Possibly Annoying Details

Straight lines that form geometric shapes always imply some kind of consistent order. It might have something to do with buildings, because walls that don’t meet at ninety degrees, or don’t quite meet at all, seem awkward, even though there are well designed buildings that have those kind of things. Funny little bump outs or patches that fill inconsistencies in the design can have a vernacular charm, but usually they’re just interruptions in what should be a logical movement—or in what we normally feel should be a logical movement from beginning to end of the object. But it’s not wise to approach art with the same expectation.

Frank Stella, Dawidgrodek II, 1971

Frank Stella, Dawidgrodek II, 1971

Take for example one of Stella’s Polish Village series. The fact that the large red hockey stick shape has no parallel edges is not really that remarkable—that’s how Stella can get twisted planes and hints of perspective, familiar since the Irregular Polygons. The divergences are obvious because the shape is quite large, but smaller, more subtle irregularities are more thought provoking. The left vertical edge of the left hand green bar at the bottom lines up with the right vertical edge of the blue bar above it—but not quite. It’s a close thing, but not a hundred per cent. There is some kind of logic to a line up like that, and at a quick glance we might assume that the piece is built around such correspondences. But there is no other even approximate connection between the blue and green bars. In fact the left hand edge of the lower section of the right hand green bar is not even parallel to any of the edges of the blue bars. In fact the top edges of the blades of the two blue hockey sticks on the right are not lined up with each other or even parallel to the red edge. 

These are small details, and they take some time to register. You can’t see them unless you make an effort and use a straight edge. So do they matter? Yes, in direct proportion as the assumption of internal consistency comes easily to mind. That’s the viewer’s share, but for the artist even more important is the fact that’s much easier to construct a consistently logical and integrated whole than to manage a host of particulars. But an art work should be a set of peculiar particulars and they don’t need to depend on each other. Why does the bottom edge of the left hand green bar stop where it does? Because it does.

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One Response to Possibly Annoying Details

  1. darin eaton says:

    Wow, this is a brilliant insight, and reminds me of – or even illustrates – G. Agamben’s concept of the example.

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