Saturday, February 18, 2012

Information Overload?
Opinion Piece on Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience I have listed other posts on this blogspot that focuses on writing about your own or others artworks:
Writing About Art (Part I)
Writing About Art (Part II)

Information Overload
The right side of the brain is often associated with emotion and creativity, whereas the left side of the brain is associated with language[1]. Nonetheless, latest research on the brain's plasticity shows that these divisions may be too simplistic: different parts of the brain in the different hemispheres will coordinate in order to complete a function, since most functions are multi-faceted.

It is not scientifically true that if you are artistic, you are basically trapped in the right hemisphere of your brain and thus you are hopeless in articulating your artistic ideas because of your under developed (neuronal speaking) left side of the brain. It has been postulated that if you cannot do maths you tend to study humanities and if you cannot articulate your feelings you tend to deal with images. These hypotheses have never been scientifically tested - they are therefore unsubstantiated notions.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Discrimination IV: I am Human (2005).
Medium: Archival Inkjet Print on Paper.
Size: A3.

My university students, when confronted with writing an essay about art, are always quick to point to such myths. When they do, I am quick to point to one of my favourite books – “Writing About Art” by Henry M. Sayre[2]. I also give my students a comprehensive list of art-bloggers who can easily publish lucid conversational essays about their own art, unravelling techniques, and ideas and giving valuable insights into their art practice. They readily use their right and left side of brain interchangeably, imperceptibly and instantaneously.

Cover of H.M. Sayre’s Book – Pablo Picasso, Woman With Book, Oil Painting (1932).

Artists such as Piet Mondrian (e.g. Painting I, 1926) and Jackson Pollack (Number 1 1948, 1948) have deliberately labelled some of their artworks with titles that were devoid of any subject matter. In Pollack’s case he wanted the “doing” of the painting and the outcome of its “doing” to stand paramount during the act of engagement and so not to be obscured or distracted by a title, which may mislead or obviate the central purpose of the act – to “experience” the work unfettered[2]. Some of the ArtCloth titles on this blog have been deliberately named - “Untitled” - perhaps for similar reasons (see earlier posts).

Piet Mondrian, Painting I, Oil Painting (1926).

All artworks generate their own mien – some are modified by the ambience in which they reside, whereas others distort or even warp the environment that they are located in by their mere presence. As a curator, I am always aware of how the artwork interacted with the space allocated to it and its surrounds (see Engaging New Visions on this blog site). As an artist, I am aware about how my artwork should be presented, even though in “group” exhibitions I may not have a say about its surrounds.

Jackson Pollack, Number 1 1948, Oil Painting (1948).

My trait is that all of my artworks are titled - and I choose my titles very carefully - to inform the viewer of the subject matter of the artworks; that is, my title is a just another clue. However, rarely can it capture the “experience” generated by the work, because often such intricate interactions are somewhat plastic, varying with each viewer’s interpretation and my over-arching intent as an artist - to create an “experience” during the act of engagement. As I have often stated on this blog site, art is an ill defined communication system, albeit intentional by design; it cannot be precise; it is therefore vague in delivery and so may surprisingly generate unexpected constructive or destructive criticisms and/or analysis. See the following blog for some unexpected comments by art critics.

Why ArtCloth

When I exhibit my artwork, I make sure it is properly labelled (Name, Title, Year It was Created, Medium, Size etc.) and depending on the curator, I would normally follow this label with a brief description of my “intent” in creating my artwork; that is, the intended “experience” that I wanted to create during the act of engagement. The latter is usually less than 100 words in length. Nevertheless, I have participated in exhibitions where such statements were shunned. In a solo exhibition, I always leave a pamphlet giving a readable bibliography and shortened version of my curriculum vitae. Hopefully, most of the above material will be in a catalogue, together with reproductions of my artwork. All of these informative tools are mere aids to assist in understanding my artwork. For example, below is the sort of information I would deliver with an exhibited artwork, albeit that is much longer than what I would normally pen.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Whose Church? (2006).
Technique: Fine-Art print on paper employing the author's "multiplex" silkscreen printing technique.
Size: A3.

Synopsis Of ArtWork: Whose Church?
As the Catholic Church grew from a seed into a worldwide conglomerate, the Vatican amassed enormous protected material wealth. It did so via capitalism. Even today, it operates its business ventures outside of the constructs of the Church on capitalistic grounds. In 1973, a Peruvian Jesuit Father Gustavo Gutierrez published a book entitled “A Theology of Liberation”. The tenets of what became known as liberation theology rested on freeing the people from political oppression, economic want and misery here on earth. More specifically still, it was freeing the people in Latin America from political domination by capitalism. The underlying assumption was the preferential option that Jesus showed for the poor. Was it not easy for a camel to slip through the tiny eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven? After all, was not Christ himself poor – “…the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, while even the birds of the air have nests and the foxes have their lairs”.

This print juxtaposes the material wealth of the Church derived from capitalism with its spiritual wealth (e.g. Saint Francis of Assisi and the cross of Jesus) and so directly raises the dichotomy, which challenged the liberation theologians – Whose Church?

Information Overload?
So where is the mystery in this print if all information about it has been delivered to the viewer? When I created – “Whose Church?” – my intention was to artistically investigate the dichotomy between theory and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. Using deductive reasoning, I settled on a particular theme (e.g. liberation theology) to give my work a compositional uniformity. For a viewer, the unfettered individual “experience” during the act of engagement may have settled on more recent problems of the Church, namely, the sexual abuse by Priests of minors and so the "experience" might have been framed in terms of – Is it the Church of Jesus, or is the Church permanently anchored to the human frailties of its minders - the priests and nuns? (Inductive reasoning). The artist statement informs rather than captures or contextualises the entire array of possible unfettered “experience(s)” felt by the viewer(s).

I should point out that reproductions in a catalogue or on your computer screen do not slavishly follow the color of the artworks, nor do they give you a feel for their size, complexity or yield information about the art marks (fine, rough, smooth or textured etc.) Hence, care must always be taken to “see” the work in situ (if possible) before writing about it.

Replica of the Mona Lisa recently discovered at the Madrid's Museo del Prado. Conservators say that it was painted at the same time as the original — and possibly by one of the master's pupils, or perhaps even by a lover.

Lastly, I never describe formal elements in my work such as lines, space, shape, light and dark, color, rhythm, repetition, proportion, balance, scale, unity, values, variety or more unique elements such as the use of foils, gold leaf etc. or even make comparative studies [2] I might do so when I am delivering a talk about my artwork to an audience, where I may wish to expand on technical aspects that underwrote the intended “experience” and moreover, place in context my artwork in terms of my overall output, my influences and the artwork of others. Generally, I leave these topics to the critics, who may wish to write about my art. After all, there needs to be some mists in what I do!

[1] Smith, Carol. "Brain Tumor Opens Her Mind To Art", The Seattle Post-Intelligencer,March 13, (2006).

[2] Sayre, Henry M.,“Writing About Art”, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, (1995) ISBN 0-12-124975-4.

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