I wanted to have a think about what you'd written
here, Curt ,before I responded.
I haven't read the McCloud book and I'll try to and
I'm not sure about his schematization but I feel very
close to the territory that you're talking about in
your discussion of #1 and #2, except it seems to me
that every really great work is some combination of
these, which in a way is no more than the truism that
great art is a marriage of form and content; however,
like many truisms its worth revisiting because there
are depths behind it.
The reason that the "cry" at the heart of the late
Coltrane moves us so is because of the formal control
that is evident there, which articulates and presents
to us the heart of the "cry" -to feel deeply is
something that is available to all, to articulate that
feeling in something like "A Love Supreme" is
something that we acknowledge as very special;
likewise I think you're a bit hard on Miles - "ESP" in
it's entirety, for example, breaks my heart every
time! - the structure's there but there is emotional
substance and risk aplenty too.
Picasso also - I don't see him as a formalist.
Anyone who doubts the emotional power of something
like "Guernica" should ask themselves why it was
covered up during Colin Powell's speech to the UN.
Likewise many of the late works address very human
concerns about old age and declining powers ( oh and
so much else -there's a wonderful print in Sheffield
City museum called something like 'A Young Girl with
flowers leads a blind minotaur from a boat'- and it
speaks of so much -youth and age, the beauty of the
world, fear of blindness in general, an artist's fear
of blindness, what sight *means*, plus it's flawlessly
executed but without the glossy touches that a lesser
artist would feel compelled to insert).
But even formalism to some extent is a manifestation
of a very primal human urge both to order, and to
Without going over it too consciously I'd always
thought of the two things ( your #1 and #2) as going
way way back -the "cry" thing as being shamanic -
crying to change things, to bewail or to celebrate
events, facts, birth, death ,love, both the beauty and
hostility of the world that are human universals. This
urge very quickly develops form to go with it -you can
see the process going on both in cave painting and in
popular music ( where individuals who are disconnected
initially from any official artistic tradition forge
new forms for their "cry" - punk being an example,
though I'm not claiming this springs from nothing).
But the other facet for me is the development of this
urge to form ( your#2) and with it the idea of
artistic "tradition", of a cultural memory which is
available to each of us but which goes beyond each of
our lifetimes -and I don't see this as stultifying
tradition but as something nourishing that we each of
us both draw on and reject parts of.
That's an attempt to flesh out some of the assumptions
I'd bring to commenting on a specific work.
Where of course I absolutely agree with you is the
primacy of #1. As Primo Levi put it in the final
sentence of his 'To A Young Reader':
"Oh, I forgot to tell you that in order to write, one
must have something to write."
--- curt cloninger <firstname.lastname@example.org
> Michael S. wrote:
> steve reich, howe gelb, will oldham,wim
> vanderkeybus, david foster wallace, primo levi, w.g
> sebald, richard ford. & loads more...
> What makes all the above notable for me?- engagement
> with the human and with the human being in society;
> high degree of technical ability ( and a willingness
> to undertake drudgery) sometimes bordering on
> virtuosity but not to an obsessional extent & rarely
> entirely for it's own sake; universality -
> independent of context -even though often very much
> it's time nevertheless it resonates for us now..
> ..and I think I'd want to argue that somewhere in
> there lies a framework for what justifies art as a
> human activity.
> curt responds:
> Scott McCloud describes the artistic process in 6
> 1. idea/purpose
> 2. form [what might be called "genre"]
> 3. idiom [what I would call "style"]
> 4. structure
> 5. craft
> 6. surface
> He says artists start at #6 and work backwards as
> they mature. (Sadly, a lot of net artists skip
> phases 6-3 entirely.) McCloud says the great
> artists in the end are going to focus on either #2
> or #1. Picasso chose #2. Van Gough chose #1.
> Miles Davis chose #2. John Coltrane chose #1.
> Those who choose #1 lock onto a form that will carry
> them where they want to go, and then they start
> drilling down.
> Personally, I want to see more artists who choose
> #1. So much net art is so formalistic. Which is
> not invalid or wrong or any of those things. But I
> personally don't want "more of everything." To me,
> it's not "all good." I'm glad I don't have to
> choose between Miles and Coltrane, but if I had to
> choose, I would choose Coltrane from '64-'67 over
> Miles Davis' entire catalog. And that's really
> saying something, because I own and love and listen
> to about 15 Miles CDs, from the the early 50s to the
> But there is something at once blindingly elevated
> and painfully ravaged about those late-era Coltrane
> recordings that signify them to me as more valuable.
> It's music yearning like a god in pain. And Davis,
> smooth and clever and masterful and genius as he
> was, never achieved that.
> Probably he didn't have the chops or the personal
> depth to achieve it. Probably he wasn't even
> interested in achieving it. But at least he didn't
> fail to achieve it for fear of ridicule, or for fear
> of failure, or for fear of trying.
> I think a lot of net art is impersonal and
> obligatorily formalistic because --
> 1. artists don't really have anything personal to
> say (other than making clever general observations
> about the medium vis society, which doesn't really
> count as personal)
> 2. artists were raised in a system where "artist as
> hero" was the taboo faux pas to avoid at all costs.
> 3. artists are afraid to be anything other than
> safely cynical (or politically vocal, as long as it
> accords with the latest approved cause --
> anti-corporate, anti-occident, anti-masculine,
> anti-gallery, etc.)
> Something like Mark Napier's internet flag is a
> pleasant exception. Although not autobiographical
> by any means, and certainly not unaware of form, the
> project is still concerned with #1 (idea/purpose)
> more than #2 (form).
> Regarding Cory's work, he's into the retro-tech
> fetishism, which is necessarily formalistic, but I
> don't think he's doing it to be chic or because he's
> afraid of tackling other things. That's just where
> he is and what he's into.
> I'm not trying to mandate anything, but I do have a
> personal opinion. I would like to see us get over
> our infantile fascination with the medium in and of
> itself and begin using the medium to plumb topics
> deeper and more resonant. Clever ideas are a dime a
> dozen. I had one on the toilet this morning. Music
> yearning like a god in pain is something else
> + ti esrever dna ti pilf nwod gniht ym tup
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