Painting from Photos – about the Intent of Art (6)

September 22, 2007

Alan wrote in his blog “Journey of the Mind” about Art and Society and as comment to my last post “Painting from Photos and Digital Art – Art or not? (5)”:

“Art, in our society, has been so perverted that not only has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very perception of what art really is has been lost. In order to be able to speak about the art of our society, it is, therefore, first of all necessary to distinguish art from counterfeit art.
There is one indubitable indication distinguishing real art from its counterfeit, namely, the infectiousness of art. If a man, without exercising effort and without altering his standpoint on reading, hearing, or seeing another man’s work, experiences a mental condition which unites him with that man and with other people who also partake of that work of art, then the object evoking that condition is a work of art. And however poetical, realistic, effectful, or interesting a work may be, it is not a work of art if it does not evoke that feeling (quite distinct from all other feelings) of joy and of spiritual union with another (the author) and with others (those who are also infected by it).”

In principle I agree to what you wrote and cited but you omit something very important: the subjectivity with which art speaks to someone or not. I cannot simply reduce art to “counterfeit” art or non-art only because I do not feel attached to a work or because it seems meaningless to me. If I don’t care for a certain subject because I don’t consider it important in my life or playing any role at all – how could I then – as the viewer – deny its value if there is one to another viewer? This would be arrogance. I have seen a lot of art in museums which simply did not interest me and left me unimpressed – would this be counterfeit art in your sense therefore? Possibly but for many viewers probably not.

“It is true that this indication is an internal one, and that there are people who have forgotten what the action of real art is, who expect something else form art (in our society the great majority are in this state), and that therefore such people may mistake for this aesthetic feeling the feeling of diversion and a certain excitement which they receive from counterfeits of art. But though it is impossible to undeceive these people, just as it is impossible to convince a man suffering from “Daltonism” [a type of color blindness] that green is not red, yet, for all that, this indication remains perfectly definite to those whose feeling for art is neither perverted nor atrophied, and it clearly distinguishes the feeling produced by art from all other feelings.”

Alan, I think I know you are aiming against the superficiality of our modern society and I mean all modern societies – not only the ones of the western world – but I consider your judgement too harsh. If people care for art, which really emanates feelings of utter harmony and happiness, art that turns a whole room into a place of well-being, how could you then decide that the art may not be real art but only sort of counterfeit? Could you really decide which work would be art and which not? What would you make the judge for such a decision? And what would you say about artists who work solely from photographs (referring to photo- and hyperrealism again)? According to your definitions they would never be considered as artists and their works would be counterfeit art in its purest form – if I understood you correctly. I would love to hear some examples from you what you consider as counterfeit art.

“The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the receiver of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he feels as if the work were his own and not someone else’s – as if what it expresses were just what he had long been wishing to express.
A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist – not that alone, but also between himself and all whose minds receive this work of art. In this freeing of our personality from its separation and isolation, in this uniting of it with others, lies the chief characteristic and the great attractive force of art.

If a man is infected by the author’s condition of soul, if he feels this emotion and this union with others, then the object which has effected this is art; but if there be no such infection, if there be not this union with the author and with others who are moved by the same work – then it is not art. And not only is infection a sure sign of art, but the degree of infectiousness is also the sole measure of excellence in art.

The stronger the infection, the better is the art as art, speaking now apart from its subject matter, i.e., not considering the quality of the feelings it transmits.”

This may be valid for representational work but in no case – and I really mean “no” – you could say this in regard of abstract art! And you could not – by all means – deny abstract works the definition of art – could you? The viewer might feel the artist’s emotion or “condition of soul” but it also might be something completely different. Painters who work mostly spontaneously often are not even able to describe in what state of emotion they were. Many feelings and emotions disappear into oblivion and this might even be a good thing sometimes.

You say that the “degree of infectiousness” is the sole measure for excellence in art. I feel very uncomfortable with this. The problem here starts with the question how you define excellence? Is it excellence in workmanship, actuality of the subject, one of the most important issues or general interest, level of difficulty or transformation of the message? There are thousands of examples where “infectiousness” is highly involved – especially if the negative part i.e. denial or protest is involved – but you would seldom talk about excellence in this case.

