Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Manufactured Authenticity: Seeking Both Excellence and Honesty

Posted above is my probably my favorite painting. The picture above doesn't do it justice. This painting is large. In fact, it's 88 inches tall and about 120 inches wide.

The painting is called Stephen's Iron Crown, it was painted in 1981 by Robert Motherwell. Robert Motherwell used black paint thinned down with turpentine and splattered on canvas to get this image.

But wait? I thought you said that this image was over 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide? How big of a brush did he have?

In fact, Motherwell took the splattered paint from one canvas and translated it over in a much larger form onto a much larger form, this time with precision and accuracy. In fact, he used more than just black paint to capture the accuracy, but also used shades of brown to capture the turpentine edges that separated from the black paint as it became absorbed into the canvas.

My friend Jon wrote recently about authenticity, and he was specifically talking about how a younger generation is looking for authenticity over excellence when it comes to the church. I think there is a lot of truth about what Jon is saying. We value and seek after the true honesty of real community, genuine interest, and no false pretenses.

At the same time, there is a conflict, and I see that in a post Jon wrote less than three weeks later when he says: "we’re most valuable if we get really good at what we do well and stop trying to do everything."

At this point, Jon is encouraging us to seek excellence in what we do. If we seek after excellence, focusing only on what we're good at, isn't there a chance that we might loose who we are and our honest authenticity will slip away in the pursuit of focusing only on our strengths? (What Jon says is no different than most buzz business strategy that says focus full force on what you're good at).

In an accessible generation, we're torn because with out excellence and uniqueness we are tossing ourselves into the global marketplace with destined failure, we will be shouting into the wind. Yet, at the same time, we long for something that is authentic, real, and honest.

This is why I love Robert Motherwell's work. It is authentic and natural. The image in the painting in natural, nothing more than the flick of a wrist and a couple natural brush strokes. But the final product, is a laboriously intentional effort to create something that looked authentic, but was the result of excellence and precision.

I don't know if I like this reality, but no other images captures an idea of manufactured authenticity quite like Motherwell's work.

Robert Motherwell's painting, Stephen's Iron Crown, is part of the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum's permanent collection and was acquired in 1985 Sid W. Richardson Foundation Endowment Fund.


Terence Towles Canote said...

While I can see some validity in arguing that one should strive for excellence, I think there is also an argument that can be made for flexibility or, more simply, doing more than one thing. After all, not many individuals or organisations are good at only one thing. And to me that is ultimately the more honest path to take.

janamichelle said...

good thoughts. i agree with this generations desire for authenticity over excellence. i would much rather see honesty over pretty faces and long pews.

Anonymous said...

I have recently come to your blog through the link from the picture of Motherwells. I applaud you for your insightful easily readable style.

Larry J said...

I love Motherwell! I checked the link to the Fort Worth museum to be sure, but this painting is painted in acrylic... "Robert Motherwell
Stephen's Iron Crown, 1981
Acrylic on oil-sized canvas
88 x 120 1/8 inches (223.5 x 305.1 cm)
Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Museum purchase, Sid W. Richardson Foundation Endowment Fund Acquired in 1985"
He did, however, simulate the separation of the solvent from the pigment (from his previous painting in oils) with the browns and ochres.