saturday, june 20, 2009
Being Perplexed and Knowing It

I keep going back to my artist statement and making slight modifications. The really sticky area, the place that keeps changing, is the part that makes me bother to draw or paint the body in the first place. In my effort to understand what it is that I’m up to when I start a piece, I’ve been paying close attention to how I talk about it. Because if I say it a certain way, and it irritates me, then I know its probably not completely accurate.


Fortunately, I picked up a copy of Arnheim’s Art and Visual Perception, which is shedding quite a bit of light on the subject of what the artist is ‘up to’ from a psychological and even a physiological standpoint. This re-discovery of Arnheim is home sweet home for my mind because I picked up on this sort of ‘gestalt’ spirit when I was a student at the University of Washington. I knew Arnheim’s voice through my teachers because they knew him through theirs in and around the 1970s. Now I’m being given back some of the language that I had once found so impressive and fascinating as an undergraduate. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It was and is still exceedingly practical.


However, I don’t want to jump to any windy conclusions until I have made a thorough study of the book for myself. Suffice it to say that I’m onto something.


Today I found this remark in another classic I’m going through called How to Read a Book. Its applies to my situation in art, both in describing my work process and in the process of working itself. The author says of the subject:


“If he [the reader, or in this case, the artist] is sensitive to the difference between passages he can readily understand and those he cannot, he will probably be able to locate the [parts] that carry the main burden of meaning.


If we understand 'passages' to mean those found not only in our reading of literature but also in our reading of nature and of our own work, this remark rings true. It offers us a sound guideline that can be applied both during our work in the studio and in our subsequent thinking about our work. The authors then makes this remark which really startled me and made me smile:


be perplexed and know it. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature.”


Columbo couldn’t have said it better! We are to be detectives when making art as well as in thinking about our work. And after all, isn’t the study of art, if not the practice of art itself, an investigation of nature


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