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Cybernetics and Painting


Cybernetics and Painting

by Frank Galuszka ©




This paper takes a step toward remediation of inadequate or insufficient approaches to the art of painting, by arguing for the inclusion of a cybernetic approach and for an understanding of principles that coincide with constructivism which operate within the creation of paintings and other works of art.  It is written from the point of view of a longtime practitioner, and not from the point of view of an academic proponent of art theory or art history. It argues that an understanding of cybernetics improves creative practice rather than merely analyzing outcomes. First and Second Order Cybernetic principles are at play in understanding what a painting is, and in determining its status as an object among objects which communicates itself simultaneously as not-an-object.

Further, these principles form an outlook as they become enfolded in sensibility, and through this outlook, the problem of being a painter can be addressed, the range of invention can be apprehended and broadened, and creativity can be mindfully activated.


In the course of outlining a means towards this understanding, this paper outlines

How a painting operates as sensibility through style

What a painting communicates and to whom?

How painting is experienced psychologically.

What is cybernetic or constructivist in painting?

How is painting like, and unlike other art forms (as to procedural structure)

Distinctions within painting that are relevant to cybernetics in Postmodernism, Abstraction, Realism, Photorealism, Plein aire painting.

It addresses the psychology of how painting and drawing are taught, how painting is explained and how painting can co-create meaning with a viewer. Finally this paper proposes that inquiry into painting may be of value in teaching us more about

 constructivism, as paintings provide stable, manifest and accessible physical outcomes of constructivist praxis.



Cybernetics and Painting



Paintings are still and silent. They are materially obvious things. Yet paintings seem curiously apart from themselves, as if referencing unseen elsewheres.


There is a dislocation; sometimes a lack of traction. As if there is nothing to be seen except irrelevant rhetoric. Paintings invite time. What is absent in them can have the feeling of simple apartness, or remoteness, or even a sense of being intentionally hidden. What is absent, we can speculate, is an obscure message of some kind.  We can imagine that this message is intentionally hidden, as in a religious painting that seems to disclose and obscure its mystery simultaneously.  Or we can feel that the consciousness, which attended the creation of the painting, has erased its presence and moved on.  Or that this consciousness, is too fundamentally unlike our own to be understood, or too distant because of cultural or temporal remoteness, or because of a feeling of exclusion from even a contemporary avant-garde milieu that might have produced this work.  Maybe it is just us. We don’t know enough, or feel enough, or care enough to get into the painting.


Some paintings coincide with themselves more than others. When we feel the consciousness of the painter integrated with the painting before us, as perhaps in the case of, say, the familiar style of Rembrandt or Cezanne, we feel a certain relief, a coziness, a coming home to something which accepts us. Because of the fame of the artist we are also assured that we have stepped in front of something worth looking at. Still, there are things that are distant, inaccessible, and obdurate. The maddening simplicity of a surface covered by paint.


The painting may seem a wall between visions. The viewer feels rebuffed.


Some of this is due to the confusion over the role, or even the existence, of “talent”. Of creativity as a door, both open and closed to understanding. There is suspicion od swindle. “Is this really as good as they say?” Alienation from the artwork is due to the mystery of mastery, or of underlying compositional gambits, or to an opaque and politically suspect establishment of authorities and interpreters of art. Some comes from a lack of traction with the dense nonverbal thinking that produced the work.


We are looking at a reality that seems alien to us. It is our constructions of reality that disagree. This is not only true for representational painting.  All paintings organize value, importance, meaningfulness. At the sight of a confident but disagreeing reality, we become self-conscious of our own. The temptation to dismiss the reality of the other is strong.


While art history, and art theory produce much valuable information about the cultural significance of an artwork, they tell us little about how it was done. And even, they tell us only a small part of the story about why it was done.


It is curious that art history and art theory, for the most part, have developed alongside the creation of artworks, in this case paintings, and have more to say about the perspectives of viewers of art rather than creators of art. While their findings and commentaries have much value to art and its understanding, in the end they do not penetrate into revealing much about its creation.


In a film of interviews with artists called Painters Painting. abstract painter Barnett Newman famously quipped, “Aesthetics is for the artists as ornithology is for the birds.”[i]


In my life as a painter, now going past forty years of daily practice in painting, I can say that I agree. In my years of studying painting, and for years afterwards, I consumed art history and art theory voraciously, but found something lacking. What was lacking was any guidance on a way to move forward in art. It was all after-the-fact, and about looking back.  I found more of value in looking over the manuals of the trade: color theory, how to do perspective, how to compose a picture, how to mix various painting mediums, art supply catalogs, and technical procedures. Useful theory came from immersion in conversation with other artists, mutual critiques, drawing sessions, exhibition openings, studio visits and other get-togethers in which discussion of technique and aesthetic goals intermingle with professional ambition and gossip.  Late in the process, about twenty five years ago, I was introduced to cybernetics, originally through friends who directed me to essays, and especially to the metalogues, of Gregory Bateson, and it was through these readings and conversations about them, and through subsequent broader involvement with cybernetics, particularly the work of Maturana and von Foerster, that I found a way of penetrating productively beyond art history and art theory into a coherent explanatory system that advanced creativity, rather than suppressed it, allowed it to flourish, rather than explained it to death, and provided a structure for connecting and unifying understandings of painting “from the inside” with understandings of painting “from the outside”. It also became more easily possible to establish connections among apparently disparate factors, including creative blocks and productivity, art world gossip as well as critical discourse, the value of good ideas as well as “bad” ideas, of failure as well as success, in actively creating, rather than merely inhabiting, a creative life.  This paper takes a step toward opening discussion in some of these areas, of describing the value of cybernetics to art, specifically painting, and in proposing how art, and specifically painting, may illuminate constructivism as art gives material form and example to some of constructivism’s understandings.



Painting, symbol as well as unbeatable medium of individual consciousness, thrives when people are interested in, and revere, the reality of their own and other people’s minds and hearts. Painting can’t make anyone interested and reverent. It can only reward interest and reverence that are brought to it, in a social milieu of respectful persons.


Peter Schjeldahl , 1990  (1)[ii]


Ludwig Richter relates in his reminiscences how once, when he was in Tivoli as a young man, he and three friends set out to paint part of the landscape, all four firmly resolved not to deviate from nature by a hair’s breadth; and although the subject was the same, and each quite creditably reproduced what his eyes had seen, the result was four totally different pictures, as different from each other as the personalities of the four painters. Whence the narrator drew the conclusion that there is no such thing as objective vision, and that form and color are always apprehended differently according to temperament.


 Heinrich Wolfflin, 1929 (2)[iii]





An object that is not an object 


A painting is an object among objects. Yet it suggests that it is not an object.  It can be created so as to enhance or reduce its paintedness, shifting its weight from one identity to another. The judgment of the artist about this decision is always of interest. Slick illusionism strikes viewers as miraculous but withholding.  Obvious paintedness, or painterliness, seems perhaps humbler and more accessible. It seems to make less of a transcendental claim. Perhaps the failure of the object to coincide with itself is mitigated by painterliness, or “healed” by it, as the painting is inducted more explicitly into the material world.


