Wednesday, November 3, 2010


And Answer Questions Not Yet Asked
And Carve Thoughts Into My Head Like History
And Keeps My Eyes At The Front Of My Mind (Sometimes They Spin)

Above And Below Is Why I Choose Fine Art

Art is a reconfiguration of thought about the world in the present.

Two notes on this:
First of all, this is a broad statement. The artist must determine how to reconfigure thought (of both the audience and the artist). He must decide what kind of thought he is working with – emotional, psychological, social, political. It is his choice of world, be it internal or external.

Secondly, the ‘in the present’ at the end of the statement may at first seem blinkered – what if the artist wants to paint the future or sculpt the past? Or transcend time all together? Well, the artist can paint the future and sculpt the past all at once if he/she wishes, but the laws of the universe only allow us to do this from the present. The artist, like any human, is perpetually here and now. Thus, the idea of transcending time is ridiculous.

And why would you want to anyway? If it were possible to create a timeless piece of art, it would be a foolish piece of art. It would not be art.
In the Fine Art rotation, I painted memories (above). This was unexpected. Surely I was meant to paint something new and raw and bloody, isn’t that why I came to Chelsea, to London? And yet I realised I was doing all of this. I was reconfiguring thought about my past world in the present. Shedding a different light upon things in the past so that they refracted through my mind and onto the page (cardboard) from a different angle. Suddenly Imogen, my good friend (‘sista’) in Australia looked ghostly, like she come outta tha earth or summin, like she be inna diffrent world, which she is. And the early night sky above her is trying to reach the ground. And there is whitewash plaster behind her, like in One Hundred Years Of Solitude, which we have spoken about together, and can’t you just imagine Remedios The Beauty eating whitewash plaster and sleeping against the warmth of the earth? All this stuff of our history, or of my history coloured by her, caught up in this cardboard box, set in acrylics like sap in a paperbark tree.
Baudelaire declared that ‘in order for an artist to have a world to express, he must first be situated in the world, oppressed or oppressing, resigned or rebellious, a man among men’ (Christopher Isherwood, ‘The Intimate Journals of Charles Baudelaire’, first published 1930)

This idea is unmistakably Orwellian. To create art through experience. Orwell worked as a policeman in Burma and wrote ‘Burmese Days’. He skinned the streets for cigarette ends on ‘a shilling a day’ and published ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. He fought against Franco and wrote ‘Homage to Catalonia’. 
Orwell wasn’t doing these things for his art, per se. He was doing them as an artist. He reconfigured thought with words, chose worlds that mattered to him, and worked in and for ‘the now’ in quite a literal sense. Orwell saw events that needed to be spoken for. He lived these events and he spoke. Writing with the taste of his times on his tongue. (More on Orwell later)

And then I blush. Am I a phony? I’m not on the streets or at the student protests or in Afghanistan. But then I think, well, I am speaking of my own world, a necessary act in youth. It is important though to listen as well. My task now is to create art with more empathy. This is what I want to achieve by choosing fine art – to explore conceptual depth outside myself. This way I am sure to learn more.

To be man among men, an artist among artists.

...NOT, if I must justify the relevance of this all, among designers, or worse, clients...

Anyway, this idea reminds me of Kafka’s story, ‘Josephine and the Mousepeople’. Kafka is cryptic, to say the least, so when I read him I just come up with my own analogies. For me this story communicates a metaphor for the definition of art and the artist. It is about a singer, Josephine, who lives among a community of mousepeople. The mousepeople cherish her singing, often attending her concerts to hear her music. Paradoxical to this reverence of Josephine is the existence of an uncertainty as to whether her singing is music, or whether it is mere whistling, which all of the mousepeople are able to do.
'Even if hers were only our usual workaday piping, there is first of all this peculiarity to consider, that here is someone making a ceremonial performance out of doing the usual thing. To crack a nut is truly no feat, so no one would ever dare to collect an audience in order to entertain it with nut-cracking. But if all the same one does do that and succeeds in entertaining the public, then it cannot be a matter of simple nut-cracking. Or it is a matter of nut-cracking, but it turns out that we have overlooked the art of cracking nuts because we were too skilled in it and that this newcomer to it first shows us its real nature, even finding it useful in making his effects to be rather less expert in nut-cracking than most of us.'
Apart from conceptualising ‘Fountain’ (the urinal) well before Duchamp, Kafka offers two ideas about the value of the artist:
Either he is…
I.               A brilliant artist
II.             He is an ordinary man who, for some reason or other, happened to place his rather pedestrian work in a new context (perhaps a gallery or a stage). As a result, other ordinary men looked upon his work differently, even though it was more or less the same as theirs.

