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 nature of the specific in a work of Art. Without being too pedantic I am always thinking about what makes a painting work.

Being specific in a painting refers to its solid and concrete nature, both its concept and unity of form. It removes doubt, but  not without poetry. It can be of a political nature, a social or even 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 risk falling 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. It is so much concerned with an ideal outside of oneself that it no longer resides in any specific place, but 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 transmit a human emotion. Museums ar full of these kinds of work.

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 experimented in this nether-world of self-expression and also in 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 (as in a symbolic kind which many in this movement searched for) or is it just an abstract painting from the American Expressionist School, no meaning, just a play of colour with no concern to form? Is it specific about anything? And two of the biggest questions a painting should always ask are these:

A pedestrian will ask: Does it move me?  
And a painter should always ask: Can this painting teach me anything about Painting, or about Life?

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