Unreal Nature

November 11, 2014

Energy

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… the effort [Miró] must exert to condense his sensations into pictures produces an effect to which playfulness itself is only a means.

Masson strains after … the monstrous, the epically brutal, and the blasphemous … it has something too literal about it — too many gestures and too much forcing of color, texture, and symbol.

This is from ‘Review of Exhibitions on Joan Miró and André Masson’ (1944) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

Miró belongs among the living masters. He is the one new figure since the last war to have contributed importantly to the great painting tradition of our day — that which runs from Cézanne through fauvism and cubism. During the last ten years his work has maintained a very high level with a consistency neither Picasso nor Mondrian has equalled. The adjectives usually applied to Miró’s art are “amusing,” “playful,” and so forth. But they are not quite fair. Painting as great as his transcends and fuses every particular emotion; it is as heroic or tragic as it is comic. Certainly there is a mood specific to it, a playfulness which evinces the fact that Miró is comparatively happy within the limitations of his medium, that he realizes himself completely within its dominion. But the effort he must exert to condense his sensations into pictures produces an effect to which playfulness itself is only a means. This is “pure painting” if there ever was any, conceived in terms of paint, thought through and realized in no other terms.

Miro_constellation-the-morning-star
Joan Miró, Constellation: the Morning Star, 1940 [image from WikiArt]

… Picasso is more ambitious, more Promethean; he tries to reconcile great contradictions, to bend, mold, and lock forms into each other, to annihilate negative space by filling it with dense matter, and to make the undeniable two-dimensionality of the canvas voluminous and heavy. Miró is satisfied simply to punctuate, inclose, and interpret the cheerful emptiness of the plane surface. Never has there been painting which stayed more strictly within the dimensions, yet created so much variety and excitement of surface.

André Masson has been an ambitious painter from the beginning, one who accepts and tries to solve the most difficult problems proposed by art in this age. Very little he has done is without interest; yet little so far seems capable of lasting. There is some lack in Masson of touch or “feel” — a lack dangerous to an artist who relies, or professes to rely, so much on automatism or pure spontaneity. A line either too Spencerian or too splintery weakens his drawings; an insistence upon multiplying and complicating planes, while combining two such color gamuts as violet-blue-green-yellow and brown-mauve-red-orange, renders his painting turgid, overheated, and discordant. Energy is dissipated in all directions.

Masson_in-the-tower-of-sleep
André Masson, In the Tower of Sleep, 1938 [image from WikiArt]

Masson strains after that same terribilità which haunts Picasso, is obsessed by a similar nostalgia for the monstrous, the epically brutal, and the blasphemous. But being nostalgia, it has something too literal about it — too many gestures and too much forcing of color, texture, and symbol.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

November 10, 2014

On Its Head

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… It shook the faith in external, homogenizing criteria that seek to prescribe or ascribe what art is.

This is from Art as Existence: The Artist’s Monograph and Its Project (2006) by Gabriele Guercio:

… [Bernard Berenson] objects to a linear, “botanical” view of the artist and expresses his belief in the artist’s unfolding of the creative potential of a “temperament” perennially exposed to unpredictable influences:

All we can say is that given a certain temperament plus a certain mental, emotional, and manual training, the product (the artist) will tend to act and to express himself in a way that is determined. But his training does not cease; he keeps coming in contact with other influences, each one of which tends to modify the product that was the adolescent artist. And the nature of the new influences … is what we cannot possibly foresee.

Zola in particular believed that a work of art is “a corner of nature seen through a temperament.” He regarded the making of art as a birthing process, and artists as individuals who give their flesh and blood, mind and heart, to their creations.

… Whereas Vasari’s Lives conveyed a concern with rules and canons of art, the issue at stake for the nineteenth-century monograph was not whether the works under analysis belong to the category of art and fulfill the requirements of artistry, but rather whether one could grasp a process of coming into being.

