria, and would, by definition, come up wanting.  Any number of substitutions for “X” would yield the same result.  The amount of art made since the late ’60’s in this spirit and with this modus operandi is impossible to calculate.  This methodology is also taught, and thereby codified, by the big schools.

The second thing the second lap accomplishes is more subtle and profound: it guards the work against being read as overtly personal and emotional (it also tends to subtract from the aesthetic content, but that’s an argument for another essay).  Making art is kind of like singing karaoke – you’re all by yourself with the mic, and if you start to emote way off key people are going to laugh at you.  One response to this problem is to never show emotion (or pretend not to, a la Judd and Serra), another is to come up with a formula that blunts or distracts from the impact of emotional content.  Think of Bill Murray in the karaoke scenario.

Paul Corio Studio

When I’m in the studio, I’m really doing the best I can – I want it to be so good, just like a little kid.  And I’m willing to fall flat on my face; to get laughed at, or criticized, or ignored.  This may not sound like I’m risking all that much, but I am – I’m not a kid, and if it turns out that I’m emoting off key at top volume, then it means that a great portion of my life up to now has been a joke.  Try facing that possibility some time.

So what is romanticism, at least my own?  The desire to do this thing in spite of the fact that it’s exhausting, expensive, time-consuming, and promises little; to declare that my individuated existence is utterly unique and others should take the time to look at the things I offer as proof; the belief that this output can enrich other people’s lives along with an unwavering faith that the best art can change hearts and minds; and, perhaps most importantly, the resolve to not give a fuck about how shockingly corny all of this sounds.

Go ahead and snicker at me if you want, I can take it.

Paul CorioNo Hassle at the Castle

5 Comments

  1. I'll-bite wrote:

    You’ve set up your own defense! If you’re simply good, you have nothing to apologize for. Period. But if you’re bad because you’re too earnest about “passé” notions like talent, skill, craft, vision, commitment, etc., well then your work is a second lap about earnestness after post-modernism and it’s really good after all.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 3:56 AM | Permalink
  2. Bravo, bravo!
    When artists are serious their work makes a great difference in the world, no matter what. This is a sense that has been missing for a long time. I think a lot of artists are getting ready to live this way again – maybe tough times help that along – but it may be more of a natural development. Irony is exhausted.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 8:25 AM | Permalink
  3. admin wrote:

    Hi dvfinnh. Thanks for commenting. I’m interested in going deeper about the “passe” notions you describe. Would you care to elucidate further why these “qualities” have lapsed for artists? What has replaced them? What about you? How do you approach your own studio life? (I assume you’re connected to art in some way.) Do those notions play a part in your own facture or does it matter in the kind of work you’re making? Are there works or levels of “quality” that you compare your work to? How do you judge whether you’ve succeeded in what you want to accomplish? And further – how do you define Romanticism? Does it play in your work or life? I realize these are flat footed questions but I’m interested in what you’re thinking, how you’re living and what you’re looking for in your work. I hope you’ll respond! Thanks – M

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 11:06 AM | Permalink
  4. Craig Barnes wrote:

    Tough minded romanticism is seriously undervalued these days. Beethoven and Rembrandt seem to be doing OK so all is not lost. Let’s just hope we all don’t have to wait as long to be doing OK.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 5:20 PM | Permalink
  5. Carla wrote:

    I think the need for an extra run around the track dimishes as one matures. Many or most of us just can’t be earnest until we’re older.

    Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 9:08 AM | Permalink

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