Unreal Nature

December 10, 2014

Ideological Space

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… We seem to experience a loss of our own reality; … we are invited to dream in the ideological space of the photograph.

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

… They can be taken as evidence. They can incriminate. they can be aids to masturbation or trophies of conquest. They can be emblems of a symbolic exchange in kinship rituals or vicarious tokens of a world of potential possessions.Through that democratized form of imperialism known as tourism, they can exert a power to colonise new experiences and capture subjects across a range never envisaged in painting. They are on our tables at breakfast. They are in our wallets and stood on our desks and dressing tables. Photographs and photographic practice appear as essential ingredients in so many social rituals — from customs checks to wedding ceremonies, from the public committal of judicial evidence to the private receipt of sexual pleasure — that it has become difficult to imagine what such rituals were like and how they could be conducted before photographs became widely available. It is difficult precisely because the internal stability of a society is preserved at one level through the naturalisation of beliefs and practices which are, on the contrary, historically produced and historically specific. It is in this light that we must see photographs and the various practices of photography.

… I was not trying to open up a rift in the complex process of constitution of individual images. What I am trying to stress here is the absolute continuity of the photographs’ ideological existence with their existence as material objects whose ‘currency’ and ‘value’ arise in certain distinct and historically specific social practices and are ultimately a function of the state.

Photography is a mode of production consuming raw materials, refining its instruments, reproducing the skills and submissiveness of its labor force, and pouring on to the market a prodigious quantity of commodities. By this mode of production it constitutes images or representations, consuming the world of sight as its raw material.

… The French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault has argued that there is a constant articulation of power on knowledge and knowledge on power. The exercise of power itself creates and causes to emerge new objects of knowledge and accumulates new bodies of information. [ … ] It is not a question of the struggle for ‘truth’ but, rather, of a struggle around the status of truth and the economic and political role it plays. What defines and creates ‘truth’ in any society is a system of more or less ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution and circulation of statements.

… I shall remind you again that we are not concerned with exposing the manipulation of a pristine ‘truth,’ or with unmasking some conspiracy, but rather with the analysis of the specific ‘political economy’ within which the ‘mode of production’ of ‘truth’ is operative: that is, not with something motivated on the personal plane, necessarily, but with relations and forces which are pervasive and diffuse throughout the social structure.

… [In this paragraph, Tagg is talking about FSA photograph(s) that he has used as examples throughout this chapter.] We may live the space of the picture, its ‘reality,’ its ideological field. But as the picture draws us in, we are drawn into its orbit, into the gravitational field of its ‘realism.’ There it holds us by the force of ‘the Past.’ If the majority of photographs raise barriers to their close inspection, making protracted analysis seem ‘excessive,’ then these photographs invite a closer and closer view. The further one penetrates, the more one is rewarded by the minutiae of detail suspended in the seemingly transparent emulsion. We seem to experience a loss of our own reality; a flow of light from the picture to us and from ourselves into the picture. Like Stryker, we are invited to dream in the ideological space of the photograph. It is now that we should remember that ‘dreams really have a meaning and are far from being the expression of a fragmentary activity of the brain, as the authorities have claimed. When the work of interpretation has been completed, we perceive that a dream is a fulfilment of a wish.’

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




December 9, 2014

Expecting Too Much

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… he should have been checked by this refusal of his art to respond to his exorbitant demands upon it as a means of utterly direct expression.

This is from ‘Review of the Exhibition of Van Gogh and the Remarque Collection’ (1943) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… The Van Gogh Problem, of which we are reminded from time to time by single pictures, asks again for solution. Exactly how great a painter was he? The problem is made no easier by this exhibition, in which the complete masterpieces are too few and far between.

It is more difficult to judge painters fairly than writers and composers. The difficulty is physical. Color and texture cannot be reproduced in their full values for purposes of circulation. Because a sufficient number of the originals of a painter’s masterpieces are seldom present in any one place at any one time, we fall into the habit of demanding the absolute measure of his talent from every picture, good or bad, as long as it’s an original. We do not ask as much of the lesser works of writers and composers simply because their best is just as accessible. I think it hardly fair to pronounce on Van Gogh without having seen all his masterpieces, but that is part of the inevitable presumption of writing about art.

