On art -N- laws

Posted by on Jan 24, 2009 in Laws


I want to externalize some thoughts that have been developing through reading interviews and having conversations on this here lil’ blog and reflecting on daily activities, teaching, artmaking, world events, and reading.

I suspect that there is a strong desire among most, if not all, of us to be involved in all the activities that give our lives meaning, make us “whole”, and also have them smoothly fit together like a puzzle. Bliss is our “selves” and events in our lives existing as an integrated, harmonized, and collaborative unit. To put it more precisely, for me, that bliss is the mesh of my time with family and friends, working and thinking, teaching, exercising, learning, failing, wasting, winning, loving, asking, talking, writing,  touching and seeing.

Now, such coordination would seem impossible. How could one construct a life that operates in this way? I mean, life is too random, there are too many surprises and obstacles that tread on our desires and goals for happiness. And, even when such states are realized, we understand it is brief and anxiously wait for and worry about that “snag”.

What I have just worked out is sort of a broad realization, I do want to bring this into a discussion about art and laws.

In our highly individualized society, we rely heavily on self-regulation. Of course there are established mores and written codes that we may choose or not to abide by. But we certainly develop personal precepts that may evolve over time, but are certainly born out of and used for the benefit of establishing a happy life.

So, I am considering that work and life are really the same thing. Both inform each other and are responsible for the “form” of each other. I have a suspicion that there is ALWAYS a coordination between the two. They are like Astaire and Rodgers, all we need to do is perceive it to be so.

So, reflecting on my personal, mutating “rules” that I apply to my work (and, this is important, do not necessarily apply to others’), I would begin with the idea I just described: my work should never ultimately damage my life or others’ lives. Even though my work can influence my life, the majority of the influence needs to be in reverse.

Also, since my life generates work, the work should reflect the changeableness of life by never resting in one place for too long. This requires openness, and courage to enter unknown territories.  Any thing can initiate any action with can result in any form. There are certainly temporary motivations that may require focus and self-regulating methods to reach an undetermined goal, but these methods or “rules’ cannot stay immobile, one system of method (like one work) leads to another, different one. This is true for anyone who is aware, adaptive to circumstance, and generally curious.

And, finally, to actually do all that requires some fearlessness (which is also something that alternates), to be willing to absolutely fail, look like an dumbass,  an idiot, deal with personal anxiety about the precariousness and unformed-ness of some result or process,  to acually not know what you are doing (actually BE an idiot). The uncertainty is what allows for the coordination of working and living.

Okay, I am going to stop here since I dont want to confuse myself into a “certainty” about everything I just layed out!



  1. valuistics
    January 24, 2009

    Mark, et. al:

    No truer words were ever spoken here. The subject of Art Laws makes for necessary discussions, it’s true. But if art were about adherence to laws I would have gone into something else. Art reflects and effects the way you see the world,( and by extension your life, your place on the planet, etc. ) If you continue engaging in the creation of art, then you are bound to change and refine your thinking along your way.

    This is the poet’s journey, like Dante’s journey. It may take one down into the pit of despair and up the mountain of redemption and into the unknowable, unreckonable, cosmos beyond. You may never have known these things if you had stayed in the woods of contradiction and grief.

  2. byron king
    January 25, 2009

    I see no contradiction with what Mark and James just said and any of the laws stated. No one counted out changing one’s viewpoint are living in a constant state of flux. Regardless of this there are still underlying truths that we all work with I believe. They can be defined.

    I was thinking about this tonight and thought about the Declaration of Independence. The second paragraph has real power. And the first line of it specifically:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    How can our founding fathers agree on that without a doubt in their minds that these were truths we should all live by and us educated passionate creative artists, can’t agree on anything?


  3. valuistics
    January 25, 2009

    The subject of Art Laws makes for necessary discussions. But I’m not sure if, from my present perspective, I am in any position to judge any laws. And if I was, why should my perspective matter? That is the burden of history. The ghost of Christmas future will judge us. The best we can do is to deepen our knowledge and experience and produce work that matters to us. What laws, what self-evident truths our work reveals is not up to us to decide.

