Unreal Nature

November 21, 2017

Every Wall Is a Door

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… you realize that what you’re saying is ‘I can do this, but I can’t do that.’ And then at some point you say, ‘Well, why not?’

This is from Sol LeWitt: 100 Views edited by Susan Cross and Denise Markonish (2009). The authors of the 100 views are given in alphabetical order; I am picking and choosing from that sequence:

Stephen Antonakos, artist:

This is the square that Sol Drew.

This is the square divided in four that Sol drew.

This is the square divided in four with lines in four directions that Sol drew …

It seemed like a wall at first, then like a room, and, eventually, a magnificent architecture of ideas.

[ … ]

Nicholas Baume, Chief Curator, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston:

LeWitt’s Location drawings turn composition into a self-reflexive and relational process. As they match verbal description and visual form, they only underline the differences between language and image. Their apparently descriptive purpose defeats itself, pushing language beyond its breaking point. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that the Location texts do make sense on their own terms. Although I have stressed the linguistic opacity of LeWitt’s most elaborate Location drawings, there is another side to the story.

[line break added] If, instead of reading the texts we put pencil to paper and follow them as step-by-step instructions, physically locating the points and lines they describe, we can at least attempt to verify their mad logic. As one of LeWitt’s assistants, Tomas Ramberg, explained to me, the only way to make sense of the texts in these drawings is to “perform” them.

[ … ]

Mel Bochner, artist:

… Up until the very end Sol was engaged in what Apollinaire once called “this endless struggle between … order and adventure.”

[ … ]

Lisa Graziose Corrin, Class of 1956 Director of the Williams College Museum of Art, and lecturer in art, Williams College:

… Ironically, for this irrepressible collector of all manner of things, repeated, transient manifestations of a process were more highly prized than the single, fixed realization of an object.

… Underlying Sol’s collecting and his art was a passion for suspending elements in contradiction to allow for “rigor and randomness” … . It also let him be both minimal and maximal, clear and opaque, and overdo rules to the point that they subverted themselves and the act of making rules itself. Indeed, Sol created limits so that he could transgress them or overflow their measure.

[ … ]

Susan Cross, Curator, MASS MoCA:

… While a form itself may have limits, its use does not. Embedded in LeWitt’s simple vocabulary of forms — characterized by his use of the iconic yet “uninteresting” cube — is the notion of liberation.

“Everyone gets into their own box and enunciates principles,” LeWitt said in an interview in 2003. “You have your own constraints and your own structure … and then you realize that what you’re saying is ‘I can do this, but I can’t do that.’ And then at some point you say, ‘Well, why not?’ … ‘Every wall is a door.’ ”

[ … ]

Spencer Finch, artist:

… My three-step response is always the same, whether it’s Holbein or LeWitt, the same predictable sequence of emotional convulsions:

  1. “Wow, that is thought and form combined in pure genius.” (Swoon and/or tingle)
  2. “Shit, why do I even bother, what’s the point in the face of this?” (Collapse)
  3. “Fuck him! I’m going back into the studio and do even better, he’s not going to have the last word!” (Red face, danger of coronary arrest)




November 20, 2017

The Tube of Paint: Readymade in the Possible State

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… It lifts a mortgage that has weighed all too heavily on the way art history is written, when works are kept as hostages of ideologies whose failure is blatant.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… With the market as sole regulator of practice and arbiter of taste, anyone, even untalented and unskilled, could try painting. Like the adolescent Kandinsky, all they needed to do was buy a box of oil paints and try their luck. … The gist of the modern utopia is to have enthusiastically embraced the conditions set forth, if only symbolically, by the tube of paint. Out of it sprang pure color, but in Kandinsky’s fantasy pure color meant pure painting already: a brand-new form of painting, without past, without apprenticeship, without tradition. Plebiscite would replace the masters as soon as humankind would speak the same universal language. It would not be called Esperanto but painting.

… This utopia failed. … The Bauhaus produced very few great artists and the Bauhaus model, adopted by innumerable art schools around the world, either perpetuated a formalism of the most sterile kind or entered a deep crisis. The world does not speak the Esperanto of abstract art; the public at large has not learned to regulate its aesthetic judgments through the idea of pure visibility; and the professional art-world has retreated into a specialized culture analogous, but only analogous, to scientific culture, when it has not simply surrendered to the market.

