19 May 2020

where the Universal dwells on a ledge

Lately I have been thinking of the Universal aspect of a specific work of Art and also conversely, the very the specific nature of a specific work of Art. Without being too pedantic I am always thinking about what makes painting work.
Being specific in a painting is about its solid and concrete nature. It can remove doubt but still be poetic. It can be of a political nature, a social, or of a moralistic affirmation. It specifies a place or time, but it can also  be  far removed and away from anyone else's curiosity or understanding. 

Not being specific in painting can also involve  personal or a self-expression that  has little or no meaning outside of the creator's own world. Often Abstract Art falls into this category as in the American Abstract Expressionist Movement which began  the 1940's. A risk of this nonspecific self-expression in an artistic sense, (on its own terms), is to fall off the nihilist cliff. 

On the other hand I can still ponder yet another kind of painting which is germaine to the previous one, but it aspires to an opposite world of Art; one which appeals to the Universal. And it is so much concerned with an ideal outside of oneself that it no longer resides in any specific place, but it lives in a kind of nether world which only aspires to the past accomplishments of our collective culture. It cannot even be specific to enough to a human emotion. 

So to aspire to a Universality, (on its own terms), can also place a work of art in limbo by trying to please the past, and by doing so, it too, is in limbo. By limbo, I mean -not here - but not there either - nowhere in fact, artistically and conceptually speaking. 

As I proceed out on the this ledge I may as well confess the I have battled this nether-world of self-expression in relation to an aspiration to the Universal.

Below are two works from the 20th century. The artist is very famous, and his works are in every American museum. I ask the question: What sort of painting is this? And is it a search for the Universal or is it just an abstract painting from the American Expressionist School? Is it specific about anything? And two of the biggest questions a painting must always ask are these:
Does it move me? and, Can this painting teach me anything about Painting or Life?

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