Monday, September 1, 2014

An Introspective Week: The Illusion of Intention

This week I'm becoming more aware of the season changing and moving much too early into fall. My eye keeps returning to one particular vignette in our neglected yard that draws me to it with its seeming perfection, just as if we had planned and carefully tended all the elements to achieve their peak in the final days of summer.

A garden picture

But we put no effort of weeding, trimming, pruning or watering into making this garden picture happen since we are operating more under the benign neglect system of gardening. This image is an illusion of intention and that idea connects me to some other thoughts this past week about making art.

How long did it take?
When someone asked me this week that question that sets my teeth on edge, I posted it to one of my Facebook art groups for discussion and input. Since there is no time clock or a widget counter in the studio, artists know that of course the answer must be that it takes an artist all her life to make a particular work, as the sum total of all that has come before it.

It got me thinking about making art as a great chain, where one piece is so strongly linked to the one before it and the one after it. A painting or a sculpture does not stand alone in an artist's work because all the work is connected, and made whole by what preceded and what followed.

Intention and accident
How much is really within our control? I'm not talking about the manipulation of a medium, but how much other factors influence the work. For example, another question a studio visitor asked me this week is why I chose the colors I used in a piece I was making. My answer was the practical response that I had those colors left over from the previous work. If that had not been the case, would I have chosen something else?

It reminds me that I used to make work no wider than 44 inches because that was the width of the hatchback in my car. There are practical constraints and influences that limit choices in making works. So in thinking about intention, how much is really accident that becomes transformed into meaning?

Paintings to be coated with encaustic before being cut up and used as elements in other works.

Habits of Mind and Hand
There are certain marks and colors that I go to in an automatic way. If I choose to make something different, am I working against myself? Will the process create new habits or lead me to see something new that resonates with me? These are questions that I don't usually think about in a conscious way but that are always there. Am I choosing or avoiding, omitting or including?

Inventing Context
I read an article in Art in America this week that referred to a statement by Janet Malcolm that she had never found anything an artist said about his or her work to be interesting. Well, she is a snarky bitch but I am wondering if the statements we make about our work can ever convey the reality of our choices. When I set my work into the context of depicting or referring to memory, am I simply choosing a context from a laundry list or is that really the meaning of my work?

Going anywhere or a dead end?

The Making
I make what I like to make. I have found it after continual experimenting, looking, comparing, trying, putting aside, and many times uttering the death sentence on those disappointing failures that deserve scraping or sanding or even tossing into the dumpster. My confidence in myself and my work ebbs and flows depending on my mood, my sales, my feedback, my personal assessment and  innumerable other factors. The process can fascinate, bore and frustrate me but I keep at it year after year, glacially moving along that chain of making, link by link, not thinking about how long it's taking.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully said, Nancy. It's all part of the process, even the concerns about feedback and whether or not a work is successful. I think I'd go stark raving mad if I worked in complete isolation. I'd be lying if I said I paint/make collage only for myself. But the urge to make stuff tugs at me when I've stayed out of the studio too long, and then I have to get my fix.