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Santa Barbara, Ca

I'm a full-time rambler and contract designer with as many skill sets in my quiver as there are plane tickets in my passbook. I've worked in ornamental iron, jigsaw puzzle design, bookmaking, glass engraving, and a variety of other mediums. I'm currently living out of a backpack as I trek my way around the world.

Blog

The Point of a Painting (and How We Lose Our Way)

Zak Erving

Panels #4 (left) and #2 (right) for Edwin R. Campbell

I went to art school long enough that I'm allowed to say this: There's a lot of art I don't like. 

Or how about a little bolder, courtesy of Igor Stravinsky: "Most art is sincere, and most art is bad." 

I remember overhearing a comment at the Reina Sofia in Madrid that went something like this: "How the hell did this piece of shit get in here?" And while my first instinct was to brain-slap that uncouth Philistine (who let him inside?) and his mouth-breathing companion, I couldn't help but echo his sentiment—quietly, to myself—towards a few other pieces in the room.

And I'm what one calls "educated" in art.

But for every ten hacks, there's one artist whose work I can really dig into. And for every handful of those, there's an artist with whose works I can spend the afternoon. And I did just that, as best I could, at the New York Museum of Modern Art last week, in a corner room stocked with Wassily Kandinsky's Panels for Edwin R. Campbell. Heavily influenced by his training as a musician and deep interest in spirituality, as well as a staunch defender of abstract art, he is perhaps the preeminent forerunner of a select group of painters who reached back into that ancient rite of artist as spiritual guide, and as guardian and translator between seen and unseen worlds.

Kandinsky's abstract forms burst into concrete shapes for the briefest of moments, flickering in reality like fireworks before disappearing, lost again in the unconscious, like a dream forgotten upon waking. Born with his senses fused, he perceived music in a way that is lost on the rest of us: percussion was tactile, harmony was sweet, melody was spectral. Operating from the belief that music was the most abstract form of art, Kandinsky gave each measure its own color, and each chord its own brushstroke.

For him, the point of a painting wasn't a picture any more than the point of an arrangement was its final note: the actual act of painting, like playing a song, was the point of a painting. The point of a song is singing, and the point of a dance is dancing.

Kandinsky concealed in his work the key to quality of life: You don't find the substance of your life at the end. You find it along the way.

Look closely at his work: do you think he had any fun painting it? 

Do you think that was the point?