Thursday, 26 March 2009
"Greatest painter of a generation". I had to see for myself as such a label always makes me suspicious.
The first artwork I encounter is titled "The Riches of the Poor" and is painted in the style of Auerbach whom Brown has repeatedly copied in style. It shows a figure emblazoning the frame with a halo glowing above, as if some godly saint. Saint Francis of Assisi perhaps, referring to the title. It is painstakingly well painted, in fact it may be too well painted for my liking. I like to see the paint still bubbling away like lava on the surface, as if the painter has applied the last brushstroke like war paint. However there is no evidence of a brushstroke on the canvas, it has all the footprints of a copy which would be what Brown is trying to convey.
Another painting stops me for a moment, 'Tragic Conversion of Salvador Dali". A floating asteroid, another world, Dali's own world just for him, or better a floating tomb of Dali. Again the paint is applied to a french polisher's finish, with all the colours of a dulux colour chart arranged by Chuck Close, interweaving threads of these colour play with your vision, reminding me of pointillism. Only having scratched the surface of the show, I start to wonder how long it took Glenn Brown to do all these. Including the aforementioned paintings there are about ten fairly big artworks in my peripheral vision yet to be scrutinised. The swirling, swishiness of 'The Aesthetic Pool' absorbs you in, into the green and brown licks of colour like mint flavoured ice cream, convincing enough you can almost taste it. The depth of the painting invites you to come closer, you are hesitant and excited at the same time,so much so it confuses you.
As well as the homage to Auerbach and Dali, some titles are referencing songs and albums, such as 'New Dawn Fades', a fantastic Joy Division song, with colours of green and jade smeared with an in out focus surrounding a figure (which is represented in a further two paintings of similar size) looking rather uncannily like an imposter imitating the dead fly dance pioneered by Curtis himself.
As well as the paintings there are also interesting sculptures made and smeared together with (left over?) oil paint. Thorny, scaly, hard and encrusted paint thickly applied and sculpted like a komodo dragon or a thorny devil. Twisted, chewed, licked and slurped into shape, caked, thick harlequin plaques coming to life. Forget the paintings, I found these intricate forms far more exciting, in particular a small Auerbach head lying at an angle on the floor of the gallery space.
Overall the exhibition was a success from an elitist painter's (of which I'm not, just stepping out my non subjective skin for a moment) point of view, perfectly painted and crafted, but to my own feelings and thoughts swimming around my gut and head, it was all too similar in approach but with some interesting subject matter and references to music, akin to my own collection. The crusty oil paint sculptures were the highlight for me, more so his actual painting table, the years of blood, sweat and tears toil with the thought, like a scaly skin disorder, the trauma, moved, scraped and manoeuvred to the edge, this crest of a wave, this sickly sweet growth of colour, crawling back up to be at the creators focal point.
Friday, 20 March 2009
A dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the
B.A (hons) degree
Benjamin Alexis Johnson
Table of Contents
Review of Research 2-3
Chapter I: The Origins of Existentialism 6-11
Chapter II: The Existential Master Giacometti 12-17
Chapter III: The Nature of Mind 17-22
Internet Resource 29-30
Review of Research
The original purpose of this dissertation was to gather a sufficient amount of evidence to prove or disprove the idea that most contemporary art contains existential elements. A questionnaire giving a basic definition of existentialism was submitted to various galleries in and around Leeds and York and also handed out in artists studios. The questionnaire was meant to be used as a guide to fathom whether artists young and old felt that the idea of existentialism had relevance within their own practice; it didn’t matter if they had never heard of certain key existential artists and literary figures such as Alberto Giacometti and Jean Paul Sartre and their work could be created in any medium.
However, there wasn’t enough data and relevant information regarding this area of investigation to come up with any logical conclusion as to whether this select group of contemporary artists felt existentialism is still relevant, with regards to creative thought. So this idea backfired; it would have been more conclusive if a broader definition of existentialism was provided and posted on the internet, then promoted as an ideas forum for artists living anywhere in the world. This way I might have been able to prove in some kind of way that an eclectic mix of working artists felt that existentialism is still alive. It seemed like an almost impossible task.
I had to be very specific and focus in on an artist who exemplified and was regarded as producing work which was existential; in this case it was Giacometti. So, literary exponents of existentialism such as Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre haven’t been written about in any real depth. This was also due to the limitations of the word count.
Much of the information needed to write the bulk of the text was obtained through books I actually own and email correspondence I had with practicing Buddhists, Transpersonal Psychologists and Cognitive Behavioural Therapists. The internet was a valuable resource but couldn’t be entirely relied upon, as much of the text on there isn’t the concrete truth due to the fact it can be distorted, overly opinionated and too subjective.
Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts. (www.dictionary.com, 2005)
What existentialism actually means is very hard to define, as there are so many differing points of view on the subject. The present day opinion seems to be that it has ceased to be a modern day part of the world outlook and is no longer fashionable as an idea (www.reference.com, 2006); existential thought has been relegated to the past. Although the numerous atrocious acts of violence portrayed through the media are permanently lingering within the collective memory; confirming the evil man is truly capable of. One would think that many members of society have evaluated and questioned the value of their lives and what it means to be a living breathing human being. So it seemed appropriate to attempt to re-examine and define this seemingly lost theory.
It was important to include when the term existentialism was actually conceived, so its origins have been traced in the first chapter. This dissertation also seeks to give some insight into why artists such as Giacometti (Fig 1) externalised their thoughts in a specific way; this can be reviewed in the second chapter. The Nature of Mind (third chapter) feeds into this line of inquiry. In fact much of the text reads like a philosophical and psychoanalytical discussion on the nature of our own existence and the creative mind. So while it is about the theory of existentialism, the lines get blurred at times and the text falls into a debate on ‘why we are the way we are’ which relates to the main topic.
