PRINT August 1962

Without Reservation

WE AT IMMACULATE HEART COLLEGE do not call student explorations and investigations by the name of Art. It is not that we do not prize the results of some of these student investigations. Some of them “wear well” and continue to have a certain “presence” through the years. Even a Picasso can not ask more than that of many of his experiments.

Perhaps here is the difference between the great painters of both the early and mid-twentieth century and those painters that are less than great. The difference might be called one of orientation. The great painters have pursued, like their contemporaries in the field of science, the solutions to new problems along strange, untravelled paths. They have pursued these solutions with such intensity that their recordings of their searchings have great impact even for many who are unable to follow through the pathway cleared for them by the greats; have impact even for a few of those who do not see the sense of all this non-sense. The impact is not made on the logical level—it is made on the supralogical level.

The recordings of the searchings of the great ones are called “paintings” by the rest of us. But the great ones themselves do not have time to call them by that or any other name. There are countless miles still of uncharted, magnetic paths calling to the greats—and life is short.

But the less than great ones, those who follow in the pathways opened up for them by the greats, have a dignity and a validity, also. Their worth lies in their ability to clarify the already achieved objectives of the greats, in their ability to develop the discoveries and inventions of the greats to their highest potentials, in their ability to make more fruitful the original contributions of the greats.

There is another and very large group of people who are responsible for at least a small part of the unrest outside the world of great artists (the unrest inside that world is desirable, for it is basic to the searchings for the unknown). Let us call these the wishful thinkers, or rather the wishful brush-wielders. These also have a certain dignity stemming from their sincerity, but they lack validity. These wishfuls look at the recordings of the greats (frequently once or twice removed through poor reproductions in books and magazines). They miss the essentials. They see only the accidentals: blue and green are being used this year; black lines on stark white; large and larger canvases; mixed media; mixed techniques; disguised subject matter; etc., etc. They sincerely wish their work to be valid, but they make no contribution. The greats continue to make headway into the unknown; the less than great continue to develop and present these discoveries to a larger and larger audience; the wishfuls are just not with it.

But most of us do not fall under any of the three groups discussed. We are not the producers, but the consumers. And—we make our choices on that level where we believe art to exist: on the level of skill—If it looks hard to do, it is art, e.g. the illusion of lace in an old Dutch portrait, flagpole sitting, etc. On the level of liberal arts—If it is mentioned in art history books, or in art magazines, if custom and tradition acclaim it, it is art. On the level of taste—Where impeccable choices are made concerning the form of the thing itself, by the discerning few. On the level of beauty—or vitality. Even the most discerning rise to this level but seldom. They tend to find their joy on the level of taste, which is the highest of the levels than can be aimed at through training. The level of beauty or vitality is not a matter of years of training, but of insight. It frequently by-passes the other three levels: how many times a thing of beauty seems unconcerned with polished skills; how many times a thing of beauty is unheralded or even rejected by art historians and art critics; how many times the prevailing taste excludes a thing of beauty.

The level of beauty may be and probably is more often approached by the seemingly unprepared. In fact the prepared are, more frequently than not, marooned on one of the other levels, due to the lack of real insight or perspective on the part of the prepare-ers. Art is probably the only field of investigation today in which the ones-being-prepared (the students) are still required to waste precious time in drilling with already found, solutions to far removed problems of other centuries and other cultures, leaving no time to tackle the problems of their own. There is a desperate clinging to “basics” (basic problems that have long since ceased to be problems—when they are basic to anything at all—which is seldom) that smells strongly of insecurity among the prepare-ers.

Consumers are and must be brave, for they risk hundreds of dollars purchasing paintings which may not prove even less than great. But artists risk whole lifetimes. The great difference between consumers and artists is that consumers weigh the risks, and artists neither weigh risks nor measure gain. They are akin to lovers whose measure is that they do not measure. They are amateurs (amateur—one who loves; professional—one who knows how-to-do-it) always working beyond known frontiers in areas where they do not know how-to-do-it. Nothing great was ever invented or discovered by a professional, except at that moment when he recaptured his amateur-status.

Sister Magdalen Mary