Untitled -related to

The distinction between intentional object and natural object could appear as a reference to a specific act as constitutive of its mode of being, i.e. intentional object is man made.

altamira-painting-1credit Ramessos

Paleolithic painting, Altamira

However, artist’s intention is not like a decision,  it is akin  to a multitude of possibilities  operating at the same time, not in any order, rather chaotically.    As I write, I read  in a current email an interesting parallel to it.

Gott ist ein Mathematiker

Kader Attia  proposes the obvious: that in all existence, including art,   not all can be understood and explained, while the known and unknown converge  into one.

Music’s structure can indeed be explained with mathematics, but what cannot be explained is the irrational origin of the urge that triggers the process through which it will move in a certain direction and then renew itself indefinitely.

(accessed on  http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/texts/the-loop/

How this convergence happens is endlessly fascinating.  One of the happy descriptions offered by Gould avoids a mention of chaos:

‘Little quirks at the outset, occurring for no particular reason, unleash cascades of consequences that make a particular future seem inevitable in retrospect,’ he wrote. ‘But the slightest early nudge contacts a different groove, and history veers into another plausible channel, diverging continually from its original pathway.(Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989)).

The final state appears inevitable, the pathway to it are  choices of plausible divergence from or convergence with  the initial intention. Once a painting is finished it is intended.

This “intention of the painting”   terminates the constitutive process the artist iniciated, and opens one for the viewers, whose viewing  introduces another intentional act, appropriate to any interpretation.When asked how viewers should relate to his work,  M Heizer replied:

“You don’t have to relate to it. It’s not a requirement. All you have to do is just be there. It doesn’t matter what you think when you see it. The point is, it’s work of an artist. I’m an artist. That’s my business. That’s what I do all the time. So, what you’re looking at is a work of art. You’ve got to understand that a lot of my thinking is based on preliterate societies. I’m very conscious of the preliterate tradition. So, when you talk about relating to my work . . . well, how do you relate to Maya or Egyptian pyramids?”(see http://www.artnews.com/2015/06/26/theres-no-understanding-of-my-work-michael-heizer-on-his-monumental-art-in-1977)


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levitated_Mass Levitated Mass is a 2012 large-scale sculpture by Michael Heizer on the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


All you have to do is just to be there….

Does Heizer admits the visual power as  stronger than a conscious attention?

Among the supporting theories I  recall those of V Shklovskij,  O. Hostinsky and J. Mukarovsky.

Viktor Shklovskij (1893-1984)  conceived  a work of art as a collection of stylistic and formal devices that force the reader to view the world afresh by presenting old ideas or mundane experiences in new, unusual ways. He coined the term    ostranenie, or “making it strange” as a trigger for aesthetic experience.

.The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. (Shklovskij, Art as Device, 16)….we find everywhere the artistic trademark – that is, we find material obviously created to remove the automatism of perception; the author’s purpose is to create the vision which results from that deautomatized perception. A work is created “artistically” so that its perception is impeded and the greatest possible effect is produced through the slowness of the perception. (Shklovskij, op.cit 19)

In other words foregrounding is a key  the artist offers to  achieve impeded perception, which is worse having.  A constant shuttling between what is there and what is emerging as diverging from it implies shifts, slippages, and  fluency, position the meaning to Bergson’s becoming.  

Shklovskij posits artist’s intention as permeating (determining?) the intention of the intended work and of intended perception.  The process allows for both convergence of the three or  divergence. There is no one pattern, even if asking “what does the artist mean, what does it mean” is ubiquitous.

  Otakar Hostinsky (1847 – 1910)  zooms on experience as a ground for aesthetic judgement, which in turn evokes again the notion of slow perception as a protection against arrogance:  „Proto buďme shovívaví a snášenliví, nezatracujme, co známe jen povrchně, nechme nejprve až do posledního slova domluviti toho, koho souditi chceme.“(  Let us be patient and tolerant, let us not condemn what we know only  superficially, let   first speak without interrupting  that which we wish to judge.(O.Hostinsky, O Umeni, Praha, 1956:121)  Art and experience of art have their sources  in life  and play . Amusingly, he mentions fleetingly boredom as  another source.  All  three are presented as powers to create an independent world  according to the laws and taste of the maker. ( Otakar Hostinský a jeho odkaz pedagogice. Ed. Hana Schneiderová. Praha: Státní pedagogické nakladatelství, 1986, s. 131.) The salient point in Hostinsky’s thinking is privileging the ordinary life’s needs and a veiled invitation to play.  For him. aetshetics in its narrower concept deals with theories of art, in its wider  concept it embraces, nature, work, objects, feelings and relationships.   (Spousta, V. Krása, umění a výchova. Brno: Masarykova univerzita, 1995, s. 31-35)

