Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees is both a quote from Paul Valery, and the title of a book by Lawrence Weschler. Weschler has written an extremely readable biography of the contemporary artist, Robert Irwin.
The book was first published in 1982, In February 2009 it was re-issued with six more chapters, and 24 colour plates.
Weschler’s real strength as a writer is his ability to explain complex ideas in an engaging, entertaining fashion. Robert Irwin’s art breaks boundaries, and challenges the traditional notions of the art world. Weschler develops an organization for the book that clearly outlines the progression of ideas in Irwin’s art work. He provides an intelligent analysis, and explains ideas simply, but not simplistically.
Weschler asks great questions, and allows Irwin to speak for himself. Irwin comes across as completely honest, and very articulate. I love what he says to students: “….they are responsible for their own activities, that they are really, in a sense, the question, that ultimately they are what it is they have to contribute. The most critical part of that is for them to begin developing the ability to assign their own tasks and make their own criticism in direct relation to their own needs and not in light of some abstract criteria.”
Irwin (partially) supported himself by gambling at the racetrack. I’m not a gambler, but I’d bet that after reading this book you’ll never look at another contemporary art installation in quite the same way.