What art is not is also what it is

It always comes down to what both of us want out of a work of art: you, as the viewer, and myself as the artist. Nothing of any real value is achieved without both of us being satisfied.

I have become increasingly aware of all the things that my artwork is not – in fact, artwork might also be defined by what it is not, as well as what it is.

This can be a good thing – in order for an art object to function, it should be particular, directioned, a result of sharp and uncompromising culling-out and decision-making, coupled with a complete confidence in those decisions as the work progresses. Every time a decision is made, an infinity of hopefully lesser alternatives is left behind. The more a piece contains and reflects a particular and unique philosophy and character, the better it functions as an entity on its own – and the closer it comes to embodying that amazing quality that only good works of art have of possessing their own aura and life.

It is this quality which so often confuses what an artwork really is and what it should “look like”. If artwork really has a life, shouldn’t it necessarily be as close to actual functioning nature as possible – i.e., as “realistic” as it can be?

Here’s the rub. Art is never an emulation of nature, or indeed of anything else. It is a human-made construct. In fact, there is no such thing as “realistic” art – art is always, without exception, abstract: on the simplest, most basic level, art is always a fashioned rendition, albeit sometimes using the subject matter or ideas of the world around us - but always, to present something new.

Art should never be confused with, or presumed to be natural, or an extension of nature. To be sure, it may be informed by nature, or deal with aspects of nature – we are, after all, social beings with an awareness of our own self-awareness in the world around us, and our art is, in one form or another, necessarily involved in that situation.

Here’s a case in point: If an artwork has references to a human form, but leaves off chunks of the body that the artist feels were non-essential in that particular depiction, it could be read by the viewer as a logical, comfortable, even beautiful expression which has been purposefully limited by the artist - or as a horribly maimed or decapitated image which is painful to look at.

An artwork is perhaps as much about what it is not, than what it is.

Keith Long
April, 2013

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