Failure – process or result?

Inspired by my previous reading and experiments, especially the one with our cat, I remembered a chat with Catherine about the possible purpose of this course: ‘failure’.

So what is failure? How do I respond to it, and most of all what do I take away from failure as such. Failure would possibly be considered as the opposite to success. Nevertheless, while reading some articles in the splendid collection of artist’s writing and others Failure, part of the Whitechapel Gallery series, I learned new perspectives and also some repetitive insights, e.g that the artist’s ‘doubt and anxiety’ is a theme of continuity in literature with the examples of Nikolai Gogol The Portrait (1835), Emile Zola The Masterpiece (1886), Alberto Moravia The Empty Canvas (1961), , or Antonio Tabucchi Dreams of Dreams (1992). These are examples given by Paul Barolsky (1997)  ‘The Fable of Failure in Modern Art’ (Le Feuvre, 2010:24-27). It resonates with the struggle Emma Talbot went through as I reflected on in a previous post. Is therefore failure all a mental crisis of the artist in not knowing anything eventually leading to stasis of human activity? Kind of hitting the rock bottom? Or is this just another myth of the artist in tradition of Modernism? 

I found it interesting to read that one could differentiate between four types of failure, as described 2010 by Emma Cocker (Le Feuvre, 2010:162):

  1. by failing to accomplish a task or success (if intend was to succeed)
  2. by breaking the rules
  3. by succeeding (if failure was the task)
    and the fourth as the most absurd way
  4. by failing (if intend was to fail) as the task has succeeded to fail

She explored in her essay the Classical Mythodology of Sisyphus, who after trying escape death and cheating the gods, was punished for his missing respect to ‘roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only for it then roll back again’ (p.154). The endless repetitive task reminds me of this part of the course, where I have to admit I only worked through a couple of repetitions (max. was 12 times of 12 days in my extended project for Ex1.0) or four times 15 min in my ‘washboard‘ experiment, not ‘endless’.

But the Sisyphean trope includes a ‘recipe’ for failure, as the rules, in that case gravity, would not allow to succeed and to finish, to accomplish. Kind of tragedy and purposeless endeavor.

But as by the four types of failure, what if failure means succeeding? And what if the rules are changing and what was one considered as an endless repetition turns into a sudden end?

There are some aspects in the trope explored by Cocker that keeps my attention: the subjective response between resignation or resistance, and the break the moment the ‘rock rolls back’. Cocker refers to Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) with the idea that the break is like  ‘a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness’ , the break is the space for thinking. I can clearly relate this to my own repetitive works, the time in between for reflection, for taken a deep breath, and trying again. It seems as if in this break lies the energy for endurance. And it seems that this moment of thought is a crucial moment, in which I can again and again decide to continue or to stop, to protest, to resist, or to break the rules and following different tasks. 

The rather absurb repetition of action with no results is shown e.g. in Vlatka Horvat’s This Here and That There, 2007, an 8 hour performance with chairs  (see featured image) (Cocker, 2011:280):

“The event proper, for which this activity is preseumable but a preparation, is always absent or does not take place, so the act of getting ready, of ‘setting the stage’ becomes the event” – Vlatka Horvat 

 Cocker mentions some examples in art of this sisyphean paradigm, of wanting and not wanting:

  • Bas Jan Ader Broken Fall, 1971 = hanging at a tree branch, until his body falls under the pull of gravity
  • Vlatka Horvat At the Door, 2002 (video installation, 52 min) = trying to find articulations of declaring to open the door and to leave, never happens and with evolvement of her frustration  – she stays, door not open, she not leaving
  • Francis Alÿs Caracoles, 1999 = children game, kicking an empty bottle a steep road upwards

What these examples do demonstrate, explains Cocker in the sense of ‘I preferring not’ – a deviation from ‘I don’t want’ towards an alternative ‘preference’ of wanting. It seems rather theoretical, but I can see that failure is not any longer the negation of success, but an alternative affirmation. It is like not to oppose to be productive, but preferring not to follow rules, and doing something to show that one is not productive. Basically, one is productive in an alternative sense. 

What can I conclude for painting?  Repetition is not a question of trying once again to be successful, but rather a performative affirmation of doing something repetitive. Thus, to repeat one painterly gesture over and over again, can actually make a lot of sense.