A roomful of Van Goghs has impact. yet all but some seven or eight of the paintings here lead to the question whether the impact has as much to do with art as with that emotion or quality or strikingness which Kant distinguishes as analogous to the beautiful, but only analogous, in that its presence makes us linger on the object embodying it because it keeps arresting our attention. It is the quality to which primitive art, at its best or worst, owes its inevitable effect upon the cultivated observer, and which is part of the emphatic physical presence of the work of art that exposes to full view its inner workings, its means of effectuation. With Van Gogh there also enters the power of an original temperament frustrated by its rupture with that world of logic, competition, and compromise in which it found itself.

I do not hold with Dr. Alfred M. Frankfurter that in the means of expression Van Gogh chose for himself he was never “other than an amateur with a divine genius.” There is too much good painting in his bad pictures to say that. Van Gogh’s distortion of vision, induced no doubt by his psychopathic state (compare Rousseau Douanier and Eilshemius), arrived at results of the same order as those of Cézanne’s inability to draw with academic correctness. The “rarity with which Van Gogh touched complete mastery” — to quote Dr. Frankfurter again — was due to a faulty command not so much of his medium as of his temperament. Van Gogh became too obsessed by the pattern glimpsed in nature. The frenzied insistence with which he tried to reproduce this pattern in his separate brush strokes and give it the same emphasis over every tiny bit of canvas resulted in pieces of violent decoration the surfaces of which had been ornamented instead of painted into a picture. Similarly, Cézanne’s preoccupation with the justness of color values down to the last millimeter in the delineation of space and volume made him lose sight at times of the whole in view. In his case, though, segments at least of otherwise unsuccessful pictures survive as superb texts in the painter’s art. It was Van Gogh’s misfortune and distinction that, unlike Cézanne, he could not rejoice in the limitations of his medium.

… mistakes of temperament, not of craft, account for most of the disappointments. It can be argued perhaps that the failure of Van Gogh’s art or craft lay precisely in its failure to react upon and discipline his temperament; he should have been checked by this refusal of his art to respond to his exorbitant demands upon it as a means of utterly direct expression. But that would be expecting too much. Van Gogh’s shortcomings as an artist are a translation into language of those that belonged to him as a human being.




December 8, 2014

The End

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… The end of the work of art is in a sense to return selectively to the visual starting point in such a way as to exploit a special kind of controlled ambiguity in our perceptual processes …

This is from the ‘Coda’ at the end of The Science of Art: Optical themes in western art from Brunelleschi to Seurat by Martin Kemp (1990):

… [in contrast to science] the sum of [a work of art’s] effects must ultimately be its end. The artist can control the means by which we perceive the end to a greater or lesser degree … but the painting must ultimately stand as a perceptual object which is necessarily subject to an untidy mix of intuitive and conscious reactions, outside the kind of control exercisable through a written text. This untidy mix is analogous to that which went into the making of the work, and it may be that the most compelling art is that in which the artist is able to present the ambiguous richness of the invented compound with sufficient control that it remains to be acted upon by the spectator’s set of responses as a form of directed perception. Such directed perception would share the quality of variable richness in our experience of sensory ‘reality,’ but would operate selectively within the full spectrum of this richness.

The ultimate difference in the relationship between means and ends in art and science explains why the concept of ‘progress’ in the history of science has a different status than in the history of art. I do not wish to suggest that some aspects of the making of art can not be described in terms of progressive success in meeting definable ends.Indeed, the achieving of verisimilitude as one of the ends of perspectival techniques is obviously amenable to description in terms of progress, and much early art history (Vasari’s sixteenth-century Lives, for example) was founded on this notion. But there has been a general modern acceptance that the achievement of such progress should not in itself constitute the ultimate value we place on the results of an artist’s activity. Because, for instance Jan van der Heyden is achieving effects of perspectival verisimilitude that lay beyond the powers of even Masaccio, we do not consign Masaccio to a limbo of artistic obsolescence — even though Jan himself might have so consigned his Renaissance predecessors.

In science, by contrast, the scientific text loses its intended primary value once it has been superseded as a means of achieving its stated ends. To be sure we may look at the text in historical retrospect with admiration for its original insights and for the beauty of its vision. We may analyse it in its social and intellectual context with effective results for our understanding of the text. We may even adduce lessons still to be learned from it. But its dominant original intention in establishing an explanatory model for a phenomenon can at any point be subsumed or superseded within a constantly changing body of knowledge. Its primary intention does not now possess any necessary value and the text does not retain its primary function outside its historical context. A work of art is comparably vulnerable to the constantly changing contexts — mental and physical — in which it appears, but it can still assume a primary value with respect to the way in which its visual effects retain their efficacy in serving an end of essentially the same perceptual kind as it was devised to serve. I do not of course wish to imply that these effects will be perceived in a manner identical to that intended by the artist — if such intention is reconstructable at all — but I am speaking more pragmatically of the continuing primary value which a work of art can potentially and actually possess outside its original context.

