So, in answer to the question ‘how can an artist today strive for excellence?’, this is where I’ve got to:
Firstly, I should have an elevated view of what art is, looking at Durer and Michelangelo as examples.
Secondly, I must pay attention to who I am as a person and develop my spirituality, as Kandinsky suggests.
Thirdly, I must be true to my own inner vision and maintain my artistic integrity.
Fourthly, I should set about my work with determination, dedication and passion.
Fifthly, I should concentrate on abstraction as the vehicle without boundaries, as Scully believes.
Sean Scully – ‘Landline Blue’, 1999
Virginia Button writes of Scully in her book ‘The Turner Prize’:
“The stripe is Scully’s image; he sees it as a neutral form which can be made to carry various meanings. …. With their combinations of vertical and horizontal striped elements these works have a powerful, almost architectural or sculptural presence, for some commentators even evoking ancient sacred monuments like Stonehenge.”
Some of this effect is achieved by the scale of these paintings. Look at the size of the canvases compared to Scully himself, the relevant picture is on the post preceding this one. But some of that effect of an architectural presence comes from the powerful way in which he uses blocks of colour, which at first seem heavy and monolithic, but on closer scrutiny become more complex and subtle.
Sean Scully – ‘Small Chelsea …? ‘
Just look at the amazing range of colour and texture in this painting. From being a block of stripes, it turns into an engrossing interplay of light and colour and movement in space. Scully is using the simple device of the stripe (with it’s Abstract Expressionist connotations) to speak of much more than just the surface of the canvas. To quote Button quoting Scully:
“Abstraction’s the art of our age … it allows you to think without making oppressively specific references, so that the viewer is free to identify with the work. Abstract art has the possibility of being incredibly generous, really out there for everybody. It’s a non-denominational religious art. I think it’s the spiritual art of our time.”
I admit to only ever having seen one painting by Scully ‘in the flesh’. That was at the museum for modern art in Dublin. I remember standing in front of it to look more carefully at its surface, and then being totally absorbed with it. Time dissolved. I was looking at something that took me to another place, though I couldn’t put into words what it was that it actually made me think. Somehow it accessed another reality that I identified with. I think this is quite a remarkable achievement , and one that I would want my work to head towards. Scully has been quite prolific. He’s obviously worked hard to succeed in making these pieces work. But it’s all very well me just looking on and cogitating. There comes a point when it’s better to stop talking and get painting!