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What is art - ad absurdam

Charles Schermerhorn wrote:
>Neither van Gogh, nor Bach, nor Feininger, nor Sandburg,
>while producing their work gave a thought to how it would
>be defined.  It grew out of an intrinsic creative instinct
>unique to those who do.

What a peculiar idea! They are all masters of form, with extremely well
defined work. Feininger came out of the Bauhaus. Kandinsky, Feininger's
predecessor, wrote _Concerning the Spiritual in Art_ and _Point and Line to
Plane_ (and was the first "abstract" artist by some accounts, though I also
like the path from Albert Pinkham Ryder to de Kooning by way of Turner);
Klee, also out of the Bauhaus, wrote _The Pedagogical Sketchbooks_; If you
want to quote writers, Tolstoy wrote _What is Art_. Bach wrote down every
note--and was THE master of form and methodology. He certainly did a good
job of teaching his kids! Many of the "New York School" (Abstract
Expressionists) wrote and taught theory, and we could make a reading list a
mile long of artists who codified their methodologies. I liked that quote
from Rauschenberg. Curiosity is at the root of it. Certainly there are
artists who didn't write it down, but they all defined it. Some visual
artists are less verbal or literary than others. I certainly wouldn't
criticise an artist for not writing it down.

I make book art. I don't believe in "intrinsic creative instinct". I define
it before I produce it. I have a methodology. I have a theoretical
framework. I use that framework to create and judge art.

And so what if an artist doesn't do that, but works on instinct? I curate a
lot of exhibitions, judge competitions, decide who gets in or gets the
prize. I have a collection of work I believe is important. It's not easy. I
have to make judgment calls all the time. And have a reason for them that
goes beyond "I like it." It doesn't really matter to me whether an artist's
method is conscious or unconscious. I still have criteria that I use to
judge the work.

And I think it's important that people in this field who have to make this
kind of judgment call every day share their methodologies with each other. I
have already read some fresh and interesting points of view, that made me
think about it.

I don't know why some people are afraid of thought or criticism. That point
of view doesn't help us make any decisions. It adds to the mass of
redundant, derivative, thoughtless, weak, self-indulgent work.

For example, I was talking to a young curator/librarian at the Book Art fair
at CCCCBPA. He was extolling the virtues of a young book artist who was
gluing pages together and creating "text" by shaving through the pages at an
angle. I said, "Oh, like Buzz Spector did 20 years ago?" He answered. "Who's
that." I didn't mention Dieter Roth or Michael Gibbs, but changed the subject.


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