A Philosophical Spin on Art

I’ve often wondered –       is spin art art ?

–  a creative accomplishment with skilled hand-to-eye coordination and sense of color and space and design – or, is it simply a matter left open to chance?  Is there technique to learn, facility to acquire, skill to master or is our act of painting simply mimicking a method suggested by Spin Art’s own instruction while satisfying our own creative bursts?  Is spin art’s pouring of paint akin to other credible manners in art, (the exacting pointillism of a Seurat, the arm-swing gestural of a Pollock?) or is our work simply a mechanical engagement with neither technique nor boundary to it, readying ourselves for the resulting “spin” – either of fortune or ruin? Can one define well-executed spin art and differentiate it from poorly executed spin art?  Can we qualify our definitions by asking – “Is it good to layer all of the colors made available (including the ‘color’ white [which may blot most of the ‘spinned’ work done previous], returning the image back to its original form [that of a blank (blanc) piece of paperboard] and cover the board entirely?” or, “Is it better to be economical and use only two or three colors and then, only once, leaving a surface tenuous and spare?” 

Of what use are Day-Glo colors which spark our Pop Art sensibilities, or, metallic colors which echo even more Pop Visual and what do they mean?  Do we stick with our three primary colors and allow gravity and movement to create silent secondaries?  Should tonal range be considered in limiting our palette, or is it “the more color the better” our truest path to the ideal spin art experience?

Does spin art require a certain predilection in our DNA make-up, like that of someone we knew, who, as a child, “liked to draw” and thus, ended up in art school? Is there a need of an innate anything? Do we engage decision-making to a significant level in our spinning or does a randomness and chaos ensue?  Is there a mixing of both? Is spin art a meta-discipline, contrary and unique in its own countering of required talent, artistic skill, or paint-pouring proficiency? Do we take delight in our spin art creations?  Are they worthy of critical review?  Can spin art claim creativity over convention?  Intention over folly?  Is spin art fun? Will spin art survive? Will museums and institutions of higher learning realize its breadth? 

Enveloped in a blanket of snow piled high and still falling, I think back to a conversation I had with someone who posited that white, or, no color, (absence of color for it reflects all waves) is really all color based upon the explanation that if one (physically) spins around and around a color wheel, yes, a tangible object of recorded color, pigments on a page, (aka: a glimpse of that falling tree) – the resulting visual is that of a blank surface, all color muted and subdued, caught up and simply ‘lost’ in the motion, but tangibly, still [known to be] all there.

And so, – it occurs,

if spin art just kept spinning, would we ever see the color that we know to have been poured onto and all over its paperboard surface?  Would it then prove, despite our empirical knowledge-gained action of using all sorts of colors in the process of spinning art – that white (the resulting image still-spinning) is indeed all color made absent and therefore, absence of color is truly all color?  Is, as Baudrillard gives us, the absence of something that which empowers, gives meaning? Does the science of refraction help us in our assessment? Do measured lengths of bending waves in prismatic distillation matter at all to the spin artist?  To the viewer? To the whole concept of spin art?

What color then, is snow?  Snow moving, spinning in a great gale?  Snow falling aslant against a haloed streetlight creating its own spinning glow? Muddied snow forming a formidable embankment?  Snow that buries itself beneath other layers of the same, insulating itself from surface shadows and angles, which appear blue, or gray, or, just simply darker in color?

What, then, of snow that falls without daylight to help compose its blinding compass?  What if one were to spin about in the snow dressed in colorful clothing?  Is that person art?  Does that person become any less colorful for expressing what would appear to be emotive joy?  Can spin art pile up as snowflakes over time and then become a source for reflection?  Does a snowflake’s movement give it meaning?  Are colors only to be seen in stillness?  Are moving thoughts colorless?  Is spin art deep?  Is snow art?  Do we, in the end, buried in our colorful imaginations, become necessarily absent upon reflection?  

Jan. 2022

Looking at Suzan Shutan’s Work in A Contemporary Art Exhibit

The first time I saw art work by Suzan Shutan, I sensed a political reading.  Just in the way the works were installed, on both wall and floor, wrapping around corners, weaving mid-air.  I read the subject of “environment” before I even got near enough to note the material used, the titles of the work.  The seeping large shape of looped material poured out of and off the wall, continuing its path onto the gallery floor.  The visual read as suspended or slowed-down liquid flow, something rather beautiful and intricate and yet unsettling at the same time.

