Comments on: Yes, but I don’t know why 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: Julia Schwartz Mon, 09 Jul 2012 17:03:54 +0000 Thank you so much for this. Although in another part of my life I actually make a living using my words, when it comes to my paintings I find myself increasingly inarticulate– ‘unworded’ maybe?
The idea of ‘trying’ is one that is problematic for me, because whenever I am trying to do much of anything it pretty much mucks things up, meaning makes the work stale or dead.
After the Japan earthquake and tsunami my work did become more abstract, but you will see figurative elements in there too. I appreciate the license to just paint without needing a passport or label- is this abstract or figurative? It’s painting. I don’t need a passport to move from state to state.
Your last two paragraphs are stunning; wish I could have written them. Thank you.

By: cuillin bantock Sat, 30 Jun 2012 09:24:45 +0000 Well you see, the words ‘what’ and ‘looks’ both have several meanings. In view of the ‘difficulty’ of Rigden’s art, I deliberately chose an opener which was both ambiguous and contentious. Hook, line and sinker.

This is getting all a bit like an end-of-term fourth form debate, which has already been aired, more elegantly, elsewhere. But to say yet again, the whole development of European painting concerns different ways of representing space. Think of Cezanne’s “I have discovered that painting is not sculpture” and Patrick Heron’s 1950s agonising over Matisse’s Red Studio: “how flat it is” followed by “how spatial it is.” I made no suggestion whatever that there was anything wrong with the way Constable et al painted space, in fact Constable’s space is so firmly painted you could put your hand round his distant tree trunks. What, however, seems to me to be insufficiently thought-through is the current tendency to combine literal, illusionistic space with non-literal, non-illusionistic form. Likewise energy – not at all the same as exercise. Evidence of the latter is not proof of the former.

I think it was Shelley who said “when critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.” He said also “critics are lice in the locks of literature.”

So from one louse to another, Robin, let’s hope that Rigden is happy.

By: Robin Greenwood Fri, 15 Jun 2012 18:15:49 +0000 I agree.

By: jenny meehan Fri, 15 Jun 2012 18:12:02 +0000 Please don’t apologise, what you have written is not rubbish, it’s very well articulated and insightful!

By: Robert Linsley Sun, 10 Jun 2012 22:28:13 +0000 Like you I endorse the moral/ethical effort to hold the line against the “semi-abstract.” Frank Stella was once very eloquent on exactly that. I enjoy taking that stance in the studio, but sometimes relax and let resemblance and figuration have their way (as does Stella nowadays), and that also can give good results. Maybe we don’t know yet exactly what we mean by abstract, but “no resemblance” is not entirely it. Partly it.
More important are your remarks on originality. For myself, I would not allow lapses into figuration if the results were unoriginal, banal or desultory, or if images weren’t helping me to figure out what is meant by “abstract.” Something out of nothing…absolutely.

By: Seamus Green Fri, 08 Jun 2012 17:03:58 +0000 There have been some great points made here. I completely agree with Cuillin when he sweeps away boring arguments about figuration/abstraction. I don’t think it matters where you find yourself on the scale; it is the intention why you end up there which is important. However I do think we owe it to ourselves as artists to dig deeper and as Robin said we should understand this stuff. Painting isn’t easy, so if you decide to make abstract paintings you have be aware of what the work looks like and what you are putting across. In regards to Rigden’s work, all I have to experience it is what the paintings ‘look like’, his intentions are probably far removed from what I can gather. For me (please forgive me but I haven’t seen his work in the flesh) Rigden’s work appears quite stale, static and simple. All of which may not be bad intentions but the look of them lacks visual inventiveness because of their hold on wonky patterns and simple divisions of space. For my tastes the work is too graphic, clunky and ridged, the paintings feel like they shuffle rather than dance, and for those reason I don’t feel ‘the punch’ that Cuillin feels is there. However I do really like the way they are made and the way Cuillin describes the work, but it is ‘the look’ that gives me my impression so I have to agree with Robin and emphasis how important it is.

In response to your response Robin (forgive me if I get the wrong end of the stick) I really admire your dedication to abstraction and your search to invent completely new things and new forms as an honest engagement today rather than a pastiche of yesterday. However I find it interesting that you argue so strongly that abstraction should strive to be self referential and should eradicate representation because, for me, it feels like you want that in your own work. The titles you use reference a place or environment which I then begin to see in the makeup of your brushstrokes, for example ‘Crooked Blue House’, 2008. This feels like a romantic approach to painting as a tool to reflect a place, environment and your own expression through the material, you subvert a direct representation but there is a sense of it in the work. I’d be interested to know how you feel about the titles you give to your paintings in response to your ideas about abstractions direction (general overview, I understand not all your work acts in such a way as ‘Crooked Blue House’)

Overall, I think as a young painter I can take valuable points away from both Cuillin and Robin. I do believe that abstract painting as John Hoyland is quoted as saying “weren’t meant to be understood, only recognised.” I certainly don’t think you need to be pompously articulate about ‘meaning’ to make good paintings, on the other hand I do think it is dangerous to just go about painting a picture with no regard for a critical stance. I feel it is letting ourselves down to give up on a struggle to find new valid statements within abstract painting. But I wonder today whether abstract artists use esoteric fuelling as a means of finding purpose to motivate themselves in the studio rather than actually finding something interesting to say beyond the visual sensation. I think the difficulty in abstraction is to accept the feeling of being lost and making mistakes but to also find confidence in your intentions without letting them constrain you so much that you don’t find freedom.