… Because of its focus on singularity, the monograph carried the potential of turning the study of art on its head. It could throw into doubt any number of more rigid constructions. It contained points of excess, instability, and differentiation that could not be so easily squared. It exposed as limited and arbitrary the assumption that artworks can be better evaluated when classified according to schools and countries and seen as parts of a linear, chronological history. It indicated that the construction of art historical sequences and genealogies among artists might not be enough to unravel the artistic phenomena. It shook the faith in external, homogenizing criteria that seek to prescribe or ascribe what art is.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

November 9, 2014

By a Certain Inability

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… the most natural things had suddenly begun to surprise him, as if a lack had been brought about in him that he sought to answer …

This is from the essay ‘The Paradox of Aytré’ found in The Work of Fire by Maurice Blanchot (1949):

… It sometimes happens to a man that he feels an emptiness in himself, a defect, a lack of something decisive, whose absence becomes, little by little, unbearable. In a short story, “Aytré Who Loses the Habit,” Jean Paulhan tells the tale of a soldier to whom this happens. Aytré is a sergeant and, with an adjutant who tells the story of the expedition, he leads a column of 300 Senegalese alongside men of the Fourth Colonial, across Madagascar. Through the adjutant’s laziness, Aytré is the one to whom the care of keeping the log of the journey falls. There is nothing extraordinary in this log: we arrive, we leave, chickens cost seven sous; we stock up on medicine; our wives receive magazines, etc. As the adjutant says, that smells of drudgery. But, starting from a certain day, after the arrival at Ambositra, the writing changes, slightly, no doubt, in appearance, but, on careful reading, in a surprising and overwhelming way.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The explanations rendered become longer. Aytré begins to go into his ideas on colonization; he describes the women’s hairstyles, their locks joined together on each side of their ears like a snail; he speaks of strange landscapes; he goes on to the character of the Malagaches; and so on. In short, the log is useless. What has happened? Aytré has obviously lost the habit. It is as if the most natural things had suddenly begun to surprise him, as if a lack had been brought about in him that he sought to answer by unusual moves, an agitation of thoughts, words, images. And the adjutant is all the more ready to realize that he recognizes in his own uneasiness the trace of a similar predicament. The key to the enigma is easy to grasp. In Ambositra, Aytré met a Mme. Chalinargues, whom he had known some months earlier and whom jealousy pushes him to kill; as for the adjutant, he prepares to keep a sum of money that the same person had handed over to him for her family.

… Until then, [Aytré] was enough for himself; now he is no longer enough, and he speaks to reestablish, by words and by a call to others, the adequacy whose disappearance he feels. Unfortunately, much worse must happen to him. For language is also struck: all the thick layering of words, the sedimentation of comfortable meanings that move off, detach themselves, become a slippery and dangerous slope. The threat spreads to anyone who allows himself to answer it. The writer does not always begin with the horror of a crime that makes him feel his precariousness in the world, but he can hardly think of beginning other than by a certain inability to speak and write, by a loss of words, by the very absence of the means of which he has an overabundance. Thus it is indispensable for him to feel at first that he has nothing to say.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

November 8, 2014

The Idea of Genesis

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Isn’t it rather that symbolism is insufficiently randomized to give account of the real world in its immense complexity? That symbolism acts as a reassurance that the world is small, accountable, inter-referential, echoing, inwardly allusive, the world of childhood where what happened was marvelous or terrible but bounded by the home, the park, the family?

This is from Journal of the Fictive Life by Howard Nemerov (1965):

… The first principle of this writing is that everything is relevant; accidents turn up and later, under close reading prove their right to be here by getting themselves woven into the fabric. The meaning? Well, it may never have a meaning. But the design is constantly making itself over as it draws new materials into its ambit, under its spell.

… I began under a pseudonym, Felix Ledger, whom I had invented as a novelist in a novel and written two chapters or more about, twelve or thirteen years ago. But after a single page in which this person tried to talk in a literary way about novels, he got stuck, and when he picked up the subject again after a lapse of a couple of weeks in despair of ever doing anything again, he began talking about his relation with the art of writing.

… he was constantly divagating into technical considerations, talking about money, justifying himself (myself), being ‘literary,’ and generally altogether a bit too clever. Then he began having ‘ideas’ for novels, or stories. But only for a few days was he able to convince me that he was really Henry James who would really write the stories; I was soon enough able to see that these stories were being invented solely for purposes of obfuscation, and to say, in effect, that a person so very clever as Felix Ledger would never have to write a story at all in order to be loved, admired, and highly paid. Moreover, by inventing stories which I was not going to write, he was causing me some embarrassment.

… The principle that everything is relevant, simply because it comes into my mind, remains the principle of this work, but a principle which must get its justification daily so far as this is possible. It would appear, for example, that my dream-life [descriptions of which this book has many, many pages] is pretending to cooperate in the adventure by supplying an abundance of materials, but really trying to put a stop to it by giving me more than I can handle in a working day.

