Unreal Nature

August 31, 2011

The Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:26 am

“The highest wisdom would be to understand that every fact is already a theory.” — Goethe


“We must, however, not forget that language has other functions than that of ensuring mutual understanding.” — André Martinet


The following is Stanley Brouwn’s ‘statement’ in This Way Brouwn. 25.2.61-26.2.61. Zeichnungen 1:

Stanley Brouwn is standing somewhere on earth. He asks a random pedestrian to show on paper the way to another point in the city. The next pedestrian shows him the way. The 24th, the 11,000th pedestrian shows him the way. This Way Brouwn.

A This Way Brouwn is produced in the time it takes the pedestrian to give his explanation. No second thoughts, no polishing and touching up the result.

The fleet of streets, squares, lanes, etc., is sinking deeper and deeper in a network of This Way Brouwns. All direction is being drained from it. They are leading nowhere. They are already involved, captured in my work. I am concentrating the direction of all possible ways in my work. I am the only way, the only direction. I have become direction. 

LOL … that last description reminds me of … all kinds of things.




The Restrictive Aperture

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:22 am

… his mistake is to think that the new world he has discovered, beneath the patina of social conditioning, can legitimately be seen as a world without others.

Continuing through Everyday Life: Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present by Michael Sheringham (2006). Today’s chapter is “Georges Perec: Uncovering the Infra-Ordinary”:

… ” … you do not need to leave your room . . . Do not even listen, simply wait . . . ” [quote from Kafka within Sheringham’s text]

… The postulate (‘propos’) of indifference does not rest on hostility or ignorance; the aim is not to regress to some illusory innocence but to refrain from the kinds of choice that indicate taste, distinction, and ‘personality.’ By suspending his will, putting himself into neutral (setting himself to run on the empty generality of rhetoric), Perec’s protagonist [in his book Un Homme qui dort (1967)] wants to stop his actions from having any kind of ‘functionality’ … and thus … from ‘representing’ him in any particular way: ‘your clothes, the food you eat, what you read will no longer speak in your place. . . . You will no longer give them the exhausting, impossible and deadly task of representing you.’

The benefits of extricating oneself from life’s onward momentum are many: Perec’s protagonist discovers the present, including his own embodied presence in the world of experience, as he lies in his tiny room listening to the sounds of the city outside or as he roams about noticing things he had previously overlooked. … He enjoys the sufficiency of things in their évidence, encountering, within the highly specific, the open, generic quality that makes a thing a figure of itself. Accepting the given, dispensing with the restrictive aperture of one’s personal taste and ambitions, is seen as a way of simply apprehending what is.

Yet Un Homme qui dort also progressively mounts a critique of the protagonist’s attitude, plotting a curve that passes through psychotic episodes before returning to normality. … The protagonist’s withdrawal reveals its pathogenic side as a protective strategy and an excuse for not really living. The freedom he achieves turns out to be another kind of conditioning or enslavement. He has fallen into a trap: ‘the trap: the dangerous illusion of being — how should one say? — unreachable’; his mistake is to think that the new world he has discovered, beneath the patina of social conditioning, can legitimately be seen as a world without others.

Un Homme qui dort exposes the … illusory dream of total disengagement. It probes the temptation of reducing the everyday to a generic realm of pure experience, a perpetual present without retrospection or anticipation, a sphere of blissful repetition and minor variation, a scaled-down world of tiny gestures and anodyne things. The experiment is in some measure validated: the stance of neutrality and self-effacement does reveal what we seldom see, and does position the everyday as what is frequently lost to our ordinary perceptions. But, by associating this stance with a refusal to live, a recoil from the world, Un Homme qui dort also affirms the need to engage with others, and the ending suggests that the protagonist has understood the need to return to the world.

[ … ]

… [In Tentative d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien (1975)] We never lose sight of the flesh-and-blood participant, whose physical needs and sensations are conveyed through details of what he eats and drinks, … the atmospheric conditions, the changes of light and temperature. Perec is certainly sardonic when he asks whether drinking Vittel rather than a coffee affects the way he sees the Place, but this does point to a crucial feature of his project, that its aim is not to arrive at abstract knowledge but to explore the lived experience of an individual subject seeking to apprehend a dimension of his own reality that is inseparable from his participation in the wider currents of the everyday.