… The end of the work of art is in a sense to return selectively to the visual starting point in such a way as to exploit a special kind of controlled ambiguity in our perceptual processes, while the end of the scientific endeavor is to present the reader with a completely defined explanation of the causes behind the vagaries of particular appearance.




December 7, 2014

In the Middle of a Cold Blue Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… and in conclusion, an angel appears, and remains, and cannot be erased, an angel in the middle of a cold blue light.

This is from the essay ‘From Lautréamont to Miller’ found in The Work of Fire by Maurice Blanchot (1949):

… [Henry] Miller claims to write a book [Tropic of Cancer] apart, not more original than the others, or more true, or more beautiful, but a book, as Mallarmé had said, “a single immense book,” “a Bible,” that is described to us as a geological ensemble, as a story drowned and lost in the very reality it brings to life. “It will be enormous, this book! there will be vast spaces in it like oceans to move in, to wander in, to sing in, dance in, climb in, swim in, do somersaults in, to moan in, to break the law in, to kill in … “

… When Miller writes, “I am a man of the old world, a seed carried by the wind, a seed that hasn’t managed to flower in the moldy oasis of America. I belong to the heavy tree of the past. Body and soul, I am liegeman of the inhabitants of Europe, those who were once Franks, Gauls, Vikings, Huns, Tartars, what else! … I am proud of not belonging to this century,” we see clearly that his sedition here is mystified by a dream, fixed by who knows what obsession of a lost good that must be found and that the time shows him.

… he comes to cast his universe “above human boundaries … because to be only human seems to me so poor, so mediocre, such a wretched business, limited by meaning, restrained by moral systems and codes, defined by platitudes and isms.” Language seeks thus to separate itself from man and even from language; it penetrates underground, it becomes water, air, night. It enters into the way of metamorphoses.

… Certainly, the words are there and the details are there, too. We know what is happening, and all that one does not say does get said; all that one fears showing is seen in the clearest manner. But the extreme verbal quickness, the writer’s time that is a relentless spontaneity, always in advance of the acts it causes to appear, does not allow the metamorphosis there is in eroticism, the slow changing of a mind into a body and from a body into a thing. Everything happens in it as in that story where he describes himself in the act of drawing a horse: the horse does not have time to remain a horse, it becomes a sausage, a kangaroo, a house, a cemetery, it jumps from one form to another, he cannot find the substance that would immobilize it, and in conclusion, an angel appears, and remains, and cannot be erased, an angel in the middle of a cold blue light.




December 6, 2014

The Longest Patience

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… All the things that cannot be gained through our pleading can be given to us only as something unexpected …

This is from The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke edited and translated by Ulrich Baer (2005):

… Each time we thus reach out with joy, each time we cast our view toward distances that have not yet been touched, we transform not only the present moment and the one following but also alter the past within us, weave it into the pattern of our existence, and dissolve the foreign body of pain whose exact composition we ultimately do not know.

… The fact that we have been placed into a “blind fate” that we inhabit allows us to have our own perspective and is the very condition of our perspicacious innocence. It is due only to the “blindness” of our fate that we are so profoundly related to the world’s wonderful density, which is to say to the totality that we cannot survey and that exceeds us.

… When we look at something, we are turned completely toward the outside by this activity. But just when we are most turned toward the outside like that, things seem to take place within us that have longed for an unobserved moment, and while they unfold within us, whole and strangely anonymous, without us, their significance begins to take shape in the external object in the form of a strong, convincing, indeed their only possible name. And by means of this name we contentedly and respectfully recognize what is happening inside us without ourselves touching upon it. We understand it only quietly, entirely from a distance, under the sign of a thing that had just been alien and in the next instant is alienated from us again.

Rainer Maria Rilke [image from Wikipedia]

… No fate, no rejection, no hardship, is entirely without prospects; somewhere the densest shrub can yield leaves, a flower, a fruit. And somewhere in god’s furthest providence there surely exists already an insect that will gather riches from this flower or a hunger that will be sated by this fruit.

… All the things that cannot be gained through our pleading can be given to us only as something unexpected, something extra: this is why I am yet again confirmed in my belief that often nothing seems to matter in life but the longest patience.




