Yet another rant, from an opinionated Artist.

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. 

Life is indeed a canvas.

I am a student of Life, Art and Writing. In Norway we often say: «Livet er ikke for nybegynnere!» This translates into English as «Life is not for novices».

Life is — in my opinion — hopefully a constant learning center and creative process, where we eventually learn new solutions and also how to avoid repeating old mistakes and behaviors — all too many times. But «Hey, shit happens … and History is doomed to repeat itself! Right?»

While learning and correcting ourselves faster and faster is both difficult and contingent upon many interpersonal, psychological, and external factors, it is nonetheless a clearly stated goal for many of us — even though we often lose track in our personal processes.

I am at “that difficult stage” in my current painting-in-progress. The concept and theme, the background and mood, and the main figurative elements are in place. But the decision making is by no means over. Should the final elements to be added in then be in colors that complement and partially blend in with the background, or should they emphasize the total concept in a more dramatic way that competes with the main imagery? And accordingly, what degree of abstraction should be eventually employed? How much intensity and drama should the final painting communicate? And how do I approach play with clichés as opposed to allowing the viewer to find his/her own associations — in spite of my own visual and conceptual leading on? Can I assume that the Viewer has a treasure trove of imagery and conceptual associations that is similar to my own? 

These questions challenge me in all of my creative processes — in my Art, my writing, and in Life itself. I have often been quoted as saying that Art is about constant decision making:

“Visual art and literature are not only about technique, talent, style, and intuition, but also largely about choices and decisionmaking throughout every stage of the creative process — both that which is planned, and that which may seem to be ‘accidental’. Deconstruction/reconstruction, changing gears, and knowing when to stop revising are also important aspects of the artistic production process.”

Well, the same can also be said of Life’s processes. Life’s judgments and processes are both ever-changing with regard to a vast and active background of accompanying circumstances, scientific advancements and individual vs collective perspective developments. I simply do not have the ubiquitous or “definitive answers”. I choose to approach Life with a combination of drive, technical abilities and intuition based on my innate instincts and varying degrees of “pushing the envelope of Life”. Qualified judgments and behavior/actions, if you will — but all the same based upon elements of chance tinged with survival instinct. In the end, it is basically down to my own will to survive, will to struggle or fight, will to succeed … and the Lottery of Life choices. “Dare to struggle — dare to win”. I choose normally to avoid too much struggle and pain, but risk-taking is — for moi — a vital part of my own belief in the mechanism of Life. Life — like Art — involves constant decision making. I do not ascribe to the “que sera, sera” philosophy but rather to the belief in the demands of the Learning Process and my own ability to find corrections and adjustments where needed.

Everything has consequences — in Life, in Art, in writing … but much can be corrected along the way. Fortunately, in both Life and Art, we eventually learn from experience and from technical advancements, so that risk-taking allows us to supersede our fears of venturing beyond the basic laws and rules of perception, behavior, art making, writing, and perhaps sometimes even perceived safety. In this way, for me, Life is a canvas — a continuation of one painting or poem … one after another. And I also see each painting and poem that I create as an extension of all those preceding. 

Where do we begin: do we start with the background or with the main subject of the painting? Like with Life, I send to chart the atmospheric elements before working with figurative details, but soon afterwards the back and forth complementary dance and process overtakes. And then the decision making takes on a whole new meaning — i.e. how to make it all into a symphonic work, and hopefully to avoid extensive re-working. This makes Life and Art/poetry — in my experience — vital, organic, immediate …

In both Life, Art and poetry we reach points where we have achieved that which our current capabilities allow. But we always know that the next time around … then, we are hopefully even better equipped to take things to the «next level».

 

 

Is it really so dangerous to talk about your art and writing?

“It seems to me, that the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or any other past culture. Each age finds its own technique.” — Jackson Pollock

Reflections by Adam Donaldson Powell:

After having been told for decades to “never explain or discuss your art or writing” I am doing just that here on WordPress — this in order to share with others my thought processes, the philosophical questions behind my work, and the technical decisions thereof. That also enables me to do a bit of writing — combining poetic prose with small essays as texts accompanying my visual art. As with my writing, my art is always indifferent to currently popular trends of style but always socially relevant. It is not for everyone, as I intentionally aim to provoke thought on some level. And as we know, many resist deeper levels of thought (or thinking at all beyond superficial and personal needs and preoccupations). Is it still okay to just want to find sensual pleasure in a work of art, without being burdened by many questions and socio-political issues? Yes, of course. We all need a respite from time to time, but in my opinion, Art is always about possibilities — including diverse possible interpretations.

Another thing I now do is to preview the coming attractions on my main website. I do this to commit myself to an idea and its execution. Writing and making visual art are about constant decisionmaking, and while the final results are important, they are — in my opinion — mostly a compromise between various decisions made along the way. Understanding literature and art are thus more fully possible when one understands that ideas and expressions do not always come out of thin air, or merely by chance or through innate talent. An artist and a writer are like orchestra conductors, in that we are constantly conducting a huge symphony which consists of many voices, sounds, and ideas. This pertains to even the shortest forms of literature (haiku) and art (minimalism). But do not be deceived; the simplest expressions of literature and art require the most precision and talent. As with music, all sections of a literary or visual composition must be executed with equal mastery. One section cannot seem effortless while others feel belabored. Thus many writers and artists appreciate criticism most from “their literary and artistic colleagues”. They understand more of the total process involved and most likely dare to pose relevant questions and criticisms of interest and help to the writer or artist. For me, exploring the vast area between photorealism and abstraction gives me the most pleasure. The possible degrees of semi-realism are endless. Such expression is provocative because it forces us to step outside of how we think others see us and how we wish to be seen — beyond any photographic moment that is frozen in Time, and more into the psychological aspects of our Being. There are relevant parallels in literature, eg. stream of consciousness writing in novels, various technical diversions in poetry designed to function as asides, or even just to jolt the Reader into another possible reality, etc. And then it is no longer a bad thing to talk about one’s writing process or ideas because the total process is by definition still mysterious and indescribable. But like most modern art museums, just a hint of background information can be the ticket other Thinkers need in order to accompany you on their brief journey into our own Mind and Art.