Vagueness and ambiguity

To talk about voiding the subject and art as nature is fascinating to me, and maybe to others, but it’s also probably too general, too abstract. All kinds of uninteresting work could qualify. As an artist I’m a pragmatist, not a theorist; I want to know what will give me the right results. This blog has been pretty concrete; the discussions about the grid, line and the series are hardly abstruse or theoretical, and I’m glad about that, but want to make another attack, from another direction.

If, as I believe, abstract art is built around a negation of meaning, it’s important to understand how meaning is restored. For a lot of abstract painting at least, meaning returns as ambiguity and suggestiveness. I’m thinking about painterly abstraction, with brushstrokes, oil paint and all that. I see a lot of painting that is something like poetry, if the patches, brushstrokes and lines are seen as words. The artist wants them to signify as much as possible, without signifying anything in particular. It’s hard not to be seduced when the work is technically accomplished, because one’s imagination is activated. But I don’t want the empty space of abstraction to be filled with “could be this, could be that.” I don’t want infinite suggestiveness. I want clarity that takes us straight to the lack of meaning.

Plenty of art does exactly this with geometry—minimalism and so on, but that’s not an option either. The elimination of shapes, or of figure/ground, is too conventional now, and meaning is restored too quickly, usually a social meaning. In my view, all social meanings are ultimately the same meaning.

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