Once closer to the work, it became more apparent as to what I was responding to and why.  The material used to create these intricate woven constructions is tar roofing paper joined with industrial glue.  The roofing paper is wholly visible as roofing paper, as tar paper used for roofing, as direct as is the gluing process holding the loops together.  No attempts are made to alter the material as it reads industrial, bitumen, asphalt, oil.  Integrated within these loops are sporadic holdings of vibrant areas of color composed of lokta paper, another durable resinous paper; a material time-honored for its role in the preservation of sacred texts.  Shutan’s treatment of both kinds of paper are the same; both are looped, crocheted-like, and incorporate varying sizes.  The transition from wall space (conventional viewing area for 2-d work) to floor space (traditional sculpture) is the art category integrating, or, “the straddling of both worlds” Shutan speaks of.  But we also read the symbolic in the integration of material within its equally significant method of display. 

Where we find Shutan’s work in the evolving discipline of art is somewhere between the Public Art social (an example might be Serra’s Tilted Arc) and the Earth Art political (Carl Andre’s Stone Field Sculpture or Christo’s pink islands of Biscayne Bay).  Her past work (inspired by artists Andy Goldsworthy and Maya Lin) shows a connection to the environment and to the society and back again.  The pieces engage in the language of Earth Art, Land Art, when artists were abandoning the conventional space in order to get their political messages out there.  Here is where today’s world enters in – and, where I find Shutan’s oil-industry loop pieces to have the potential for moving our cloistered art world back into the real one.

 

If Shutan’s works such as “Ooze” and “Drift” were exhibited outside the gallery, as public art pieces – how effective would their language be?  By exhibiting inside the gallery space instead, given the context of this space, this venue for showing art – and observing the artwork’s activity within it (seeping, moving, gradually spilling over) the work lends itself in metaphor and maybe broadens the meaning to include the very art world her pieces find themselves in. 

Our environmental dilemma is echoed in these intricately designed loop constructions which take aim at the gradual formation of “cultural debris in our industrial enterprises” and, maybe, at our mutual acceptance of the closed-loop commodification and commercial sale of art itself.   

Since Shutan’s Ooze and Drift are exhibited inside a gallery, seen alongside other artwork – we need to figure out how we read it given its context.  The other work may allude to landscape, environment, the natural world and, in their making, be somewhat similar in the gluing and pasting of paper.  This is the common ground that works wonderfully, but might it lead us to one large reading of “environment” and miss the tension or address, comment or menace of Shutan’s work?  Does the political to be found in Shutan’s work get lost in the formalist visual magic?

So, when we take in the totality of the show, do we connect the art on the walls as a unifying theme and register a kudos for curatorial practice, or, only do this in an ancillary way and leave with what Shutan’s art is trying to say?  Does it matter?  Is what we take from the work leading us somewhere beyond the incredible visual, the wows of the making?  How do we feel after leaving this space?  Informed? Quieted? Appreciative? Alarmed? 

Would Ooze and Drift be more effective in communicating Shutan’s valid concerns – if placed in the arena of public space – where our taking-to-the-streets-in-political-protest is our best method of communicating where we stand as a society?  Placing the work outside the EPA headquarters in DC? Oil refineries?  Gas stations?  Or, bumping up the ante and oozing out into the gallery space itself – but not in a subtle manner, (relying too much upon metaphor) but literally, overtaking the adjacent works?  (Would the artist(s) exhibiting their own work cooperate for the greater cause?) Seeping out of the gallery itself?  Covering like ivy a Koch Brothers philanthropy-sponsored building? 

These are some questions worth addressing.  And, yes, these specific pieces might not physically hold up outside in the elements, but the ideal is certainly worth considering in getting the artist’s message out there where it needs to be.

How we got to this point in our art object making and exhibiting might be another thing to ask.  With “ooze” and “drift” – words that signify slowly, almost imperceptibly, maybe we get our answer. 

2021