Image Journal featured artist John Frame in their last newsletter. Frame’s work is fascinating, and slightly disturbing, and in an interview he says a couple of things I felt the need to respond to in some form or fashion.
The subject matter of art can be anything that the artist chooses. The content however will always and only be who the artist has made him or herself into.
There is a lot of truth in this statement. I’ve said before, particularly when talking about painter Thomas Kinkade, that the subject matter of art is not something I’ll debate with an artist. I may not appreciate every subject, I may not be drawn into every subject, but subject matter is up to the artist. Frame’s point about content being separate from subject matter is not something that I’ve considered, at least not using those terms.
Subject: An object, scene, incident, etc., chosen by an artist for representation
Content: Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts
In general I think of the subject of a work of art as a tool for conveying what Dictionary.com suggests as the content (more commonly referred to, it seems to me, as the message or meaning). Frame’s comment about content seems to born out of Modernism, which commonly glorifies the individual. Curiously though, his observation seems somewhat aloof — if I can make this kind of judgment based such a brief video interview. For some reason, the comment comes across as academic more than personal.
This is an age-old debate really, one that is not a stranger to The Aesthetic Elevator. How much of the artist should come through in a work? Is serious artwork self-expressive or reserved? Is the content of a painting negated by the raucous lifestyle of of the painter?
We expect each artist to have his or her own style. We each work a little bit differently. We each respond to inspiration around us in our own way. Each artist has their own process. We each come from different roots that color our approaches, our choices on subject matter and so forth. Each artist has a different passion that will show up over time in their style. But is this, “who the artist has made him or herself into,” really what amounts to content, the meaning of a work? Frame talks about meaning a little later in the interview.
When people ask what the work is about, the real answer is that it isn’t about anything and that’s not to say that it’s meaningless rather than it carries its meaning in its own way and on its own terms. And I really think the only way to understand that meaning is by looking and letting go of thinking.
Again there is truth in what the artist says, but I can’t agree wholeheartedly. I’m not going to argue with an artist about whether or not there is intended meaning in a work. That’s for the artist alone to know, and share if he likes. Of course, content, meaning, comes through regardless of an artist’s intentions. I appreciate Frame’s emphasis on looking, but I’m not certain why letting go of thinking needs to be part of viewing art.
I do agree that our own roots, preconceptions, baggage as it were impede looking. If he means that we should let go of or carefully moderate these sometime hindrances while viewing a sculpture or painting I agree. If he’s suggesting that we should check our intellect at the door of the gallery, I disagree.
Still, it’s a good interview and fascinating interactive sculpture. Have a look.