Friday, September 21, 2012

I wanted to know

Mary Adam, Little House in the Forest, 2007, collage

A lot of art is at first puzzling and bewildering and like many others I feel stupid and ignorant until I have some sort of handle on it. Science too is full of bewildering things but I'm happy to leave those to the experts, maybe read up on it or maybe not. I know someday there will be an explanation. Art though is different. Unlike science there are no right or wrong answers, it's subjective. But everything has a reason and a genesis and sometimes I want to know what the reason is.

As an artist myself I'm aware how motivation can come from odd places, from deep inside oneself or from some passing fancy, something seen or felt. And this may intertwine with all one’s experiences and skills and an idea may be born, like the tug of the fish in A Room of One’s Own. From there it may gather momentum and take physical form, although there can be long gaps between the idea and the realization of the work. This is a stage in my own learning process, understanding that the idea and the final work may be widely separated in time, during which something has been evolving in the mind of the artist. A small example might be Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings with the canvas laid on the floor, connecting back to his experience of Indian sand paintings in which coloured earths were dribbled onto the ground.

It can be very satisfying to find those connections in art, and my experience has been that usually something can be found that sheds light on the work. I ask myself, why did the artist do that in that way? The question can take one on a walkabout, looking up the artist’s biography, statements they have made, their materials, more of their work, reviews and so on. I tend to do it when I like the work a lot and want very much to understand where it came from.

If after thorough searching no reason is found one might conclude that it was in some way arbitrary. And yet on occasion something has appeared in my work for no apparent reason, and long afterward the reason makes itself known (influences for example). The main problem was not being aware of it in time to include it in a write-up. Because of this I don't see arbitrariness as an issue any more because there's always a reason.