1. Sonorisms I

    the authenticity of the gesture
    as if the air had taken on substance
    representation and re-presentation
    a first order of presence
    this painterly game of pick-up sticks
    Irwin’s “fetish finish”
    questions all of whose possible answers would never exhaust them
    the art is what has happened to the viewer
    an art of things not looked at
    a dialogue of immanence
    the information that takes place between things
    your house is the last before the infinite
    his “project of general peripatetic availability”
    that shiver of perception perceiving itself
    a desert of pure feeling

    1. ​Phonaesthetics​
    2. ​Architectural dark matter​

    Various pithy phrases and remarks scattered throughout the book.

  2. More than just a machine that runs along

    “As far as I’m concerned, a folk art is when you take a utilitarian object, something you use every day, and you give it overlays of your own personality, what it is you feel and so forth. You enhance it with your life. And a folk art in the current period of time would more appropriately be in the area of something like a motorcycle. I mean, a motorcycle can be a lot more than just a machine that runs along; it can be a whole description of a personality and an aesthetic.”

  3. Nobody was doing anything

    “The thing that amazed me is that they had these drawing classes, and I’d be in there drawing like a son of a bitch, and then I’d go around and look at everybody else’s drawing boards to see what was going on, and there wouldn’t be anything on them! They were all talking and going through these weighty things, and nobody was doing anything.”

  4. NYLA

    “See, what I’ve always liked about Los Angeles is that it’s one of the least restrictive towns in the world. You can pretty much live any way you want to here. And part of that is because the place has no tradition and no history in that sense. It doesn’t have any image of itself, which is exactly its loss and gain. That’s why it’s such a great place to do art and to build your ideas about culture. In New York, it’s like an echo chamber: its overwhelming sense of itself, of its past and its present and its mission, becomes utterly restricting.”

  5. Aggressively Zen

    “He was dealing with Zen in the most aggressive way Zen has ever been dealt with.” — Irving Blum

  6. Flurry and lapse

    “The process in creating that kind of canvas was like—what?—10 percent action and 90 percent ass scratching. First you prepared yourself, cleaning up and arranging your palette and tools, sweeping the floors, and then finally, when you were ready, you faced the empty white expanse of white canvas and made your first stroke.”

  7. No reason for being

    “A lot of what I had been doing in those large gestural paintings seemed to me afterwards as being not very controlled, in the sense that a lot of stuff that was going on in them had no reason for being there. There were just too many things that were accidental, too much incidental, too many contradictions.”

    1. ​Controlled!​
  8. Oil

    Irwin even disdained artificial products when polishing the wood frame, confining himself solely to the natural oils of his hands, his forehead, the sides of his nose, and so forth.

  9. All the way through

    “There’s a consistency to physical objects that somehow reads all the way through, so that when you make a physical object, if it lacks the proper amount of weight or if it lacks a certain density…I mean, if its outside says, ‘I weigh so much and I have such-and-such a density,’ and when you pick it up, you discover an inconsistency there, then you can sense that, you can see it, even without picking it up. It’s absolutely essential that everything be done all the way through.”

    1. ​Invisible substance​
    2. ​A great painting has to be better than it has to be​
    3. ​Finished on the inside​
    4. ​Signing party​
    5. ​Why YKK zippers are the brown M&Ms of product design​
  10. Over and over again

    “I found a certain strength in sustaining over a period of time my attention on a single point…Like you paint a painting, and then you paint another painting, but each time you take on a whole other mouthful, and you’re only able to chew each one just so finely. So anyway, I did just the opposite.”

    Which is to say, over the next two years Irwin did nothing but paint the same painting over and over again.

  11. Leaving

    After a while, if you don’t leave, then everything else begins to leave.

  12. What the painting was not about

    That is why for many years Irwin declined to allow his work to be photographed, because the image of the canvas was precisely what the painting was not about.

    Indeed, the problem is even more complicated than that. For in a very real sense the achievement of these paintings was in their making, and the finished canvas at one level is only an incidental relic, a fossil of that original process of discovery: not only do you have to be present before these paintings in order to experience them, it may be that you have to have made them as well.

  13. Three or more

    “One and one don’t make two, but maybe five or eight or ten, depending on the number of interactions you can get going in a situation.”

  14. Finished on the inside

    “Those stretcher bars were finished on the inside in ways no one will ever know; I spent days, weeks, months finishing things no one is ever going to see. But it had much more to do with the fact that I couldn’t leave them unfinished. I just had this conviction that in the sense of tactile awareness, if all those things were consistent, then the sum total would be greater, even though that might not be definable in any causal, connected way.”

    1. ​All the way through​
    2. ​Invisible substance​
  15. Grace

    Grace: you work and you work and you work at something that then happens of its own accord. It would not have happened without all that work, but the result cannot be accounted for as the product of the work in the sense that an effect is said to be the product of its causes. There is all that preparation—preparation for receptivity—and then there is something else beyond that, which is gratis, for free.

  16. Object and environment

    “The marriage of figure and ground—which is how they always term the cubist achievement—of necessity leads to the marriage between painting and environment; essentially they are the same thing, just taking it one step further. When I married the painting to the environment, suddenly it had to deal with the environment around it as being equal to the figure and having as much meaning.”

  17. There and not there

    For what Bob was trying to capture in these efforts was the incidental, the transitory, the peripheral—that aspect of our experience that is both there and not there, the object and not the object of our sensations, perceived but seldom attended to.

  18. A gesture

    “With the lines I’d been trying to paint a painting without the means of painting, but I didn’t know how to do that, so I ended up using the means of painting. They made a gesture toward where I was going, but still, finally, they were very much tied to where I was.”

  19. Ambitions for someone else's mind

    "One of the first things I learned about teaching is that you have to respond to each student individually. You don’t start with any idea of what they should be doing, who they’re supposed to be, or what their performance level is, and you don’t compare them to one another. You simply start with each one of them wherever they are and develop the process from there.

    “…I would think that the most immoral thing one can do is have ambitions for someone else’s mind.”

    1. ​Student's future, not teacher's past​
  20. Technical viruosity

    “You have to develop students’ confidence and prove to them in their own performance that there isn’t anything they won’t be able to accomplish technically, eventually, given a lot of application, before you can begin to convince them that that kind of technical virtuosity doesn’t deserve the focus they have been led to believe it does by a performance-oriented culture.”

  21. Learning how to learn

    “Once you learn how to make your own assignments instead of relying on someone else, then you have learned the only thing you really need to get out of school, that is, you’ve learned how to learn. You’ve become your own teacher.”

  22. Art and science

    “What the artist does is essentially the same as the scientist. In other words, what you do when you start to do a painting is that you begin with a basic idea, a hypothesis of what you’re setting out to do. Then it’s just a million yes-no decisions. You try something in the painting, you look at it, and you say, ‘N-n-no.’ You sort of erase it out, and you move it around a little bit, put in a new line; you go through a million weighings. It’s the same thing in science, the only difference in the character of the product.”

  23. Off to the races

    “You get to the point where you’re about to place your wager; the race is about to be run. You evaluate the sum total of the information, which has to do with how the money has been bet, what the horses looked like on the track, all this information—and it’s like you run your hand over the race—I’ve had this happen so many times, it’s the only way to explain it—you run your hand over the race. All the information is logically there, but there’s something wrong. You don’t know why something is wrong, but something is not correct. Then I have to reevaluate everything in terms of this feeling I have about the thing, which is derived from information, but which is so complex and so intricate and so subtle that there’s no way you can put a tag on it.”

  24. Interlocking

    "The art world is highly invested in the idea that you can take an object and set it in a room, and the internal relationships will be so strong and so meaningful that all the kinds of change that take place on the object as a result of its being in a new environment will not critically affect our perception of the object. If that is the given assumption, then the object can be moved from one environment to another without its being critically altered, which then gives rise to the illusion that it can be moved from culture to culture, that it has the ability to transcend its cultural specificity, which in turn gives rise to the ultimate illusion that the object can transcend time. Because what is being claimed is that there exist certain objects isolated and meaningful enough to be transcendent, that they have the power to go on and on, that they are, as it were, timeless.

    “Well, one of the things that I was becoming involved in at that point in playing artist was the growing suspicion that this breaking down of the edge, the idea of the painting’s moving into its environment, was putting the whole heightened rationale of the art object into doubt. There is simply no real separation line, only an intellectual one, between the object and its time environment. They are completely interlocking: nothing can exist in the world independent of all the other things in the world.”

    1. ​Deep Interlock​
  25. Overlays

    The awkwardness of the room itself forced Irwin toward the next phase of his endeavor: each installation from there on would have to arise out of the unique configurations of each new site. As Irwin put it, “Instead of my overlaying my ideas onto that space, that space overlaid itself on me.”

  26. Pointing

    “Originally I marked these places, quite literally. I laid a small concrete block flush to the ground at the place where I was standing and stretched a stainless steel piano wire out toward the horizon. It might go off a mile; it simply pointed in a direction. And that was the piece.”

    1. ​Pointing at things​

    “…All of which now seems really corny, and I don’t do that anymore.”

  27. Don't mistake my finger for the moon

    Many people mistook the string itself for the work of art (“When I point my finger at the moon, don’t mistake my finger for the moon” is a Zen aphorism that Irwin is fond of citing). By mid-1976 Irwin himself was prepared to Jettison—along with figure, line, focus, permanence, and signature—the very requirement of any overt activity of making as a necessary prerequisite for artistic viability.

  28. The core assertion

    Sitting there in the Whitney’s coffee shop, Irwin pointed through the glass wall up at the play of shadows on a building facade across the street. “That the light strikes a certain wall at a particular time of day in a particular way and it’s beautiful,” he commented, “that, as far as I’m concerned, now fits all my criteria for art.”

    At the terminus of Irwin’s trajectory, when all the nonessentials had been stripped away, came the core assertion that aesthetic perception itself was the pure subject of art. Art existed not in objects but in a way of seeing.

  29. Waiting there to be experienced

    “Paintings are like what you can barely make out through a keyhole compared with the richness of perception that’s just waiting there in the world to be experienced all the time. It’s strange. With food, for instance, people seem able to understand what’s involved: you savor the taste rather than just feed the body. But people have a hard time understanding that it should be the same way with visual experience.”

  30. It passes by the river

    “Artists need to be in there from the start, making the argument for quality. The key to this thing is, for example, if you give an engineer a set of criteria which does not include a quality quotient, as it were—that is, if this sense of the quality, the character of the place, is not a part of his original motivation—he will then basically put the road straight down the middle. He has no reason to curve it. But if I can convince him that quality is absolutely a worthwhile thing and we can work out a way in which the road can be efficient and also wander down by the river, then we essentially have both: he provides his sort of expertise in that the road works, I provide quality in that it passes by the river. In that way, art gets built into the criteria from the beginning rather than being added on afterward.”

    1. ​We want you to work with an artist​
  31. Rapport

    “Bob’s rapport with the workers is extraordinary. Reminds me of something Noguchi once pointed out about Bernini during the days he was building St. Peter’s in Rome: how what made him so special, aside from his own obvious gifts, was his ability to extend himself through the work of others, to get them on his side and working in his direction.”

  32. The palette of nature

    "What nature does with its colors is invariably—the palette of nature is twice as complicated, at least twice as sophisticated, as anything any artist can ever come up with. On a couple levels.

    To start with, there are these amazing combinations of colors, filled with surprises and almost never wrong. I don’t know how Nature ever conceived to put, say, those together. But, boy, are they right on the money!"

    1. ​Colors in nature​
    2. ​Hues subdued​
  33. Screening out the world

    “The point is to get people to peel those visors off their faces, to remove the goggles, to abandon the screens. Those screens whose very purpose is to screen the actual world out. Who cares about virtuality when there’s all this reality—this incredible, inexhaustible, insatiable, astonishing reality—present all around!”

  34. The human reality of perception

    “The great misinterpretation of twentieth-century art is the claim advanced that many people, especially critics, that cubism of necessity led to abstraction. But on the contrary, cubism was about the real world. It was an attempt to reclaim a territory for figuration, for depiction. Faced with the claim that photography had made figurative painting obsolete, the cubists performed an exquisite critique of photography; they showed that there were certain aspects of looking—basically the human reality of perception—that photography couldn’t convey, and that you still needed the painter’s hand and eye to convey them.” — David Hockney