Conversation Continued, Concluded, and Started Again by Colin Darke and Robin Grearson

Conversation Continued, Concluded, and Started Again by Colin Darke and Robin Grearson

Originally published with

The conversation started here, was continued here, and below is a third installment of my conversation with Robin Grearson, the art enthusiast/writer from New York. Through this conversation we try to vet our ideas about art. Please join the conversation! And please check back every Thursday to see where this conversation goes.

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Robin Grearson:

I think I agree with your statement that art which has that essence of beauty “is not a truth that explains all the mysteries of the world. It is a truth that conveys an artist’s unique experiences in the world.” You also point out through your early “Fear” piece that each artist is not only different from all other artists but changes within him- or herself, over time.

And it’s interesting that you brought up the Love Lettering project by Rivane and Sergio Neuenschwander. I will agree that art can leave technique behind and be considered beautiful, in its ability to move hearts and open minds. Conceptual art may have an advantage over visual art, in a sense that it will be considered less for its materials or rendering of objects, and more for its effect on a viewer, how successfully it is conveying its intended emotion or message. The standards of beauty relate to the form, right? And in that regard I wonder if expressive writing could be considered a form of conceptual art which confines itself to words as materials.

I visited the New Museum last year when it was exhibiting Rivane Neuenschwander’s “I Wish Your Wish.” In this work, a viewer enters a room where there are small circular holes in an array covering the walls, each containing a ribbon, and each ribbon is imprinted with a wish someone else has made. Visitors were allowed to remove a ribbon (and tie it on their wrist), and the artist requested that visitors also write a wish of their own to leave in its place. Standing back, the walls filled with ribbons created a cheerful, colorful display. Up close, the messages from anonymous past visitors were touching and funny and human; ribbons expressed wishes for everything from curing cancer to getting a reality show.

I took a ribbon and left a message, and then returned to the exhibit later, with a private wish for a friend. When I got home, I mailed her a ribbon that I’d selected for her. “I Wish Your Wish” is certainly a beautiful artwork, to me, for its success in initiating the weaving of a web that spans time and geography to engage viewers as participants, which allows us to experience, observe and acknowledge the interconnectedness and shared themes of our human experience.

However, on my second visit, I brought a friend. We stopped by the exhibit on our way somewhere else, so I could pick up the ribbon I was mailing to someone (and leave her wish in its place). My friend was absolutely unmoved, or, no, he had a negative impression. He felt the piece was boring and, if I remember correctly, too sentimental.

His opinion brings us around in a circle, back to the idea that there really is no “thing” that art is, objectively–beautiful or successful or truthful, right? Because there is only a viewer who feels a connection to something within that truthful space inside herself, or a viewer who does not feel the connection. I can’t know whether the artwork failed the viewer or whether the viewer was closed off in himself to the artwork, but an artwork that moves many, will never move all of us.

In summing up our Beauty discussion, I am considering your quote: “True beauty nourishes you to the core because it allows you to discover something new, which may tilt your world for the better.“ The emotion of being nourished that you’re describing is located within you–the feelings are your own. So each of us must have a True Beauty of our own. I can feel that kind of heart-opening nourishment when I see a loved one’s smile or watch a thunderstorm or see the sky change colors at sunset, things in life which have no particular intention to be art but which are truthful by their unconstructed nature. But these can be deemed beautiful only by a subjective observer.

For me, Beauty in art remains a communication, a system within a context that requires artist and viewer. Perhaps beauty is the word a viewer uses the label the experience of witnessing his own truth, expressed and lived by someone else. That witnessing experience would be the resonance, with the artwork being an object (sometimes) as well as an artifact of the artist’s knowledge of a viewer’s truth.

Let’s go in a new direction and talk about honesty in art-making, I’m interested in that lately. I understand what you mean about symbols in art having no real power, that they can be a sort of shorthand for what is considered beautiful but not really go far enough in rendering something original. So you have to be both fully present and fully willing to expose your own vulnerability when you are making something, and this includes writing, also. Or else you’re in danger of making something that is too flat. But is it possible to go too far in making something that is too personal? Is it possible to make something that is so personal that it does resonate with others?

Recently I learned about the work of artist Jason Bard Yarmosky. A Brooklyn Gallery called Like the Spice showed his work at the Scope New York art fair last February. In a convention center filled with art, his paintings and drawings stopped me. I love old people, I love when they’re fearless and they don’t care what anyone thinks, I love when they’re childlike, I love when they’re grumpy. Jason’s work captures the vitality of this generation exquisitely. And his portraits filled my heart with remembered fondness for my own grandparents.

One of the gallery’s staff told me that the subjects of Jason’s paintings were his own grandparents, and knowing that, I enjoyed the work even more. The artist worked with deeply personal subject matter, and expressed something which has great meaning for him, that also resonated with me. To me, that seems successful. But sometimes art can be too personal or too impersonal, it seems to be trying to accomplish what these works do, but falls short.

 You said that “to be honest with one’s self and to have a meaningful dialogue with the viewer, an artist should reflect on his or her emotions during life’s rollercoaster.” And you talked about cutting up work that you felt was too flat, but when you’re making a painting, especially about your own feelings and ups and downs, do you ever feel it’s too personal, that you’re exposing too much, at a viewer’s expense? Why do you think that our most personal works may resonate the least? Are we working with expressing our own feelings for ourselves, or for the viewer? Look forward to reading your thoughts. –Robin

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