I got around to the November gallery shows on the last Saturday of the month. As I walked into Chris Rauschenberg’s exhibition of pictures from Macedonia at Nine Gallery the first image I saw was this one:
And I wondered why I like seeing stuff like this. (BTW, Chris is a good friend of mine and I’ve been seeing his “stuff like this” for about 35 years.)
I thought of a couple of my favorite quotes from John Cage:
Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look.
The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.
But noticing something for oneself is not what art is. Art is about telling someone else about it in a way that gets their attention. And that was what I thought as I looked at Chris’s picture. I realized that it is about framing. But not just in the way that the open door and the wall “frame” the stack of tires—I’m thinking of framing in terms of what all is included with the thing that you found interesting. After all, Chris could have poked his lens all the way through the open doorway and given us just a shot of just the stack of tires (and maybe he did that, too, but he didn’t show that one). He gives us a peek, not a monument in close up.
And the framing is also where the outer rectangle is—is the thing big or small, the center of the pic or out at the edge? How do we, as the viewer, confront the thing?
And are the other items in the artwork clutter, or foils? The rightly chosen words, the exactitude of musical notes, etc.—not just in visual art—the main idea and the “framing” around it.
How does the artist tell us about it?
But all that, after a lot of practice, becomes instinct…
The master said, “If you want to see, see right at once. When you begin to think, you miss the point.” (Zen and Japanese Culture, Daisetz T. Suzuki, Princeton University Press, 1971.)
Composition must occur in an instant, like a woodcutter felling a huge tree, or a swordsman leaping at his enemy. It is also like cutting a ripe watermelon with a sharp knife or taking a large bite at a pear. (Matsuo Basho in The Essential Haiku, Robert Hass, Harper Collins, 1994.)
And Chris’s picture made me think of haiku like these little observations:
Coming along the mountain path,
I am somehow mysteriously moved
by these violets.
a worm digs silently
into the chestnut.
It would melt
in my hand—
the autumn frost.
and by Yosa Buson…
spattered with the droppings
of a hawk.
Everyday stuff for those haiku poets, like a stack of tires (even in Macedonia) is for Chris. And if you find pleasure in a stack of tires in one of Chris’s photos, you might find incidents like that in everyday life pleasurable. That’s a cool thing for art to do.
It seems that the main focus of painting is to give pleasure: if someone can receive pleasure from looking at paintings, then that’s the best thing that can happen. Robert Ryman