Intelligent design?

This morning, as I often do, I was checking out blogs of people who had visited mine. I came across who had posted this question:

The Right Type of Art

January 30, 2009, 4:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
  1. In a current climate of eccentric visual and conceptual art, Has creativity been contaminated by an art education that has the possibility and ability to embrace the intelligent within the art scene. Has visual art become infected by inteligent and articulate themes and efforts that are widely accepted in conteporary art. Rathe than the ability to visually construct and deconstruct themes motifs and ideas through visual understanding.

It brought up ideas for me that I thought were worth sharing and you might take a minute, if you are interested, to visit this young up-coming artist’s blog and add to the reflections on his blog.

This was my answer:

Curious question!
It’s is a poorly articulated question and so it becomes difficult to answer.
First, there is the use of the words, contaminated and infected that have a great deal of negativity as if art education and simultaneously, intelligence and articulate themes, are bad things.
Secondly, there is an implication (as written) that there is an intelligent group within the art scene and (by implication) an unintelligent group. Is this so? Is intelligence not necessary in art? I think it is. How, then, can it infect or be negative in the production of art?
It seems to me that being able to recognize and manipulate themes in art is an intellectual activity, whether articulated or not. To be able to visually construct and deconstruct them is a further intellectual refinement.
It often astounds me when people conceive that the artist is not using his or her brain to produce art work!
The artists that have become iconic in the realm of art history are always the ones that have conceptualized (consciously or unconsciously) a new movement, who have seen something different in the world about them and have been able to express it visually.
These, to me are the most creative of artists.  They are not content to copy the style of the day but go boldy into realms of the unexplored, pushing the limits, divining in the creative soup for new meanings or ways of seeing.

I’ll just expand on that here with a few examples:

Think of Cezanne who conceived that it was not necessary to reproduce images realistically – that  viewing them through a geometric analysis was more interesting.  By breaking with the realism mode of thinking, Cezanne opened the door for other artists to break with realism in their own ways. Growing out of this visionary shift in point of view, comes the whole twentieth century of abstraction, starting with the Cubists all the way up to the Minimalists.

Another iconic shift in visual thinking comes with Seurat and the pointillists. The idea arose from new scientific discoveries about the way people see. Since the eye melds little dots of colour when viewing, Seurat thought,  then he would paint in little dots and let the viewer do the mixing!

In fact, the artists of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries began to deconstruct the elements of visual understanding, explored the elements on their own and came to new understandings of how imagery works.  Bingo! Or should I say, Eureka! We have Conceptual Art, a hundred years later by a progression of subsequent discoveries or experimentation or thoughtful deconstruction of the art making process.

Some artists are willing to articulate their intentions in words and are able to do so quite admirably. Others are not literary thinkers nor writers and have not been so able to explain their new work. But literate and intelligent are not synonymous. There are many kinds of intelligence – visual, kinetic, otic, mechanical,spatial,  etc.  Those artists who can express their thinking in paint but not produce their own artist’s statement are fortunate if they can talk it out and have some ghost writer or critic understand and articulate it for them.

As an aside, I worked in Property Management for many years. Our electrical, mechanical and architectural technicians were wonderful, each in their field, in finding solutions to problems, but so many of them were unable to write clearly what they were doing. Those that could, rose into management; those who couldn’t continued to work their wonders in the practical end of things. I valued these people immensely. It was the hands-on guy who could fix things, often at low cost. On the other hand, those credited with degrees in the same subject and with the qualifications to design solutions could articulate a new design, a whole new system – but often not required, or often with glitches built in that only the practical guy could find because of his practical experience.

Two types of intelligence, both working on the same problem, would often butt heads, but in the end, it was the practical guy who finally got the thing to work. When it was necessary to sell the solution to the purse string holders, it was someone in the middle like me who had to write and articulate what was required – and I wasn’t intelligent in either aspects of the mechanical problem! But I was intelligent in breaking down what they were saying into an understandable text that would allow other generalists like myself to understand what was needed and why we needed the funds.

