Comments on: Brancaster Chronicle No. 3: Hilde Skilton Paintings Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 By: Robin Greenwood Mon, 23 Dec 2013 14:51:50 +0000 Great post, Chris, and I’m not going to take issue with any of it.

By: chris edwick Sat, 21 Dec 2013 12:25:39 +0000 There seems to be a common thought amongst the following quotes.
“Be ruled by your feelings and doubt the rightness of your mind. Through emotional, not intellectual development, grasp that something, that is almost dreamlike, that hovers out of reach. Artists who use the intellect at the expense of feelings, hoping to create order, balance, quietness, stability will have this result; order, quietness and death. The end in plastic art is to create life. “ Hans Hoffman

“Hoffman felt that a structurally powerful construction is not a work of art until it is permeated with poetic and emotional vision. “ Tina Dickey

“The final adjusted and resolved image is an expression of the artists’ sensibility or temperament working at full stretch. “ Alan Gouk

“I believed that abstract art was an incomplete kind of art, that even at its’ best it did not achieve all that art could do, that figurative art could be more complex, more specific, richer in human content. “ David Sylvester

“I like those criteria of Sylvester; “more complex, more specific, richer in human content”. Unlike a lot of criteria by which we judge art, they seem plausible and modestly objective, at least in the first two of the three; and the third, the achievement of “human content” is such a great ambition for abstract art to have” Robin Greenwood

“Everything without the quality of vital forces is merely decorative.” Hans Hoffman
I if I pick out the keywords….
.”.. to create life”
“…poetic and emotional vision”
“…the artists’ temperament working at full stretch”
“…richer in human content”
“…vital forces”

I’ve been referring to these same qualities in painting when I’ve said “feelings, emotions, meaning”. Lets sum it all up with the words “human content” for the sake of argument.
After all Robin when you say you’re interested in what the work is DOING, surely it’s trying to create life…with the poetic and emotional vision…of the artists’ temperament working at full stretch……expressing vital forces… to be richer in “human content”.

So my concern is this; that by only talking about the methodology of structure and composition (Mark) we artificially separate the horse from the cart and give the wholly misleading impression that abstract art is really only about process and re-configuring space.
Mark you say “Talking about structure, how something has been achieved is far more useful and can provide insight into how to proceed.”

My point, Mark, is there is a danger in that you avoid saying WHAT has been achieved!! In fact you seem to insist that you can’t say what has been achieved because it’s ineffable! If we can’t talk about WHAT has been achieved then how can we understand HOW it has been achieved?

I’m worried too, that at the very least, this kind of critique that avoids “human content” and insists “I’m not interested in personal interpretations and associations” could alternatively run into the danger of giving the impression that process and structure are actually more important than “human content”.

David Sylvester has no such problem with human content in Patrick Herons’ work.

“What delights me primarily in Herons paintings is precisely the feeling of transport they convey. They look as if they’d been painted by someone who was intoxicated- by the air he breathed so long as his eyes were open.
Herons’ dances of colour and line immediately summon up, vividly and electrically all sorts of floating sensations of the world, gloriously mixed and melting and colliding with entwining-leaves and flower pots and tables and breast and skies, all moving and growing, all breathing.”

How you must hate that, Mark and Robin and yet look back to the earlier quote from David Sylvester who, at one time doubted abstract art could be rich in “human content”.
I guess he changed his mind and we can’t complain now he’s found it and he seems to have no problem whatsoever describing something you said was ineffable; this very quality of “human content” and surely metaphor is of the utmost importance in trying to convey these qualities.

My concern is THE IMPRESSION WE MAKE. At art college in the 70’s they told me Heron was some Cornish nutter meaninglessly moving colour around a canvas as they spat the disgusting word “formalism” and kneeled at their alter to Duchamp. I gave up painting. Now 58, and not so gullible I see that Heron made a life-long commitment to making paintings about the sheer joy of life; the very essence of existence and that Duchamp was just a miserable art critic who hated art and artists and not surprisingly left the art-world to play chess, leaving us a legacy of other art critics called Warhol, Koons and Hirst.

That’s bad enough but when I hear that what’s important in abstract art is to do with “compositional elements that will restrain any hope of spatial variation” and that “there is no individual incident in them that makes them into a thing. The whole thing is a happening”…..I feel that a young art student today will glean the impression that good painting must be made by a Dalek in a beret “You will be exterminated…when I have finished re-configuring these pictorial, spatial complexities.” and that art students’ response might be…”Yeah but don’t worry about exterminating me, because you’re going to bore me to death.”

There’s no such thing as formalism anyway. Well Spock might manage it but then he’s a Vulcan and I suspect that for him cursed with being half human he too will find it’s all emotional. There’s no such thing as dispassionate objectivity. Process, composition, and above all pictorial space are all emotional and so your claim to be objective is perhaps more ambition than actuality and I’m worried that we use it as a fig leaf to avoid getting down and dirty with the lovely, funky, stinky, sexy jissum of painting; that “human content”.

