@golan @cynthialawson chuck close: a painter with a recognizable aesthetic now living its own life in his viewers’ experiences #letgo
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Chuck Close makes paintings with a particular visual vocabulary. They play with the viewer’s faculty of sight, that tricky biology of perception thresholds. They happened in part as a consequence of biology, perhaps in response to his own experience of face-blindness, but also in consequence of a seizure-stroke that changed the way he could use his body to paint. Although I expect those who read this blog to already know this, Chuck Close’s career and health issues are summarized succinctly on wikipedia.
Digital artist Scott Blake created the Chuck Close filter. A free, web-based tool transformed a still image into the close cousin of a Chuck Close image. Note that I did not use the word ‘painting’ – the output from Scott Blake’s program isn’t a painting, its an image made using the visual conventions of a Chuck Close painting.
You can see how Chuck Close responded to Scott Blake’s work here, at the page where the project used to live. The placeholder page representing the former project includes a quote from Mr. Close: “it may be an amusing project and many people might like it, but it is MY art that is trivialized, MY career you are jeopardizing, MY legacy, which i have to think about for my children, and MY livelihood. i must fight to protect it.” Chuck Close, November 2010
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During my undergrad, one of the ongoing discussions I had with a collaborator was the seeming strategy of those attempting to conquer the art world with a ‘clear vision’. We called this a ‘schtick’. We had to memorize and regurgitate the ‘schtick’ of these artists to pass art history classes on our way to that little piece of paper, the BFA. Oh, yeah, Chuck Close was fragmenting the image in a way that played with how we read the image; there’s a perception threshold the viewer can play with by spending time far away or coming up close and watching the image dissolve. Cool. Next.
When I was in grad school in Boston, I’d visit the MFA just about every day. I’d touch base with a particular Chuck Close painting, when it was up, because I liked it, and because repeated viewings of a single work of art over a long period of time provide me with a different kind of insight into that work and what it is doing. I remember seeing postcards of that painting in the museum gift shop.
I understand museum gift shops, with their postcards and books. I’ve always preferred to see art in person. Not everyone has that privilege.
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Scott Blake had his own experience of Chuck Close’s work. He translated the aesthetic he associated with that work into another medium. This point is particularly important to me – Mr. Blake did not take a patentable process (the mechanics of painting the image); he did not take a copyrighted image of a painting, he took an experienced aesthetic and created with it.
Close told him to knock it off, and Blake did.
Close had the balls to claim he “makes digital art
“. No, Sir, you do not. You make paintings with a particular aesthetic that can be more easily associated with color separation technology used to print newspapers. Digital art uses computers as the primary method of production. While your photographs may be digitally enlarged as part of the production process, the computer is not essential to the mode of production. Your paintings can be made without the use of a computer. (Additional media-metaphor description of digital art in the last section of this post as well).
As an artist who has staked her claim to a digital platform, whose work cannot exist without digital technology to store, exhibit, share, or produce it, I’m going to ask Mr. Chuck Close to go back to what he knows how to do much better than me – move a paintbrush on a canvas. Mr. Close’s paintings can exist in a future without computers. Mine can’t. Is this better or worse? I’m not interested in a ‘whose medium is better/cooler/etc’ conversation right now – I’ll leave that for those who like to play king of the mountain. Computers are, for better or worse, deeply embedded in ordinary human life, at least for 80% of humans (those who have access to the technology and use it daily to achieve a variety of tasks). I’m interested in how information moves there, lives there, and how the way we use our technology is changing our way of interacting with everything else. Chuck Close makes excellent paintings.
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While I think that Hyperallergic’s My Chuck Close Problem article
gets at many of Scott Blake’s struggles with Chuck Close, I’d like magnify something I see underneath the discussion.
The audience has its own experience of the work. No artist can control what the audience does with that experience. Scott Blake had a really inspiring experience of Chuck Close. He took his experience of Chuck Close’s aesthetic to a different medium. He used that experience to create artwork that does something entirely different from what Chuck Close does. This is not about first-second, derivation, or anything else. Its about translation.
Computers translate. As a machine, the computer translates information coming in via the user interface (designed with human logic) through the operating system to the firmware. The firmware simplifies and translates that input to the hardware, which then does what the user asks of the hardware with the information the user refers to along with the command information. As a digital work of art, Scott Blake’s translation of Chuck Close’s aesthetic into a user-friendly image-translater is, in my humble opinion, quite beautiful and, in its form and expression, truly excellent digital artwork.
It is also art of a different class than Mr. Close’s painting. Chuck Close needs to ‘protect his legacy’ because he works in the world of things. He’s making trophies to be purchased by museums and collectors in the closed economy of the art world. He has to protect the aesthetic stuck on the physical surface of the canvas.
Here we go again, the gift economy of the object providing an experience to the viewer interfering with the object economy of the ‘art world’. Why are we comparing pomegranates and seashells? They have different functions.
Oh, and, one more time – Mr. Close – you are a painter.