Giacometti is the artist of choice when it comes to existentialism as he’s the creative force most associated with and popularised by the term. He didn’t like being interviewed (Klemm, 2001) so it’s difficult to truly know what made him tick, although many of his writings were published in a diverse range of magazines (Klemm, 2001). Through the examination of topics such as Jungian Spirituality and bringing into question the journey an artist embarks on in order to visualize conscious thought; a clearer picture of this elusive man may come into focus, although it should be noted that the third chapter doesn’t have to strictly apply to this one artist. The representational painter Jenny Saville is mentioned in the third chapter.
Chapter I: The Origins of Existentialism
One idea of existential thought is that we are all burning flames fighting to stay alight in the vastness of an inhospitable universe (Johnson, 2005). This thought would suggest that existentialism is a philosophy but it cannot rightly be called this, as the root originators conflicted in terms of how existentialism could be defined (Head, 2005). For example Soren Kierkegaard (Fig 2) was a devout Christian where as the 19th century German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (Fig 3) was a strong supporter of atheism and upheld the idea that God doesn’t exist. Kierkegaard is considered to be the first philosopher to actually write about existentialism, his earliest major work Either/Or (1843) questioned how human life ought to be lived. Although it’s believed that the 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal (Fig 4) was the first to anticipate the idea of existential thought (Head, 2005). He saw life in terms of paradoxes, emphasizing that the human self, combining mind and body is a total contradiction.
This quote is featured in Either/Or: Equilibrium between the Aesthetic and the Ethical in the Development of Personality.
Now, if a man could constantly balance on the tip of the moment of choice, if he could stop being a person, if in his inmost being he were only an empty thought, if personality meant no more than to be a goblin which, while going through the motions, remained nevertheless unchanged, if that was how it was , it would be foolish to say it might be too late for a man to choose, for in a deeper sense there could be no question of choice. Choice itself is decisive for a personality’s content; in choice personality immerses itself in what is chosen, and when it does not choose it wastes consumptively away. (Kierkegaard in Higgin (Editor), 1999, p.156)
Kierkegaard suggested in this writing that people have to make a choice between two ‘spheres of existence.’ These two spheres were called the ‘aesthetic’ and the ‘ethical.’ Most creative people would surely put themselves in the aesthetic category, although Kierkegaard proposed that a life lead in this way was one in search of hedonistic pleasure and fleeting romanticism and that this would lead to frustration and boredom and ultimately self destruction (age-of-the-sage.org, 2005). This is a stereotype of artists in general and also the idea of existential thought; the romantic type who wastes away the years in pursuit of meaning and a heightened sense of reality. On the other hand, to lead an ethical life would mean having a sense of duty with a set goal in mind to strive towards. This very much ties in with the existential idea that man is responsible for his actions and the eventual outcome of his life. Although an ethical life would be one of compromise and a man’s very integrity could be brought into question if the wrong path was taken.
Neither of the ‘existence spheres’ identified by Kierkegaard appeared to offer a satisfactory life experience, so in his later works he introduce a third ‘sphere’ which was based around religious principles. The belief was that people could ‘live in the truth’ or at least the truth that Kierkegaard believed in. There was a feeling of belonging if people accepted they were ‘individual before the eternal.’ (age-of-the-sage.org, 2005). In this sense a person with these set of principles could in theory relate to someone in a unified way. In order to live a life which he found valid, this ‘sphere’ was accepted. Interestingly, this idea predates the spiritual psychologist Carl Jung’s (Fig 5) theory of the ‘collective unconscious’ by many years; his theories are analyzed in chapter three of this dissertation: The Nature of Mind.
So basically do we have a moral obligation to choose an objective? Existentialists have argued that there is no objective or even rational basis for making decisions (Klemm, 2001). Individualism is more important when searching for ones own truth which in many philosophers eyes such as Jean Paul Sartre (Fig 6); the truth is ambiguous and absurd. Friedrich Nietzsche connected with this absurdity and denounced that ‘God is dead’ thus rejecting the value system of the time (age-of-the-sage.org, 2005). He was influenced by Dostoyevsky (Fig 7) and Kierkegaard although his ideas were far more radical and controversial. In his mind Christianity was the arch-enemy of all reason, this is exemplified in his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra which includes an analysis of the origins of faith. ‘Weariness that wants to reach the ultimate with one leap…this created all gods and afterworlds.’ (Head, 2005) Many artists have to reject the traditional values of the masses in order to convey their inner mind, it is Nietzsche’s ‘superman’ who would do just this; rising above mankind and focusing on his present existence instead of leaning on the hope that there is life after death.
One thing is needful: To ‘give style’ to one’s character – a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye…In the end, when the work is finished, it becomes evident how the constraint of a single taste governed and formed everything large and small. Whether this taste was good or bad is less important than one might suppose, if only it was a single taste!
…For one thing is needful: that a human being should attain satisfaction with himself, whether it by means of this or that poetry or art; only then is a human being at all tolerable to behold. (Nietzsche in Higgin (Editor), 1999, p.162)
What a man is begins to betray itself when his talent decreases – when he stops showing what he can do. Talent, too, is finery; finery, too, is a hiding place. (Nietzsche in Higgin (Editor), 1999, p.162)
There’s an idea that the only way to become whole and discover the true sense of self, one has to go through tragedy in order to become reborn. Shamans go through an initiation process which involves turning inward to free themselves from the unconscious control of what Carl Jung called the Shadow and Anima/Animus. This journey strips away the false layers of the personality and through this transformation one becomes unified. (Johnson, 2005)
Surely artists experience this kind of transformation by externalizing their thought process. This relates to the ancient maxim ‘as above, so below’ which means that whatever takes place in the microcosm of the psyche is projected on to the macrocosm of the universe (Stein, 2003). So in a sense we all have this responsibility to contribute to society something worthwhile and to live a meaningful existence. However the existential point of view suggests that life is, or has, meaning and meaninglessness; it is a mixture of absurd contradictions. (Johnson, 2005)
Existentialism only really became truly relevant in 1945 after the Second World War (Klemm, 2001). The aftermath and dreadful atrocities which were committed left Europe’s and perhaps the entire world’s population re-evaluating the meaning of their existence. Jean-Paul Sartre introduced a contemporary approach to existential thinking; greatly influenced by past philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Soren Kierkergaard; his first existential text called ‘Being and Nothingness’ was published in 1943.
