Not a New Year’s Resolution
Every year I give myself a word or two instead of a resolution. Last year it was Collaboration. And after several failed attempts at collaborating with other artists, gradually the idea entered my subconscious. Then collaborations seemed to develop more naturally. After many shared creative projects, it occurred to me that collaboration has always been my philosophy of working in the public domain – see Towards a Collaborative Public Art.
The phrase for this year is Unity in Diversity – or as the philosophers might have it, Coinicidentia Oppositorum. That implies the zen idea of a combination of opposites. My own sense of it is more about having a variety of techniques and styles and not worrying about the fact that this might make marketing my work a little more difficult.
Painter or Sculptor?
People often ask me do I consider myself a painter or a sculptor. Neither, I tell them. I am a storyteller. I make both paintings and sculptures. I also make artists’ books, and the unifying element in all of these is the narrative.
Unity in Diversity
In art it is almost universally assumed that one should be the unitary type of thinker, maintaining a consistent ‘position’ in one’s oeuvre, to which all of one’s individual works can be related. This unity of purpose is no doubt helpful for creating a marketable brand identity. Oddly, the more conceptual the work, the more necessary it seems to maintain a consistent style. But it has never been a good description of my own approach to making art.
Hedgehog vs. Fox
The Greek poet Archilochus has written:
‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.’ Isiah Berlin implies that perhaps this might be a division between two basic human types. Those who who ‘relate everything to a single central vision’ and ‘those who those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory’.
How many ways are there to take a walk?
Or, you could just stop and take a look around after every few paces.
Or maybe some sculptures of a figure walking would work to capture the feeling.
Or perhaps a combination of all of the above would work, combining sculpture, painting, drawing and animation stills.
A Train Journey
Imagine you are traveling on a train. The carriage is nearly full. A conductor is working his way down the aisle checking tickets. Sitting in a window seat, you look outside and notice snow covered fields racing by. Trees near to the tracks race past, while the distant hills slowly shuffle across the horizon. Seated alongside you is a pleasant middle aged couple, the wife speaking on a mobile phone. Across the aisle, younger passengers busy themselves with ipods and packets of crisps. And beyond them, windows displaying another snowy landscape, from a slightly different angle. This entire scene forms a panorama of visual forms. Some vividly sculptural, like the passengers in the carriage. The views out the windows seem somehow flattened, with a miniaturized sense of three-dimensionality defined by the varying speeds of the hills, trees, houses and distant sky.
This is all relevant to me as a visual artist, with an interest in creating a representation of physical reality. How to express this scene with the tools of the artist? A closeup of one fellow passengers face, in enormous photographic detail? A painting of the distant view out of the train window? A scenic model which describes the arching space of the interior of the carriage? A still life of snacks, gadgets and magazines on a table? A large ‘found object’ sculpture of a snacks trolley? Or maybe all of the above.
Manifesto of Inclusiveness
A single painting. sculpture, or photograph would simply not capture much of the varying focus we use when taking in a visual scene. Better to overlap, layer, contextualize – use all the tools at your disposal to create something more vivid and representative of the dense reality we experience. Best not to limit the techniques or styles which are allowed, to embrace the montage, the borrowed, the ensemble.
All of which leads to this, my manifesto of inclusiveness.
So there it is, a short summary of an aesthetic principle which makes a virtue out of diversity. Of course it would be useful to hone all productivity into a single very recognizable style. It would certainly help marketing my work. But I have decided not to try and condense everything I create into a single indentifiable look.
No, instead I will embrace the broad spectrum of work I create, and celebrate the diversity of it. After all there is a unity in this as well.
Discord in our thoughts, ideas and values compel us to think, reevaluate, and criticise. Consistency is the playground of dull minds. – Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
Jen Thomson – Enjoyed this post from your blog. I never make a resolution, just always tell myself to try the first new thing that presents itself to me. I quite like the idea of diversity with what I do, and sometimes try all approaches if I find myself undecided. Often, they merge into something quite unexpected, that I hadn’t thought of.
RK – I love the freshness of your idea about resolutions – good to see someone else who likes working through diversity into the unexpected