The illusionist emphasis may correspond more easily with cultural consensus of viewers, as well as with popular expectations of mastery, and can be exploited to manipulate emotions, to create propaganda, as well as simply to advance artists’ careers. It is exploited by a number of artists, for purposes of proposing discomforting realities. Salvador Dali famously cultivated double images, such as swans that are suddenly seen as elephants before reverting into swans and then going back again to elephants, as a part of his surrealist agenda.  His are lurid examples of a commonplace condition, brought to an excruciating evocation of dislocation.  The cohabitation of contradictory images in the same aggregate of paint and brushstrokes is evidence of something - when one image is brought into consciousness, another is thrown from it, but insists on its return, in a violent contest that goes on until the paradox is resolved in a conclusion that this painting is a unique environment in which this simultaneity goes on.


The unwholesome feeling of Dali’s paintings, with their extreme glamour, may come from the way they tease madness out of us as we look at them, and present this madness to our “better” selves. On the other hand, Cezanne’s paintings seem to embody a rare sanity, as what is seen, and what is constructed becomes an instrument of universal reconciliation of the inner world of the artist, and the outer world of the painted subject, or motif, In his mature work each painting is an acknowledgement of his awareness of the idiosyncrasy of his own seeing brought into equilibrium with what is seen in a construction which makes no claim to consensual illusion.


Certain paintings, like those of Cezanne or Giorgio Morandi, simultaneously emphasize the referenced “outer world” and their own concreteness, achieving unique interdependence between polarized factors, arriving on account of this at a pitch of fascinating ambiguity, that seems uncanny and unique in the world, as both concreteness-as-object and reference-to-the absent are simultaneously emphasized, and in which both are intertwined through a history of complex and unique decisions in which opposites interdepend.  The uniqueness of Western painting is in the progressive refinement of technical creation of the referenceability of the material (this rock, this plant) and the immaterial (this humidity, this moment, this emotion) in a context of an individual creator isolating individual and idiosyncratic experience and intending to communicate it, in some way, to an individual viewer/observer.




Sensibility and Style




Out of an invisible sensibility visible style is created.


Artists historically unite theory and practice, and operate out of a sensibility rather than by mechanically applying theory to practice.  In the case of effective artistic collaborations in which all collaborators contribute creatively, unspoken features develop beside those that are spoken, and communication is tested and retested through the shared object until col­laborators more and more produce changes that both please and surprise the other by illu­minating the structure of what is being shared between (or among) them. Through such collaborations the communication of the artwork and its validity beyond the individual are 'proven' by the continuity of fit of new decisions with the other participant(s).  Such com­munications are rarely spontaneous — each participant must learn the scope of the sensibil­ity of the other. In artistic practice, sensibility can be described as a partly unconscious, idiosyncratic and self-correcting system of allowable and disallowable responses to an inter­nally and/or externally determined subject. The technologist's collaborative efforts, in con­trast, are usually centered on a disciplined creative process that has rules, guidelines, and traditions that require 'fit' and validation of practice to theory. Is sensibility constructed by individuals, or by communities participating in a consensual domain? The artist and the technologist may disagree but the implication to design is clear: we cannot expect any arti­fact to generate the same response from everyone, whether that artifact is art or tool. The shared experience of a tool is necessary to prove its usefulness. We can approximate shared response by understanding sensibility and the social domain, and apply that understanding to the process of design.[iv]


Sensibility arises in a cultural context to which it must be responsive in order to be understood.




By style is usually meant the constant form- and sometimes the constant elements, qualities, and expression- in the art of an individual or a group. The term is also applied to the whole activity of an individual or a society, as in speaking of a “life style” or the “style of a civilization.[v]


It is distinctions in personal style that Wofflein notes in the retelling of Ludwig Richter’s story of artists in the field, devoted to faithfully rendering nature, and coming up with very different results.  These artists each had an individual sensibility that, in playing with or against prevailing cultural style, resulted in distinct individual styles. The constructivist underpinnings of style are revealed in this variation among practitioners who are linked by motif, technique, culture, aesthetic environment, and education.


The sensibility arises as a history of constructing reality develops and produces effective results of one kind or another. The sensibility becomes a kind of legal system, more or less complex, that allows for certain acknowledgments and not for others, and certain combinations, and not for others. Breakthroughs occur due to stresses, and either produce revolutions, overturning the sensibility in part, or are adapted through amendments.


Individuality in Space and Mind


Historic emphasis on the individual in Western Art have to do with locating subjects in space and in realizing the viewer in relation to the viewed as varying by position. Renaissance architect, painter and theorist Leon Battista Alberti codified a “ linear perspective” that requires and identifies individual point of view in establishing a rational depiction of space.  For instance, the viewer is referred to in the course of teaching fundamentals of perspective :


The whole system of of perspective drawing is based on the height of this eye-level: whether or not the eyes are above or below the thing being sketched.[vi]


From that point on historically,  the individual is acknowledged as the viewer, and increasingly the artist realizes that individual point of view can be extended in experience, expression, and style as well as in physicial space.


Time is also portrayed as being, in part, a matter of individual experience. Leonardo seems to have created the experiential moment in the Last Supper, and has linked time to a grave and symmetrical linear perspective in an artwork that contains elegant speculations about relationship between eternity and the moment, as well as history and creation. The moment, in increasingly secular interpretation, becomes refined through subsequent centuries from Caravaggio through Degas.



Painting and Communication




In discussing artworks as “aesthetically potent environments” Gordon Pask lists four attributes of such environments:


a. It must offer sufficient variety to provide the potentially controllable novelty required by a man (however it must not swamp him with variety - if it did, the environment would merely be unintelligible).

b. It must contain forms that a man can interpret or learn to interpret at various levels of abstraction.

c. It must provide cues or tacitly stated instructions to guide the learning and abstractive process.

d. It may, in addition, respond to a man, engage him in conversation, and adapt its characteristics to the prevailing mode of discourse.[vii]


 Some paintings have greater decision density than others, and a more engaging decision architecture than others. A painting with a good deal of incident ( a photorealist painting or an abstraction made up of many skeins, drips and marks) may result from many decisions or may not. There are trivial and nontrivial decisions, trivial decisions being predictable and somewhat mechanical, decided beforehand in greater part by planning; and nontrivial decisions being inventions forged by analysis and unconscious intuition working together, in some cases rising to the level of “inspiration”- unexpected, original, and suddenly elegant.[viii]


Salvador Dali describes his inspiration for the painting that became known as the Persistence of Memory:


...I lit the light in order to cast a final glance, as is my habit, at the picture I was in the midst of painting.... I knew that the atmosphere which I had succeeded in creating with this landscape was to serve as a setting for some idea, for some surprising image, but I did not in the least know what it was going to be. I was about to turn out the light, when instantaneously I “saw” the solution. I saw two soft watches, one of them hanging lamentably on the branch of the olive tree.[ix]


There was, to Dali, an undeniable fit of the hallucinated solution. Its surreal elegance was beyond all understanding, and remains provocative, even today.  After painting the images he had just “seen”, Dali shows the painting to his wife Gala, who had just returned from the movies.


I looked intently at Gala’s face, and I saw upon it the unmistakable contraction of wonder and astonishment. This convinced me of the effectiveness of my new image, for Gala never errs in judging the authenticity of an enigma.[x]


This is a kind of communication of coherence rather than a communication of data. Dali lays out his agenda in The Conquest of the Irrational (1935. He includes the following assertion:


The fact that I myself, at the moment of painting, do not understand my own pictures, does not mean that these pictures have no meaning; on the contrary, their meaning is so profound, complex, coherent and involuntary that it escapes the most simple analysis of logical intuition.[xi]


This story is impressive not only for the illumination of Dali’s process of expectancy, but for the vividness of the visual impression of the inspiration. He says it was “seen”.


This kind of “seeing” is commonplace in an artist creating a painting. In imagining the consequences of a subtraction, an addition, or a change in a painting, the painter learns to “see” the change and to calculate its impact. I think this commonplace use of phantom images is a practical function of constructivism in painting. Not only is our experience of reality a passive consequence of constructivist operations, this same construction can be used actively as an instrument.


Not only does this play a part in inspirations, but in the everyday act of drawing an observed object. In the act of effectively drawing or painting from life, a process of observation, memorization, translation into action, projection (“seeing”) to anticipate effect, rehearsal, retesting, confirmation, execution, analysis, and revision takes place, over and over again, at high speed.  The painting results from an interdependence of decisions. usually a very large number of decisions, linked together in alternate simultaneous configurations, in a partly visible-partly invisible architecture that satisfies Pask’s posited attributes: Ideally, it should never run out of novelty. All novelty should be integrated and thus relevant to the coherent identity of the whole ( the authenticity of the enigma). It should be encoded in such a way that it can be adequately decoded by varying individuals, and can teach its own decoding. Thus the decoding can be idiosyncratic without losing authenticity, and thus it is vital and changing. The viewer can shift in relation to the painting from attraction, to interrogation, to conversation.  Relationships with paintings rich in visible and invisible substance can last lifetimes. The viewer asks of the painting, the painting asks of the viewer. Conversation.


How is Painting Experienced Psychologically?


The painter is aware that the painting is a result of internal operations of the painter, or has the impression that the painting creates itself, using the painter as a medium.  The painter is in communication with physical and intellectual factors, the paint itself (see Elkins[xii]), himself/herself, an imagined other or others, the times, the history of the painting itself, its visual pathways and its evidence of accumulated decisions, the subject of the painting, the planning of it, and so on.


These factors, even down to the original subject itself, the pretext for the painting’s existence, may be subject to change as the painting develops. It is not unusual for the artist to feel the original pretext disappear in the course of the work, and often as the last major decision that allows the work to “find itself”, to resolve into the emergent structure of its own integrity. This integrity often appears concurrently with a breakdown of the artist’s control over the artwork, and it severs the artist’s identification of the artwork, giving the impression that the painting has become, through this seemingly necessary sacrificial act, independent of its creator. This arrival at independence has not usually been a conscious purpose or destination from the point of view of the painter, and it is with mixed feelings that the painting concludes, and is “finished”.


Some artists seek to cling to some things, the audience, the subject, the plan, etc. while others tolerate or entertain universal and mutual flexibility.  These highly flexible artists are the most interesting to me, as their process most vividly resembles an expanded version of Maturana’s diagram of structural coupling and drift.


illustrations a and b


In the above diagram, the painter simultaneously exists as an observer of two worlds, the world of the world, and the world of the painting, for the painting is not only created from without, it is eventually inhabited, and is created ( so it appears and is experienced) from within. This simultaneous existence, and the inhabitation of the painting as a replete world, confuses the observers ( these are represented by eyes in profile in the diagrams), who are both united and disunited in the process, as each domain (each “reality”)  requires a denial of the other.  These domains are linked through the materiality of paint itself, and it is frequently an effort to reconcile the two domains by reconciling illusion with materiality, as discussed earlier in some paintings by Corot, Cezanne or by Morandi. These painters produce objects that confess, without equivocation, their paradoxical existences, as if making a deal with the world in exchange for being allowed to remain in it. Both Corot and Morandi suggest, in their work, painterly wisdom, an acceptance of the paradox. (Cezanne seems more agitated about it) Their strength is that they conform to the human condition, but it is also their weakness is that they surrender, or gloss over, the psychological tearing involved, acting politely as gentlemen. Among those who do not reconcile these factors, are Cezanne and Edvard Munch, whose work always feels alive, unclosed, like an open wound. Munch and Cezanne resist resolution, suggest that the work is unfinished, and thus their paintings remain poignantly alive.


Artists know the feeling that others can only weakly imagine, of being so close to their work that they cannot distinguish themselves from it. As students, artists routinely suffer from criticism when they do not have a clear awareness of the distance between themselves and what they have made.  In that state of mind, there is no distinction between theory and practice, observer and observed, substance and allegory, observation and empathy. [1][xiii]





The mysterious closed system of the artwork is solitary experience, both in its creation and in its understanding.


Solitude I name this closed system where all things are alive.[xiv]


This suggests how the fullness of the created world is comparable in the imagination to the real world, and is intentionally confused with it for the purpose of making a work of art. In the suspension of disbelief in the fictive there is a counterbalance in the suspension of belief in the “real.”  It is partly in the regular and disciplined denial of the reality of the “real” world that the painter puts constructivism in practice.


...all that is about me shares my being there. The walls of my room are a circumscription created by my will. The light of the lamp is a sort of consciousness. The unscribbled sheet before me is clear and populous as a sleeplessness.[xv]


Creative consciousness extends into the whole of the seen world, changing it into something in which that creativity feels, with emotional recognition, nested. Valery may be writing of the poetic imagination, though in its impression of vastness to the creator, in its endless opening out, it suggests an inexhaustible fecundity that poetry shares with painting. The feeling of limitlessness is suggested by prodigious spontaneous talents such as Picasso’s or Milarepa’s, and by a desire to inhabit that fecundity forever. On the day before his death, not knowing that his end was near, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones said,


I should like to paint and paint for seventeen thousand years....Why seventeen? Why not seventy thousand years?[xvi]


Francoise Gilot describes Picasso’s impression of his own disappearance into the world of the painting and reports his explanation:


He stood before the canvas for three or four hours at a stretch. He made almost no superfluous gestures. I asked him if it didn’t tire him to stand so long in one spot.  He shook his head,

“No.” he said. “That’s why painters live so long. While I work I leave my body outside the door, the way Moslems take off their shoes before entering the mosque.”[xvii]


Coming out of this trance, or trance-like state, there is sometimes a noticeable adjustment of the world inside the painting to the world outside it, as the painter seems to transit from one observer to the other and a startling shock of chaotic raw appearance intervenes.


Angels Fear


Sometimes artists reduce creative space on purpose, by creating a narrow style, or by working according to plans and procedures, or by imposing other restrictions that increase constants and reduce variables.


As, ultimately, it is impossible to decide whether a change in art is an improvement[xviii], it is impossible to be assured of “good” or “bad” results. A narrowing can facilitate mastery and clarity of purpose, or it can lead to the repetition of a hack. There is no assured path to success. A more flexible approach can open to creativity or volatility, and create persuasive novelty or chaos in the life or work of the artist, or both.


Unformed and Unfinished


The painter Balthus who, during his life often worked and reworked paintings for many years said of his process:


My paintings are composed and organized by this indecisive and nocturnal approach. I give no tyrannical orders, but let the painting make itself. The hand receives indications and serves as a humble and faithful tool for beauty to realize itself. [xix]


This statement suggests the artist as a sort of dowser. and that the hand holding the brush as a sort of divining rod, an intermediary between the artist and the painting, transmitting in both directions. Elkins says “The artist... may not be sure of any categories -- there is no clear difference between the artist and the half-formed work. Neither is in control, neither  clearly “makes” the other. “[xx]


What is the unformed work? It is neither object nor being.  It is something the artist is only now learning about himself. It is alive during this learning, and is a part of the artist’s livingness because of its uncertainty.  A fragile embryo, it may die on exposure to criticism or even praise.  And when the painting and the painter part, it is sometimes uncertain whether the painting is “finished”.


Balthus resisted parting with his creations:


Balthus is painting slowly these days, so the appearance of The Cat with Mirror III, the first work to come out of his studio in five years, is an event (7)


As the unfinished painting feels alive to the painter, the finished painting may feel dead. In completion its future closes, and in its separation, is the greatest disappointment of all, the realization that the painting has become, or may have become, an object, as now, in the world it is vulnerable and undefended, and its identity is subject to being determined by others.


On the other hand, the unfinished painting is still alive with possibilities, and when the unfinished painting leaves the studio and goes into the world it feels to the artist as if , by mischief, the painting has simply run away from home.


Bonnard had difficulty with closure, and even corrected his own paintings surreptitiously, at least once, using fellow-painter Edouard Vuillard as a lookout, after his paintings had been sold and were hanging in collections. The painter and sculptor Alberto Giaccometti had similar difficulties, and continued working on some figurative sculptures, whittling them until they became so small they nearly disappeared.



What Is Cybernetic or Constructivist in Painting?




Every painting is bounded by a framing edge. This edge creates the inside and outside that is fundamental to painting. To the artist, the painting appears “other” than the world that surrounds it. The painting may seems supported by that world - as it might seem in the studio for instance, or in a gallery or museum, where the environment is in the business of helping to create, sell, or honor the work, or it may seem alienated, leaning against a wall, being carried across the street, in the living room wall of a philistine collector. This abrupt collision of worlds has been historically ameliorated by the conceit of the frame, which eases the painting into its environment, declares its political position, and suggests its value.  Even to be unframed is to be framed in audacity, or a claim to humility, or a suggestion of honesty.  And, to a painter, a frame too often evokes the impression of a coffin.


The existence of the frame is an acknowledgement of the awkwardness of the painting in the world. Is it to be set like a gem? Mounted like a trophy?  The frame brings some of this to mind. Elaborate Baroque and Rococo frames are curious objects that convey impressions of value and ownership, but also by way of color and form, interact with the color, form and materiality of the painting.


The color of the frame comments on the painting. Pissarro and Van Gogh favored painting frames in bright colors- lemon yellow, lavender, orange - giving their works a jaunty and Bohemian vitality.  They are rarely encountered this way today, as they are ensconced in reverent perpetrators of their cultural importance. The color contrast intended by Pissarro and Van Gogh would have contained each painting in a sort of optical halo of excitement, emphasizing each work as an occasion for experiencing immediacy. As complimentary colors were sometimes chosen for the frames, the experience would be one of heightened optical intensity, as is also advanced within some paintings of the times by painting, as Monet frequently does, pink tree trunks and branches in the vicinity of green foliage. The impressionist and post impressionist intent was that the painting be felt as a shock in the environment. This act was political as well as aesthetic in intent.


The conventional gold frame, or the stressed gold frame advances the luminosity within the frame and harmonizes with the colors of the painting rather than contrasting violently. The gold frame, especially if tastefully stressed, suggests an overall mellowness, timelessness, and declares the inner space, inhabited by the painting, as one of privilege. Thus the painting appears more special than the world that surrounds it. 


This frame carries on a conversation with the painting, and also with the world around it. The floral motifs and serpentine curves of the Baroque or Rococo frame echoes the curves within the composition of the painting, tending vibrations from the pictorial composition that suggest visually escaping from its edges. Thus the frame returns the vibrations of the painting to the interior by echoing them. At the same time the frame, being of different matter (gold, carved wood) and being three-dimensional, refers to things outside the painting (furniture, drapery, plants, etc.) and suggests, almost diplomatically, how these alien elements might cooperate, might make common cause.


Through this process the radical potential of the painting is reduced in favor of its “domestication” and it is for this reason that artists often oppose frames, or insist on minimal frames.


The aggregate object of the painting and frame often make paintings harder to look at in museums such as the Pitti Palace in which elaborated framed paintings are hung one above the other and close by, and with rich fabrics, furniture and ornaments establishing a claustrophobic environment of conspicuous wealth that may strike contemporary visitors as visual noise- suffocating, grotesque or humorously ostentatious, and make it difficult to look at the paintings as individual things. But even in the periods of the Baroque and Rococo, paintings came into existence as starker things, and Elkins writes about the disparity between the framed painting and its conditions of creation in the studio.[xxi]


In the studio the painting is likely to be a difficult and recalcitrant object, a zephyr of solitude and cthonic challenge. It is an effort to make a world. Whether it is a world that resembles in someway the environment we have in common, or one that operates by its own rules, it is a complete thing that argues for its own existence. It is always mapping something through a course of protocols and accidents, and nothing comes out exactly as it was planned.


Painting is a way of modeling the way reality is modeled. Perhaps this is its underlying appeal to both creator and viewer. As “a nip is not a bite”[xxii], a painting is not the real world. It is a form of play that references, and prepares us for, serious business.  It is a thing seen that shows us how we see and how we do not see. It is a disagreement with our construction of reality that shows us the necessity and the idiosyncrasy of our own construction. A communication that reveals the failure to communicate; and a failure to communicate that communicates. And so on.






In painting there have been broad styles that can be collected into art movements. Each of these movements emphasizes ways in which painting and constructivism relate. They show distinctions within painting that are relevant to cybernetics.




Postmodernism in art is the prevailing contemporary style. It could be argued that postmodernism, being a multi-faceted cultural condition is not a style but a collection of styles, both individual and fused, a condition or circumstance.  Because it is contemporary it is, like the water-environment of the fish, invisible to us because of its ubiquity. Our efforts to detect it produce much critical material, and may exaggerate certain trends, like the reconfiguring of authorship so as to minimize individual originality ( much like Herman Hesse’s introduction to the cultural background of Joseph Knecht in the Glass Bead Game) to an apocalyptic degree. Since it focuses on matters of semiotics- choices in depiction- rather than in the struggles to create against obdurate material [xxiii] it focuses on things media have in common, in a cultural environment dominated by photography, and is over-applied to painting, a practice that has an altogether different decision-structure from photography.  Postmodernism, too, emphasizes new forms, including digital media, intermedia, and performance, and painting can look archaic and out-of-step in its environment, yet painters who examine style as an issue, such as Gerhard Richter and Lucio Pozzi, are clearly postmodern, as are painters who see the field of the painting as a domain for the performance of the painting ( Anselm Kiefer, Lucian Freud), and those whose work consists of intentional and ambitious revival of past forms and values via constructed artistic personae (Martha Erlebacher, Julie Heffernan, Julian Schnabel).  The inclusiveness of divergent and individual styles (somewhat like configurations of cultural incidents or units - again resembling the Glass Bead Game) in postmodernism stand in contrast to the destiny-oriented one way train of modernism, and thus may simulate a multiversa in which differing individual constructions manifest in styles are assembled, Postmodernism can be seen as an expansion of modernism into its margins, with a subsequent weakening, and finally eradication of its center. Rather than a movement, postmodernism resembles a field or a condition. The expelled hegemony of modernism may occur at the periphery of this field, and the creativity of artists includes the invention new ways of being marginalized. Hence the frontiers are continuously expanded. Postmodernism may not be visible as a style until it metamorphizes into something distinct from it, but at present, it has the appearance of a metastyle, or second-order style. A particular project that may occur to artists understanding constructivism is that, given the historical convention of identifying individual personality with individual style that has characterized comprehension, connoisseurship and career-building (commercial and academic) in art, is that style itself is ripe for revolution, and with it, the understands of possibilities for expanding individual personality beyond current conceptions of identity and identifiability.