December 5, 2014

To Paint Over the Sunset

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… I am in no place. All that exists is the painting. Or whatever it is.

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

… shortly before the introduction of summertime, I rediscovered the value of painting at night. Painting sightlessly in the garden. The color needing to be defined in relation to something else, not necessarily the lawn. Or the lawn may only be placed correctly on the canvas when the light has gone. Observation is an inadequate deception. Clichés and scenery exist for a reason. Some deeper reason, a shadow existence. Beyond the ideality of observation are found the mannered shadows of reality. Otherwise, it would all be so dull, I thought to myself during the fifth costume change of the evening: observation is honest and solid, and quite unreal; the impersonality of night; night’s removal of the assertiveness of observation is a release.

[ … ]

… It’s hard to get used to viewing each picture as a unique event and not merely as the expression of a determined and inevitable “march of history.” Either you go along with that or else you fall by the wayside. Sometimes, there’s an imperative to be a part of it, or else opportunities, as defined by generation, will be lost. I believe that. But not everyone wants to go along, and the train always comes to a halt somewhere down the line anyway. Leaving you standing there at some deserted station, discovering that everything in a way has been done before, and for that same reason all choices made within the context of each and every picture are genuine, irreversible and gruesome. It’s almost comical.

[ … ]

… What the painter knows, and what Schwitters says, is that no matter how much a picture would seem to resemble nature, it is always something else. And armed with that naive basic knowledge one might just as well paint abstractly as paint something that would seem to look like nature.

[ … ]

1950 ……. At weekends I would cycle into the countryside with my friend Gunnar. We had with us, in our rucksacks, rolls of the cheapest paper to be bought, machine-made paper. We cut our pens ourselves from the reeds of Nordsjaelland’s lakes. We had read (in Irving Stone) that Van Gogh had done likewise. Often, we produced quite large pen-and-ink drawings. We laid the paper out on the ground and placed rocks on the corners.

I’ve told this story before. It could have been another year, but recently I found some drawings from the time. Machine-made paper and crude pen and ink. In the corner: 1956.

It almost begins to fit too well and too soon. Especially with dreams coming true. I dreamed of becoming an artist, a great painter. Gunnar did too. We dreamed in unison. He drew better than I, maybe that was his problem. All I had was basically the idea of becoming an artist.

… Maybe the outside world existed, maybe the few art dealers there were — like Borge Birch — had shown stuff that came from it. What I do know — and this is not something you can look up — is that for a young person from a very normal, middle-class background, this was a closed world beckoning. Maybe you only open yourself to certain possibilities at that age. Maybe you have more need of Irving Stone’s Van Gogh than for the Van Gogh of “modernism.” I remember a good many years later feeling I had been dreadfully cheated during those years. Imagine if I had been given the knowledge so much earlier. About Pollock, Newman, etc. All that was modern. Now I’m no longer so sure it would have made a difference. Maybe it’s more important at that age to be given the chance to waste opportunities and make mistakes.

[ … ]

1989 ……. It still doesn’t square. From out of “abstract,” strange object-like formations have settled to the bottom. But without universal, anecdotal meaning. And yet with a greater sense of figuration than in the Zeitgeist times [of his development]. Even if “abstract” today is no hindrance.

My painting now is futile. There are no positions. I am in no place. All that exists is the painting. Or whatever it is.

[ … ]

It is all there, all the time
but it needs to be bricked in
the sunset especially needs to be enclosed
where it then may rage and fume
a depraved force issuing from what disappears.
To paint over the sunset
is the final impossible adjuration.

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




December 4, 2014

Path or Link Between Strangers

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:04 am

Enough was there so that they completed it in their own way, [ … ] the film is ambiguous in the right places …

This is from The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (2002):

[ … ]

Ondaatje: In writing, especially in poetry, you are always trying to find ways to forge alliances between unlikely things, striking juxtapositions, finding the right shorthand for ideas, metaphors. You see it in the influence of Spanish poetry, what in the West we call “leaping poetry” — those sometimes surreal, sometimes subliminal connections that reveal a surprising path or link between strangers. The way a pun or even a misprint can work on a simpler level. There’s a story about Auden writing the line “The poets know the names of the seas” in a poem. It came back from the typesetter as “The ports know the names of the seas,” and Auden realized that the misprint was better, and kept it.

