Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Non-Artist

During the 1960s, an educational theorist published the results of a simple experiment: a group of five-year-old non-artists were asked to draw themselves playing; the same group were then asked to draw themselves again, two years later.

The self-portraits of the five-year-olds were exuberant, lively, full of colours, surrealistically playful; two years later, the portraits were much more rigid and subdued, with a large majority of the children spontaneously choosing only the grey of the ordinary pencil, although other colours were at their disposal. Quite predictably, this experiment was taken as proof of the 'oppressiveness' of the school apparatus, of how the drill and discipline of school squash children's spontaneous creativity, and so on and so forth. From a Hegelian standpoint, however, one should, on the contrary, celebrate this shift as an indication of crucial spiritual progress: nothing is lost in this reduction of lively colourfulness to grey discipline; in fact, everything is gained - the power of the spirit is precisely to progress from the 'green' immediacy of life to its 'grey' conceptual structure, and to reproduce in this reduced medium the essential determinations to which our immediate experience blinds us.1

I feel as though this study illustrates the differences between an artist and a non-artist in a way relevant to the sublime. Children are not artists. They are non-artists. Children can become artists. Knowledge, it seems, causes a child to create work with more intention, more thought, the loss of colour and vibrancy does not reflect oppression, or a desire to escape the mundane or routine. It allows the child to form a new kind of understanding, one that enables them to represent an object the way they choose to represent it, rather than attempting to represent the object as they see it. Thus creating a more structured work of art, one that possesses something more than what we see. Although aesthetically it doesn't strike us as being as beautiful as the original work, in it exists something more, something inexplicable, and something sublime. ‘In art … it is not a matter of reproducing or reinventing forms, but of capturing forces. For this reason no art is figurative. Paul Klee’s famous formula – “Not to render the visible, but to render visible” – means nothing else. The task of painting is defined as the attempt to render forces that are not themselves visible.’2 A non-artist may be aware that their work resembles that of a child and they might not be concerned by it. If they are unaware, then it doesn't matter if it does or does not resemble the work of a child as it is irrelevant to them as a non-artist.

‘One of the reasons why the artist’s way of seeing differs so greatly from that of the ordinary man is that it has been conditioned, from the start, by the paintings and statues he has seen; by the world of art.’3 Artists such as Klee were aggravated by their work being described as being similar to the work of a child as he saw it differently. However, the ability to create such works as an adult is where the sublime or in relation to Klee ‘the Cosmos’ may present itself within certain works of art. Klee seems to disagree, he believed that ‘what is needed in order to “render visible” or harness the Cosmos is a pure and simple line accompanied by the idea of an object, and nothing more.’4

1. Žižek, Slavoj, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989)
2. Deleuze, Gilles, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (UK: Continuum, 2005) 40.
3. Malraux, André, The Voices of Silence (United States of America: Princeton University Press, 1978) 281.
4. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix, A Thousand Plateaus (UK: Continuum, 2004) 379.