For a final point I would say that the stuff other than “human content” is something that needs very careful emphasis anyway. When the artist changes he AUTOMATICALLY changes his process and pictorial space. Heron changed his several times, notably moving from his wobbly hard edged paintings of the 70’s to those “garden” paintings of the 80’s.

Space and process are just servants to the artist. So what I want as an artist is not what you think of my process and structure but what you think of what I have said; that “human content” of my work. If my paintings don’t convey the human content I’d hoped for or if I simply change and develop as a human, then those very processes and forms will automatically change without my paying them any attention whatsoever. Surely, process and spatial configuration are just a manifestation of human content and not vice versa? (or do I need another cup of coffee?)

That’s why I agree with David Sylvester that what an artist really needs are exactly those personal interpretations, associations and subjective reactions to their work and THAT is what tells them what their work is DOING out there in the world and at the same time, inspires other artists as to the real significance of good art.

So I would vote for a critique with an INEXTRICABLE link between Process and Human Content, the former being but lightly touched on, to guide us to the latter all entirely subjective though it may be.

To sum up, my concern is that a critique of dispassionate objectivity focussed on process and pictorial structure at the expenses of human content either implies that human content is less important or worse still, not even part of the mix. Also I’m concerned that there is the danger in such a critique that we bore, confuse or alienate those we hope to excite, seduce and enlighten as to the very power and significance of abstract art.

Anyway…it was just a thought and a purely subjective one…I hope!

Robin, my painting will always look akin to Patrick Herons’ as I agree with him on a fundamental, philosophical level that painting is one of life’s’ greatest pleasures and as David Sylvester put it “to be made with joy, to be permeated by joy, to provoke joy”. Smart artists stand on the shoulders of giants as you cleverly stand on the shoulders of Caro but I’m not concerned about “being genuinely new and original” as you recommend. I think that particular ambition is at the heart of the problem in art. With respect, I’m only really concerned about being honest and true to myself, cliché though it is.

My respects and thanks to you Robin for your thoughts and feedback and to Abstract Critical for this oasis of thought. I have found this to be an immensely interesting subject. I hope I won’t appear to be trying to bulldoze anyone into thinking I am definitively right because I haven’t decided that for myself yet!

By: Robin Greenwood Fri, 13 Dec 2013 19:50:15 +0000 Well, see my last post on the Hantaï, Hartung show about Tania’s comment. I’m not interested in personal interpretations and associations, but in what the work is doing. It is not easy to be objective about this, but that is the job. Your feelings are indeed unimpeachable, but that’s not the issue.

By: Terry Ryall Fri, 13 Dec 2013 18:46:13 +0000 The question of ‘feelings’ in relation to visual art is difficult. After all, nobody has the right to challenge/seek to change another’s feelings in response to a painting, sculpture etc. This does however beg the question as to what, in a general sense, can be established and perhaps shared from articulating feelings and/or associations about a particular work of art. Can such personally interpretable qualities as feelings and associations really be SEEN or do they only exist in the private domain of any given viewer. Is it sensible, possible even, to form the basis of an exchange of views on feelings if they are (in my view rightly) regarded as unimpeachable? Although I’m not persuaded by Chris Edwick’s forceful argument its good to hear it.

By: Robin Greenwood Fri, 13 Dec 2013 18:32:30 +0000 My pleasure, Chris, and a very interesting “appreciation” too. I can confirm that Hilde is a laydee and that Alan is a big moustachioed guy. The thing is, the Brancaster Chronicles are focussed upon the objective ways that we can help each other to collectively go forward with abstract art into something new, rather than airing our likes and dislikes, or indeed making some kind of act of confirmation of the present state of our individual sensibilities.

You are in any case a little hard on us, since we often talk about how the work “feels” (rather than how we “feel”) as we stumble along trying to say what we mean. And what about us poor sculptors, stuck with our cold hard iron! How do we express our feelings through the sensitivity of our brushwork?

Having had a quick peruse of your website, I’d rather cheekily say you could lay off the feelings a bit and get down to working out what it is you are trying to do, because you are coming at painting from a position of taking an awful lot of influence from the likes of Patrick Heron and Bert Irvin, when in fact your own true sensibility might be of a different order altogether (!), were you able to progress your painting to a point where it becomes genuinely new and original – which is where we all want to be in Brancaster. Feelings are important, but they are not the whole story.

By: chris edwick Fri, 13 Dec 2013 15:50:09 +0000 Thank you for the floor Robin.

The first thing I FEEL is a sense of femininity. Had I not known these were by a woman I would have FELT certain they were and I FEEL a gentleness of spirit mixed with a sense of courageous tenacity. I FEEL a wry wilfulness of intent that seems to say “I may be uncertain of my direction but I am certain I have the courage and self confidence and belief to follow my own quirky road and therefore what I may lack in clarity I make up with authenticity of purpose.”

