New York

“3D Into 2D: Drawing For Sculpture”

The New York Cultural Center

Recently there has been much controversy between artists involved in reistic concerns and those attempting to define the paradigms of these art forms. While this investigation is valuable as a heuristic device, definitional paradigms can only analyze the relationship of particular modes to the culture of a given period. Such explanations form a metalanguage which assorts and criticizes subsets within the more comprehensive paradigms in which these languages are contained. However, even the most acute metalanguage is incapable of recreating a physical work, able only to supply a skeleton or structure—like transformational ground rules which provide the general framework for the work of art, but cannot fill it out in its concrete particularity. This seems to require some kind of ostensive definition.

The impossibility of providing verbal equivalents or reasons for all qualities in works of art seems to have led to the absolute embrace or rejection of the palpable aspects, as recently seen in the controversy between Kozloff and Heller-Menard in this magazine (February). The exchange often takes on mystical overtones—Kozloff’s defense of inarticulatable sensuousness as an aspect of reified conventions, and the reaction by Heller and Menard against visual forms of transubstantiation, as if they were indeed a less acute form of knowledge. However, both sides seem to argue from a similar fallacy—that of considering “idea” or “knowledge” to be qualitatively different from sense perception. This attitude can be avoided if one differentiates purely symbolic from emotive language. The first exists only in statements or references for communication: in technical, mathematical, and scientific languages which operate by definition and internal logic. In the emotive use of language, evocation is ancillary or complementary to the symbolic function. However, except in the strictest formal languages, affectivity alters the meaning or logic of symbolic literal fact. Emotive aspects of language range from simple perceptions to complex feelings, polyreferential in sensory data as well as mnemonic referents.

There have been many attempts to develop a metacritical attitude which eliminates the emotive baggage for strictly symbolic language. This implies that pure symbolization is more true or valuable than affective aspects. However, there often seems to be difficulty in discerning the difference between these two aspects of language, perhaps because of the similarity in states of satisfaction achieved in feeling and in intellectual penetration. For example, the reliance on affective language in the defense of symbolic analysis pervades much of the writing of Menard and Heller, Art-Language, and Bruce Boice. This ironical rhetoric is described by Ogden and Richards:

The temptation to a philosopher when concerned with a subject in which he feels a passionate interest, to use all the words which are most likely to attract attention and excite belief in the importance of the subject is almost irresistible. Thus, any state of mind in which anyone takes a great interest is likely to be called “knowledge,” because no other word in psychology has such evocative virtue. If this state of mind is very unlike those usually so called, the new “knowledge” will be set in opposition to the old and praised as of a superior, more real, and more essential nature. These periodic raids upon esthetics have been common in the history of philosophy.

The controversy between proponents and opponents of the palpable object can be mediated by an understanding of the symbolic and the evocative aspects of “knowledge.” Purely symbolic language is not more true than emotive language. While logical technical languages are better for certain purposes, they operate as truth-value within circumscribed systems. The illusion of absolute “truth” seems to result from the stability and logical consistency of such language, which seems invisible because the material of the language must not stand in the way of ideational content.

On the other hand, evocative language (as Mel Bochner has scrawled after Valéry) is not transparent. Even seemingly objective artwork involves subjective and, consequently, emotive form in its originating idea, in its syntax, and in its effect. There seems to be only a quantitative distinction between the “truths” of these subjective forms and those of more technical languages. The individuation and particularity of works of art encourage the evolution and polyreferentiality of morphological function, which involve tactile perceptual modes not apparent in paradigm analysis. The sensuous aspects of cognition are not peculiar to art activity but operate in all forms of thinking—in recently published letters, for example, Einstein wrote that his discovery of relativity was sensuous before he could find a vocabulary for it.

The concretizing of idea in physical states can be observed in the prominent position of drawing in current art activity. Because of its seemingly casual nature, drawing has often been fresher and less precious than more elaborate works, more conceptual because it indicates rather than represents. While the pictorial aspects of drawing are still viable, drawing has recently assumed even greater importance in charting or mapping conceptual activity. It can provide concrete diagrams of more or less abstract ideas, as well as the verbal (or purely conceptual with no physical manifestation) projection of thoughts and things—the movement of bodies through space or the endurance of an object in time. Because such extensions generally involve axiomatic, Euclidean geometry with a common vocabulary of lines, points, and spheres, our comprehension involves tactile modes of perception. Drawing, which often uses schemata which map these tangible extensions, provides sensuous conceptual models which manifest both the symbolic and emotive aspects of cognition.

The range in drawing from purely pictorial ends to the mapping of more conceptual projects can be seen in an excellent exhibition of drawings by sculptors organized by Susan Ginsburg at the New York Cultural Center. Drawings by sculptors have traditionally been of interest because they present metaphors or extensions of literal objects onto the flat surface. Many of the drawings in the show are strict diagrams or elevations of sculptures later executed. The works of Dan Flavin, Bruce Nauman, James Turrell, and Don Judd, for example, are used for scale and measurement, providing information for the finished work.

Other diagrams for physical works are less austere. Robert Morris’ Drawing for the L.A. Project II, 1969, for example, is a loose depiction of the location for the piece rather than a straight diagram. Robert Smithson’s drawings of his piece in Emmen, Holland—the jetty and the canal—include the topology of the area, while Map of Hotel Palanque, 1969, is a lively exposition on a decaying piece of notebook paper rather than a literal map. The storyboard of the Spiral Jetty is an a posteriori work, narrating the sequence of events in the execution of the piece and in the film, including notations from the soundtrack (“Mud, salt, crystals, rock, water”) and quotations from Taine, Eardley, and Beckett. The drawing is consequently a distillation of events, like still shots abstracted from a moving picture.

Other works use drawing as an expressive medium in itself as well as providing information for sculpture. Roy Lichtenstein’s designs for medallic sculpture, Jasper Johns’ drawing for his sculpture, The Critic Sees, 1952, and Ellsworth Kelly’s studies of shape, are all clearly realized as pictorial ends as well as furnishing studies for three-dimensional objects. The drawings of Eva Hesse and Claes Oldenburg also demonstrate a delectation of the medium for itself, pencil and gouache on paper. Richard Serra’s drawings are powerful presentations which provide pictorial metaphors for the energy of his sculpture but which do not serve the physical works directly. They seem to investigate the sources of dynamism within the planar surface—the illusionism within flat representation as a counterpoint and analogue to the properties of objects in space, studied as perceptual as well as kinesthetic phenomena. Balance Plate, for example, generates a spatial torsion by means of a shape whose placement is ambiguous, while Untitled, 1972, suggests movement in a visceral manner as the eye recapitulates the dynamic execution of three circular forms in a pyramid.

––Lizzie Borden