Friday, July 16, 2010

collaborative abstract painting

back from my semester break, i turned up yesterday for the first critique session of the Post-graduate Painters Group at the Academy of Arts.

while i was waiting for the session to start my eyes toyed with the random patination of marks on one of the work tables. These had been incidentally built by students over the years as they spilled bits of paint, or over-painted the edges of their work, or scored the surface with a cut-off knife.

not having any work of mine own to blog, i thought i would photograph these marks by arranging them into abstract compositions in my camera view-finder. The results you have seen above.

are these 'Art'?
because i arranged them into a composition in a viewfinder?
does this make them 'photographic art', not 'painting art'?
does the lack of compositional intention on the part of those who made the marks matter?
doesn't a lot of contemporary art use randomness and serendipity, so how are these different?
can they legitimately be called collaborative art since there was no conscious collaboration between artists?
so what should we call these images?

the work-table in question is in the far corner of the Painting Studio (above). I've thrown in a couple of additional images of the Academy world i inhabit to help set the scene.



  1. Harry,

    You ask a lot of valid questions here. If you haden't given the background information and just presented the cropped photographs, then I would give a resounding "yes". After learning what was behind the whole setup and the circumstances, even more so. I guess it all boils down to the eyes of the beholder.

    A very interesting presentation and puzzle you have given us.

    Welcome back!


  2. yes , studio alwas have beautiful marks that deserve to be exhibited . they give real lessons to us about values .

  3. "are these 'Art'? because i arranged them into a composition in a viewfinder?"

    What if "art" or "being artful" is finding/founding meaning or something meaningful - fathoming the depth of human meaning - in what is (only) apparently accidental or random? The purpose (raison d'etre) of the artist then to make sense or bring some kind of order (pleasing or not) to putative disorder?

    Welcome back, Harry!

  4. "can they legitimately be called collaborative art since there was no conscious collaboration between artists?"

    "collaboration" implies a common/shared purpose at some level but is it necessary that this "common purpose" is agreed upon, made known or determined at the outset or before the creative act? can this common purpose (indeed, the collaborative act itself) be something open or susceptible to discovery or discernment post the creative process?

  5. Thanks, Brian, glad to be back. You're going great guns in your new studio, i see.

    And yes, i think your right. A substantial part of a work is what each viewer brings with them. I deliberately presented the images first, before setting the context, to give viewers a chance to form a point of view on what they see in the images for themselves.

  6. hi Caio. Glad you too have found interest in studio marks.

  7. Hi Regina, thanks for the welcome back. I very much agree with your line of thought. Some neuro-scientists now go so far as argue that the brain 'imposes' order on the universe through selective perception rather than discovering an existing order constituted of the 'laws of science'. Newtonian Laws are the best-fit narrative our culture had for a few hundred years to explain some common human experiences.

    So then 'art' is as much a projection of the mind as it a perception of the mind. At the very least, the viwer is an active participant in 'constructing' the cultural artefact we call a painting.

    In that sense, viewers are co-creators of a work. So the work doesn't fully exist until is viewed and then takes a place in the cognitions of the viewer. In these terms a painting is not just an object, but a personal experience.

    Though i would stop short of solipsism. Leaving aside conceptual art, there is actual a created object involved in the viewer's cognitive process.

  8. I very much like your notion of 'discovery', Regina. Perhaps we can even extend discovery into art practice (during creation), as well as in discernment (post-creation).

    Seems to me that culture as a whole has not been planned, is not is it the product of a collaboratively negotiated process - let alone of a regulated process - however much some governments, churches or art establishments would like to have made it so.

    So maybe these 'works' on the studio table are not as random as they seem, are the result of numerous artists each going about their practice (like individuals in society at large), and in a kind incidental fallout generating images that carry the trace of their activity (making unplanned culture).

    Which would make the table-tops cultural artefacts of interest. Maybe even of worth.

  9. "Perhaps we can even extend discovery into art practice (during creation), as well as in discernment (post-creation)...."

