Seeing Is A Kind of Thinking

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Unless Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art is willing to shell out for bus fare, it’s unlikely that I’ll get a chance to see Coming Into Character, an upcoming overview of paintings and drawings by Jim Nutt. I’ve had the opportunity to write about Nutt’s work on several occasions, most recently in City Arts, so I won’t spend time doing so here. What I will spend time mulling is Seeing Is A Kind of Thinking, a companion exhibition to be held in conjunction with the Nutt retrospective.

Or, rather, I’ll mull the title. Sticks in the craw a bit. Has our culture been so damaged by the triumph of conceptualism that we need to be reminded that seeing is–like, wow!–a kind of thinking? Apparently so. A few years back, the critic and curator Karen Wilkin noted this development:

“Unfortunately, the minds of many spectators, who include makers of art as well as art historians, critics and curators, have been carried so far into regions so purely literary (in deference to Duchamp) that they seem to have forgotten that the eye is part of the brain.”

(It’s part of the heart and libido, too. When you’ve got a few minutes, I’ll regale you with my theory that the true heirs of puritanism–that is to say, conceptual artists–are lousy in bed.)

It’s just a title. Big deal, right? And the exhibition looks to be fairly interesting. But that our guardians of culture find it necessary to reiterate an elemental truth is, if not exactly surprising, then dismaying all the same.

Postscript: The Wilkin quote is from “Abstraction’s Moment”, an article found in the December 2006 edition of The New Criterion.

© 2011 Mario Naves

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