“If the work does not transmit the artist’s peculiarity of feeling and is therefore not individual, if it is unintelligibly expressed, or if it has not proceeded from the author’s inner need for expression – it is not a work of art. If all these conditions are present, even in the smallest degree, then the work, even if a weak one, is yet a work of art.”

Alan, I think that you cannot deny an artist’s work being art only because you missed the deeper meaning of the work. Especially in abstract works it is extremely difficult if not impossible. Take the example of works from post-modern, minimalist era, works which only represent colour blocks – they leave me “cold” in a sense because they are too abstract. Are they art therefore or non-art? Even in representational work the true meaning might be encrypted and never released to the viewer if s/he does not have detailed information about the circumstances that led to the work.

You are also saying that you feel “whorelike in it’s literal form” about your commercial work because it “is not intercourse in a spiritual sense between myself (creator) and the viewer” and that art should stand “for a sense of purity and intent”. What about creating art for my own enjoyment only with no intent for the viewer at all? Is it therefore counterfeit art?

I think I understand what you are saying but I also see this would happen in an ideal world only that has never existed and will never exist. Art in all eras of human existence has always been a part of man’s life as documentation (as in the cave paintings), as part of enlightenment and teaching (as in churches), as pure enjoyment and entertainment (as in museums, theatres and galleries), as a healing tool (in hospitals, public rooms) , as enrichment and investment (in private homes and companies) and for many more purposes. None of those does diminish the value of art that again is defined by subjective attitudes and sometimes by stocks and auction houses.

I also see the other side of the coin – the artist. Although I also feel that in many many works exactly that purity and intent is missing and many artists seem to have lost exactly what you are talking about, I feel that many artists also give themselves too much importance, separating themselves from the “normal” people in a way that is simply ridiculous. There are lots of so-called artists out there who pretend something that is not there and I wished that the audience would identify them. But that will never happen.

I would like to say that artists are a special breed but they are just ordinary people who utilize skills and talents other people don’t have or don’t want to utilize. I would like to say that artists belong to the kind of people who are always looking behind the things – but that does not apply to too many. I would like to say that artists are the ones who are the keepers of the virtues in this world – but the media prove they are not. I would like to say that artists are changing the world – but I have not seen any proof for this either. Yet artists often engage in social projects (possibly more than “ordinary people” but I have no proof for this either) – so this is a positive aspect nevertheless.

Artists are just ordinary people who need to eat and sleep as everybody else. And as everybody else artists need to sell their work in order to be able to live.

What I am trying to say with all this is that many art works have their own right for existence and we should not raise ourselves above others by judging something as inferior. Who would have the true competence anyway to do the judging?

Despite all this sometimes it happens that an artist creates works that lives through all eras of time – but that happens very very rarely.

9 Responses to “Painting from Photos – about the Intent of Art (6)”

  1. m6fan Says:

    I believe that creation and reception of art is a very personal experience.
    Art is a human activity and hence it must have a clear purpose and aim, discernible by the aid of reason and conscience.
    Art cannot exist for its own sake and therefore it”s value must be weighed in proportion as art is serviceable or harmful to mankind.
    I believe good art transforms people’s feelings towards connecting the human spirit and brotherhood of man.Some may feel that art may be created to instill a sense of darkness and evil but I feel in it’s truest form, art’s purpose is to uplift and bring us closer to divinity.
    As a form of communications to bridge the human intellect and soul, one must have a clear purpose, to which I say, the purpose and intention of creation must be clear in the artist’s mind.

    If one just creates without a purpose of establishing a connection with the viewer then what is the purpose and the purpose must be noble and a sincere desire to communicate.
    If one creates so called art for purpose of let’s say to make as much money as possible then I call it counterfeit art.
    As an example, let’s say and artist who intensively loves and desires to create classic music but feels there is no market for classical music but knows there is lucrative opportunities for Hip Hop or Rap, so then decides to create these forms of music, even though inside of them they dislike this form of music, then I say to you s(he) is not an artis and what is created is not art.