In 1936 Jan Mukarovsky   cleverly defined the aesthetic function as transparent, capable of containing  religious, biological, social, political  meanings or be disinterested. Which of those the aesthetic function will turn into depends on convergence with the viewer’s world  view, convergence that appears as aesthetic judgement. 


A. Ghenie’s series of numerous  Pie Fight Studies  foregrounds the event when the pie hits the target, all are three quarters male bust,  mostly in a business attire, suit, shirt and a tie.  It is a formulaic painting.

This small composition is made up of an abstract distant stain on the left, man’s head and shoulder and gesturally painted dark ground with blobs of red,  blue, white and siena at the top of dark modulated ground. Perhaps it is a  a wall… 

Ghenie Pie image full11358792_10153030959391559_955726101_n

A Ghenie, Pie Fight Study IV, 2008, oil on canvas, Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp



The eclectic formula evokes both Baroque and Modernism.  It feels like a lens based shot painted around and over.  It resonates with old art in placing its highest pale light on the intersection of two golden sections.  The en-face turns towards the left edge of the canvas receiving light from a source  outside the lower left frame.  The difference in tonality on the face and the hand is both measurable and – irrational, even if the hues are related. The cold,  still, evenly spread light powders the hand  in dead greyish white – more flour or gypsum, than  custard.His hand is not marked by manual labour

Dark – brown/black  jacket and hair dutifully  define a man who cares about appearance. .  The shirt’s cuff is a sliver of class.  He appears well fed and cared for.  He may be a businessman, perhaps an art dealer, or an art critic? It may be a self-portrait.  It may be an appropriated  anonymous image.   Ghenie rules out the clear identification.   Consequently, viewing is free to  approximate someone  similar yet different…   It is not a gift of freedom, it is a gift of uncertainty and a game.  If the identity of the man is not central to the meaning of the pie fight  – what is?   Reluctance to identify the target?  If not who, what is the target?  Anxiety about cultural borrowing? Generosity to the viewer to supply target of own choice?  I seek an answer in the painting, in its materiality.

The way the image stretches  between “the brown source” of the Baroque  images of saints and the modernist abstraction , pivoting on golden sections with the light source coming from  below and beneath the frame, i.e. from the viewer’s space,  that way is a collection of devices  inherited from the history  of Western painting.   Supporting the shift of subject matter from  an event to how it is visible, how it is painted, the brushstrokes that cover the face  are placed so ,that the eyes, organ of sight, are invisible.  Covered.  The hand is rendered impotent.   The character of the wide pastose brushstrokes aligns  the image to a well known style- Western abstract expressionism.  It works as an admission that Ghenie   knows  and trusts  the technique Modernism evolved.  In other series Ghenie would promote a different Modernist tradition, e.g.  high key palette and light brushstrokes.

The dedication to the intention to proof his identity as a painter is even more pronounced in those pie fights where he erases not just the eyes, but the whole face.  Whereas, the clean shirt, tie and brown jacket, as signs of social characteristics,   are clearly  visible.


Ghenie Pie images...empty

A Ghenie, pie Fight Study VIII, 2009, oil and acrylic on canvas, Pace Gallery ,London


Ghenie’s painting would easily invite a comment similar to this:

Paints and scrapes, paints and scrapes to get something right, the something that is not there at the outset but reveals itself slowly, and then completely, having traveled an arduous route during which vision and image come together, for a while, until dissatisfaction sets in, and the painting and scraping begin again. But what is it that determines the success of the final work? The coincidence of vision—his idea, vague at first, of what the painting might be—and the brute fact of the subject, its plain obdurate existence, just “out there” with an absolutely insular existence. (From the  essay by Mark Strand was originally written for The New York Review of Books as a review of the exhibition of Edward Hopper’s drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2013. It was found as a handwritten text in his notebook after he died in November 2014 and transcribed by his literary executor, Mary Jo Salter.)