[line break added] No new tradition has been founded on the basis of an elementary universal language made, for example, of red squares, yellow triangles, and blue circles. Instead we have had “the tradition of the new.” It has not replaced tradition in the old sense. The pessimist and conservative Max Doerner had more insight than Kandinsky when he said: “Today most artists work independently of one another, but in the days of old masters each artist was a link in a chain, a part of tradition. … Today every artist is expected to turn out a new hit each season in the manner of a vaudeville performer.”

Doerner was right: as the chain of tradition has been broken, “artists work independently of one another.” When temporal filiations are cut, spatial ties become undone; when the dead don’t speak to the living anymore, then the living cease to communicate with each other. Once the community of peers with whom artists speak across time has dissolved, there remain only social values on which to shape their ambitions.

[ … ]

… We should not forget that, although the stroke of genius in the readymade, its Witz, rested in “the impossibility of the making,” this was no more than a feeling, a quasi-moral feeling already at work in Seurat’s painting, whose “concrete explanation” is “the possible as infra thin.” It is not with promises that Seurat’s tubes were filled: the progressive academization of divisionism into merely decorative pointillism has shown the failure of the modern utopia that had linked together the existence of industrially produced tubes of paint, a scientific theory of pure color, a new aesthetic division of labor, and the promise of a society that the eye’s education would free from alienation. But in another sense, Seurat’s tubes were not empty of promises; his paintings fulfilled them.

[line break added] The tube of paint — the readymade that Duchamp maintained in the possible state — allows a rewriting of that history which goes from Seurat to the fauvists and from the fauvists to abstraction, as it happened, but freed both from the utopia and from its failure. It lifts a mortgage that has weighed all too heavily on the way art history is written, when works are kept as hostages of ideologies whose failure is blatant. It rehabilitates the only judgment that counts, the aesthetic judgment that makes us rank La Grande Jatte and La Joie de Vivre side by side among the masterpieces of modern painting, and thus, of painting tout court.

There remains only one question: can we rank Duchamp’s urinal, or his comb, alongside both La Grande Jatte and La Joie de Vivre as a masterpiece of art tout court? Perhaps not. But do we need to? Duchamp has done the “algebraic comparison” for us. We can put the comb in the rubric of art and Matisse’s canvas in the rubric of painting and keep the rubrics separate. With the tube of paint providing us with the missing link, we are equipped to evaluate art in general on its own merits. Pure visibility will not help, that’s for sure. But then it will not help us evaluate Rodchenko’s red, yellow, and blue triptych either. Anyone can judge color. That doesn’t prove one judges well.

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




November 19, 2017

This Vertical World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… images and ideas that fill this vertical world are … filled with a powerful desire to escape this world, to set out along the historically productive horizontal …

Continuing through the essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… a radically new element appears in the adventure-time of the chivalric romance (which in turn pervades everything in its chronotope).

Any adventure-time will contain a mixture of chance, fate, the gods and so forth. Indeed, this type of time emerges only at points of rupture (when some hiatus opens up) in normal, real-life, “law-abiding” temporal sequences, where these laws (of whatever sort) are suddenly violated and events take an unexpected and unforseen turn. This “suddenly” is normalized, as it were, in chivalric romances, it becomes something generally applicable, in fact almost ordinary.

[line break added] The whole world becomes miraculous, so the miraculous becomes ordinary without ceasing at the same time to be miraculous. Even “unexpectedness” itself — since it is always with us — ceases to be something unexpected. The unexpected, and only the unexpected, is what is expected. The entire world is subject to “suddenly,” to the category of miraculous and unexpected chance.

[ … ]

… Toward the end of the Middle Ages, a special sort of work begins to appear: encyclopedic (and synthetic) in its content, and which is structured as a “vision.”

… Literally, and with the consistency and force of genius, Dante realizes this stretching-out of the world — a historical world, in essence — along a vertical axis.

… The temporal logic of this vertical world consists in the sheer simultaneity of all that occurs (or “the coexistence of everything in eternity”). Everything that on earth is divided by time, here, in this verticality, coalesces into eternity, into pure simultaneous coexistence. Such divisions as time introduces — “earlier” and “later” — have no substance here; they must be ignored in order to understand this vertical world; everything must be perceived as being within a single time, that is, in the synchrony of a single moment; one must see this entire world as simultaneous.