    To me, this is as black and white as can be. There can be no other intent.
    I’m sorry if I’m being perceived as small minded but that is how I feel.

    There is one other area though that is not so clear and this revolves around the areas of socially unaccepted activities.
    Would you say pornography is art?
    I would not consider it so because most if not all who create pornography are not primarily creating this for the purpose of communicationg to the viewer. Clearly they are doing this for the money.
    However some may say, no, that is not the reason but feel that they are expressing themselves, to which I say, pornography does not instill a sense of grace and enlightenment of the soul to the viewer. Clearly the opposite, as it portrays degradation and demeaning of the human spirit.

    However, some may, given all the liberal definitions I’ve seen applied to Art…………….

    Again, I say, if one calls everything art, then art in it’s purest sense is debased in our society.

  2. vyala Says:

    Alan, by no means I would have perceived you as small minded – I now understand better what you meant.
    To start with the last – no, pornography could and would never be art – the word itself stands for something that diminishes the human to his basic urges in its worst form whether it is related to money or not.

    Wholeheartedly I agree to what you are saying that art in its purest intent is there for communication with the viewer, maybe even originally a means to transfer deepest joy or as you said for uplift and closeness to divinity. Not without reason art is sometimes “conceived” in a trancelike condition.

    You have also given a good example for what you call counterfeit art. Yes, I agree to that also – but this is also one of the most difficult decisions you have to make as an artist. It is not easy to walk the fine line between being – what I call a trend whore and painter_by_numbers – or refusing the “what_sells” and still_not_die_from_starving_part of an artist’s job.

    I personally find it extremely difficult to recognize what the true purpose of another artist might have been in some cases, especially when it comes to an ongoing brouhaha after appearance in public, which might not have been intented by the artist himself.

    My concern only was that we are often too quick judging or denying something that has its right to be there only because we neither know background nor motive.

  3. m6fan Says:

    You know……………this has been been very helpful and enlightning.
    I just realized, that from my perspective, art is and can be an evershifting entity.
    What I mean is that a work of art, given our definition of “intention to communicate” by artist, may in fact be art to some people and not art to others.

    For instance, let’s say a group of people are viewing a work of “art”.
    One person in the group just may not tune in and “receive” anything from the work of “art”. To s(he), it might as well be a rock sitting there. No matter how much or how many people tell or scream at them that this is art, to that singular person, it’s just…………clay, or paper, or ….whatever, because there is no feelings of connection to the artist’s intended message.

    For instance, air dropping a car to the amazon jungle, and showing the car to the aborigines who have never seen a car or more importantly, no way to USE the car in the jungle, I’ll make the case it’s no longer a car………just a big lump of metal, plastic and rubber.

    But to you or me, it’s a car.
    Just like the group of people, other than the isolated individual, would view the object of art as…………

  4. I Says:

    Actually, when we start on a work of art, be it a painting, a picture or a poem, what do we think about first?

    For me, when writing a poem or taking a picture or painting, the first thing in mind is to Express, express what’s on my mind. If it’s a poem which is the most mentally demanding among the three, I’ll be absorbed in gathering my thoughts, finding a focal point from which I’ll start and gradually go round about it in a spiral before concluding it by going back to the focal point.

    I believe when I take a picture, around the same thing happens. Its about Expression, expressing what you think represent best of the subject (or the mental subject you’re thinking about).

    At that point in time of Creation, I do not believe that we think that much about connection to the viewer. At that point of Creation, I believe Alan you’ve told me somewhere before, that you create art for yourself only (is that true?) and well I think that that’s frank and gospel truth.

    When in the process of painting, writing or framing a scene, we are in actual fact creating for our subjects. Art for the artist, I think, is doing one’s best in representing a subject. If you think that you’ve done your best in painting a certain scene, then its art to you, as with writing about something that’s in your mind out there, intangible, grasping hold of the focal point.