    Yes, I see what you mean but this makes me think of another issue (if not conundrum) that bears upon your concern with markings or mark-making and the question of work-in-progress versus work completed. When is a creative act complete or completed? Can it be said it is also complete (mid progress) with every moment of a stroke, a dab or splotch, constituting a creative end and so complete in itself... or is the work only complete when the narratological ends (fully known or not) of the artist is/has been realised? Or in the case of the table-top markings, the moment you framed/found them? What then of each anonymous individual's contribution to what you have framed?

    How do you decide/determine that a particular creative act/work is complete or done? Even in poetry, the notions of complete and in progress are slippery/confounding things that must have something to do with how we conceive the nature and limits of time.

  10. For me, this is art, Harry, because it makes me feel an artistic emotion (this is, of course, very subjective). I like them very much, and this is the only thing that is relevant for me.

  11. Very strong,composition feelings !
    Universally acceptable.

  12. Really???? Work table photos?????? Really???

    I really actually liked that first one... loved the colors and line ... hey.. the table spoke to me.

  13. yes, from the moment you captured the image,
    selected what I was interested in, is in the photo and / or cutting - I believe abstract art
    very good by the way ... and collaborative
    this post is really cool!

  14. Hi Manel. I agree, art for me too is an emotional communication and what matters most. Though i also find it fascinating to ponder why this is so, and how that works.

    Willy, thanks for dropping by. Glad you found the images interesting.

    Marian, yep, a work-table surface, lol. Try it for yourself. And yes, the first one is probably my fav too. We can't all be wrong, can we?

    Hi Denise. I agree, i contributed quite a bit by taking the photos and fiddling about with the images before posting them here. Will we give those busy art students any credit, though? What about the art assistant who didn't remove the images off the table while cleaning up? Hmmm. So glad you found this post interesting

    and now for a lengthy reply to Regina which should probably be a post in its own right (and may become so one day). For those not into the philosophy of art, feel free to skip and just let us know what you thought of the images themselves.

  15. You do raise such thought-provoking issues, Regina. Which is great because it sends me off to more reading and thinking.

    I've got a feeling the issue of 'when is a work finished' is going to turn into a whole post some time soon. But before i offer a personal perspective on that, let me share three pieces of writing that i found very relevant to the issues raised by this post and discussion so far.

    One contribution is by Barbara Bolt. In "Material Thinking and the Agency of Matter" - . She proposes that "In the place of an instrumentalist understanding of our tools and material, this mode of thinking suggests that in the artistic process, objects have agency and it is through the establishing conjunctions with other contributing elements in the art that humans are co-responsible for letting art emerge".

    In a second paper, through her unpacking of Heidegger's notion of co-responsibility in art creation ( she comes to the confronting conclusion that "The work of art is not the artwork".

    And the other is an outstanding Masters thesis by Linda Roche, "Theatre of Painting" -

    Reflecting on her praxis, she writes "The formless seems to imply a material emergence or evolution that operates outside of the artist’s decision-making, and could be seen to feed into a way of thinking that reframes the creative process in terms of agency rather than mastery. This relates back to the notion of ‘bringing forth’ or poiesis. As opposed to an ordering and mastery over what is, poiesis is the bringing forth of something out of itself."

    The three texts expand our understanding beyond a notion that 'making art' is the assertion a controlling of human will purposing to manufacture a finished object called 'a painting'. They write about 'process' during which the artist(s) are one agency of many, and through which a work is 'pro-duced', that is, 'lead into our presence'.

  16. When is the process complete? When is a work finished? The process is never complete, for many reasons.

    Firstly because the materials themselves have agency. The pigments, the media that hold them, the support they are applied to. Watercolour changes its hue intensity and tonal values as it dries. What the painter gets is not what he or she applied. Many pigments are fugitive, that is, they fade. William Blake’s illustrations have lots of red for Satan but no blues for the firmament. They are missing, completely faded. But it is the Blake we know.

