Sean Scully, “Wall of Light Beach” (2001). Oil on canvas. 40”× 50”. Private collection. Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In Robert Hughes’ The Mona Lisa Curse, there is a thoughtful exchange between Hughes and painter Sean Scully. Their brief conversation touches on many of the distinctions I have been writing about here over the years.

Hughes states his belief that painting is exactly what mass visual media is not—about specific engagement, not general seduction. And that, says Hughes, is its enduring relevance to all of us, how everywhere and at all times there is a world to be reformed by the “darting subtlety and persistent slowness of the painter’s eye.”

The way Scully positions his work is very simple. He sees a polarity that began in the 20th century between “making art that is like everything, and making art that is different from everything.” His work holds to the latter, creating a kind of sanctuary. He wants to make work that is “spiritually informed and powerful.”

These two polarities are in opposition says Scully. Art that is interactive can be striking and dramatic, but that comes at a great cost. Art is a place to to go, not an escape into entertainment.

I liked the way Scully described how paintings work:”The way a painting seems to work in the culture is very slowly and subliminally. It is almost dormant on the wall—you can walk right by and ignore it. But every time you come back to it, it lights up, it reengages.”

Incidentally, Robert Hughes first alerted me to slow art (slow painting and slow musing) with a quote my him that I found several years ago:

What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures. In a word, art that is the very opposite of mass media.

You can view the Hughes/Scully video clip here.

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