Many artists creative approach had to be re-evaluated, particularly in France where surrealism had been popular (Klemm, 2001). The ‘degenerate’ art exhibitions organised by the Nazi party (Fig 8) were a form of propaganda to manipulate society’s perception as to what could be considered an acceptable mode of expression. After the world was free of this tyranny a new beginning was called for, encompassing the arts and existential literature.
Certainly we cannot say that this man (a young student of Sartre’s who in 1940 had to choose between going to England to join the Free French Forces or staying in occupied France to care for his mother, who depended on him), in choosing to remain with his mother – that is, in taking sentiment, personal devotion and concrete charity as his moral foundations – would be making an irresponsible choice, nor could we do so if he preferred the sacrifice of going away to England. Man makes himself; he is not found ready-made; he makes himself by the choice of his morality, and he cannot but choose a morality, such is the pressure of circumstances upon him. We define man only in relation to his commitments; it is therefore absurd to reproach us for irresponsibility in our choice. (Sartre in Higgin (Editor), 1999, p.202)
The following quotes by Sartre give insight into the question of free will:
Atheistic existentialism, of which I am a representative, declares with greater consistency that if God does not exist there is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it. That being is man…What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards. If man as the existentialist sees him as not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man simply is. (Sartre in Higgin (Editor), 1999, p.202)
Dostoyevsky once wrote ‘If God did not exist, everything would be permitted’; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. He discovers forthwith that he is without excuse. For if indeed existence precedes essence, one will never be able to explain one’s action by reference to a given and specified human nature: in other words, there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom. (Sartre in Higgin (Editor), 1999, p.202)
I cannot make liberty my aim unless I make that of others equally my aim. (Sartre in Higgin (Editor), 1999, p.202)
Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and the value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose.
(Sartre in Higgin (Editor), 1999, p.202)
Chapter II: The Existential Master Giacometti
A common misconception associated with Existentialists is that they see the world in ten shades of grey and feel a sense of hopelessness and despair due to the sense of alienation felt through their environment. This couldn’t be further from the truth; existentialism isn’t a negative idea, it encompasses a wide range of issues including the nature of god, fate and responsibility. It could be said that people can change their lives anytime they want and set off in a new direction, this brings into question the nature of free will and how we see our lives in relation to other peoples. (Johnson, 2005)
The very act of being creative and in this case applying paint to canvas is in itself a healing act in which the artist often struggles to come to terms with his or her own environment and inner-space. The painter and sculpture Alberto Giacometti had the label Existentialist applied to him after the post-war period especially when he reached his ‘mature’ period (1947-51). In 1934 he attempted a last Surrealist figure, as he belonged to a Surrealist collective up until this point. It was a tall hollow cone with the inscription ‘1 + 1 = 3.’ Later on in the same year, whilst in Paris, Giacometti began to construct realistic heads, both with and without life-models (Rita Gueffier, a professional model and his brother Diego.) The Surrealists believed this transition to representation to be a total betrayal of their doctrines (Klemm, 2001, p.284), so Giacometti the renegade, walked away and moved towards his destiny as a figurative artist.
After his abandonment of Surrealism he began to develop his own unique style. This way of working can be seen as early as 1932 in the portrait of the artist’s father (Fig 9) although it was in its infancy. The thin spare line seen in later works was being used in this painting and the gaze of the sitter looks hollow and distant. The colour palette is very minimal and the work appears to have been completed in a short amount of time, contradicting Giacometti’s often lengthy journey in his later works, to capture the very essence of time itself.
Giacometti was lumped into the Existentialist category possibly due to the fashions of post-war Paris. It was a culture and a way of life among academic philosophers and writers of journalism, novels, plays, films and essays. In his later years, he recounted the body of work he’d produced as a total failure; it was if he could never meet his own high expectations. These expectations could be defined not by the possibility of success but by the possibility of having insight into the reasons for this supposed failure. An analogy exists with the philosophies of failure expressed by Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett. Giacometti actually knew these three men personally and this seemed to be another justification for applying the Existentialist tag. Apparently there’s nothing in his writings or recorded conversations to suggest that he believed himself to be an Existentialist (Klemm, 2001, p.31-2). Failure and self-criticism could have been regarded as a successful tool for motivation and reflection.
Giacometti was searching for an art form to express the reality of existence, or as he stated, to embrace ‘the totality of life.’ This could suggest that every facet of his existence should be explored to its fullest potential. He had no idea at the beginning of this quest how he might come up with a solution and the search would in fact last a dozen years. Cubism (Fig 10) and Egyptian art were strong influences on his earlier output (Klemm, 2001). The Cubist theory maintains that many different moments in time can be captured in a single picture, much like the Futurists (Fig 19) attempts at capturing motion through a static image. The idea that many different angles and points of view could be captured in one image must have appealed to Giacometti although he maintained his own unique way of working and seeing.
‘The Artist’s Mother’ from 1937 (Fig 11) could be considered to be one of Giacometti’s earliest existential paintings. The face is built up with a mesh of thin linear line and the figure appears to be hovering in space, there’s an intense scrutiny to the way Giacometti’s mother has been portrayed. It’s hard to know if he painted how he actually felt about the person and this may never be known due to art’s subjective nature; meaning that a work of art can have multiple meanings depending on the viewer. Thoughts and emotions which are conjured up when looking at a work of art take place within the mind. Certain factors have to be taken into account when these feelings are experienced; such as the person’s upbringing, life experience and aesthetic sensibilities.
There appears to be a rapid transition from Giacometti’s Surrealist style and tribal influences to the mode of working he is most associated with. ‘Apple on the Sideboard’ is another work from 1937 (Fig 12). The main focus is the apple itself and this appears to have been worked on with great care and perhaps a near obsession, the mark making is tight and intricate. The idea may have been to perfectly recreate an object frozen in time, there’s a sense of loneliness about this painting. The space around the apple appears animated and alive, whilst the apple itself sits in still solitude, reminding one that there’s no such thing as the future; everything is firmly rooted in the present it exists in.
