Letter to an Art Historian, regarding an article he sent to me about
criticism of the art of Donald Judd:
I received the article in the post today. Thanks. Judd’s boxes are to me … just boxes. Like contemporary painters of photo-realistic and some hyper-realistic portraits and still life who attempt to supersede photos but whose images are devoid of “soul”, I find this kind of Art to be “anti-Art”. One can delight in the technical prowess behind such works of Art, but the question remains as to whether they are in fact a “style” on the same definitive level as Realism or Surrealism, or a novelty which is a mere obscure footnote in the overall framework of Art History. To me, Art should speak to a purpose, i.e. an idea or an interpretation that needs to be expressed, to provoke a response … something that is in some way extraordinary, unexpected and insistent. The objects may very well be ordinary and mundane, but for me to become interested in artistic portrayals of them there must be an idea that suggests the artist’s standpoint or question; and an invitation for me to participate with the work of Art through my own reactions and proposed interpretational ideas. These anti-Art sculptures/installations remind me of others that repel me at museums and galleries. Repel me because they give me nothing … because my expectations are muffled by the Nothingness. Looking at paintings by artists from all eras and periods, I note that even classical painters were provocative in their time, due to aberrations from the defining art trends of the time, introduction of new techniques and materials, depictions of religious, social and political motives and ideas, which were often discordant in detail albeit seemingly typical otherwise.
The later successive periods entailed much experimentation with style and bore fruit to many “isms”, that opened up the field of Art immensely. Judd’s reaction to Minimalism in painting is not — in my eyes — a variation on a theme OR an alternative. The pieces are perhaps best as “one-offs”, rather than as a style. For that there is not enough substance — ideologically or technically, imho.
After struggling through Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” I was subsequently appalled to read an article in a newspaper where he scoffed at and dismissed the massive work as inconsequential. In hindsight, it was indeed perhaps nothing more than a huge masturbation intended to massage freedom-seeking idle brains. Much like the creators of QAnon, which presents lots of bullshit conspiracy theories … just to see how far they can succeed in controlling the idle brains of the masses. It is — to me the same kind of anti-Art Project approach that many artists employ: presenting the emperor’s new clothes as a Reality that embarrasses all who do not see it because they feel dumb, uneducated, uncultured.
My own need to create and share my Art is different than these anti-Artists. My intention is to present ideas and images that entice the Viewer to become a creative participant in his/her own ever-changing thoughts and Life. My Art is based upon many ideas, feelings, questions etc. that I purposely make accessible in the Art and in my commentaries. And then — having given the Viewer the background for the work, and defined my intention — I leave it to the Viewer and critics to determine whether (or not) I have achieved my intentions technically and in my presentation of ideas.
I use textures, shadows and lights to approach the 3-dimensionality that Judd espouses. I have made a number of minimalistic paintings, but even in those I attempt to create a sense of space that leaves plenty of room for running — hot and cold. In Judd’s works I only get a feeling of coldness, and of contained order. I prefer Pollock’s endless dripping and Rothko’s monotonous colourfield variations on the same theme. The paint draws me in, electrifies me and gives me a sense of mental tactile exploration that is far greater than what I get from boxes, metal or wood structures reminiscent of everyday objects that are presented as objets d’Art without modification or inclusion in a greater context that gives meaning.
A box is still a box, a bare urinal placed in an art museum gallery is still a urinal … and a golden toilet is still a toilet. The urinal was an Art-political statement by the artist, relevant to that particular time in Art history and politics. But of the three the toilet is the most interesting and provoking because most people do not have toilets of gold, because it elevates the throne to really be A Throne, and because some wealthy persons actually do make ornaments of their toilets. Their shit and piss is thus of greater value and importance than that of most of us. And therein is the Art and the Statement and the Provocation. But even so, a pig wearing make-up is still “just a pig, wearing make-up”. One of the more interesting artists working with Minimalism and geometric design was Ellsworth Kelly. And of course, Calder.
Technique is very important, and I am forever exploring was to explore using and improving my technical skills. But technique without interpretational presentation is, to me, just a form of technical mastery. Unfortunately, many Viewers and artists are obsessed with the technical “wow-factor” in itself. Technique is one of many available tools that can be used to achieve artistic interpretation but is in itself merely a technical achievement. Realistic painters from the earlier periods eventually understood that what we actually see and interpret is subjectively different than the static mirrored and photographic realistic images; and thus began making surrealistic, abstract and semi-realistic portrayals that perhaps more correctly represent the many possible ways of seeing and interpreting images and objects. It is there that Art invites to Viewer participation in the artistic process and invitation to personal perceptual creativity — from Impressionism, to Cubism to Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism etc. Artists today have a wealth of styles, techniques, and art historical trends at our disposal. Our challenge is perhaps to re-interpret and modify/expand on these in order to make new statements and approaches to exploring perception of our World and existence. Many have always maintained throughout the ages that “all has been done and expressed before”. I agree and disagree. To me it is a question of constantly exploring which styles, techniques and materials work best to present my ideas and questions … in the context of where we are in today’s world, with today’s perceptions and realities, and in the ever-evolving context of a long history of Art/artistic development.
All previous artists who have established new styles and techniques have faced the same challenges and goals. We have not exhausted all possibilities in painting, drawing or sculpture. And it is important to know when to move on in our ideas, rather than repeating the same styles and techniques throughout an artistic career. That which was interesting and original in one work quickly becomes boring after having been repeated in all possible colours and combination ad nauseam. Viewers and Readers today will not tolerate such limitations. Get to the point, and continue to make new inroads in style and technical presentation.
There were notable differences in levels of technical mastery even amongst the most famous Artists in the past 500 years. And Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s paintings (of which I have seen hundreds of examples in my tours of art museums) vary in technical qualities, even within their own styles. But the most successful artists have managed to find the right combinations of technique, style and ideas in order to create “striking” interpretational images/works. Sometimes technical “perfection” is subservient to interpretational skills.
Creating “magic” in Art requires that kind of decision-making. Even in hard-edge Art and geometric Art the question of exactness of lines, brush strokes used and solid (flat, opaque) versus non-solid (cloudy, murky, muddy, or even translucent or vibrating) colour fields arise. I constantly make decisions regarding lines being technically straight and not, because a technically razor-edge straight line does not always appear so to the Viewer, and because too much rigidity is not always interpretatively beneficial to the ideas of the artwork in question. I wish that more Viewers and critics of Art would begin to focus more on how well the artist’s technical decisions and stylistic choices work, why and why not, rather than upon prowess of technical detail alone … and adherence to old rules regarding styles established previously. The aims and standards of earlier eras (especially the pre-photography Era of Realism) can perhaps be different than those of today.
But this is just another rant, from an opinionated artist. Keep making, viewing and purchasing the Art that gives you personal joy. That is all that matters.