While abstract painting may consciously derive from external imagery (eg. Kandinsky) or unconsciously (Pollock), or minimally (Mondrian) derive from it, the resulting painting, early in its process, departs from its ignition and carries on toward conclusion not in the triangular relationship of artist-model-painting but in dialog, artist-painting. In this dialog, the painting’s history (what it was prior to the present moment, in the course of its creation), and its imagined future (what will it become if this new mark, change or intervention is made?) converge in a sequence of nows, a sequence of present states. It may appear, that with the exclusion of a referent, that abstract painting is a more constructivist act than representational painting. I am inclined to think not, although abstract painting may more nakedly reveal itself as constructed, and may appear more synonymous with the internal construction of the artist.  As to the viewer, the invitation to construct out of the raw material of the painting is palpable and evident, and the viewer is readily aware of an invitation, if not a demand, that he or she create meaning from a provocative object, and is conscious, often uncomfortably so, that this meaning can have no external standard of objective validation.



Realism and Realisms


As there is a specific art movement called constructivism that has nothing to do with constructivism as it is discussed in this journal [xxiv], so there is an art movement called realism, which is very specific[xxv]and which is not connected to philosophical definitions of realism, but to “the real” as it is commonly understood, as a sphere of visual plausibilities that excludes, for instance, angels and ghosts and includes what one might encounter in daily life. When Leonardo describes, at length, how to paint a battle scene[xxvi], he lists all the things we might encounter in a battle if we were there, including those, like the dust in the air, that might be missed in the consideration of less attentive painters. Leonardo’s description is a recipe for constructing a plausible battle scene, not for copying one from observation. Even as a duplication of nature, there is an absence of realism in painting. Leonardo’s drawing of a plant, such as his famous chalk drawing of a star of Bethlehem, exaggerates growth trends into insistent curves, and eliminates deviations due to accident or individual circumstances of growth. Surface detail is either simplified or eliminated.


The most persuasively representational paintings convince us by rhetoric or through empathy. Nothing is ever being represented.  Some nonverbal something is advanced by way of visual synecdoche. There is no delivery of information. There are coordinations of coordinations of actions only.




Photorealism is a form of contemporary realism.  Originating in the 1960’s and early  1970’s, it is particularly confusing as it, more than other forms of painting, suggests the accurate transfer of the external world into (onto) the painting.


In photorealist painting, the painter’s relationship is with a photograph as an object rather than with the mechanically referenced objects or scenes in the photograph. It is not a coordination with the world but with a mechanical document of the world.   There is a relation, and often a confusion, especially among viewers, of the cultural, as well as the mechanical and creative, positions of painting and photography in relation to one another. The conformity of the painting to the dispassionate “reality” of the mechanical representation suggests exaggerated achievement to unsophisticated viewers who mistake mimicry for mastery and conformity for understanding.  The photorealist painting nevertheless reflects considerable specialized expertise. It projects a miraculous appearance, an occult glamour, and conforms to the current cultural inclination to accept the photographic image (uncritically) as accurate and true. [xxvii]


Plein air painting


The dynamic relation between observation and imagination in a practice of painting operates in adversity. There is material resistance and time restraints. Plein aire painting, working from nature outdoors, can bring wind and cold as well as rapid changes in light. Along with lack of mastery, urgency and adversity are common constraints.  It is out of engagement with these liabilities that much art, that could never be created otherwise, is born. The fecundity of urgency and adversity are generative of unforeseeable imaginative negotiations that take the form of spontaneous visual synecdoche.


I neglect everything for the external beauty of things which I cannot reproduce because I render it so ugly and coarse in my pictures, albeit nature seems so perfect to me.[xxviii]


There is no duplication of nature, but a failure to do so that can be both humiliating and exhilarating at once. In this failure there is richness of expression and meaning.


Such stresses as Van Gogh or Monet experienced, compress the decision-making process to a point that cannot be paced by conscious action. In these contexts, the painter fuses conscious intention with unconscious decisions.  In the case of plein air painting the constraints are various.  Some can be foreseen; others cannot be planned for.  Some affect the consistency of the motif: light moving, fog lifting, wind blowing.  Rapidly changing light conditions, in particular, create a context of temporal urgency requiring swift retrievals of metaphorical parts to suggest the whole. Other factors affect the physical features of the enterprise: the easel may fail in the wind and tip over, or the canvas may shake in the wind under the brush ( Van Gogh reports this in his letters), the paint may dry too quickly or too slowly, the surface of the canvas may be afflicted with blown dust or with rain or insects.  Further there are physical and psychological discomforts:  the general physical awkwardness of the enterprise, the cold and damp, fatigue, and frustration;  and further, there are changes in perception and consciousness. In the field, adversities of different orders arise not one at a time, but in combination.


Both foreseen plans and unforeseen revisions are cast in economies of synecdoche, and whether rehearsed or spontaneously invented, the artist's choices are responsible to a sensibility which, having been created over time, may be illuminated, expanded, challenged and even betrayed but not ignored or forsaken.  The sensibility is the system of allowables and disallowables created by the artist, consciously and unconsciously, over time.[xxix] Sensibility forms a catalog of possibilities[xxx]; in the situation of plein air painting, sensibility meets motif and constraints to decide, via the technique of synecdoche, how and what of the observed will be registered on canvas, and how subsequent adjustments and revisions are decided.


Hence, without forethought, a curve of paint summarizes the swelling of a cloud, a scattering of tangled brushstrokes suggests a margin of weeds, some scumbling conspires into a patch of earth, and brush size indicates a limit as to the scale of what will and what won’t be represented,




Mannerism can mean a way of doing something, and perjoratively, it has come to mean a way of repeating a stylistic quirk or entity as a way of prolonging achievement in cheap success. Here I wish to discuss the art historical movement called Mannerism, which flourished in Italy, particularly in Florence, as the High Renaissance passed. Its invention addresses the depersonalization and repersonalization of style in a way that is relevant to constructivism.


Florentine painters in the first half of the sixteenth century began creating self-conscious and eccentric style in the turbulent wake of Renaissance achievements. Their “mannerism” continues some of the trends in Renaissance Art and repudiates others, and likewise it subsequently influences and is repudiated by the Baroque.  Its rise and the conditions surrounding it are described in detail by Giorgio Vasari, architect, biographer, art historian and, himself a Mannerist painter personally acquainted with all the major proponents of the movement, and Benvenuto Cellini, a Mannerist sculptor and notable autobiographer.


It is a period in which style (and stylization) is self-conscious and is advanced by artists.


Pivotal figures in the High Renaissance are Raphael and Michelangelo, who also evolves into a major figure in Mannerism.  While wholly a Renaissance painter, Raphael’s inclination is away from nature. Though he was a brilliantly observant portraitist, his focusing project was abstract and classical, His style progresses toward  harmony and grace, and even towards a blandly normalized sweetness, and his is a conscious step away from observable nature.  According to Vasari, the inclination towards grace is an effort towards refinement, and an effort to map onto visual art the refined conventions of courtly behavior.  This inclination maps an intuited set of protocols, privileges, concessions and restraints onto the form and content of visual art, including its removal from spontaneous passions and quotidian detail.  Thus, this art is not only apart but elevated, not by accident or by the lavishing of detail and ornament, but by simplicity and the removal  of detail, as the forms of the world are coaxed toward imagined Platonic pure forms. Energy becomes sublimated.  All individualities are eschewed: individual details of observed reality (with the exception of portraiture), individual moments of lived time, individual expression of the artist.  Art becomes depersonalized, in a hegemony of leveling style.


