Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
August 13, 2012
A few days ago I was cranky and didn’t know why. Then, during an impromptu Skype studio visit with Terry in England, he observed that the structure in my paintings is fading into the background and the gesture is becoming dominant. How scary is that? Very scary, it turns out. I realize that I always trusted the structure to carry the “meaning” in my intentionally “meaningless” work (are you still with me?) and the gesture was the lively little cheerleading team that gave it edge and life. Thirty years pass this way—happily, I might add—until I wake up to find that the gesture is parading about as the main character and, to make it worse, I’m all too aware that “gesture” is simply a euphemism for “scribbles.” Now I happen to love my scribbles; I think they’re some of the best scribbles out there. But they’re scribbles. Is it possible that anyone else could love them as much as I do?
About the same time I run into Molly Howitt in the parking lot at the Co-op. Molly was a ceramics student when I was teaching painting at Bennington, and I made it a point to collect as much of her output as possible—paying her for some, but not being above poking around in the reject pile outside the studio for others. I remember once fighting with another faculty member over who was going to buy the bowl we were supposed to be critiquing—I won, and still love it. Molly has been doing a million other things since, all worthy, but no ceramics. When I bring this up for the 100th time (I can be annoying), Molly says, “I loved the process, it’s just that I wasn’t doing anything special.”
And true; her work was very simple. However it had an elegance that distinguished it from all other handmade pots, most of which look, to me (apologies, ceramicists out there!) excruciatingly alike. Molly brightened when I told her this; maybe she’ll actually do it.
Then I went home to my scribbles, appreciating for the first time, how much courage it must have taken to be Cy Twombly.
Carol Diehl, Althaea, 2012, ink & pencil on panel, 12" x 14"
February 26, 2012
James Rosenquist, I Love You with My Ford, 1961. Oil on canvas, 6 feet 10 3/4 inches x 7 feet 9 1/2 inches. Moderna Museet, Stockholm. © James Rosenquist/Licensed by VAGA, New York.
A friend, who had just sold some work, called from Europe the other day to ask me which mind-bogglingly expensive camera she should buy. She’s not a photographer, per se, but a conceptual artist who uses photography, and the question was—digital or analog? You may be wondering why she’d seek advice from me, who knows squat about photography, but she knew that wouldn’t keep me from having an opinion—which, of course, I did. I asked her to describe the qualities of each, and when she was finished, told her unequivocally that she should buy the analog Hasselblad. It was easy. Describing the Hasselblad she was animated, talking about dense blacks and whites, crispness, and Ansel Adams; when it came to digital not only was her voice flat, she even said, “I hate digital images.” But, she told me, everyone else—artists and professional photographers alike—had weighed in on the side of digital, saying that printing would be expensive and difficult with analog, and besides, no one uses it anymore. “So what?” I said, “It’s clear you want the Hasselblad, and you can only make great art if you love your instrument and are excited about what you can do with it.”
Meanwhile another friend, a student at a high-profile art college, reports being pushed toward installation, video, and performance, when all he wants to do is paint.
The problem with gearing everything toward what’s hot, what’s happening NOW, is that it’s NOW—when, hopefully, we’re making the art of the future. And while we can’t predict the future, we do know one thing: it won’t be anything like NOW.
So what do we have to go on? Fortunately, we’ve been created with the perfect internal barometer: our gut. Are we excited? Are we not excited? It will always tell us—unless, of course, we’ve been programmed to let our heads overrule its messages.
I interviewed James Rosenquist many years ago, who told me that when he was coming up it was all about Abstract Expressionism, and he could see that by the time he got good at it, it would be over. So he turned to what he knew best: sign painting. Was anyone else doing sign painting? No. Did he have any idea that anyone would be interested? No. But he was, and that was key.
Well, right now, THE THING is information-based art. Coupled with a sneering disdain for the visual, it’s been THE THING with curators and academicians for many years—at least as pervasive as AbEx was in Rosenquist’s student days. And while I don’t know that the next THING will be painting or analog photography, I don’t know that it won’t be, either.
However I DO know that in the hands of my two friends, painting and analog photography won't look anything like they did back in the day.
Today I got an email from my friend with the subject “No words.” The message:
Got it yesterday as planned!
She also send the link to this, from 2001, which I’d never seen, a French production by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson: