Form Follows Everything (From Rod Northcutt)

In a best practice, contemporary art/communication can be many things, but what it cannot be is a set of items that simply complement or communicate the strangeness of the zeitgeist. To make work with such a claim ignores two challenges: one that it should be a set of items, and two that the zeitgeist is the thing to communicate (I will explain what I mean here when discussing futuring).

Standardizing art as “a set of items” (paintings, sculptures, prints, etc.) makes the form of a work of art primary and subordinates the issue or concept that drives it. For work to evolve naturally, we find that it is best to do two things: First, we do not require that the outcome is a thing, and second, we decide on the actual, physical form of a work last and initiate a project with by defining the issues that are on our minds, and then designing a concept for communication.

For example, as I sit in the studio preparing to make a work of art, why should I ask myself, “what can I communicate with cast bronze?”  If I were to do that, I would have prescribed a major aspect of the form (the material bronze) before exploring the myriad ways of communicating an idea or set of questions that may or may not require a “thing” as a vehicle. If I start out with bronze, the content of whatever I make will be constrained, not only by the media, but the “thingness” of it as well. Instead, I try to first ask, “what is the issue in which I have interest? (like self-imposed ethno-social divisions, or the socio-environmental politics of fracking, for example). When I figure that one out I ask, “what is the concept I want to use to communicate this issue?” In other words, how do I want to communicate about an issue: do I create an elaborate ironic parody like the Yes Men or a series of generative meetings on a boat like WochenKlausur? Finally, after much thinking, sketching, and model-building, I get to ask “what form do I want this to take?” That last question should be the LAST question prior to embarking on a project. It is possible that the answer might indeed be that I need to create a form of cast bronze, but I should not choose this by default. Instead, I might choose to make a video, paint a mural, design a mobile ap, create a dialog with a community group, or write an essay.

I acknowledge that this method makes it tough for artists to maintain consistency (often associated with repeated forms, like Donald Judd’s boxes or repeated processes, like Paley’s forged/welded sculptures) or ever develop technical virtuosity (a jack of all trades is seldom a master of anything), unless the viewing public starts to see consistency in issue and/or concept and is willing to focus on that rather than only consistency of form (cast bronze, in my previous example). Personally, when people describe my work and its impact, I don’t want them to say, “He is consistent.”…just sayin’.

Coming soon: How MAKETANK tries to embrace the future without having to fold space!