Unreal Nature

August 28, 2014

Incorrigibly Plural

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… There are only impure realities that participate with each other in refractive processes.

This is from the Preface to Philosophy and the Moving Image: Refractions of Reality by John Mullarkey (2009):

… I have always believed that it would be much more rewarding to make films than practice philosophy. Indeed, I have written philosophy books mostly in order to compensate for the fact that nobody would let me make films (I won’t bore you with the details). Yet, my retreat to philosophy was not on account of some vague likeness with cinematic storytelling, but because both film and philosophy share a relation with something far grander: reality itself.

… André Malreaux famously said that what is important in the artwork is precisely what cannot be said, whilst Jean Cocteau proclaimed that ‘an artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.’*

… Only through philosophy does art come into complete self-knowledge. When it comes to modernist aesthetics at least, art needs philosophy more than philosophy needs art.

… Moving pictures move us because movement is what is Real. Commensurately, there is no essential or ‘Ideal’ film wherein either a particular technology or aesthetic form would render it absolutely Real (‘great or true’ film art). Rather, at any one time, there is only a provisional selection of film examples (and film scenes) that converge on one point — what film ‘really is’ — from a certain frame of reference. This point of convergence is only virtual, however, being visible to the pertinent frame of reference alone (with its selection of films and mode of consumption). … The convergence of cinema is virtual as it tends towards a single point, and actual as it diverges away from one.

… What lies beneath, however, is not a fixed essence but a shifting process. What film converges on, with its various inheritances from the other arts and its increasingly convoluted technology, is not a singular reality but diverging plural realities.

… ‘Reality’ too is a process to participate in. Once we have accepted this, we can forego the myth of a pure cinema that would correspond with, capture or reflect a fixed reality. There are only impure realities that participate with each other in refractive processes.

… There is a ‘drunkenness of things being various,’ consequently, that allows us to find something valuable both in cinema’s convergence on a diverging reality and in philosophy’s lack of essence as it refracts itself through new non-philosophies. The world is ‘incorrigibly plural,’ and if film has a power, if it ‘captures’ reality, it is not by mirroring something static, but by being a part of something moving. Indeed, replacing the optics of static reflection with an alternative optics, that of mobile refraction, we’ll find, will be one way of depicting this convergence on reality-as-process.

… Gilles Deleuze is surely right in saying, at the conclusion of his Cinema books, that the question ‘what is cinema?’ must lead us to the question ‘what is philosophy?’ for philosophy’s film-envy was bound to turn back on itself eventually.

[*I know he's trying to point out the non-verbal-ness of visual art, but it still seems a bit unkind of Cocteau to equate artists with plants.]




August 27, 2014


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Confrontation without communication is threatening.

This is from Symbols: Public and Private by Raymond Firth (1973):

… Encounter of a physical kind may take place without … social relationship — as by two persons rubbing shoulders in a bus. They recognize the physical presence of each other, but the encounter is not socially acceptable; they do not speak; the existence of each is not incorporated into the social universe of the other. It needs some exchange of signs, as by a word or a nod, to create a social relationship. [ ... ] What is of prime relevance is the establishment or perpetuation of a social relationship, the recognition of the other person as a social entity, a personal element in a common social situation. This is [also] indicated by reverse behavior, what used to be called ‘cutting’ a person who is already known but found objectionable — the refusal of a greeting to him on passing him in the street or meeting him in society. This refusal is a tacit denial of him as a social entity in what would normally be a shared situation.

… In ordinary social intercourse formality may be enhanced when the person to be signalized in greeting is previously unknown to the signalizer. I myself have observed a simple form of this in travel in the United States. When two men previously unknown to each other are seated side by side in an airplane on a long trip, informal social relationships of an elementary order may be established in getting to and from seats, remarks about the weather, etc. But after casual exchanges may come formal identification. ‘I’m James Brown,’ says one man, extending his hand, whereupon the other normally follows suit with his own name and handclasp. Search may be made for further points of contact — home town, business, common acquaintance. But [though] presumably gratifying, this is not of primary relevance. What is of main significance is the act of identification, which has been sealed by the clasp of hands. Indeed, once the name has been uttered the hand gesture is almost automatic; as an experiment, one may disconcert such a casual acquaintance by uttering one’s name but withholding the hand movement. Yet in materialist terms the act is almost meaningless — the men are seated side by side, have already talked and could continue to talk; they will probably never meet again; neither wants anything of the other except his temporary companionship, which is already available. The name given may even have been false. But what matters is that some name has been given, and some personal manual contact made.

