Let’s Talk About Seeing and Believing.

“The Novelty Shop”, Watercolor and Ceramic Figurines, 41″X 33″ 2022

Seeing, looking, depicting—Abstraction and Empathy.

When we make art that resembles what we know objective life to be, we are projecting a physical attachment to the universe…and, by the way, very fun to do. Conversely, when we create abstract art we are projecting “a psychic attitude toward the cosmos.” Also, very fun to do. There is an essential human need to express that part of us that believes in the existence of the spirit. Have you ever witnessed the birth of a child, and seen the flush of life take hold? And, have you ever witnessed the passing away of a person, sinking away into oblivion? Artists try to understand the hidden meanings that might lurk within every object, every material, and every process—back to that ol’ Animist thing—everything is alive, even if it is dead.

Abstraction and Empathy: Essay in the Psychology of Style by Wilhelm Worringer. A summer school class in ’67 on the “decorative arts” brought this book forward as an essay on the the way so many art objects are seen as abstractions of the phenomenal world, especially in the world of hand-made crafts. A Hopi bowl could be a stand-in for the whole universe, for example. In this way abstraction defined the unspeakable world of the Spirit. This became important to understanding the abstraction movements of the Modern era. The design of this Hopi bowl has conventionalized feathers, germinating seed leaves, squash blossoms, water droplets, clouds, rain and snow. 

The Universe in a bowl.

“That looks just like it does,” I was once told; a comment on a painting I had made. Coming of age as an artist at a time when Art had stripped away just about anything that would identify it as a work of Art, I found the Worringer essay a compass needle to point at the overarching spiritual nature of any art regardless of any style or era. Mere depiction, when I was in Art School, was seen as inferior—”not advanced” as critic Clement Greenberg laid out. (I thank my lucky stars for having sat beavering away at my life-drawing pad; required for an Art Degree) Art, according to Greenberg, was like Science, ever advancing to ever greater heights of truth and purity. A bunch of ca-ca, I think. Art doesn’t advance, it only responds to “the turning and turning in a widening gyre” like the falcon in Yeats’ poem The Second Coming. Art is a mirror of now, not a science experiment set to prove a theory.

“Art that tries to prove a point is pornography.” This is an idea attributed to James Joyce. I can’t find the attribution, but I agree. All Art that tries to prove a point is advertising one thing or another, as we are blizzarded with advertising, pornography, as the titlation of Dopamine responses to get us to buy stuff. The Algorithm measures our every click while we tune into the Noösphere, that imaginary place once predicted, where all things are known. These days we are probably there, at least with our devices plugged in. It Isn’t called the World Wide Web for nothin’.

Is there anything like “serious money” anymore? It all seems funny-money these days with NFT’s, Crypto, Catalan’s duct taped banana and Koons’ silly Balloon Dog. We watched Koons’ MasterClass and it was a fascinating keyhole into a world of downright pornographic proportions, him selling you every minute. We needed a shower to wash off the smarm. Did we enjoy his Masterclass? (I once-upon-a-time enjoyed a snort of cocaine, the purest form of gimm-me more, gimm-me more ever invented.) Koons is the right guy, in the right time, to mirror us as we disregard the destruction of the very substrate of our existence. Wheee! Well, we try to ignore the Algorithm proffering videos of Koons sodomizing his porn-star wife, or that bone of contention Maplethorp’s photographs became, like the one him posing with a bull whip stuck up his ass, became as a flog-shop for lawmakers who turned that work into the hockey puck in the great game of posturing and self-righteous indignation. Rome is burning, Caligula. Koons and Maplethorp are only ciphers, hiding out behind the great rock of Art History and Free Speech, offering us that Dopamine rush of the new and different. Dopamine, popularly touted as the neurotransmitter of pleasure, and it is. But, it is the neuro transmitter of pleasure ONLY when it relates to novelty. That’s why we like travel so much. Koons’ and Maplethorp’s Art gives us that dopamine fix because they are novel to us. Like this: I read somewhere a woman commenting on Maplethorp—”Uuk, those Maplethorp photos are so nauseating, I want to puke everytime I go back to see them.” This is why addiction plagues us and also this is all REAL Art because it shows us who and where we are.

The picture I call The Novelty Shop came into being as I work my way through this exploration of Picture in Picture. I’ve been at this idea a long time; a picture painted or sculpted surrounded by 3D commentary. It’s a form that only lately, has come to a place I genuinely love. I once had a voice come to me saying, “Lets just give ’em something they’ll want to look at.” I started painting “pictures” (in quotes because I thought of painting in some Meta sense)…kind of looking over my own shoulder, as though paintings were below my intellectual fervor for some elusive real truth. The real truth was I liked painting, especially watercolors. I’d heard of a job opening for a watercolor instructor at the local Junior College looking. I had made exactly one watercolor worth looking at. With that painting, I got the job—my “Meta-bird flew out the window and I taught watercolor for 25 years.

So this picture is something worth looking at, I think. It has the rush you get from seeing something novel, but if you look long enough the quiet center can linger in the mind, the whole thing becomes mysteriously attractive in a new, and then more quiet way. Flowers are always good for quieting a restless mind. For me, spirit is alive in this picture because it contains both things, a dopamine rush and the seritonin longer-haul. Thank you for your kind attention through this meander.

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