    The process of image creation continued long after his death and continues today as the pigments chemically change, alter colour, fade, the paper decomposes. How many people got upset when the Sistine chapel was cleaned. Where did all those lolly colours come from? The Sistine we knew was muted. The Greek marbles we know are pure white forms – so classical. How ‘vulgar’ to see the faces painted in, yet that is how the ancients knew them.

    Secondly, knowing when to stop is a major issue for many painters. They don’t have a fully-formed image in mind which they try to replicate on canvas. Instead, often, mostly even, the image emerges as they work.

    The process of image creation is in part often a process of trial and error. In more expressive art forms, it may be a process very largely out of the artist’s manipulative control as pigments flow and merge through gravitational and osmotic forces. The very style or genre of work may demand happen-chance. The automatic painting of the Surrealists - when did Ernst know a piece of grattage was finished? Action painting – when did Pollock to stop dripping? Even in a traditional naturalistic, picturesque wet-in-wet watercolour landscapes – when do you touch the brush just one last time?

    We all recall the paintings we have ruined by over-working them. An important piece of self-knowledge we must develop is to recognise when we are ‘fiddling’, making ever smaller and smaller marks tne have decreasing degrees of importance other than steadily killing off the life of the painting.

    Fiddling comes from the intuition that something is deficient in the work but being unable to analyse what that is. So we put some more leaves on trees when all along the whole composition was off or the darks simply lack the tonal punch they need. We muck about with lipstick when it’s the skeleton that has osteoporosis.

  17. And so these images in this post. They are finished and they are not finished. They are finished in that one version of them is now published. Which version depends in part on the colour reproduction of your monitor. Apart from framing /cropping the images, i also altered the colour saturation, contrast and gamma settings of the images my Canon IXUS 130, with the white balance i had set it, gave me. But my aging Samsung monitor may now be producing quite spurious colours. Certainly this blog looks woefully washed out on my Toshiba netbook.

    So i have no idea, and no control, over the version of these images each of you are seeing. Each additional blogger visiting this page is creating another version, completing the creation, of these images.

    But there is another very important sense in which no painting is ever finished. We, the viewers, are never finished. We are each in a constant state of ‘becoming’. We change over time. We change our minds. We change our tastes. We learn. The more we learn, the more we see.

    Every time i revisit Vincent’s cypresses in the London’s National Gallery, they are different. I see things i missed before. I interpret things differently. The more i experience oil painting myself, the more i understand what Vincent did, what he achieved, what this painting actually is. In a very real sense Vincent’s painting actually exisits only in my mind. Yes, some canvas and pigment hang on a wall in a building in London. But what the image is, what it means, why it matters, is all in my head. I complete Vincent’s work. The painting’s process of coming into our presence is mediated by our attending to it, apprehending what it signifies. Each viewer, and each subsequent viewing by each viewer, continues the process of finishing Vincent’s painting.

    And of course next week some other student will spill some more paint on that table and the ‘work’ will have continued to evolve in its constant state of becoming. Maybe that is what is attractive about these images and why they matter.

    Maybe they are metaphor for own becoming, our own messy life journey, our life scars, colour, unexpected pattern, beauty - and all.

  18. I thought I left a comment yesterday; evidently not. I was interrupted by visitors and probably never got it posted.

    Your comment that Vincent's cypresses exist in your mind is so on the mark--thought creates reality. I found this post so interesting that I blogged about it; I think everyone should read it.

  19. a visit to your blog is a smorgasbord of beauty

  20. so glad you came back and checked, Hallie. I really value your comments and would never simply delete one. And thank you for the vote of confidence and mention in your blog. I see PAMO has now become a follower here as a direct result (and is most welcome). I think it's just fantastic the way we are able to form this virtual artists' community, establishing all these stimulating and supportive links. Thanks so much..

  21. thanks Celeste. Glad you found it worthwhile to visit for I sure enjoy the freshness and energy of your work.