[ … ]

Perec suggests that memories which truly render the ‘fabric of the everyday’ — a body of experience that transcends our own individuality and yet invokes a commonality of experience — cannot be purely personal (what happened to me) or factual (what happened to be the case). If the types of memory involved are too insignificant for the autobiographer or the social historian it is because their aura is inversely proportionate to their narrative or historical significance.

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



August 30, 2011

Sophisticated Eccentrics II

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:29 am

… art is a realm distinct from reality in which everything is permissible and in which even the most heinous aspects of the real can be transformed into beauty.

This is from The Real Real Thing: The Model in the Mirror of Art by Wendy Steiner (2010):

Nabakov’s masterpiece Lolita gives us the “nymphet,” one of the most complex models in literature. His artist is the pedophile-aesthete Humbert Humbert, who has been obsessed with nymphets ever since he fell in love as a boy with the pubescent perfection of Annabel Leigh. The real Annabel was lost to him, and all he can do is seek out versions of her: she is the model for all subsequent objects of his desire. At the same time, her prototype is Edgar Allan Poe’s character (and poem) Annabel Lee, who was also lost to her beloved. Humbert Humbert’s Leigh is thus not an original, and neither is Lee, who was modeled on Poe’s wife, who had died young. In Lolita, these Leighs and Lees and Lo-li-tas lead us back through a vista of models of lost love — Beatrice, Laura, Eurydice — as Humbert’s yearning pushes him forward to ever-new nymphets. Like Milton’s Adam, Humbert’s incompleteness drives him to replicate. But the original model is utterly elusive and its copies ephemeral: an endless regress of lost loves, artworks about lost love, fleeting dreams of (female) perfection. Likewise, the artists who dream such dreams are, like Humbert Humbert, reiterations of the act of reiterating — and insincere reiterations at that, humbugs.

But models are also real people, and Humbert is never allowed to forget that behind his idealization is a messy, rude, gum-chewing thirteen-year-old girl.

Henry Holiday, Dante and Beatrice, 1883 ([Beatrice is in the center]

… The standoff between the real thing and the ideal is taken to the limit in Lolita, and it is all but intolerable — deliciously intolerable, to be sure — to see sexual victimization as an analogue for sublime transcendence, or erotic titillation as a precondition for aesthetic wonder. When Nabakov himself enters his fiction in a postscript to say that the novel represents instead his “love affair with the English language” and his human yearnings for aesthetic bliss, who can resist the seduction? He has reintroduced the model and at the same time eliminated its danger, expressing — unforgettably — the idea that art is a realm distinct from reality in which everything is permissible and in which even the most heinous aspects of the real can be transformed into beauty. The lives of “real” nymphets may be ruined by the likes of Humbert Humbert, and that is a sad fact; but the fate of the reality modeled in art is irrelevant to aesthetic experience.

Note that in this chapter “Yesterday’s Models” — particularly as quoted in that last paragraph — Steiner is describing a pre-1960s attitude toward the model in art.

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




Sophisticated Eccentrics

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:19 am

… We want to find out what happens in the real world and not in the fantasies of a few sophisticated eccentrics.

… if those questions help others to think over what they really do, and perhaps to eliminate certain intrinsic difficulties hidden in the foundation of the scientific edifice where the scientists never set foot, methodology has performed its task.

This is from On Phenomenology and Social Relations by Alfred Schutz (1970):

… The puppet called “personal ideal type” is . . . never a subject of a center of spontaneous activity. He does not have the task of mastering the world, and, strictly speaking, he has no world at all. His destiny is regulated and determined by his creator, the social scientist, and in such a perfect pre-established harmony as Leibniz imagined the world created by God. By the grace of its constructor, he is endowed with just that kind of knowledge he needs to perform the job for the sake of which he was brought into the scientific world. The scientist distributes his own store of experience, and that means of scientific experience in clear and distinct terms, among the puppets with which he peoples the social world. But this social world, too, is organized in quite another way; it is not centered in the ideal type; it lacks the categories of intimacy and anonymity, of familiarity and strangeness: in short, it lacks the basic character of perspective appearance. What counts is the point of view from which the scientist envisages the social world. This point of view defines the general perspective framework in which the chosen sector of the social world presents itself to the scientific observer as well as to the fictitious consciousness of the puppet type.

