August 11, 2004

Titulos

The best way to come up with a title is to let it bubble up from the depths. But over these months painting the group of paintings going to Z?rich, I had been staring at the depths seeing only a few bubbles but no soggy titles had yet popped to the surface.

During this time, I was aware of the shortcoming and the solution was to act nonchalant. I assured myself that the answer would present itself shortly. Be cool, you're a verterano. No problem, chill.

But as the day of the shipping approached (today), only bubbles gurgled from the depths. Only bubbles.

Now, this isn't serendipitous because looking for fortune negates the very definition of serendipity. And while it might be kismet, this noun falls short of description because fate has no need for individual will.

Because a conscious will is involved, the word dowsing seems more appropriate. And to us this term, a thicket of folkloric weeds have to be disentangled from it. Images of country yahoos wandering through the woods gripping a divining rod, or the standard cinema plot device as in Rob Riener's classic and non-standard "Princess Bride" where Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya is lost, mid-journey and his last resort is to divine the answer:

CUT TO:

INIGO
He kneels, the sword held tight between his hands. Eyes closed, he faces the grove of trees, starts to talk, his voice low and strange.

INIGO
"Father, I have failed you for twenty years. Now our misery can end. Somewhere ... somewhere close by is a man who can help us. I cannot find him alone. I need you. I need you to guide my sword. Please."

And now he rises, eyes still closed.

INIGO
"Guide my sword."

CUT TO:

THE GROVE OF TREES
as Inigo, eyes shut tight, walks forward, the great sword held in his hands.

FEZZIK, frightened, follows close behind.

CUT TO:

THE SECRET KNOT
that reveals the staircase.

CUT TO:

INIGO
walking blind through the grove of trees. He moves to the Secret Knot, hesitates, then moves past it.

Then Inigo stops. For a long moment he stands frozen. Suddenly he whirls, eyes still closed, and the sword strikes home dead center into a knot and --

Nothing. He has failed.

In utter despair he collapses against the tree. Against a knot in the tree. Against THE KNOT in the tree. It slides away, revealing the staircase. FEZZIK and Inigo look at each other, then start down.

(reeling myself back in here...)
OK, so I come from the generation weaned on the stuff of Joseph Campbell. But there is something to the final resort to surrender and the trust of instinct (so somesuch thing). Didn't Dante require the guidance of two emmisaries as he walks into the depths of the Inferno, with Virgil as the symbol of reason who can only take him part way, leaving Beatrice, the personification of Love to conduct him to the end? By all this, I mean to say that creating, inventing titles for my paintings has to be something more than a rational calculation... and at the same time, I'm suspicious of purely emotive ejaculation.

(Well, who wouldn't?)

There was a time when I refrained from titles, wanting to number or somesuch alternative. A dealer and onetime friend convinced me back in the day that titles are necessary. But his idea of necessity was different from mine. From his point of view, titles allow convenient handles for the art market to work with. Traction for transactions. Imagine a dealer and collector on the telephone: "What's the price of the blue-red one that's four by five feet?" Which one, say again? I didn't care much for arguments of convenience.

But the idea of titles as something like a highway sign began to dawn for me. I didn't want paintings to be signs pure and simple... the totalizing ideology of art-as-sign was the intellectual regime of the artworld of the late 80's and the emphasis on the flesh of paint was my rebellion to those days and whatever else of that mindset that still remains. I wanted titles to be suggestive, indexical arrows and I wanted the domains of knowledge/information that the title refers to be bigger than whatever puny efforts I have exerted within them.

Years ago, I came across Benedetto Croceand I gleaned a few notions about intution from him:

Croce essentially identifies intuition with expression: one is a complex of feeling and thought, while the other is the image that derives from it, but for Croce they are the interior and exterior views of the same thing. Logically, we cannot have an intuition without a corresponding expression; that would be like talking about a poem inside us that we are incapable of writing down. People do talk that way from time to time, of course, but others are entitled to doubt whether the poem is really there. The reason we may think we have intuitions that we cannot express is that most of our intuitions (like our memories) are vague and cloudy; when we come to actualize them, we realize this and put the fault down to poor technique. What differentiates artists from the rest of us is that artists' intuitions are clearer than ours and become clearer still in the process of expression.

Given Croce's idealism, the third factor in the artistic process, communication, is relatively insignificant. If intuition and expression exist in the artist's mind, then the work of art exists; its actualization as matter, as words on paper or paint on canvas, is a comparatively trivial issue and one that, for Croce, has nothing to do with aesthetics as such. In Croce's aesthetic the poem comes into existence when the poet silently recites its words, the painting when the artist has fully visualized it, the song when the composer has heard its melody in his or her head. Communication is crucial, of course, to the appreciation of the work of art by anyone other than the artist. And here technique becomes important. For the audience, the process works backwards: we move from the actualization to the expression until we have apprehended the lyrical intuition with which the artist began.
It is important to recall that these three steps are presented in a logical, but not necessarily a temporal, order. Croce is not under the illusion that a work comes into being full-blown in the artist's head and only then is transferred to some material form. Poets have their drafts, and painters their sketches, and Croce is well aware that artists constantly refine and reshape their work, that they move, in his terms, from the act of expression to that of communication and back again.


(Emphasis Added)

By the time the "actualization" of the "expression" has driven you to apprehend the "lyrical intution, you are looking for any and all historical context to help shine a light on your subject. You have to mine the well of mental content, detective work. What were they thinking, who were they talking to, what was the historical context, etc.? (Hence, this weblog... I consider this to be a bibliography, arrows pointing that-a-way.)

I don't claim to be a philosopher or even have a toehold on Croce's ideas, but as I first read his writing, I had a distinct mental image of the relation of intuition to rational knowledge: that intuition is the result of a deep (below the conscious threshold) comingling of ideas thrown into the mind, the intersections of which show above the surface of awareness as intuition. In short, if you wanted great intuition, you had to have a robust reserviour of ideas/experience (stuff like that)... you have to be curious, open and insatiable.

Titles point toward those thoughts. Significant Mental Content, that-a-way.

By the time I finished the last painting for the show, nothing yet had bubbled. Still nonchalant, I let the time pass, thinking and hoping that at any moment, some conception of the nature of the titles would appear. The final painting was done on a Saturday... then the days elapsed one after the other. At one point I considered plotting the solution, charting a matrix of thoughts and rigging a calculus of titling... then I reconsidered. It would only be a jury-rig, makeshift, false. I had expected the pick up date for the paintings to be today (later to find that it would be a week later). Then this morning broke. I was in bed, I had just awoke , the task still a heavy weight. All that time pissed away.

And then, a thought appeared.

The blog!

The titles are already in the blog, functional, direct, unaffected. They didn't have to be conjured, they existed already. Blogposts have been structured by Movable Type to tag each entry with a title. It didn't create them with posterity in mind for they are handles, no more. Selecting titles culled from the blog became the solution, sometimes from blogpost titles themselves, sometimes selcted from the content.

The titles:

ww#210 La Primera Vez
ww#212 Breathing Room
ww#213 Painting Past a Future
ww#214 Out of the Head
ww#215 Thirty Hours
ww#216 Up for Air
ww#217 Muchos Cosas
ww#218 Grace
ww#219 Bound
ww#220 Congealment

Now, let's see if I still like them in the morning....


Posted by Dennis at August 11, 2004 9:28 AM

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