Another article in this book by Coosje van Burgen discusses the work of the conceptual artist Bruce Nauman (b.1941) ‘Sounddance’ (1988)

One example is Nauman’s performance Bouncing Two Balls Between the Floor and Ceiling with Changing Rhythms, 1967-68. The artist throwing two balls hard against wall and ceiling that they bounce back and he had to catch them to throw again. Over time he lost control, a certain rhythm started to appear and he experiences a different sensation. Nauman explains that ‘experience you can’t anticipate – it hits you, you cam’t explain it intellectually’ (p.168) and what reminded him of his childhood memories of being hit hard into the face while playing baseball.

Conclusion / key elements:

  • Failure not as opposition to success, but as an alternative affirmation.
  • The importance of the break, the interruption, the silence the moment of thought, between repetitions of actions
  • Apparently, childhood memories resurface through performative actions. Not only to Bruce Nauman in his Bouncing Two Balls, but it also happened to Janine Antoni in her Loving Care.



  • Featured image: Horvat, V. (2007) This Here and That There [performance] in: Cocker, 2011:280


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My Diary – non-visual thinking – ongoing (Part 1)

Instead of conscious reflection and overthinking, my raw thoughts recorded with a voicetracker and transcripted (lightly edited, but raw). Started in a sleepless night,  a non-visual continuation that eventually will inform my painting practice.
Link to my ongoing document (not knowing how this will all evolve)

…this document is a rolling document and will be updated regularly (click here for doc)

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Kinesphere and Kinesfield

From my preliminary research on gesture and body movement, I noticed that a few artists have a kind of dance background – while it seems somehow logic or obvious that dance and choreographic are linked together – choreographic as the intent to structure movement in space and time. I came across an artist article by Gretchen Schiller, who explored interactive artworks from the kinesphere to the kinesfield – a terminology going back to Rudolf Von Laban (1879 – 1958) graphic artist, dancer and choreographer who introduced the notion of kinesphere in 1926 :

“The kinesphere is the sphere around the body whose periphery can be reached by easily extended limbs without stepping away from the place which is the point of support when standing on one foot, which we shall call the “stance.” – Rudolf Von Laban

I can relate this to the first exercise in this part ‘reaching the limits of the body’

Gretchen Schiller is extending this into the kinesfield* where participants’ bodies move with moving objects together and creating a dynamic transactional relationship – the question of the individual’s dynamic shaping bodily movement and it’s expression in space versus a dynamic impact of space – some of her works are Shifting Ground (1999), Raumspielpuzzle (2003) and trajets (2000).

The question is all about interactivity and what it means. Schiller is referring to Stephen Wilson who stated that interactive means ‘that the user, audience has the ability to act influence the flow of events to modify the form’. 

This reminds me of ‘relational aesthetics’ of Nicolas Bourriaud, performance as social interaction in space and time. The point is how relevant is this to my work? As I am on my own, alone, just me in a limited space and time. How can I embrace this?  I can just do what my body can do within the limited around me, limitations that possibly could inform my movement.  I like the idea of responsiveness where people are moving and responding to that –  making the space ‘active and reactive’ with a sound feedback as in Schiller’s Raumspielpuzzle. She is referring to von Laban through ‘creating a scripting game that would generate choreographic possibilities’. There is certainly a sense of rhythm, energy and a temporal and spatial phenomenology experience, Schiller is saying about her works as ‘physiological playgrounds to investigate theoretical and physical notions of the kinesthetically aware body and it’s dynamic interaction’

She concludes that ‘bodily awareness and kinesthesia are not fixed they are dynamically cultivated’. I am intrigued by that but how to transform this into painting? Painting is certainly a temporal and spatial activity and an action with and onto material. At this moment it adds another dimension and complexity.  I have to see – and start doing things, painting. Her work trajets evokes some ideas with how to see painting on transparent paper suspended from a ceiling as installation (reminding me of my Cat Wand experiment)

Possibly, those exploration would be a future area, but going beyond the scope of assignment one. For me the question of making a performative painting with body awareness in space versus the spatial experience of a person through artworks and exposure to sensual stimuli.