[ … ]

… If the social world as object of our scientific research is but a typical construction, why bother with this intellectual game? Our scientific activity and, particularly, that which deals with the social world, is also performed within a certain means-ends relation, namely, in order to acquire knowledge for mastering the world, the real world, not the one created by the grace of the scientist. We want to find out what happens in the real world and not in the fantasies of a few sophisticated eccentrics.

However …

… Methodology is not the preceptor or the tutor of the scientist. It is always his pupil, and there is no great master in his scientific field who could not teach the methodologists how to proceed. But the really great teacher always has to learn from his pupils. Arnold Schönberg, the famous composer, starts the preface to his masterly book on the theory of harmony with the sentence: “This book I have learned from my pupils.” In this role, the methodologist has to ask intelligent questions about the technique of his teacher. And if those questions help others to think over what they really do, and perhaps to eliminate certain intrinsic difficulties hidden in the foundation of the scientific edifice where the scientists never set foot, methodology has performed its task.

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




August 29, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:47 am

… “…. to utilize this space, and to construct with it, as though one were dealing with a newly acquired material — that is all I attempt.”

This is from Constructivism: Origins and Evolution, Revised Edition by George Rickey (1967, 1995). This is a book of history mixed (necessarily) with description and theory. I’m interested only in the theory, so my chosen bits will be disjointed at best. The first two segments below are from (one of) Rickey’s numbered list(s) of descriptors of Constructivism:

… 6. The technique is not part of the image, thus there is no surface “treatment” — ars est celare artem. “No handwriting, no interesting surface.” “Construction, not expression.” Constructivist work, therefore, usually appears clean, pure, effortless, without élan, sense of speed, or urgency. The clean, quiet qualities are not a purpose but a by-product. From them comes the “untouched-by-human-hand” look. Industrial materials are used frankly, without any attempt at enhancement, so that they reveal their own qualities as steel, brass, plastic, cement; preoccupation with materials for their own sake would be digressive.

… 9. … the image has not been “abstracted” from forms in nature (as in Cubism), or made to echo them (biomorphic abstraction). Yet this does not rule out the visual environment as a source of images, e.g., the square and cube can be found in iron pyrites, the circle in the sun and the moon, the rhombus in other crystals. Irregular shapes, too, can be borrowed from the environment, or from tradition, which is a reservoir of all forms. It is the shape, however, that the Constructivist takes, and the object and its associations are left.

[ … ]

… There had been no counterpart of Abstract Expressionism in sculpture. It was impossible to translate the ideas of Action Painting into the obdurate materials employed in sculpture, which now took a different direction from painting. As a consequence, sculpture, with its many technical problems, was, during the ascendency of Abstract Expressionism, kept in the shade until the sixties, though the number of sculptors was increasing. Changes were wrought, nevertheless, and a foundation was laid for a great expansion of ideas as to what sculpture is …

… For centuries, sculpture had depended entirely on modeling and carving — until 1918, that is, when Picasso’s three-dimensional collages inspired Tatlin. Even then, these constructions added only nailing and gluing to the repertory, though the forging of iron had been a highly developed craft for two thousand years and had been used for figurative sculpture outside of Europe.

Julio Gonzalez, the Spanish friend of Picasso, began, because of poverty, to make sculpture with a welding torch and scrap iron, which became more and more abstract. He forged his first iron sculptures in 1926-27 and passed on his knowledge to Picasso who made only occasional use of it. “To project and design in space with the help of new methods, to utilize this space, and to construct with it, as though one were dealing with a newly acquired material — that is all I attempt.” … Sculptors before Gonzalez knew less about forging than a medieval armorer.

… it is the welded steel joint which has made possible the development of the space sculpture envisioned in the “Realist Manifesto.” Appearing first in art about 1930, it has been developed mostly since 1945. It has permitted the sculptor to out-distance the architect and even the bridgebuilder in his penetration and enlivening of space. With the directness of the welded joint and the strength of steel, powerful salients into the newly perceived space have become possible. Ships’ rigging, cranes, circus tents, and umbrellas were antecedents of this kind of penetration of space.

