Monday, 10 March 2014

Using Found Words and Images

I was only just coming out of my blank stage in this exercise, nonetheless I was able to come up with some images that may be considered evocative. Appropriating text to go with images I found quite difficult I suppose because I had some idea in my mind of what I wanted to say and finding something appropriate wasn't always possible.  A slightly more abstracted thought worked in The End of the Dark Ages, and in some ways this was easier because it left more to the imagination but the viewer  probably has to do more work. If I had more aptitude I feel sure this method of working would yield a lot more. I have not been particularly inspired by anybody's work though.


Autobiography and Identity

I am conscious of the fact that I tend to see the negative side of things in my work, the black side, so I tried to remedy this by thinking about the wonderful and live changing experience of giving birth.

As a concept it has other meanings as it is the coming into being of life itself.  Where does the spark of life come from, what is it to be a person and have individuality, what future prospects are already intrinsic in a child's DNA or genetic make-up?  What are the potentialities, the proclivities in that foetus, all the ramifications of "nature and nurture", the questions of lineage and inherited traits, the idea of a future life as an adult and the joys and pitfalls of that specific life?  The ideas are vast and range from the big bang theory which created the universe where there are star nurseries to infinity where it is possible to imagine everything from ideas to aliens.

In order to try to capture just a small part of this wonderful and exciting prospect is what I have set out to achieve.  Yet the black side persists just a little and is represented in the words: "Rock-a-bye baby on a tree top", we all know how the cradle eventually falls, and this infers possible less pleasant prospects in the life of this original and unique form.

At the time of producing this piece I had recently been to the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern.  When reading the catalogue I came across what I considered to be a remarkably apt and poetic quotation which I had to include in the painting, as it was so moving:

"What true artist would not like to live there, where the central organ of all time-space agitation, call it brain or heart of creation, as you will, is the source of all functions?  In the womb of nature, at the source of creation, where the secret key to all lies guarded?

In this way I have tried to include text that is relevant to the painting that enhances it without necessarily describing it.  It gives more meaning and is thought provoking in a way that I hope the image is too.  It was nice for me personally, to get away from collage as such which I find a bit limiting in scope, but that is due to my own inability to think creatively enough about it.


I did not produce a sketch for this for the reasons I have cited in the past, i.e. in robs me of sponteneity.  However, I did develop the idea using various images on the pc and produced images in Fireworks.  At one time I was going to include electrical pylons, as transmitters of communication, a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci, roots of trees indicating lineage and so on, some of which I have generated from Fireworks, some are sketches and some are photographs. I think what eventually decided me to produce the above was because it gave me the chance to include some positive colour, rather than greys and blacks. I have used acrylic colour as a basis for the work and have high-lighted and modified various areas with the use of oil pastel.


Appropriation of Text (On Kawara and Joseph Kosuth)

I have chosen these two artists, Joseph Kosuth and On Kawara, as their work appears in New Art in the 60s and 70s, in this way I have the opporutnity of looking and reading about their work, rather than merely looking at images without any idea of what I am looking at. 

The book quotes a questioner's remarks: 'Your work seems to have even less resemblance to anything we previously considered art' to which Kosuth replies: "My work is a continual kind of primary concern has been with abstraction".  That Kosuth's work is a continual investigation is not in dispute, as I think most practising artists would think that, but as to "abstraction" the question of context and semantics makes it unclear as to what Kosuth is referring.  From his early work we are meant to understand the properties of his objects.

In terms of image construction or composition all available methods up until 70s and 80s are available, i.e. the field painting of Jackson Pollock eliminated "frames" to work and abstraction modified the way we once viewed an image as if through a window.  In a way Kosuth, in his Clear Square Glass Leaning is bringing the window to mind through metaphor and the properties of glass which might be a window. and how we might see through it or observe reflections. 

I think Kosuth in his pursuit of words as meaning and by substituting linguistic definitions for visual depictions strays outside of art into linguistics or ideas but attempts to justify it in the way that Duchamp justified his Mutt Urinal by saying 'if I say it is art then it is art'.  This statement clearly cannot stand up to scrutiny, I think only the purveyors and curators have the perogative over this assertion.  Kosuth is almost right in saying "Art as Idea as Idea" except I believe it should read' Idea is idea as idea,' it is not possible in my view to insert a unrelated definition, I think it is probably like positing a predicate. ipso facto: art as the cat sat on the mat. If visual form is dispensed with at the expense of language then the concept has changed from art to idea, which in my view is what conceptual 'art' is about.  To the conceptual artist, art is dead so he branches off into an ideas (as in philosophy) based pursuit which is interesting but it is not art (in my view). The essence of art being pleasurable or the word I prefer 'rewarding' is also lost so that the two main tenets of art, i.e. a presentation of visual form that has value, for amongst other things giving pleasure, are demeaned.

The difference between oriental calligraphy and child-like scribble are similar in that they both involve text, but one involves the artists hand and is about something other than itself and the other is, apparently necessarily, non-authorial and self reflexive.

