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Notes of engagement

Making art is a means to "see" something, possibly something not otherwise known, at least that’s been part of my motive. To "see" what it looks like, how it appears.

I know what the world in general looks like, at least how it appears even in some of its deceitful disguises and possibly I could come up with a few variations of my own. Even so, it fails to hold my interest for very long. Movies, TV, videotape and DVD are a seemingly endless replay of a reality no longer quite actual. Technology has become the muse, you can never be sure that anything you are seeing is worthy of your admiration for its beauty.

Painting is not far from this, the Photo-Realist's have been at it since the late sixties; the implied is everything is just as its presented, I've never been sure. More recently Photo-Shop has delighted the aesthetic inclinations of both the best and the worst we have to look at, either representational or abstract.

My endurance in the face of tedious excessive reality is always tested. For instance I have spent greater time in front of abstraction than I did the Mona Lisa or the Raft of the Medusa or Ingres or Delacroix.

Abstraction has been under constant elaboration since its debut early in the last century; prevailing as a "movement" only for a short term, roughly from the late 40's to the early 70's maybe thirty five years. The last of it being color-fields skirting the edge of minimalism and alluding to the practice of landscape depiction, a bit iffy in its premise and future promise.

The emergence of Pop-Art alongside of Minimalism , creeping neo-socialist idealism, amateurish art school practice, conceptual blindness and more importantly "critical vacancy" all laid blows to halt abstractions movement(momentum).

The movement may have been halted but the practice has continued and grown. Some involved in this practice have remained highly visible while others have by choice or circumstance retreated to a solitude of effort. My purpose is not to rank or list those who carry on, but I want to comment at this point on two who have extended the realms of visual language considerably in the past forty years.

Frank Stella's individual progress is a benchmark of determination to improve the lot of painting in the abstract and art overall.

Equal to Stella's determination and energetic output is the resolve of Robert Irwin to also bring "change" to our time and aesthetics.

I recall being present at a studio gathering of local artists in Venice, California in the early 1970's. Irwin who was also present, said "we should all go on strike, a strike against the making, showing, and selling of all art, shut the whole thing down." He continued, " If we don't, everything we don't like about the art world will just be twice as bad by next year, it will just get worse".

The response was generally lack of interest. Afterwards, I mentioned to him that I doubted how well he was understood. He agreed and headed off to play poker, the second or maybe real reason for the meeting.

Later, I thought it was a proposal too far to the left, everybody was looking for greater exposure and funding not greater obscurity.

Irwin's thrust has been to argue for a conditional/phenomenal art of inclusive awareness, but not necessarily abstract in practice or form. Its embodiment being truth in beauty (in all things?) and change. I have my doubts. (1.)

For instance, what do we do with any or everything in which we find no beauty? It’s a bit dark in that area. Yes, I understand its all supposed to be "positive" we are supposed to all get up to where its all beauty; I think that might happen to a few individuals but not in large enough numbers to effect a total change in the overall nature of art.

Stella, on the other hand has come up with a list of things he declares are "not art." Elaborating that there might be "museums" built for many of his listed non-visual endeavors. The idea being it would separate art and non-art, each having its respective place of visitation. (2.) With the already diverse venues for such things as radio, rock n' roll music, basketball, baseball, auto-racing etc. it may not be such a far- fetched idea. I mean, anything to rid us of the gong-show productions that are passed off as "museum" exhibitions under the Midas touch of corporate benefactors. Its crap and as Irwin said all those years ago it's getting worse!

Commitment is the quality of steadfast engagement.

We lack a very pivotal element in the commitment to a steadfast engagement with the continuation of abstraction, its critical and yet to be heard.

It's a long way around to the point that abstraction has survived in the hands, minds and efforts of individuals committed to the long haul. And I don't mean just those who are so highly visible, but also hundreds maybe even thousands worldwide who continue in the practice of elaboration on the invention and presentation of the possibility yet unseen.


I don't see abstraction as a reality like I see the world, it's elaborated in invention; ideas and materials in a mental/physical combination. By execution it becomes "actual" thereby part of the reality of things in the world. Ideas and sensuality as Motherwell put it.

No, I am not speaking about having visions and turning them into art. But more to the process of imagination at work in the fields of visual inventiveness, in a practical hands on fashion. Experience may hold the upper hand here, knowledge and long term use set against the challenge of site or situation.


(1) Being and Circumstance notes toward a conditional art.
Robert Irwin, Lapis Press 1985. ISBN 0-932499-07-4

(2) The Writings of Frank Stella. 2001 ISBN 3-88375-487-0, p.253

© 2003 Greg Card

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