Today in my introduction to painting class we made “supports” for paint – basically differently textured canvases. Upon each the paint will apply and sit differently. This is a fun project, playing with materials, but it also served as a reminder that these materials are, well… …they’re material. They are not just ideas in my head. They do not simply respond to my thoughts the way I wish them to. I have to negotiate their properties carefully, weaving them and splattering them as they are capable of being woven or splattered. That seems a rather inane thing to say, but I found in the struggle to accommodate these materials, to observe their properties and work with or sometimes in spite of them, a primal link between science and art. We as aspiring artists have a lot to gain by understanding and analysing our materials. Even so, the medium is not the message. To declare that is to almost forego offering a message at all. There’s only so much anyone can say about a medium, and foisting the responsibility of reading the work back onto the viewers is just to be a lazy communicator, not a clever modern artist. The medium certainly exerts overwhelming pressure upon the message if it is not handled right. I think this might be why the medium takes over in so much contemporary art – including in my own right now, I’m failing – because the medium is more powerful than the message. It will push the message aside given half an opportunity.
Paint doesn’t care about our squirmly little egos, and nor does science. Science can no more be twisted to defend intercessory prayer or homeopathy than wet paint can run counter-gravity of its own volition. We can distort science, lie about its properties, but the method applied carefully will right itself, just as much as when pushing a great globule of wet paint upwards with our brush it may try to run back down. The allegory gets messier and messier as I go. Paint dries into place. Science does too, but so slowly and with so much revision over its surface. Only stroke by stroke our understanding of the world increases, and sometimes we fuck up, as in painting, and have to make a big ugly revision on the way to completing the work. It’s lost, the metaphor. It has broken down, but for a while it was interesting.