Phänomenologie für Enten.

The living body in the world… “There are many here among us who feel life is but a joke.” All Along the Watch Tower, Bob Dylan.

Inside Out, Outside In 41″ x 34″, monoprint, cut collage, collected balls, 2022

The title means: Phenomenology for Ducks. “Hey, Ma! What’s phenomenology mean?” “Well, honey, that would be the study of the stuff you know from direct experience…pretty much.” Uncle WIKI says “the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions.” Right? Right. For me, this posting feels a little like coming out, (as in gender politics), to say, I’m a Philosopher. I feel Art is basically a phenomenological act, that Art itself is philosophy made into the stuff we attach the name Art to. That when I make Art , I am doing Philosophy. OK, I’m out of the closet. Why did I title this essay auf Deutsch? I did because so many great Philosophers wrote in German (I spent the Summer of ’66 as an exchange student in Germany). And I very much like the sound of it pronounced. On second thought, maybe I should have used the French, Phénoménologie pour les Canards, ’cause there were a lot of French people doing philosophy, and in particular Maurice Merleau-Ponty who talked about eco-phenomenology: how the perception of the world as a body IN the world can be discussed. Zum biespiel: our bodies have a particular stance as a biped, and then he talks about this as habit. Our habits shape our perceptions.

My feeling here in these 90 OJIME essays is that I want to talk about things that are of great interest to anyone, but not clouded over by the defensive posturing of Academic thinkers, who must submit their work to committees of their fellows for peer review. That’s all OK, but as a maker person, the committee I report to, is only—does it look good? That invisible chap, my companion, the invisible gal I like to hang out with. Do we like it? Well, maybe, I peer review it with my family and friends and fellow artists. And, now, here in these pages, I am submitting this work to anyone who comes across it. Philosophy for Ducks, 101. Have at it folks. This is akin to my abandoning a slightly snarky posture as a practitioner of conceptual art…and actually painting pictures. “Just make it good to look at.” then…just make it fun to think it through, the operative word here is FUN. Diving into depiction, to make pictures that attract the eye, and, thinking about art for anyone, (not some mystic EVERYONE), just exploring what might attract the eye, and while you’re at it, a little good humor never hurts that anyone. Same with philosophizing, ideas may have been born on some “mystic mountain”—come down, ideas are fun for anyone.The distinction of every-one and any-one is on purpose. Any-one means giving agency to an interested person, every-one means dilution to the point of irrelevance to the Soul.

But first a word; making art in Norcal.

Why did I feel I had to “come out” as a philosopher? This is a self-portrait bust of Robert Arneson, called California Artist. When you look at the thing in a gallery, you see the sunglasses are in fact empty holes so you can peer into an empty head. Arneson has created a true thing, depicting the perception that Californians are dope-addled numbskulls (complete with marijuana leaves decorating the plinth), and gives rise to my posture as, “Hey I’m just kiddin’ around with all this Philosophy stuff… who me?… seriously?” But truth to tell, the question for any artist; as a self-peer-review: DO YOU LIKE IT? I do. I like thinking about this stuff. And to the title: Inside Out, Outside In goes directly to this phenomenology thing. <><><><><><>Here’s something about that outside and inside…

So…I commuted to San Francisco 4-5 days a week which means a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, a thing people will travel great distances to experience. I’m in my vehicle, usually alone with my thoughts. I keep the blare of the radio off, sometimes music, but mostly quietly alone with my own thoughts (I think the reason people are resistant to car-pooling is this is a time, just like this, satisfying the craving to be alone). I’m with my thoughts, lists of things to do at my print shop as we collaborate with other artists, the amazing and sometimes constraining project of child rearing, sometimes thinking about my other main project of making pictures at a moment when we are flooded with pictures. (You have to agree there has never been a time when so many pictures of luscious quality are brought to your attention minute-by-minute— think of life in a bustling Paris of the late 19th Century—even there, in that hot-house of picture making, the mind was free of the onslaught we experience.) Sometimes, I’m in the mental theatre when conflict arises, the dramatic fulcrum of personal life…you can start gnawing on that ol’ “bone of bitterness”—a futile activity, whereby you are hoping for some tasty marrow—but, of course, it ain’t nothin’ but bone, through and through…

So, smooth road, rubber tires, it’s all going along, when, suddenly my focus shifts from inside the mind to outside and I look out to the Bay, through the high, broken fog, and see shafts of light spotlighting the grey water like shuffleboard sticks sliding pucks of sunlight across the crumple of a tide ebbing out to sea. Suddenly I am a phenomenologist. I think of the ducks here depicted, hunkered down, are in their own thoughts, thoughts of squares cut through their bodies, thoughts of…then maybe a branch snapping or a breeze rouses them out of their thinking and a great purple, roiling appears descending. They are in the world of perception and out of the theatre of their duck-y minds. They are phenomonologizing.