Kenneth Clark comments about Raphael: Some of the greatest masterpieces leave us with nothing to say. Raphael’s Sistine Madonna is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful pictures in the world....but the few banal thoughts it has aroused in my mind would not fill a postcard.[xxxi]


And Dali, with deadpan humor (as well as with serious advice), praises Raphael’s distraction:


It was in order to put painters to sleep while keeping them awake that at the height of the Renaissance it was usual to surround them with diversions and to play Aeolian music, so that during their long and patient hours of manual labor they might keep their minds elsewhere as much as possible.  For it is well-known and recognized that the painter who reflects is always a bad painter, and I dare say also that the same is true for the philosopher who reflects too much - of whom the prototype is that lamentable “Thinker” by Rodin.  For inside the head of such beings one may be almost certain beforehand that absolutely nothing happens.  “When you paint, always be thinking of something else,” said Raphael.  This truth is like a temple.[xxxii]


Michelangelo outlives Raphael on both ends, having been born earlier, and dying later than Raphael. His style evolves considerably and is powered by an animating individuality in spite of its (perhaps half-hearted) efforts to transcend that individuality.


In the shadow of both, the thoughtful, masterful, ambitious, yet conservative Andrea del Sarto (Vasari’s teacher) arises in Florence while Michelangelo and Raphael are spending their greater energies in the pre-sack boomtown of Rome.  Digesting the styles of Raphael and Michelangelo, Andrea proceeds to analyze them, and it is in del Sarto’s studio ( as well as in the nearby cloister of S. Annunziata) that a discourse founded on this analysis comes into being.  It includes Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino, as well as Vasari.


The evidence of the discourse is in the paintings. Style becomes a thing in itself, is separated from the spontaneity of response to observation, and considerable room is made for ideas, formal, philosophical and otherwise abstract, and speculation, principally about style itself and the unknown limits of beauty and meaning. It is at this time that the artist withdraws from social norms, and it is the Mannerist painter who comes to typify the artist as someone obsessive and apart from society.


Individuality and conversation become concentrated.  Conversation includes the non-verbal conversation of competition.  These conversations-by-way-of-competition are observable in Rome and Florence.  In Rome there is an epicenter in the Vatican complex of the Stanze, Loggia and the Sistine and Paoline Chapels, and in Florence the simplicity of a single space, S Annunziata where the dialog among frescoes continues today.


What is cybernetic about this work, and what is constructivist about it?


Given the operation of sensibility, it is in locations such as these that allowables and disallowables are tested against one another, to see which  has more integrity, which achieves more beauty and meaning, and which simply accounts for more.  Further, a sensitivity to novelty inclines competing artists to invent further, within constraints of grace and effective communication.  While the paintings in the Stanze and in the Sistine Chapel are representational, in a sense they are only nominally so. The contest is not that of Zeuxis and Parrhasius, one of mastery, deception , and illusion; but a contest of conformity to an invisible zeitgeist, a bringing to light of the emergent spirit of the times. Certainly in Rome the stakes seemed higher.  The audience was demanding, sophisticated and powerful.  Raphael’s success may be due to his greater accuracy in epitomizing the spiritual and temporal nexus of the papal court, while Michelangelo clings more to his own inner depths and, it can be proposed, resonates more with key attuned individuals rather than with the court in general.  Raphael lightens and Michelangelo makes grave. Seen in the vicinity of one another, their great works invigorate the viewer with subtle motion, like a pendulum.  The conversation in Andrea del Sarto’s studio can be imagined as more cooperative and less competitive. [xxxiii] Among these artists, conventions are identified, both to be broken and to be advanced.  Interest expands beyond the local in time and space. While greater sophistication is the shared goal, and the pre-eminence of Italian art is believed in, these artists look to the past, especially to carved Gothic sculpture, and to exotic accomplishments abroad, especially to Durer, made available through the distribution of his prints in Italy.


These influences were sought, not in that they were superior to the Florentine art of the time, but in that they were exotic. that they could stimulate the new and the strange.   James Elkins writes about the craziness of painting in what painting is, and about the nature of its quest involving a n effort to make something out of resistant material.  Painting has something in common with alchemy (making something noble out of something gross-- this gross matter being both the material substance of paint, and the moral or intellectual condition of the artist himself.) and it is not inconsistent with this parallel of underlying process that Mannerist painter Parmagianino eventually pursued alchemy, that Cellini indulged in necromancy, and that Rosso Fiorentino concerned himself with the reasoning capacity of a Barbary ape.   In mannerism, the inherent strangeness of painting became apprehended by painters, its branching patterns of choices became revealed,  its strange outcomes became entertained.


The difference between the world outside the painting from the world inside the painting, became cause, not for bridging the gap by way of art, but of fascination. These artist chose to widen it, to find out how far painting could go on its tether from reality, not toward it.  In their choice to alienate art from reality, they also seem to have chosen to alienate themselves from consensus reality along with their art. Pontormo, Parmagianino and Michelangelo become increasingly eccentric. Vasari describes Pontormo as being solitary “beyond belief”, of Michangelo giving up changing his clothes to the extent that his buskins grew together with the skin of his lower legs, and of Parmagianino descending from a handsome and elegant young man into a wild obsessive alchemist  and stipulating his own bizarre burial. [xxxiv]Rosso digs up rotting corpses by night, Nicodemo Ferrucci commonly wore a doublet made from the flayed skin of a hanged man.[xxxv]  Bartlomeo Torri lived among his anatomical studies so much so that he would, “... poison the air of the house by filling his rooms with human limbs and fragments of bodies which he even kept under the bed.” [xxxvi]  Rustici lived with a raven, a porcupine, an eagle and a collection of snakes.[xxxvii]


Since those times there are abundant stories of eccentric artists. The eccentricities of artists have become the stuff of fables, and part of the explanation of creativity, its origins and its consequences.


Like modern artists, the Mannerists sought after a realm that was remote, not near, to the world of their day-to-day lives. Dali famously proclaimed that the difference between himself and a madman was that he was not mad, but Dali did, nevertheless, become mad in the end. [xxxviii]


The regular inhabitation of unformed imaginary realms seems as if it should be regarded as risky. With the rise of importance of the imaginary world in the artist’s life, its influence on ordinary life, and on participation in consensual reality becomes compromised, societal constraints on behavior weaken accordingly and, eventually the artist can no longer “pass”. The tension between the world inside the painting and the world outside the painting creates too much stress. When the world outside the painting prevails the artist may retract creatively. When the world inside the painting prevails, the constraints of the world give way.


The Mannerist painters pioneered an unfettered creativity that led to future eccentrics such as Blake and Goya, among many others.