Giacometti’s drawings from around 1936-7 appear to retain the cubist influence (Fig 13) and don’t have the same intense desperation of his later sketches. He also experimented with Automatism (Fig 14) later on in his life (Klemm, 2001), the idea that the hand is guided by the unconscious; whatever comes out on the page can never be predicted: the resulting image is mainly achieved through an involuntary reflex reaction.
It was shortly after the end of the Second World War that Giacometti arrived at his trademark way of working. Perhaps the despair and anguish generated from such atrocities compelled him to convey his secret internal dialogue in such a way. This can be seen in his ‘Small Figure on a Pedestal’ (Fig 15) completed during a five year period (1940-45) The representation of a human figure appears to have been chipped away so it appears almost detached from existence. Perhaps this was done to focus the eye on what actually isn’t there, to let the mind fill in the blanks and make the sculpture all the more powerful due to the vastness of the space around it. Looking at this tiny figure on a pedestal you can almost sense the weight of the world around it, forcing its way in.
The space seen around many of Giacometti’s drawings and paintings could be seen as rudimentary indications of space to form a compositional element. It also applies to the existential idea of isolation and being ‘trapped within an enclosed space.’ Almost as if we all have invisible boundaries which cannot be crossed, these can force us into a certain mindset. These boundaries are the accepted summary of past experience and they can often be shielded, particularly by people who struggle to conceive an original creative idea. (Bono, 1996, p.48)
The lattice of marks used in say ‘Annette at Stampa’ from 1950 (Fig 16) appear almost like visible ‘cosmic string.’ The dull colour palette could have been used to make us focus more intently on the matrix like forms built up through the line. It’s almost as if all emotion has been drained from the palette equipping Giacometti to create an inner image of what he sees in reality.
‘Man Falling’ from 1950 (Fig 17) was to become a central icon in the Existentialist view of his work. This sculpture, one of his slenderest most fragile figures, seems about to topple from its small cylindrical pedestal. Yet it stands firm and grounded by throwing the head back in an ecstatic fashion; perhaps a cue was taken from Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ in an extreme moment where the ground appears to open to the choice of life or death (Klemm, 2001, p.184). This brings into question the notion of transcendence and destiny.
‘Walking Man II’ from 1960 (Fig 18) is isolated and exposed.
Man -- and man alone -- reduced to a thread -- in the dilapidation and misery of the world -- who searches for himself -- starting from nothing.... The pathos of extreme emaciation, the individual reduced to a thread.... Man on a pavement like burning iron; who cannot lift his heavy feet.... They drip around him, his values, his fat; to feed the flames! It is not only that Man has nothing more; but he is nothing more, than this I. (Harrison and Wood, 1993, p.615)
Giacometti was once run over by a car and remembered falling into a lucid fate; he realized that at last, something was happening to him; that he was alive. (Linklater, 2001)
Chapter III: The Nature of Mind
Thorough research has been carried out regarding how creative types and in particular fine artists activate different parts of their mind when producing an art object out of their ‘inner space.’ Recent studies indicate that artists activate the front part of their brain when being creative; this is the amygdala and is associated with emotion and complex levels of thought. Non-creative types tend to access the rear of the brain more, this is the area which is used to process and take in visual information. (www.braintypes.com, 2005)
The figurative representational painter Jenny Saville (Fig 20) has said in interviews, that the closer she gets to one of her paintings, the closer she gets to her childhood. (Johnson, 2005). Perhaps this belief comes about due to the fact that when we are young we haven’t fully developed emotions such as empathy for our fellow man and can’t encompass the whole picture; everything seems blurred and out of focus. We don’t have the necessary experience at that age to really comprehend the complex issues that life presents. However, we are all at the centre of our own universe; we’ve no real comprehension of how others experience life.
Saville has taken up to 18 months to realize a painting before (Johnson, 2005) and she associates the process with the way a composer writes, building up the representation measure by measure across the canvas. So every artist has their own method and way of communicating with their inner self in order to produce something concrete and grounded in reality; it is the painters own truth which is spread across a canvas.
The journey itself could be seen as being more important than the finished object as the artist learns more about their inner states of being through the process of action and deep reflection, the end result can never truly be represented in the mind’s eye, this is why it’s often a good idea to let go of all expectation.
The journey to visualise conscious thought can be long and arduous for an artist. Many of these thoughts and decisions can be transient but also extremely healing; painting in itself could be seen as an act of meditation, where one attempts to use intuition and bring forward repressed memories hidden inside the unconscious. Carl Jung argued that the unconscious is intuitive and is more receptive than the conscious mind; it contains knowledge of which we are not consciously aware. (Stein, 2003)
One theory of art, albeit the pretentious one, is that it is a subconscious projection of a heightened state of reality. An interpretation of this is that artists tap into areas of the brain which are not usually used. A work of art is basically an externalisation of ones thought processes; artists put themselves on display in an often exposing and honest manner (Johnson, 2005). The viewer often has positive or negative feelings about a work of art or at least has some kind of emotional connection with the work which can reflect back onto the creator; this relates to Carl Jung’s theories about the collective unconscious. The late comedian Bill Hicks (Fig 21) said that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively (Hicks, 2004, p.135), we all have an immediate recognition of certain symbols and this could be understood as being the sudden conjunction of our outer reality and the inner reality of the collective unconscious.