… This extension of the third way of making sculpture — that is, by joining — begun by the early Constructivists and by Gonzalez, then vastly expanded by [David] Smith’s imaginative use of industrial techniques, has made possible cantilever, counterpoise, and penetration into space hitherto undreamed of in sculpture. Its use is as characteristically twentieth-century as the skyscraper.

… A frequent comment on present-day Constructivism is that the artists repeat: they plagiarise themselves: they manufacture a product. … [However] There is a belief, special to our time, that an artist must develop exhaustively all the possibilities of minute differences within a particular idea. This procedure, while resembling science, is not borrowed from it; the scientist, as soon as a new door is open, passes through. But an artist will linger and examine every aspect of the room, even when the doors are open. So it is to be expected that Heniz Mack will make a series of round glasses, Uecker will continue to use nails, Dorazio will make nets of colored straight lines, Mavignier will paint only dots, Poons only spots, and Albers need never leave the square.

… A further extension of Constructivist thought in the last decade … is a resort to nature, but with a difference. Nature as landscape, still-life, or portraiture is ignored; but nature, as a great fount of physical phenomena, inexorable laws, and orderly relationships, is investigated by the artist and made the vehicle for his statement. Forces such as gravity, or energy such as light, serve as stimuli for the observer, supplanting those projections of the appearance of the natural world which formerly had made the face of art. Thus nature, as aerodynamics, mathematical relationships, probability, chance, or magnetic lines of force is turned, by the artist’s hand, to confront the observer. The artist himself then withdraws, sometimes covering his tracks by the use of an alter fabricator as his alter ego, and a title which reads like a science textbook.

These artists have created new space in and around the object, which itself exhibits new kinds of surface; they exploit the peculiarities of the human optical system itself, instead of that system’s record of the world outside; they use randomness, indeterminacy, exact repetition and self-perpetuating diversity as expressive means; they divide a surface into minute autonomous particles and render infinitesimal differences as active contrasts. While neither mathematical nor scientific, they borrow the material (not the method) of mathematics and science and set them up as “found objects” in contexts of their own making.




August 28, 2011

A Rainbow of Dust

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:34 am


Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly — . An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

last verse of  The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke

I thought of some words of [Jacob] Arnauti, written about another woman, in another context. “You tell yourself that it is a woman you hold in your arms, but watching the sleeper you see all her growth in time, the unerring unfolding of cells which group and dispose themselves into the beloved face which remains always and for ever mysterious — repeating to infinity the soft boss of the human nose, an ear borrowed from a seashell’s helix, an eyebrow thought-patterned from ferns, or lips invented by bivalves in their dreaming union. All this process is human, bears a name which pierces your heart, and offers the mad dream of an eternity which time disproves in every drawn breath. And if human personality is an illusion? And if, as biology tells us, every single cell in our bodies is replaced every seven years by another? At the most I hold in my arms something like a fountain of flesh, continuously playing, and in my mind a rainbow of dust.”

from Clea, the final volume of the Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell (1960)



Quest for Grace

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:29 am

… Unaided consciousness must always tend toward hate; not only because it is good common sense to exterminate the other fellow, but for the more profound reason that, seeing only arcs of circuits, the individual is continually surprised and necessarily angered when his hardheaded policies return to plague the inventor.


This is from the 1967 essay “Style, Grace, and Information in Primitive Art” found in Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson (1972). He says, in the first paragraph of the essay that his “several still-separate attempts” at these subjects “do not as yet meet in the middle,” so consider the following to be fragments of his live ponderings:

Aldous Huxley used to say that the central problem for humanity is the quest for grace. This word he used in what he thought was the sense in which it is used in the New Testament. He explained the word, however, in his own terms. He argued — like Walt Whitman — that the communication and behaviour of animals has a naiveté, a simplicity, which man has lost. Man’s behaviour is corrupted by deceit — even self-deceit — by purpose, and by self-consciousness.

… I argue that art is a part of man’s quest for grace; sometimes his ecstasy in partial success, sometimes his rage and agony at failure.

I argue also that there are many species of grace within the major genus; and also that there are many kinds of failure and frustration and departure from grace. No doubt each culture has its characteristic species of grace toward which its artists strive, and its own species of failure.

