Becoming no one
The other day, I received an e-mail of an artist promoting his painting workshops in North America. He is renowned and sells well. On the e-mail, a photograph of the artist painting and beside him two students at their easels copying every gesture, every shape and color. The students were ecstatic because their paintings looked just the same as their instructor’s.
At the very same time, Mónica Márquez (my better half in life and business) is getting ready for her show One and No One in the Canadian national capital, Ottawa. Her digital works make a connection between Twitter’s semantics and the theory of irrational and imitative behaviour of society and crowds developed by social theorists Gabriel Tarde (French, 1843-1904) and Herman Broch (Austrian, 1886-1951). According to Tarde, society is imitation and imitation is a kind of somnambulism. Similarly, Hermann Broch’s Theory of Mass Hysteria claims that people live in a trance-like or twilight state of mind, a product of the pre-eminence of irrationality in social life and mass conduct. As Márquez states “the more we become one with the crowd, the more we become no one”. The New York based artists Tony Martelli shows exactly this state of mind with his sculpture entitled Sleepwalker (on the grounds of a Boston college).
Therefore, when you paint, are you creating or imitating? Or simply sleepwalking just like Martelli’s sculpture?
It is true that “copying the master” is a learning technique, but this you can do at home with a reproduction of a renowned work of art or with a real work in a museum – some museums give the permission to paint inside their galleries. But during a painting workshop in Italy or an art class in Provence, with its fleeting light and overwhelming topography, can we afford to simply sleepwalk?
More to come on Mónica’s exhibition.