    The subject of Art Laws makes for necessary discussions. As always, the answers to the question have yet to emerge.

  4. Akbar Lightning
    January 25, 2009

    nobody enforces gravity.

    there are artificial laws, and natural laws.

    the study of philosophy is a search for underlying causes, underlying truths. certain types of people engage in such searches for meaning. there have been many artists who felt that it was part of the artistic lifestyle to have a conscious relationship with such existential matters. those are the artists I value.

    in agreement to byron, the founding fathers did not wait on the ghost of christmas future, they ‘held’ the truths to be self-evident. they made an expression, in order to reflect some shit they were feeling in order to create some much needed divisions.

    the search for underlying causes is a valuable search, and those on this blog who are perceiving that these laws are meant to be enforced, that they are anything but an invitation to the search, are mistaken.

    in mark’s statement above, there seems to be a lot of certainty in it, which i’m fine with, but it is a paradox. when he says – “my work should never ultimately damage my life or others’ lives.” that is a moral restraint that demands consciousness, and therefore puts him into direct agreement with the principles we have discussed.

    it seems there is a division between those who wish to discuss the meaning and purpose of art, and those who would rather remain in the doing of it. and that is a discussion i would be happy to engage in, personally, i find the discussion aids in the doing.

    again, just responding…

    akbar lizightning!!!

  5. valuistics
    January 25, 2009

    “The search for underlying causes is a valuable search.”
    “The subject of Art Laws makes for necessary discussions.”

    We will always be searching, but the underlying causes that we seek to nail down are fluid, always moving. They are linked to our own personal experiences, the culture in which we live, our dreams, etc. Those things are changing. Coming up with a unifying theory of everything is like nailing Jello to the wall- once you think you’ve got it, you don’t.

    If I am writing a Hammurabi’s Code or Declaration of Independence, it is one for myself. I want a social life, but I am not building a state, party , junta, faction, army or gang. I am not interested in governing the conduct of anyone. The search for truth is universal, at the core of the human enterprise. I’m not sure we were ever intended to be the stewards of absolute Truth. This is why I find religion to be off-putting. A human believing he has conquered the truth is sure to be missing something in the translation. The “truth” here has been shot, preserved, stuffed, mounted and hung in the game room. The Law becomes a taxidermied version of the natural creature it was before: wild, elusive, alive, luminous.

    We may theorize all we want and hold our own truths to be self evident, as they are important to our own work. One doesn’t need to wait until the future for that truth to be judged, of course. We are capable of critically thinking now, but that more often means delving into the gray woods of understanding, being open to the experience, and divining some meaning from it. I can’t do that by establishing an orthodoxy or etching a series of declarative statements in some stone tablets for others to recognize. That is something else entirely.

    Hunting for this truth is a valuable outing. Get together with people you like and respect, shoot some guns, drink some beers, ride some ATVs, tell some stories, tell some jokes. We’re all individuals but on this quest we are together on a collective search. All I know is that the search is true. That’s what I mean in stating that this discussion is necessary. But once you kill and present the sasquatch himself, the journey is over, the mystery is gone, the article is dead, and the truth has again escaped us.

  6. markcreegan
    January 25, 2009

    This is good-N-interesting.

    the search for underlying causes is a valuable search, and those on this blog who are perceiving that these laws are meant to be enforced, that they are anything but an invitation to the search, are mistaken.

    Yes, and I hope that this post is seen as an answer to that invitation, even though the previous “Globatron Laws” posts are just a part of went into the morass of my thinking. And I think “underlying” is a crucial term to this discussion, because, to me, that implies a loose, broad structure on which one can arrange a multitude of methods, materials, and means. Contrast that with an “overlying” system that determines the methods, materials, and means, which is not a wrong way to approach creativity, its just not my way. Consciousness is certainly involved in both approaches, the difference being that the former attempts to avoid prejudicial conscious precepts that cut one off from creative energies.