    Art to the viewers, I think, is not the same with the artist’s. Now, who knows what exactly Jackson Pollock is thinking when he splashed his paints about? We might know, or perceive something in it, but everyone’s feeling about the work of art is different, that is, from what Jackson Pollock is thinking at the moment. I might think that the brushstrokes represent perhaps say Energy, while Pollock might feel at the moment of Creation that he’s creating a sense of Flow in the same painting.

    I might think its Art, because I “feel Art”, he think its art too, because he thinks that he expressed the feeling he wanted, the flow. But we both judge it differently, but it is still a work of Art.

    So what does this say? Art is the freedom to think and express, art is not propaganda. Anything that does not drum propaganda into the viewer, creating a space for him/her to perceive and think on his/her own.

    Of course it matters to me how people think about my pictures, my poems—I’m not so noble, as with everyone else. We all need confirmation and security, that we’re on the right track. Petra, I fully agree with you that artists are just ordinary human beings, they behave the same way in some manners. Perhaps Freud can explain this.

    We all have our ids, egos and superegos, just in different degrees. (I’m writing this on my knowledge, which is limited since I do not read Freud). We all need assertion, a form of benchmark to know that our paintings/photos can be sold, for it is financial worrying if we don’t, and like it or not, popularity with the masses is one of the benchmarks. Don’t deny it, its there.

    At the point of creation, our id, ego and superego comes unite as one, forming the ‘flow’ that keeps you in the activity, like the fact that you just can’t put down your brush and stop for tea. At the point of finishing, the three realms separate, and we’re just the same ol’ people twice and thrice again.

    Yeah, we might not need tea when we’re in the process of painting, but I tell you, I jolly well want my tea on a normal day’s afternoon.

    And like all humans, we have our jobs (not me since I’m a student), art is a job too, you guys are painters and photographers, and being careers, its meant to be paid. And that simple fact of being paid becomes a factor, a benchmark, at least when you’re alive.

    I don’t know if you’re the type who’s body will be exhumed 300 years later and be hailed as the 21st century’s representative artist or not, like F.Scott Fitzgerald, one of my favorit-est writer who died penniless.

    Yes, I agree totally, could not have been a decimal place less that ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a great work of art. But the people at that point in time didn’t think so, and Fitzgerald was recalled to be ‘riding the wave’ of a certain genre which crashed when the great depression hit and his book became no longer suitable to the people’s taste, since its too fantasy like. Flexible authors like Dickens succeeded at that time.

    Fitzgerald died of heart attack in the middle of writing a new book, and he never, ever will know that he has succeeded as a writer. The point I’m trying to make is that Art is never fixed, and in some cases, its about seeing into the future (since books 300 years later become popular). But we, right now, will never know.

    That’s Accidental Nobility.

    To be noble, it has to be accidental. Try it out with other examples.

  5. vyala Says:

    I find these discussions really exciting because you can learn so much out of it. To hear the thoughts of other people – even if they are controverse and might not appeal to your own opinion – do always leave some tracks in your mind and thus spark a new thought, a new direction or simply the urge to check something out – in other words to remain curious. Curiosity is something very valuable and the motor for learning.

    Your example with the car explains beautifully what I sometimes feel when I look at abstract art, f.e. the colour chart paintings of Gerhard Richter. He is a true artist that covers all kinds of styles and subjects and never lets himself press into a drawer but when I look at his colour charts I am simply lost.
    I just don’t get it – lol. But when I look at his colour charts which have been used in a random program for the new window of the cathedral in Köln – I must say those colour charts through which the light falls – reveal a certain divinity that is completely different.
    See the following link: and,1518,501994,00.html

  6. vyala Says:

    Jane – you know your comment opened some other aspect in my thoughts. I sometimes think that there is a huge difference between creating art as a male or a female. I do not read Freud either but the things I know from excerpts and documentations, bits of pieces here and there make me believe he was quite overestimated and often wrong. But for his time and state of science he was certainly a pioneer.