* The concept of the kinesfield is employed to describe the relational dynamic of movement interactions that traverse the body and material forms in unbounded space. (Schiller, 2008)



  • Schiller, G. (2008) ‘From the Kinesphere to the Kinesfield: Three Choreographic Interactive Artworks’, in: Leonardo. [online]. 41(5),  pp. 431-437,  At:  (Accessed on 10 Dec 2017).
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Berne Cantonale – Exhibition

Installation view - Hannah Kuelling, 'salle de séjour', 2017, photo: SJSchaffeld

Visiting one part of the regionale (cantonale) show of artists from Bern canton. A show between 03 Dec 2017 and 28 Jan 2018 in nine locations.

For me an opportunity to see and feel more about the regional contemporary art scene. Today, I’ve been to the Kunstmuseum Thun, that beside the cantonale show also had work of the Swiss artist Michael Streun (b. 1965), work he did during his stay between Feb – July 2017 in Berlin ‘Ortswechsel‘ (location change).

It was Friday afternoon, and I was the last and only visitor. All spaces for me – but what made me aware of how some artworks seem rather out of place if they rely on certain interaction with the audience.

A) Berne Cantonale

This kind of shows are demanding in a sense that they show one work per artist, and it is hard to explore the approach of one artist. It is perhaps more to have an overview of the art scene in that region, knowing that in order to a full picture I would need to visit all nine sites (?).

Nevertheless, it gives me the opportunity to stroll through the space, and get more or less absorbed by one or the other work. Quite diverse, painting, drawings, photography, collage, sculptures, installations, video art and performances. Some more contemplative works for deeper absorption in a Modernist sense, some other more challenging the process of seeing and believing. The museum itself is located on a typical big old ‘respectfull’ house at the border of the Aare river (location)

I was especially interested to see performance related works.

What impressed me?

  • Time and space: in relationship to age: 34 Jahre / 15.31 min (video installation) by Livio Baumgartner(b. 1982) 
    => The artist manually cutting down a tree as physical labor, the tree of same age as the artist, related to ending the life of a tree and the current society based on fast consumption (specifically associations of christmas tree, certainly in context of the show as it started three weeks before christmas till today). I found the relationship of artist physical engagement, the work, and the relationship with subject matter through elements of time (34 age, 15 min) and space (forrest) appealing.
  • Nature and scale:  Large scale drawing Immortel le Mélèze (ink on panel, 300x600cm) by Cedric Bregnard (b. 1974) (Fig. 1)
    => I like to monumentality, and a sense of sublime, through scale and exploration of mascroscopic details. A question where to stand and look at the work, close or with distance.
Installation view - Cedric Bregnard 'Immortel de Mélèze', 2017 - photo SJSchaffeld

Fig. 1: Installation view – Cedric Bregnard ‘Immortel de Mélèze’, 2017 – photo SJSchaffeld

  • The sculptureOhne Titel (untitled), 2015 by Elisa Daubner (b. 1981)
    => A found walking stick hold at the wall at the top through a metal ring, where at the top end a piece of tree root is appearing. A notion that the human made walking stick is growing further. A work of humour but the same also a trigger for further thinking. I liked the simplicity of it and at the same aesthetically appealing through it shapes.
  • PhotographyRotation 1-20, 2015 by Sylvia Hostettler (b. 1965)
    => forms made from colored plastic foil and put into rotation , lit by focused light. The rotation blurs the form and the resulting ‘still images’ capture the lightness of a deferred object, visible only through capturing a still image of a rotating object. It also results into images where the light seem to appear from inside of the objects.
  • Artworks related to process and materialMesopotectonic, 2017 and Solar Panel 1-3, 2017 by Karin Lehmann (b. 1981)
    => a very material and process based related to cyanotype, combination of painting and sculpture. This technique is applied in her work Solar Panel on a ground of plaster and burlap, and through the light sensitiveness the color is changing over time.
  • Painting as relational object: the multi picture work salle de séjour, 2017 by Hannah Kuelling (b. 1965) (see featured image at top of this post) consisting of post-edited photographic images from a family album taken at the home of her mother that show a painting at the wall made by the artist in 1984. This painting itself is juxtaposed to the photographs in this exhibition. It stimulates temporal as well as spatial association through the physical displacement of the painting from the home , from the photographs into the space of viewing. This works could be related to fragmented memories, distorted, ‘colored’ in the mind, resurfacing through the physical presence of the painting, that exists literally. I do like the play with time and space, the relationship of images in memories, family albums and the physical presence of an object as kind of evidence, as proof of existence. 
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Contextual thoughts – Dirty Protest IRA, 1978

