Maurice with Jedermann

“Maurice and the Jedermann Fish” Hand-drawn litho, monoprint, Japanese paper, 40″ x 30″ 1991

Jedermann is a 1911 play by Hugo von Hofmanstall—it means EveryOne—I was in the audience in Saltzburg for its annual production in 1966 as an exchange student…jeeze time goes by don’t it?

Maurice wants this all to be clear as a bell rung. It’s been his goal forever…he only wants to source ideas from what he well knows—that Art comes from deep in the human genome. Where there are people, there is Art. Maurice knows this, understands this, and realizes this. Maurice also knows that all humans have been drawing from this well for at least 40,000 years, it’s where that fish lives. And how do you access the source? How do you dive into the pond, into the deepest well where the Fish swims? Every artist I know has a methodology for just that. What follows is a bit of my pal Maurice’s journey through some of the mental meanders to get there. AND, there is a real Maurice, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who has been my psychopomp leading me into the real world of philosophizing, grounded by that fish who reminds that the whole project with my Art has been one of, as Maurice put it, Eco-phenomonology. His school of embodied thought.

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“…and, why not say what happened?…” As poet Robert Lowell was fond of saying, as many of the Beat Generation were fond of saying, clarity of mind and communicating that clarity, is generous. And sure, you can dive into the unfathomable depths of Finnegan’s Wake for a few pages and be dazzled by that sticky goo of writing. It’s a kind of Studyhall to get to that work. And, really enjoy the confusion and erudition and end up knowing there are some great minds out there like James Joyce. As well, I look at art that leaves me in a state of HUH? …and like it, sooner or later. And, who doesn’t enjoy a puzzle? And… I may end up being just an annoying gadfly, or as the joke goes…”With all this horseshit, there must be a pony somewhere.” Shall we shovel some?

I was weaned on the great sweep of Formalism, when I was in school. ’66-’72, the exact dates of Lucy Lippard’s book, The Dematerialization of Art 1966-1972. This was very difficult art to “like” beyond the mental exercise. If you “got” it, you were cool, and coolness was the social butter of the day, spread nice n’ thick melting into all the crevasses. Cool was hot. But “hot” ladeled it out to you, spoon-feeding you like at the movies. Cool, you had to bring your own mind to the party. Marshall McLuhan was parsing this all out for us. This hot and cool business played out in the art of the day. The “high” art—stuff in the museums and glossy mags anyway. Was this all just Phenomenology, the philosophy of experience? Philosophical twisty-turny meanderings? Those six years saw revolutions on every front—of course, politics, music, sexual mores, racial lines, sexual lines re-drawn and obliterated, and for me, the revolution was in Art. Formalism was the move to erase any subjective associative information—the search for pure experience. Your precious feelings just gummed up the works. The janitorial staff had come along to Dematerialize, to sweep up all that hot house fretting over Abstraction. Simplify was Ultimate Freedom. Free-fall. All the viscissitudes of the Modern project done vicissitated—all that pealing away of markers that let you know something was Art. So by around 1970, Performance Art, Process Art (where the actualizing of something WAS the art), Land Art (where you had to travel to a far-off place to see the latest excavation), and finally, Conceptual Art. Conceptual Art whereby all you had to do was think things up, write it down, and have an exhibit of the words. Lawrence Weiner was one of the originators. A couple of words on a wall were more than enough. A couple of words. I liked all this stuff and bought into the program. No details required, no horizon, like on a foggy day. Looking for purity. This is the time of the so-called Death of the Author, Art Degree Zero. The birth of the Post-Modern Era.

Lawrence Wiener 2007

All that dematerialization, in an attempt to lighten the load, to be free of the distortions of the burgeoning market place, and curators acting the part of the artist, finally became a huge burden to carry into the studio as a practitioner. It was weight itself. Such historical baggage to tote. It wasn’t cool to paint Pictures or make Sculptures of A something. And in that era along comes Richard Serra to make his great philosophical sculptures where the subject was Mass itself. How? Just think of his installation at the Oliver Ranch where Serra had constructed great blocks of steel, forged and compressed until they were so heavy a special foundation needed to be constructed so as they not sink into the earth and be swallowed up by gravity itself. Think about it……exactly!

As a college senior, the final art school class (1970) was called “New Media.” It was understood this was a Conceptual Art class. How was it shaped? You only had to bring in a proposal for challenging “the given”, of what was already understood. We submitted proposals for each week. We were not limited by any skill, material expense, or time constraint. Two of my “Process Art” proposals were “I will not go to the Vietnam War” (though I had a very low number, in the lottery, 12, and I was actively being pursued by my local draft board) and another process-art proposal, “I will have our coming child by natural childbirth” (though the doctors in charge were very against this).”Hey, boy, I have a 12:15 tee time, let’s get this show on the road—a pitossan drip and ether with a giant episiotomy will do the trick.” I did not go to Vietnam and our son Noah was the first natural child birth at DC’s Sibley Hospital. The stories of these 2 “Process Art” actions are elsewhere on this blog. Here are the links: These two stories are such a deep part who I became, they exist almost as a catechism.

So Conceptual Art was made to “…affect sensitive areas of creation like authorship, originality, intertextuality, etc. that finally became fundamental areas of interest of the so-called digital or immaterial art.”…Janet Batet from the Blog ARTpulse. I wanted to make a piece to challenge notions of the curatorial Ivory Tower—of what could be seen as real art, testing the sensitive area of kitsch. I proposed in New Media to learn the fusty art of watercolor and make “paintings” of scenic beauty. Well I did make that “Painting” and learned the habit of picture making ever since, as this blog attests. And who doesn’t like a good story? I like telling stories, and stories with pictures, better yet—though verboten in my school days. And me and ol’ Maurice still like thinking about stuff. But, it’s been picture after picture ever since, and these days it’s picture inside picture.

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