    I think women create art with a stronger feeling of pragmatism, even their spirituality is always linked to the earth, to life and death, to everything that surrounds us. Male spirituality is different, more abstract, not depending on any manifestations. Therefore we (as women) also “meet” art differently than men.
    I think I have to ponder on this – and might open another post again.
    There are also a couple of other thoughts in my mind when it comes to the process of creating and as Alan said, “Art is a human activity and hence it must have a clear purpose and aim, discernible by the aid of reason and conscience.”

    This is also something that I would question for various reasons – but I am going to explain this in a different post.

  7. m6fan Says:

    I do believe that art is created for oneself, first and foremost, as an expression of themselves and put’s forth into reality, a tangible thing, which reflects and can even, represent a part of the artist.
    No more, no less.

    If that piece of work resonates to an individual or a group and communicates something to the receiver than we have reached ful circle.

    Where I believe pure art is created is when an artist unswerving holds true to a vision of expression and is not distracted and creates works of art, to which he has no deep, real connection or interest.

    As an example, I indirectly touched upon this.
    You may recall I brought up Brett Weston, the famous son of a master photographer Edward Weston, who, in his travels in Europe, totally ignored the beautiful landscapes or anything else for that matter, in Ireland and Scotland. Only after 2 weeks of travel did he take out his camera for the first time, to make a photograph of a rusted metal gate near London.

    What I find very interesting is that the general interest and demand from the masses for landscape photographic works to which Brett totaly ignored, was at a pretty high all time watermark (in the time of his career), whereas the demand for abstract type of photographic fine art was very low to non existant through most of his career in the US.

    To me, that is the true mark of an artist and purity of vision. He could have made many a wonderful landscape photograph and would have financially augmented handsomely to his well being, but choice to not do so.
    He built a special van where he constantly roamed the US, Mexico, Canada and several times to Europe in search of his vision and rarely strayed from his style. Only landscapes he made were of the abstract sort, of the sand dunes of the Southwest.

    Quite frankly, this bit of philosophy has recently taken hold of me in a direction to which I’ve not yet fully explored. Meaning, I feel for the last 5 years, my work lacks the singular vision of J Alan and like a kid in a candy store, I’ve created all different genre’s of photography, to which I say, I’ve felt connected in some way to all my work, but I feel there is a certain style and vision that softly speaks to me. I have been contemplative and pensively working to unyield this singular path of the journey of the mind’s eye.
    It has not been easy. Once one has tasted so much of the candies, one finds difficulties of isolation and withdrawl.

  8. vyala Says:

    Ah Alan, what could I say else than every word resonating true with me.
    The search for that single vision is what makes an artist a true artist. And I think this is extremely difficult in photography because I bet there are even more photographers out there than painters.
    And with today’s affordable equipment it is even more difficult finding that peculiar voice that separates one from all the others, although we already agreed upon equipment not being the sole source for finding the unique and true original.

    The question you are asking yourself is present for anyone who seriously tries to find the one and only path but there is also a time where you just have to let it go. I firmly believe the more you chase after your own voice the lesser it will become apparent to you. As you said – too many candies spoil the vision.
    You have to make the right choice and concentrate on a few things and then let it go. It is the same when taking too many workshops – chasing up constantly new techniques and materials won’t make you a master. There will be a time when you realize you have found it but you cannot force it.

    It becomes more and more difficult to refrain from “participating” in a society that is nearly entirely “managed” by consumerism. The brainwashing has gone so deep already that most of the people don’t realize any more when they are manipulated. They don’t even question any more. I wonder when this bubble will blow up.

    But I am glad that there are also still people who are conscious of this development and question their own attitude towards living and what their purpose in life is. These few no-sayers might loosen some bricks in the wall so that the tower may come down one day. It has always been like this with the cultures and societies in this world – it is part of renewal.

  9. […] blog entry that includes interesting comments on intent is Petra Voegtle’s “About the Intent of Art”. She goes back and forth with J. Alan. I’ll give you an extract of J. Alan’s statements, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: