On climaxing

February 20, 2007

Robert Genn

Symphonies, movies, plays, novels, songs--all tend to have a
climax. Life and love have climaxes. Climax is one of the
essential life experiences. Without climax, nothing seems to
get anywhere. Climax represents the successful completion of
the story, the denouement of the plot, the reason for all the
effort, the snapshot at the height of the action.

Lots of paintings are short on climaxes. A climax in a painting
means coming to light, a center of interest, a delicate part, a
colour surprise, activation, sudden insight or rebirth, etc. In
the same way that other art forms build a case, foreshadow,
anticipate, disclose and darken before the light, so should
paintings. If you look at the acknowledged great works of art,
you often get the feeling, "Somethin's happenin' here," even if
what it is ain't exactly clear. You may also have noticed some
quite ordinary subjects come with built-in climaxes--mountains,
crashing waves, sunsets, etc. Maybe that's why this sort of
material remains forever popular.

In the subject matter of the creator's choice, it is the
creator's challenge to discover and evoke personal climaxes.
Without them, you may be saying little in your art--and your
work may be dull and uninspiring because of it. Here are a few
ideas to think about:

To have climax, you need quietude.
To have light, you need dark.
To have focus, you need lack of focus.
To have delicacy, you need roughness.
To have surprises, you need plain facts.
To have colour surprises, you need grays.
To have activation, you need blandness.
To have birth, you need death.

These dialectics can be inherent in the subject, planned to be
added in a proposed work, or "found" during the creative
process itself. It is the latter that makes the act of art most
satisfying. By innocently asking the questions, "What if?" and
"What can be?" the artist experiences the climax along with the
art itself and is partner to its happening. This sort of joy is
one of the high sublimations, and when it happens, you cannot
help but shout "Wow!"

Best regards,


PS: "One must always be careful not to let one's work be
covered with moss." (Marc Chagall) "He not busy being born is
busy dying." (Bob Dylan)

Esoterica: Then again, maybe a work with no climax is its own
climax. Such work, by its uniformity and flatness, may suggest
it doesn't need a climax because the work of art itself--the
place or thought it depicts--is the climax. After all, it's the
climax of somebody's wall. Dull though this thought may be,
eternal dullness can be subject matter, and many people these
days seem to need it. Perhaps the point is that life is dull,
even-going, plodding, and without surprises. I've never found
life to be that way--have you?