friday, july 10, 2015
Some Thoughts on What it Needs Now

As an instructor, I tend to guide students through the stages of artistic development in an educational pathway similar to my own. When I became a student, I grasped at the 'parts' of art; the pieces and fragments of perception. I was preoccupied with collecting scraps of meaning through the coordination of tools with my perceptual organs. 
In some sense, this is still the task. Yet, in time, I have become less concerned with my own 'seeing' of things and more concerned with the nature of things themselves. I am beginning to yearn for the time and the fortitude required to reach a fuller apprehension, through understanding, of those things. 
Time and fortitude. I am still a beginner. I can barely approach a thing in the hope of knowing enough about it, through the organs of art, to be able to make sense of it. In spite of my highest hopes for clarity, my comprehension of things is still fragmentary. 
When I was in school, I learned to embrace the 'fog' of fragmentation. There were, after all, gems to be found in the fragments. Faced with deadlines and critiques, it was better to have something to show for oneself, some product to reveal to the critical viewer, than to waste time (or so it seemed) coming to grips with a complexity that was still well beyond my reach. I could always count my work as 'cool' and 'contemporary' and my confidence garnered praise, which I needed (it is no small reassurance to a young artist to be told repeatedly that you are on the right track).
Now, several years later, I am beginning to grow disillusioned with my own approach. With all my convictions about the intelligibility of the universe, I realize that in art I have clung obdurately to a modernist approach, one that has more in common with the view that the universe is unintelligible, scattered, and incoherent. This mentality, expressed in every media of art today, goes almost without question in the mainstream of society. Can this really be the most authentic way forward for the vocation of art? 
I still teach the modern masters because they are practical. They give us the ABC's of perception. But the classical masters give us, or try to give us, the thing to be perceived. They speak of content worth living and even dying for; their harmony of realized and idealized forms are discourses in philosophy, poetry, science and religion. Theirs is an ode not to the mechanics of creatures but to the creation of the Creator.
After twenty years of painting, I have barely learned how to write my own name. Now I must turn back again to my original, pre-art-school mentors, those who first charged my imagination when I was too little to begin naming things; when I didn't know what art was, other than a near miracle of intellection and dexterity, a thing of excellence and passion one could almost taste by seeing.
Certainly, I must work out of the inheritance I have been given, and that means making choices in the sight of not only the pre-modern, but also the modern and even the post-modern traditions. It would be unnatural to pretend that one can 'jump' out of one's historical milieu and carry on as if it had no effect on one's life and thinking. I have no wish to be that kind of a reactionary. And there are no easy answers to the problems of art in my age. What is still required, as always, is the sacrifice of time and fortitude.

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