Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Collage - Second class art?

The New York Times posted an art review last week, called, “Endgame Art? It's Borrow, Sample and Multiply in an Exhibition at Bard College”. Part of the critique caught my eye, because it seemed to lump all “found art” into one category, that of somehow avoiding artmaking. The critic wrote, “To call yourself an artist at all is by definition to announce a faith, however unacknowledged, in some form of originality, first for yourself, second, perhaps, for the rest of us.” http://www.nytimes.com

He went on to write, “Fear of form above all means fear of compression— of an artistic focus that condenses experiences, ideas and feelings into something whole, committed and visually comprehensible. With a few exceptions, forms of collage and assemblage dominate this show: the putting together (or simply putting side by side) of existing images and objects prevails...” and, though he used erudite jargon, he seemed to be implying that this was an inauthentic way of making art.

I have a different take on it: collage and assemblage is a way of acknowledging that things exist before we find them and that our changing them has an effect on the surroundings. Rather than the artist presuming that a blank canvas is in fact “nothing”, found art-making recognizes that we make art with materials. It is not the artist magically calling something into existence from nothing; even those who draw and paint use materials (though some groups work mightily to ignore that and others emphasize it), we co-create with the materials in whatever form we find them. Collage and assemblage merely make this more obvious to the audience, but as an artist, I’m aware of it in whatever medium I use.

Relationship with the world is much in our awareness these days, as we finally see what ignoring the world and its realities has done. When I do collage and assemblage, I begin by experiencing a relationship with a certain item (today it was a wonderfully zig-zagged twig); I know that I am meant to do something with that item. Rather than fear of form, I am recognizing form in something, and entering into a co-creating relationship with it. Then slowly, I bring that item into relationship with other items, allowing their form to show me the possibilities in re-forming and re-aligning… I see it as a metaphor for our age. It may be past the time when ego can be allowed to say, “I create” as if there were nothing used to get started or inspired. It is more realistic, more respectful and more grounded to say, “I co-create”, using what form there is and moving it into new dynamic interaction. Most of us will agree this world has been degraded by too many people demanding to change their surroundings without due attention and care to how those changes affect other living beings -- indeed, they often pretend there is no effect at all! Art has been a metaphor through the ages, and work with collage and assemblage (especially found objects) is, to me, a metaphor of a new relationship with the world around me, and as such it deserves more than second class status.

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