[ ... ]

… An hour later, I return to see if I can’t see this more slowly, spread it out a bit more fully.

I said before that symbolism was ‘suspiciously randomized’; this did not quite catch the thought. Isn’t it rather that symbolism is insufficiently randomized to give account of the real world in its immense complexity? That symbolism acts as a reassurance that the world is small, accountable, inter-referential, echoing, inwardly allusive, the world of childhood where what happened was marvelous or terrible but bounded by the home, the park, the family? The world of religion, too, where what happened was marvelous or terrible but bounded by the situation of the divine drama.

… Doubtless the philosophers can explain (away) such strange constatations of fact, these little mad galaxies far out in space where some intellectual divinity is fooling with the idea of genesis.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

November 7, 2014

What Do You Represent?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 9:22 am

Reinhardt_U_rep
comic by Ad Reinhardt

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

An Inkling

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… It was a slow shock … An inkling that this was about another kind of freedom altogether, something more than mastering technique.

This is from Writings in Art by Per Kirkeby, edited by Asger Schnack (2012):

… My name is Per Kirkeby, and for seventeen years I have been pursued by a painter called Francis Picabia. It transpired that he died in 1953, but how was I to know. Now, in 1976, a major exhibition of his paintings has taken place at the Grand Palais in Paris. It’s seventeen years since I saw the first pictures and felt his breath against my neck.

Seventeen years ago I was hitchhiking with a friend of mine. First in Spain, to the Prado Museum in Madrid where I was moved by the bleak Spanish Realists. Then, of course, Paris. There it was the Impressionists I wanted to see. I knew them from the small art books that were so popular at the time. But I was disappointed; small, stupid paintings, that’s what they looked like. That was then. I see things differently now. Art changes all the time like that. But Manet, of whom I hadn’t thought much, was suddenly the thing. Big, ambitious paintings about people, love, and so on.

Manet_the-balcony-1869
Edouard Manet, The Balcony, 1869 [image from WikiArt]

[line break added to make this easier to read online] But the Museum of Modern Art, of course, was a must, because I so admired the great Picasso. Among the popular works was a large, clumsy picture. It seemed awkward to me, inelegantly executed, heavy in its colors, rather like Cubism misunderstood. Its strange title was painted on the canvas: Udnie. And the painter’s name, Francis Picabia, was entirely unfamiliar to me. I told myself it had to be some odd French mistake. But I couldn’t get the thing out of my head, from then on it began to torment me: that a picture’s value perhaps had nothing to do with skill in the sense of craftsmanship. It was a slow shock of the kind that dawns when you’re a young man thinking the world will open out for you if only you acquire more knowledge. An inkling that this was about another kind of freedom altogether, something more than mastering technique.

Later I gained admission to the Experimental Art School in Copenhagen in the happy years of communal art. There I learned more about Picabia and Dadaism, but that great canvas became no more comprehensible to me: it remained awkward and unplaceable. I was painting in an age and a context that said painting was no good, certainly not that kind of private painting. And during that period I of course discovered that I needed Picabia increasingly. I gathered more and more pieces of this strange painter’s production. The impossible pictures of the late 1920s through the 1950s.

Picabia_Udnie1914
Francis Picabia, I See Again in Memory My Dear Udnie, 1914 [image from MoMA]

[line break added to make this easier to read online] What it all told me when put together was that it was indeed possible to paint if only you never allowed yourself to be taken captive but always kept free of personal style. It was a personal plea of defense — it was all I could do. It turned out not to be that easy, not allowing yourself to be taken captive — by yourself and the others. Therefore I invented the dream of the impossible painting. It was to be a painting no one could say anything good about, which possessed no appeasing elements in the shape of technique, or colorism or anything else at all. It was to be not merely a failed painting but a work that existed beyond the point where a thing could ever be good. And if I had to name an example of something like it, I would say Picabia. Still not knowing that much about it.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

November 6, 2014

Perpetual Renewal

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… What if thinking was simply whatever undoes any simple, extant definition?

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

… Like the invisible monster in Forbidden Planet (1956) that is revealed in outline when a force field blocks its path, so the contours of film are illuminated when our theories pitch themselves against it.

