DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       September 2003  


 

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"A useless, evil game"
An Exchange between Carson C.T. Collins and David Cohen on Intentionality

Carson C.T. Collins click here for more images

This exchange follows David Cohen's article, Ambiguity and Intention, published at the Online symposium on art and cognition organized by Noga Arikha and Gloria Origgi in January 2003, posted at Interdisciplines.org

From: "carson c" <carsonctcollins@hotmail.com>
To: <dc@artcritical.com>
Subject: an artist's question
Date: Friday, August 08, 2003 3:36 AM

"By intention I don't mean that the artist consciously has this or that fully articulated objective in mind at the moment of creation and that the success of the work is somehow mortgaged to the extent to which it was followed through. That would indeed be banal and reductive, robbing art (and for that matter ambiguity) of its organic quality, its ability to live and thrive independently of its originators' intentions..."
- David Cohen

My question is: Why should a work of art have any right to exist independently of it's creator's intentions? Does Mr. Cohen really think that important art is somehow done by accident, or that the critic's rationalizations are somehow more important than the original act? Or what, exactly?

I do think that it is precisely this question of intention that is, tragically, missing from most so-called critical dialogue about contemporary
art...

Please advise.
Peace,
Carson

http://www.theoceanseries.com
carson@theoceanseries.com

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From: "David Cohen" <dc@artcritical.com>
To: <carson@theoceanseries.com>
Subject: Re: an artist's question
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2003 19:38:57 -0400

Dear Carson:

1. Our museums are packed with objects rightly the focus of intense aesthetic regard that are utterly divorced from their makers' intentions, not to mention the value systems of the cultures in which they were produced. Furthermore, most artists I know are perfectly happy for their works to be admired, praised, or bought and sold for the "wrong" - that is to say unintended - reasons. One artist said to me, early in my career, there's no bad reason to like a work of art.

2. Do children have a right to exist independently of their parents' dreams for them?

3. I'm not aware of having placed "critics' rationalization" above "original act" in some hierarchy of values. The work of viewing and of making are relatively separate, and each situation is valid on its own terms. Artists, incidentally, are also critics of their own work. They mull over their happy accidents, and not only tolerate but learn from unintended results. Can't see much that's tragic about that.

Thanks for your interest in my work. DC

David Cohen
Editor and Publisher, artcritical.com
Art Critic of The New York Sun
www.artcritical.com

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From: "carson c" <carsonctcollins@hotmail.com>
To: <dc@artcritical.com>
Subject: Re: an artist's question
Date: Monday, August 11, 2003 12:41 AM

David,
Thank you for your prompt and courteous reply to my question.

We do often find beauty or significance in the chance arrangement of things, whether done by an artist or an accident; a historical accident, in the case of the museum pieces to which you refer. And, as Carl Jung pointed out with his concept of synchronicity, this is far from trivial - it tells us something important about ourselves (and nothing in particular about the
object).

Artists indeed may deliberately use seemingly accidental means to arrive at something that is, for them, intentional. For a good contemporary example, see Steve Peed's work at http://www.fromthemind.net- but this is beside the point.

The point that I'm trying to make is that a most important question for us to ask ourselves, as artists, is one of intent: What, exactly, is the artist's intention for this thing that they've created? What effect, exactly, is it supposed by the artist to have on others? It seems to me that this particular aspect of the question of intent is strangely absent from most so-called critical thinking about contemporary art. An artist who has no concept of her/his own intentions has no integrity or clarity. Worse, we too often reward artists by assigning meaning and value to objects, the production of which was solely the result of tawdry or trivial motives - personal greed for money or attention being prime examples...

I can't think of a more egregious instance of this than the early career of Julian Schnabel, to which I was an eye witness.

Assigning meaning or value to such objects beyond the intentions of their makers seems to me a very bad idea, and one that is dismayingly prevalent in our current art-critical hegemony. Therein lies the "tragedy".

Peace,
Carson

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From: "David Cohen" <dc@artcritical.com>
To: <carson@theoceanseries.com>
Subject: Re: an artist's question
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2003 08:17:58 -0400

I understand your anxieties, but I wouldn't want to participate in a criticism the function of which would be to award brownie points for good intentions. I also think there is an essential fallacy in confusing the emotional affect of a work and the worldly ambitions of its maker. If your life depended on the skill of a surgeon you wouldn't care if he was motivated by worldly ambition or a love of humanity; besides which, the two are less incompatible than some moralizers would have us believe. DC

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From: "carson c" <carsonctcollins@hotmail.com>
To: dc@artcritical.com
Subject: Re: an artist's question
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2003 07:29:12 -0700

David,
Looking at a piece of art affects us in a positive, a negative, or (rarely) a neutral way. This is obvious: look at the painting, notice how you feel. The artist is our cultural shaman; her/his function is to heal the tribe. There are no altruistic motives, we all do everything that we do for personal reasons, e.g. a good deed done for another is rewarded by a feeling of self-satisfaction... Art that fails to heal or awaken us fails utterly, regardless of what the intention of the artist may have been; there certainly can be no question of "awarding brownie points" for good intentions!

My "anxiety" is that we seem to have lost sight of the higher function of art: that is, to awaken and heal the soul. This is never talked about. Instead, critics treat art as if it were a game of intellectual one-upsmanship or mere clever entertainment, thus transforming, as Kandinsky said, "the life of the universe into an evil, useless game."

Peace,
Carson

 

 

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