Printmaking Blog


cuniformLanguage of Art - 11/3/2011

This entry is a brief observation about a question which came up in a portfolio review today. One of my students brought to me a wonderfully written artist's statement. The question arises as to what transformative effects that a statement of words could have to the actual art piece.


If the statement is too good, covering every nuance of interpretive meaning, every symbol, every description of the work, then can this also affect the way we see the work? If this is the case, then can this be a negative to the language of visual art? Does an overreliance on words diminish the power of the artwork?


I'm a firm believer that art is meant to be seen and absorbed holistically. It is difficult to give an adequate picture by using words, in particular, if the words break segments of the work up into analytical sound bites. The art should be greater than the sum of its parts.


As an example, it is difficult to grade a work of art, breaking each of its components into so many points. Should we give ten points for value range, ten points for composition, ten points for craftsmanship, etc.? The problem I've experienced is that the work may score very high in a point system, but have absolutely no power in terms of art. For this reason, I maintain that art is a holistic animal and should not be digested in separate fragments.


Returning back to the idea of artists' statements and how they affect the art, it is important to understand that critical analysis may have a similar effect as the example just cited. Sure, in academia, we like to break things apart and give each of the parts a label, but at some point, we are forced to put the pieces back together and once again allow the art to speak for itself.


This strange transformation of language from visual to written is certainly an interesting phenomenon. This retranslation of the actual piece could take other forms, as well. Often art is retranslated through its documentation. I remember in the 70s, I first began to enter works into national shows. The joke among art students was that the slide was better than the artwork. In a sense, the slide transformed the work. It became a surrogate language, which begs the question of whether those art competitions weren't more accurately, slide competitions.


With the modern digital age, perhaps, we have a truer translation of our images. However, this does not preclude the use of Photoshop to bump up contrast or hue. With the advent of performance and conceptual art, documentation has become a critical part of the art. I often see installations that depend greatly on the art of photography. This leads to another question as to whether the photo of an installation, with its interesting camera angles, lighting, and depth of field is just as important as the actual installation.


Ironically, the very act of writing this post, with all its academic verbiage, fulfills my own worst fears. As a professor, I continue to dissect, critique, and assess my student's art. I require them to use artistic terminology, orate, and write about their images. All the while, my greatest hope is that their work moves me greater than their best written statements.

Let's put another blog on the fire - 9/1/2011

Isn't it such fun to stir up trouble? What better way is there to do this than by asking the age old question, "What is Art?" Not only is this a loaded question, but it probably has no real answer in the scheme of humanity. As artists and critics go, we still bounce this one around, maybe because it gives us something to do and makes us feel important.


I can't really give you a definitive answer, since aesthetics, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. All I can do is tap into my experience of over two decades studying and teaching art. Although totally biased, I have a few very distinct and personal conclusions to share.


Let me first define what I mean, when I say, art. I actually mean "good" art. I disagree with those who say there is no such thing as good art; there is only art. I believe good art to be something worthwhile, as opposed to something popular and on a pedestal.


Good art should also require skill, something not everyone can do. It must pose questions that make me want to know the answers. However, it should not give me too many answers. That would be like giving me a crossword puzzle that was already filled in. What would be the fun of that? Above all, I believe good art should be universal and appeal on many levels. As an example, a still life may be just a still life to the general population. However, to the artist and the critic, the same still life may be an amazing study of abstract shapes.


I don't believe art can exist without its audience. The artist may create art as a kind of self therapy, but unless it is shared, how can it possibly communicate and move emotionally. The viewer and the artist share a symbiotic relationship. By definition, one defines the other, much like a student/teacher relationship. Without the student, there can be no teacher.


Let me conclude with something totally controversial, especially with today's trends toward the cutting-edge. I don't believe good art can exist if concept abandons visual principles. Then again, I'm old and I've been known to be wrong upon occasion. Futhermore, who am I to tell you what to put inside your brain, conceptually speaking, of course?




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