How Painting Is Taught


The student of art is usually someone who has become good at something, say drawing a likeness or harmonizing colors. This student is often surprised that an art education can include strategies that challenge pre-existing competencies. In my experience, all effective teaching strategies in art that go beyond advancing trivial information, have in common that they interfere with the attachments students have to their competencies. On foundational levels this has to do with interfering with habits of posture, patience, and expectation, as well as habits of seeing, drawing and composing.  Teaching interventions spark new approaches through counterintuitive exercises such as drawing from upside down images or drawing with eyes closed, or with a non-dominant hand, or with a clumsy or unfamiliar drawing instrument.  Also, they involve disciplines for undercutting persistent habits such as seeing in terms of things with outlines. Twentieth century American painter and art teacher Charles Hawthorne says to his students:


Let the eye go from one spot to another without the aid of outlines. Jump from the center of one spot of color to the center of the next.  Keep your eye away from the edge a little bit more - don’t insist that the eye shall stop at the edges,[xxxix]


Such interferences and perturbations reveal habits of seeing, as well as presenting openings to new ways of seeing. Teachers routinely persist with admonitions that drawing is a sort of forgetting, a forgetting of the names of things seen, in an effort to reorient vision from the “known” to the unknown, from things to phenomena. This can be insisted upon without ever being fully successful. The forgetting is often momentary, but in that moment of forgetting, persuasive results are so often encountered that students rarely deny the validity of this advice, while nevertheless resisting it.  At the core of the teaching of drawing, which, together with design, are generally regarded as foundational to the visual arts, is the disconnecting of visual imagery from language. While, as in descriptive writing, visual art is dependent on a kind of synecdoche to evoke and communicate “reality”,  it does so by way of indicators and grammar alien to the realm of words. 


The teaching of visual language then, is an invitation to internal examination of preconceptions and prejudices that can have wide-ranging results, beyond the visual, into the philosophical and political.


The teaching of an alternative approach to the obvious or direct, has longstanding tradition.  Early Renaissance painter Cenino Cennini describes how to paint mountains:


If you want to acquire a good style for mountains, and to have them look natural, get some large stones, rugged, and not cleaned up; and copy them from nature, applying the lights and the dark as your system requires.[xl]


With rocks standing in for and inspiring mountains, we have resistance, and a suspension of disbelief, as one thing is to be done in terms of another. This kind of work, which requires decisions by the dozen,  eventually engages the artist to the point that belief in normative reality is also suspended, as one realm of phenomena is translated into another.  This translation of whole to whole, requiring that one thing be experienced in terms of another, is a poetic experienced described by Kathleen Forsythe as isophor in her paper Cathedrals in the Mind.[xli]


Cennini’s directions are related to provocations of the imagination from random and unlikely patterns.  Vasari writes about Piero di Cosimo (1462-1521):


He would sometimes stop to contemplate a wall at which sick people had for ages been aiming their spittle, and there he described battles between horsemen, and the most fantastic cities, and the most extensive landscapes ever seen: and he experienced the same with clouds in the sky,[xlii]

This cross-category thinking, and envisioning was also practiced by Leonardo, who was personally acquainted with Piero[xliii], and this approach inspired surrealists, culminating in paintings and drawings initiated through suggestions of natural processes like frottage and fumage, and by Max Ernst’s process of decalcomania, and Dali’s “Paranoiac Critical Method”, and leads to a material-as-metaphor trigger for creative communication that is common to much contemporary art.  These changes of perception are projections of the constructed into compliant configurations of incident, Unlike some other viewers, who might see remarkable visions on a stained wall, in a piece of toast, or in a cloud, and believe this vision to be evidence of supernatural communication, the artist performs this action so regularly that it causes no mystery at all. In fact, as Dali mentioned in his inspiration of “seeing” the limp watches, the painter commonly uses this facility of projected seeing, to test, beforehand, what he or she is about to paint. This facility for hallucination, and its control, is a constructivist act.




How Painting Is Learned


The facility for hallucination on demand, is learned through exercise. Everything in painting is learned through exercise, which is regular, and which is against resistant materials. From art education based on challenges from counterintuitive resistance, as well as other challenges, the artist develops a tolerance for unpredicted outcomes, for accidents, for paradox. Painting requires many decisions, often many decisions per minute. Some of these are conducted consciously, others unconsciously, intuitively. These decisions are of many orders.  They are in many categories, which often converge on a single mark which must be made to satisfy them all. Also there are undecidable situations, which, in being decided, open new pathways.


Painting is mostly self-taught from a duetero-learning set in motion in the course of art education, a form of education which is intentionally shrouded in enough mystery so that it is always a little unclear. This gap or lapse of clarity, creates a space to be filled uniquely by the learner.  In the learning of even simple principles, there is space for difference, and it is through this that every painter re-invents painting. The self-learning that takes place after its initiation both deepens and further individualizes the art that follows.


How Painting Progresses


Painting always changes.  It changes from epoch to epoch, from place to place, from artist to artist. While certain improvements are possible, it is in general not improvable. It does not get objectively better. There are new projects, and new gains. There are losses, there are things forgotten.  There are hidden secrets; there are secrets hidden in plain sight.  Unlike other fields, painting builds on itself but doesn’t perfect itself-- there are trends that go back and forth in a dialectic that reaches over many centuries.  The art of today is an iteration of the art of the past, and has in it the seeds of its opposition, which will include its return.




On Viewing Paintings


Because paintings do not have temporal beginnings and ends, and are apparent all at once, visitors to a museum are tempted to glance at them and move on. At a glance, a good deal may be evident, but no relationship has taken hold between the painting and the viewer, Paintings invite time. Kenneth Clark addresses this problem adroitly in his introduction to a popular “art appreciation” book, Looking at Pictures.[xliv]


Metaphysical painter, Giorgio de Chirico muses:


I have wondered why a room, facing a public armed with binoculars and opera glasses, pictures (naturally not modern ones) are not shown, and why the public is not forced to look at each picture for a time corresponding to the duration of a long symphony, that is, about sixty minutes. I do not believe that looking for an hour with the eye of a painter and the mind of a philosopher, at a large and beautiful composition by Titian or Rubens, should be less interesting and more tedious than listening to a long symphony or a long concerto for the same period.  Why is this not done?[xlv]


Yet, without this intensity of attention, the painting appears to be an object. In the formation of relationship, it becomes something else. It becomes a companion.[xlvi]


In writing about a Bonnard retrospective, Michael Kimmelman titles his review: Keep Looking Till You Get It: Bonnard and the Art of Seeing.  He writes about the persistence of imagery in paintings, noting a comparison between Matisse and Bonnard. Matisse’s paintings seem to be memorizable in a way that Bonnard’s are not. He quotes Museum of Modern Art curator John Elderfield as saying, “ For Bonnard the image is more important as a present experience than it is for Matisse, which is why his paintings are more difficult to remember.” To this, Kimmelman adds:


Bonnard’s art, steeped in memory, registers in the here and now, at the instant it is seen, thwarting encapsulation, demanding repeated viewings that then disclose fresh discoveries.[xlvii]


Every painting comes into being only in the mind of whoever is looking at it. Every painting is an act of creativity by every viewer. The painting has no other existence. A persistence of looking teaches seeing. While the persistence of expecting the known produces reassurance or disappointment, the persistence of expecting the unknown in the wordless environment of painting extends consciousness into the generosity and vulnerable tenderness of the creativity of others, where this generosity and tenderness becomes our own; and the painting rewards, as Schjeldahl says, the  interest and reverence that are brought to it,  and creating from the companionable link a step toward creating and inhabiting “a social milieu of respectful persons.”  Painting has always done this, as it is continually re-created by new viewers, across languages and across time.














