Re: You Say Krappy, I Say Crappy

From: Katharine Thayer ^lt;[email protected]>
Date: 01/09/05-05:06:36 AM Z
Message-id: <>

As far as I can tell, this (below) says the same thing you said before,
that according to Schuyler, art must be under the control of the artist
from conception through execution in order to be called art. I would
ignore this as just another repetetive pronouncement like all the others
that run past my screen every day, except that in repeating this
pronouncement, you invoked my name twice while arguing against a
position I haven't taken. As a result, I feel obliged to respond and
clarify my own position, even though this thread has already taken its

I wasn't arguing here that a piece of art that results from a completely
haphazard and ungoverned action should be called art, although frankly I
don't see any particular problem with that, if what results from the
happy accident is art. But that isn't what I was arguing here.

What I was arguing was that left-brain control, which is the kind of
control that starts with a plan for the piece of art and builds it step
by step according to that plan, is not the only kind of control, or even
the best kind of control, IMO, for the creation of art.

I would agree with you that art often starts with an idea in mind, but I
don't agree that there should be a finished product already in mind
before starting to create the art product; by definition this requires
that the control of the "creative" process must be a left brain
process. If you start with a finished product already in mind, then the
process of "creating" it is like painting by the numbers, there's
nothing creative about it. The left brain just looks at the diagram:
white here, red there, etc. The finished painting is exactly like the
one on the box.

 I said I make better paintings when I don't try to control the process,
but I don't mean throwing intention to the winds and making haphazard
inchoate gestures with no meaning behind them; let me be clear I'm not
talking about an ungoverned process at all. I simply mean relinquishing
left brain control and allowing the right brain to take over and do what
it does best, which is to create.

The left brain can only follow commands in a linear and sequential
fashion, whereas the right brain works holistically and intuitively.
Sometimes it does it all at once, and sometimes the process meanders
around a bit before it finds its way to the goal, but in either case the
painting it creates is always a much better painting than I can create
if I try to control the process from the left brain. The right brain
controls the creative process; as I said it's not an ungoverned process,
but it doesn't organize or sequence or verbalize what it's doing, it
just does it. People sometimes mistakenly confuse consciousness with
verbal report (if you can't say it you don't know it) but this is to
dismiss everything that the right brain knows, which is considerable and
is worth knowing, but can't be communicated verbally. If you're in
conscious control of the process, then you can only be using the left
brain; if the right brain is controlling the process, the artist is
still in control, a part of the artist is in control, but it's not the
left brain part that can tell you what it's doing while it's doing it.

And I don't believe that the paintings I create this way are less
artistic, or less mine, or less communicative of my intent, simply
because I allowed them to "paint themselves," using a right brain
process, rather than forcing them to conform to my preconceived
left-brain idea of what the painting should look like, which is always a
more limited and stilted expression of what I want to communicate than I
can create if I let the right brain take over.

Perhaps an example would help you understand what I'm talking about. One
day I was reading a book by Edward Betts about painting experimentally
with water media. He does these semi-abstract landscape paintings in
very bright colors: big chunky rocks in bright purple and orange with
waves of white paint splashing over them. I was taken by his paintings
and decided to see if I could paint something like that. So I laid out
some big shapes in cadmium orange to start, the way Edward Betts would
do, and was about to do the next thing in his sequence, when suddenly
the right brain says, in its non-verbal way, "f*** this! I don't WANT to
paint like Edward Betts and I don't like cadmium orange either." And it
takes a big industrial strength hose (I was working at the time in a
factory owned by my brother) and blasts the cadmium orange off the
paper, and then it just starts to paint. I have no conscious control
over this painting, but that is not to say that the process is
ungoverned, as I keep saying. When I'm finished, here is a picture of a
rocky cliff with a waterfall running down it; the rocks glow with
different colors but it's all very very subtle and not anything like
Edward Betts. The colors are very muted, the way I like colors to be.
(People are always remarking in surprise that my paintings look just
like my gum prints. Well, why wouldn't they look the same? That's the
way I want my created world to look!) At the top, growing out of the
top of the cliff, is a lone fir tree. Infusing all the painting is a
wonderful pink glow, light radiating from underneath the painting, a
result of the residual cadmium orange that still inhabits the paper even
though it was washed off. It's magical, it's beautiful, it's mine, even
though I didn't know consciously what I was doing when I was painting
it. Some of my friends see this painting as a self-portrait: Katharine
the lone pine tree clinging stubbornly to the rock of truth against the
rushing torrent of conventional thought. It's an interesting
interpretation, but it certainly wasn't intentional. The point is that
while I think of this painting as a gift from the universe, the fact is
that *I* painted it, it wasn't done by elves, and it wasn't done by some
haphazard, inadvertent process. It was the right brain, that pushed the
left brain out of the way and made a painting.

