ShnN: an overview before the fact . . . 


  An university is, ideally, an environment in which questions are posed and answers sought; where knowledgeable individuals share that which they know with individuals whose experience of that particular knowledge is limited; in which the primary purpose should be to gain new (i.e. fresh, novel, original) insights into the resolution of problems or questions raised for consideration or solution (which are quite often so very simply resolved that their assimilation in one’s understanding is thwarted by the individual’s presumption that nothing is simple) and into the methods by which problems might be discovered in the first place; such is, ideally, the purpose and the meaning of an university, but it frequently appears that the complexes of stately Neo-Georgian and Empire buildings sanctified under that title, which litter the land, do so for no other purpose than to provide a source of income for their honored employees, the instructors, and a refuge from the real world for their clients, the students.

  Shnn was generated by the discovery that the ideal rarely exists. It arose out of studios, sterile and clean, untouched by artistic fervor, unstained by the carelessness of excited creativity, hallowed halls that were the repositories for midterm and end~of~the~semester projects, but for little else in between or after. It was commenced by instructors who failed to teach structure and goaded on by students who failed to question structure. ShnN was borne by the realization that the ideal rarely exists, but rather must be created.

  Disillusioned with the apparent lack of creative incentive that was in existence at college and skeptical of the integrity of contemporary artists, Larry Smith set out to pose questions and seek answers to what art is all about. That scholastic probe became the import of sHnn.

  Shnn was / is an art of randomness.

it is my intention in shnn
toproduce experiences which possess both chaos
and order in order that
the individual perceiving
the experience will not be
exactly certain whether
order or whether chaos

  A background in metaphysics, in attempting to understand the rationality and / or irrationality of reality, was one of the basic influences on Smith’s artistic concerns, eventually resulting in the formation of the shNn concept. The process of actively questioning became a firm foundation on which healthy artistic matters could grow. Though the metaphysical interest had originally proceeded from delvings in the occult arts, the question of ‘what is reality?’ shifted to ‘what is art?’ as artistic incentive matured into motivation.

  On June 26, 1975, the maturation process took its first full breath. While transcribing the contents of a cassette tape, which had been recorded a couple days earlier, in lieu of a written letter to be sent to a friend, Smith was suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to record random sounds in a sort of abstract collage over various parts of the tape. Encouraged by an earlier discovery and interest in Dada, he proceeded to do so, producing the first overt manifestation of shnn.

  The motivation that brought about this abrupt burst of artistic frenzy had been conceived as a respite from the vague, answerless questions of metaphysics. It had gasped for the naive ignorance of a state solely encompassed by the process of sensational omniscience. The tension of contrived scoring was neglected in favor of a more relaxed, incognizant and intuitive approach to sound. In such a state, the process of mere experience could be facilitated; a recognition of the beauty of random sound was accomplished and an attempt to neutralize the contention between theory and fact of what music (or in effect Art) is, was effected.

do not ask do not reply

  Art, the transparent foil of science, was sought as a refuge from the suffocation brought on as sanity and insanity were being tossed back and forth in the turmoil of metaphysical thought. The eventual release of that motivation from the hazardous tediousness of knowledge to the placid experience of art was bridged by the artistic license of a sort of contrived surrealism.

the prime intention is to
discard, by-pass, exclude,
ignore, etc., the processes
of explanation and inquiry
…but where explanation
and inquiry are necessary,
one should explain and
inquire like crazy

  At this point, the motivation of shNN was not evident in a mature form. It was undergoing changes through active experimentation. Appearing in the writings and music as well as in the visual creations, the surrealistic mode spread into the art Smith was producing. It served to keep the artistic motivation thriving in its newfound release from the imponderable limitations of metaphysical thought.

  Surrealism, per se though, did not gain a stranglehold on the shnn concept. Serving basically as an introduction to a personal style, it was only a spark strategically placed to ignite the motivation of sHNn toward the
point at which two angles
meet in coaxiality, in
bisection; parallel, in
tangency or intersection,
summoned by the quest for
chaotic order, goaded on
by dada, insanity etc.,
etboshc.: ... the triumph
of irrational experience
over rational knowledge.

