What if Chuck Close had said this (just one word’s difference):
“Intention is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you did today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.”
…………………. Intention is for amateurs. That actually works in this quote, doesn’t it? All the many reasons why Chuck thought ‘inspiration’ was creatively inadequate are just as powerful in dismissing the importance of ‘intention’. You don’t need it to make work. You just get on with your business. You let the work take care of itself. You discover your directions just by showing up and taking those first few steps. You don’t need an intention to land on some specific place to get there or anywhere else. The specific intention is unnecessary. The doing is the important thing, not the intending. Chuck wasn’t disowning every manifestation of inspiration. He was just saying that you don’t need it. The same seems to go for intention.
And yet I keep hearing from artists that intention is supposed to make the difference. I’m not saying that it doesn’t make a difference, just as I would never say that inspiration is to be universally scoffed at. But does it make THE difference…..?
For instance, what I keep hearing is that we intend fine art in some way differently than we intend non-fine art. As in, “the intentions behind this painting are obviously different than the intentions behind this piece of pottery.” The case that is so often being made is that this fundamental difference in intentions is in essence what discriminates pottery and other non-fine art from the truly fine art. And maybe if you look at a painting on the wall of a museum and a mug in someone’s sink you’d have to say that the painter never intended his painting to hold beverages and need an occasional scrubbing. And you might say that the potter never intended his mug to have a gilt frame and be hung on some austere wall with a spotlight on it. When you look at it that way it seems so very obvious…..
But intention doesn’t really answer anything about the object itself. We don’t categorically intend different objects in different ways. Intention is a slippery customer. We can intend bloody well anything we can imagine. Intention is not limited to the way things stand. Its not limited to reality as we perceive it. In fact, an artist’s intention is almost always to take the world and make it different. To intend the world as something other than it currently is. Not just to reproduce it in the same form, but to take raw materials and give it a new form. To paint what has never been painted before, to sculpt where no artist has sculpted before. If intention is all it takes, then why not mugs-in-museums?
Duchamp showed that this is not so inconceivable when he put his ‘fountain’ on a pedestal. If we can intend a urinal-as-art surely we can make the jump to other unconventional objects?
The point being that we are often merely bewitched by our conventions. We can’t see the world as easily without them, so it is difficult to imagine things like pots on pedestals. But that isn’t the fault of pottery. There are pots on pedestals already. Rather, one urinal seems to weigh more in the minds of some folks than the entire output of working potters. We don’t believe their intentions could remotely connect up with the lofty intentions of an artist like Duchamp, or even run of the mill ‘conventional’ artists using traditional media. Its as if there exists a fundamental intentional non-sequitur between a thing that quite possibly has utilitarian function and what belongs in museums. Its as if what belongs (potentially) in a dish drain could never be intended to belong in a museum. When you look at the world in a certain way we can’t even bridge that gap in intentions. Its as if we are being told that it is psychologically impossible to intend both ‘function’ and ‘art’ at once. It seems inconceivable…….
But as I’ve already said, intentions are slippery customers. They slide out from under us and we sometimes find that where we are now standing has nothing to do with what we intended.
Enter the world of serendipity. Which, if you think about it, has almost always been an important weapon in the artist’s arsenal. Take Pablo Picasso’s word on it, for example:
“I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head. What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.”
So bugger all intention. If what Picasso suggests is generally true, then artists’ intentions between different work almost never can be the same. One artist over the course of his or her lifetime will have an enormous variety of intentions. None of which seemed to matter in the end, really.
Intention is often what holds us back. We can get bogged down in intending uninteresting things. Repeating ourselves. We can let what we already know be the final word on our destination. We can get too comfortable with the ‘brilliant’ ideas that occupy our minds and not venture into the unfamiliar territory to see what else is out there. Or, as Chuck Close puts it, its the idea that “things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt.” Intention really is for amateurs.
Just ask any person with substance abuse issues who has tried to quit. The intention to quit and quitting are not the same thing. Intention is for amateurs. If you put your faith in intention alone it will get you nowhere. There will be moments when your intention slips and you want to take just a sip. For old times’ sake. F-ck that! You sometimes need to do certian things regardless of what your intentions are. Ignore your intentions. It might be better to intend it in some cases, but you can’t build your house just on intentions. A gentle breeze can blow most intentions from their perch. “Oh I meant to feed your pets when you were gone, but something always came up. Oops! Sorry!”
So keep your intentions. Nurture them if you must. Just don’t tell me that intending something ‘as art’ is what makes it different from ‘non-art’. And I intend to rule the world one day! Bwa ha ha ha ha!
Is it any wonder there is a suspicion that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes much of the time? The intention that what we’ve got going on is somehow ‘special’ doesn’t make it special. Not when your junk is dangling in the street and the sun is baking that uncovered non-crown-wearing cabeza that you proffer to the world as a testament to your glory. Cover that sh-t up! We don’t necessarily want to look at your ‘intentions’. Intentions are for amateurs……
I’m not saying all intention is irrelevant. Just don’t hang your hat on it……… The road to Hell is paved with Good intentions, after all. Having the right intention doesn’t mean that you aren’t still making a mess of things. The world and its intentions simply don’t always add up in that congenial a way.
Well, that’s one side of the story, at least. Of course I intended this in the nicest way possible 🙂 . I hope everyone enjoyed reading it!
Make beauty real!
Go ahead, intend beauty. Repeat after me: “Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!”