(Sorry if I have waffled on about a load of rubbish)

By: Sam Cornish Fri, 08 Jun 2012 05:49:26 +0000 As you say abstract art is the only way to create new form did ‘Titian, Tintoretto, Goya, Velazquez, Constable, Delacroix’ simply repeat what had gone before them?

By: Sam Cornish Fri, 08 Jun 2012 05:43:13 +0000 A quibble maybe but… this PS is surely a (perhaps willful?) misunderstanding: surely what Cullin meant was that it is what artists do with their marks (representational or not) that counts, not that we need to ask them what they mean. Intention here seems pretty obviously the same thing as your ‘big imaginative vision’.

By: Robin Greenwood Thu, 07 Jun 2012 18:07:42 +0000 My subject matter came a little loose there, didn’t it. Another illiterate post (John Holland).
What I forgot to mention was this beautifully polished old chestnut: ‘To a greater or lesser extent, whatever marks are made, these will always look like something. What matters, beyond this, is the intention of the painter.’
Anyone know what Cezanne’s intentions were? No, me neither, so I guess its no use looking at Cezanne.

By: Robin Greenwood Thu, 07 Jun 2012 15:29:14 +0000 I think this is a very well written essay with lots of interest, lots of delightful and attractive and tempting views about art, but ultimately I agree with very little of it. Where to start?

Well, I do think it matters what a thing looks like. In fact, I can’t think what could be of more importance. I don’t think it is just a cud-chewing exercise to discuss resemblances. It’s important to understand this stuff, and if you are committed to abstract art, to acknowledge and remove inadvertent association as and when it happens. I think it is important that if you decide to be an abstract artist (and of course there is no compunction to be one, other than a belief that one might share, of it being the best way forward), that you try very hard to be ‘properly’ abstract, you try to exclude things from your painting or sculpture that throw up obvious or even slight resemblances. Difficult, yes, but who said abstract art should be simple? (Well, a lot of people did, actually, including Greenberg, who wrote some great stuff, but I don’t agree that painting should be flat or simple. Anything but. The more complex and spatial the better. More of that later.)

It’s true, as Cuillin says, that painters are free to move in any direction, towards more or fewer figurative references in their painting, as they wish; of course, and many younger artists are really mixing it up, as well as older painters like Rigden, blending the boundaries, quoting and combining. I’ve yet to see this produce results I find convincing as a way of advancing (Rigden’s paintings being somewhat ‘vintage’ in their results, and I accept that Rigden is a semi-abstract painter), but maybe I should get out more. I’d personally like to go the opposite way and make my art more rigorously abstract – in fact, that has for a while been a quite distinct ambition for me, to really try to separate the abstract from all else, from what I have defined as the ‘literal’. This seems to be exceptionally hard (particularly in sculpture), and for me involves the idea of inventing completely new things, new forms. This is the most dazzling and exciting prospect that art holds out at the moment, and only abstract art has this on offer, the discovery of completely new, strong, complex yet coherent form – and that out of nothing (!), out of only the manipulation of material under the sway of a big imaginative vision. Invent something completely new! How good would that be? Nuancing modernist clichés doesn’t do it for me, no matter how exquisite the sensibility (and Rigden’s is exquisite); nor does any kind of formula; least of all does any kind of ‘simplicity of design’, no matter how taught or refined. Painting is not design.

The trouble is, I can’t define ‘abstract’, and I only have a rather crude notion of some kind of ‘abstractness’ which applies to all art, figurative or non-representational. Nevertheless, I think it is important to try to winkle out the things in abstract art that allow progress towards something more real, and those that impede it (like, for a big pair of examples, metaphor and metaphysics). It seems to me part of the job, to do that winkling out. The late declarations of Heron, Hoyland etc. have no bearing on this whatsoever, good painters though they both were in their prime. As for the ‘Greenbergian assertion of pictorial flatness’, this is a worn-out mantra which has long held back progress in the painting of a lot of good artists, in my opinion. Try applying it to sculpture (as Greenberg absurdly did), and you will get a better glimpse of the huge black hole that continues fifty years on to suck the life out of abstract painting. To suggest that ‘the painting itself is the image’ is the ultimate dumb circular argument. It arrant nonsense to propose that works which do not fulfil that condition (which appears to include Titian, Tintoretto, Goya, Velazquez, Constable, Delacroix, etc.) deal in ‘residual, uncontrolled illusionistic space’. I’ll have a bit of that thanks, if that’s what those guys are dealing in. All painting is illusion. Great painting is great illusion. This kind of great illusion is a lot more real than flat design.

Of course, of course, yes, yes, yes, it’s really difficult to analyse and discuss visual art, and abstract visual art is even harder (perhaps), but is that a reason to retreat into subjective complacency? I repeat, what a painting looks like is of supreme importance; ‘how they look’ is critical, because how they look tells you what it is that they do. Content, Cuillin old boy, content. Loose the subject matter, find the content.