I found yesterday's symposium interesting but frustrating; in a different setting I would have liked to engaged in further discussion on a number of issues with members of the panel.
I was surprised, and somewhat disappointed, that there was no real discussion of what "abstract" and "painting" could mean and encompass. I would have thought that this could have been a useful exploration, particularly if done relatively briefly at the start of the day, that could have widened the discussion and reflection to encompass a broad range of artistic practice. [As was done very effectively by Steve Felmingham in his sessions last term where he proposed that drawing was almost all encompassing]. A discussion about the definition of painting seemed particularly apposite with Avis Newman's reported assertion that she is not a painter but makes works on canvas; so I was rather perturbed by Michael Brick's somewhat dismissive comment that it is not a n interesting question and is easy to answer - it is something to hang on the wall [but rather the how]. This seemed to me to be somewhat prickly and unhelpful - especially as elsewhere the painting as object, with sculptural qualities was being considered. To merely reiterate that and then refer to not getting drawn into a discussion about what is art seemed a little ungenerous; I would have thought a discussion on what art is would have been interesting, useful and stimulating. The defence, that did not want to rehearse the arguments of 40 years ago did not seem completely valid, or logical; especially as it was then discussed how much the world and the art world had changed and that expressive abstractionism may reappear. So the arguments of 40 years ago where made in a completely different context and I would have thought would bear reconsideration in the current climate - the arguments will not be simply the same but will have moved on, not least due to the changing context and climate.
I was also troubled by Michael Brick's contention that being an artist is just a job, whilst I do agree that we should not take ourselves too seriously for if we do it can stifle our creativity. For me being an artist is a vocation, there is a compulsion to make work [if I am not making I am incomplete]; I never stop being an artist I am stimulated and provoked even when I am trying to relax.
Michael Brick's contention that art is merely information and has no meaning, likening it to railway tracks which carry the meaning; was deeply perturbing. I agree that all viewers bring their own preconceptions to a work and that all will read a work differently. I would actually go further, the same viewer at different times will receive the same work, in the same location differently on each occasion. Furthermore the location of the work will effect how it is read; the work will not only transform the place in which it is shown, the location will also transform it, there will be a mutual assimilation [which resonates somewhat with my ongoing video works about drinking powder being assimilated by and assimilating the hot milk in which it it placed.] I would also wish to argue that this is also true of literature and other cultural forms, and even at the basic level all see/perceive colour and tone somewhat differently, but this does not imply that it is all meaningless. The artist will have a motivation, an intention for the work, to challenge, to question, to make something aesthetically pleasing, or challenging; and for me it is in this that there has to be meaning by definition. I would wish to amend Michaels metaphor and to state that it is the gallery, book or other place of display and presentation that is really the railway tracks, it is these that provide the conduit for the art to travel from the artist to the viewer along with its inherent meaning. For me if art is meaningless, then what is the point? Surely art can have deep meaning that is not readily able to be verbalised; it can have subtle nuances and resonances that can provoke reflection and questions and widen the viewers horizons - meaning that they see the world a little differently.
However I was particularly struck with the general fascination and preoccupation with the grid and with the challenging disregard for the general rules of composition, such as the rule of thirds. This seems to resonate with much of my current picture making where I am often placing the horizon as central rather than on a third and how I am frequently placing the focus on the centre.
The preoccupation with grids strongly resonated with my intended experimental work, where I am intending to paint a noughts and crosses grid over the photograph and then use random numbers [1 to 9 picked a random from folded bits of paper] to complete a game until O or X win or it is a stalemate; alternating between which starts. This rule making, or working within constructed constraints, also resonated with much of the practice discussed yesterday.