Murch: That’s how Harry Caul got his name. Francis was reading the novel Steppenwolf at the time he was writing The Conversation, and he transformed Steppenwolf‘s hero Harry Haller to “Harry Caller.” Then he thought, No, that’s too much, too literal — since Harry was a professional eavesdropper, bugging telephones, et cetera — and he shortened it to “Harry Call.” then his secretary accidentally typed “Caul.” And — it was exactly as happened with Auden — he thought, This misprint is much better. “Caul” sounds like “Call,” but it gave Francis a visual metaphor for the film, of a man who always wears a semi-translucent raincoat, which is a caul-like membrane, and whenever he’s threatened or something bad is going to happen, he retreats behind pieces of plastic or rippled glass. In several scenes, Francis has Harry spell his name out, C-A-U-L, so we get the point.

O: And that led to —

M: It led from the costume to a way of acting, a way of being: Harry Caul is a man who has a membrane between himself and reality. The film is about the shedding of that membrane, and how painful it is for this character.

[ … ]

M: … As rich as films appear, they are limited to two of the five senses — hearing and sight — and they are limited in time — the film lasts only as long as it takes to project it. It’s not like a book. If you don’t understand a paragraph in a book, you can read it again, at your own pace. With a film, you have to consume it in one go, at a set speed.

But if a film can provoke the audience’s participation — if the film gives a certain amount of information but requires the audience to complete the ideas, then it engages each member of the audience as a creative participant in the work. How each moment gets completed depends on each individual person. So the film, although it’s materially the same series of images and sounds, should, ideally, provoke slightly different reactions from each person who sees it.

Even though it’s a mass medium, it’s those individual reactions that make each person feel the film is speaking to him, or her. The fantastic thing about the process is that they actually see their own version on the screen. They would swear that they saw it, but in fact it wasn’t there. Enough was there so that they completed it in their own way, but as it’s happening they don’t stop to think: That’s just me completing it. They really see something that appears as authentic to them as anything else that’s actually physically in the film.

How does this happen? It can only be because the film is ambiguous in the right places …

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




December 3, 2014

A History of Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… how does it inflect its context rather than reflect it, how does it animate meaning rather than discover it; where must we be positioned to accept it as real or true; and what are the consequences of doing so?

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

… Common ambitions, purposes, usages and conditions of existence cannot be shown, so what both modernist and laborist interpretations have to cling on to is the trivial fact that all the practices they subsume deploy one ‘medium’ — as if photography was a neutral technology or means of representation to which any general and unconditional definition could be given. But the so-called medium has no existence outside its historical specifications. What alone unites the diversity of sites in which photography operates is the social formation itself: the specific historical spaces for representation and practice which it constitutes. Photography as such has no identity.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Its status as a technology varies with the power relations which invest it. Its nature as a practice depends on the institutions and agents which define it and set it to work. Its function as a mode of cultural production is tied to definite conditions of existence and its products are legible and meaningful only within the particular currencies they have. Its history has no unity. It is a flickering across a field of institutional spaces. It is this field we must study, not photography as such. To ask for a history of photography makes as much and as little sense as to ask for a history of writing.

… As with any other discursive system, the question we must ask is not ‘What does this discourse reveal of something else?, but ‘what does it do; what are its conditions of existence; how does it inflect its context rather than reflect it, how does it animate meaning rather than discover it; where must we be positioned to accept it as real or true; and what are the consequences of doing so?

Why were photographs of working-class subjects, working-class trades, working-class housing, and working-class recreations made in the nineteenth century? By whom? Under what conditions? For what purposes? Who pictures? Who is pictured? And how were the pictures used? What did they do? To whom were they meaningful, truthful or real? These are not questions about the ‘externals’ of photography, as ‘modernists’ would have us believe, but questions about the very conditions which furnish the materials, codes and strategies of photographic images, the terms of their legibility, and the range and limits of their effectivities. Such determinations are scored across the images, in what they do and do not do, in what they encompass and exclude, in the ways they open on to or resist a repertoire of uses in which they can be meaningful and productive.

… technical constraints are not some pre-given limit. They are present only when the available camera equipment is set to work in a particular way. They then become visible in the photographs not as a boundary but as a meaning: the alleys are underexposed, dark, dingy; the spaces are foreshortened, compressed, cramped; the compositions are repetitious, bare, and brutal. … [T]he limits of the technology are traced as an absence.

