Unreal Nature

June 28, 2016

Weaning Himself from His Own Taste

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… “the dilemma that I found myself in … is enjoying making art but not liking what I made.”

This is from Chuck Close by Robert Storr (1998):

… [A] sympathetically intended simplification of Close’s art consists of an excessive attention to issues of facture. In part this results from the layperson’s understandable fascination with the “tricks” of the artistic conjuror’s trade. The more nearly an image seems to replicate “nature” the more insistently people want to know the gimmick behind it. Professionals have their own curiosity about these matters. Close himself has asked whether or not at “a convention of magicians, the magicians see the illusion or the device” responsible for it.

[line break added] He has effectively answered his own question as well — and in so doing encouraged the focus on technique — by discussing at length the possibilities made available to him by new media or by old but hitherto untried studio methods such as mezzotint. His enthusiasm is contagious, but too often prompts a largely procedural or descriptive treatment of the work.

close_self_68
Chuck Close, Big Self-Portrait, 1967-68

[ … ]

… “The first-generation abstract expressionists suffered and after that it was a system. We painted out of a system. We didn’t have tortured, anguished, alcoholic people. We were art students, for Christ’s sake.” The issue was more fundamental than lifestyle, however. “I admired painters like Rothko, Pollock and Kline,” Close once acknowledged. “But they nailed it down so well that I couldn’t do anything but impersonations of their work. … All my heroes were dead, and my work was incredibly eclectic.”

… “I could make any kind of art marks you wanted. … Once you know what art looks like it’s not hard to make some of it. … And the dilemma that I found myself in after having gotten out of graduate school is enjoying making art but not liking what I made.”

A tug-of-war between authenticity of feeling while making a work and convincing form in the finished product had bedeviled artists since the myth of Pollock and de Kooning forging primordial images out of inchoate psychic matter and raw studio materials had first been propagated in the 1950s. It hardly mattered that this account misconstrued their methods, particularly those of de Kooning, who was, in his fashion, the most deliberate of artists.

[line break added] This fact notwithstanding, mystification of the creative act was steadily undermining the practical and imaginative freedoms Abstract Expressionism had won. Simultaneously, as Close had stated frankly, their aesthetic had become a “system” out of which others painted with ever greater familiarity and decreasing vitality.

… Taste, in the sense of informed discrimination and delectation, is a largely conservative attribute. When strongly possessed, not just strongly proclaimed, it is usually rooted in the frequent and exacting study of original works. In practice it is a mix of instinct, appetite, connoisseurship, and the ability to extrapolate from one class of things to another closely or remotely related one. Universal taste — that is, the ability to determine the best among objects of widely disparate traditions — is extremely rare, if not entirely hypothetical.

[line break added] More to the point, taste is seldom the most reliable indicator of the potential in new ideas — except if you admit the possibility of “taste” in generative concepts — especially insofar as the first statement of those ideas may intentionally defy prevailing conventions or may simply be so awkward as to be easily belittled or ignored.

Weaning himself from his own taste for painterly painting and the immediate pleasure he took in making it constituted Close’s declaration of independence. As LeWitt stipulated in his 1969 “Sentences of Conceptual Art,” “Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.” LeWitt postulated other axioms that help explain the direction Close was then taking. “Successful art changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions,” LeWitt wrote.

To be continued.

-Julie

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