Christian Science Monitor

Ironies of Art-making by Jeannine Cook

Back on June 14th, Gloria Goodale wrote in the Christian Science Monitor about "Fleeting Architecture", saying that "we are becoming a temporary society". In a more recent article on July 20th, about museums and their future, she wrote, "It’s not about the collections anymore,”… “It’s about community.”

As an artist, I am left slightly nonplussed by these statements which I suspect are totally accurate about society in general today. For me, drawing in silverpoint has always implied a sense of heritage from the 12th century monks who started this medium rolling when they drew in lead (and later silver) in their wonderful manuscripts. There are still many illuminations and silverpoint drawings which have survived, despite the ravages of time. A respect for archival qualities of the materials and methods one uses in drawing and painting have always seemed to me to be necessary, given that collectors - individuals or institutions - normally don't want artworks they have acquired to self-destruct. Horror stories abound about disintegrating paintings, sharks not holding up in formaldehyde or drawings on acidic paper disappearing in yellowed slivers.

Nonetheless, as Ms. Goodale remarks, "We used to place a huge value on permanence and place, but that's gone... we want the novel, the next, and we're happy to throw away and move on in order to accommodate that." How to reconcile that trend and the need actually to have something in the museums, for the "community" to view, observe, learn from or celebrate...?
We artists still need to produce something. Granted, installation art, provisional structures, video art, performance art all abound. But at the end of the day, museums still have - usually - walls and something needs to go on those walls. Yes, the Christo events, like "The Gates" in New York's Central Park, are huge cultural events and money-makers and people are more willing to travel just to see temporary installations.

The Thousand Portal Project, Christo

The Thousand Portal Project, Christo

Nonetheless, institutions like the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum... still attract huge numbers of people seeking out the more permanent manifestations of art that have endured down the ages.

So as an artist, I have to decide, eventually, what kind of art to try and create - permanent or impermanent .. and just follow my passion. As Marina Abramovic remarked to Isabel Lafont in an article in El Pais in June 2009, "Art is like breathing, you just don't question that fact. You make art because life would be unlivable without doing so." ("El arte es como respirar, no lo cuestiones. Lo haces porque no puedes vivir sin ello.") She is completely right.

"The eye is not enough..." by Jeannine Cook

I found a wonderful quotation from Paul Cezanne in this week's Christian Science Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com) . It was in an article about the French in Aix-en-Provence fighting the high speed railway that is possibly going to pass through the area Cezanne immortalised in his paintings of the area - think Mont Sainte Victoire, for instance (http://www.iblblio.org/wm/paint/auth/cezanne/st-victoire/). Cezanne was explaining his decision to leave the fast-paced urban sophistication of Paris and return to Aix, a very provincial, traditional, almost backwater town. He said, "The eye is not enough, reflection is needed".

Mont Sainte Victoire, 1895, oil on canvas, Paul Cezanne (Image courtesy of Barnes Foundation, Lower Merion, PA, US

Mont Sainte Victoire, 1895, oil on canvas, Paul Cezanne (Image courtesy of Barnes Foundation, Lower Merion, PA, US

It is a statement that goes back, in some ways, to the sense of place, and the need to allow that place to seep into one's subconscious. He was talking, I believe, about needing time to think deeply about what was important to him, what he wanted to try and say in his art in a genuine fashion, untrammeled by the much more relentless pace and demands of a big city. Some people thrive in a pressure-cooker environment, others don't. Cezanne had struggled to advance in his art in Paris, he had haunted the Louvre and frequented many other talented artists. But I suspect that many of us artists come to a stage where time and mental space are needed to allow changes and progress in the art we are trying to accomplish.

Cezanne also knew his home area well. He knew how and when the light would move over landscapes that he felt deeply about and thus wanted to explore in what would be innovative watercolours and oils. He knew the best seasons and times of day at which to paint Mont Ste. Victoire, for instance. He had the time to reflect on such rhythms and use them to his advantage. His canvases of the Jas de Bouffan landscapes show the same awareness of season and place. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_C%C3%A9zanne)

Jas de Bouffan. The Pond , c. 1876, Paul Cezanne (Image courtesy of the Hermitage Museum)

Jas de Bouffan. The Pond, c. 1876, Paul Cezanne (Image courtesy of the Hermitage Museum)

He could reflect on how he wanted to depict still lifes, the people he knew well in Provence, the landscapes he loved. He had more time in Aix to create art that was pioneering, adventurous, highly individualistic and daring. He had been prescient to say that "the eye is not enough, reflection is needed". Perhaps we all need to remember this wise advice in our own paths in the art world.