[line break added] Only under conditions of pure simultaneity — or, what amounts to the same thing, in an environment outside time altogether — can there be revealed the true meaning of “that which was, and which is and which shall be”: and this is so because the force (time) that had divided these three is deprived of its authentic reality and its power to shape thinking.

… the images and ideas that fill this vertical world are in their turn filled with a powerful desire to escape this world, to set out along the historically productive horizontal, to be distributed not upward, but forward. Each image is full of historical potential, and therefore strains with the whole of its being toward participation in historical events — toward participation in a temporal-historical chronotope. But the artist’s powerful will condemns it to an eternal and immobile place on the extratemporal vertical axis.

… There is a contradiction, an antagonism between the form-generating principle of the whole and the historical and temporal form of its separate parts. The form of the whole wins out. The artistic resolution of precisely this struggle is what gives rise to the tension and provides Dante’s work with its extraordinary power to express its epoch, or more precisely, the boundary line between two epochs.

… After Dante, the most profound and consistent attempt to erect such a verticality was made by Dostoevsky.

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




November 18, 2017

To Create It in Others

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… we are insensibly transformed and ready to live, breathe, and think in accordance with a rule and under laws which are no longer of the practical order …

This is from the essay ‘Poetry and Abstract Thought’ found in Paul Valéry: An Anthology (1956: 1977):

The idea of Poetry is often contrasted with that of Thought, and particularly, “Abstract Thought.” People say “Poetry and Abstract Thought” as they say Good and Evil, Vice and Virtue, Hot and Cold. Most people, without thinking any further, believe that the analytical work of the intellect, the efforts of the will and precision in which it implicates the mind, are incompatible with that freshness of inspiration, that flow of expression, that grace and fancy which are the signs of poetry and which reveal it at its very first words. If a poet’s work is judged profound, its profundity seems to be of a quite different order from that of a philosopher or a scientist.

[ … ]

… I maintain that we must be careful of a problem’s first contact with our minds. We should be careful of the first words a question utters in our mind. A new question arising in us is in a state of infancy; it stammers; it finds only strange terms, loaded with adventitious values and associations; it is forced to borrow these. But it thereby insensibly deflects our true need. Without realizing it we desert our original problem, and in the end we shall come to believe that we have chosen an opinion wholly our own, forgetting that our choice was exercised only on a mass of opinions that are the more or less blind work of men and of chance.

… I shall therefore take care not to accept what the words Poetry and Abstract Thought suggest to me the moment they are pronounced. But I shall look into myself. There I shall seek my real difficulties and my actual observations of my real states; there I shall find my own sense of the rational and the irrational; I shall see whether the alleged antithesis exists and how it exists in a living condition.

… the state of poetry is completely irregular, inconstant, involuntary, and fragile, and we lose it, as we find it, by accident. But this state is not enough to make a poet, any more than it is enough to see a treasure in a dream to find it, on waking, sparkling at the foot of one’s bed.

A poet’s function — do not be startled by this remark — is not to experience the poetic state: that is a private affair. His function is to create it in others. The poet is recognized — or at least everyone recognizes his own poet — by the simple fact that he causes his reader to become “inspired.” Positively speaking, inspiration is a graceful attribute with which the reader endows his poet: the reader sees in us the transcendent merits of virtues and graces that develop in him. He seeks and finds in us the wondrous cause of his own wonder.

But poetic feeling and the artificial synthesis of this state in some work are two quite distinct things, as different as sensation and action. A sustained action is much more complex than any spontaneous production, particularly when it has been carried out in a sphere as conventional as that of language. Here you see emerging through my explanations the famous ABSTRACT THOUGHT which custom opposes to POETRY.

… in practical or abstract uses of language, the form — that is the physical, the concrete part, the very act of speech — does not last; it does not outlive understanding; it dissolves in the light; it has acted; it has done its work; it has brought about understanding; it has lived.

But on the other hand, the moment this concrete form takes on, by an effort of its own, such importance that it asserts itself and makes itself, as it were, respected; and not only remarked and respected, but desired and therefore repeated — then something new happens: we are insensibly transformed and ready to live, breathe, and think in accordance with a rule and under laws which are no longer of the practical order — that is, nothing that may occur in this state will be resolved, finished, or abolished by a specific act. We are entering the poetic universe.

To be continued.

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




November 17, 2017

Get Lost

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:30 am

… If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost.

This is from Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee (2017):

… If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that ou will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer. If you say you see things differently and describe your efforts positively, if you tell people that you “just love to write,” you may be delusional.