Dirty Protest IRA, 1978

During the peer review of my work Washboard (laundry) it was associated with the ‘Dirty protest’ in North Ireland in the 1970s and 80s.  Some information collected from different sources on the situation that led to the ‘dirty protest’, prisoner smearing their excrements onto the wall:

Bobby Sands Tribune described the escalation of the protest in North Ireland and the situation of the prisoners in Her Majesty’s Prison Maze:

‘In March 1978 some prisoners refused to leave their cells to shower or use the lavatory because of attacks by prison officers, and were provided with wash-hand basins in their cells. The prisoners requested showers installed in their cells, and when this request was turned down they refused to use the wash-hand basins. At the end of April 1978 a fight occurred between a prisoner and a prison officer in H-Block 6. The prisoner was taken away to solitary confinement, and news spread across the wing that the prisoner had been badly beaten. The prisoners responded by smashing the furniture in their cells, and the prison authorities responded by removing the remaining furniture from the cells leaving the prisoners in cells with just blankets and mattresses. The prisoners responded by refusing to leave their cells, and as a result the prison officers were unable to clear them. This resulted in the blanket protest escalating into the dirty protest, as the prisoners were unable to “slop out” (i.e., empty their chamber pots) so resorted to smearing excrement on the walls of their cells. ‘

“There were times when you would vomit. There were times when you were so run down that you would lie for days and not do anything with the maggots crawling all over you. The rain would be coming in the window and you would be lying there with the maggots all over the place.” – Pat McGeown, 1985 (prisoner)

The prison authorities attempted to keep the cells clean by breaking the cell windows and spraying in disinfectant, then temporarily removing the prisoners and sending in rubber-suited prison officers with steam hoses to clean the walls. However, as soon as the prisoners were returned to their cells they resumed their protest. By mid-1978 there were between 250 and 300 protesting prisoners, and the protest was attracting media attention from around the world.

“Having spent the whole of Sunday in the prison, I was shocked at the inhuman conditions prevailing in H-Blocks, three, four and five, where over 300 prisoners were incarcerated. One would hardly allow an animal to remain in such conditions, let alone a human being. The nearest approach to it that I have seen was the spectacle of hundreds of homeless people living in the sewer pipes in the slums of Calcutta. The stench and filth in some of the cells, with the remains of rotten food and human excreta scattered around the walls was almost unbearable. In two of them I was unable to speak for fear of vomiting.” – Tomás Ó Fiaich (Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh)


I found a painting of Richard Hamilton (1981) The Citizen, where he appropriated the events and wrote: 

“The symbols of Christ’s agony were there, not only the crucifix on the neck of the prisoners and the rosary which confirmed the monastic austerity but the self inflicted suffering which has marked Christianity from the earliest times.”- Richard Hamilton

His painting reminds me of iconic painting and it brings back my research on Andrei Tarkovsky and Andrei Rublev


This brief research would definitely place my work or derivations of it in a quite different context. As I don’t control how the audience will perceive a work, even if provided with contextual information, it would be possibly much wiser to leave the area for response wide open. What would bring it back to my own performative painting, responding to my immediate bodily and emotional sensations, and to see when to continue and when to stop. Also to consider to which extent I want to get context inspiring my work. Julie Mehretu’s work is for me an example of how both questions (immediate response and wider context) could be combined.





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‘Coming to Painting’ – Emma Talbot

After reading Fortnum’s article on ‘Not Knowing‘  and looking out for artist’s writing I read an article by Emma Talbot (2017). The article is part of the special issue of the Journal of Contemporary Painting related to an symposium and interrogation of painting with conceptions of Jean-Paul Sartre What is Literature?  and the question of commitment. How committed am I to painting? And how and why? 

