Reasons, Excuses, Alibis & Non Sequiturs

I recently had two paintings (Lovers' Lane and Willy's World) in the exhibition at the UNM Art Museum, Reasons, Excuses, Alibis & Non Sequiturs. David Pagel, a curator and art critic at the LA Times, was the shows juror. David wrote an awesome foreword for our catalog and flew back in from LA to give a talk at the museum in April.

Read what he had to say:

A good part of graduate education in the arts revolves around explaining what you have done—and what you are doing—in the studio. There’s nothing wrong with that. Aside from one case, which involved an apple and a couple of naked youths in a glorious garden, I don’t know of a single instance when too much knowledge diminished the richness of anything.

In my experience, if we understand understanding as a complex engagement with every nuance of our perceptions and what, in the world, gives rise to them, then there’s no way that increased awareness will not result in more sophisticated—and sensitive—comprehension of the world and our place in it. More satisfying experiences follow naturally, often with profound consequences.

That said, there’s still a big difference between an artist’s explanation of what he has done in the studio and the way his art works in the world.

In other words, explanations only go so far. Some of the best ones happen after the fact, when an artist looks back on what he has done and only then begins to understand where it might have come from. Among the worst explanations are those that get laid out, with consummate logic and painstaking detail, before the work of art-making has even begun. Such attempts to gain legitimacy almost always dovetail with contemporary trends. But fitting in with what’s fashionable today all but insures that the art that results is gone tomorrow. Taking its place on the tail end of whatever it’s trying to keep up with, such well-thought-out work misses the wave it tries to ride.

In making my selections for this exhibition, I looked for works that did not feel as if they had come into existence with prepackaged explanations. My goal was to sniff out things whose explanations were not especially logical—whose raison d’être was messier and more subjective, more passionate and puzzling, and, most of all, riddled by the sense that the work outdistanced anything the artist could say about it before it was made.

And now that that work is done, it’s time to speculate about the reasons these things exist.

That is where graduate education enters the picture: The better articulated the explanation, the greater the likelihood that the work will make its way in the world and not disappear into the dustbin of ignorance. In some cases, this means coming to terms with the more or less arbitrary systems an artist sets up as an excuse to do the things that he wants to. In others, it’s an alibi, a flat-out lie designed to get the authorities out of the way. In every case, the best art is a sort of non sequitur, a splendid entity that does not follow logically from any set of assertions or assumptions but appears, unexpectedly, and leaves us scrambling to catch up with its unforeseen pleasures and unanticipated wisdom.

- David Pagel