[ ... ]

… A primary object of much greeting or parting activity is to attract the attention of the other party — by directed glance or out-thrust hand if close by or by oscillation of the hand (waving) if at a distance. By focusing attention on the personality of each participant a sign is given that further communication is desired. A second theme is that of identification. The people concerned are differentiated as persons entering or continuing individually the social relationship. One function of much greeting and parting behavior is in providing a framework within which individuals can identify one another as preliminary to further action. A third theme is that of reduction fo uncertainty or anxiety in social contact, particularly between persons who are not previously known to one another. Confrontation without communication is threatening. Even the most casual greeting gesture tends to remove an element of uncertainty from the encounter. To nod or say a brief word to a stranger is more than a token of friendliness; it puts him in a social context, within which further communicative action can follow. Salutation at parting serves in parallel fashion to put a definite point to the departure, to establish the severance as a social and not merely a physical fact — not leaving the relationship hanging in the air, so to speak, as an unresolved issue.

… despite the moral sanctions in vogue for carrying out the ‘correct’ behavior it is remarkable how easily such patterns have altered. The more elaborate formal procedures of many African and Asian societies … have tended to be abandoned in modern times as familiarity with Western patterns has spread and as Western economic, educational and religious institutions have affected traditional status alignments. I would put status considerations at the core of the symbolism of greeting and parting rituals.

My most recent previous post from Firth’s book is here.




August 26, 2014

Denoted Instead of Embodied

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:34 am

… Instead of dissolving his emotion into the abstract elements of style … and renouncing any part of feeling that his style cannot order and unify, [he] localizes the excess emotion — the emotion that his artistic means is not yet large or strong enough to digest — in gestures … that have no relation to the premises upon which the rest of the picture has been built.

This is from ‘Review of an Exhibition of the Jane Street Group and Rufino Tamayo‘ (1947) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… [Tamayo's] painting, while of the highest seriousness and awareness, and compounded of the best ingredients in the way of paint quality, format, and even inventiveness, fails to come off except in isolated single pictures. Thus a Tamayo “problem” arises. Though Picasso’s massive example has formed his design and dictated his brush-handling, Tamayo’s originality is beyond question, especially on the score of color, over which he has thrown a typically hot, dark Mexican cast. And he remains always an interesting and seemingly powerful painter. But interest is not enough, and power is only relative, and the appearance of it can be obtained sometimes at the cost of its substance.

Woman with Pineapple, 1941 [image from WikiArt]

I believe Tamayo’s error to be the same as that made so frequently by Picasso since 1930 — an error which seems to have been established as a canon by the latest generation of French painters. That error consists in pursuing expressiveness and emotional emphasis beyond the coherence of style. It has led Tamayo and the younger French into an academic trap: emotion is not only expressed, it is illustrated. That is, it is denoted, instead of being embodied. Instead of dissolving his emotion into the abstract elements of style — which is what the old masters and Delacroix did just as much as the cubists — and renouncing any part of feeling that his style cannot order and unify, Tamayo, like Picasso in his weaker moments, localizes the excess emotion — the emotion that his artistic means is not yet large or strong enough to digest — in gestures, the grimace on a face, the swelling of a leg, in anatomical distortions that have no relation to the premises upon which the rest of the picture has been built. This amounts in the last analysis to an attempt to avoid the problems of plastic unity by appealing directly, in a different language from that of painting, to the spectator’s susceptibility to literature, which includes stage effects.

Ninos jugando con fuego, 1947 [image from WikiArt]

If Tamayo were not as good a painter as he is, one would not bother to point all this out. But since he is such a good painter, at least in potentiality, one not only points all this out — one also concludes that if so good a painter can make so crude a mistake, then painting in general has lost confidence in itself. In the face of current events painting feels, apparently, that it must be more than itself: it must be epic poetry, it must be theater, it must be rhetoric, it must be an atomic bomb, it must be the Rights of Man.




August 25, 2014

In the Guise

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

This is from Defining Moments in Art: Over a Century of the Artists, Exhibitions, People, Artworks, and Events that Rocked the World, general editor Mike Evans. The book features items sequentially, starting in 1863 and ending in 2008. I am selecting items from back-to-front (starting in 2007) because I enjoy going from recent to distant more than the reverse:

Key Artist Paula Rego begins Girl and Dog series; Date 1986; Why It’s Key The Girl and Dog series marked Rego at mid-career, but moving into her most productive phase to become one of the most influential woman artists of her time.

from the Girl and Dog series

… In the 1980s Rego began to develop a narrative, representational approach. She was inspired by text and illustration, and began studying the work of artists like Beatrix Potter, and political caricatures from the past, such as Hogarth and Gilray.

