thumbnail of A question of art; Do Materials Influence the Artist?
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
What the devil artists up to today. Must say I wouldn't hang a pinhead. Did you see where it says an angleworm one tonight. Ask me artists nowadays are just too lazy to learn how to paint. Them in your comments. Well such observations have led us to try to reduce the confusion surrounding contemporary art as we ask a question of art. I'll let you know how hard. Each week at this time. A question about contemporary art will be discussed by an art critic a scholar and a skeptic. Here is a skeptic producer of the series Walt Richter. Do introduce the panelists our panelists as usual our Dr. Gearhart Magnus professor of fine arts at Southern Illinois University Lawrence Alloway. Art critic and artist in residence at Southern Illinois University at the time of these recordings. Let's we're jet of the Southern Illinois University art department is a widely known artist. He has had his works exhibited in
America's major cities as well as in England. He has worked in many artistic media including paint a ceramics mosaic bronze and most recently plastics. Making him an ideal person to sit in on our discussion. And we're very glad to have him with us today as we take up the question Do materials influence the artist. And Lawrence out of way is going to lead off. Well Nicholas arising out of the talks that we've been having before you came. There's been a kind of argument that on the one hand the formal procedures of teaching like loss of calm rules of composition and that kind of thing which I think is OK for a certain kind of painting but isn't adequate for many kinds of work now. And on the other hand opposite to a formal teaching procedures is the fact that I often imagine the experience of work the experience of making the material the artist involvement in the materials itself. Do you find that
this is your experience in your experience do different materials you work and lead to different meanings different shadings in your work but I don't think that actually you know a person is attracted to a material. You know the material that acts on you in a completely physical way like you like to. Am I something to push and pull in. Something of you like a precise kind of way of working that that you start off you know as a kind of person you are being attracted to a certain kind of material. This is determined I mean certain time of material will make a certain type of art. This means that you know that there is this basic thing in you sometimes when searches around to find different you know you can look in different sorts of
ways but ten times over and you know that you find it when you find the material that has got this attraction is really what you're looking for. You know there are I'm sure has some feedback too but it is sad. Really how you respond to it. Well that better than that and the sense learning ought to be a question of finding the material which was the one that matched you finding the gesture which is a kind of gesture whether it's cutting mocking opening whatever it may be that really goes with your kind of personality your kind of psychic temperament very largely I think this is one of the important things about our training is that you expose people to a lot of different source materials a lot of different sort of physical manipulations from you know find work to do while kind of work I
mean my own case of going to school it was it was in a formal situation where I said before I've even done I'm going to be a painter and spend you know five years painting and then found these other things which match my own physical temperament much better than that painting. Did I say that this is the thing that to expose people to the material. And. At the same time there's a sort of mental kind of development and critical thing going on but this material thing becomes important for a person to find that kind of medium. Media day it's almost a kind of assault cos of the materials that the world offers one to work in. Yeah this is to my mind the only real advantage of going you know at school to you know in a small area you can be in
contact with people working with different materials and have different deals available. So that it makes it easy to do that and you do have a number of people who are proficient in the manipulation of things who can share their experience. But next on your own career you say you started out painting you painted for five years and I believe at that point you switched to pottery was that from very what I own a mosaic work and a ceramics of other ceramics. You've done some work with found objects and you done some work you're currently doing some work with plastics. There's a syndicate that you were at a certain point you feel you've exhausted the possibilities what you can do with this particular medium and then you look for another one. No no I was you know I haven't exhausted at all I just get excited about the possibility of using immaterial that in that it gives me
faith that I would like to achieve of. In my case all my ceramics has been very colorful type things I've always used color have a great affinity for color but I also have to have a sort of physically empowered me a physical kind of job to do you know like you know anything material that you're waiting. Yeah I read some of their work. I didn't understand at the time where one of my teachers when I was in school said you know that this you know I would make a life drawing should just not physically enough you know. And I thought you know I don't know what he's talking about. Now I do and so here here was a case of a teacher who or who really influenced you or that he had obsession to show me. What the situation was but I didn't pick up the ball at that point.