  The quest for chaotic order was the alchemical factor which kept the motivation of shnN steadfastly on course. Bored with the prevalent order inherent in the surrealism and dada it found itself emulating and disheartened by the artistic stagnation that pervades any like form of order, the motivating force enticed chaos to counteract with order. This combination of chaos and order at last provided for the ultimate resolution of motivation into SHNn.

sHnn is primarily concerned
with both chaos and order

  In the concept of randomness, the transmutation of the base metals of order and chaos into Art was achieved. It was by means of this transmutation that the art and concept that was to be Shnn matured. ShNn had finally come to be.

  Within two weeks after the June 26 sound collage, Smith finished work on a drawing / collage / assemblage in which the embryonic shnn was given expression in visual form. Smith has said of his Landscape, Still Life And Dinosaur Even (title subject to change) that “it was composed of totally chaotic elements in a totally ordered composition. All the lines, directions of flow, spacings between elements etc., are wrong in different ways; it is the wrongness of it all that gives it an appearance of order. It is a perfect realization of my intention in shnN.”


it is my intention in shnn toproduce experiences which possess both chaos and order in order that
the individual perceiving the experience will not be exactly certain whether order or whether cha
os exists.

it is my intention in shNn toproduce experiences which
the individual perceiving the experience will not be e

  In the development of the SHnn concept, Smith attempted to produce an art which would deal with the representation of the phenomena of randomness in a varied and random fashion.

  ShNn is a twofold process:

  1. A minute perceiving or study of reality at any one time and space ~ the limits of which are imperceptible ad infinitum ~ with the purpose of naively experiencing what things exist.

  2. An interpretation and translation of the things perceived in reality, resulting in the representation of those things (and consequently of reality as a perfect whole) in a form of sensory perception. ... This I shall term ‘art’.

  The intrinsic nature of shnN ~ that it was never intended as an art style in itself, but rather a technique by which to examine and represent the randomness present in reality ~ facilitated that attempt.

  Detesting the stagnation of creativity that so often accompanies the adherence to any one art style, Smith embraced quite a number of different modes in his art. One piece embodying a surrealistic style might be followed by a seemingly abstract expressionistic piece, which in turn might be followed by one which would combine critical realist imagery in a minimal space. Smith has said of his art that he is “not interested in the images”, that he deals “only with the basic art elements of design and composition. The style that may become apparent in the final resulting imagery is unimportant.”

  This devotion to the essential art elements is easily noticed in the abundance of varied lines, shapes, tones, textures and color that spread out over the surfaces. In most cases, where there is no definite image to support them, they call attention to the fact that they are simply lines, shapes, etc., with no other purpose than for their own experiential presence. Any images that are perceived are so according to the personal whims of the viewer.

... in shnn there must exist
only the experience. The
prime intention is ... to be
merely, basically, solely,
wholly concerned with the
process (i.e. the action,
force) of perceiving and ex
periencing the many, varied
manifestations of reality

  These ‘manifestations of reality’ are given expression in the form of the most fundamental design and composition elements.

  Whereas some artists attempt to make a forest visible, despite the trees, Smith, via shnn, invites us to look directly at the trees, by which we can imagine our own personal forests.

  In some cases, Smith would direct an artwork toward a particular style. A resolute believer that the accumulation and assimilation of experiential knowledge should be the goal of anyone who attempts to reach a maturity in art, Smith constructed his own personal university situation by instigating many in~depth studies of past and current art theories and history. (It was by means of this situation that he developed an interest in Dada). An incessant urge to understand the essential qualities of other art forms would provide a basis from which to develop a personal style. Proceeding from this basis, Smith, in certain pieces, tried to emulate a style in order to discover what universal motivations lay in all art modes.

  An effective means to wage
rebellion against a process is to
sufficiently know what that
process encompasses and
then to wage rebellion
within that process.
How is it possible
to perceive black
(the absence
of white) if
white is not known?