  22. Ciao Harry,
    É bom vê-lo de volta ao trabalho:)
    Estou atualmente lendo um livro chamado ,Imaginação e Realidade,
    o autor é Robert Avens,(titulo em inglês,Imagination is reality,Dallas TX 75222(USA)
    é um livro com textos de psicologia baseado em psicanalistas como:
    Jung, Hillman, Bartfield e Cassirer,
    desta forma coletei um fragmento que a meu ver esta inserido neste contexto.
    Hillman, afirma que a própria alma é é uma imagem de fantasia.
    Viver psicologicamente , significa imaginar coisas......Estar na alma é experimentar a fantasia em todas as realidaes , e a realidade basica da fantasia....No principio há a imagem, primeiro a imaginação e depois a percepção; primeiro a fantasia depois a realidade.
    O homem é basicamente um criador de imagens, e nossa substância psiquica consiste de imagens, nossa existência é basicamente imaginação.
    Somos, de fato, de igual materia da qual são feitos nossos sonhos.
    Portanto, " A alma imaginal é a mãe de todas as possibilidades" ligando os mundos internos e externos"(Jung)
    Basta apresentar um ponto para que o ser espectador forme suas proprias imagens a partir de seu proprio arquivo mental, ou seja a realidade somente vem após a imagem ser criada em nossas cabeças ,somente depois vamos compara-la com a realidade.
    Desta forma estas tuas imagens são belissimas para mim:))
    Obrigado por compartilha-las conosco.
    Bom domingo
    Desculpe-me pelo longo e cansativo texto.

  23. Paulo writes a very interesting comment that builds our understanding of image-making and image perception, and will be of interest to Hallie, I'm sure. For non-Portuguese readers, he writes:

    "Hillman says that his soul is is a fantasy image. Living psychologically mean imagine things ...... Being the soul is to experience the fantasy in all realidaes, and the basic reality of fantasy .... In the beginning there is the image, the imagination first and then the perception, the first fantasy after the fact. Man is basically a creator of images, and our psychic substance consists of images, our existence is basically imagination.
    We are, in fact, the same material from which our dreams are made. Therefore, "The soul imaginal is the mother of all possibilities" linking the inner and outer worlds "(Jung). Just a point to be the viewer form their own images from your own mental file, that is the reality only comes after the image is created in our heads, only after we compare it with reality. Thus these your pictures are beautiful to me:)) Thanks for sharing them with us. Good Sunday. Paulo
    Sorry for the long and tiring text".

    Well, Paulo, your comment certainly wasn't too long. It's good, meaty stuff. Of particular interest is the notion that our mental realities during dreaming and those in our waking state share important similarities in that they are both based on images in the mind, that we each create an inner and personal mental world that is an analog of whatever it is that is out there in 'reality'.

    This has important implications for artists whose business is the creating and communicating of images. I would argue, therefore, that artists (writers included) create realities.

    Gomrich argued that painting enables us to see the world in new ways, not because it drew our attention to details we had missed, but becuase it implanted new images in our minds, altered our analog of reality.

    This includes so-called naturalism and realism in painting. Gomrich argues that there is nothing natural or real about our conventions of perspective. He shows that all painting and drawing share the attributes of visual illusions. They are 2D 'tricks' for referencing a 3D world and are cultural conventions, mind games.

    So thank you Paulo for sharing the fruits of your reading and making us think more deeply. Saudações amigo.

  24. When a photographer takes a picture, she makes slight changes of position, moves closer or further away, includes or excludes, and crops the objects (whatever they are) within her view finder. That is exactly what you have done with the marks presented to you. The photographer makes art and so did you with selective picture taking.

    That smart ass Marcel Duchamp said, "Art is what you can get away with." I think you got away with it.

  25. haha, i like the Duchamp quote, Davida ... he was a saucy savy guy, lol ... and i quite agree with your analysis of framing in photography ... so maybe these images are perhaps photographic art ... but is there any way we can see them as painterly art?

  26. Regardless as to whether or not they are considered 'art', I think the fact of what these marks are is a beauty in its own: an unintentional collaboration of the by products of intentional creation and creativity. I love them.

  27. a great summary, Chelea. It certainly is the consensus here that however we wish to explain it, or whatever contradictions we may discover, somehow we end seeing these images as having artisitc merit.