The friendship ended. Susan Jebb the French artist du du Bouvier described his relationships and his years with materials. He said the relationship of an artist to his material is not a relationship of like a monster or something and that it is like a man that playing a fish that he wants to land or man a woman or a man and a horse. It's an active dialogue and interchange between with through the course of me the use of the material says something to the artist. So Goll years here who's psychic involvement is a function of the resistance of the material. Very often it is another way of putting it. Well you get what you get is a sort of this is a this feedback from material all the time that it suggests things to you. That turned you know that his age he was learning to say the kind of dialogue I mean said one of the things I like clay so much because it's a very sensitive kind of thing like you get you pressing it leaves your thumb print on it like a
piece of metal for me he said. And bang bang bang you know it is it is too rigid a kind of thing that I like something it is you mediately kind of responsive and fluid and I say that it is going to have sensitivity of that and if you lation which I like very much you explained why modern contemporary artist so much concerned with the exploration of new material. Well it does think it does because they're just more materials you know that a person makes. He just grabs anything around him. A primitive society grab a few feathers or something and or a stick can carve a stick and writes in the sand or does anything like this as once technology has expanded you know people could make stuff like you know artists have grabbed this you know they are saying how can metal look a person and like I've been working with
plastics now a chemist invents plastic and I ask myself how can vested look. That's that's the key I think is not ok. Metal plastic lug heart is no longer concerned with with creating illusions. The whole process of working with the material itself is evident in the final result. The jury was allowed to speak for itself. That's when the search and involvement in new materials becomes really significant. Well what you know at this shed I mean you know I don't I don't really I think that some artists working on it with just the kind of material scents I think someone has are still working with all the things of enlarging one's vision of making magic of you know making emotional kind of statements and things like this with material and the same without it always have.
Monica looking at some examples of your work. I've noticed that there's doesn't seem to be an awful lot of relationship at least to me as a casual observer between oh say your painting and your plastic work is this a result of the difference in materials or is it going to change in you as you evolve. What I see is you know a tremendous relationship. I see that one piece leads to another very easily. I mean even across across the media yeah I see I see. Like first of all the things that I'm concerned with are first of all I think he struggles since she just responds to you know color texture and things like this that I like to feel like cloud people around them their sense is you know nothing that you actually like that to start with I think this is a very important kind of aspect of of
myself anyway and the kind of art I like. And from this point on that I would like it to have a kind of quality which is set for the show overwhelming it become a less kind of transcendental like you know show space colored things sort of stained glass window in shot cathedral or something. I think it's a fantastic experience and so I mean I don't you think Well that is what we get is something which combines the physical properties of the material as one of the shaping factors in the way. But on the other hand like the constant characteristics of the artist as he encounters the various materials and he reaches in and in different ways what he's going to do through the different materials that he uses. You know Joe when you said like it was either illusion mystic or
purely materialistic revelling in the materials it seemed to me he was simplifying the choice too much. Yes I'm sure. Because I mean the media meaning of the Word of God consists of references outside the work of God as well as what has occurred within it. Yes I was just looking at some coverage NG's you haters of fantastically difficult medium where the subject is really quite traditional but he gets quite different into effect by using the power of itching to work at different layers and levels and seduce the kind of depth in the crowd which can color which has been impossible to achieve in the thought of it but it still looks very much the same except this particular here was a technical challenge which was overcome
but with the subject matter is still very much as I think there's a difference between you know material and technique. Yeah I mean confining myself very much to hear like the three say at work about is three things expected aerial technique and idea you know instead of proportion here except that it's all the technique some time is all material and sometimes there's very little of either and it's all I did. I've been concerning reading talking and yes strictly limiting it to me to rather take me and you divide them up and you can't really divide up but you can talk about it in this way but I can go that's the one. Yeah I think that's a very useful diversion I mean for me hater would be an example of somebody who's all technique. He's like a man who you know who is so good on ice skates that it almost looks as if you tap dancing and you know he's always doing tricks like that where somebody like Dubai is a man who has this like you know