… Just as [Bergson’s] sugar-in-coffee is a material endosmosis — an exchange, a montage, a refraction — so is our affective engagement with that process [of watching moving pictures]. We dissolve into the film’s duration just as it mixes itself with ours, emerging as an object for us as this happens. And so too for theory. Its impatience with film is also a refractive affect …

[ ... ]

… Any form of philosophical representation or reflection on the subject infects it with that philosophy’s own nature. Indeed, all philosophical systems are transcendental in this sense. What philosophy calls the reality of the subject is always its concept of the subject. Hence, every philosophy is a mixture (‘mixte’) of that reality with a predefined interpretative schema, be it emotivist or cognitivist, materialist or idealist, ontological or epistemological. So long as we are philosophers, then, we cannot escape from the petitio principii of explanation.

… The autonomy of the Real leaves all philosophies relative. In a sense, non-Philosophy is a metatheory that discerns the activity of the Real (in any field) through its resistance to explanation, a resistance exposed by the fall-back or recoil of other philosophies into their own explanatory circles. Their failures to penetrate exclusively into the heart of the matter without question begging are themselves enlightening.

… What is being offered here [in this book], then, is not one more philosophy of film, but instead a thinking alongside the Real, which, in this context, means a passivity towards film in its thoughtful resistance to extant philosophy. We can never know what film is directly (again, there is no top-down definition of film, no ontology of film), but, again, we can infer what it is not in the peculiarities of individual films’ recalcitrance to various transcendent theories of film (whatever philosophers try to impose as the meaning or being of film through these films).

… Such an ecumenical position is more than mere liberal-minded openness (that only succeeds in offending everybody equally), but the achievement of something positive. The relative failure of each theory is also a partial success, each one catching a glimpse of what it is trying to explain that, when mixed together, allows a new view to emerge. Deleuze and Bordwell and Cavell and Žižek … offer us a differential philosophy of film, a montage of theories that refract each other simply by their being copresented. Branigan’s radiality, Deleuze’s movement-image, Anderson’s selective perception, Bordwell’s empiricism, Badiou’s empty essence of cinema, Žižek’s traumatic Real, Cavell’s acknowledgment, Perkins’s suggestion, Rancière’s thwarted fable, Laruelle’s non-philosophy, Bergson’s fabulation: all are partial glimpses but are never, and could never be, the whole. And there is something quite cinematic about this very process of stitching ideas together.

… No less than a film coevolves with its spectator (a single viewer or large audience) in each viewing event, so philosophy coevolves with its ‘object’ (or subject matter) in an event of novelty when both refract each other (a fabulated significance rendered by that subject from the processes of the subject matter). Philosophy is not of the new, it is the new — in its struggle, in its shock and its wonder. Which is not to define it at all in terms of ‘the new’ (as if we knew what that meant), but only to say that philosophy is perpetually indefinite and resists definition.

So, in coming back to the question, ‘what is thinking?’, perhaps we should stop begging for these questions of definition altogether. To offer a first alternative, what, instead, if thinking was never any definite or extant activity? What if thinking was simply whatever undoes any simple, extant definition? [ ... ] The plurality together gives us the outline of perpetual renewal: extant plurality equals more plurality to come. Not many truths equalling no truth, but the endless becoming of truth.

… It is not the thing that counts (which is itself a complexity of other movements condensed into an immobile by your perception), but how it moves (you) — the movement as transformative relation between subject and object.

… definitional circularity must be displaced through action. Bergson gives the example of actually swimming in order to break the definitional circle that knowledge of swimming is a prerequisite of learning to swim; that is, an actual movement must be enacted to show that something new — beyond present knowing and being — is possible. Or as Rancière puts it in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, ‘the circle of emancipation must be begun.’ Only this enactment and showing acknowledges its own new knowledge. Is not something similar happening when film moves us to think its thoughts by ‘inverting’ our normal ways of thinking?

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

November 5, 2014

There Are No Laws of Equivalence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… no one strategy can be adequate for the diversity of sites and confrontations; there are no recipes for action, social commands, or artists’ mandates here …

This is from the Introduction to The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories by John Tagg (1993):

… At every stage, chance effects, purposeful interventions, choices and variations produce meaning, whatever skill applied and whatever division of labor the process is subject to. This is not the inflection of a prior (though irretrievable) reality, as Barthes would have us believe, but the production of a new and specific reality, the photograph, which becomes meaningful in certain transactions and has real effects, but which cannot refer or be referred to a pre-photographic reality as to a truth.