Paula Rego, Dog Woman, 1994 [image from WikiArt]

Key Artist Jonathan Borofsky initiates his Hammering Man sculptures; Date 1985; Why It’s Key these are his most famous works.

… They feature a lanky silhouette figure with his head lowered, striking a piece of metal with a hammer held in the hand of a perpetually moving arm. The image holds multiple meanings: the archetypal manual laborer, the model citizen, and the artist himself as a constant worker. They are installed in various cities across the world, with the tallest in Seoul, Korea, at 72 feet, which was constructed in 2002.

Jonathan Borofsky, Hammering Man

Key Artist Rufino Tamayo opens the Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum; Date 1981; Why It’s Key One of the first artists to adopt the “Mixografia” technique.

… Unlike many or his contemporaries, who used their artwork as a means of communicating a political agenda, Tamayo was only interested in depicting the everyday lives of his fellow countrymen. Consequently he was branded a traitor and shunned by his peers. Feeling oppressed and resented, Tamayo moved to New York in 1926.

by Rufino Tamayo

Tamayo was one of the pioneers of the “Mixografia” technique producing three-dimensional, textured artwork on handmade paper. His fame and recognition grew during his stay in New York, where he completed some of his finest pieces.

by Rufino Tamayo

Key Artist Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills #15; Date 1978; Why It’s Key Part of the series that made Sherman famous.

… In Untitled Film Stills, Sherman posed for a series of publicity stills from 1950s and 1960s B-grade movies. In these images she presents herself in the guise of various stereotypes of femininity — louche, glamorous, downtrodden, smouldering, innocent or the embodiment of another stock characteristic.

Untitled Film Still #15

Her ability to perfectly represent these often incompatible qualities demonstrated that identity, and particularly gender identity, is a mutable and essentially cultural construct, not an innate fact. Feminists and other theorists loved Sherman for her ability to illustrate these ideas, but the real impact of her art is its unfailing power to stimulate discussion while also stirring emotions.

Untitled Film Still #7




August 24, 2014

These Dispersed and Tarnished Flashes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… love is always present and never recognized in anything that we name “love.”

I will return to ‘The Sublime Offering’ next week. Today I feel like taking a bit from ‘Shattered Love’ instead. Both essays are found in A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):

… the words of love, as is well known, sparsely miserably repeat their one declaration, which is always the same, always already suspected of lacking love because it declares it. Or else this declaration always carries the promise of revealing itself as the unique incarnation, the unique and certain, if derisory manifestation of the love it declares. The discourse might well have nothing more to say or to describe than this communal indigence, these dispersed and tarnished flashes of an all-too-familiar love.

[ ... ]

… We will have to stop thinking in terms of possibility and impossibility. We will have to maintain that love is always present and never recognized in anything that we name “love.” We will have to admit that the rendezvous, our rendezvous with love, takes place not once, but in an indefinite number of times and that it is never “love” that is at the rendezvous, or unique and universal love (Catholic love), or nomadic and multiple loves, but another presence or another movement of love. Or rather, another love presence or another love movement that we in fact touch or that touches us, but that is not the “love” we were expecting.

Last week’s post from Nancy’s ‘The Sublime Offering’ (to which I will return next week), is here.




August 23, 2014

How Hurt We Are

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… it is a simple principle of ethics, provable in daily conversation, that the meaning of a statement is not what anyone chances to attribute to it — how hurt we are when we are misconstrued — but what it was intended to convey.

This is from the essay ‘The Ancient Quarrel Between History and Poetry’ found in The Collected Essays of J.V. Cunningham (1976):

… The work that is thought to be more alive and more universal usually turns out to be simply more familiar, for the familiar is that with which we feel we can take liberties.

… The more cautious will bring this heaven down to earth, and will allow the work of art its material embodiment. But they will regard the historical nature of the work only as a hindrance to the universality of the artist’s vision, or as an accident to be disengaged from the substance. They will maintain that historical interpretation is necessary, but that its purpose is to remove the ignorance or misapprehensions which hinder our direct appreciation of the text.

On the contrary, the accidents are integral to the substance. Hindrances are not merely hindrances; they are in themselves important. They are the points at which we become conscious that the text cannot be understood on our own terms. We are reading another, not ourselves.