Now, the final question: how does this relate to krappy cameras? For me,
it's a way of prying the fingernails of the left brain, so to speak, off
the process of generating images, and allowing the eye to see in a more
intuitive, less conventional, more right-brained kind of way. To dismiss
the result of this activity as simply a happy accident that can't be
considered real art is to fail to understand a great deal about the
creative process.

Obviously, I don't think there's one way to approach art, or to
decide what is "art" and what isn't; I don't presume to make those kinds
of judgments for anyone but myself, and not for myself for all time but
just for today. Different approaches work for different people, or even
for the same people at different times in their lives, or when using
different art media. At the moment I am drawn to using "alternative"
photographic devices to generate images, as a way to see if I can use
the right brain creative process more in my photographic work. I don't
think this is the same thing as haphazardness fraudulently passing for
art; it's simply a way of circumventing the tendency of the left brain
to control too much and too clumsily, and handing over control to the
other side of the brain that is more suited to the task of governing a
creative process. But as I always say, each to his own; whatever
helps you make the kind of art you want to make is great. I don't quite
see the point of disparaging, even sight unseen, any art made by a
different approach than the one that suits you best.
Katharine Thayer

Schuyler Grace wrote:
> Katharine's response to one of my earlier postings about what is art got me
> to thinking (so blame her, not me) and looking at this question from a
> musical perspective. I said earlier that, for me, art is about
> communicating what's in the artist's head and the true measure of an artist
> is how well s/he controls the medium and effectively communicates with the
> viewer (or listener, or whatever). And despite some opinions to the
> contrary, I still don't believe happy accidents make art, in and of
> themselves, but those accidents are what many "artists" are generating with
> "krappy kameras" and paint splatters and other such techniques.
> Like Katharine and others on the list, I have experimented with pinholes and
> zone plates and nasty old lenses, hoping they might help me to express the
> feelings I had about a subject. So far, though, I haven't been able to
> control their effects to my satisfaction, even though some of those happy
> accidents have happened, encouraging me to experiment further. But in the
> end, what I am striving for is to capture an image that's in my head, not
> simply say, "that looks neat!" and call the results art.
> Perhaps the reason I work/think this way is because that's how I approach
> music. When I play or compose, I hear the music in my head, and I try to
> make my hands and the instrument reproduce what I hear. Even with an
> improvisation, I am hearing where the music is going before the notes
> disturb the air, and I'm not consciously making my hands do what is required
> to play. Also, some of my instruments have to be perfectly set up before
> they will work for me, and others need to have nasty, old, barely tunable
> strings to gain their voice. But the point is that I know the medium and I
> have a vision of the image I want to create, so what is created expresses
> that vision (unless some part of the process doesn't work). Of course,
> things don't always work out that well, and I have had my share of
> happy/unhappy accidents that lead to new discoveries, but they weren't part
> of my vision for that work.
> In the photography realm, I see the world the way my cameras and lenses and
> film do. As new materials and/or techniques come along, I incorporate them
> into my mental vocabulary, and I do the same with photographic happy
> accidents. Sometimes, I even go out shooting looking and hoping for happy
> accidents. But I can't ever recall a time I though one of those happy
> accidents was a finished image. Rather, they become parts of other images
> as I work to explain what's inside of me.
> Finally, I understand an image that has great and specific meaning to me may
> have no or a completely different meaning to someone else, and I expect
> that. If I want someone to experience my images the way I do (or as closely
> as they can), there has to be more explanation than just the photograph,
> itself. Shelby Adams's work in Appalachia is a great example of how a
> contemporary photographer and his images can be at once reviled and
> applauded. When I first saw a collection of his images, I was astounded at
> how well he had captured the spirit and soul of his subjects. I was just as
> astounded to discover that a great many people look at his work as being
> horribly misrepresentative of the people he photographs. But I grew up
> around similar folks and understood what Adams was trying to convey, and
> without that background or other support, I realized most people would be
> horrified by his images. So, the image is not necessarily the be all and
> end all in communicating your vision.
> Hopefully, this diatribe has helped some of you on the list understand a
> little better where I'm coming from, but that's not to say I'm correct, of
> course. And I will most likely never consider myself an Artist in any
> medium--a craftsman, maybe, but not an Artist--so take what I have said with
> a giant grain of salt.
> -Schuyler
Received on Sun Jan 9 13:02:23 2005

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