[line break added] How could anyone ever know that something is good before it exists? And unless you can identify what is not succeeding — unless you can see those dark clunky spots that are giving you such a low opinion of your prose as it develops — how are you going to be able to tone it up and make it work?

… There are psychological differences from phase to phase, and the first is the phase of the pit and the pendulum. After that, it seems as if a different person is taking over. Dread largely disappears. Problems become less threatening, more interesting. Experience is more helpful, as if an amateur is being replaced by a professional. Days go by quickly and not a few could be called pleasant, I’ll admit.

[ … ]

… To cause a reader to see in her mind’s eye an entire autumnal landscape, for example, a writer needs to deliver only a few words and images — such as corn shocks, pheasants, and an early frost. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Leave judgment in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author. If you see yourself prancing around between subject and reader, get lost. Give elbow room to the creative reader. In other words, to the extent that this is all about you, leave that out.

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




November 16, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… It’s absurd — I don’t know what it is — I don’t know why I’m doing it — I do know what I want it to do — that is — I know when it looks right and when it looks wrong —

This is from My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Volume 1, 1915-1933 edited by Sarah Greenough (2011). These bits are from the beginning of their relationship, when O’Keeffe had just arrived in Texas, to teach art at West Texas State Normal College:

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [September 3, 1916]

… I have been here less than twelve hours — slept eight of them — have talked to possibly ten people — mostly educators — Think quick for me — of a bad word to apply to them — The little things they forced on me — They are so just like folks get the depraved notion they ought to be — that I feel it’s a pity to disfigure such wonderful country with people of any kind —

I wonder if I am going to allow myself to be paid eighteen hundred dollars a year to get like that — I never felt so much like kicking holes in the world in my life —

[ … ]

The sound of the wind is great —
But the pink roses in my rugs! And the little squares with three pink roses in each one — dark-lined squares — I have half a notion to count them so you will know how many are hitting me — Give me files and mosquitos and ticks — even fleas — every time in preference to three pink roses in a square with another rose on top of it —

[ … ]

Living? — Maybe so — When one lives one doesn’t think about it I guess —
I don’t know — The Plains sends you greetings — Big as what comes after living — if there is anything it must be big — and those plains are the biggest thing I know —

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [September 8, 1916]

… I don’t know what I wrote last Sunday only I remember I was just snorting mad at the educators —

Well — even if I was I’m glad I’m here — In fact — I like it so much that I wonder if it’s true — The country is almost all sky — and such wonderful sky — and the wind blows — blows hard — and the sun is hot — the glare almost blinding — but I don’t care — I like it —

The work? I like that too — rather — I am going to — I think — because — well —

You know I get such a ridiculous lot out of living myself — and these boys and girls from the plains — get a lot out of it too — in a way — but I believe I can help them to get more — to get something they don’t get now — in a way — I like them like the country — I’ve lived out here before you know — twenty miles from here — and it’s absurd the way I like it — like to work in it —

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [September 26, 1916]

It was your letter telling of the warm quiet night — still — dark — just the clocks —
Isn’t dark curious — Sometimes it is still with you — Sometimes you are just alone — and it’s way off — Sometimes it chases you — it’s such an enormous — intangible — awful thing when it chases you on the plains —

Georgia O’Keeffe • [Canyon, Texas] • [October 9, 1916]

… I had a think I had been twisting around in my mind and on paper for a long time — I told you about making something I liked some few weeks ago — But I wasn’t through — It has hung here in front of me and I”ve liked it all this time — I’ve been doing it again — and for some reason — I don’t know why — I wanted to work on it today and have — all day —

It’s absurd — I don’t know what it is — I don’t know why I’m doing it — I do know what I want it to do — that is — I know when it looks right and when it looks wrong —

— But what amuses me is — that — I think there is a right and a wrong about it and — still I don’t know what I’m making — that is — I can’t say it in words —
I haven’t any words for it — What is it? I wonder if you could tell me —

Why should a person want to put down marks like that — Some way or other it doesn’t fit into any kind of reasoning I know of — It sounds so unreasonable that I wouldn’t try to say it to anyone else I guess — They wouldn’t understand how something I can’t explain could be so very definite to me —

I can’t understand — I don’t care either — and still I do care — I’ve had a great time all day — working — cloudy out — and the tearing wind — thinking I knew what I wanted to make — what I wanted it to look like — but not having any idea of what it was —

My most recent previous post from this book is here.



