Monday, April 18, 2011

Like Ballet

I doubt that I pay closer attention to the nature of painting than elite painters do.

But that being said I think it's fair to say that I spend more time thinking about "painting" than the average painter. At least of those here in Portland. It is terribly bourgeois to say that somebody's art "sucks" but at the risk of sounding bourgeois I've seen a lot of bad art. On top of that I heard a great deal of explanations of why I shouldn't say such things that are even worse than the art they are attempting to defend.

I wonder how much critical theory people really understand when they talk about the "politics of the subject object relationship"?

This is by no means going to be a post that rants on and on about how art has lost its way. I think there are plenty of those. However, in the last few days I found that my usually unfocused energy is becoming easier and easier to focus. Not, unlike a magnifying glass bending light into a small pinprick capable of starting fires. With this increased focus, and new viewpoint of reallydigging into the nature of painting I recently noticed something.

Now my penchant for endless digression aside, I think it's wise to explain something first. I have a masters degree in critical theory from Royal Holloway. And while one of the most useful things I ever learned from uni was how to speak volumes about absolutely noting, it was how to analyze writing.Not just what people are saying (any numbnuts can do that) but to follow the path a writer takes to get where they're going.

And Lord! What a world that opened up for me! I went back and read some of my own papers, and it was like seeing myself in a vintage black and white movie with a old-fashined player piano in the background.

When I read my papers from high school: "plink-plink-plink" goes the player piano as I explain about the structure of the United States Legislature, and the little imaginary movie me I go wandering this way and that way apparently looking for his keys or something as he attempts to explain why incumbents has an edge over challengers in mid term elections.

When I read my papers from my undergrad years the player piano has been exchanged for a synthesizer and it becomes a cheesy B movie. Full of drama and plot twists that make little sense to have included. one minute I'm talking about particle physics and the next how to make soufflé without burning the egg whites. One minute I'm searching for a pirate treasure map and the next I'm fighting ninjas on the Empire State building. (That paper by the way, was about the similarity between Henry VIII of England and Louis XIV of France.) you can imagine how that paper went.

When I began to work at the post graduate level a professor took me aside and gave me some good advice.

"Frank", he said "your work needs to be more precise. Stop dicking around and answer the question" (my paraphrase)

The papers I wrote in my final year at Uni have the precision and the focus of Ballet. Every arc or argument is carefully controlled and supported. Huge choreographed numbers of logic and wind around each other in perfect time. In short, the writing becomes about "how it is said", as much as "what it says." That is what I call "intention".

How does this apply to painting? After enough experience reading writing you can read paintings as well. The movie queues up and I can see painters doing these things I used to do in writing.

There are the painting of aimless wandering

The paintings that begin with a solid idea and somehow become lost.

The drama-laden

Paintings that disparate elements of unrelated ideas and attempt to tie those ideas together by tenuous theory bridges.

in short, too many artist are making wild unsupported wandering statements. The work has no intention, or at best, poor intention. The execution of how the visual language of a painting is phrased is as important as what the painting says. compare the work above with that of one of my favorite painters Graydon Parrish:

While you may not care for flowers, you have to admit, that painting is Ballet. The same goes for Jeremy Lipking:


This is what I mean by intention. So you don't like flowers? Fine, but you cannot argue with the how precise and fluid the execution of the movement is. I've watched videos of these men paint and it is like watching Baryshnikov dance. I'll ponder this more. You can be sure that over next few days I'll have Ballet on the brain.


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