Essay component: preliminary plan

Key words: Rifts, meaning, physical, digital, and hybrids.

These are the key words for the essay required for this module. Rifts because this is the area I’ve focused on for the painting practice component of this module; meaning because I’ve been banging on about making art meaningful to people who may never go to galleries, and physical/digital because art has always made use of whatever new technologies were available to it, from the camera obscura (see Hockney’s 2001 discussion) to Chevreul’s influence on colour theory. And this is before we get to performance art, filmic art, and transient art. There is a place for purism, for art that relies only on its physical presence and is immutable. But there is also a place for art that adds layers to a viewer’s experience by capitalising on a digital world that vast numbers of us already use in other environments. I don’t see a conflict of interest, particularly as my own work is always predicated on a physical piece made of paper or card or some other tangible substance to which I’ve applied a physical medium. This can stand alone but it can also house the digital triggers capable of presenting viewers with added layers of images, some of them also originating in the physical, others making use of animation, green screen and audio elements.

The essay is only 1000 words and so economy of language will be critical, as will a sparing approach to the key areas of interest. At the moment these are meaning (and I’m grateful to my tutor for passing to me a doctoral dissertation on this), and the place of digital tools in a painting degree.

My concerns about meaning come from a drive both to imbue my work with meaning, and to make that meaning accessible to a wide range of viewers. In this I differ from Jorg Jozwiak (2013) whose thesis focused on samples of the population already sufficiently au fait with art to be writing blogs and who referenced galleries. I want to use meaning to engage viewers who are not often, if ever, in galleries and may even feel alienated by them. So ‘meaning’ here means communication.

In discussing this, I would make reference to literature which has parallels with the various levels of transparency/opacity of meaning discussed in Jozwiak’s thesis. Popular genre fiction tells you where it’s going and what to expect and you just hold on tight for the ride, there’s no tricksy thinking to do because you know the author will make it all clear by the last page. At the other end of the scale, literary fiction very often gives its readers beautifully crafted words and phrases but ultimately lets its characters wander off that last page leaving no clue as to what happened or where they are going. Maybe they died, who could tell? For me, something that places me where I would never otherwise be, whether that’s on or in another world, and gives me an emotionally and intellectually engaging story to hang this new experience on is the literary equivalent to the art I aim to make. A story someone can follow with a few clues and that steers a healthy course between Wham! Bang! action comic immediacy, and the exquisite literature that holds you in the soft swell of a tide that never reaches the shore.

To do this, I may need to challenge some of Jozwiak’s assumptions about meaning using the role of setting conditions and context, along with his acknowledged sample bias. This will have to be a very compact piece of work.

My strategy with pulling together disparate areas of concern in order to tell a coherent story, and to my mind it is a story however academic, is first to absorb the relevant information and let it settle. I call this composting, a process whereby the literal and the detail are broken down and reformed as conceptual gists. After a while, I feel these begin to bubble and call for attention, and then I think about the key issues. The preceding stream of thought is that process.

The next is how to frame an answer to the hypothetical question, ‘So what’s this essay about then?’ from a mate in the pub. They’re not experts, they don’t want chapter and verse, they just want a summary that lights up their eyes rather than bores the socks off them, and for that, it has to light up my eyes.

Once I have a framework, a series of points I want to make, I write the story straight through with no stopping for references or sources. Doing that interrupts my stream of thought and the administrative work of tracking down supporting details can come later. Sometimes I find nothing and so I have to rethink a point or an illustration, but other times I find an abundance of fascinating rabbit holes it would be easy to get lost in. At 1000 words, efficient bunny wrangling will be critical.

Once the tale is told, I fill in the academic detail, always over-writing with a view to editing down to the required word count. In my previous worlds though, I’ve never had copyright to contend with; at least not in terms of referencing if you do it properly. Put a quote in quotation marks and cite the author/journal etc. and the job is done. But images are different. These, for some reason, can’t go in quotation marks and no matter how referenced they are, if you don’t have permission to use them, you’re in breach of copyright. Consequently, using images to illustrate matters concerning contemporary art seems a risky business. Luckily, there is YouTube and very many artists and their works can be found there with no copyright issues as they’re already freely available and arguably promotional in the art or artist’s own interests. Digital art may lend itself to this kind of visual referencing.

Chevreul, M. (1839) The Law of Simultaneous Colour Contrast. See Faber Birren’s 1987 book, The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours and their Applications to the Arts. Schiffer Pub. ltd.

Hockney, D. (2001) Secret Knowledge. Gardners Books.

Jozwiak, J. (2013). Meaning and Meaning-Making: an exploration into the importance of creative viewer response for art practice. Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the subject of Fine Art. Goldsmiths College, university of London.

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