Friday, September 12, 2014


It occurred to me as I was falling asleep last night (which is when many of my more generative ideas arise) that the post I had written might be giving the impression that I think of myself as some sort of new-age adept, an evangelist of attentiveness and deep meditation. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's precisely because I find those kinds of states so infrequent and ephemeral that I honor the attempt to seek them out. They certainly don't happen spontaneously, at least for me. There were a couple of posts on Tumblr today that showed a cartoon panel of a woman with her hand on the side of her face and her eyes downcast, as if she were thinking, but there were different captions on each of the  posts. The one that stuck in my head, and that I in fact wrote down in my newly created Spark File—a new section of my not-so-newly created commonplace book—was this:

You will find exactly what you are looking for, and it will not be enough.

That little epigram pretty much sums up, IMHO,  the dilemma of human experience. Even when we get what we want, we are not satisfied. (There's a parallel formulation that has the disadvantage of having become a cliché: Be careful what you wish for; you might get it. Cliché it may be, but that doesn't mean it's not accurate.) For most of us, most of the time, function is indeed smothered in surmise, and nothing is but what is not.

I spent my teenage and college years in the sixties, and there were lots of people like Baba Ram Dass (nee Richard Alpert) going around encouraging us to learn how to "Be Here Now." Put that way, it seemed easy enough. But it wasn't, and it isn't. Because it's not in our nature. At least it's not in mine, nor in anyone's else's that I have ever met. The closest I have been able to come to that state of present-mindedness is when I am doing artwork, when the part of my brain that is thinking about what happened yesterday and what is going to be happening tomorrow and what I should have said to Alpha or what I'm going to say to Beta gets shut down, when the whole verbal apparatus of my brain gets shut down and all I am attending to is what is under my hands and in my line of vision.

That may be one reason why I generally find abstract or art more satisfying than representational art: it exists unanchored and is essentially inexplicable, which is a kind of relief. (It can be entertaining to read the tortured and irrelevant prose the self-appointed explicators come up with when they DO try to find words to describe what they think they see. But I've read a ton of it, and my observation is that there isn't anyone who does it well, with the possible exception of Robert Motherwell, who presumably knew whereof he spoke. Mostly it's a matter of trying to find people who do it less badly than the ones who are flat out full of shit, and the woods are full of them.)

An example might help. Here's something I completed yesterday. It consists of black paper torn and mounted on black cardboard. When thought I was done I looked down on the floor and saw a scrap of purplish paper lying there and more or less on impulse I picked it up, tore the edges to make it feel more like family, and put it on last.

So there it is. I like it. While I was working on it, I wasn't doing a lot of discursive thinking. I was just working. Or, to put a different spin on the same idea, just having fun. I have no idea what it is, or what it means. Maybe you do. (Feel free to interpret. I'd be curious. And you couldn't do any worse than what shows up in the average museum catalog.) It is, like most of my art, and most of the artworks I respond to, self-enclosed: a world of its own. Any resemblance to the world we actually inhabit on a daily basis—or believe ourselves to inhabit, which is an essay for another day—is either coincidental, or so deeply buried in the central core of my brain that I have no ready access to it. It is merely an artifact of experience, a fossil from which a method and motivation could be inferred only if accompanied by a grain of salt.

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