Looking for the Secret Decoder Ring

I very much enjoy seeing how other artists work, the spaces that they work in and to delve deeper into the process behind the things that they create. At the same time I’m looking and listening for cues that explain what they’ve just created. The secret decoder ring that answers the question ‘what does it mean’?

I’ve had little to no academic training in art – I will exempt the photography workshops and classes that I’ve taken from ‘formal academic training’ – and so understanding what the art world is all about is something of a mystery. Art history, like history in general, is something that I thought to be dry and dull and not worth a second look.

However I keep hacking away and occasionally will have break throughs, or at least will find an answer that is spoon fed to me. This is exactly what happened in my research of the work of Wynn Bullock. If you dig hard enough you can find discussion of the four major principals that governed his work:

1. Space-Time – seeing the true quality of things are recognizing their relationship and interrelatedness with other events
2. Opposites are one – you can’t have ‘up’ without ‘down’, ‘rough’ without ‘smooth’, ‘joy’ without ‘sorrow’
3. Reality and Existence – the known and the unknown
4. Ordering and things ordered coexist yet have independent significance – Ordering represents activities of the senses and the mind. ‘Things ordered’ are those things that result in the stimuli that we respond to.

if you then look at the work with these principals as a guide you can start to understand what he was driving at and judge for yourself did he hit the mark or not.

9 Replies to “Looking for the Secret Decoder Ring”

  1. I’m not an authority on artists, but I’ve known a lot of designers. The best ones listen. By searching for the” secret decoder ring”, you’re paying attention to things outside of yourself and that’s the best education you can get.
    Thanks for the reminder-Valerie

  2. You’d love my artists’ work place: the kitchen table covered in an old plastic tablecloth. The completed masterpieces are then deposited in the laundry to compete with fluff from the dryer, dogs, dog hair, tennis balls and kids. Miraculously, none of my works has been murdered yet. Unfortunately, I am a dabbler and don’t have the luxury of a studio or an ivory tower to paint and allow my works to dry.

    1. That’s funny and awfully familiar. The painter in our family works at our very battered dining table. If she’s not careful we will end up with paint stains in the table where the varnish has chipped off. The paintings are then set out to dry under the window, between the wall and the table.

      Don’t you think it’s the nature of the constraints that help craft the work?

      1. I do when it comes to my writing because I often get inspired by my kids and I’m hastily jotting down notes on any stray scraps of paper while cooking etc and end up writing on the run. I don’t know if I could sit down in a clear, quiet space and get the inspiration to hit in quite the same way.

  3. While it is definitely intriguing to discover what motives are behind an artist’s method, isn’t part of the beauty of art also in seeing what the work means to ourselves?

    1. I agree with you, we should appreciate the work of others in our own way. I think we would agree that is the point of producing the work in the first place – to provoke a response in the viewer, hopefully they will experience the feelings that you had intended when you created it but they/we always bring ourselves and a unique way of seeing. That’s a good thing.

      It’s always hard for me to break out of the engineers mind set, this Richard Feynman (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Feynman) video sums it up quite nicely, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbFM3rn4ldo

      I’m looking to understand the why for a number of reasons – how does this work relate to that of what’s gone before, how is this artist answering a question in a unique way, how does this inform my work and what I’m trying to achieve.

      While it’s easy for all of us to spend time in our studios to produce work that means something to us, I feel that it’s important to recognize that we are all part of a long lineage of creators and makers. Understanding how you fit into that lineage seems useful to me. How about you?

      1. Great Feynman video! Thanks for including the link. I agree with you on both points: understanding the technique or thought-process behind a work allows greater appreciation of that work. Meanwhile, seeing ourselves and our work in the context of what’s happened in history allows for newer masterpieces to appear. Too often people believe that science and art don’t go together but I think it is wonderful that you are able to appreciate art using both your artistic temperament and your engineer’s eye!

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