El Pais

The Gaze by Jeannine Cook

Today was a day of rain that played perfectly into a plan of meeting fellow artists and talking about different aspects of art-making - a good 'shop" day. Later, however I walked through a local gallery full of decorative art of high caliber which did not call out to me very much. I started thinking about the curious alchemy of "the gaze" - that moment when one's eyes fall on a painting or drawing, and it almost impels one to draw closer and look harder. You can look at countless pieces of art, in a gallery, in a museum, where ever, and then suddenly, bam, there you are - summoned and enmeshed, in a completely unexpected fashion. The typical French "coup de foudre".

What is it about this business of "the gaze"? Amanda Renshaw, Editor at Phaidon and coordinator of the book, "30,000 Years of Art. The History of Creativity" was being interviewed in El Pais (in Babelia, on August 1st, 2009) and said, "I believe that the gaze is a form of language, and using that gaze is the best way to connect ever closer and more successfully with art. the connection between the eyes and the brain and emotions is absolutely fundamental." She went on to explain that text about art on a museum wall, in a book about art or elsewhere is secondary in importance to the actual art images.

It is true - the artwork calls out to one long before one thinks of reading a label on a wall. The more one looks at art, however, the more each of us can hone that gaze to be not only one of interest, pleasure, amazement, but also of informed, knowledgeable appreciation. Gazing, seeing, really looking at art is one side of the equation. As an artist, the other aspect is the equally important action of looking hard at whatever one is trying to draw or paint, not only to understand it and record it, but to filter it deep into one so that, somehow, the alchemy of the gaze helps create a viable piece of art.

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.