November 15, 2017

Aesthetic Investigations

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… Rather than emotion, projection or identification, these works emphasize vision and cognition.

This is from Why Art Photography? by Lucy Soutter (2013):

… They have become ubiquitous in museums, galleries, private collections and corporate boardrooms: monumental, ultra-detailed photographs of places, people or objects arranged right in the middle of the frame. Their style has been called deadpan, a term originally used to describe an expressionless face. These works have undeniable presence. They are made with large-format view cameras and usually printed very large, as if intended for the walls of museums, commercial galleries and the spacious homes of collectors.

… We may be tempted to take such images as transparent depictions of their subject matter. Yet it is important to remember that the desire for objectivity is itself a position. For those most involved in thinking and writing about such work, the cool, uninflected surface of deadpan photography provides a springboard for some of the most ambitious aesthetic investigations in contemporary art. For many viewers, however, this work remains perplexingly blank, impersonal and boring.

… in the context of American photography, objectivity refers to a styleless style that may — or may not — allow aspects of subjective vision.

… The most frequently cited influence on contemporary deadpan work is the photography associated with the German Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity tendency in the 1920s and 1930s. Although there were differences between them, these photographers were united by an understanding of photography as capable of capturing the essence of objects and people. Their search for essence was not conceived as metaphysical but rather as material and scientific, a position supported by the use of typologies, serial images of a single category or thing, collected into archives. The risk of such an approach is that it equates seeing with knowing and can flatten out important differences.

[ … ]

… This work rejects the personal, pointing away from the subjectivity of the photographer and creating an abstract space for disembodied thought. Rather than emotion, projection or identification, these works emphasize vision and cognition. They offer what is ultimately an academic gaze, painstaking, informed and informing, imbued with authority, yet often turned towards subjects that power might not choose to examine directly. The work is presented and received with such seriousness that it has come to dominate contemporary art as well as photography.

… The separate projects benefit enormously from being read in relation to each other and in relation to the work of the Bechers; being grouped together has given these photographers extra clout. Yet individual photographs stand or fall by the visual experience — which will be personal and idiosyncratic — that they produce for the viewer.

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




November 14, 2017

The Way Art Ought to Look

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… At the heart of conceptual art is the ambition to return to the roots of experience, to recreate the primary experience of symbolization uncontaminated by the attitudes attached to traditional visual modes, whether representational or abstract.

This is from the essay ‘Sol LeWitt and Drawing’ by Bernice Rose found in Sol LeWitt edited by Alicia Legg (1978):

LeWitt’s transposition of his drawings from the restricted if traditional format of a sheet of paper to the architectural space of a wall with which it became absolutely identified was a radical move. It suggests transformation in the role — and the very nature — of the drawing medium, within both his own work and the history of the medium.

LeWitt’s move was catalytic, as important for drawing as Pollock’s use of the drip technique had been for painting in the 1950s. Both opposed, through radical transpositions in the way in which the thing is made, expectations of the way art ought to look — what it ought to be.

LeWitt’s working method for his wall drawings is simple. As Lawrence Alloway described it:

A site becomes available, not necessarily one that the artist has seen in advance. After consideration of the dimensions and physical properties of the walls, LeWitt stipulates a certain kind of mark, and a certain form of distribution of marks by a sketch and/or verbal or written account. The instructions also serve as the work’s description after it has been done, so that the wall is bracketed verbally, both before and after execution. The process-record is abbreviated, compressed between identical accounts of conception and completion.

… By establishing system as method for himself, LeWitt had created a way of working that was almost infinitely elastic and open-ended, one idea leading to another and still another, in intuitive leaps, from suggestions inherent in the work. Later work expanded to incorporate circles and sections of circles (arcs), irregular lines and, later still, a new use of color. The new permutations were systematically exploited to produce variations.

The use and disuse of systems in intellectual history was outlined by John Chandler in a discussion of LeWitt:

The current concern of artists with “systems” recalls the rejection of systems by the eighteenth-century philosophes. The seventeenth-century philosophers, following the model of Euclid’s Elements, constructed elaborate systems, long chains of deductive reasoning where every link depended on all those which preceded it and upon which all further links depended. The eighteenth century, following the lead of Newton and natural philosophy, rejected this kind of deduction and rejected a priori systems. Rather than beginning with principles and arriving at particulars, the process was reversed.

