Given that it is possible to visualise a musical composition as a line along which various sound events happen at various points interspersed and linked by silence (John Cage), so too is it possible to see a painting as a field on which various events occur at various points linked by layers or patches of colour or their absence (empty space).

The act of painting is a process wherein a number of decisions must be made by the artist regarding the placing of these elements and the sequence in which the colour is applied (or removed); regarding the ground and its preparation; the materials to be used and so on. It (the act) involves the utilisation of technique in a struggle with the materials to somehow make them fit into the prescribed requirement. When the point is reached where the artist feels that this has been achieved, the decision is made to stop. The viewer is then invited to look at something that is essentially the sum of many subjective and technical decisions related to the intention of the artist and the “message” he wishes to communicate; at a result which is “as near as the artist could come to achieving his/her vision according to his/her taste”. Thus a certain burden of expectation is placed on the viewer which must also involve a certain degree of compromise between the intention of the artist, the stated aim of the work, the ability of the artist to arrive at a solution that closely approximates that goal and the ability of the artist to know when to stop. Too often, the situation arises wherein the artist stops short of the full realisation of an idea(l) because somewhere on the journey he/she encounters an effect that is so dazzling that the purpose of the work is actually forgotten necessitating the intellectual justification of the object (making it fit the original plan). This is too often true of abstraction, or more specifically, non-representational work. In this field, the intention is often not clearly defined at the outset, which is fine if the intention of the artist is to define an area in which accidents can occur, but unfortunately, what is more often the case, is that the work that is presented is simply unresolved leaving the viewer with the uneasy feeling that it has not yet reached any destination, thereby opening it up to the suggestion that it in fact had no aim, that it is in fact pointless. This could be one reason why it can be so difficult to be objectively critical of abstract painting. One reason too why “ordinary” people find such work difficult. It has an “unfinished” feeling about it that somehow overrides what there is to be seen. A painting that is fully resolved, on the other hand, that has fulfilled its purpose as a part of a greater working process will, therefore, pose fewer problems for “ordinary” people, however “difficult” it may appear to be.

One solution lies in freeing the work from the “intentions” of the artist, thereby freeing the viewer from the expectations of the artist. The product of the process, the work, would then be able to stand as an independent entity, to be experienced through a dialogue between it and the viewer, allowing it to communicate its essence without any need beforehand for explanation or justification.

By the use of “chance” operations, the imagination of the artist is freed from subjectivity enabling it to concentrate on the task of widening the vocabulary of the work by opening up the field of possibilities from which the choices could be made, thereby allowing the fullest possible range of “juxtapositions” the space in which to achieve a result that is simply a product of the process (the sum of the to-ing and fro-ing on the surface according to the system). In other words, broadly speaking, this process is the same as any other method of making a painting but approached from a different view point; namely, that the position now occupied by the artist in the scheme has changed. He now stands on the ground formerly occupied by ÔinspirationÕ or whatever other force provided the impetus to make work, as opposed to being the vehicle through which this force works. His task is, first, to add constantly to the range of possibilities (the creative process); second, to carry out the operations that make the selections and draw up the schema (the organisational); and finally to carry out those instructions and arrive at a result (the technical, or the craft).

So in a sense the random assembly of variations are presented to the materials (through the mediation of the artist) which are then able to form the work (within the confines of stop/go provided by chance) in a situation with very little to restrict it. Technically and aesthetically the whole of art history becomes a source of possibilities which can be used in ways that are free of the dictates of ÔtasteÕ to produce work that can be seen by the viewer purely on its own terms.The opening is made for a true dialogue to build between the two.The viewer need no longer feel that he/she must like/dislike the work simply because it has the seal of approval/disapproval of a third party. The viewer could then approach the work in a much more open frame of mind thereby being free to truly “experience” it.

© Anthony J.F-Mawson. 1994.

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