A Few Thoughts on ‘Subconscious Artmaking’

Some accidental printmaking happened on my body the other day when I awoke to find some deeply embossed sleep lines on my right arm and shoulder. It has happened to all of us at one point – impressions made into our skin as a result of our sleeping bodies pressing onto wrinkly sheets and blankets. They were pretty interesting compositionally – there was a main fissure that was pretty deep, and then some lighter embossed marks. Being a printmaker and spending a large amount of time making impressions onto paper, I appreciated this immediately. I did feel like a total nerd – printmaking on my mind, even in my bed. What’s next? Silkscreening in the car? (there is such a thing as kitchen lithography – a DIY trend using household products for this process) Before I become a total print geek, I’d like to partially change the subject.

Admiring the randomly made texture on my arm and shoulder, I also thought of the film, The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal (2002). This experimental documentary claims that there is aesthetic merit to the “unconscious” compositions left from attempting to paint over graffiti. The film was created by Matt McCormick, an installation artist and filmmaker that has focused on the the decay of contemporary culture. Although created ten years ago, I just discovered this movie. There is an almost satirical tone in the film – a result of a possible over-intellectualizing of  graffiti removal. It documents inadvertently created ‘artwork’ that isn’t connected to the agenda and motives of the art world, but can still be appreciated as aesthetically pleasing. Or, maybe it is actually connected to the art world: is our connection to this urban “artwork” defined by our awareness of an art context? This excerpt from Graffiti Removal mentions a connection between the painted over graffiti and the artwork of painters like Rothko and Malevich.

If you’re an advocate for anti-mimesis, then you may believe we are projecting aesthetic merit onto our environments as a result of the motives and trends that have occurred and that are currently occurring in the art world. In other words, it’s life imitating art. (The opposite is the ancient Greek idea of mimesis – art imitating life). According to anti-mimesis champion Oscar Wilde, from his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying,  “the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realise that energy.” So, according to Oscar, art is informing us how to perceive reality. Wilde argues “there may have been fogs for centuries in London”, people have only “seen” the “wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas lamps and turning houses into shadows” because “poets and painters have taught [people] the loveliness of such effects”. “They did not exist”, asserts Wilde, “till Art had invented them.”

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