I admire that.

We understand each other through empathy. I feel the joy of a dancer as I watch them move, FEELING their movement in my own muscle experience and memory. I FEEL an exquisite sense of perfection as I watch a footballer kick the ball into goal from 30 yards out. I FEEL the almost butch masculinity and psychological sense of purpose in a slab of blue paint, knifed on to a canvas by Alan Gouk.

I FEEL Hilde in a gentleness of brushwork making an area of colour that fits with almost politeness of purpose into a space. I don’t FEEL Alan Gouks’ almost aggressive application of pigment, applied with a pornographically ravishing, physical sensibility. I FEEL instead an almost tentativeness that says “Excuse me…colour coming in…make way please”, and this delicacy is feminine and FEELS playful by comparison, almost erotic to Alans’ more hard-core potency.
I FEEL a refusal by Hilde to be drawn into a formal seriousness and dull minded rigorousness. This comes from the avoidance of a strictly disciplined FEELING for the placement of these colour swatches and a happiness of FEELING to change her mind about something previously said when a better idea/colour occurs. This FEELS like a mind at ease with itself that has a distaste of notions of perfection. I get that FEELING from the relaxed, correcting overlay of a new colour patch that lets the previous patch stay as old friends are introduced to new, who can supplant them for a while but without wishing to eradicate that friend once known. These paintings seem to convey of FEELING of a kind of freewheeling desire to follow where the road will lead that gives them an air of delightful curiosity, and a sense of relaxed ambition, so often far from what we feel in others.
I’m looking at a Rothko; a psychological mile away from Hilde. I FEEL his philosophical remoteness in his full arm stretch of touch. Now I look back and can see Hildes’ hand making a touching, gentle, probing caress where Rothko is distant with his sweeping of a meagre gossamer film of barely palpable material while Hilde lovingly scumbles on a nice squidgyness of choclatey brown. Rothko you scare me. Hilde your hand is flesh and blood and warm and I FEEL your smile at something Rothko has lost; easy earthly pleasure.

What makes painting and particularly abstract painting, (my only love) so vital is that touch of hand; the human hand that reveals all our FEELINGS that we understand through empathy, one human to another, whether a FEEL of despair or joy. Gone from that spot and spin painting. Gone from that readymade.

Hilde doesn’t need to tell me she is a great painter. These paintings FEEL friendly rather than imposing, happy on their journey without needing to arrive. To look upon one in my living room would make me FEEL kind hearted today, that life need not FEEL a struggle in comparison to an Alan Gouk that tells me to stop fiddling and start knifing that paint on now because Rome is burning. Which FEELING matters most to me?

Oh, for a dinner party with both of you there…..the perfect ying and yang of my FEELINGS.

As for the “compositional elements that will restrain any hope of spatial variation.”…

…I still don’t FEEL that……or that it conveys anything of value to anyone about abstract painting.

Thank you for the floor though, Robin.

By: Robin Greenwood Thu, 12 Dec 2013 19:33:42 +0000 I agree with Mark; I’m rather jealous of the musician’s or composer’s ability to talk coherently and objectively about their “language”. That ability undoubtedly enhances rather than impinges upon their ability to fully express themselves through art, and it is noticable that the general standard of musical analysis and criticism is way above that of visual art.

But… if you think differently, Chris, the floor is yours.

By: Mark Thu, 12 Dec 2013 18:33:26 +0000 The reason that we talk mostly about structure and composition, is that the expression of a work is by its very natures ineffable, hence the need to express it as painting or sculpture and not literature. Talking about the expression of a work can at best only be metaphorical and is usually disappointing. Talking about structure; how something has been achieved; is far more useful and can provide insight into how to proceed.

By: chris edwick Thu, 12 Dec 2013 17:18:51 +0000 I’m glad you’re all wondering about how you talk about painting. From where I’m sitting I find it utterly bazaar the way you all talk.
All you talk about is space, structure and composition!!!! as if that were what these paintings expressed!!!

Why not try asking yourselves “How does this painting make me FEEL?”

Everyone forgotten that?

You sound like a bunch of musicians discussing Led Zeppelins interesting use of 5ths in their atonal symphonic re-structuring of time sequences….


Can’t we get over this nerdy, process, art college tutorial, obsession with how something is said and listen to what it actually says?

feelings..emotions….meaning…not “compositional elements that will restrain any hope of spatial variation”.

By: Mark Skilton Fri, 18 Oct 2013 18:39:12 +0000 Hi Robin
I agree that the elements do jostle and jiggle about and it is essentially about push and pull, what I find surprising is that one element can do both pushing and pulling at the same time, depending on whether you scan to the right or left (or up or down). To do this each shape has to be a single colour/tone.
Secondly, there are areas where planes do form a diagonal to the picture plane. What is particularly important is to experience each painting as a whole and let it vibrate.
Yes this is good