Sunday, August 29, 2010

Katherine Mitchell at Sandler Hudson Gallery

At Katherine Mitchell’s Sandler Hudson Gallery talk (12/19/09) an enthusiastic group of old friends and fans were treated to some background to new work, which was unusual for Katherine for its text-presence. In the course of the talk she read from some of the text that had worked its way onto the canvas and paper works in the show. The paintings still carried Katherine’s familiar visual dignity but I found myself scribbling notes when she read quotes from prominent thinkers. The thought occurred to me that here are really smart people putting their impressive minds to the issues of art, intuition, beauty etc; and yet what we end with is occasional insights embedded in an intellectual fog. I decided to explore this further.

Bertrand Russell said something to the effect that, in reading, what sometimes initially appears difficult is merely muddled. That’s the feeling I get when I read art theory. Donald Kuspit for example always seemed so erudite to me with his references to transcendental consciousness, meaning in art etc; He once wrote that what Minimal Art claimed as its project, being in the moment, is actually a memory of what just happened. It’s close to NOW but not quite. I thought that was insightful at the time but now it seems off. The thought about something that just happened is about the past but being here/now isn’t about thinking about being, it’s being itself which is nowhere else but now.

This goes a long way, for me, toward unmuddling what art is about. Some theorists claim that the primary attribute in Art, dividing good from bad, is a display of skill. Others dismiss this as conservative and actually an obstacle to authentic art. I would suggest that what people are after in this attempt to distinguish good from bad art is to articulate this: that art coming out of presence is recognized as such by those with ample grounding in being – those who have had the frequent experience of moving into the present where the enjoyment of being escapes motor mind.

If you’re not present you’ll be possessed by ego which means being judgmental, comparing, seeking to feel superior, thinking thinking thinking whereas if you’re present you’ll detect the authentic or you’ll recognize the inauthentic productions of the ego, or perhaps a mix. Just as the religious acolyte glimpses “god” but then becomes entangled in theology, so the art seeker glimpses authenticity and attempts explanation in the canon of aesthetics.

Croce talked about the difference between ordering a pizza and Shakespeare as being a matter of complexity not kind. The effort made to make sense of sensory data, to interpret the world to Croce was art at the most basic level. This appealed to me for a long time. Perhaps what he was attempting to describe was the act of creation that occurs out of the state of stillness or presence. In the now you enjoy, no need to do anything… until you are moved to a creative act. And that act reflects the intelligence out of which it flows, to which presence connects us, and is recognized by others when they are attuned to that intelligence through awareness, cessation of mind-chatter - obsession with past, future, fantasy and anxiety.

In support of this notion, one of Katherine’s sources, Cezanne, our father who art in heaven, cautioned, “One must eschew that literary spirit which is so often divergent from the true voice of painting…in order not to get lost too long in interminable speculation.“ The true voice of painting (creativity) is not thinking, nor suffering but being.

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