The Artist is the Steward of Forms

IMG_9827“…We see that the old reproductive function of painting has continued to lose importance. Nature appears in a new order as part of the contemporary intellectual system of reference, in which the idea ‘nature’ itself is charged with many abstract concepts. The dominant themes of contemporary painting thus extend from the transformation of natural appearance into evocative signs, through the simultaneous intensification of single visual experiences combining to create more comprehensive effects, to counter-images entirely divorced from nature but corresponding to the reflections it produces in the human heart. It is never the image of nature but the artist’s relationship to it which evokes this counter-image.”[1] No doubt the work is always a visible reality added to the other realities of the world, having its own concrete fact. The contents are evoked – the category of the ‘evocative picture’ stands tall throughout all of modernism. Towards this evocation belongs structures as modes of experience, as being of the modern and as attitude as artist. But there are many problems with this model, first and foremost the problem of the artist as a ‘creative manipulator’ of optical experiences of the world, leaning towards manipulating environment. Modern Art teaches us how the modern human lived in the world, as a kind of pseudo-Promethean controller of form where nature, or what remains of it, is arranged into ‘harmonies’ and in the most extreme cases ironed-out of existence in favor of a counter-image. The counter-image is held above the world. And might this also be the model, which is so prominent in modernism, of the bifurcation between culture and nature where the former triumphs over the latter, having its equivalence in the counter-image as symbol of subduing the natural world and of making it bend to the whim of the artist? With geohistory we surpass this phase of the artist as primary form-giver, form-prodder, bestowing control over plastic potentiality. It is not that the evocative sign disappears, only that the imago as counter-image is displaced. When those categories of the bifurcation begin to slide into one another and the boundaries blur, what was once distinct (namely culture over nature) begins to dissolve and along with it the dissolution of the artistic practices tied to such ideology. No doubt the artist is a form mover and always has been, and no doubt will remain so inasmuch as humans continue to create art, but what is of moment is the method for how the forms shall arise in the artistic plane. The moderns held onto the assumption, perhaps implicitly or perhaps underlining the basis of their platform, that the object is a dead object – it must be merely dead-matter if the object is to be transformed into the counter-image by the hand of the promethean. Opposing this approach, we know that today objects are alive and they have their own mysteries apart from our measuring, prodding or form-giving; we simply cannot take into account the entire thing, as if the properties we give the object were the object itself. That is what separates us from the moderns, at least at the basic level of attitude towards an object. It is enough to employ the evocative-picture as a means of evoking objects to perform their own making of themselves, which is to say, to step back from the totalitarian aspirations of the artist as engineer to allow the object to emerge out of its own (virtual) potentials. The artist is not the controller of forms but their steward.

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[1] Prager, Painting in the 20th Century, p 335

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