Irwin has some interesting goals— his use of dots and discs to alter one’s perception is an admirable experiment on the human mind & eye. The problem is that he seems to rely (early in his career) on the assumption that the viewer of his work will become aware of his creative process simply by observing the work, rather than judge it at face value. He relied too heavily on viewer’s appreciation for his process much like a programmer might be overly impressed by his own coding tricks, even though the user will never care about how the program was achieved. It was a disconnect between artist & viewer, and a failure to empathize.
This makes me wonder about many other works of art, particular modern art, where the artist’s intended value of the art is in the artist’s thought process or intention rather than the actual end result.
Jackson Pollock comes to mind— so much was made of Pollock’s process of moving about, splattering, and spilling paint all over the place, that one cannot look at a Pollock painting without imagining the artist at work, which greatly raises his works’ appeal. This very apparent process, which shows through in the work, is what gives Pollock’s work the bulk of its appeal.
Without a natural, handmade, human aesthetic, Irwin seemed less able to capture that sense of process in his dot and disc works, instead leaving his viewers at the mercy of the end result, which, if unsatisfactory, left the viewer with a grating sense of artistic disrespect that often create aversions towards dada or modern art for many people.
We cannot assume that a viewer will know what our intentions were as artists. The final work must stand on its own, interesting even devoid of its backstory. Rather than allow his works to stand on their own and be interpreted freely by the viewer, Irwin attached specific meaning and tried to dissuade viewers when they “misinterpreted” his works, such as the “discs-as-mandalas” interpretation that he so strongly opposed.
It seems that as he progressed, Irwin seemed to become more comfortable with the fact that audiences would interpret his works with whatever interpretive material he provided. Once he began using the environment around the painting to influence the viewer’s perception, he empowered himself to have more control over how the viewer felt while viewing his works, leading to greater success with his bigger, more immersive installations later in his career.