This has given me food for thought:
“Marcel Duchamp called this discrepancy between what you think you’re making and what you end up with as ‘the art coefficient’. It works something like this: an artist sets out to make a piece of work. Due to difficulty, clumsiness, budgets, lack of time, budget restrictions etc., it doesn’t quite come out quite as planned. That gap, between what was planned and what happened, is where the art coefficient works, which is another way of saying that it’s there that art happens. The point to take from this isn’t that the artist gives up control, but that the artist must be working for anything to happen.”
I do take the point about hard graft, but I am still interested in that idea of the art coefficient.
I often hear people discussing their art saying dismissively, ‘It’s OK, but it’s not quite what I had in mind’, when those around them love the outcome. I am sure I’ve said it myself.
Duchamp’s contention was that it is exactly in this space between ambition and execution that true art happens. I am not convinced that that is absolutely true, but certainly a degree of letting go and allowing happenstance can be rewarded with great outcomes. Some types of printmaking are very, very controlled and exact, for instance etching, and all the letting go happened right at the beginning of the process, the drawing, if at all.
Art critics and historians are always talking about the artist’s intention. I wonder how often the artist would say,’ actually that wasn’t quite what I had in mind’.
It is natural for us to be dissatisfied; it’s a human characteristic to want to strive for more/better. When we have just made a work, all we can see are the areas we are dissatisfied with, and not the work as a whole. We lack objectivity about our own work. So often it is put in the back of a cupboard, only to be brought out at a later time when we think, ‘Actually, that’s better than I thought, I quite like it now.’
I think this is why it is sometimes so difficult to tell if a work is finished, especially something one can fiddle with like a pastel. If I find myself fiddling, then I tell myself its finished.
This doesn’t really apply to printmaking, but I still find it difficult to know when to stop; when I have taken an idea as far as I can at present. You can have an initial design and an idea of the technique you want to use to exploit it, but in the end, the design, technique or printing process will drive you in it’s own direction. I find myself thinking, how about if I do that in a different order, different colours, different tonal emphasis, scale. It is great to experiment but hard to know when you’ve reached a resolution. At the end of the day, I can produce lots of prints, none as I envisaged, some of which are perhaps OK, none that thrill me or are to a professional standard. I know that’s OK, but do you press on with that idea or throw in the towel and move on?
At the end of the day, there is, of course, no answer. We can only graft away, strive towards what pleases us and not beat ourselves up too much if we’re not a master.
” ‘Work then, without disputing,’ said Martin, ‘it is the only way to render life supportable’.” Candide, Voltaire