One definition of what Jung called an ‘archetype’ is: An innate potential pattern of imagination, thought, or behaviour that can be found among human beings in all times and places. So in a sense, archetypes are basic pictures that each of us hold deep within our subconscious; they could be seen as being ‘psychic’ or seemingly otherworldly blueprints. These innate blueprints hold the key to perfection or at least society’s perception of what it means to be perfect but they can become warped by socialisation, childhood experiences and even parental experience. (Stein, 2003)
So are these archetypes specific to gender? In Jungian psychology, one of the archetypes; the anima refers to personality traits regarded as feminine that are often repressed into the unconscious of males while the animus refers to traits regarded as masculine that are often repressed into the unconsciousness of females. Although suppressed from conscious awareness, the anima/animus influences our behaviour in powerful ways. In most individuals, it is projected onto people of the opposite sex and accounts for the experience of falling in love with someone we hardly know. As the unconscious pole of the self, the counter-ego represented by the anima/animus can also be a guide to one's own unconscious realm. It is often experienced as the guiding female (if you're male) or male (if you're female) presence in dreams. (toolshed.down.net/faq, 2005)
The human mind is skilled at self-deception. Jung felt that most of us are not what we think we are (the Ego); let alone what we pretend to be (the Persona). The vast majority of people hide behind social ‘masks’; especially politicians and celebrities. Our Ego is made up of those parts of ourselves which we can accept and the parts which we dislike are pushed into the unconscious; these do not match our self-image. This disharmonic part of the mind Jung called the ‘Shadow.’ Self-transformation can be attainable but the human capacity for selfish, aggressive and anti-social behaviour is infinite (Crowley, 1998, p.23). For Jung, the key to change was acceptance of the Shadow. The Shadow will become stronger the less aware of it we are. Although, many repressed negative qualities can become positive if given the proper outlet. Art therapy is especially engaging for people who are trapped within their own mind. Depression and disappointment with our life’s achievements can make us lethargic and apathetic about things we used to get great pleasure from. These emotions are often hidden and we turn inward. This energy has to go somewhere, so it’s only when we channel it into creative thought and pro-action, that life situations can be changed. (Aspinal, 2005)
The culmination of Jung’s theories was called ‘synchronicity’ (Stein, 2003, p.200) and it speaks of the profound hidden order and unity among all that exists. Objective events are sometimes arranged in definite patterns, this can also be seen as the notion of ‘cause and effect.’ This pattern seems to come about by pure chance; are these events random or is there another meaning? An artist can come to a sudden conclusion when everything seems to fit together. How can one explain the patterns that are not created by known causes? Jung argued that if a person takes an important event from their life and can understand it’s meaning, the moments leading up to the event and the aftermath, then synchronicity will be achieved. This could also be seen as a heightened state of awareness which would involve using all four functions of the personality; thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition, in an appropriate way. (Crowley, 1998, p.142)
Savikalpa samadhi is the ecstatic experience of the archetypes. Nirvikalpa samadhi goes beyond this into the realm of the spirit, where there are no symbols. It’s a direct experience of Universal Mind. All dualities and images are totally and cleanly removed, and one no longer contemplates or contacts reality – one becomes reality. (Rowan, 2003, p.41-42)
The Spirit (often now called the Self with a capital S) goes beyond superconscious activities (the transpersonal.)
To have a true experience of the Self, however, it is necessary to disidentify also with the superconscious. This is very difficult because superconscious states can be so joyous and meaningful that we easily become attached to and identified with them. (Whitmore, 1991, p.116)
The living spirit grows and even outgrows its earlier forms of expression; it freely chooses the men who proclaim it and in whom it lives. This living spirit is eternally renewed and pursues its goal in manifold and inconceivable ways throughout the history of mankind. Measured against it, the names and forms which men have given it mean very little; they are only the changing leaves and blossoms on the stem of the eternal tree. (Crowley, 1998, p.128-129)
This quote is from the Hindu scripture of the Bhagavad Gita where the God Krishna says:
By whatever path a man seek me,
even so do I welcome him,
for the paths men take from every side are mine.
(Campbell, 1955, p.xvi)
Jung believed that for people to blossom into psychologically mature individuals they need not only to work out their emotional complexities but also to encounter something beyond the everyday world: authentic spiritual experience. This is not to say he wanted all of society to become reclusive mystics, he was a man ahead of his time; on a mission to find answers as to how we can live in the world today. Turning inward one may examine repressed desires, motives, drives, hidden ambitions and the wealth of channelled energy that unconsciously controls and manipulates our lives. (Crowley, 1998, p.134)
Satori is the spiritual goal of Zen Buddhism and is considered beyond ordinary comprehension (Fig 22). Here is a Satori experience:
I entered. I lost the boundary of my physical body. I had my skin, of course, but I felt I was standing in the centre of the cosmos… I saw people coming toward me, but all were the same man. All were myself. I had never known this world before. I had believed that I was created; I was the cosmos; no individual…existed. (Smith, 1958, p.132)
Satori roughly translates into ‘Individual Enlightenment’ or ‘a flash of sudden awareness.’ The only way to ‘attain’ Satori is through personal experience and deep meditation; the existential element of this is in realising the true sense of Self. The world would not be perceived in the same way if Enlightenment were achieved; an objective Self would be created with a powerful feeling of joy that overrides any other feelings of joy or sorrow. The feeling of Satori is said to be that of infinite space but total Enlightenment can not come until many Satoris of different depths have taken place; in some cases this can take a lifetime depending on the length of training and the receptiveness of the individual. (Yates, 2005)
The often absurd nature of life is fascinating and full of challenges; the responsibility of facing up to these becomes stronger with experience.
Nausea, nihilism, angst, loss of meaning: these thoughts spring to mind when confronted with the common, yet misguided, existential definition.
The theory of existentialism is a rather contentious issue and the true definition of this somewhat ambiguous idea is still open to debate. By pulling together elements from Jungian psychoanalytical theory, examining the work of Giacometti and the culture that surrounded him, I hope to have provided some meaningful insight as to why often sensitive, deeply thoughtful individuals get labelled as being Existentialists.
By studying the inner workings of the human mind and abstract concepts such as ‘Who am I?’, ‘What is my purpose in life?’ and ‘Does life have any intrinsic value?’ one can get closer to revealing the answers. Although the answers will of course be completely different for each individual; we’re all unique but through the process of self discovery and existential thought, we could connect with others and communicate on a deeper level.