… there were alleys and ginnels so dark and narrow, interiors so strait and gloomy that photographs could not even be made there. What does the absence signify? Can it be appropriated in this way by one side or another? The argument goes on. Before, during and after the making of the photographs, it invests their meaning.

The camera is never merely an instrument. Its technical limitations and the resultant distortions register as meaning; its representations are highly coded; and it wields a power that is never its own. It arrives on the scene vested with a particular authority; authority to arrest, picture and transform daily life. This is not the authority of the camera but of the apparatus of the local state which deploys it and guarantees the authority of its images to stand as evidence or register a truth.

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




December 2, 2014

Security and Order; A Wistful Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… Here are the limited objectives of a safe world, where we all understand each other because we have agreed to banish disturbing questions …

This is from ‘Review of the Whitney Annual and the Exhibition Romantic Painting in America‘ (1944) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 1, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… The latest “romantic” revival in paintings — paralleled by a curiously similar revival among the younger poets in England and a new interest there in Pre-Raphaelism and the literary aspects of painting in general — stands historical romanticism on its head. for it does not revolt against authority and constraints, but tries to establish a new version of security and order. The “imagination” it favors seems conservative and constant as against the “reason” it opposes, which is restless, disturbing, ever locked in struggles with the problematical. “Reason” leads to convictions, activity, politics, adventure: “imagination” to sentiment, pleasure, and certainties. The new “romanticism” gives up experiment and the assimilation of new experience in the hope of bringing art back to society, which has itself been “romantic” for quite a while in its hunger for immediate emotion and familiar forms. A nostalgia is felt for a harmony which can be found only in the past — and which the very technical achievements of past art seem to assure.

… The new “romantics” and the neo-romantics, American and otherwise, look to the past for qualities of sentiment and for formal schemes by which to assure the unity and effect of their paintings. They borrow certain innovations of pre-cubist modern art — free brushwork, high color keys — only to subordinate them to the methods and moods of mannerist, baroque, German and French romantic painting. The result is art of a decadent flavor. Only the relinquishing of the effort to conquer new experience makes possible these seductive harmonies of paint and sentiment. Here are the limited objectives of a safe world, where we all understand each other because we have agreed to banish disturbing questions or are no longer capable of recognizing them; a wistful art that confirms our reluctance to take risks. (Such refusal of new impressions and influences is a characteristic moment of every decadence. Though one keeps on looking for new sensations, they must all be of the same order.) There are thrills, of course — but never upsetting ones. It is art that has the shock of the fashionable: it creates unconventional effects by conventional means.




December 1, 2014

Ungovernable Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… “Words about art may help to explain techniques, remove prejudices, clarify relationships, suggest sequences and attack habitual resentments through the back door of the intelligence. But the front door to understanding is through experience of the work of art itself.”

This is from Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at The Museum of Modern Art, edited by John Elderfield (2004):

… The dangers with which the older style history had flirted, sometimes indeed dangerously, were four: its representation of a dualistic structure that allowed works of art to be divided into camps where either rationality or instinct held sway; its implication that the narrative made from these materials was found in them rather than put there by narrative techniques; its valorization of works of art by allowing them to be seen as possessed of the coherence that they collectively are enrolled to describe, making them seem less real than ideal; and its overemphatic narrative drive, of which subject in fiction Hayden White has written: “here reality wears a face of such regularity, order, and coherence that it leaves no room for human agency, presenting an aspect of such wholeness and completeness that it intimidates rather than invites to imaginative identification.”

… “In order to qualify as ‘historical,'” White has written, “an event must be susceptible to at least two narrations of its occurrence. Unless at least two versions of the same set of events can be imagined, there is no reason for the historian to take upon himself the authority of giving the true account of what really happened.”

[ … ]

… Ungovernable things can happen in front of great works of art because they are transformational objects that occupy our thoughts as we occupy them with ours. To be successful, an installation [at the museum] must admit to this sympathetic, mutual colonization in which imaginative visual enquiry may become comfortable with the unfamiliar and familiar with the uncomfortable. This publication surrounds its some three hundred works with the words that the Museum’s curators, past and present, have written about them to aid their appreciation. But it is worth remembering what Barr wrote in 1934, in the introduction to Modern Works of Art: Fifth Anniversary Exhibition. He stressed how the most profound experiential moments are fundamentally wordless occasions. “Words about art may help to explain techniques, remove prejudices, clarify relationships, suggest sequences and attack habitual resentments through the back door of the intelligence. But the front door to understanding is through experience of the work of art itself.”




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