an immersion into a world revealed whose depths churn with worlds untold.

June 5, 2012 § 2 Comments

Dear ___________,

I’m not opposed to abstraction or minimalism, but like you I do find the scene and most of the conversations about such work very tedious. In my view, proper critique and even commentary cannot happen conversationally at a gallery showing. The less said of a piece upon its debut the better.

Could we perhaps say that something is only “artless” to the extent it inspires no further creation? That is to say, when it requires and elicits neither interpretation nor comment, and it does not intentionally engage the greater world of the creative arts (past, present & future). This goes some distance in formalizing an objective idea what constitutes art, but not without a significant subjective reserve that keeps us from being too definitive.

(I don’t have much to say regarding your question about “the varieties of happenings and performance  art that take up John Cage’s project of erasing the creator’s intentions from art.” Press me on the point if  you like, but for now I will simply assert that though those sorts of efforts at erasure are interesting, and perhaps ephemerally possible, they are at the end of the day, whether they prove lucrative or not, identifiable acts of an individual (or collective) will. The same problem attains to all manner of apophatic gestures and desires: residues abide. And this failure, I say, is a good thing, not a tragedy. Fear the man whose Ideas never fail.)

But what of inspiration, you ask. My sense is that inspired art, to put it blandly, endures — if not brimming with life, ruined with decay, which may be a way of saying the same thing. Of course, there is the necessary element of art needing also to be discovered, and I don’t want to discount the possibility of undiscovered inspiration. Indeed, it is not hard to conceive of inspiration as predicated on such. What we must avoid, however, is making art instantly identifiable as such, that is, identifiably art simply because it derives its motivation or inspiration from something else.

The sort of inspiration I have in mind is not strictly born of idealistic influence or through curated empiricism, but speaks rather to a work’s capacity to open an experiential horizon — an experience not simply of Beauty or Truth, as the Classicists would have, but also that of Fracture and Excess, as well as of the untold traumas of modern life that have as much truth as anything beautiful. Such an experience, if it occurs at all, as momentary as it may be, cannot be regarded as an achievement won or insight had. Like any good sublime, if I may chance such a risky term, it is an opening into further experience — an immersion into a world revealed whose depths churn with worlds untold.

All this is to say, the degree to which a piece of art keeps us merely on the surface of the work, or merely alongside the personality of its creator, or within the moment of its creation, etc., is the same degree to which art is (so goes my hypothesis here and adopting your language) sterile. Might it become potent sometime in the future? Or perhaps was so at sometime in the past? I don’t like to rule anything out, but surely we have to grant that for the most part, for most self-ascribed artists, probably not. The democratization of the practice of art, the freeing of all humans (well, those with the disposable resources of time and money) to pursue their aesthetic whimsies, is truly a liberating thing; but as is the case with any such liberation, it is also inevitably noisy and makes it quite difficult indeed to find one’s sense of self, let alone find anything of value, amidst the self-asserting masses.

Indeed, I should count myself lucky if even this letter, my own self-assertion, finds its way to its destination.


§ 2 Responses to an immersion into a world revealed whose depths churn with worlds untold.

  • Nin Andrews says:

    I often change my mind about art and find it daunting when people send me work and expect a thumbs-up or down. Or when a critic is so certain of his judgment.

  • Brad Johnson says:

    Yeah. I think most people who have given me work to comment on expect precisely that — a comment. And comments imply conversations. I like a criticism that tries to replicate this — that converses with the work in question. Judgments will still occur, as they do in all discourse. But it becomes less like a grade or measuring stick.

    Thumbs-up / thumbs-down seems so final, like I’m Caesar weighing whether a gladiator should live or die.

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