The argument that artists aim to fulfil their creative destinies in order to give meaning and purpose to their lives is inconclusive, as there’s a whole multitude of different reasons why certain paths are taken and others are not. Do you have to be an existential thinker to produce existential art? Giacometti began producing existential art before the term was widely used; perhaps it was a word fabricated simply to categorise a certain way of perceiving the world, of which others had no understanding? There’s a calm stillness and spatial depth to many of Giacometti’s artworks (this relates to the Buddhist practice of clearing the mind of all thoughts and just letting go), although it’s unlikely that this particular artist ever felt truly elevated due to his temperament and over-ambition; we may never know.
In order to produce perfect art do you have to make yourself perfect? The innate blueprints which Jung believed hold the key to this perfection can become clouded by conflicting emotions. Although many people are too logical and rigid in their way of thinking, Jung’s lifework could be disregarded as being completely nonsensical. After all, it’s just one man’s ideas and these can’t be accepted as the total truth; although Jungian analytical theory has been used successfully in areas such as the treatment of mental health. Jung wrote of himself near the end of his life:
I am satisfied with the course my life has taken…I am astonished, disappointed, pleased with myself. I am distressed, depressed, rapturous. I am all these things at once, and cannot add up the sum…In spite of all uncertainties, I feel a solidity underlying all existence and a continuity in my mode of being…Life is – or has – meaning and meaninglessness. I cherish the anxious hope that meaning will preponderate and win the battle.
(Crowley, 1998, p.145)
It’s difficult to prove exactly how the theory of existentialism ties in with the nature of the human mind. Do people feel existential due to some kind of spiritual revelation? Do personalities fluctuate due to the neural chemistry in the brain? Like existentialism, the human spirit is hard to define.
…at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.
(Coelho, 1999, p.18)
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Christian Klemm, Alberto Giacometti, 2001
pieces 'existed below the threshold of sculpture' but they didn't
feel like they were installations either, maybe because of the
size, I don't know. What do you think?
Jenny West - I think of the work as ‘sculptural drawing’, existing as a hybrid between drawing and sculpture.
L.G - What do you see your own work as primarily being? I.e. drawing,
sculpture, installation and would you define yourself as an artist
as being any one of these imparticular i.e. drawer, painter,
J.W- I do think of myself as an artist whose main practice is drawing, but drawing that relates strongly to sculpture. Initially I made drawings to plan and to visualize sculptures before constructing in three dimensions, but found that the method of constructing drawings using perspective gave me the time to think through ideas, slowly and hesitantly, and allowed me to produce work which was visually slight but complex and highly structured at the same time. I do always think very much about the idea of construction – the drawings are built slowly and meticulously but, importantly, they allow for change and erasure, something not so easily achieved with sculptural objects.
L.G - From viewing your 'installation' pieces it looks like you have
an interest in line?
J.W - This is true, I am naturally excited and influenced by structures in the real world which are linear, (often thin and usually delicate and complex, especially those of architectural scale. I am less interested in mass and this has influenced my approach when making drawings and sculptures. When making drawings directly in an architectural space (to extend physically through the space) I have been interested in extending line spatially, very much in the same way that a pencil line is used to describe form upon the surface of paper or upon the wall.
L.G - What I saw at YSP was 'installation' would you call it anything
J.W - It could be called site-specific drawing, as the drawing upon the wall and its extension through space was directly connected to the physical characteristics of the site. This has been the case with other spatial drawings too, notably in the chapel at YSP and at Leeds City art Gallery, 2006). In terms of the space in which the drawing is made the light, the limitations, the accessibility, the practical considerations, and the size, have been factors that have influenced the decision making process and the outcome. Influences such as Early Italian Frescoes, Egyptian wall paintings and the works of artists Sol LeWitt and Gego have been an important factor in the development of ideas.
L.G - What does it mean to you when you paint/draw/install a piece
J.W - I am not completely sure what you are asking here!
I usually feel a mixture of apprehension mixed with a strong feeling of excitement. This is more acute when making a site-specific work than when installing a series of framed drawings in a gallery!!
L.G - Even though there was no drawing on paper that I saw at YSP do
you draw before you make your 'installation', or make models, test
pieces, samples before the final piece and if you do how do these
relate to your final piece? do they act as a set of instructions?
or are they more experimental/ investigation pieces?
J.W - It varies, in the chapel at YSP the spatial drawing came about through experimenting directly in the space, however the chapel was not open to the public and so I was able to take risks and be less self conscious in terms of success or failure. In ‘Entrance’ I developed the work by planning carefully, first in my studio at home and through quite a lot of discussion with the curators and technicians at YSP. I tested the size of the drawn funnels in my studio first and made drawings, (sketches really), of how I would extend physical line through the space. I rarely make 3D models, although, for a sculptural installation for the British Embassy in the Yemen 2007, I did, but that was because it was impossible to visit the place beforehand, and so I made a scale model to help work things out (not so easy).
L.G - Would you say your work was site specific? Could you pick it up
and put it somewhere else and it still work? Does colour interest
you at all or have any importance to you?
J.W - Certainly the spatial drawings at YSP are site specific. And no, it could not be picked up and placed elsewhere. Infact the works are generally ephemeral, and are taken down after a period of time. I do, also, make drawings on paper and these are transportable. Colour . . . Yes colour interests me, though in a series of drawings I have been developing over the last 3 years I have purposefully excluded colour and worked upon a white gesso surface with pencil. A paragraph from Michael Craig Martins intro to ‘Drawing the Line’ was the catalyst for this particular series …. ‘How a drawing is made determines its character. Line drawings often reveal an immediacy and directness bordering on rawness. They show precisely what is needed, no more and no less. No other form is so flexible, responsive, or revealing.’
‘……In my search, I occasionally came across two similar drawings by the same artist, one of which had remained only as line, while the other had been coloured in or overpainted with coloured washes. The latter always seemed to me to have dated more than the simple line drawing, as though the colour was more particular to the period of its making, fixing the work more implacably in its own time. Line on its own seems capable of acquiring a quality of timelessness.’
I will probably work with colour again soon as I have withdrawal symptoms!!
L.G - I once went to a talk that was given by the artist Roger Burke
and he said something really interesting that never seems to get
out of my head! He said that no matter what medium an artist works
in, whether it is video, paint, performance, and clay etc all artists
fall into two categories, you are either a painter or a drawer. You
cant be both. What do you think?
