Wednesday, December 12, 2007

subjective vs objective

Joseph Cornell has a retrospective in SF right now and so I have been reading about him here and there. He seems to be the favorite collage artist, if people tempt to name one. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of his work. While living in San Francisco in the 80s, I saw a nice Cornell box show at Acme Art, run by Richard Polsky.

Then of course there are the fine works at the MOMA. They almost startled me when I first saw them - because I had studied them so much in books and there they were finally. I saw them in winter and to this day, I associate Cornell with the cold. - And the white: perhaps the show to really blow me away was a collection of works all in white by him at Pace. This must have been around 1990 – every work was almost nothing but crackled white paint – pretty impressive.

However. Since then I have come across a million – yes, it seems like a million – artists who use a bird in a box as a launch-pad. It’s very tempting to use an ethereal night-sky in a collage (I’m as guilty as anyone), but much more difficult to make it your own. Of course Joseph Cornell doesn’t own the sky – in fact maybe Max Ernst (below), a more sweeping, exhaustive artist, beat him to it – but it is the challenge of any collage artist to make the methods and materials and images their own. It must speak to his great talent and ownership of imagery, for what I see way too often is that many artists haven’t bothered to do that.

Perhaps I would not be so aware of the million artists if it were not for the Internet. You might think you know one or two (or ten!) artists who think like Cornell, till you get online. For me this exposure has somehow weakened his punch a bit.

It made me think just how easy (or not) it is to copy someone. If you have all the basic ingredients, it’s not that difficult. The proof is out there unfortunately. And this is just another reason why I always keep going back to John Heartfield. Try copying him – it ain’t easy.

The only people who are up to those skills (of shooting their own pictures, resizing, airbrushing, etc) are using a computer - and are probably working on fashion or vodka ads. Technically the work is very unique. It is also peerless in terms of risk.

Years ago I had a fun discussion with a mastermind about subjective vs objective art. At this time, I knew a lot of creative people who stated they preferred a political art. They had a rampant repulsion towards things spiritual, you might say, a reaction against the prevailing new ageism of California at that time. I contended to the mastermind that subjective artists could make some really good art.

“Yes, good art,” he conceded. “But not the greatest art. That’s left for objective artists.” He meant artists like Malevich or Mondrian - and probably Joseph Cornell. - I could not have brought up the inimitable work of Heartfield then, for many reasons. Masterminds need to be always right! But like I said, in retrospect, I think his inimitable qualities speak for themselves.


julie said...

I got to see some Cornells up close and personal in the privacy (ha!) of the MET in NYC @ the Surreal exhibit a few years ago. Some of them were displayed in very dark areas, and it made for such drama!

I can't help but agree with your assessment of his mastery. Indeed, he is one on the pedestal.

namastenancy said...

I think that Heartfield - like Hannah Hoch - can't be copied. They worked with unique material in a very dark time. We can imitate but our politics, like our materials, are different. I do like your posts; they always make me think in a different direction.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, namastenancy.

I've been thinking more about him in terms of risk, too, not just in terms of his materials and methods. He had a strong belief that he could make a difference. He plastered walls with illegal posters at a time when it would have meant his life. I wonder if artists take on this level of risk now.


m. said...

this may be a tangent, but i'm not sure the style for which mondrian became famous is as simple a question as subjective vs. objective...did the 'mastermind' actually mention him by name?

Anonymous said...

Yes, m., the mastermind most surely did.

m. said...

due to the spirituality with which mondrian was reportedly attempting to imbue his primary body of work with, i'm just not sure that 'objective' is the correct word for him, specifically...but, as you say, "Masterminds need to be always right!"

poor ol' masterminds ::grin::

Anonymous said...

I think the mastermind confused spirituality with objectivity, in an attempt to downplay political art. ... which in his world, was more about whatever context/war/drama it was made in.

Perhaps the ones who make a spiritual art - like Malevich of Mondrian, are not so certain or arrogant about its place in the scheme of things. But often the people who follow it, just like a religion, are. I didn't see this at all until others brought it up in California. They were nauseated by the New Age and turned off by anything "spiritual," which they purposely put quotations around...


m. said...

ahhhhhh. thanks for the further explanation of what the mastermind might have been thinking.

i can't speak as to how militant mondrian may have been in his personal spiritual dedication, though it might be interesting to note that not only did he try to paint it, he tried to live it in his daily surround as well. i've wondered more than once if that's what set him apart from others with similar style...

anyway, on another subject, i also wonder if there will be a day when i am not tempted to put quotations around anything...

Celebrations Process said...

Creativity vs Art can be compared as Subjective vs Objective. 

Art a monetary based end goal requires artists to be original (not copy), this way it is easier to be objectify and is more quantifiable. Where the creative process empower the creator to be more fluid with the flow of each creative expressions; creating a more personal and intuitive experience, often (with encouragements) sharing the sameness of human emotional intelligence. Also in creativity, the process/experience  is more  important than the outcome of  its deliverable. If great vs good art are based on having a more quantifiable outcome than this concept of art of being greater is true. This categorization of subjective/objective in art vs creativity are important distinction values for any healthy culture.

It is important that creativity development should not be quantify as in the production of art. Creativity should be categorized as it's own qualitative state of personal development; otherwise it could create a natural imbalance in well being. Hence, we have a culture that criticize creativity (in all forms of qualitative state of being) and compare it with art and the artists quantifiable means.  The repercussion of comparing the different end goals of art and creativity with its the likeness in processes can damage a culture. The quantifiable process can be damaging to development of human emotional intelligence which is based on this qualitative essence. This is a huge  limitation on our human development. The high values placed on the artifacts create false illusions that creativity can only come from the artists (and likes of) is damaging to the evolution of a creative culture. This is objectifiable/art process is stifling the qualitative/creative in all beings, which is the backbone of well being in a healthy culture.