9/28/09

Sol LeWitt on Emotion and Intellect


From Sol LeWitt's "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" (1968):

New materials are one of the great afflictions of contemporary art. Some artists confuse new materials with new ideas. There is nothing worse than seeing art that wallows in gaudy baubles. By and large most artists who are attracted to these materials are the ones who lack the stringency of mind that would enable them to use the materials well. It takes a good artist to use new materials and make them into a work of art. The danger is, I think, in making the physicality of the materials so important that it becomes the idea of the work (another kind of expressionism).
...
Three-dimensional art of any kind is a physical fact. The physicality is its most obvious and expressive content. Conceptual art is made to engage the mind of the viewer rather than his eye or emotions. The physicality of a three-dimensional object then becomes a contradiction to its non-emotive intent. Color, surface, texture, and shape only emphasize the physical aspects of the work. Anything that calls attention to and interests the viewer in this physicality is a deterrent to our understanding of the idea and is used as an expressive device.
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It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator, and therefore usually he would want it to become emotionally dry. There is no reason to suppose, however, that the conceptual artist is out to bore the viewer. It is only the expectation of an emotional kick, to which one conditioned to expressionist art is accustomed, that would deter the viewer from perceiving this art.


While I might not totally agree with the idea that "the artist... would want [his work] to become emotionally dry," (which takes as given that the heart and head are somehow divided) it does ring true that "the expectation of an emotional kick... would deter the viewer from perceiving this art." After all, isn't this the basis for the charge that much "experimental" or avant-garde literature is too cerebral (not to say "out to bore" the reader)?

The path to the heart is through the head. "Expressionist" works (in literature as in art) merely exploit received ideas about emotion. Challenging works are not necessarily "emotionally dry," but might instead seek different channels or even forge new ones in eliciting emotional response.