Art In History Art Blog
I was a young man - a young artist - when Marshall McLuhan came out with his seminal statement: "The medium is the message". The idea had tremendous power, since it seemed to sum up a century of change in attitudes toward the art object (visual, auditory, written) and its purpose. The work of art was its own reason for being; it did not have to serve any outside purpose.
For me this is not only an exciting idea, it is a justification for what I secretly often feel is a failing of mine: my work isn't serving a higher purpose that I can define. Which means that, deep down, I don't fully accept that my work has no need to "teach" or "advocate". There is this suspiciaon that the work that deserves the most respect is the one with a higher purpose.
This was brought home to me last night when I attended an opening for a young artist, Omar Clarke, who is a new member of our artists' community in the Indian Orchard Mills. The theme of his show was the tension between being a black man and being an american. It was interspersed with quotations from the writings of W. E. B. DuBois dealing with this dilemma, and his work had a focus and a power that was due in large part to the seriousness and meatiness of the message. I once again heard that little whisper comparing his "high purpose" with my own lack of "something to say".
Then I had a talk with him, in which I expressed these ideas. His response was fascinating: this is only part of what I want to do; it is focussed because of the theme of the show. It turns out that what fires him up at the moment is an admiration for artists who can convincingly model forms in space such as drapery, distinguish believably between the textures of metal, cloth and flesh. In other words, he is less interested in an outside message at the moment than he is about his craft.
Well now. That is part of what my work is about: recreating the richness and variety of the visual world. Maybe that's all right too! Actually I am usually fine with what seems to be my mission to paint what turns me on in the visual world, to try to give the viewer a chance to see it through my eyes. I am not a missionary or an activist; I just need to accept the validity of the place from which my art springs.
Tonight I am going to another opening, this one at the Dane gallery at the mill. It is called "Transitions", and is the work of four wonderful artists whose work is abstract to semi-abstract figurative pieces. Though some have a strong emotional content, the works do not need any outside purspose to justify their existence; they are a bountiful visual feast satisfying on many purely visual levels. A good dose of Carole, Heidi, Bev and Claudine and I will no longer worry about the higher message. Instead, I will start to question my adherence to external visual truth, to imitation of nature. Oh well.