Get Out Of Your Head

from my comic, FLUB. Don't ask why I think it belongs with this post...

from my comic, FLUB. Don’t ask why I think it belongs with this post…

When I was in school I was constantly amused and disconcerted by the disjoint between the arts and the academic interpretation of the arts. For instance, pick up any literary critique on the play HAMLET and you will read a lot of well-meaning but clueless intellectualizing on the inaction of the character Hamlet. And then, go to a rehearsal. Plays are about action. Hamlet is one of the most active characters in the canon. The play is essentially a detective story with the main character, Hamlet, trying to determine whether the ghost of his father is from heaven or from hell. He needs proof. Every action that he takes is to uncover the truth of his father’s death.

Yesterday I was witness to the arts/academic disjoint in person. A fantastic Christopher Wool retrospective is opening at the Chicago Art Institute. Kerri and I took the train in to the city to see the exhibit and attend a lecture by the curator of the exhibit. In a surprise appearance, Christopher Wool, the artist, took the stage with the curator. The curator was unprepared. She didn’t want him to talk. Over and over again she told him what his work was about and then asked him to confirm it. He was gentle with her and kind and contradicted her analysis. Five times she told us that his work was about self-annihilation (he makes gestural lines on canvas and then wipes them off) and he would counter by saying something like, “Well, actually, I didn’t like the line so I wiped the canvas but then I liked what was happening with the wipe so I left it.”[a long silence would follow]

She needed his work to have deeper, darker meaning. He is an artist in a relationship with his material and works intuitively. There was no intellectual meeting ground between her need and his work. Had she asked him about the greater meaning of his paintings (she didn’t) he might have said, “Well, what do you see?” As Joseph Campbell once said, “If an artist doesn’t like you, he’ll tell you what his work means. If he likes you, he’ll let you have your own experience.”

The curator needed the body of work to be sourced in the artists suffering. The artist did not suffer and, in fact, told us that his art was a form of play. In play, we assemble meaning (and the curator missed this fine point).

It finally came to this simple statement: Christopher Wool, the artist, stopped the curator in the middle of a lengthy pedagogical rant and said, “All this talk of process and technique! No one needs to know any of it.” He looked at the audience and continued, “I hope that when you see the work, that it engages you. I hope you have a relationship with the work.”

Artists know that the audience recreates the work. A work of art is never complete without the other, the viewer, who is not passive but becomes an artist in the moment of engaging. The viewer recreates the work anew, unique, and special to their eyes.

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