The painter Stanley William Hayter writes in the introduction to Kandinsky’s (1972: 15) Concerning the spiritual in art that towards the end of the nineteenth century, modern art in the West freed itself completely from abstractions of nature altogether. Modern art, such as abstract expressionism, progressed to represent the actual processes of making art itself. This progression was seen as natural, and more authentic to the representation and means of art, as the artist Sol LeWitt (Bickers & Wilson, 2007: 417) explains: ‘Obviously a drawing of a person is not a real person, but a drawing of a line is a real line’. It was for that reason that in 1921 the Russian Constructivist Rodchenko covered a surface completely with a single colour, without adding any representational form, to demonstrate that the canvas surface is a form in itself which takes part in the creative process (Dabrowski, 1998: 57).
Through abstract art, artists are trying to represent the way that art is constructed and the way that artists are inspired. Robert Morris (1993: 43–45), artist and art critic, illustrates this with the work of the painter Jackson Pollock. Pollock used the stick to mix the paint in the tubes as the brush to paint on the canvas. In that way, Morris explains, Pollock held the process of making art to be part of the actual painting, and broke away from Cubism by investigating the means, the tools and the methods of making art.
At this point, I see art making as investigating its own language; trying to understand art through making art. Contemporary sculptor and painter Anish Kapoor (Bickers & Wilson, 2007: 334–335) says that art is ‘discovering a language – putting together vocabulary of form, colours, and slowly becoming into a word’. However, the language of art is not made of forms, colours, and words only, but of the artist’s own emotions as well. Nietzsche, quoted by Iain Biggs (2006: 190), refers to ‘thinking with our feelings,’ which is an issue in art much debated at the Research into Practice conferences and proceedings published each year by Hertfordshire University in the UK. Morris (1993: 41) adds that this question is particular to each artist. Using the term ‘Anti form’, Morris explains that the use of shapes has a long history in art, therefore, art works should focus on particularisation, on the specific scale at which the artist uses the shapes and materials. The specific way in which the artist re-uses shapes becomes the tool by which art investigates its own language. Hence, the focus shifts from the forms and means used in art to the forms and means used specifically by the artist; trying to understand art not through the means of art but through the artist.
Foucault (1988: 115), in his often-quoted What is an Author?, argues that we must understand the author if we wish to understand his work. Likewise, the philosopher Jacques Derrida (Kofman & Kirby, 2002) suggests that one must learn how a work is constructed by the author in order to understand it. However, Gilbert & George (Bickers & Wilson, 2007: 322) make no distinction between the work and the artist at all, declaring in 1990, ‘We are the art and the artists’. The artists become an integral part of the work, just as much as paint and canvas are. In that respect I believe it is impossible to gain any insight into the created art work by learning about the artist, since the artist is the art work – the two are one. Gilbert & George’s declaration marks a move in art history from representing the process by which art is created by the artist, to representing the process by which the artist becomes an art work. Walter Benjamin ( 1999) noted this duality in relation to mass reproduction, suggesting in The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction that art making includes authentic experiences of the artist which cannot be copied by a machine. Art, in that respect, is the extension of the artist.
However, the idea that making art represents the process in which the artist becomes the art work was challenged by Kandinsky. Kandinsky (1972: 10) argues that there is an additional element which cannot be said to originate from the artist himself or herself, but still must guide the artist. Kandinsky calls this element ‘internal voice’, asserting that it is the most important creative source which artists must listen to. And yet Kandinsky asserts that this source is internal and immaterial; it does not draw from any external sources. The poet and academic Jane Piirto (2005: 6) echoes Kandinsky’s argument, adding that there is a power calling the artist and asking to be answered. In that respect, as the artist becomes the art work he or she is actually following guidance from internal sources, as if the artist becomes the servant of an impulsive urge to create.