Ghenie  reminds me of  Richard Strauss,  who in  Ein Heldenleben(1898) singled out notes standing for the initials of the name of a hated  critic  in  particular disrespectful intervals of dissonance.  Ghenie denies his “sitters” for a portrait to be portrayed –  in a  significant dissonance between verbal intention and visual  finish.  Instead, he positions his  harvesting of  painterly  mastery of his predecessors  as a subject. In doing so – he makes portrait as a category strangely empty( i.e. de-familiairization) and  plays with  ways recognised painters of 20th C worked  (thus asking me to tolerate appropriations as his own).

A quote atributed to R Motherwell comes to mind:

Every intelligent painter carries the whole culture of modern painting in his head. It is his real subject, of which everything he paints in both an homage and a critique, and everything he says is a gloss.”



A very different de-familiarization is offered by Robert  Motherwell.  By chance I found two of his works that communicate  how artist’s intention  may be a  memory of another    intention. The link is visual.

Motherwell Studio

R Motherwell, The Studio, 1987

Motherwell Black

Robert Motherwell,Untitled, 1979

Not quite a whole decade apart – the similarities between a  melodic quick black drawing  and the confidently incorrect  painting of a studio  point to shared intention.  It being the most abstract remembrance of objects that belong to a  space, which in turn is defined by its  prescribed purpose, a space to paint (the stretched rectangle on a sturdy easel ) or  watch the print coming through ( head hovering over the press table) – or  developing  photographs under a strangely shaped lamp….

Shklovskij ostranenie  is visible as a difference inside  similarity, or vice  versa.  Motherwell increases uncertainty, and thus impedes the perception.  The reward is a delicious clash between the first impression – of magic that begins to animate, playfully to  evoke associations and memories- and the sincere admission of not knowing ….The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known (Shklovskij cited above comes to mind)

Those wiggly animal – like creatures on the left of each composition have the confidence of the invented nature.  Undoubtedly they exist  – but in which/whose world?  I trespass into it under  dionysian intoxication my perception/ imagination imposes on the fluent images.


What if the relationship between optical/visible/imagined  is mediated by a lens?

The two photographs below  present  artist’s intention as a controlled process. Tony  Hill  is both  inside and outside the image. He is its first viewer before it even exists and  immediately after it exists. The possible later cropping is an open chance of shifting the intention to join the artist’s response as the first viewer.


2, Tony Hill, Stick and Hill, County Donegal,2012,Inkjet   300dpi

2, Tony Hill, Stick and Hill, County Donegal,2012,Inkjet


Hostinsky would approve Hill’s obvious respect for and  faithfulness to truth –  to ordinary life, as well as the play of the incongruence between the majestic land  and  the banal  hand holding a found dry stick. Held by a hand the stick is small. Projected under a horizon it takes on the size of the landscape.   The play between the two never abandons truth, while effortlessly approves a beautiful lie.

1, Tony HillStick and Cliff, County Donegal, 2012,  Inkjet

Tony Hill, Stick and Cliff, County Donegal, 2012, Inkjet

The craving for that which is outside our ability  to measure is appeased by  the imperfection of nature  perceived as its beauty.    Hill rejects  that kind of rivalry and seemingly repeats Poe’s ” all that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream”…. An intrepid opponent of any  art orthodoxy  Hill crowns intuition as the moment to act. In a stark negation of Poe’s flight from the ugliness of commonplace, he presents   ordinary world as  poesis.  Not as a superb extreme of Modernism, rather as humble acceptance of elusive favour  of the lived moment. Above all, I perceive the  silence of these two images as exceptional gift. Absence of words.  The inappropriate tool of measuring a distance de-familiarises the subject matter,  allowing it to become transparent.  Easily interpreted as worship, child like play, dadaist humour or dream like state of mind , the image  offers the same place to the artist and a viewer. That displacement unleashes a  cascade of particular implications  – perceived now as  inevitable.

Ghenie’ art  subscribes to a hierarchy  with the artist’s intention above the other two.  Motherwell trusts the prominent image, Hill  weaves  a trap  to catch the elusive  viewer’s intentions. (Echo of the reason why Joseph makes a mousetrap visible on a right wing of the Merode Altarpiece by Robert Campin)


Tony Hill’s photographs courtesy of the artist.


About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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