What is the point of producing artwork in the present moment, or any moment? Western art history describes an evolution from illustrating the sacred, whatever that may have been thought to be at various points in time, to the present, where it is widely believed that there can be art without content, purpose or meaning.
I want to explain what I am doing as an artist and why.
Modernism is alleged to have ended sometime in the 1960s. Much that has been written about this alleged transformation is confused, if not nonsensical, and, in any event, is unhelpful to artists trying to situate themselves in the 21st century. A refreshingly useful exception is the work of Hans Belting, particularly The Invisible Masterpiece, and Art History After Modernism.
In Invisible Masterpiece, Belting chronicles the history of the idea of the masterpiece and how its significance changed in the Renaissance as the role of art changed from religious explanation to individual expression. Belting describes the diminution of the importance of a tangible artwork to the point where it is claimed by some that a work itself is unnecessary.
He describes the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1913, and how the theft contributed to the commodification of this painting, a process aided by Duchamp’s moustache and goatee recreation. Belting discusses conceptual art and other manifestations of what is sometimes referred to as post-Modernism.
Duchamp in the end reasserted the primacy of tangible works of art providing detailed instructions for the posthumous completion of an installation titled Étant donnés, on which he'd worked for many years (Invisible Masterpiece, 329-32).
My understanding of what constitutes art has evolved over the years.
A work of any kind is currently considered acceptable, from painstakingly executed technically demanding pieces to ephemeral actions requiring neither technical competence nor creative risk. An artwork can even be imagined.
The idea of the work has expanded, as illustrated by Alfred Leslie’s move from Abstract Expressionism to hyperrealism in the 1960s, which might be thought reactionary, especially in the context of realism in North America. It was, in fact, confrontational and forward looking, as he stated at the time.
Leslie has produced a large oeuvre on several themes at a grand scale and in a variety of mediums, several series of large paintings; films; watercolors; and -- for the last twenty years -- large digital paintings that he refers to as “Pixel Scores.”
The artist’s career spans the art world from the end of World War II to the present moment. It supports understanding this period of time as a long continuum, not a series of 'isms,' as is widely understood to be the case.
Where does art come from?
After working through Brecht’s dialectical approach [Walter] Benjamin concluded that the “. . . images of the unconscious are thus formed as a result of concrete, historical experiences, not (as with Jung’s archetypes) biologically inherited.” (Dialectics, p. 278.)
A supernatural source for subject or content is not susceptible to rational discussion. The Marxian argument for socially useful work falls short. It denies the autonomy of the individual.
For as long as I have thought about art I have been aware of the subjective apprehension of art and artworks (the feelings associated with experiencing art), something I have come to understand as a sensory experience of perception. This construction situates aesthetics in the realm of human experience. I am still trying to understand the history of how people have thought about this sensory experience of perception.
Where is it? Where does it originate?
It occurs in the minds of artists and observers. It doesn't come through the ether from Jung’s collective unconscious, nor arrive by the grace of God, other deities, or supernatural forces.
It doesn't actually come from anywhere. It is the active experience of seeing, hearing, smelling, and otherwise apprehending something, at a particular moment. This palpable gob of sensations is an emotional, visceral, and visual experience. It is difficult to put into words.
Part of the problem is linguistic and cultural. Central European philosophers, artists, and critics, writing in German, used a term that expressed spiritual feelings, but without a supernatural dimension. Geisteswissenschaft, (dictionary definition – “history of ideas”) is described by George Lichtheim as, “an untranslatable term, since Geist carries metaphysical overtones very inadequately rendered by ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’. What Geisteswissenschaft, ultimately implied was the identity of the reflective thinker’s own mind with the Mind whose manifestations lie spread before us in history.” (p. 16, George Lukcás. Lichtheim. Viking 1970).
My impression is that in the German-speaking Central European intellectual world the apprehension of nature and its subjective experience constitute a large body of discussion and writing not widely known nor appreciated in Paris or New York.
I want to learn how the history of ideas surrounding the appreciation of nature was understood by Central European intellectuals and academics between 1900 and the early 1930's.
These writers, without intending to suggest supernatural agency, produced something in German that, when translated into English, sounds religious. This seems to be especially the case in the United States.
Perceiving the world as I look out at the densely forested view from my living room window.
As I consider what Carl Sauer, Clarence Glacken, and their students, wrote concerning the appreciation of nature (in which the scientific and aesthetic apprehensions of place are considered together), it is obvious and inevitable that human activity, which has accelerated exponentially over the last 500 to 1000 years, is stamping out the earth’s beauty, destroying the earth as it is.
I do not understand why the work of those Berkeley geographers did not elicit appropriate responses to what their work meant.
Thinking of it altogether at once is overwhelming -- nearly unbearable. I’m struggling with how to understand and describe it.
Artwork is the product of an autonomous artist who is not beholden to theocracy or the bourgeois/global market, possessed of a desire to be socially useful, nor even trying to resolve dialectic tensions.
I strive to create tangible works of art, products of innate talent, informed by study and practice, and refracted through an intensely militant individuality.
I do not rely for a living on the sale of my work.
I served on the board of the Arroyo Arts Collective, and as a member and president of the board of LA Artcore.