Jack Benny Angel wrestling with the material. But finally getting it into shape after the struggle and that would be a relationship of materials not a demonstration of technical skill. So take me aspect is minimal and material and ideas are the most positive thing in it yet got quite a good feel my own words say I was feel extremely incompetent technically. Because you know I keep you from one thing other and become a jack of all trades and master of none. So that material an idea for me is you know I've a feel of the aura like you do face as a kind of wrestle with material and in my work. As you work with materials you find that there are the national stage where much of what you're doing you have to toss out or do you do find that from the
beginning you can start creating something of value. Now I think when you begin that you are less critical of what you do you say delighted that you that you've done anything at all. It you you know and you go on with it. I mean if you help kind of get that initial delight you get a little kind of sadness and you know it doesn't work. But having got that you know then when he's really faced with the problems like you're getting new material and you can do this with it it seems that God is just designing shame a lot of stuff and then you come to a kind of second phase of retrenching this and you know when it becomes more critical at this point we will be in for some kind of break through a more complete solution to your idea that this constant that you see in your work would carry over from medium to medium
or somehow just beyond the next hill with the next set of difficulties or new material which leaves you more complete expression. Yes don't tell you know I've never been feels when it's work getting one positive you know becoming a more positive kind of value. In doing all these things will start to eliminate various kinds of factors. Affairs kind of takes a long time to kind of gradually slough off Polish stuff until you have got to the shop kind of thing which seems extremely positive kind of thing. Jay when you suggest that Nicolas is reaching some new media for a fuller statement of the idea of don't you think this could be said of any artist while he's still living out of any artist while he's still alive is engaged in an unfinished open ended project. We're enjoying Rembrandts lifetime you can said the same thing about him in the 17th century.
Yes except that there are artists who choose their adversary. Stone pieces don't cover you. You'll stay with it. Then he wants to help you with a kind of obsessive involved and he either wants to make it stone here all to overcome the physics stuff you know so he's either going to be more stony LS You know you know you can always find a further go inherent in the medium for the artist while he's still working well that thing I would like to say that we're talking about this that you know my idea is not all that clear. You know it's revealed to me by working that I couldn't say that you know my you know my idea would be this type of witch because if I could say that I'd be able to do it. You know that because because I don't you know I didn't
quite know what it is but it becomes clear to me when I when I work that tell you that I can say that I'm off to some idea that's just some kind of one feels as some kind of goal maybe there's not you know. Well you know I have one time stumbled by accident into the studio of an Austrian wood sculptor and began chatting with him and he had done some very interesting things most of them on a religious theme read a great variety of very beautiful work. And I asked him how he got his ideas and he claimed that one of the things he did was to take a piece of wood find odd pieces of wood here and there and he'd look at it and he studied it for a long time until it the wood itself suggested the subject which he was going to work work with to make out of it. Does this does this kind of thing happen with with the other media as
well. Make other certain things that suggest themselves when sticks. I'm not sure what you're saying that you know that. I mean this bird had a completely realized idea before he started to work. You know this I think varies with from person to person. Some people have realized they then put together and some people kind of start off with the vaguest kind of notion and that the work around it. And you know see what happens and see what comes out. He will study the shape of the word of the grain in these things. Cells would suggest subjects. When you start working with plastic for example what was your point of departure and why did you decide that you wanted to work with plastic. What was the first thing you did. How did this evolve in your mind. This is purely by accident rather than
design. The first part of last year for example as did this music. And because I like music you know because this is a small point of color which you can get this very vibrant kind of color effect. And again this tactile textual quality of music. It poses a lot of physical problems just putting it up you know and shipping it safe and so on are not New York whatever it may be so that it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to make these pieces of music and sort of prefabricated the thing with you know like to material if you didn't a concreted just way too much so that one could be building so that plastic seemed a good answer to that and I started to work with plastic then working with plastic the kind of effect one could get just using
plastic itself does excite me in fact I found it you know very good because of its aluminum skin transparency one of the things that I made like. I think that an artist can work both ways and in his own lifetime I mean responsive to media not responsive. If you take the case of an English sculptor like Henry Moore in the 30s and early 40s is he was mainly a woodcarver and he used to hang the whole structure here. You know the world where he contemplated follow the grain and so forth and open it out only according to the ways of the grain suggested only you know the ways of the grain suggested and polish it afterwards accordingly. Now on the other hand he works largely in metal and he makes absolutely arbitrary plastic forms which are then custom metal so that I mean one artist can work either in a way
