The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2013

All Issues
SEPT 2013 Issue
Critics Page

What is Art?

There was always plenty of talking about Art.

Gregory Botts, “Drawing for Southern Route,” 2013. Acrylic on paper, 15 x 15”.

What was this reality “out there” all about? I wanted to figure the world out on my own.

The need of the artist for Art is the cause of the paintings the artist paints.

I know there is no authority but human aspiration.

I saw I could “make it all up,” “a fiction that would suffice.”

There was also the idea that we shouldn’t focus too hard on it. This had to do with whether an artist should be more un-self-conscious or more self-conscious.

Late one night at John McCracken’s studio in California. John was saying, “Art should be worn on one’s forearm like a shield.” John’s plank leaned there in the studio as a surrogate for the whole of Art. We talked on and on literally wondering if there was anything more we could say about it.

There were the Structuralist ideas everyone read. One idea still with me is like this. A painting was the mimic of a thought. The artist was going deep into the woods and coming back with a shape, striped and outlined at the surface. A painting was an idea.

When the ’80s arrived there was still a conversation going on in the downtown bars. It was about drawing the inner, more abstract world and the outer, figurative worlds together.

Looking over my shoulder one night, I saw artists were gathering for dinner in their best clothes. The ideas now were more self-conscious and related to strategy in the market place.

Art students were now professionally designated. They came armed with learned definitions which proliferated into social definitions, necessary because of the new large numbers, now at a noise level.

Younger artists for sure are taken up in the excitement of figuring this all out. It is like the new nightclub maze of ideas. In the nightclub of Art, one can really just navigate through, without much thought but having a high time of it.

My own definition of art would not be separated from the Earth’s concern, always a close partner to Art.

As Wallace Stevens said, “the great poem of the earth remains to be written.”

There is no truth but what we ascribe.

There are no final answers.

Barnett Newman’s apothegm that “Aesthetics for the artist was as meaningful as ornithology must be for the birds” reminds me that my work as a painter is my best answer.


Gregory Botts

Gregory Botts divides his time between studios in N.Y.C. and New Mexico. He paints site paintings “Along the Road,” traveling to New Mexico each summer. This adventure has supplied a blog and the writing of his ongoing poetry. It is the raw material which informs his studio work in Brooklyn each winter.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2013

All Issues