… translation and interpretation are essentially alike. For, although a translation is manifestly other than its original, nevertheless we can designate a translation as correct or incorrect, as more or less adequate to the original. Now, it is that understanding of the original which enables us to say that a given translation is more or less adequate, which is the aim of historical interpretation. Furthermore, this understanding of the original is the work of art. Hence, the work of interpretation consists precisely in the recovery, so far as is possible, of the original; that is, of the author’s intentions as realized in the particular text under consideration.

For this is the way in which the genuinely sensitive man approaches a work of literature. It is a method that, as a matter of fact, does have close analogies with the method of religious surrender. It consists in yielding as completely as possible to the experience of the work, with the intention of formulating afterwards the alterations which this surrender has wrought. As such, it is not only unobjectionable but necessary, both in art and in life. It is the initial act of abandonment, of faith and sympathy, without which we will never penetrate any human experience.

But, unless it is protected by the constant awareness that the experience we are penetrating is that of another, such aesthetic surrender can only be an elaborate game by which we discover with surprise that the attitudes and preconceptions with which we view the object are really there, although in fact we put them there in a somnambulistic trance. Thus the aesthetic experience proves often enough to be only an affirmation of solipsism, and the aesthetic soul a parody of the Neo-Platonic God whose spirit infuses all things, which are but degradations of Itself. However, if the act of faith and sympathy with which we surrender ourselves to an object be one which involves a scrupulous responsiblity toward the object in all its specificality, this is nothing other than historical interpretation.

It is in fact nothing other than morality, if it is not too out of fashion to connect morality with such pursuits as poetry and scholarship. For the understanding of an author in the scholarly sense involves the exercise under defined conditions of the two fundamental principles of morality in the Western tradition: 1) the principle of dignity, or of responsibility to the external fact, in the special form of respect for another person as revealed in his works; and 2) the principle of love, the exercise of sympathetic insight, or of imaginative transformation.

… whatever be the case with the other arts, the arts of language consist of statements, and a statement means what it says. We look at what a work says to find out what it means, and the apprehension of its meaning is the work of art. Insofar as the meaning is not expressed in or not recoverable from the statements, the work is deficient. Furthermore, it is a simple principle of ethics, provable in daily conversation, that the meaning of a statement is not what anyone chances to attribute to it — how hurt we are when we are misconstrued — but what it was intended to convey. The intention is the intention of the author as expressed in the language which he used and qualified by the circumstances under which he expressed it. Hence every statement is a historical statement, and it is properly understood only by historical interpretation.

Thus, since a work of literature is precisely the apprehension of its proper meaning, the appreciation of literature resides in historical interpretation. There are not two approaches to the study of literature, but only one: historical interpretation is aesthetic appreciation. If the two are distinguishable, they are distinguishable only as aspects of one another.

My most recent previous post from Cunningham’s book (in which he seems to somewhat contradict what he says in today’s post) is here.




August 22, 2014

Putting the Skins On

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… it all has to do with tantalizing your memory.

This first is taken from ‘Interview with Ruscha in his Hollywood Studio’ by Paul Karlstrom (1980-81) found in Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages by Ed Ruscha; edited by Alexandra Schwartz (2002):

[ ... ]

Ed Ruscha: The first work I did involving vegetable matter and organic materials came out of a frustration with materials. I wanted to expand my ideas about materials and the value they have. I was concerned with the concept of staining something, rather than applying a film or coat or skin of paint on a canvas. I started looking at ideas as though they were stains, rather than skin. I had to open my eyes to all kinds of stains. It falls into categories of vegetable things, vegetable matter, liquids that come from them and get put onto paper. [ ... ]

Paul Karlstrom: How do you get the medium?

ER: Oh, just by crushing them up with a mortar and pestle.

This next is from an interview, ‘Ed Ruscha,’ by Fred Fehlau (1988):

[ ... ]

Ed Ruscha: … There was a period when I couldn’t even use paint. I had to paint with unorthodox materials, so I used fruit and vegetable dyes instead of paint. I had to move some way, and the only way to do this was to stain the canvas rather than to put a skin on it. Now I’m back to putting the skins on.

[ ... ]

ER: … At one time I used to think that art was strictly visual, and you’re not supposed to go and dig deeper into messages. But now I believe it all has to do with tantalizing your memory. … The most that an artist can do is to start something and not give the whole story. That’s what makes mystery. And in a sense, if you believe that, then you can almost believe that nothing can be explained, which returns us to philosophy. That, in turn, circles all the way around to just looking at paintings again.




