Page 12 - Studio International - February 1971
P. 12

`A smart set of                           A year ago I had a dream. The world was   themselves, are increasingly transient. In an
                                                                                          relationship with things, as well as the things
                                               infiltrated by dangerous and alien forces which
     concepts'                                 gained control over everything. Our oppressors   age dedicated to change for its own sake, it is
                                               offered each person a choice: either we could   quite possible that what we need most in art is
     Suzi. Gablik                              follow the route they proposed, where the   exactly the opposite of what we are getting: a
                                               dangers and obstructions were carefully   counter-insistence on psychological stability
                                               delineated beforehand, or we could proceed   and on the preservation of certain continuities.
    `A smart set of concepts may be a most efficient   along an alternative route about which nothing
     instrument of corruption.' (Iris Murdoch)                                           The forced pace and the pressure toward
                                               was known. But one of the two paths would   continual innovation which our present situation
                                               prove fatal, and there was no way of telling   requires of artists may prove extremely
                                               which it was. Those unfortunate or foolish   damaging.
                                               enough to choose it would never be seen or   It is certainly true, as Bacon points out, that
                                               heard from again. Afterwards, I associated the   young artists have completely lost faith in the
                                               anxiety expressed by the dream with the way   possibilities of oil paint. They now enter a field
                                               that certain situations are defined for the artist   of operations in which the issues may have been
                                               today, particularly with the way in which the   so misdefined as to make it impossible to paint
                                               stakes are continually being raised in relation to   within it, even if they want to. At the moment
                                               his choices. A year has passed since that dream.   we are offered so many paradoxical instructions
                                               The radical shift in the network of ideas through   as to what to experience, and as to how we have
                                               which art deals with the world has caused the   to experience it, that it is difficult not to
                                               issue to present itself with an unprecedented   invalidate one's own experience if it does not
                                               vividness. There are those who now say that   conform to that which receives cultural
                                               painting as we know it is about to disappear.   sanction and status. It is very difficult to
                                               The power of the word is such that perhaps I am   determine with any accuracy, therefore, whether
                                               not alone in my persecutory dreams. It would   we are confronted with a real historical
                                               appear that, as a painter, one is confronted with   necessity (i.e. that painting as an aesthetic
                                               a deadly choice. When it is said that painting is   strategy has played itself out) or whether
                                               finished, that it is an enterprise without a future   certain contradictory demands and pressures
                                               since it no longer corresponds to the actual   have placed the artist in an excruciating
                                               meaning of existence, either those who say this   double-bind which makes it psychologically
                                               are right, or they are wrong. It is no longer a   impossible to paint. But all this leads us still
                                               matter of new styles or movements, or of   further. As R. D. Laing has pointed out,
                                               figuration or abstraction which is at stake, but of   psychiatry is concerned with politics, with who
                                               whether painting as an activity will survive at   makes the law, who defines the situation and
                                               all. Certainly the rapidly changing attitudes of   what the situation is. I should like to examine
                                               society, and the new conceptions of nature   what is happening in art in the light of these
                                               which have evolved from the discoveries of   questions.
                                               science and modern physics, require a dramatic   Art and critical theory have become so
                                               re-adaptation in the arts. We are caught in a   thoroughly intertwined that it is now all but
                                               bedevilled situation: our whole cultural   impossible to fix the lines of influence between
                                               tradition has been conditioned to values of   them or to define the boundaries of their
                                               permanence, whereas the present conditions of   involvements in terms of causes, effects,
                                               life demand an acceptance of transience and   purposes and needs. All this suggests a new sort
                                               continual change. Moreover, the currents of   of interaction and a new sort of complex—one
                                               change have accelerated so sharply (as Donald   which must be dealt with as a configuration,
                                               Schon, the author of this year's Reith lectures,   both by participants and by outsiders. As in
                                               has pointed out) that the result is a permanent   science, fact and theory are not categorically
                                               crisis of all our institutions, which are being   inseparable. A new theory is never just a simple
                                               threatened by the end of the 'stable state'. The   addition to what is already known; it indicates a
                                               flight from permanence and from material   change in the rules. Its assimilation requires the
                                               objects that we are experiencing in art reflects a   reconstruction of prior theory and the
                                               tendency which is central to our times and is   re-evaluation of prior fact, which always implies
                                               found throughout society. The artist, it would   a qualitative transformation and a new and more
                                               seem, must accommodate himself to these   rigid definition of the field. Essentially this
                                               conditions. But what happens when the social   describes the way in which both art and science
                                               conditions for making art force him into a quest   proceed by paradigmatic rule extension.' In
                                               for solutions which are antithetical, not only   art, however, a peculiarly symbiotic relationship
                                               to his temperament and sensibility, but to his   has evolved between the artist and those who
                                               basic commitment ? At least two painters of   interpret or explain his work. It might be
                                               totally different persuasion, Francis Bacon and   described as a Mœbius strip—a one-sided
                                               Kenneth Noland, have confided to me their   surface of which the outer surface is continuous
                                               personal feeling that the potential of painting   with the inner surface, so that there is no way
                                               has barely even been opened up. Where does   of differentiating between inside and outside.
                                               the truth lie ? I think it is essential to ask at this   This symbiosis has produced a very problematic
                                               point if painting is really over, or if we are merely   dominance-dependency relationship, of which
                                               being instructed that it is over. We are moving in   it may not be inappropriate to ask, who is
                                               the direction of a society in which man's   really bossing whom ? Theorizing about art
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