thesis abstract and intro for my MFA

04/09/2010 — Jan

This is  the abstract from my thesis written in 1998. I’ve been thinking about it lately and wondering if it still is even valid. My imagery has reverted back to undergrad. work but  the style is the same.  I may post the whole thing here but I have to re format it as I used Lotus Works to write it.  LWorks is/was a MSDOS program.  Amazingly, Word ’03 has converted it but the formatting is wonky.  I need to see if I can find the digital images of the works sited in it.

I’m not sure why I am posting it now after 12 years, maybe to gleam something from it, some piece of the puzzle that is me? I’ve also included the intro to it.  I scanned the 2 figures from the paper copy of my thesis. They look pretty good considering. I had only saved the text and not the images or the references. Not sure why. The last paragraph about using invented shapes is no longer valid as I use the human figure and angels in my work.   I think this is all I will post as the discussion of my work back then is about the invented shapes and I’m not sure if it holds up any longer.  For now here is the abstract and the intro.

At the beginning of the 20th century, it is my understanding that some artists moved away from representation towards an abstract style searching for an essence or  spirituality in art.  There has been an on-going dialogue between abstraction and representation throughout the century.  My work is concerned with this dialogue. Its focus is on the moment when the physicality of materials transcends into a non-materiality or spiritual realm.  This moment becomes a metaphor for the spiritual and physical aspects of human nature. My work is a meditation and metaphor for this moment where the spiritual and physical meet.


An idea begins to form in the mind much like brush strokes begin to form an image on the canvas.  The raw materials of thoughts such as memories, emotions, or conversations, all gradually coalesce and distill into an idea that is communicated in some fashion. The painter does something similar when he or she uses the raw material of paint, the colors or brush strokes etc., to “fashion” an image.

At what point does paint stop being merely paint and become a representation of something recognizable in the ordinary world? Where is that moment? These two questions lie at the heart of my work. They are the force behind what I do and why I do it.  These questions deal not only with formal issues but also hold a deeper meaning for me.  The formal issues become a metaphor for human nature pointing to both the physical and spiritual side of human kind.  I can think of no more important exploration than that of our identity as human beings. My work is a visual representation of the meeting of the spiritual and physical realms. By spiritual, I mean non-materiality or non-physicality to include thought processes, emotions, etc. I use the word in its broadest possible sense: “the thinking, motivating, feeling part of humans, often distinguished from the body.” 1 I accomplish this by exploring the processes of painting, formal elements as well as expressive use of brush stroke and color. “Thinking about painting and in reverse, painting about thinking… moving to the rhythms of the painting [is] a demonstrable sign, a souvenir of the process, its metaphor.” 2 Antonio Damascio in his book Descartes’ Error states that “feelings are the base for what humans have described for millennia as the human soul or spirit.” 3 Susanne Langer defines a work of art as “an expressive form created for our perception through sense or imagination and what it expresses is human feeling.” She goes on to assert that the work of art “formulates the appearance of feeling, of subjective experience, the character of so-called ‘inner life,’ which discourse-the normal use of words-is peculiarly unable to articulate and which therefore we can only refer to in a general and quite superficial way.” She includes all works of art such as poetry, dance, music, etc. as well as the visual arts. 4 I use painting as a specific example only. I would not exclude other works of art in this general discussion. It is her insistence on art being concerned with subjective feelings that relates to my idea of the process of painting being a  metaphor for human nature particularly the non- material side.   If feelings are the basis for our soul or spirit, as Damascio asserts, and all works of art express those feelings, then art also points to this spirituality. My focus is on the spiritual side and at the point where it meets the physical.  Therefore, things like random thoughts, raw emotions and intuition hold more interest for me than the overt behavior they may produce.

The paintings depict a movement of shapes becoming forms that are not quite recognizable as some definite object.  They are in a process of becoming some thing.  For example, in the paintings “Transformation”(fig.1) or “Beginnings”(fig.2) some non-objective shapes fade into the


background while others come forward and assert themselves. Still others are not fully developed or merge into others. A jumble of shapes or  of brush strokes could reflect a jumble of thoughts or, perhaps, a connection of thoughts “jumbled” together, grouped and contained. This “jumble” grouped and contained begins to have a


coherence to it in the shape of a circle or sphere.   I use  non-objective shapes because I  want  to keep them  in the realm of the imagination. I make this distinction in contrast to other artists who  abstracted forms from nature.  Artists such as Arthur Dove, or (early) Wassily Kandinsky used forms found in nature as the basis or beginning of their work. “Dove’s interest is the intersection between art and nature, on unifying elements of light and color.” 5 Thomas Messer, in writing about Kandinsky’s early work, states that “vestiges of recognizable subject matter often persist in these transformations, which may still be traced to  observation of nature.” 6 I have deliberately sought not to do this but to work from invention only.  Artists of the CoBrA group have also worked from invented forms particularly Pierre Allenisky and Agar Jorn. 7 There is no overt or deliberate model of nature that I am referencing. I start with invention and work to the point where the abstraction starts to  refer to something physical.  I am most concerned with this point or moment where the abstraction vibrates between the two realms. What is common in Dove’s and Kandinsky’s work and mine is the reflection of this moment where “abstraction and reality meet.” 8

End notes

1. Webster’s. p. 1373

2. Slivka, p.68

3. Damascio. p.xvi (see also his chapter on Emotions and Feelings)

4. Rader, p.240-246

5. Balken, p.21-22

6. Barnett, p.14

7. Arnason, p. 446

8. Balken, p.142



Arnason, H.H., History of Modern Art, 3nd. Ed, 1986

Auping, Michael, Susan Rothenberg, 1992

Balken, Debra Bricker, Author Dove: A Retrospective, 1997

Barnett, Vivian Endicott, Kandinsky at the Guggenheim, 1976

Bledsoe, Jane, Elaine de Kooning, 1992

Damasico, Antonio, Descartes’ Error, 1994

de Kooning, Elaine, The Spirit of Abstract Expressionism, Selected Writings, 1994

Dissanayake, E. Homo Aestheticus, 1992

Kandinsky, Wassily, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1977 (Dover)

Kirk, Raven and Schofield, The Presocratic Philosphers, 2nd Ed. 1990

Langer, Suzanne, Problems of Art, 1957

The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 4th Ed. Vol. 2 1979

Rader, Melvin A Modern Book of Esthetics, 5th. ed. 1979

Simon, Joan, Susan Rothenberg, 1991

Slivka, Rose, “Elaine de Kooning The Bacchus Paintings” Arts Magazine, Oct. 1982

Stomberg, John, A Theater of Recollection:Painting and Prints by John Walker, 1997

Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd ed, 1980


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