J.W - I am not sure whether you can be so definite about this, I certainly think through drawing, and so fall into the drawing category, maybe others think through painting, I am always cautious about statements that are generalisations. Artists use drawings in many ways, and its fascination for me is in its modesty and intimacy.
L.G - As I said earlier, im interested in the idea of surface and the
idea of is a drawing still a drawing if it comes of paper? As Mark
Wriggley noted in one of his essays, Paper, Scissors, Blur (don't
quote me on that being the exact correct title!) that when
'drawings' are exhibited, the little card next to the work (that
says artist name, DOB,title of work and media) never states 'paper'
if its been drawn on paper, but if its on another surface i.e.
card, canvas etc it does, so one automatically presumes that the
drawing is always on paper, you could say to an extent that surface
can define the drawing? what do you think?
J.W - The AHRC Research fellowship, which I held from 2000-03, allowed me to investigate the process of drawing, by working directly upon the surface of the wall and extending line through space. ‘Drawing evolved from fabrication in the studio towards an increasingly reactive process determined by the architectural space in which I was situated.’- Jane Tormey, Entrance YSP Publication. I considered the approach I took throughout to be a drawing approach. Line was a factor here and also the materials I worked with – pencil, thread, a prepared surface to draw upon, in this case gesso applied directly to the wall, and drawing tools such as rulers, set squares, compasses etc. I rarely carried out a pre-arranged plan and so drawing here, was a process to think through, regardless of the surface upon which I was drawing.
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
"Understood in its metaphysical sense, Beauty is one of the manifestations of the Absolute Being. Emanating from the harmonious rays of the Divine plan, it crosses the intellectual plane to shine once again across the natural plane, where it darkens into matter." —Jean Delville
So what could be considered as beautiful? An ‘Absolute Being’ as Delville sees it seems to suggest a kind of well integrated spiritual harmony within the observer but his view can’t apply to every individual. So if beauty to some people is not a form of spiritual awareness or even the opposite of the abject and degraded or even something dark and grotesque itself; who’s to say the statement should be true at all? If anything beauty could tap into an innate drive, to combat the complexities of our own repressed fears and give hope and pleasure, often when it seems there may be none.
A somewhat whimsical passage lifted from an essay I'm currently writing on art related to the psychology of fear, madness, horror, beauty and the grotesque.
Looking at Drawing Edward Lucie Smith (Born 1933)
Head is what I first encounter. Head, 121cm x 44cm oil on canvas painting stares, not at the viewer but past. Not a challenging, enquiring stare but one that could begs loneliness. What also catches my eye is the scratched into surface down the right hand side of the painting. The paint applied almost as cement would be applied to a surface, then the incisions that are scrawled into it: scratched, cut, carved. One feels the bodily presence of the artist through the materials, the materials that form an almost disfigured face; the left hand side disappearing into a haze of colour. On a wall down my right hand side are two works, Pain and Warheads. Pain is the first encounter of the two. A 169cm x 152cm ink and oil bar on paper. Making me slightly uncomfortable, the work is made up of heads. Heads screaming in fury but emit no sound. I don’t feel their pain only the discomfort produced. Screaming into silence is again what makes these faces seem so lonely. Again. The eyes stare but wait. Parts of the seemingly random composition frozen like film still. And again like in Head and Warheads there is a presence of the artist’s body, through the material and a physical handlability of the materials. Pain makes no incision into the materials used but this time it’s the material that is used to generate an illusion of incision. Warheads, which is on the same wall as Pain, is a 230cm x 152cm drawing made up of graphite, charcoal, ink, acrylic paint and biro on paper. The heads re-appear but this time they become almost a burden to themselves. Piles of rock like heads line the base of the paper, weighed down with variants of the same form piled on top. Some scream, some stare. But what strikes me about this work are the footprints on the very bottom of the paper, appearing to be underneath the heads. The presence of the artist is still evident in the materials in this work but his actual trace of walking up and down the art work and his decision to keep it as part of the art work really catches me. One can then presume that the work was done on the floor. The artist walking and running the ink is all I can see. The ink acts like the dragged belly of something wounded, the bleeding lines act almost as contours, and the mind follows those tracks.
Turning to my left, into the second cube along I sit on the floor. I sit opposite Faces, a 236cm x 34cm drawing made up of black marker pen on paper. In this one it’s the eyes. The obsessive, compulsive eye. In this work the materiality take no prominence. Thecontent sees to this. Here we are no more dealing with body in relation to material and action but an obsession with imaging or obsession with process, the repetitive action that comes from being absorbed in what one is making. It becomes almost abstract that process of making, it transcends representation and it becomes just artist and material. I can try and interpret that to an infinite extent but do we will never know no matter how advanced technology gets, the physicality of making the work. The amount of pressure applied with each line, the exact positioning of the body, the thought process and emotions of the artist at that moment in time. But of course, we can try.
Term coined by Martin Heidegger. He suggests that the private relationships that we have with the world are those things that we deal with, noting that the kind of dealings which are closest to us do not bare perceptual cognition but a kind of concern which manipulates things and puts them to use.
The Northern Art Prize 2008, held at Leeds Art Gallery from the 21st November until the 1st February 2009, celebrates and rewards contemporary visual artists based in the north of England. For the second year running four artists have been short listed from a list of twenty four and get to exhibit their work in a group show at Leeds Art Gallery.
Having never been to the Northern Art Prize previously and not previously read any coverage I didn’t go in with too much expectation. I mean as far as art prizes go and the Turner Prize is the obvious one that springs to mind, they are not received with much positive reception, but as the Northern Art Prize is only in it’s second year, one can not judge too much. On first entry I was instantly struck by the layout of the exhibition within the gallery. The four artists were spread throughout the whole gallery; three on the ground floor amongst the 18th Century drawings and watercolour room and the fourth artist up stairs set amongst the Modern and Contemporary Art. But this isn’t all that odd is it. I mean unusual can still be unusual- interesting can’t it and as far as art prizes go I’ve never heard a bad word be said about the Northern Art Prize.
