Thursday, March 29, 2012

Who was Alberto Giacometti?

The artist creates. The conduct of creative expression can be normalized along a bell curve. At the end of one tail, you have meticulous planning which adheres to a strict regimen of checks and balances. An example of this kind of artist would be Norman Rockwell. For every painting, he created a ridiculous amount of preparatory work. Everything was soooo structured. Nothing was left to chance.

At the far end of the other tail, you have Alberto Giacometti. He was a mid-twentieth century visual artist best known for his pared-down sculptures and hacked-at portraits. Unlike Mr. Rockwell, he approached his work with brutal directness. His was an immediate attack rapidly followed by a furious layering of applications, one on top of the other, until he reached a palimpsest of expression. No preparation was necessary. Every piece was an existential journey.

When a person entered his studio to sit for a portrait, he was often faced with the realization that there was no end in site. Mr. Giacometti would brush and hack at the canvas for hours, days, and weeks, applying brush stroke after brush stroke. It was not uncommon for these marathons to end only when the gallery owner would send his delivery men to collect the canvas for the show. Often, the painting would go up on the gallery walls still wet. The finished state was irrelevant. Each piece was a journey to the heart of his subject matter.

For sure, such an approach required tremendous chutzpah, overwhelming technique, and a truly twisted perspective. The upside was that he probably never had a “blank canvas” moment. The downside was that he may have hated everything he painted.

Think of fiction as a painting. You have a blank page, and you have a subject. Let’s say you’re subject is Aunt Petunia. You start with a rough description of her – size, weight, age, identifying characteristics, and so on. Then you layer on some background material – her upbringing, friends, family, occupations, and all that. As you proceeded, you would conjecture about her mindset, decisions, and everything else. Before you know it, the line between her existence and your perception would blur completely.

That’s the Giacometti approach. As long as it’s all internally consistent, it should be okay. But, the consistency – that’s the rub. Without consistency, it’s just a great big mess.