August 21, 2014

The Sense of an Ending

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… There is, I believe, no art other than the cinema which has a comparable capacity to reconstruct analytically and thereby explicate the possible modes of perceiving a localized slice of human history …

This is my final post from Narration in Light: Studies in Cinematic Point of View by George M. Wilson (1986):

… It is often maintained, roughly, that the strategies, forms, and techniques of classical narrative cinema lock members of an audience into an epistemic position that makes it impossible for them to criticize either their own habits of perception in film viewing or the modes of perceptual intelligibility that the films themselves display.

[ ... ]

McCabe’s associated indictment of traditional films is that they “ensure the position of the subject [that is, the viewer] in a relation of dominant specularity.” When one first comes across this charge, one feels immediately that dominant specularity is not a position that one, as a sensitive filmgoer, would want to be in. The phrase invokes the picture of a brutish viewer who aggressively glares his films into submission. However, McCabe’s conception is rather the opposite. It is the conception of passive film spectators who, immersed in transparency, allow their perception and understanding of the screen events to be wholly the products of the narrative apparatus. It denotes the relation to film of viewers seduced from the critical use of their perception and understanding by the regimenting dictates of classical narrative and narration. This is the chief target of McCabe’s attack on the classic realist film text, and this passiveness is a phenomenon that merits his rightful, if somewhat overstated, concern.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] It is not to be denied that normal film viewing is too often intellectually passive and only superficailly critical of its object. Far too often conventional films strongly encourage this stolidity and offer few rewards to alertness and analytical reflection. These complaints have over many years acquired the status of truisms, but they are, nonetheless, still true. What is distinctive about the position that McCabe and other recent theorists occupy is the contention that the forms and strategies of classical film render this situation inevitable — render the practice of that cinema a prison house for the perceptually inert. It is supposed to be in the nature of the forms in question that they forego the possibility of eliciting a radical transformation of vision and a recognition of the vast contingency of the manner in which we ordinarily function as observers of the world. Once again, I can merely repeat that the films that we have here examined are testimonies that these “essentialist” theses are false.

… As I have attempted to show throughout the book, many of these questions about how we operate in apprehending film stories have, quite naturally, interested most of the best film makers as well. Their work constitutes a heritage of reflection on film which has been registered in film, and it is important to retain that heritage and value it properly. There is, I believe, no art other than the cinema which has a comparable capacity to reconstruct analytically and thereby explicate the possible modes of perceiving a localized slice of human history as an evolving field of visible significance. Classical narrative film, in particular, engenders and investigates possible modes of seeing a pattern in the events of such a history — a pattern that yields, either genuinely or speciously, “the sense of an ending.” It models, in this way, our search for closure and coherence in our long-term view of things. A theory of point of view in film, as I conceive it, is a theory of these reconstructed forms of being witness to the world.

My most recent previous post from Wilson’s book is here.




August 20, 2014

Their Own Physical Raw Material

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… Man is an ingenious creature, making much social capital of small physical resources.

This is from Symbols: Public and Private by Raymond Firth (1973):

… A few years ago an anthropologist addressing a group of people on a social studies course confessed that before meeting them he nearly went and had his hair cut — that he did not was due to the length of the queue (line) at the barber’s. He used this as an illustration of how bodily characters, such as length of hair, are used as symbols, create expectations about conduct and provoke social reactions. Put this together with Hallpike’s recent generalization that among men, wearing long hair is equivalent to being outside society while short hair is equivalent to social control — and that in an attenuated form the same principle can be extended to the hair of women. Add to it the Elizabethan John Heywood’s proverb ‘long hair, short wit,’ or the French ‘longues cheveaux, courte cervelle.’ We can then ask what is there about hair, especially in its length, that makes it of such social, even symbolic interest?

[ ... ]

… What is noteworthy is the widespread reaction of criticism, from ridicule to high indignation and even physical violence, which [the] male wearing of long hair has aroused. If its effects were not often so serious, the popular response would be comic to an external observer. To many middle-aged people in Europe and in American, a canon of absolute value has come to be attached to short male head-hair, associated with cleanliness, efficiency and masculinity. Ignorant of the widespread practices of wearing male hair long, accepted and esteemed, in other cultures; and in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century society among men of the highest status and fashion, modern outbursts against male long hair illustrate not only the changeability of fashion but also the relativity of the moral judgments so expressed.

