One difference between literary narrative and that of the visual arts lies in literature's disambiguative function and its ability to formulate and engage patterns of emotion common to conflict and resolution, (or discord and harmony) which usually arrived at some form of resolution. Visual art relies on quick emotive response from the viewer based on visual and formal narrative constructions which are held in an arrested position (a permanent moment in time). The strength of visual art is its ability to maintain ambiguity or complexity, which is a directly experiential situation.
The development of tension in literature which contributes to a wider array of empathetic possibilities is sequential ordering of narrative turns, whereas in the visual arts such as painting tension either results from indications of struggle evident in the works' execution (providing a sense of temporal development) or in the manner with which the technical or formal means coalesce with or express narrative and emotional complexity. Its strength is in the encoding of an emotional core which can be grasped immediately.
My experiences in Sackville this summer have underlined and activated my concern not only with landscape painting through a revisit of a region with which I have had an early history and which I find envigorating, but as well a concern for the aesthetic function of art, and its referential qualities.
Alex Colville died this summer, and the experience of being in situ of his formation has caused me to reexamine the narrative and formal construction of emotive expression in his work. As well I have been working with Virgil Hammock on a project involving the production of a portrait, and attendant observations on the artistic process are being posted on Virgils' blog. virgilhammock.com The experience of painting and discussion is leading me to examine the nature of painting as an object of active contemplation.
There is no single mythical characterization of a muse for the visual arts. There is a suggestion that artists were perceived as quite lowly practitioners somewhere below plumbers. The effects of the lack of this source of divine intervention and relegation to lower class status still smarts, leading to all kinds of compensatory behaviour. But from a more Jungian perspective often artists find a muse in the synthesis of anima and animus through the intervention and influence of the signifigant other, leading to the personification of the muse as typically female. Consider though the effect Leigh Bowery (a male dancer)on the painting of Lucien Freud. Freud's engagement with the sexual and physical aspects of Leigh's character found forceful resolution in the depiction of flesh which transcended stereotypical rules of gender engagement and transformed into pure art. In the work of Colville we see a more deliberate construction of narrative through formal means in order to present highly personal emotive constructions which find their power through the tightness of the artists' control of the abstract elements of representation. There is the sense of the work being not responsive but deliberate descriptions of his life.
The muse then is inspiration, and can be idea driven or responsive. Visual art is referential, and the strength of its connection to the referent (subject; statement) lies in its formal aesthetics as well as the intentionality and presence of the artists' experience. The manifestation of skill is perceived either consciously or implicitly, and is the ingredient which tacitly links to well established standards of beauty even highly challenging or seemingly chaotic invention.
The problem as I see it is when the artwork loses the strength of its position as an object in its own right and serves merely as a point of reference to an argument which is best conducted elsewhere.
Sackville, August 20th