[i] de Antonio, Emile, director, Painters Painting, film, 1973

[ii] Schjeldahl, Peter. “The New Low”, Village Voice,  New York, (November 13, 1990)

reprinted in Columns and Catalogues, by Peter Schjeldahl , The Figures, August 1994, p. 18

[iii] Wölfflin, H. Principles of Art History. The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art, Translated from 7th German Edition (1929) into English by M D Hottinger (Dover Publications, New York 1932 and reprints), p. 1

Wölfflin is referring to Ludwig Richter’s autobiography, Lebenserinnerungen eines deutschen Malers, 1886 edited by his son Heinrich, (Twelfth edition, Frankfort, 1905)

[iv] Galuszka, Frank and Dykstra-Erikson, Elizabeth “Society, Sensibility, and the Design Tools for Collaboration”, Design in the Age of Information; a Report to the National Science Foundation (NSF), 1997, Klaus Krippendorff, editor, Design Research Laboratory, North Carolina State University, pp, 79-83

[v] Schapiro,Meyer, “Style” (1953), Theory and Philosophy of Art: Style, Artist, and Society, George Brazillier, New York, 1994, p. 51

[vi]  Norling, Ernest R., Perspective Made Easy, MacMillan Company, New York, 1939; reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc, Mineola, New York, 1999, p. 18

[vii] Pask, Gordon “A comment, a case history, and a plan” from   Cybernetics, Art, and Ideas,  Jasia Reichardt, editor, New York Graphic Society 1971 p 76

[viii] Galuszka, Frank “Art and Inspiration”  Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 15, “Developmental and Clinical Studies, Harvey Horowitz, editor, University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp. 134-142

[ix] Dali, Salvador The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, Dial Press, 1942, translated by Haakon M. Chevalier, reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc, Mineola, New York. p. 317

[x] ibid

[xi] Dali, Salvador. The Conquest of the Irrational. 1935 New York, Julian Levy, publisher, translated by David Gascogne, reprinted in Dali, Philadelphia Museum of Art, exhibition catalog, page 559, 2004

[xii] Elkins, James What Painting Is, Routledge, London, 1999, pp. 165-166

[xiii] ibid

[xiv] Valery, Paul. “Laura”, Poems in the Rough, Bollingen Series XLV, Princeton University Press, 1969, p. 235

[xv] Valery, Paul. ibid

[xvi] Edward Burne-Jones p.141

[xvii] Gilot, Francoise and Lake, Carlton. Life with Picasso, McGraw-Hill Inc.  New York/Toronto/London, 1964,  p. 116

[xviii] Galuszka, Frank. “the cybernetics of cybernetics and the cybernetics of cybernetics”, Cybernetics and Human Knowing, Volume 10, nr 2, 2003, Imprint Academic, Exeter, UK, pp. 99-102

[xix] Balthus, and Vircondelet, Alain  Vanished Splendors: A Memoir, translated by Benjamin Ivry, Harper Collins, New York, 2002  pp???

[xx] Elkins, James  What Painting Is

[xxi] Elkins, James, What Painting Is

[xxii] Bateson, Gregory (Steps?)

[xxiii] Elkins,  James What Painting Is

[xxiv] Ehresmann, Julia M. The Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms, Second Revised Edition

New York Graphic Society, Little, Brown, and Company/Boston, 1979, unpaginated, defines “constructivism” as follows:

Constructivism.  The creation of three-dimensional abstractions from materials used in modern technics, eg., wire, iron, plastic.  The first constructivist exhibition took place in Moscow in 1920. Begun as a Russian abstract style, it is sometimes called Tatlinism, after one of the earliest constructivists. Leading constructivists are Antoine Pevsner, Naum Gabo, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

[xxv] Ehresmann, Julia M. The Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms, Second Revised Edition

New York Graphic Society, Little, Brown, and Company/Boston, 1979, unpaginated, defines “realism” as follows:

Realism. Fidelity to natural appearances without slavish attention to minute details (see naturalism). As a movement, it goes back to Courbet and Manet in the 1850’s and culminates in impressionism.

[xxvi] Da Vinci, Leonardo  The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (Volume I),  Dover Publications, Inc, Mineola, New York

[xxvii]  Suggests a knowledge (and understanding) of reality that the artist does not have, especially as the photographic “source” is almost never exhibited concurrently with the photorealist painting. Photorealist careers are associated with choice of subject matter, the arranged still lifes of Audrey Flack, Bay Area suburban scenes of Robert Bechtle, cars and trucks of Salt and Goings, ships of Morley, city scenes of Estes, lingerie of John Kacere. Nevertheless some photorealist paintings have strong abstract (formalist) or material properties themselves, distinguishing the work of Estes, Bechtle, and Richter especially.

[xxviii] Van Gogh, Vincent , Letter to Gauguin 3 October 1888, printed in The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Penguin Books, 1997, p. 414

[xxix] Galuszka, Frank and Dykstra-Erikson, Elizabeth. “Society, Sensibility, and Design Tools for Collaboration”. Design in the Age of Information; a Report to the National Science Foundation (NSF), 1997, Klaus Krippendorff, editor, Design Research Laboratory, North Carolina State University, pp, 79-83

[xxx] Galuszka, Frank “Art and Inspiration”  Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 15, “Developmental and Clinical Studies, Harvey Horowitz, editor, University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp. 134-142

[xxxi] Clark, Kenneth,  Looking at Pictures, Holt, Reinhart, and Winston, New York, 1960, p.17

[xxxii] Dali, Salvador Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship translated by Haakon M. Chevalier, Dial Press, New York  1948

[xxxiii] Briganti, Giuliano  Italian Mannerism, Thames and Hudson, London 1961, p 19 

[xxxiv] Vasari, Giorgio  Lives of the Artists, Volume II, Penguin Books, London, 1987

[xxxv] Briganti, Giuliano, Italian Mannerism  p. 12

[xxxvi] ibid  p. 12

[xxxvii] ibid p. 12

[xxxviii] Gibson, Ian The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali, Faber and Faber, London, 1997

[xxxix] Hawthorne, Charles Webster Hawthorne on Painting from studenst’ notes collected by Mrs. Charles Hawthorne 1938, Dover Publications, Inc. 1960 New York, p.43

[xl] Cennini, Cennino d’Andrea The Craftsman’s Handbook; “Il Libro dell’ Arte” translated  by Daniel V. Thompson, Jr.,  1933, by Yale University Press; Dover Publications Inc. New York, page 57

[xli] Forsythe, Kathleen , “Cathedrals in the Mind; the architecture of metaphor in understanding learning”. American Society for Cybernetics, 1986

[xlii] Vasari, Giorgio Lives of the Artists, Volume II, p. 107

[xliii] ibid

[xliv] Clark, Kenneth  Looking at Pictures  ,Holt, Reinhart and Winston,  New York, 1960 pp. 15-18

[xlv] de Chirico, Giorgio. The Memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico. translated by Margaret Grosland from Memorie della mia vita, 1962; Da Capo Press, 1994, page 58

[xlvi] Galuszka, Frank “Comments on Cybernetics and Art, Particularly Painting” Cybernetics and Human Knowing Vol 12 nr 3,  pp 82-86

[xlvii] Kimmelman, Michael, “Look Until You Get It: Bonnard and the Art of Seeing”. also titled “Keep Looking Till You Get It: Bonnard’s Art”  New York Times, (Thursday, March 30, 2006)