Selections from On Painting by Erik Lindman, 2011
Novelty is a central concern of the contemporary. The “newest” is seen as the most in line with the current moment, which is implicitly considered new. This manifests itself in the use of commercially available materials not previously used for art or previously present in other markets; the reconfiguration of traditional modes of presentation of art, for example, the choice to hang a painting from the ceiling, to lay a painting flat on a pedestal, etc.; the substitution of materials, such as a cube made of lipstick or a painting made of clay. Novelty seems to articulate the extension of the field of artistic practice to the everyday through the signification of material.
Conventionally, novelty is defined in contradistinction to “tradition”. The traditional is alternately seen as comparatively safe, predictable, palatable, in good taste, more of the same, and ultimately without disruptive meaning. The traditional ostensibly does not create scandal. The traditional does not sever.
The categorization of novel and tradition functions developmentally and relationally as language. What was once novel invariably becomes tradition, tradition also possibly novel. Nevertheless, the traditional is currently represented as linked to blindness and stalemated moralistic truth; the novel linked to productive disruption, revealing cracks in the traditional, and the elimination of hierarchy and limits.
Equally linguistic, taste and history create meaning symbolically in material, not essentially. The splash of paint, for example, does not signify the characterization of angst the action it once embodied, but signifies the history of the circulation of itself. It has become a referent of its own reproduction.
Historically, what can be seen as a traditional manifestation of “painterly” would be the application of a viscous substance to a selected substrate.
This adapts pragmatically, up to a point. The cave wall changes as the preferred substrate as people stop living in caves; fabric is transportable, and becomes stretched on wooden braces as it is easier to apply paint to when taught. If pragmatism maintained its grip on material choices, its doubtful paintings would currently exist materially.
The language function of paintings denies its pragmatism. This is revolutionary. Painting exists, therefore, despite itself. The language function maintains painting as a parallel to, not a direct mimetic representation of, reality. This has to occur in material reality to function linguistically. Painting constructs meaning out of the arrangements of painterly signs (the form) and material choices, not through an insistence on its veracity. …
…Mimetic desire is not moralistic, it is a part of reality. If we can give painting a theoretical consciousness, it would psychologically mirror the theatrics of mimesis which constitute our human subjecthood. Paintings need other paintings to understand themselves as paintings. Paintings desire other paintings. Resonant with the language function previously described, paintings create meaning through how they interact with projections of other paintings, not directly with how the paintings mirror reality…
… Aside from desiring other projections of paintings, the painting also desires other subjecthoods to mirror its language back to itself. These subjects are the artist and the audience. The desire of the painting is independent of the desire of the artist; to make this desire of the painting visible, the painting must come in contact with the audience. The artist, in his own subjection, cannot imagine this audience. The audience is independent. The painting is dependent on the audience’s independent assumptions of reality, and in lacking or superseding these assumptions, the painting creates meaning through difference. In this way, the painting does not take over the reality of the audience. Neither can the audience take over the subjecthood of the artist.
Power is seen as oppressing some other power. “Powerless” wants to give all the chance to speak. Unfortunately, when all are aloud to speak at the same time no sound is produced, only shapeless noise. Art is power and must be addressed as power.
Confusion between this political sphere and the aestheticization of politics continues to neuter art. Art is inherently political as it functions within social relations involving authority and power. Art does not become political through the representation of politics. This is further complicated by the confusion of preference and the representation of politics. All preference is considered political, when in fact it is closer to being the representation of politics. The representation of politics is not political in itself. The representation of politics is irrelevant. Presenting a preference for power does not engage power relations between subjects. This presentation disengages dialogue and meaning by representing the political as separate and objective from the discourse inherent in the relationship between artist and audience. That the preference can be seen as separate from all else, as self evident and self sufficient, makes the preference apolitical, that is, lacking in social relation.
The novel ignores this division and condemns the traditional for not being “political enough”. By not being “political enough”, the novel intends to signify that the traditional does not present a representation of politics. Claiming the political to be simply a representation of itself denies art of its political potential. The representation is a dead end into more representation, not reality. Consequently, art is defined as preference or taste, one representation over another, an inert object outside of relationships and therefore meaningless.
Taste itself is historically contingent and is blind to other tastes. Taste can see other tastes as not itself but cannot inhabit other tastes. Politics based on taste can do nothing more than create more difference. …
… It would be blind to say that art is not used to political ends by the institutions that frame it and the money that, tastefully, acquires it. It is important to differentiate this from the artwork itself. The artwork remains political despite the representation of politics inferred onto it. The work itself maintains its relational integrity. The work is still political in itself, without the need of external politics. As the site of mediation between subjects, the artwork is a mutable representation between individuals.
The artwork stands as political in relation to what could be not art, the world. … The power involved directly with in the artwork, not the power around it or the politics of its framework, is not occupied by the power of the world. … [The] linguistic function of painting cannot be co-opted by the linguistic function of the world. The absurdity of painting, as action and material, is too disruptive. The absurd is not meaningless. Time spent creating the work of art, time spent as the paintings audience, is time in which the power of the world is clarified through denial. This is a powerful political gesture.
…The absurd is shared by both the abyss and the void. The distinction is in the choice to see all as meaningful or meaningless.
The linguistic function of painting does not mean that the source of referents stand in isolation to the world, or are a closed loop. The linguistic function, as art itself, stands in parallel to the world, but when these line up symbolically, not materially, a synergistic reality is activated. This reality encompasses the world and art. Art is separate from the world, the world is separate from art, but they both are encapsulated by reality. Reality is often most clearly imagined through the absurd, through art and through God. The world is difficult to see through the guise of the world itself. As in the mimetic cycle, the world needs another world to be the world.