Shane Ragland BFA Painting Thesis Fall 2020
In my current practice I have been exploring the idea of painting as a medium through which to think, through which thought arises, and paint as a medium of consciousness. This creative headspace has led me to consider the artistic potential of reflections, connections, and information and how they are deeply connected to the development of the self. In his works on the subject of consciousness and the self, Douglas Hofstadter writes that we are not born with an ‘I’, a sense of self, but rather our experiences shape our dense web of complex neurological patterns, which he calls symbols, into an “intricate tapestry rich and complex enough to begin twisting back on itself.” Think of this blurring of inputs, outputs, and connections as an abstract mental Möbius strip, hence the title of his book, I Am A Strange Loop. All this leads me to ask, is it possible to create a painting that materially operates in a similar way to the processes that govern the development of our consciousness, and our ‘I’? Can a strange loop be created through paint? To briefly clarify what a strange loop is, the idea when thinking about the self is that we are simultaneously driven by the world of the tiny, the trillions of cells that make up our bodies, and the abstract higher level of the self, the world we consciously inhabit and control. Both are constantly creating, influencing, and dictating the other, creating an abstract loop of sorts. In pursuing this line of inquiry, I am primarily interested in how simple equations and programs, or formal systems of painting can produce the most unpredictable and complex outcomes. So in brief, for a strange loop to be created through paint, the painting needs: to organize and reorganize it’s input, “perceiving” the paint added, for the paint to be completely interconnected with and interdependent on itself across the whole of the canvas, to be a feedback loop of process, to be self-referential and self-similar, and to create an non-linear or downward causality. So did I make a strange loop? Well, no, close but not quite. Most of these paintings achieve four of the five requirements needed but none so far have managed to completely break from their upward form of cause and effect. I don’t see that as a failure though in any way. I made a recursive, self-organizing painting process that acts in a similar way to these fundamental natural processes, whether or not anyone finds that interesting, I’m pretty jazzed about it, and I’m excited to go even further down this rabbithole. I’ve learned so much through this process and tried out methods and techniques I never would have thought before. I certainly never saw myself as someone who would end up painting with syringes or starching his canvas. This project has helped me realize about myself that I make to learn, and to seek knowledge is to embark on a journey which will always be incomplete. It’s a fine day for learning, and I’m thankful I get to share it with you now.