On to how this piece came to be: The white ducks were painted as a monoprint — a technique of gestural quickness, done in under 7-10 minutes, painted directly on a printing plate and then transferred to paper in a press. Slower, and the paint (printer’s ink) dries out before it can be printed. I added colored pencil, then in a moment of “why don’t I cut some squares, ’cause the ducks are in two worlds at once.” I did. As I talked about in the last post: Do The Next Thing. That was the next thing, which I trust as a method after 50 years of it. The purple sweeps of paint were made on the monoprint plate like the ducks, but instead of 7 minutes it was 17 seconds. The shape of the strokes were cut out and then they looked very good mounted on a printed sheet of red, pink and black and it related well to the ducks, I thought. I feel working at different tempos, gives me access to a range, a variety, of thought processes. This is on purpose.

The balls are there because; do I like looking at spheroid shapes? I do. In this series, I’ve been using things I’ve collected over the years (+50) of picking up things I like, in the curated collection of the museum of “stuff I like to look at.” As a living body in the world (Merleau-Ponty again), I am attracted to certain things and they find their way into boxes and boxes and boxes, in my studio. Joseph Cornell is my antecedent.

Joseph Cornell’s studio.

Over the years, I have collected spheres. The spherical shape is attractive, a basic thing when you’re teaching drawing, painting, design. Logical form. A sphere is an easy way to get across the idea of depicting things seen. In this collection of spheres, the black, white and grey spheres I had made of wood and painted, to show how logical form is rendered. I used them when teaching various classes. It seems obvious, but when seen in a drawing class it DOES become obvious, and when you render the form, the world changes for you—you are on your way to SEEING. You are looking at an object (one of my spheres) and making it appear on a flat surface, and to my thinking, that is phenomenology in action. Drawing is a phenomenological act. Try it!

I can’t proceed without a mention of Joseph Kosuth. Art After Philosophy and After (1969). He postured himself as the end-all of the contemporary art project. He really thought Art was at an end-game moment. He and Bruce Nauman were coolest guys going when I was in Art school. Kosuth with his Three Chairs, Nauman with his Hand to Mouth. I bought into it. Conceptual art was the next thing, not the next thing, THE THING.

Joseph Kosuth, Three Chairs, 1969

Three Chairs, the dictionary definition, a photograph, and a real chair, brought phenomonology into the Art gallery, explicit and unabashed. Truth was, and more to my liking, the broad humor of Bruce Nauman.

Bruce Nauman From Hand to Mouth 1967

For me, I went from, gee wiz, that’s so smart, I get the joke, to… “gee wiz, that’s pretty.” I guess I always had a hankering for making Art that was good to look at, Philosophy that was easy to understand. But, how did I get there? Get there, from the position of trying to make “smart” art. In my conceptual art class in 1970, (yep, it was a class in conceptual art—my senior seminar in Art School). We didn’t have to make anything, or be constrained by cost or skill of manufacture, just come to class with a typed proposal. Something challenging Art making in the context of NOW! I wrote a proposal that I would learn how to make watercolor paintings in the style of touristic, pretty paintings—as far as could be from what was happening in the Art World. I would show the “paintings” in a prestigious venue strung up on clothes lines (riffing on a post card I had stuck up on my studio wall of just such a line of paintings in a church-yard bazaar). My DaDa art joke. I did indeed learn watercolor and by the time I had moved to California (1974), I had one pretty watercolor to show for my efforts. Looking for a job, it had been my habit to call all those listed in the Yellow Pages doing what I wanted to be doing. I called all the local Art schools, and <<ding>> The College of Marin was looking for a watercolor teacher. I had exactly one painting to show the hiring committee. I got the job and taught watercolor painting for 25 years. Har-dee-har, joke’s on me.

So now, fifty years of making pictures, has brought me to this moment and I still like thinking about Art, still like making things that carry an attractive visual flavor. And what better way to give a phenomenological push than to draw/paint the light falling on a sphere; an attractive visual flavor.

3 balls, white grey & black (here distorted a bit by the photography, the center ball is painted white); used to teach logical form—can you see color inside the shadow?

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