(for Diane, this morning's muse)
1:ON SELLING WHAT SHOULD BE UNSPOKEN
When the choreographer Trisha Brown explains her work in terms of being a bricklayer
with a sense of humor, she is pointing to the process of construction of her work
as being what it is in fact" about", the steady layering of process upon process.
This is the sort of statement I can handle from an artist. The how you go about
the what you do rather than the reasons why you do it. I am always suspicious of
larger claims, in art as well as life; ideally, an artistic statement should be subsumed in the practise.
The world and social structure, of course ,argue otherwise;
therefore, we compromise in order to communicate. How much and to what degree
can be a matter of period emphasis.Presently artists'
statements are more in the nature of sales pitches than they were during the period of,say,
Mark Rothko. From Rothko's, it is obvious that he had read THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY, and
that he believed that the painter could achieve the Apollonian/
Dionysiac synthesis--- which worries:no wonder he felt the weight of the world. . Now everyone is
succinct as an elevator ride--that critical twenty-five seconds you have to sell yourselves--which worries for more pressing reasons. I don't miss the earlier incarnation of the artists' statement as student reading of Heidegger dressed-up as a manifesto, but I resent the present demand for constant self-reification.
Words for a visual artist are always a second language. It means the stresses of
the accents will always have a foreign intonation,and this will apply to meaning as well.
In a period of artistic innovation, moreover, everyone is compelled to become
an autodidact--to teach themselves how to do(ex.:) the first cubist painting, the first light
sculpture. This is both a blessing and a curse. The curse as far as language goes will often
be in the artist's inability to make a distinction between a personal meaning and
the general usage. A word then, if I may put it so, is treated as a vessel to fill up with
meaning of their own. Alas, the poor artist, compelled to turn his or her numinous
experience into a snappy sales-pitch. No wonder such a statement will confuse.
I am no different from anyone else in this regard. If called upon to explain myself, I instantly wish myself translated elsewhere. My basic relationship to art is this: any wresting with nothingness which I may do is voluntary, and consequently I must not mistake myself for a martyr or a saint. This resolve is different
from branding. And a statement must act as a synthesis of these opposite needs.Somehow.
The earliest statement of mine is probably the verbal equivalent to the black leather
and nose bones that I wore at twenty, whereas the press release written c. 1987 might compel
the interest of a student of Mallarme,
but only them. I was caught between wishing to provide an
explanation, the desire to make a manifesto, and the need
to sell. Thus I failed the first requisite:to be clear.
2:THE STATEMENT IN RELATION TO HISTORY
Historically,the artist's statement rose from a period of manifestos, in a time which hoped for Utopia,
which now we view with more qualified hopes, to put it mildly.The first great period of modernism--the period before ww1--is
also a period of manifesto making. It's important
to note that the cubist manifestoes were made by people like
Gleizes and Marcoussis rather than Braque and Picasso, and that
Marinetti, author of the Futurists manifestoes,produced little in the way of art unless a manifesto be considered so. To me there is a great deal of
unconcious aspirant fascism in many of these. Consider what it would be like to
be compelled to live in an apartment by Mondrian in which green,orange and
purple, the secondary colors, are forbidden. Or one of
Corbusier's" machines for living " if clean lines were not your thing .
A great many of the manifestoes had the tone of messianism or prophecy to them,
as if their author believed the future might be foreordained, engineered, even.
This viewpoint was scarcely halted by so unforeseen event as the first world war.
May as well make a megaphone circumspect as far as manifesto makers are
concerned. It effected writers as well as artists, and it is interesting and
instructive to see Ezra Pound try to outdo Wyndham Lewis in vituperation
on the pages of BLAST.
Reading them today, one feels a sympathy with the poet Mandelstam,
who said to his grandstanding confrere, Mayakovski, "Quiet down, Comrade;
you are not a Rumanian orchestra."
With the making of manifestoes
began the tradition of a self-interested pleading with chronology:that this idea begins here,
that this take on an idea is....original, a beginning. The merit
lies in being first. This art-historical beaux ideal underwent a lumbering sort of death, as when an
elephant falls to its knees, during the post-modernist revision begun in mid '70's,but
as a mental habit it very much persists, though we are in an epoch of
developments rather than beginnings.It requires fabricating an ideology which argues for the
merits of your practise. This in turn leads to the pretense of certainty, the fault of concluding too much.This is hardly a recipe for clarity and self-knowledge.
There is also the pre-emptive claim of the future as your own. What art
must be taught by you. And what history must learn from your work.
This was especially prevalent during the second era of
Example:the merits of Caravaggio really lie in their anticipation of Frank Stella,
-- at least according to Stella in his WORKING SPACE-- just as the merits of abstraction
lie in their refusal to record and thereby treat atrocity as quotidian. Poor Caravaggio,
to hang forlornly in the Louvre for several hundred years awaiting the advent of
Stella. As for his claims of the higher ethical status of abstraction: this is no better than saying
abstract painting is on a kind of cheap date with history, with all the
tough parts left out.
(I myself started painting" realistically" again because I see the inability to record atrocity
one of abstraction's limits)(if these terms are valid to begin with, which I also doubt)
History is polyphonic, as far as I can tell , and there are histories within histories
as far as I can see. It must be possible to state one's concerns without purporting to mesmerize
the direction of history.
Beyond that, it would be irrate not to mention artists who wrote really well:
Michelangelo,Delacroix, Klee for starters, and with Blake in a zone where poetry
nearly becomes image. The poems of Arp, Van Gogh's letters, Giacometti's essay
--replete with diagrams-- on his dreams. There are titles of a few
words which are as fine as any poem: the sur-titles of Goya's LOS CAPRICHIOS. The schism they try to cross
is the one between word and image. To arrive there would be a great thing.