- August 15th, 2012
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It has to do with art. In my case, painting. When I first took it up as a youngster, it was an enjoyable pastime that elicited praise from adults. Later, it became a source of rebellious expression. But when I began to educate myself about Art, painting became increasingly unpleasant. There was a desire to put the work into some category, to ascribe a certain meaning to it, and above to explain, explain, explain. It became a form of psychological torture.
I had a show one time in a little gallery and I spent a great deal of time writing up little explanatory notes about each painting which I had typeset and placed next to each piece. It was one of the most pretentious things I’ve ever done. Not that anyone noticed. And that was the most humiliating thing. No one cared about the meaning of the paintings. It’s not for artists to determine such things anyway. Meaning is an artifice created by the artworld to enhance value. My paintings had no value, hence they were meaningless.
I abandoned painting and took up philosophy instead. I studied aesthetics and philosophy of art to see if I could justify my own artistic efforts. Of course, it made things worse. I now had at my disposal a whole new academic schema to apply to that field of activity. Academic analysis of the problem of art (its definition for example) became more important than the art itself.
Nearly twenty years have gone by, and in that time I’ve completed only a handful of paintings. I started something new a few weeks ago, though, and as I worked on it I found it to be not entirely unpleasant. After all, there’s no pressure on me now. I have no illusions about what a successful artistic life ought to be. My explanation for the pleasure of the experience is, at least partly, that I have forgotten a lot of all that stuff. I’m dumber now. I’m closer to where I started and expecting very little.
Art, of all things, is anti-intellectual. That’s not to say that artists are stupid in general, but they don’t need to be very smart to do good work. My dissipated lifestyle is finally offering a modest reward: amnesia. The intellectual life is a lot of pretentious snobbery anyway. My new painting means nothing and has no value outside of the satisfaction I get creating it, hanging it on my wall and admiring this amalgamation of pigments and the way the look together. The subject matter is associated with a pleasant memory. As I look at what’s left of my work, that’s true for all the paintings. They remind me of places and times, emotions and experiences, and there’s a bit of pride that I was able to render something more or less permanent that evokes those feelings and memories. But that’s about it.