The difficulties in using text is in relaying to the viewer its meaning.  If it reinforces an image or object then it might be easier to comprehend but without explanation it becomes an exercise in cold objectivity that  appears to go nowhere. Kosuth's One and Three Hammers is a case in point.  Kosuth wants to say that art is not concerned with questions of empirical fact, yet that is precisely what One and Three Hammers does say but in three ways.  It is actually four ways because the final image of all three represents the fourth. 

On Kawara's work, because it is conceptual , it follows the same Ideas based pursuit which has interesting things to say about the time life continuum which would have been much more effective if written up in the form of a thesis rather than trying to squeeze it into the narrow confines of conceptual art, where it does not fit, nor belong. I find some of these ideas presumptuous in the same way that I cannot understand Twitter feeds and social media.  Why is it important to know what someone else is doing in their daily lives?  Getting up, getting dressed, going for a drink.  It seems to me the height of self absorption and self indulgence which in itself is OK but it is presumptive to assume that I might be interested.  I think the whole thing has come about as the result of the so called cult of celebrity.  Why should I be interested?  I have met celebrities through real life situations but have never afforded them any special or hierarchical status, it is a ridiculous thing to do.  You might admire their work, music, films but why does that assume exceptional status over and above the great work of scientists, charity workers, thinkers and other "movers and shakers" who try to improve the world,  its environment and its people? (The same applies to Jean-Michel Basquiat's work). At least Kawara's One Million Years - Past, appears to have been produced as a book, so that it falls into the category of a literary indeavour even if he still wants to call it art. Shirin Neshat and artists like her who have something to say do not fall into this category because there is meaning in their work the message has value to a wider audience and is not merely an academic process.

The advantages of using found text is that, if you haven't got a pc you can find all sorts of nicely printed font types readymade, the 'readymades' of the linguistic world. The difficulty is finding the right words to use in appropriate places. Also a specific colour might work better than, say, black typeface, but it may not always be possible to find it.  The effect of white text on a dark ground can be more alluring that black on white, therefore it can have stronger force. The same applies to images, but that assumes you know what you want to say, if you don't and it is an exercise in shapes and colours with no meaning then there are no advantages nor disadvantages.


Text and Image as Biographical Image

Assuming the traditional rules of image construction involve definitions or values associated with: Colour, Form, Texture, Line, Narrative, Composition, Emotional response, psychological response, all or some of which the artist might use in producing a painting, then these rules appear to be skewed, or are insignificant, when considering Conceptual art.  There is a distinct rupture from the traditional art view, a step away from accepted sense perception ways of observing art to give pleasure. The word I prefer to use  in place of "pleasure" is for something to be "rewarding" as it avoids the issue of distinguishing between something being beautiful or ugly. Either of these two judgements can be represented by the word "rewarding" but getting pleasure from something that is ugly might be stretching a point.  It might be argued that because the written word can only present itself the message is obvious, if there are other interpretations to be surmised then they are subtle because they require explanation The polarity of the suggestion 'Is there a blatant or subtle message' does not leave room for the middle ground. which may well disclose something interesting.

If I consider the work Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat: it is black and white without dimension or shading, there is no created form, merely the static presentation of letters and words, texture does not seem to be involved, occasionally line might be relevant, the only narrative, is the personal expression of jumbled thoughts which are jotted down as one might write a shopping list. Composition or arrangement must presumably be thought about in placing the text, but I suspect they are random.  The only response is intellectual and even that is obscure. It seems to me that what one viewer might consider poetry is a jumble of doodles to another.  It is not possible to intuit meaning, no objective values with which to judge the merit of such a work, so without that I feel it is valid to say that in subjective terms I see little worth in it, as art.   It may interest a psychologist wishing to understand the persona or motivation of someone producing such ramblings but to my mind it is questionable as art.  From a visual perspective, it is unaffecting, I do not respond to it, it requires explanation.  Despsite all this I can see that expressions of ideas which have personal meaning and are relevant as a means of identity might be valid through a kind of individual list of word associations. In some ways it is a rather pruriant process, because of what might unwittingly be expressed through the sub-conscious, but this could also be argued against other styles of working. The comments I made in Appropriated Text and Images regarding "Celebrity" could also apply to Jean-Michel's work except that in his case it could be seen as a personal portrait in words so it may have validity on those grounds,  not as an art form but as an idea.

Tracy Emin's bed gives us an intensely personal view of her life that probably could not easily be presented in a more succinct way.  Some people see it as moving, I wouldn't go that far, but it is honest. I suppose if I presented the contents of the cupboard under my sink, or my wardrobe, it would be a similar revelation, the reality of what is personal to me without censorship.  It is akin to observing people in their conditions be those conditions harsh and wearing or bright and beautiful.  The painting of Courbet's stonebreakers comes to mind, except that the bed is in close contact with the body and therefore has all sorts of other implied interpretations. It might, for instance, be considered erotic.  Courbet's painting tells us more about social issues of the day, as well as practical ones. Tracy Emin's bed is something tangible presented to the viewer which could be taken as art whereas Basquiat's work remains doubtful. My argument could fall down here as he also presents something, it has some kind of value but in perceptive terms it does not have the same appeal as the bed, the latter almost being sculpture in the traditional sense, but the former is not really near to a painting in the traditional sense.