which follows inherent clues given by the material or the material can be so flexible that it has no inherent character. If you want to use it that way like metal casting. Yeah I think this is again it's sort of temperamental choice on the part of the artist because some artists like to be related to a kind of natural sort of material a natural sense of things and others don't like to have this limitation. We were speaking of the materials and I suppose the critic colors are our new materials as well. What's been the importance of this laurels. Well I know that Alice uses acrylic colors as one of the ingredients in his plastics. But as far as painting is concerned I think that acrylic colors have been very important as much as it's enabled various kinds of coloristic effect which previously you could only get in a small scale and watercolor to be achieved on
a very large scale with intense color and it's also enabled so the junction between one color and the next area of color to be handled very smoothly which in the past when some of the junctions occurred and oil paint used to come up with a kind of ridge which you want to get in the way. So I think that acrylic has aptly it hasn't it hasn't been pollution ised and it has amplified just constantly you know things at the Pentagon. We can do more things more easily thanks to us as a. The characteristic of most artists that was suggested for example by a jury that the least what artists do you know those of us or decided that is going to work in a given medium and spends all his life for this is as characteristic of most artists shift around a little bit and experiment with with various
kinds of things and then they shift around longer than they did. Yes all you can say is true but as you said it not least because I think some many more of the techniques and then the ability to use those new materials greater availability of Aventura much recall them natural materials like walks oneself but also the great amount of waste and waste in obsolescence that also provides another source for artists. I think it's you know Ashutosh a logical thing to I think that people just shift around more now you know the make they have more choices. I mean you know anything I like you know a hundred years gave a here you fellows a bootmaker making and stood in front of any moment. What about the. There was a phrase that was mentioned during an earlier conversation called truth to materials what does this mean and how does it applicable here.
I think Jerry you were the one who first dropped the phrase hearing I was just exploring material as Lauren mentioned a moment ago and speaking of Henry Moore and being true to the character that we would be exploring it's green it's good it's not it's it's beautiful configurations that it makes as it branches and so on that other words the finished product showed it was look like what it should look like something else now and some of Nicholas's recent work in plastics some of the stuff looks like bronze as what looks like concrete. There is other others that quite obviously are plastic. How does this relate to truth to materials. Wow this is the thing really that that. You know I would have wanted to nail for myself that kind of idea of you know the material doesn't have any truth in that. It can be
made in terms of any idea the idea that I mean the idea that was fashionable that there was a kind of truth material that passed had looked like testing was again a kind of relationship to some natural kind of order and nature and things like this which I don't think is a particular name in the carvers who have who are devoted to this doctor. Yeah but tell you know when they get you know a piece of plywood which is also wood and I just flattened out and around said looks like something else like all the houses now made out of untruth material because the people who when they have wood paneling insisted of the work of our plastic This is this is a truth of a curious sort of yeah sure there's an idea there's a kind of natural order to which one relates one's self and that you know that she's This is the point person is
making about making an artist it's making He's saying there's a truth to materially saying I'm related to a natural way of all of that tree has grown like this I relate myself to it. This conversation is that all too short our time is up. Thank you very much for joining us. Like whisper jets. Lawrence all the way. And Dr. Gardner I guess I got a topic I think has opened up another question which we will try to deal with next week's program and that is what is the significance of the new art forms such as found art welding sculpture and happenings. I think that's what we'll take up actually. A question of art featuring art critic Lawrence Callaway and professor of fine arts Gary Hart Magnus is produced and transcribed by the SEIU Radio Network. This is Steve Fetter speaking join us again next week for another
question of mine. This is the SEIU Broadcasting Service. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
A question of art
Do Materials Influence the Artist?
Producing Organization
WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-jq0sw152).
Series Description
For series info, see Item 3338. This prog.: Do Materials Influence the Artist?
Fine Arts
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Producing Organization: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-16-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:29
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “A question of art; Do Materials Influence the Artist?,” 1968-04-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “A question of art; Do Materials Influence the Artist?.” 1968-04-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: A question of art; Do Materials Influence the Artist?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from