Information. That’s what I want to talk about today: the artist’s obligation to give the people some information. Something. Anything. But something.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote what I think is a very sophisticated (all the more so for being 29 words long) critique of Jackson Pollack, whose stuff he did not like “except possibly as textile designs.” The problem with Pollack’s dribbles, Kurt (may I call you Kurt, Mr. Vonnegut?) wrote was:
They show me no horizon. I can easily do without information in a painting except for one fact, which my nervous system insists on knowing: where the horizon is.
It’s very moving to me that Kurt knows himself so well that he knows what information he needs from an artist. But how many artist’s know that? Huh?
When I looked up the Game Theory story that I thought would be useful here (it involved the Game Theorist genius Johnny von Neuman and the famous topologist S. M. Ulam) I discovered that I had totally mis-remembered it. Now, jokes amongst genius mathematicians are like fois gras: not to everyone’s taste. These are the people, after all, who sneer at Einstein’s special theory of relativity, calling it “nothing but a technically trivial quadratic equation and a few consequences“. They don’t laugh at stuff that you or I laugh at, but we can laugh at the stuff they laugh at just because they laugh at it. I, for one, find that statement about the special theory of relativity hilarious.
But I digress. What I took from my mis-remembrance of a certain Game Theory joke was the fact that it is possible to amuse oneself, during very boring social interactions (such as cocktail parties [during the rare times when one isn't drinking alone] and intra-office banter, by rating the dull chit-chat on a scale of Emptiness from 1 to 5.
For example, consider this remark which, ever since I first heard it about 15 years ago, has never EVER been beaten by anything Emptier. I was at a little dinner party with some people who had just returned from a trip to Russia. The wife, a brassy dim wit who I’ve never really liked, was asked, “How was St. Petersburg?” And ,after a deep inhale of breath (as if to collect her thoughts, to rally her nouns and verbs to the service of her profound opinion) she enunciated carefully and loudly:
“Oh. My. God. It was. Beyond beyond!!”
I think that on a scale of 1-5, that’s a 10.
One day, when someone I worked in an office with, started telling me how much he was like Hawkeye Pierce on M.A.S.H. (both of them being so witty and all) I thought that was a 9, the closest anyone had ever come to the brain-damaging nothing-ness of “Beyond beyond“.
Vacations in Disneyland, the cute things the 3-year old in your life has said, and anything about Sarah Palin: all solid 5s.
No, wait. I’m getting confused. About the difference between Emptiness and Fascinating Boredom. I love Endless Drivel and [not so much] the people what talk it.
Again, I digress. And I’m getting long winded. So let me show you what I mean by giving information in a work of art. (Again, in discussing my work, I use the term “art” loosely.)
This is the first crappy illustration for something I wanted to do about breakfast in Paris for That Damn France Book.
It was unacceptable to me because, as you see, there is very, very little information here. Regardless of the French text, you ask yourself, where the hell is this cup of tea? Did someone leave it by the side of the road? Is it even potable? (It certainly doesn’t look it. Don’t bring that cup of tea near me, no sirree.) So I took another stab at it:
See? See the spoon, and the sugar cube? Now you know that it’s a cup of tea that’s maybe already been stirred, maybe it’s still a little too hot to taste because there’s that cube of sugar waiting there, in case it’s needed. There’s the implied presence of a person there, whose hand put the spoon on the saucer, who might like her tea very sweet. Maybe you’d like to join her? And the French text: I added “bonne” to it, to make it a good cup of tea, the kind of tea we all like, and I made the lettering kind of sassy.
But nah. There still wasn’t enough information there. I knew it was a lazy illustration, like the ones from the lady who sells her paintings of Paris on the interwebs, who always puts a freaking poodle in her pictures. Poodles in a picture of Paris is a lazy-ass way to signify Yoo Hoo! This is a picture of Paris! Am I clever or what?
I will never, ever resort to lame gimmicks like that. No, I had to dig deeper and make my picture stand on its own two feet and announce to the world: Yo. This here is a picture of Breakfast in Paris for my Damn France Book. This is how I did it:
See? See the shadow from the strong morning sunshine? See the French handwriting I searched all over the interwebs to get, from an actual nursery school primer on the French alphabets courtesy of the Lyon school district (which, for some reason, has its penmanship lessons on the interwebs)? I don’t exaggerate when I say it took me days to paint this last damn cup of tea, and all the while I am cursing myself that if i keep going at this nit-picking rate it will take me ten years to finish That Damn France Book. Why can’t I just slap a poodle on it and call it done? Why?
Because I’d rather say it with croissants.
So if I were to teach an art journaling class, I’d have to set up a scale of Somethingness. And then I’d have to demandrequest that your stuff contain at least a 3 on the scale of Somethingness.
I might drive you crazy. Like I drive me.
Friday: Cats. All cats. Cute things my cats have done lately. And answering your Comments (hey– did somebody call me inhumane???).