This article, a contribution to the Common Knowledge symposium “Fuzzy Studies: On the Consequence of Blur,” documents how some modern artists and critics have argued against any sort of verbal thinking about art. Beyond describing works of visual art and pronouncing on their relative quality, critics often assume responsibility for explaining what a given work means. Because paintings and sculptures are less precisely codified, less articulate, than verbalized communications, they may seem to require verbal translation. Yet some artists and critics have warned that the advantageous emotional force of a visual presentation is diminished or even destroyed by the generalizing classifications that verbal thinking entails. Sensation suffers from any reconstitution in words. “Watch Out for Thinking” focuses on the views of two critics (Clement Greenberg, Charles Harrison) and two artists (Willem de Kooning, Donald Judd), each of whom was sympathetic to the principle that visual observation and expression should remain independent of verbal explanation. Their common principle required that each develop some method of dealing with the gap between the experience of sensation and the thoughts generated by or directed at such feeling. On this issue, each disagreed with the others, whether expressing his difference directly or indirectly; and the differences often hinged on matters of aesthetic judgment. Ironically, the practice of such judgment demanded verbal concepts for its articulation. In turn, the verbal discourse tended to render the initial aesthetic judgment more extreme, more polarizing, than it may have felt as a lived response to a specific work of art. To remedy the situation, a viewer might allow feeling to divert the logical course of thinking.
Richard Shiff; WATCH OUT FOR THINKING (EVEN FUZZY THINKING): Concept and Percept in Modern Art. Common Knowledge 1 January 2013; 19 (1): 65–87. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-1815660
Download citation file: