This is difficult – to explain in words what visual meaning, means. I keep repeating, “The image is the meaning.” If you are a visual person, that revelation needs no explanation, but I will try for those who are unfamiliar with the existence of visual thinking.
Last night, the dogs and I drove south to my favorite “mud hole.” In town, the temperature was 94*, but as we climbed a bit in elevation, it dropped to 87*. Hot wind blew through the truck cab; the pale blue and yellow countryside was softened by a haze from dust. The dogs settled into getting drunk on smells, wind and whatever it is they see, which certainly is not what I see. They “collect” their own universes and then dream about them, perhaps explore what they have taken within themselves, as they sleeping; running madly on the floor – twitching, jerking and howling in desperation.
My intuitive thoughts began to bubble over, and this is what I thought:
Artists are people who can see fragments of the universe, and in those fragments they see the entire universe, or if you will, the secrets of the universe. It’s a ‘fractal’ awareness? The artist chooses fragments; discovers fragments, is chosen by the fragments. However it happens, it happens. So, the artist needs to be careful about the fragments with which they engage; those fragments become one’s universe and one’s “self” is created by that collected vision.
We observe themes in the work of artists; visual ideas that develop over a lifetime. A fascination or obsession with certain forms, patterns, objects, people, models and structure – fragments of the universe through which the artist tries to “get at” those questions of meaning. but the image is the meaning.
I vividly remember taking up “residence” at the Art Institute of Chicago during high school. Art for me then was actual paintings, prints, sculptures, and other more everyday objects made with “vision.” Chinese ceramics were especially “content heavy” – bowls made with exquisite patience: little universes in themselves. I absorbed everything I saw.
Over the years “gallery art” “framed and ready to hang” “suitable for a corporate environment” “significant for its political message” “the voice of the disenfranchised” “compatible with the new pastel trend in home decorating” infringed on my views about art. These are “social” concepts and uses for images that ultimately trivialize the power of images until they have no importance. I’m Asperger: these social motives (all Pavlovian) have no meaning for me.
Do I criticize artists who pursue social success; support their families, join the chaos of “appraising monetary value” that consumes entire cultures? Which product is worth more? Pink and purple plastic crap from China, or the artist’s non-figural interpretation of a sofa-sized Mid-Century Modern graphic that will not offend anyone’s selection of living room furniture? In a rabid consumer culture, it only matters to the mass retailer. It’s good that some artists can find this type of success – why not?
I’m one of those people who was constantly urged to “make something of my talent.” (I did work in advertising for fifteen years and enjoyed it!) The social pressure was always present: when I quit to study geology there was consternation, but also applause – I would of course go into the oil industry and strike it rich. The social advice was always to reorient my focus away from what interested me, to making things that people would pay for. What would it hurt to be “normal”? (Sigh)
Unknown, even to myself, fragments of the universe had been filling my life from the beginning, creating who I am, bit by bit, image by image, and in stark contrast to the “crappy” circumstances that often took control of my life, the universe was beautiful. I believed in what the universe kept telling me, and rejected the social perversions of reality.
So be careful when you choose which fragments to incorporate into “who you are”.