Manipulation of Content Continuum
This group contains artifacts that display the exercise of imagination in choosing colors, and/or compositions that originate in the artist's brain. As with the process manipulation group, a matrix is necessary to demonstrate the decline of illusion as the dominance of content manipulation increases.
Common clusters or spikes in the ascending trend line include Surrealism, Late Cubism, Neo-Impressionism, Geometric Design, Pointillism, Pure Minimalism, and any other strategies that may fit the category.
The Mystery of the Mirror
Prior to the invention of the camera, an artist who relied on his image in the mirror as the basis of his self-portrait was in troubled waters. The problem is that all mirrors reverse the image. The implication is clear. All artists’ self-portraits prior to the invention of the camera (and quite a few after the invention of the camera) are backwards. They are all wrong. This includes all of the Rembrandts, the Van Goghs, Durer, all of them.
What does this mean? To begin with, the two sides of a person’s face are ordinarily different. What we see in an artist’s self portrait is the left side of the face placed on the right side of the head, and vice versa. We do not see the artist as he really is or was. The differences might be minor or more pronounced, depending on the artist.
There are other differences. Many self-portraits, for example, show the artist holding a brush in one hand and a painter’s palette in the other. The reason is clear: the artist can create a self-portrait much easier if he does not have to constantly put down the brush. However, this has produced a portfolio of self portraits over the years that depicts a population of artists that is mostly left-handed.
Sometimes, the result can be down right bizarre. Take Van Gogh, for example. He loved to paint his self-portrait. There are many of them, all backwards of course. But what about the paintings produced shortly after he cut off his ear? These are the self-portraits with the bandaged head. They show him having cut off THE WRONG EAR. Aside from the matter of which ear was the correct one to cut off, the question still remains: why did he cut off either ear in the first place? This is another one of those questions that many people have tried to answer. Rather unsuccessfully I think. However, I have a possible answer that arises out of my own experience.
I have been plagued by tinnitus (ringing in the ears) since the mid 1980s. It started off as a mild buzz in my head, and it eventually turned into a full symphonic orchestra. The sound only gets louder over time and never goes away. I have acquired all sorts of helpful devices and pills to deal with it. However, for years I did not have this help. I would wake up at 3 a.m. with ears blaring. The only relief was to put on head phones, listen to music and paint pictures. Most days, I would paint from 3 until 7 a.m. before leaving for work. I have heard of people with such severe cases of tinnitus that they had their auditory nerves severed. It is very possible that Van Gogh had such a problem. Is it possible that he attempted to deal with it by cutting off his ear? And when that did not work, the only remaining escape was suicide. Is it possible? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Portrait of Claude Monet in Search of a First Impression
Claude Monet is presented here as a crusty old camera, mounted on a tripod. The painting affirms my belief that 1) Surrealism can exist in any painting of any era, and 2) the invention of the camera triggered the era of Modern Art. The camera is the perfect precedent for the Impressionists' belief that an artist should respond to one's first impression. This is exactly what the camera does.
I think that Cezanne realized this very well when he characterized Monet as "just an eye, but what an eye!" He could just as easily have said of Monet that he was "just a lens, but what a lens."
Pure Minimalism represents the complete absence of composition and transformation of color into a motif. Once you get used to the idea, pure minimalism is pretty simple. The paint is transformed from a medium into a motif. In other words, the color becomes the subject. Let's say you paint an entire canvas solid blue. The subject is simply blue. If you ask, "what does it mean?" you are asking the wrong question. You are basically asking, what does it mean to be blue? Well, it means blue.
This gets old pretty quickly. So you can complicate it a bit. You can ask, can you paint a minimalist painting that treats the paint as both a medium and a motif at the same time? The answer is a theoretical enigma. However, I think I can still present two pretty fair examples.
"Deep Space" satisfies the minimalist demand that the subject is paint on a flat surface. In this case, the color is black. However, consider another possibility. Consider that you are on the command deck of the star ship Enterprise. The window before you on the command deck presents deep space, a thousand light years of nothing. There is the enigma: a painting that presents a flat surface where the subject is black color, and at the same time it is a medium suggesting infinite space.
Another example is "Newsprint: A Newspaper with Its Employees on Strike." As a minimalist painting, there is the color off white. However, it can also be newsprint. As newsprint, the painting demonstrates the importance of labor. Without labor, there is no composition. The painting satisfies the requirements of both a medium and a motif.