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 am trying to explain what I do as an artist and why.
I have an ongoing intellectual and aesthetic engagement with the history of ideas about the relationship between culture and environment and landscape as a cultural artifact. This has led me to a quite pessimistic view of the near, but uncertain, future.
I worked many years as an urban planner.
I cannot save the world. I can , however, produce works of art.
There is nothing more important for me to do than to paint.
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). It is worthwhile to visit the Philadelphia Museum to view Étant donnés and the supporting exhibition illustrating the production of the work. Click on the link to see the museum's description of the piece.
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 range of the idea of the work is illustrated by the example of Alfred Leslie’s career, which extends from the end of World War II to the present moment. This period can be most accurately understood as a continuum, not a series of “isms,” as is widely to be the case.
The artist has produced a large oeuvre in a variety of mediums, several series of large paintings; films; watercolors; and large digital paintings.
Link to artist's website: www.alfredleslie.com.
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.” (Susan Buck-Morss, Dialectics of Seeing, p. 278.)
A supernatural source for subject or content is not credible, nor is it susceptible to rational discussion.
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 figure out the history ideas about this sensory experience of perception.
Where does the sensory experience of perception originate?
It occurs in the minds of artists and observers. It doesn't come through the ether from Jung’s collective unconscious, nor does it 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’.” According to Lichtheim, “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.
These writers, without intending to suggest supernatural agency, produced something in German that, when translated into English, sounds religious, and is contrary to the sense of the original.
Understanding the nature of this aspect of Central European aesthetics might provide a corrective to the regrettably sentimental, if not mystical, nature of much American thinking about art.
Artwork is the product of an autonomous artist who is not beholden to theocracy or the bourgeois/global market, not possessed of a desire to be socially useful, nor even trying to resolve dialectic tensions.
I strive to create tangible works of art that are 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.