February 3, 2004 8:01 AM

An excerpt from Seeing Is Forgetting The Name Of The Thing One Sees, a biography on contemporary artist Robert Irwin:

Irwin would sit in his closed studio, staring at a monotone, textured canvas of fairly bright color, such as orange or yellow, with two thin lines in the same color spread horizontally across the field. "I would sit there and look at those two lines. Then I'd remove one of them and move it up an eighth of an inch -- I had a way of doing that that I'd worked out..." And to his astonishment, Irwin noticed one afternoon that just raising the line that one eight of an inch changed the entire perceptual field!

This book has done anything but make stark abstraction seem more sensible.

In fact, it seems to portray it as more insane.

How do you put meaning in a solid canvas with two lines?

How does that express anything?

Irwin talks about inducing feelings with his work, without representation, and investigates space and dimension.

What if I were a writer and wrote "WKE OLWG"? Or played crescendoing noise (see Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music)?

And provided a lengthy explanation on how it investigates the dynamics of language, using unintelligible, unpronouncable words? And how the noise expressed distilled emotion?

Or simply wrote nothing? Or recorded silence? (Irwin considered painting a blank canvas.)

Can any explanation of any length give a blank canvas meaning?

Does that validate it? Do intentions and meanings make for good art?

This book is confusing me.