A Necessary Evil…


My approach to Art is somewhat unorthodox and contradictory.

Traditionally a visual entity – accessible through the eyes, the visual appearance is of course very important. Art has always been, despite the best efforts of many visionaries along the way,

concerned with the aesthetic. Regardless of medium or technique, the emphasis, and indeed success of a piece of Art is assessed and quantified by the final piece – the object or artefact.

“Art is a related not an isolated phenomena of our times, or of any times.” Nancy Wilson Ross 1939

Art, as Nancy Wilson Ross reminds us, is a product of its time. It is shaped and moulded by the environment in which it is created, and reflects its times.


Detail: studio wall 2011

The article ‘Viewpoint: How creativity is helped by failure’, discusses how the world in which we live today fails to acknowledge, and neglects the creative journey. Instead, all the focus and emphasis is placed upon the final product – The pristinely painted portrait by Rubens in the National Gallery; the revolutionary vacuum cleaner by Richard Dyson; or Pixar’s stunning new blockbuster.


This oversight of the creative process runs much deeper than just contemporary society however. It has even shaped the stories we tell our children of moments of profound creativity and wisdom:

“We think of Archimedes shouting “eureka” or Newton being hit on the head by the apple and instantaneously inventing the theory of gravity”

For more on this see: ‘Permission to Fail’

Moving past the decorative. 

In 1950’s New York the critic Clement Greenberg wrote of Abstract Art: – an art moving beyond a purely aesthetic appeal to an art representing the formal qualities of its medium. And Conceptualism of the 1960’s and 70’s promoted an art more concerned with ‘concept’, rather than the material object.


Live Art: Dialogues

The end product or ‘object’, has always been a necessary evil in my work. What has always been the most important and interesting aspect is the overlooked transient process of creativity. The elusive phase or ‘grey zone’ between conception and realization – between picking up a paint-brush and art as object.

A piece of Art encompasses far more than just its material existence. ‘Creativity is a journey that involves taking wrong turns along the way’. It is a process of discovery and a balance of risk and return. The fulfilment factor for artists very rarely comes from the material object, rather the journey and process it took to achieve it. If ‘perfection’ was achieved through a final painting most artists would hang up their brushes there and then.


Detail: paint splattered wooden stool top.

A  number of years ago I began to inhabit an old office space which would act as my studio for the coming two years. Having previously been used as office space, the walls were pristinely finished in brilliant white, acting as a fresh clean canvas on which to work. Over time the walls began to accumulate multiple layers of paint splatters, drips, torn paper and tape. Every drip, flick, stroke, scratch, rub, tear and rip offering a physical trace of the act of painting.

Working upon the wall, (using the wall as my easel or support) created a dialogue between the painting and the environment in which it was pal2created. The wall would take on the role of a palette of marks and colours from which to respond, and equally became as much the painting as the actual object on which I was working.

The creative process is such that few ‘Art works’ can adequately encompass or replicate the fleeting creative process in object form. Live Art performances of ‘the artist at work’ offer literal solutions, but pose more than a passing resemblance to a performing Monkey at a 1960’s circus. Exhibiting a palette – the artist’s tools of the trade come closest to adequately representing the creative process with any accuracy and success, but still lacks a certain imaginative credibility.

The forefather of modern art, and indeed art as we know it today – Marcel Duchamp, once defiantly announced;

‘I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists…’

Perhaps we’ve been searching in the wrong place all along… perhaps the answer lies not in the galleries, but in our studios.

Viewpoint: How creativity is helped by failure

2 thoughts on “A Necessary Evil…

  1. Pingback: Permission to fail | improvisation-sound-drawing:adamblackburn

  2. I have recently stumbled upon a quote from the free improvisational guitarist, Derek Bailey that very eloquently sums up the ‘necessary evil’ in my work;

    “In so far as I listen with interest to a record, it’s usually to figure out how it was arrived at. The musical end product is where interest starts to flag. It’s a bit like jigsaw puzzles. Emptied out of the box, there’s a heap of pieces, all shapes, sizes and colours, in themselves attractive and could add up to anything–intriguing. Figuring out how to put them together can be interesting, but what you finish up with as often as not is a picture of unsurpassed banality. Music’s like that.”

    Derek Bailey, Derek Bailey and the story of free improvisation, 2004


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s