Reader, I peeked.
Usually Submit for Riff works this way:
an artist submits an image —->
Miriam decides to post it and assigns it a number (No. 5, No. 11, etc.). She puts it up for me to see —->
I check the WordPress site and see a new post with an image, waiting there, forelornly, for a riff. I look closely and riff. I click on the capsule-shaped, blue button in the upper right corner of the WordPress “Edit Post” page which says PUBLISH.
I don’t do research. Once or twice I followed a link to an artist’s home page, but I only looked at the images and did not read the text.
But this time, I peeked. I read a little about Molly Springfield’s project that includes this image (see here). It is a “Proto-History of the Internet” — a representation of an early 20th century attempt by a Belgian man named Paul Otlet to categorize all of human knowledge.
I also saw, briefly, that she has done a series of line drawings based on Marcel Proust’s Combray (Volume One of In Search of Lost Time). They involve painstakingly rendered drawings of the actual print pages of various translations…
It doesn’t help. I am not moved by these line drawings — their mystical specificity, i.e. specificity for no known reason (a perfect isosceles triangle for no known reason; diagonal lines with erased sections, vertical lines in the center…) strikes me as pretentious rather than opening up to me in any way. The geometries are appealing, but the juxtaposition of text makes them secondary. There is no access here, only the artist’s notion that she is doing work, demanding work, on a serious subject.
There is nothing wrong with these drawings — that’s not what I’m saying. They are, in fact, well drawn. I respect the care that has been taken. They are certainly intentional. I have no difficulty in understanding that some people find them very pleasurable, even thought-provoking…
But these drawings raise an interesting question for me: what do I want with a piece of art? The answer for me, surprisingly, is very clear: I want it to make me FEEL something.
Too much of our cultural commentary (art criticism, theater reviews, movie reviews, etc.) concentrates on what we think about a particular thing, its context, its history, its relationship with other cultural trends, its political import, its technique, its organization principles, etc. That is all fine. I like reading the New York Review of Books too. But art — ART — to me is about what it makes me FEEL. Not in the bourgeois, sentimental sense of how it makes me feel about the people in it — O that Miss Julie is wicked! No. But how it makes me FEEL in a deeper, darker way, the murky way of our truest feelings — how it affects me adrenally, in my “heart” (the rush of energy to our chest, which gland is this really?), testicularly (is that a word?), in my pulse, in my breathing, in the neural activity inside my cranium, in the shiver down my spine, the hairs on the back of my neck, the lightness in my feet, the catch in my voice when I try to talk about it.
Submit for Riff is about riffing on the emotions your work evokes — for this riffer. Submit your work, and you will get an attempt to render in words what you DID to me, what you did to my body, not what I think about it (though sometimes the line is blurry, admittedly). This drawing of the pyramid — “Proto-History of the Internet” or not — did not DO anything to me.
Well, except to get me worked up about what art is for! It sure did that. And that is not negligible.