    So yes, Akbar, I think you are correct that I remain in the doing (the process) of art, but I do not think that excludes concern for meaning and purposes on my part. In fact, I think the creative process (the making, thinking, doing) IS the meaning and purpose. I think that if we were to determine an underlying cause, or law, which applies to all creative work, it is simply to be involved in that creative process which all humans share.

    Of course, it is impossible to be COMPLETELY devoid of prejudicial determinants. And that is why I say “my work should never ultimately damage my life or other lives”, like I never want my art practice to negatively affect my marriage for example. So the conscious choice I am making here is that other motivations and desires (to have a family and friends, to teach, to be happy, etc.) determine my approach to art rather than establishing a codified set of art laws that I MUST follow (that other life stuff be damned!), thus also damning my art to the pits of predictability and monotony.

    All that reasoning comes from a reflection on how to make sure my work and my life interact symbiotically- an aspiration more than a reality at this point.

  7. markcreegan
    January 25, 2009

    maybe the ghost of the future judges us on how well we live up to our “self-evident” truths. Like how some of those forefathers owned slaves and all. just sayin’.

  8. valuistics
    January 25, 2009

    Perhaps then my skepticism is less about who has the desire and right to enforce such laws, and more about the usefulness of this argument to me at this time. After using art to define things for a good while, I find I am shifting away to explore its more relevatory capacity. I’m finding that a lot of things I used to hold to be self-evident are slippery, fugitive. The only things that have been constant are personal idiosyncracies.

  9. Akbar Lightning
    January 25, 2009

    once again, we are not trying to define art, we are looking for those elements that are implied when we use the word art.

    when art is created with the intent of sharing with others, we are doing so within a context of a shared structure of meaning. that structural collision can involve conscious entities, or it can be unconscious. in other words, would we like educated viewers or ignorant ones?

    developing an understanding of the principles of language and idea structures that define the phenomena is a way of developing articulation and clarity.

    and more importantly, when artists go through this process together, there is an opportunity for the bonding of community, as a result of developing a shared language, something i argue is lacking in our current cultural structure. artists have been systematically taught to individualize against one another, and to not involve themselves in vulnerable meta-collaborative process. resistance to this is a way of preserving a form of isolation.

    i have no interest in confining the process, rather i think that deep and articulate consciousness liberates the artist to be involved with his/her community of artists and non-artists, and the language opens him/her up to new information, new ideas, outside influence, a true relationship with the world. all of this of course, is happening, but there is a slight value difference between this happening consciously and when the artist chooses to be fully present for the exchange.

    those of you who have been involved in this discussion, even in the strength or your resistance against, must admit that it has allowed for a real vulnerability and confrontation. i think these are healthy and good. and most of you have argued very passionately, that reveals to me, and I feel like i’ve said this a hundred times, very strong belief. those strong beliefs are good, and they come from experience, but some of those instincts are unconscious, and I think it is good to have those things agitated.

    all that to say we are going to keep putting out laws.

    just one more thing, many of you have resisted the idea of putting down laws and we have argued a lot about that, but do you believe that:

    art can be simply aesthetics? (that these are not separate endeavors)
    that art is meaningless?
    that art has no existential aspect?

    if you agree to these ideas, that means we have shared values, and what is wrong with that?


  10. valuistics
    January 25, 2009

    I don’t believe I have anything to add to this. I’m with you all- I understand the whole point about shared values and unconscious underlying causes- collective unconscious, etc. I have been down for discussions like this in the past. I haven’t followed this because it holds no interest for me now. I have a lot of work to make and can’t wait to make it. I trust my audience, educated or ignorant, to get what my art is doing. Maybe the point of writing up laws isn’t to confine creation, but I see it having the potential to do so, even though I agree with what has been laid down so far. I’ve never been a fan of an anti-intellectual approach to understanding art (or one rooted in the idea of aesthetics) nor do I feel that this discussion is too intellectualizing, I think it’s great. I think it is one I’ve had again and again and will keep on having. Right now though I am somewhere else, I’m working out the issues as I go and am trying to take my art into the next realm. I’ll let you know what I find out.