[line break added] Knowledge became more elastic, open-ended and concrete. Since then, attempts to make systems have been negligible, and when they have been formulated, they have been useless. The formulator of a system of aesthetics has nothing to say to working artists because he has not observed the relevant phenomena — in this case, contemporary works of art. Nevertheless, some of the most beautiful of human productions have been these philosophical systems. What is more beautiful than the systems of Aquinas, Spinoza, Hobbes and Descartes?

[line break added] Every part in its appropriate place, deduced from those prior and antecedent to those that follow, the whole being an attempt to reduce the apparent variety to unity. Even their uselessness enhances their aesthetic quality, just as a ruined Gothic cathedral is perhaps more a work of art now than it was when it was functional. Although systems are useless for philosophy and science, their inherent adaptability to art must now be evident. It is perhaps in art that systems have found their proper domain. Not all art should be systematic, but all systems are art.

Systems have other attractions, too. A simple system may yield a complex field. Systems may seem logical but can be used to confound logic when extended to absurdity. Systems have no purpose outside of themselves: they engender purposeless, therefore aesthetic, mental processes.

… At the heart of conceptual art is the ambition to return to the roots of experience, to recreate the primary experience of symbolization uncontaminated by the attitudes attached to traditional visual modes, whether representational or abstract. For LeWitt, system was one means of achieving an art as free from previous stylistic associations as could be conceived at that moment.

LeWitt was anxious to avoid subjective decisions in order to remove the obstacle of ideas of quality (in the work itself) and in order to think in terms of kind. Therefore he made the initial intention more important than the execution. He wanted to concentrate on sensitivity of decision and so he made it a rule not to deviate from original decisions; he refused the idea of changing a work because it didn’t look right. His view is that the same thing can look different on different days, one day right, one day wrong. He wanted to concentrate on the whole conception rather than on the day-to-day decisions.

… Lines themselves have always been meaningless. LeWitt’s strike at formalism is a deliberate reminder that it is always and has always been the idea that is important, even more than the emotion. Only the unifying idea that creates the structure of the work can make the work manifest. This precedes the content of any work; in LeWitt’s case it is identical to the content.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




November 13, 2017

What Remains Is the Wit

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… [color] had become a commodity whose supply was abundant and devoid of mystique.

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… if craftsmanship has been rendered objectively useless by industrialization, then skillful making must also be subjectively felt as impossible by the sensitive artist. This is, “even in normal painting,” that “inner necessity” which drove Kandinsky and the other early abstractionists toward the abandonment of almost every traditional convention of painting, and Duchamp toward the abandonment of the craft itself. Gone is the making, what remains is the name. Gone is the skill, the talent, what remains is the genius, the wit.

… But painting has not become impossible. The fact that industrialization has bereft painters of their traditional social function as purveyors of images — the fact, for example, that photography has taken over the market for portraits and other representations — does not in the slightest make the practice of painting objectively impossible. It makes it useless in regard to this traditional function, but it does not forbid it nor does it ipso facto suppress its know-how or repress the desire to paint.

[line break added] On the contrary, it can be argued that economic progress has made it possible for many more people to find the leisure to paint than was ever the case prior to the industrial revolution. The impossibility of painting is merely a feeling, the subjective signal accompanying the awareness of its objective uselessness in a society where the production of images has been mechanized and from which painting has withdrawn, like a relic from an obsolete artisanal past.

[line break added] Though merely a feeling, the impossibility of painting is a mandatory feeling, however, a quasi-moral one, a feeling that should be felt by any artist who is sensitive to his or her time, to the inventions that propel it towards economic progress, to the ideas that carry the hope of social progress, to the technologies that upset the cultural status quo. It is, in other words, the feeling of any artist who, like Duchamp, around 1912, understands or senses that there is more art in photography or cinema than there is in painting because these new cultural forms, far from being deprived of social function, allow a glimpse of the possibility of a truly popular art.

… Competition with photography was the most obvious threat; competition with the pigment industry was a more insidious but no less crucial one and, by the way, linked to the first. Historians usually agree to date the beginnings of modernist painting from the moment landscape painters abandoned the artifices of workshop practice to seek daylight. In submitting their skill to the constraints of on-site production, of course, the plein-air painters entered into explicit competition with photography.

