Artists and Object-Making in the Art Market

Notes for Subject A, Semester One #exMFA. from Leonardo’s Brain by Leonard Shlain

I come to this piece of the art-making process because there’s no doubt that beauty plays a role in what I do. I do care about the look of things, although it’s never all about the surface to me. It’s just the beginning. I want the surface to be just the skin of the piece, and for there to be much more. Recently, I found a sketchbook from when I was 18 years old and a student at SFAI. I’d just recently visited an artist’s studio in Marin (Marie Dern); she made what she called whole books. In my sketchbook, I wrote “I want to make books that are not just books, but BEINGS, I want to make a few with all sorts of… experiences within. A book to be handled and interacted with– not one that has levers and pockets and trinkets, but one that has intrinsic qualities that make a person gulp.” (I almost didn’t include the “gulp” part of what I wrote, but there you go, I was a kid.) I see anthropomorphic qualities in the art objects I make. I make the outside to discover the inside. I want a lot from the art I make; I want the surface to be a portal to another place, a deeper place, a place that makes other things make more sense. Even if there’s an ugliness to a piece, I want to draw out the beauty, too. Beauty. Why does it matter? I like when artists make me see an unexpected beauty in what they make. Beauty is the invitation to look deeper. And if I sense the beauty doesn’t have more than the surface, I’m bored, move on, and forget what I saw.

At the risk of saying something so obvious that it’s stupid to even state, artists are visual people. We look at things, we look into things, we stare, we remember what we’ve seen, we classify, we take visual notes, we record things with visual language. We see visually and communicate visually. This is important for me to hash out as I also consider (later) ways that my work can actually effect change in people’s lives. These recent notes have been part of my attempt to put my finger why creating “experiences” for other people (even if they serve a community’s needs) can’t be the nature of my work as a whole; it’s not enough. I need to apply my practices of observation and put it out into the world, to replicate or continue the act of seeing. I think about Social Practice art, but I know I can’t devalue art-making that happens as a result of a single artist’s work. Artwork (again, obviously… or is it obvious?), it has cultural importance and value. It has value to me, and I believe in general, art has value to the world around me. Below are the selections from Leonardo’s Brain book that underline for me that as artists, we have a unique gift. The way we see, the way we record it for others to see what we see… we are the ones that need to do this.

Why did an appreciation for aesthetics survive as a human trait? It’s something to consider when I see the distinctive way we humans have of not only making tools, but making tools that we like to look at. The right brain’s connected functions (see below) tell me that as an artist I might have a unique way to make connections between the different ways of looking at the world. Whatever I do, even if it’s a script that I’ve written that is performed in some way, or if it’s an art action, or if it’s some sort of ephemeral thing, I know that the visual will never play a side role in my artwork. At least, I hope not. Unless it’s just a written piece… I guess words made only for the page or screen can just exist on their own… I might never lose the tension around the place that visuals have in my work… I guess that’s part of loving to write and make things too.

— OK, well, I am going to just cut this off right here. I’ve had one week of floundering finishing up my notes here & I’m eager to move on to the next book. Not only that, I am stir-crazy and I want to get back to my studio! It’s June 1st and I haven’t gone regularly to my studio since March! Stupid head injury. I want to go to my studio! Instead I will make some things at my dining table. Onwards with my #exMFA! ~mrk


“A few higher animals are capable of creative solutions to problems. But, as best as we can determine, none of their solutions include an aesthetic quality. That sense remains among the most resistant to the sociobiologist’s evolutionary explanations… . It is not at all apparent why an expenditure of considerable time and calories of energy creating a work of art that is nonutilitarian, and whose sole purpose is to make something that is pleasing to the eye, would increase the fitness, either physical or reproductive, of the species.” pg.99

“Many philosophers, aestheticians, artists, and art critics have had an enduring interest in understanding what they think beauty is and what it is not… . In general, curiosity about the roots of why we humans seem to have evolved a sense of beauty is considered by most scientists to be beyond their purview.” pg.100

“We appear to be the only animal concerned that the tool we make is aesthetically pleasing. From artisanal toolmaking, humans progressed to becoming artists.” pg.102

“Now do you not see that the eye embraces the beauty of the whole world?… It counsels and corrects all the arts of mankind,” -DaVinci, quoted pg.130

“Numerous neurological studies have, in general, located the modules primarily concerned with art, music, imagery, metaphor, emotion, harmony, beauty, and the aesthetic sense of proportion in the right hemisphere of the right-handed person. Housed in the left hemisphere of the right-handed person are the skills required to carry out the logical, linear, sequential analysis necessary for grammar, syntax, reason, and mathematics.” pg.8

“Leonardo, like Duchamp, attempted to move away from mere retinal art, although he never called it that. He advised artists that merely reproducing the external appearance of their subjects was not sufficient, no matter how technically excellent were their efforts. Leonardo insisted that besides a realistic landscape into which they placed their subjects, they must also find a way to convey the subject;s inner mental landscape.” pg.74

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