… the coupling of evidence and photography in the second half of the nineteenth century was bound up with the emergence of new institutions and new practices of observation and record-keeping: that is, those new techniques of representation and regulation which were so central to the restructuring of the local and national state in industrialised societies at that time and to the development of a network of disciplinary institutions — the police, prisons, asylums, hospitals, departments of public health, schools, and even the modern factory system itself. The new techniques of surveillance and record harbored by such institutions bore directly on the social body in new ways. They enabled, at a time of rapid social change and instability, an unprecedented extension and integration of social administration, amounting — even before Alphonse Bertillon’s systematization of criminal records in the 1880s — to a new strategy of governance.

[ ... ]

… There are no laws of equivalence … between the conditions and effects of signification, only specific sets of relations to be pursued. There is no mechanism of expression, linking holistic classes to their supposed outlooks and cultures, only a complex of processes of production of meanings going on under definite historical constraints and involving the selective and motivated mobilisation of determinate means and relations of production in institutional frameworks whose structures take particular historical forms.

… no one strategy can be adequate for the diversity of sites and confrontations; there are no recipes for action, social commands, or artists’ mandates here, no prospect of socialism in one work of art. Nor can only one agent or kind of agency be thought to be involved. The specialness of the artist and traditional intellectual can no longer serve even as a mobilising myth. Cultural institutions require a whole range of functionaries and technicians who contribute their skills to or service cultural production at a whole series of points, in a whole variety of ways. Any adequate cultural mobilisation must therefore be as highly stratified and collective as the dominant mode of production: as collective as the film industry, television, architecture or, indeed, the artist-dealer-critic-museum circuit; as collective and complex as the skills, practices, codes, technical rules, procedures, protocols, knowledges, habits, divisions of labor and distinctions of rank which make up the institutional base.

But if, in this, practice is stripped of universality and robbed of guarantees, the argument also turns on critical theory. Theory can offer argued calculations of the effects of particular practices in specific conditions, or provide criteria for characterising situations and modes of action, but it cannot lay down the lines of an objective process or prescribe necessary directions. Neither can it operate from anything but an implicated internal perspective, a political position that has to be constructed, a basis in its own conditionality as itself a cultural practice. If this opens the way for a specific practice, it effectively explodes the privilege that criticism, across the political spectrum, has claimed for itself since the Enlightenment.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

November 4, 2014

As Children Do

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… Its very horrors are nostalgic and day-dreamy, having associations with a more pleasant-seeming past, which is resuscitated in brighter, iridescent colors, smoother contours, glossier surfaces, and sharper outlines. The artist shows us how he would prefer life to look and how — as children do — he would prefer to be frightened.

This is from ‘Surrealist Painting’ (1944) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… The decisive question is whether the Surrealist image, as illustrated in the works of Ernst, Dali, Tanguy, and the other painters of their kind, provides painting with a really new subject matter. That is, must hitherto untapped possibilities of the medium be explored in order to accommodate the Surrealist image?

… The Surrealist image provides painting with new anecdotes to illustrate, just as current events supply new topics to the political cartoonist, but of itself it does not charge painting with a new subject matter. On the contrary, it has promoted the rehabilitation of academic art under a new literary disguuise.The maxim nulla sine narratione ars is true enough, now as before, but the Surrealists have interpreted it vulgarly to mean that there can be no picture without an anecdote. The tradition of painting which runs from Manet through impressionism, fauvism, and cubism has created the first original art style since the French Revolution, and the only original one our bourgeois society has been capable of. All its other styles are revivals. That style is now threatened for the first time from the inside by Surrealist painters, and by the Neo-Romantics and “Magic Realists” who bring up their train. These painters, though they claim the title of avant-garde artists, are revivers of the literal past and advance agents of a new conformist, and best-selling art.

The Surrealists have, like the Pre-Raphaelites, reinvigorated academicism by their personal gifts — which are undeniable — and by going to either a remoter or a more discredited past for guidance; in distinction from self-confessed academicists, who try to keep abreast of the time by watering down yesterday’s advanced art. Taking their lead and most original impulse from Chirico — that archaizer who made a small but valid contribution — the Surrealist prefers Mantegna, Bosch, Vermeer, and Böcklin to the Impressionists. This does not make their painting any the less academic, but it does make it livelier, disturbing, and more attractive to new talents: adroit talents who read Rimbaud, have a sense of format, finish, and mise en scène — and can at least draw seriously. (The drawings of Ernst, Dali, and especially Tanguy are adventurous and original in a way that their paintings are not. The compelled economy of the line exposes their art to problems which are on the order of the day and which they otherwise evade by taking refuge in the ancient arsenal provided by the traditions of oil painting.)