[line break added] The camera was the principle mechanizing device that the painters had to reclaim, which they did by mimicking it and behaving as if their eye and their hand, coupled to their canvas, constituted a light-recording machine. They sought to give their craft a reprieve by “internalizing” the technology threatening it and by “mechanizing” their own body at work. Whereas this strategy of resistance was still implicit in impressionism (“Monet is but an eye,” said Cézanne), it was made explicit by Seurat’s divisionism, which was simultaneous and parallel to the invention of “autochrome” color photography by the Lumière brothers.

[line break added] Since Van Eyck, color and light had been one and the same thing for the true painter. With impressionism, they began to split: the instantaneous imprint of light is what Monet tried to capture in his Rouen Cathedrals or his Haystacks. Color, on the other hand, became the means to an end. And it could do so because, being readily available in tubes, it had become a commodity whose supply was abundant and devoid of mystique.

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




November 12, 2017

Manifested Externally

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… In order to endow any ideal with authenticity, one need only conceive of its once having existed in its “natural state” in some Golden Age, or perhaps existing in the present but somewhere at the other end of the world, east of the sun and west of the moon …

Continuing through the essay ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… For the classical Greek, every aspect of existence could be seen and heard. In principle (in essence) he did not know an invisible and mute reality. This applied to existence as a whole, but preeminently to human existence. A mute internal life, a mute grief, mute thought, were completely foreign to the Greek. All this — that is, his entire internal life — could exist only if manifested externally in audible or visible form. Plato, for example, understood thought as a conversation that a man carries on with himself (the Theaetetus, the Sophist).

[line break added] The concept of silent thought first appeared only with the mystics, and this concept had its roots in the Orient. Moreover, in Plato’s understanding of the process, thought conceived as a “conversation with oneself” did not entail any special relationship to one’s self (as distinct from one’s relationship to others); conversation with one’s own self turns directly into conversation with someone else, without a hint of any necessary boundaries between the two.

There is no mute or invisible core to the individual himself: he is entirely visible and audible, all on the surface. But in general there are no mute or invisible spheres of existence either, of the sort in which a man might take part and by which he might be shaped (the Platonic realm of Forms is thoroughly visible and audible). To locate the basic controlling nodes of human life in centers that are mute and invisible was even further from the classical Greek world view. This is the defining characteristic of the remarkable and immediate exteriority we find in the classical individual and in his life.

[ … ]

… mythological and artistic thinking locates such categories as purpose, ideal, justice, perfection, the harmonious condition of man and society and the like in the past. Myths about paradise, a Golden Age, a heroic age, an ancient truth, as well as the later concepts of a “state of nature,” of natural innate rights and so on, are all expressions of this historical inversion. To put it in somewhat simplified terms, we might say that a thing that could and in fact must only be realized exclusively in the future is here portrayed as something out of the past, a thing that is in no sense part of the past’s reality, but a thing that is in its essence a purpose, an obligation.

This peculiar “trans-positioning,” this “inversion” of time typical of mythological and artistic modes of thought in various eras of human development, is characterized by a special concept of time, and in particular of future time. The present and even more the past are enriched at the expense of the future. The force and persuasiveness of reality, of real life, belong to the present and the past alone — to the “is” and the “was” — and to the future belongs a reality of a different sort, one that is more ephemeral, a reality that when placed in the future is deprived of that materiality and density, that real-life weightiness, that is essential to the “is” and “was.”

[line break added] The future is not homogeneous with the present and the past, and no matter how much time it occupies it is denied a basic concreteness, it is somehow empty and fragmented — since everything affirmative, ideal, obligatory, desired has been shifted, via the inversion, into the past (or partly into the present); en route, it has become weightier, more authentic and persuasive. In order to endow any ideal with authenticity, one need only conceive of its once having existed in its “natural state” in some Golden Age, or perhaps existing in the present but somewhere at the other end of the world, east of the sun and west of the moon, if not on earth then underground, if not underground then in heaven.

[line break added] There is a greater readiness to build a superstructure for reality (the present) along a vertical axis of upper and lower than to move forward along the horizontal axis of time. Should these vertical structures turn out as well to be other-worldly, idealistic, eternal, outside time, then this extratemporal and eternal quality is perceived as something simultaneous with a given moment in the present; it is something contemporaneous, and that which already exists is perceived as better than the future (which does not yet exist and which never did exist).

… In its own way each of these forms empties out the future, dissects and bleeds it white …

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




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