Jerry Saltz‘s Facebook page is a world unto itself. With as many “friends” as the Facebook Police will allow, Jerry regularly posts provocative questions that spark conversations that can go on for days, garnering responses from hundreds of artists of every age and stripe. What began as an experiment quickly took on a life of its own, a phenom that Jerry has described as a bit like being in a room with 5,000 people, all of them discussing art.
I am fascinated by the passionate and very public tussling that goes on in Jerryland. Rather than jumping into the fray, I usually go with the lurker stance. Some artists excel and thrive at real time art languaging. I need to mull, to contemplate, to sit quietly with ideas. I love that process, but it doesn’t happen instantaneously. After all, this blog was named Slow Muse for a reason.
One of the most recent topics on Jerry’s page was about the Wade Guyton show at the Whitney Museum. For those of you who are not familiar with his work, here is Roberta Smith‘s overview from her glowing review in the New York Times:
Like many artists Mr. Guyton, who is 40, is both a radical and a traditionalist who breaks the mold but pieces it back together in a different configuration. He is best known for austere, glamorous paintings that have about them a quiet poetry even though devised using a computer, scanner and printer. The show is titled “Wade Guyton: OS,” referring to computer operating systems.
Uninterested in drawing by hand, much less in wielding a paintbrush, he describes himself as someone who makes paintings but does not consider himself a painter…
While clearly not made by hand, his works are noticeably imperfect. The paintings in particular clearly tax the equipment that generates them; they emerge with glitches and irregularities — skids, skips, smears or stutters — that record the process of their own making, stress the almost human fallibility of machines and provide a semblance of pictorial incident and life.
The line between what the artist has chosen and what technology has willed is constantly blurred.
So earlier this week Jerry posted this statement on his Facebook page:
Last week some of you claimed that Wade Guyton’s paintings aren’t paintings. Some called them “prints” or “mono-types” or other things. Some said they’re not art at all because “he doesn’t touch them.” (In fact he’s perpetually tending & tugging the linen as it comes out of the printer.) In regards to categories like painting: Dislocations, adjustments, ruptures, and expansions are always happening. Always have. Always will. Let go of the neatness of identification (see Plato’s Cave). Painting doesn’t need anyone’s protection. Like love, let painting do what it does. Or not.
Particularly for those of us who are painters, these are topics that open floodgates of strong opinions that surge and churn. As of this post, there were 788 comments on Jerry’s page. I haven’t read them all, but here are a few that stood out for me.
I like them. they’re less about paint and “touch” of the hand and more about touch of the mind. how the mind puts things together, relates one image or memory to another. the troublesome aspect could be how impersonal they are. but i’m thinking he’s managing to avoid falling off the wagon entirely. the saving grace is in his choices of mashups. they do feel personal to me because…he manages to capture a mood and THAT touches me. his work is a flat tragedy of too much to bear.
—Jennifer Wynne Reeves
If I were able to live for 1 million yrs. I probably would still be using my hands to make my work–with a medium that is organic like paper and pigment. But, I would still appreciate having other artists use the most current technology to make THEIR work so I could look at it and feel more of who I am–and go for that with every thread of myself…call me Wilma Flintstone–It’s okay with me.
I could give a fuck if they are paintings or whatever, but are they good and why are always my questions. And the first? The best? Eff that shit too. Do they open the world and excite my brain? I don’t care about anything else. It is only empty dialog. New materials always find a way to present new cases, if you think about it. That is what is cool about technology and even paint has advanced if you think about how many different mediums there are now.
—Alan Van Every
I know you want a cease and desist from all dead-enders fighting for what painting is. However, you were correct to identify the label as political. This summer, you took offense to Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, claiming she “crowed that her Documenta would have ‘not much painting’.” You went on to say that Carolyn “seems hostile to art’s old unruly cave creature, painting.” Not coincidentally, she is crowned this years most powerful person in the art world. As ridiculous as the Power100 list is, your fight for painting in Documenta 13 might just as easily have put you in the ranks of a dead-end-last–war fighter too.
Soul and a good brain connected to a good pair of eyes is the most important thing. The tools come later – to serve, not lead. Guyton’s stuff is too art-about-art for me.
If that sounds schizo, it is. BTW, Did anyone here read through the super-schizo 500-page 50th Anniversary Issue of ARTFORUM – Art’s New Media? I quote from it: “Media resist unification. They resist ontology. They are much like art. And art, we might say, is always becoming media.” — Michelle Kuo, editor, ARTFORUM, September, 2012. Perhaps as a result of reading this mass of conflicting information and opinion the takeaway was to forget such tired dialectical distinctions as analog/digital. Just look, listen, read, feel, enjoy, ponder, move and theorize with sensetive intelligence and without boundaries.
Wade Guyton looks to me to be a really interesting twist on contemporary printmaking. But why the attempt to conflate his effort -or even describe it simply as painting -I am not directing this particularly at Jerry who could be simply reporting here as this is an ongoing effort with art world heavyweights the likes of Ann Temkins weighing in (I paraphrase) Pollock dripped, Richter squeegeed and Guyton hits the print button- well within the perimeters of extending the venerable tradition in western painting of radical innovation.’ In other words Wade -who is on the hot list with the international set of curators at the moment -is being touted as yet another way of assaulting painting while employing its strength as a tradition to ad contextual weight to his work -work that probably doesnt even need the curatorial assist. This is more from the painting is dead crew (well you can still paint -but there must be irony, some form of caveat that speaks to the degradation of painting.) When these people, the generic internationalists, happen to choose an actual painter, its usually a poor one -Tuymans is a good example, the apology for painting hence its degradation continues….its called spin. If it doesnt matter, why claim its painting—when it really is not—answer: it completely matters in terms of contextual weight.
The printer is a TOOL; Artists use tools.
The “digital” (as with images or photographs) is MATERIAL; artists use materials.
Job one of the artist is: EMBED THOUGHT IN MATERIAL (whatever material that is with WHATEVER tools).
I would highly recommended for the long-term health of your own particular Cave and your own particular Cave Art that you NOT worry over anything beyond these three very basic starting points.
Trust me on this.
I am a professional.
Take time to think about it. A lot of time. Ten, fifteen years at least. Then get back to me.
Trust me on this …
Or … see you OUTSIDE the Gates of Thebes …
(Oh and see the damn show; hate on it; hate on the ptgs; hate on me. Just DO NOT worry over the above things.)
So in sum, and in the long view, it really doesn’t matter if you embed specific thoughts or not in your work, what matters is that you make work that inspires other people to think, to feel, to have an ongoing relationship with the piece instead of just glancing at another abstract rectangle on the wall and never looking at it again. The goal should be depth, and therefore duration, for the viewer. It doesn’t matter if he or she grasps the artist’s thoughts or not.