Prompted by a real dissatisfaction with contemporary life, the art of these Surrealists is essentially one of vicarious wish-fulfilment. Its very horrors are nostalgic and day-dreamy, having associations with a more pleasant-seeming past, which is resuscitated in brighter, iridescent colors, smoother contours, glossier surfaces, and sharper outlines. The artist shows us how he would prefer life to look and how — as children do — he would prefer to be frightened. His wish is painted with such an illusion of super-reality as to make it seem on the brink of realization in life itself. The result is indeed a new and interesting kind of pictorial literature, but it is more literature or document than painting or art.

… or (art) photography.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

November 3, 2014

Reminded of Nobody

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… The more a sense of identity unfolds itself in the making of artworks, the more an artist can remind us of no one else …

This is from Art as Existence: The Artist’s Monograph and Its Project (2006) by Gabriele Guercio:

… To read [Carl Justi’s] Velazquez [Diego Velazquez und sein Jarhundert (1888)] is to discover types of this polymorphous modus operandi. Justi’s book uses many different types of analysis; produces visual, literary, and factual evidence; and simultaneously builds and dismantles the art historical apparatus of inquiry. On the one hand, Valazquez investigates the distinct domains of art, biography, and history as they pertain to the life and works of the Spanish master. On the other hand, it suggests that what Velàzquez did and who he was escape historical understanding — that the study of biography may be able to reconstruct the context and the times of the artist, but cannot illuminate all the reasons for his uniqueness.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Instead of resulting in a standstill, however, this seeming contradiction launches a process in which the belief in a complete reciprocation between art and context, between individual and collective history, yields to the intuition of the absolutely integral nature of Velàzquez’s genius. Numerous partial descriptions — biographical, stylistic, historical, and so on — shape a partial likeness of the artist; but what they fail to delineate persists as a kind of indissoluble remainder of a unique, irreducible individual. In this way, Velazquez radically reinterprets the monograph’s attentiveness to being singular. The likelihood that someone is there — that the creations of art are true forms of existence and carriers of a surplus of signification produced by the dialectic of life and work — is galvanized through the view of Velàzquez as both the creator and agent of something that can be evoked throughout the narrative and explored with the aid of various methodologies, yet cannot be understood from the perspective of biography, history, and art history alone.

… Merely noting stylistic similarities or assigning works to a period cannot help one fathom the innermost forces of artistic creation, especially when creation is the work of these “few ones” who deviate from the known paths and bring out something unprecedented. The production of unprecedented artworks is tantamount to a power of initiative (Kraft der Initiative) that one calls genius, which is neither completely innate nor “the product of time and environment.” Artistic creation — one manifestation of genius — calls for explorations that go beyond quantitative, chronological, geographical, and genealogical analysis. In fact, Justi argues, writing a monograph on a great master implies trespassing into another realm of knowledge, moving to and from the recognition of a singularity of being:

Monographers often work against their own interest by overlooking what more than anything else would elevate their heroes. W. Bürger said that “Être maître, c’est ne ressembler à personne.” Therefore with real masters one should be reminded of nobody instead of everybody.

Justi takes up the point again a bit later:

The more one succeeds in really approaching a master and … brings him to speak, the more distinctly he will appear closed in his works as in a world of his own. To say it in a scholastic way, the general traits of family, school, and time he got from others, shares with others and bequeaths to others, is nothing but his secondary being, whereas the individual, the idiosyncratic is his first being.

These two passages endorse the monograph’s fundamental view of the creations of art as the traces of someone’s coming to presence. It is also clear that Justi seeks to grasp what he sees as the unpredictable work of genius in terms of an irreducible individuality. The more a sense of identity unfolds itself in the making of artworks, the more an artist can remind us of no one else, and the more the appreciation of the artworks turns into the acknowledgement of a previously unknown singular existent. The traces of someone’s passage in time, of the being and becoming of a presence, are thus equated with a remainder. They come to signify an extra: all the effluence of sense that does not get across in the coding and recoding of an artist’s life and works because it cannot fit into a preconceived perceptual or conceptual scheme.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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