Talbot describes her struggle with painting, that eventually moved her away from a deeply resonating endeavour into a more self-conscious agony and being anxious of whether she was doing any good. She worked from photographic images mainly from fashion magazines and started to ask herself whether she was just playing the game of the fashion world, or making any new. She worked heavily and intensively in oil paint, smearing and combining. 

I can sense in her writing how her life was under heavy weight, her husband passed away one year before she shifted eventually her focus and way of making art. A condition that made her judging herself ‘I couldn’t paint.. painting seemed so pointless and wasteful’ .

She related her work and struggle with the the ideas articulated by the writer Hélène Cixous and the question of having the ‘right reasons’ to write (aka to paint). Talbot eventually turned away from external subordinated meaning towards a ‘becoming’, a fragmentary articulation. as Cixous expressed it. And to achieve lightness in painting 

“One has to have broken off with everything that holds one back… And especially all the fears: fear of the unknown, fear of criticism, fear of not knowing” – Hélène Cixous (1991)

What a statement of ‘tabula rasa’! Brings me back to suprematist notion of Malevich related to his Black Square (1915) painting as an expression of spiritual freedom and expression. A notion that I looked at during my UVC assignment on the monochrome.

“Good and Bad are indefinable measures in relation to painting. They are judgments that are used to help painting find its value out in the world. If they’re allowed into the studio, they seem to operate as gatekeepers or permission.” – Emma Talbot (2017)


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Preparation for Assignment One

  • Preparation for Assignment One
  • Preparation for Assignment One
  • Preparation for Assignment One

Learnings so far

What I noticed from my previous experiments of body movement, gesture, and performative painting (see also Fig. 1-3 Sketchbook pages):

  • I can discern three mains steps: planning – performative painting – result
  • Performative painting consisting mainly of gestural marks, action painting, and body movement
  • Four aspects of interaction: Skin (feeling) – Body (exchange) – Touch (emotion) – Traces (seeing)
  • Liminal experiences of what is painting, what is failure, what is successful result
  • Planning impacts the process, and the result (e.g. Ex 1.3 painting with the elements)
  • Results at times a start of a new beginning, a ground for further elaboration (e.g. Ex 1.1 Skating). at times the tool itself (e.g. plastic sheet in Washboard) can be an artwork in itself
  • Gesture: indexicality of my intervention
  • Chance: external factors can perform, or they can impact what is possible (e.g. material limits)
  • Motion: my physical motion in space, motion in moving images, video recording
  • Sound: the way I playback recording (fast, normal, slow speed)
  • Repetition: cycle of similar movements, a temporal extension
  • Recording: how to make recording as documentation the work or recording the work in itself? The only way to communicate to a public from my current standpoint (what technical skills I need to learn?)
  • Idea of failure: when performative painting becomes absurd (Sisyphean sense) or material is destroyed and comes to an end.

Possible new ways forward

  • Elaborating Washboard repetitive performative painting (sense of dirty-ness)
  • Exploring material support, e.g. transparent paper. Recent talks with fellow students made me aware of possibilities for suspending from a ceiling for presentation, e.g Cat Wand painting (sense of spatial depth and interactive fields)
  • Exploration of skin (thin layers of sheets) e.g. plastic sheet in Washboard (sense of human sensibility)
  • Spatial extension and body movement alongside sensational experience (sense of body limits and kinesphere, possibly of kinesfield in the way Gretchen described it?)
  • Elaboration of natural forces in variety of painting, exploring at deeper level weather conditions (sense of indexicality)
  • Elaboration recording and video edit for compelling demonstration of performative painting 
  • New ideas derived from the experiments and embracing notions of performance, repetition, and possibility of failure:
    – folding paper as skin
    – dog shit as dirty-ness symbol (with option for wider context e.g. dirty protest IRA)


Sketchbook pages:



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Peer feedback

Today, we had a splendid general hangout with students and Clive as tutor to discuss and talk through some projects and topics. I took the opportunity to place my recent gestural and performative work Washboard (Laundry) to the discussion (see the link). I posted the video, the image of the process and the final images of the ground and sheet. 

I was curious to hear how other responded (unfortunately as I posted it quite late and only today, not everyone had teh chance to look at it).

