We wrote a number of critical summaries of artistsâ€™ works (paintings, sculpture, writings, whatever) with a partner. This is the last, but is actually its second attempt â€” the professor was quite dissatisfied with our first one but liked this one a lot. (The first version contained our honest opinions. This second one was practically Markov-chain generated.)
Robert Smithson studied painting and drawing at the Art Students League of New York before beginning to exhibit collages and identifying himself as a painter in the late fifties. After an art hiatus, Smithson returned as a proponent of minimalism in 1964 and worked as a sculpture. For much of this and his later life, Smithson was known more as a critic than an artist. By the late sixties Smithson was beginning to design his â€œearthworks,â€ and he published â€œA Sedimentation of the Mindâ€ in 1968.
Smithson begins by observing that the â€œearthâ€™s surface and the figments of the mind have a way of disintegrating into discrete regions of art.â€Â He draws comparisons between the surface of the earth and the human mind, in which â€œmental rivers wear away abstract banks,â€Â and â€œthis movement seems motionless, yet â€¦ avalanches all take place within the cracking limits of the brain.â€Â Smithson marvels at the â€œbleak and fracturedâ€ world and notes that organizing this world â€œis an esthetic process that has barely been touched.â€
Pollock next draws a comparison between the artistâ€™s tools and the container they operate on: he â€œsees the paint brush vanish into Pollockâ€™s stick, and the stick dissolve into â€˜poured paintâ€™ from a containerâ€¦What then is one to do with the container?â€Â Following the same progression as for tools, this â€œentropy of techniqueâ€ leaves the artist with â€œno limit.â€
Smithson then tackles a different point: dedifferentiation, the â€œâ€™primary processâ€™ of making contact with matter.â€ 1 Smithson says dedifferentiation tends to swing between oceanic limitlessness (discussed here) and strong determinants (as in traditional painting). According to Smithson, â€œmost critics cannot endure the suspension of boundaries between what Ehrenzweig calls the â€˜self and the non-self,â€Â while artists â€œengulfedâ€ by their experiences â€œgive evidenceâ€¦through a limited (mapped) revision of the original unbounded state.â€
Smithson proudly proclaims his â€˜non-sitesâ€™ as gathering in the â€œfragmentsâ€ of raw matter, unifying â€œtechnologyâ€ with the Earth as they â€œsink back into their original state.â€2 That is, his non-sites, by being part of the earth, are limitless in nature while still allowing him to be architect.
At this point Smithson takes an interlude to further discuss his anti-technologism. Smithson is, himself, not opposed to technology, but he seeks to recognize its limits, and he believes that technology should not apply to the art world (â€œWhy steel is valued over rust is a technological value, not an artistic oneâ€) and that all technology falls apart over time (the section title is â€œFrom Steel to Rust,â€ and he earlier uses the phrase â€œfrom rust to dustâ€).
Moreover, according to Smithson technology is an exclusive process, making it impossible to discern other processes but the technological ones, the smelting of ores and the â€œrefinement of matter.â€ These technological refinements fail to realize that impurities are not necessarily bad, as indeed the earth is impure, â€œbuilt on sedimentation and disruption.â€Therefore, the artist who refuses â€œtechnological miraclesâ€ can â€œknowâ€ more of â€œesthetic consciousnessâ€ by acknowledging more of the world.