Little pieces fit together

For reasons that there is no point going into I have been doing a jigsaw puzzle; suffice to say it does have something to do with my work, but it cuts into both blogging and painting time. Actually, I worked with some jigsaw puzzles a few years ago, in my “conceptual art” period. I finished the puzzles and then removed pieces to make a shape which had some relation to the image fragments. The hard thing is to make a curve.

Robert Linsley, untitled 2001

At that time I was glad to do them because I liked the anguish of wasted time. Any artist would be glad to waste time as a rebuke to the notion that time can be “spent” usefully. I refer readers to Chekhov’s story “Rothschild’s Fiddle” to get a good perspective on the modern sickness that values and measures time. Anyway, today I have less anguish but feel the process is more debilitating than before, but like any conceptualist just keep my eyes on the goal. (A true conceptual artist would hire someone else to perform the tedious empty work of doing the puzzle, and just crop, which is the fun part.) But this time around I’ve been reflecting that a jigsaw puzzle is a grid. And further, that there is a jigsaw puzzle element in modernist abstraction; cubism is a kind of puzzle of small interlocking parts. James Elkins wrote a book called “Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles?” I assumed that he was talking about the attitudes of art history, but in fact he also had something more concrete in mind, close to Dario Gamboni’s ideas about potential or hidden images. In any case, I see now that if a puzzle has few pieces, one can solve it by tracing the large patterns; if it has many pieces then many of them will look alike, so one tends to just try the fit. Random trial and error does the job eventually, so the more complex the puzzle, the less sophisticated the mental faculties it draws on. And that makes me ponder the fact that our current society tends to favor the lesser faculties. We are trained for dumb tasks, like jigsaw puzzles—say writing computer code for example, which also involves a lot of trial and error. In fact computer code is a linear narrative, so it requires very little pattern recognition, or ability to intuit, visualize or imagine. Today we have a very debased idea of intelligence, and as Jaron Lanier would observe, we are encouraged and rewarded to become as dumb as our machines. I want to get the jigsaw puzzle out of abstraction, but the color field is not the only way. I also love complex organic form, with many inter-articulated parts that assemble themselves in a single breath.

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