… Until recently, male travellers passing through Yugoslavia were scrutinized at the border and if their hair was thought to be unduly long, they were made to cut it before being allowed to enter the country. Similar action was taken at various times by the governments of South Vietnam, Panama and Singapore. In Malacca a magistrate warned that he would not hear evidence from long-haired male witnesses, as it was unbefitting the dignity of the court.

… on the whole, deliberate shaving of the head, close cutting of the hair, has taken on a ritual quality, intended to mark a transition from one social state to another, and in particular to imply a modification in the status or social condition of the person whose hair is so treated. … But cutting the hair close or shaving the head often [also] denoted mourning. In a soliloquy on hair in Gryll Grange Thomas Love Peacock, quoting Aristotle, wrote: ‘In mourning, sympathizing with the dead, we deform ourselves by cutting off our hair,’ … [However] where the initiative does not lie with the person primarily concerned, an enforced cutting or shaving of the hair may convey contempt and degradation, an extreme reduction in status.

… ethnographic literature gives a wide range of examples where the power of hair is regarded as not simply emotional but magical. The hair is believed to have in itself some quality of affecting either the person from whom it has been obtained, or the person with whom it is newly put in contact.

… As anthropologists have amply demonstrated, the essence of interpretation of such symbols, hair or other, lies not in attributing empirical significance to the symbolism of each item in itself, but in recognizing the symbolism of the conjoined likenesses and contrasts, in systematic arrangement. Man is an ingenious creature, making much social capital of small physical resources. So, if women have long hair, men may have it short; if women wear theirs short, men may grow theirs long. And if both sexes wear their hair at much the same length then they differentiate by style of dressing it. Refinements within the system can mark out also stage of social progression and social status.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The cutting of hair can be made a formal process and a symbolic process — but not simply of sexual loss, as Berg would have it, or entry into social control, as Hallpike would have it. It may signify social loss — of a display feature of the personality, an abasement of the personality, a sacrifice. When one shears one’s head for a person who has died, or on entry to a religious order, sentiments both of loss and of submission may be thought to be involved. But anthropologically, attention is directed to the marks of personal status that are sacrificed with the locks of hair, or more simply to the social definition of a change in relationship. Such hair symbolism means that men and women in specific kinds of society at specific periods are using their own physical raw material in terms of the social norms to provide indices to their personality and make statements about their conception of their role, their social position and changes in these.

My most recent previous post from Firth’s book is here.




August 19, 2014

No Place Left to Go

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… he clowned out of a historical instinct that he himself was half unconscious of.

This is from ‘Review of an Exhibition of Giorgio de Chirico‘ (1947) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… At the beginning of his career Chirico was struck by the German Swiss painter Böcklin, whose work is one of the most consummate expressions of all that we now dislike about the latter half of the nineteenth century; however, I cannot believe there was not some perversity, half-concealed from himself, some desire to shock his peers and betters, in this admiration of Chirico’s — a desire that sprang perhaps from his despair of equaling the profound matter-of-factness of the impressionists and of Cézanne and Matisse. Like many a twentieth-century Italian, with the glorious past behind him and the glorious present elsewhere — in Paris, London, Berlin — he clowned out of a historical instinct that he himself was half unconscious of.

The Red Tower, 1913 [image from WikiArt]

… The early work [of Chirico] parodies the perspective of the Quattrocentist masters and the means in general by which the Renaissance attained the illusion of the third dimension; and because it parodies, it destroys. From his tangential position Chirico, by an exaggeration that amounted to ridicule, helped the cubists exile deep space and volume from painting. See only how completely schematic and secondhand is his delineation of depth, how flat all surfaces in these early pictures, how the shading and modeling are applied in undifferentiated patches, like a decorative convention, and how light is handled as if in a shadow box.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, 1914 [image from WikiArt]

Having performed this parody, which was in the nature of a final summing up and relegation of all the problems that had occupied Western painting between Giotto and Courbet, Chirico had no place left to go. Failing or unwilling to understand either what he had done or the character of painting since Manet, he could find nothing to replace that remnant of the Renaissance which he had destroyed.

Happiness of Returning, 1915 [image from WikiArt]

[ ... ]

… negligible as this stuff [Chiroco's later work] is at its best and symptomatic as it may be of a real degeneration and of an impotence to react cogently to modern life, still it has some reality as a gloss on the history of painting, an illustrated lecture on the ABCs of baroque painting. Irrelevant as painting inside painting, it is sheer cultural evidence, a kind of funeral oration more affecting than anything that could be put into words.




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