Ultimately, I think he agrees with both simultaneously: I wrote this quotation down when I read the story to simplify the words visually: 
I’m not sure if it is self-explanatory but this passage sums it up for me. It says,

Art is Not Above Anyone
Art Uses the Language of the People
An Artist Takes, Holds, Loves the Language of the People
Shapes the Language Outside of Normal Experience
Frees It
And Makes It Great
So Others Can See It Properly
It is Not Superhuman
It Does Not Access God
For Who Cares For God When We Have People?

As Lawrence Durrell said in an interview,
'The theme of art is the theme of life itself. This artificial distinction between artists and human beings is precisely what we are all suffering from. An artist is only someone unrolling and digging out and excavating the areas normally accessible to normal people everywhere, and exhibiting them as a sort of scarecrow to show people what can be done with themselves…
I see artists as a great battalion moving through paint, words, music … to sum up in a sort of metaphor the cosmology of a particular moment in which we are living.' (

Art is about communication. It is about accessibility. For me, right now, the choice between studying Modern History in Sydney and studying Fine Art in London seems to have been the right one. If I want to say something, isn’t it more effective to create art in a common space than to write a solemn essay destined for a minuscule minority of Sydney’s scholars, who are being paid to pay attention anyhow?

Joseph Beuys agreed that art is most effective for sending a message. In his Joseph Beuys’ performance piece, ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’, he attempts to explain his paintings to a dead hare whilst wearing honey and gold leaf on his face and an iron slab on his shoe. According to his elaborations, the piece is about understanding. I see the hare as a symbol of the artist’s audience. He explores ideas of pedagogy and how one must empathise intellectually with another in order to make them understand. The gold and honey represent a transformation of thought and a divergence from rationality necessary to teach the hare.  

Beauys’ idea of social sculpture is a conceptual form of art that offers a practical way to make a difference through mass participation. It uses the language of the people.

A brief example: In 1982 Beuys placed a heap of basalt stones in a rural area of Germany. From above one could discern that the stones made an arrow pointing to a large oak tree. Beuys announced that the stones could only be moved if other oak trees were planted, each with one stone next to them. Over several years 7000 oak trees were planted.
But an artist does not need to be so political.

William Crozier exhibited this year at the Flowers Gallery in Shoreditch. I loved his work when I saw it. He is old and Scottish and many of his paintings are of Scottish landscapes. The childlike simplification of Crozier’s forms creates a sense of common language. Anyone who can see can respond to his colours, and if they cannot see perhaps they experience colour synaesthesically through some other sense. Anyone can understand the emotions he is trying to describe, if they look hard enough, free their minds enough. His Art is not above you, it’s with you.
Like I did, Crozier paints patterns from his mind – patterns that others can recognise.

Right now I am reading a compilation of his essays, ‘Inside the Whale and other essays’, the first being its namesake. This essay is a reflection on the different ways in which modern writers (up until 1940, when it was published) have or have not written with reference to the what’s happening around them. He makes clear that an artist does not need to propagate political ideas or physically become his subject in order to make art as a man among men. He doesn’t need to be tossed around the sea before his opinion matters. Like Henry Miller, whose work Orwell is critiquing, the artist can view and create from inside the whale, as long as the whale is transparent. He is ‘allowing himself to be swallowed’, like Jonah, ‘remaining passive, accepting’ at the same time as understanding and knowing What Goes On.

Arthur Boyd, Jonah Outside the City, 1950
Orwell cites Lawrence Durrell as in this same Jonah school. In the Alexandria Quartet, Durrell speaks about Art from inside the transparent whale:

‘Only there, in the silences of the painter or the writer can reality be reordered, reworked and made to show its significant side’

This statement was the original inspiration for my succinct idea of art. This statement explains why George Orwell did not merely endure experiences, but wrote about them during or after. It is why, as I stepped back from my painting in the rotation, I started to look back as well, only differently. It is why Beuys believed rightly that he could make a difference simply by fashioning stones into an arrow. And this is why Crozier’s colours are so vivid.

Ultimately, I choose Fine Art because it is the most rational. Viscom made me question my own worth (hideous serial boxes decorated with painted faces…what is that?). 3D Spatial and Fashion/Textiles were exciting in a practical sense but less enriching conceptually. This was not because they lacked this conceptual element. I simply felt more inclined to think about my work in a meaningful way in Fine Art.

I think Fine Art will allow me to come up with new ideas and examine old ones in a new light. It will enable me to further my creation of a tangible connection between myself and world, and to overthrow my tendency for running riot in my own head.

Fine Art is just as much of a reality check that I need.

As an endnote, more Kafka:

“Then birds flew up like corks out of a bottle, I followed them with my eyes, saw them climb in a single breath until I no longer thought they were rising but that I was falling…”

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