All that is to say, some artists can explain their intentions in words and others need help in doing so. Some get it and some don’t. And even if they are capable, sometimes they are so far ahead of current thinking, so radical in their perceptions, that it takes a century for an artist like van Gogh to shine (at auctionary multi-millions). It needs a host of art historians and researchers for him to be somewhat understood – even though he was extraordinarily articulate!

And so, I might  rephrase the question:

  • In the academic obsession with eccentric and conceptual art, has academic art education influenced the current art scene by imposing intellectual thought process as a requirement of  artistic expression?
  • Is the academic insistence on articulation of conceptual ideas in contemporary art as restrictive to creativity as the strictures of the (French) Academie was in Nineteenth Century  Art?
  • Is the ability to visually construct and deconstruct ideas, themes and motifs  through visual understanding sufficient in itself or is art only valid if it can also be explained verbally?

All of this reminds me of something I learned when I studied to be a teacher:

If you want the right answer, you must ask the right question!

I invite your comments.

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3 Responses to “Intelligent design?”

  1. forestrat Says:

    Speaking as a member of the great unwashed masses, I have to say that the more I learn about the “art world” the more amazed I am at the rigidity and narrow mindedness of it all.

    Ask a bunch of people off the street to describe the personality of an artist and I’ll bet they say things like “free thinker”, “creative”, “open to new ideas”, “visionary”. They may be right when talking about an individual artist, but for some strange reason when you get a bunch of artists together and mix in some art critics and museum guys, everything freezes into a lump.

    I gather that this rigidity is what set Duchamp off on the urinal thing – the rejection of his cubist work because it dared to break the rules by implying some motion. So he decided to really break some rules!

    People like to be “right”. They like rules so that they can be assured of being right if they follow them (and they can single out who is “wrong”). They don’t like the proverbial grey areas. They don’t like unknowns. As Marge Simpson would say, “Lisa, get away from that jazzman! Nothing personal, I just fear the unfamiliar.”

    So we have “movements” in the art world. One style becomes accepted and if you want to be thought correct then you better get on the band wagon. If you are doing something else, you get marginalized. Everyone is comfortable with the rules and how they fit into them.

    After a while some people try to break free, but they get drowned out and their work only plays in the sticks. Once in a great while someone with the combination of a new idea and enough clout comes along to overturn everything.

    Sadly, cycle starts over again. Duchamp breaks free of “the rules” only to have the rules coalesce around breaking the rules. The rule is “you have to break the rules”. So absurdities and shock pieces become de rigueur. Everybody and their brother is hanging snow shovels on the wall. I really think his point was missed entirely.

    Now I know that this view is shocking in its naivete and arty types can have a good chuckle over it. Oh well. What do you expect from the average Joe.


  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi Forestrat,
    Free thinker. Creative. Innovative. Open to new ideas. Visionary – these ARE what I expect artists to be.
    I think you’ve expressed perfectly the rats-chase cycle that the art world gets into when rigor mortis sets in on a particular “school” of art production.
    The Pied Piper followers don’t understand the origins of the original concept and the subsequent work ends up being quite soul-less.
    All that subsequent work though, is part of the normalization process that allow the first idea to become more acceptable, less radical. And in some cases… van Gogh, for instance … we end up being able to see a new kind of beauty.
    The art world has gone so far out in the galaxy on conceptualized stuff that I’m curious to see if, in my lifetime, there will be a swing of the pendulum back to realism and what shape that might take.
    And so, if there are some lofty, head-in-the-milky way-type of art critics and museum directors who would like to chuckle, you can be comforted that there are a majority of art enthusiasts including a majority of artists who are on your side of the argument.
    Must say that I’m chuckling though to hear you use Marcel Duchamp in defense of your argument!

  3. forestrat Says:


    I’m getting a lot of mileage out of Marcel these days.


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