Unreal Nature

June 6, 2017

The Willingness to Sustain a Thought

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… the language has changed because the thought that went into it allowed the invention to occur.

This is from three interviews with Richard Serra made between 1997 and 1999, found in David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists (2001):

[ … ]

David Sylvester: … I think that artists generally don’t think about whether the thing is going to be beautiful. I think the artist is rather like a cat crossing the floor to get its food and thinking of what it wants, not thinking of how it looks. But in moving towards what it wants, it looks beautiful to others. And I think a lot of art is like that. The artist is not thinking at all if the thing is going to be beautiful; he’s thinking of dealing with making something that he wants to make. It’s only others who perceive beauty in it.

Richard Serra: Yes I can go with that. I think you have a need to follow some instinct you have in form-making, and using one form leads to the other, and you have a need to follow your curiosity about what you don’t know. And I think you start probing at areas that you don’t know. And you find yourself wanting to make something that you haven’t seen before. There wouldn’t be much point in making something you already knew.

DS: No, it is exactly the curiosity. And I imagine that this series [Torqued Ellipses] must have been one of the things that you have felt most curious about. I mean, you are really working in unknown territory.

RS: And we’ve been on them four years. And at one point, after about two-and-a-half years, particularly when the first one broke … first, we couldn’t find a place to work, and we thought we would never be able to make them. And architects were telling me to make them in concrete and I thought maybe they would just end up being models, that they really wouldn’t be able to be realized. And I think that there is something about the willingness to sustain a thought and the effort it takes to sustain a thought.

[line break added] And maybe the sheer wilfulness or obstinacy that it takes to sustain a thought oftentimes is discernible in the resultant work. Not that the work is an expression of the thought, but that some things, even when the expression disappears, seem to be of more critical substance because of the decisions that were made and excluded, than other things that seemed lesser. Some things seem trivial, some things don’t, and it’s almost discernible in given works of art, that you can read the thought that went into it, often because it has evaporated from the form.

[line break added] (The other kind of thing that we see a lot of still is heavy-handed Expressionism trying to pass for thought and form.) I do think sustained effort has a lot to do with the manifestation of form. And it doesn’t matter if the form is minuscule or large. It has nothing to do with it. It’s almost the qualification of the invention and sustaining of thought that becomes relevant in the form.

DS: Is that what you like about Giacometti?

RS: Well, I think it’s what I like about works that we can say have more substance — and we can qualify them that way — than works which we find more trivial. I mean, I think one kind of admires some sort of critical distance in being able to reduce some problem to a point where an invention occurs. And one can go there and have the experience that the language has changed because the thought that went into it allowed the invention to occur.

[line break added] And that to me isn’t any historical imperative, it’s something that goes on in terms of people’s inquisitiveness, whether it’s in poetry or science or art or music or whatever. Some things are just more profound because they’re more thoughtful. It’s pretty obvious. I don’t think less thought ever made anything better.

I do think there’s something else to it. I think that at certain points you open a kind of feedback to yourself in relation to either a problem or an experience or a sensation in the experience or in the problem that in and of itself is interesting, and you feel a compulsion to follow it. And I think those are things you have to see through.

[ … ]

DS: … When you’re making these pieces, are you so focused on the problem of making them that you have no time to think at all of what their emotional impact might be, of what their ‘affective content’ might be?

RS: No, I think what happens is that it becomes like a residue of the problem, but as soon as you make one you see the potential to articulate the problem in terms of what you want them to convey, and then you adjust the axis, the major and minor, whether you want it to be longer or shorter, which then affects the overhang, and then you can control more or less to a degree how you want them to move, how you want the compression of the space to be felt. And there are things that you an adjust to, but initially there’s no way of knowing that.

[line break added] And then you just work the problems out of the problems, you see which are useful ideas and which are ideas that are extraneous, and if you want to produce works that both hold and torque the volume and don’t dissipate out, the more you build, the more knowledge you have to make adjustments in what you need to do. But I had no way of programming that to begin with, and didn’t even think about it. If you ask whether the pieces were predicated on evoking some kind of feeling: no, not at all.

Torqued Ellipses

My most recent previous post from Sylvester’s book is here.




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