Some responses:

  • hypnotic video, sound reminded of noises in the house
  • reminded of photographic process
  • reminded of IRA ‘dirty’ process (Hunger process between 1972 and 1981 in North Ireland where IRA imprisioned inmates were smearing prison walls with their own excrements in 1978)

I explained what I related it to and could see that personal responses truly depend on situation, environment and experience (or news read).

Interestingly, participants tended to see the video as a necessary element in context with the final images. 


The video I made was more as a reflective tool to review what I did. Although, I found some inspiration in making it (otherwise I wouldn’t have put that time into it), I am still wondering how my performative painting could get to another level. I do feel quite nervous about it, to put myself and not objects up.

I like the accociation with photographic process, as through my shellac and gum solution there is certainly some material chemistry ongoing.

I found the perhaps farer fetched association with the IRA ‘dirty’ process quite intriguing as it leads on another level to sanitary requirement, cleaniness, washing and gestural movements. Gesture as performative protest. In art context one could consider Pollock’s action paintings, Shiraga’s mud performance, or Antoni’s  Loving Care also as gestural performative protest. 

Questions to me: Do I want to go in a kind of painting as protest? Or to use gestural performative painting to raise questions around such topics? Or what would I like to get from painting, besides an experimental interrogation, more insight in myself or more questioning? Would my work tend to be more activity, material, or external requirements related? More to think of…

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Project 1.4 – Ex 1.3: Removing Gesture

  • Project 1.4 – Ex 1.3: Removing Gesture
  • Project 1.4 – Ex 1.3: Removing Gesture
  • Project 1.4 – Ex 1.3: Removing Gesture
  • Project 1.4 – Ex 1.3: Removing Gesture

The aim is to remove my gesture from the work, i.e. to remove conscious or subconscious intentionlity as I explored in my previous reflection on gesture. Do I need to use a mechanical aid? How could I elaborate my previous exercise works?  The laundry, the skating, the cat wand – all body gestures. 

Before going too much into a deep thinking how to modify, I am going towards another direction. I do like the elements and the forces of nature. And yes, I do have some issues with mechanical drawing or painting, machine or robot like. It has some connotations with the question whether machines can make art or not (a topic I will interrogate in the following exercise). I can sense that this question might have some wider impact on how I see art and my own position. During my research ‘Things perform for you‘, I do relate machine drawing with machines, e.g. Tinguely’s  Méta-matic n°1 (1959).

Warboys’ sea paintings feels more relevant to me, more resonating with an humble approach of how invisible things unfold in front of us through visiualization. I am wondering whether  I should move forward into areas of what I like or to explore areas of concerns, as it possibly could offer new insight? A question that became clearer during my reading of Rebecca Fortnum’s ‘Not Knowing’ article (2013).

Overall, I like the expression ‘Things perform for you’ as it is much broader then machine constructive markings. I titled this post with ‘Removing my gesture’, a title I do associate with non-subjective or external forces, literally or metaphorically.

I am going to explore three approaches:

  1. Performance of the elements – natural non-human derived gestures 
  2. Cat gestures – imprints of your cat
  3. Ground – the surface shows what appears – laundry with the machine
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Project 1.5 – Ex 1.4: Contextual Focus – Considering Painting


Ufan’s text from 1987 (Ufan, 2011), could be considered as a discussion of post-modernist dystopian viewpoints in the aftermath of modernist paradigms, in good company with films as Bladerunner (1982) or Robocop (1987). Humankind under threat of Artificial Intelligence (AI). No surprise that art and painting, at times considered as subjective and human expression of a genius as creator, are challenged. What differs machine and robots from humans? How can art play a meaningful role in a society of consumption of final products and appearances of effects only?

What you feel painting is and what you feel it isn’t.

For me, painting is one approach to explore aspects of life, experiences, and social interactions through the materiality of paint. Paint is a tactile medium through which one is in contact with a surface and world of possibilities. 

I do agree with the author that painting is an embodiment of ideas and desires to express. The author asks whether painters are ‘creators without expression’ and playing an end in itself. I would like to think that play is a creative force to explore possibilities, but not sufficient to be art in itself. This relates to an often-raised question whether small children paintings are work of art or not. A conception further explored by the group CoBrA and Paul Klee in the 1950s.

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