On arrival I encountered Imogen Stidworthy’s exhibition on the ground floor. I was taken back by the sheer impact of the broken words, voices coming from a two metre curved free standing wall, which had the appearance of a giant speaker with a mans voice repeatedly trying to form words. But what made the exhibition was the set up of the space, how she’d used the space to create and interesting juxtaposition of sounds, words, noises and the written word. Whilst listening to the fragmented repetition of the part words your eyes were lowered to the floor to two screens with scrolling words such as ‘um,um,um,hmmm…’ and ‘this ones not in use…’ reading one screen was impossible as the effect of the words travelling across one screen disrupts the reading of the other screen. The logical sentences end up making no sense at all; their meaning getting lost it the spoken word.
Next I encountered Richard Forster and Clare Charnley’s work, not without confusion may I add. Being lost in the amazement of what seemed to be photographs but on closer inspection of the small card at the side of the works, turned out to be pencil on paper. But it wasn’t the content of the drawings I was interested in: hazy depictions of flora and fauna and a dog led on a carpet; it was the sheer amazement that some one could take so much time, energy and perseverance into making a drawing look like a black and white photograph. I must have spent a good ten minutes itching closer to the drawing wanting to find some evidence of what would look like a pencil mark, some energetic expressive line, but non, pure restraint, painstakingly perfect. Lost in close up inspection of Forster’s work I came across photographs, actual photographs this time of two people in various positions almost looking like they were trying to make letters. Confused for a moment I didn’t realise I’d wandered into the work of Clare Charnley, just an instant, direct encounter. Are theytrying to make letters or construct a word? What was interesting about Charnley’s work is what relates back to Stidworthy’s work and that is the concept of struggling with language. This can be seen almost too literally in the work ‘Leave Blank’ which consists of altered immigration forms but with no visible words or instructions, commenting on the immigrants struggle with the English language, not understanding, being misunderstood and also in ‘The conversation of things’ which are sets of paired posters, making us question our subjective encounter to specific objects and our interpretation of objects around us.
The final artist I saw was Paul Rooney. And his video work ‘Lost High Street’ a video piece of the artist sat at the back of an Edinburgh Tour Bus, filming the scenery around him as he travels around Edinburgh. In the background is Rooney’s Liverpoodlian accent recalling memories of place ands time. The struggle with recollection of memories, fragmented memories and the recollection of history that is bound to be flawed unless remembered correctly at every step along the way.
Overall I was pleased at visiting the Northern Art prize and felt that a prize based on geographical positioning could work. Walking away with the exhibition catalogue was though a mistake, the selection panel based entirely in London. Make of that what you will.
The York City Art Gallery held an exhibition between October 2007 and January 2008 of one of Britain’s most prolific artists: Tracey Emin. The work on show was a collection of works owned by Tim Dickinson who started collecting in 1995 and has since built up an established collection.
The exhibition was on the second floor, tucked away in a small room, almost in isolation from anything else in the gallery Personally, I was expecting the exhibition to be in the main room of the gallery, on spectacular show for all to see. This was not the case. When entering the crammed room I felt as if I was pushed into Emin’s work; I was part of its space, intimately involved,unless you tried to carefully manoeuvre around the crowd that is. The first works I came upon were a series of monoprints. The monoprints were of (presumably) Tracey herself sat in a chair and next to her is a smaller chair with a smaller, childlike person, presumably a younger Tracey. What hit me first was the harshness of these images but also a vulnerability, a vulnerability that almost made you feel sorry for her. But this can’t be right can it? I mean we all love to hate Tracey Emin. We all love to instantly make a comment of ‘how is this Art?’ when faced with her work.
Sometimes I feel Lonely But Its OK, 2002 depicts a single, lonely bird on a branch, evidently Tracey herself from the use of ‘I’ in the work’s title. The same bird then also reappears in the monoprint, Broken Heart, 2003 but this time crossed out with a single X as a black hawk that hovers over her. Again there is a sense of vulnerability, of her not minding being on her own until something comes along and breaks her down. It feels like a deletion of her own secure being and she puts herself out there; on show for everyone to see.
Other works here include an appliquéd travel bag and a tea-pot, specifically designed for Longchamp races. These soft, stitched almost child-like works seem to provide comfort against such harsh, honest monoprints and self portraits. Maybe also a comfort to Emin.
From this exhibition it is hard to understand why the media and general public have a prejudice to Emin’s work. This exhibition showed a vulnerable side to Emin, sympathy almost arose within me. All the works on show were pleasant to look at and there was nothing in my mind which provoked the question, “How is that Art?” So what’s the issue with Emin’s work? Maybe the reason why people hold such a prejudice is because she is stark and honest and we all know almost everything about her. But isn’t that what today’s celebrity-obsessed culture loves? To know everything about everyone who is in the spotlight? Maybe one answer to this is that Emin exposes something personal about theviewer. Maybe she arouses something and brings to the forefront of the mind something we’d rather forget. Let’s take for example her most controversial work, My Bed, 1998, which was exhibited for the Turner Prize in 1999. This unmade, stained, not all too attractive bed was exhibited at Tate Britain for all to see. By looking at this bed, doesn’t it expose something which could be said to be true to us all? After all, haven’t we been in that unmade, dirty, troubled bed? Not wanting to awake and face reality. A bed is a site where the best of us and most certainly sometimes the worst of us is released. A place where our alcoholic endeavours take the bain of it, a place where we’ve sunken so deep we can’t see a reason to even want to get out. The bed can be a place where a whole human life-cycle can take place: copulation, fertility, sickness and loss. Not to mention those dirty sheets that kindly remind us of emotions, some of which we’d rather forget. The whole body and self can certainly get lost in a bed. So just to look at a bed is, yes, just a bed, but if by viewing a bed we are remembering something of the past or an emotion is aroused, that we thought was long gone, then isn’t that bed worth something? What it arouses or what is remembered will be different and personal to every one of us.
If I didn’t understand Tracey Emin before, then now I do but I’m sure there’s much more to be revealed.