Last autumn during the week of my son’s wedding on the East Coast, I had the opportunity to see Rothko to Richter: Mark-Making in Abstract Painting at the Princeton Art Museum. In the exhibit book are statements by two artists about their intentions for the art they created:
Karel Appel (1921-2006): “We live always in tremendous chaos, and who can make chaos positive anymore? Only the artist.”
Karel Appel: Dance in Space Before the Storm
Paul Jenkins (1923-2012): “The role of the artist is to serve as conduit, or ‘medium’, through which memories, emotions and experiences pass directly onto the canvas.”
Like other Abstract Expressionists, Appel and Jenkins were influenced by the massive cultural, political and technological changes following World War II. Today’s artists, too, respond to the pulse of the times in which we live. At exhibits of contemporary artists from around the world I often find similar themes reflected in the art. Forms are incomplete. Shapes dissolve. Layers of complexity are punctuated with random lines and scratches. All these seem to suggest the fragmentation and uncertainty of our globally-connected Digital Age.
Artists are always engaged in a search for meaning about the world around us. Those who experience our art know when the art is good, for it resonates. Others can see and feel something of their own lives in the art.
For me, the role of artist as “medium” is both challenging and deeply rewarding. I begin a painting to explore some undefined question, some feeling I don’t yet understand. Eventually, the painting reaches a “There, that’s it!“ point where both question and answer are present. It says what I wanted to say and communicates what I felt. Later, when the painting resonates for another person, I realize I was not alone in this exploration. For a brief moment in time my art connects us and, together, we make some sense of our world.