  11. markcreegan
    January 25, 2009

    i agree with those precepts as well. And there is nothing wrong in our highlighting those as a shared language which enhances this “vulnerable meta collaborative” (this blog) process.
    Interestingly, there are several current art collaboratives working like Gelitin and the Flux Constructivists.

    I think it was my fault for getting us off track during the Law #3 discussion, namely the way i interpreted words like “truth” and “cleverness” to be imposing a censorious value system. I have no excuse except to suggest that it may be (and i think this applies to James as well) because I am an educator. Not that it gives me some privileged perspective, I just mean that, as educators, we are constantly in the business of dealing with shared artistic values- those values have been transferred to us and we are continuing that process.

    Because of this, there is both a great feeling of community and continuity and an unease that is hard to describe. Here goes.

    Many art students come to our classes with a highly developed aesthetic that has been learned and shared across the scope of their generation (i.e. manga, animation, video games, etc). Some teachers want to force that stuff out of them in an effort to get them to set their own (yes) individualized values and processes. What CAN happen though is those teachers end up instead just supplanting those values with their own, so a student begins her studies drawing manga and leaving school painting like an abstract expressionist or something. So the pedagogical dilemma for me is to accept THEIR language as a part of THEIR conversation going on in THEIR time, while also getting them to look at a broad spectrum of things and experiences to synergistically create their own language.

    So i feel the assignment and transfer of values becomes a heavy responsibility. Perhaps this colored my responses a bit into considering the effective process of discovering shared values as a way toward dogmatism and homogeneity.

    My bad.

  12. markcreegan
    January 25, 2009

    by the way,i was hoping someone would notice how artfully i held that pencil stick thing! Under the palm just like we learned in school!

  13. Lauren
    January 26, 2009

    Several points that have been brought up here interest me, but I’m going to talk about audience, and whether artists should be concerned with who their audience is.

    I believe that the root problem here is not the audience, but is the exclusivity of the art world as a whole. Art somehow, and not always by fault of the artist, has become something that speaks to the elite yuppies, the uber wealthy, and the highly intelligent. The everyday person has been pushed out of the fine art world and culture. Joe Schmoe doesn’t feel comfortable going into a gallery because he doesn’t know what art means. Art to him is a Thomas Kinkade painting, or a poster of a Monet. He has no idea what art can be, or how he can experience it, and when confronted with “real” art, is baffled. Really though, who can blame him? It seems to me that many artists are trying to make their art so intelligent that no one can understand it, and when asked what it means by a humble layman, they get annoyed or start spouting nonsense. They don’t want to have to explain their work. If they do explain it, they usually exhibit very little passion or excitement about it or they make it more confusing.

    Art does have the potential to give life meaning, because it gives us as human beings the ability to feel that we have created something of value. I don’t think that we as artists should necessarily be concerned with who our audience is because we can’t really control who walks into a gallery and sees art. As such we shouldn’t be making the work either appear to be smarter than it is or dumb it down for people. Like James said, we have to trust the viewer to understand what we are saying. However, I do think we need to be aware that a large percentage of the population has no desire to walk into a gallery at all because of how art has been and is being presented.

    I want to make sure that even if someone doesn’t understand my deepest idea and concept by looking at my work, that they don’t feel like an idiot when they walk away. That they can feel that they had a valuable experience and were able to see something beautiful. Art should be inclusive, not exclusive, and I guess as art “laws” go, this is one that I hold dear and wish more artists would consider.

  14. Akbar Lightning
    January 26, 2009

    to respond to mark:

    that was a beautiful description of the dilemma that art professors face. i think that confrontation might be an interesting way of facing it. in other words, if one has a world view then one can use that to confront the values that an artist is attempting to reflect in the Manga, video games, etc. the stylistic thing does occur in these colleges, and young adults are often too young to understand that the stylistic manipulation, of which i was a victim, is backed up with philosophical consequences. i agree with your method mark, absolutely, to let the students maintain their instincts, and I wonder what is left for the teacher? really, i am not implying that there is nothing, it is a sincere question. what is left? is it simply encouragement, more of a resource role? or is there something more, something called art, is that something that is teachable? you see where this goes…

    in response to Lauren:

    inclusive of what?



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