Oh, I think his argument gets way caught up in this, to the point where it becomes impossible to disentangle it without beginning the whole argument over again. It’s much more than an accidental detail; it colors the entire discussion. And the fact that we’re still speaking of formats (abstract, representational) as divided with respect to issues of craft, resoluteness, and intent means there are still things to discuss.
Anyway my hope was to start with something at Greer’s conclusion (the “dinergic principle”, which I did appreciate) and trace it back to a more originary openness to the world founded upon resoluteness as opposed to prior conceptual intent. It is here where I find the meaningful distinction, not in genre or format. [Greer and I seem to agree mostly about craft, so I’ll skip that.]
In resoluteness one opens up beyond oneself to enter into a partnership or discourse with one’s material to bring something forth, while at the same time agreeing to bear full responsibility for the results (thus, after first having opened myself, after putting myself in question, I disclose myself to myself anew in the work… I must accept who I through the work have allowed myself to become…) A partnership, not a command relationship; discourse, not rhetoric. The anticipatory vision that one realizes and one in a sense becomes is thus a product of the space opened up by discourse. In the sense of being a “product” of certain terms it is dinergic – but these terms are in partnership, not opposition.
But with prior intent, one still “works” the material, but in a servomechanistic relationship in which there is no opening and hence no risk. One no longer works “with” material but forces it into place according to a preconceived idea or plan. Material resists and hence there arises the idea of challenge or opposition. One’s stance becomes no longer conversational, but rhetorical – one appears to converse with the material, but only to solicit the “yes” – the response already predetermined in the concept. The art work becomes only then an empty triumph or conquest in which no fundamental disclosures take place.
But the retreat into prior intent is more than simply opposed to resoluteness: it is a failure of resoluteness, and hence a major source of failure of the art work. The flight from failure into preconceived ideas or normative expectations indeed leads only to failure. To save the “baby” then, this does come around to something like Greer’s initial position… that the failure to risk going outside of oneself is problematic. But it’s problematic precisely because the work always fails, not that the work magically avoids failure simply because it is in one genre vs. the other.
Also, to justify his position Greer needs to bring in all of these external and frankly useless notions – the idea of truth in art as correspondence, for instance – which are simply untenable (and especially so in representational art), and which themselves risk undermining his position.
So I’m trying to reconstitute Greer’s idea of failure in art as something much more fundamental – it’s not merely failure to open oneself to an object, but a more fundamental failure to open oneself altogether – which means to take a stand on one’s existence, to make one’s own being an issue or question.
Finally, I want to say that this discussion is indeed very personal… there’s very little merely “abstract” or “conceptual” in the notions I am trying to discuss – my own failure to be resolute or commit myself to the destiny that is unfolding before me – a large part of which veers into controversial territory, a controversy I neither made nor welcomed, and yet one that originates in a historical condition which I must also own (“I too am responsible”) – my personal failure to fully expose myself, to make myself vulnerable, to thereby take a stand has lead so far to nothing but failure. It is even this lack of commitment which renders my skill inadequate – by merely exploring this avenue or the other – each time a completely different set of skills (or even equipment) is emphasized and I spread myself too thin.