It would appear that there really is some method to the madness sometimes. I’m an artist and love reading what art historians and art theorists have to say about art as much as the next person, but with regard to the higher-order aspects of art practise, if you will, I like to get my wisdom closer to the source, from the practitioners themselves.
What better place to start looking, then, than at my own art practise! I have already done it and this is what I see. Let me refer to the art of Painting first. I am a professional painter, amongst other things, but to simplify things a little, let me focus for the time being on The Art of Painting.
Personally, I find that a large segment of the population tends to misconceive the work that artists’s do. Increasingly, in fact, it would appear that many artists are misconstruing the work they themselves set out to do. It is not a free-for-all. In a sense, I am merely reporting the cultural news, if you will. I am reporting what Human Culture with a capital C is saying and doing at the moment. I did not choose what Culture is, nor what She is saying and doing, in fact I never even chose to become a reporter of such things, at least not in any real sense. Therefore, I disagree categorically with the argument that artists have all the liberties in the world when doing their work as artists, when engaging in their art practise. I also think that it is a dangerous misconception.
More and more, one hears individuals speaking at length on concepts such as Relevance, what is relevant and what is not relevant. First of all, the term they are using was borrowed from information science, namely from information retrieval and search in particular. One speaks of the results of a query input into a search engine and the relevance of the results returned (a.k.a. the output). The term went on to be used in more general ways with regard to things like RSS feeds and then Twitter feeds or just plain news-reading practises in general. In this case, suddenly what is relevant becomes Signal and what is irrelevant or not relevant becomes Noise and all of a sudden individuals were now speaking of their Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds in terms of Noise control and the proverbial signal-to-noise ratio.
Understood. What does this have to do with the art practise? Weren’t we going to be talking about the practise of Painting? Why are we speaking of Relevance? One of the reasons I am linking the term Relevance, how it is commonly used in recent times, etc., to Painting is that often this kind of noise reduction involves value judgements but also aesthetic judgements or judgements of taste. I argue that what is often labelled as noise in a social media channel is not noise, it’s just not a beautiful signal. In other words, Twitter and writing tweets is a beauty contest and only the beautiful tweets are Signal while the less beautiful ones, the ones that lose the beauty pageant, are the ones that are Noisy tweets.
The problem is that tweets are written by individuals, and so slowly but surely, it is individuals who are being judged on the beauty of their tweets. This begins to be problematic for me for individuals risk being cast out merely based on the so-called relevance of their tweets, entirely based on arbitrary sets of criteria, i.e. what somebody else decides is relevant or not. The Relevance of the information that you put out into the world, Relevance with a capital R, is now the sole metric by which you are being judged, as an individual, in fact your entire existence as an entity in the world is being decided on whether or not YOU are relevant. It is no longer about your tweets, it is about whether or not YOU are relevant as a person.
This is where I believe the art and her art practise comes in because we often hear people say the same thing about works of art, whether or not the works, or the artists themselves, are Relevant. Notice how we are no longer speaking about Twitter and newsfeeds, and we surely are no longer speaking of queries and search engines and information retrieval or information science. We are far removed from where the term relevance first came into our vocabulary, and that in itself is very problematic for me because this is how people can start to get hurt. This is why I spoke of misconceptions and so forth as being dangerous. In this case, a term has entered a vocabulary, has crossed domains, and I see it leading to dangerous, hurtful consequences in the concrete, practical, day-to-day life of individual human beings.
To relate this back to the (art) practise of Painting, let me start by making a few bold statements: In an art practise, it is not the artist who decides what is relevant. That is, the artist merely adheres to what is topical, let’s call it, but does not choose what is or is not Topical. The artist does not choose what is most appropriate to portray. The subject in art is always chosen on an ad hoc basis, by the artistry itself, not the artist. The artist is not free to choose in this sense. The artist in her art practise can choose what tools and techniques she wants to use, she can decide what treatment at the technical level is most appropriate or apropos. She does not choose what Subjects or Topics or whatnot are part of the set of All Relevant Topics. This is already chosen in advance by the Moment, the Time, by the moral climate or moral temperature, if you will, the Milieu or Environment in which the artist lives. Some subjects or topics, concepts and so forth, might be relevant across more domains or fields. They might be universally topical in a more global sense, or they might be topical at a more or less local level. But there is always something that is appropriate, and everything else that is not. The artist does not choose what the menu is in this sense, only what meal they want to eat at this or that time, chosen from the menu of available dishes. To think otherwise is to misconstrue what an artist is and what the work is that artists do, and it is a dangerous misconception.
Put another way, the subject that I choose can only ever be an instance of the classes of All Possible Subjects AND Subjects Currently Relevant. Note: The latter two can be separated into Subjects Which Are Relevant AND For This Moment/Time. That is how I have come to the tentative equation for art: A=r(t), art is that which is relevant for all times. And that is the technical definition of Timelessness in art. I will try to explain further at a later time. Stay tuned.
Note: Another way to put it. A reporter doesn’t invent the news, she merely reports it. She reports what is happening, doesn’t invent what is happening. It is in this way that I said I, as an artist, was merely reporting the cultural news. I report on Culture. It’s a simplistic way of seeing it, but it can help get a better idea of what I am trying to articulate here.