Some cultures may foster a negative approach to this difficult integration, an avoidance of complexity by crass preference either for total consciousness or total unconsciousness. Their art is unlikely to be “great.”

I shall argue that the problem of grace is fundamentally a problem of integration and that what is to be integrated is the diverse parts of the mind — especially those multiple levels of which one extreme is called “consciousness” and the other the “unconscious.” For the attainment of grace, the reasons of the heart must be integrated with the reasons of the reason.

… That aspect of the work of art which can most easily be reduced to words — the mythology connected with the subject matter — is not what I want to discuss.

… I am concerned with what important psychic information is in the art object quite apart from what it may “represent.”

… It is the very rules of transformation that are of interest to me — not the message, but the code.

My goal is not instrumental. I do not want to use the transformation rules when discovered to undo the transformation or to “decode” the message. To translate the art object into mythology and then examine the mythology would be only a neat way of dodging or negating the problem of “what is art?”

I ask, then, not about the meaning of the encoded message but rather about the meaning of the code chosen.

[ … ]

… It is sometimes said that the distortions of art (say, van Gogh’s “Chair”) are directly representative of what the artist “sees.” If such statements refer to “seeing” in the simplest physical sense (e.g., remediable with spectacles), I presume that they are nonsense. If van Gogh could only see the chair in that wild way, his eyes would not serve properly to guide him in the very accurate placing of paint on canvas. And, conversely, a photographically accurate representation of the chair on canvas would also be seen by van Gogh in the wild way. He would see no need to distort the painting.

But suppose we say that the artist is painting today what he saw yesterday — or that he is painting what he somehow knows that he might see. “I see as well as you do — but do you realize that this other way of seeing a chair exists as a human potentiality? And that that potentiality is always in you and in me?” Is he exhibiting symptoms which he might have, because the whole spectrum of psychopathology is possible for us all?

… consciousness is necessarily selective and partial, i.e., the content of consciousness is, at best, a small part of truth about the self. But if this part be selected in any systematic manner, it is certain that the partial truths of consciousness will be, in aggregate, a distortion of the truth of some larger whole.

In the case of an iceberg, we may guess, from what is above surface, what sort of stuff is below; but we cannot make the same sort of extrapolation from the content of consciousness. It is not merely the selectivity of preference, whereby the skeletons accumulate in the Freudian unconscious, that makes such extrapolation unsound. Such a selection by preference would only promote optimism.

What is serious is the crosscutting of the circuitry of the mind. If, as we must believe, the total mind is an integrated network (of propositions, images, processes, neural pathology, or what have you — according to what scientific language you prefer to use), and if the content of consciousness is only a sampling of different parts and localities in this network; then, inevitably, the conscious view of the network as a whole is a monstrous denial of the integration of that whole. From the cutting of consciousness, what appears above the surface is arcs of circuits instead of either the complete circuits or the larger complete circuit of circuits.

What the unaided consciousness (unaided by art, dreams, and the like) can never appreciate is the systemic nature of mind.

… The point … which I am trying to make … [is that] mere purposive rationality unaided by such phenomena as art, religion, dream, and the like, is necessarily pathogenic and destructive of life; and that its virulence springs specifically from the circumstance that life depends upon interlocking circuits of contingency, while consciousness can see only such short arcs of such circuits as human purpose may direct.

In a word, the unaided consciousness must always involve man in the sort of stupidity of which evolution was guilty when she urged upon the dinosaurs the common-sense values of an armaments race. She inevitably realized her mistake a million years later and wiped them out.

Unaided consciousness must always tend toward hate; not only because it is good common sense to exterminate the other fellow, but for the more profound reason that, seeing only arcs of circuits, the individual is continually surprised and necessarily angered when his hardheaded policies return to plague the inventor.

My most recent previous post from Bateson’s collection of essays is here.




August 27, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 11:12 am

There she goes. That’s one big yellow blob I don’t have to deal with. She’s been sighing and blowing mist on me all morning, but she’s got bigger fish to fry up north.





Petit Metanoia

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:00 am

… “Working is … a way of getting rid of an idea.”

… If preliminary thought generates the idea, then the hand that renders the concept as an image and a certain object, changes it. The hand, its touch, is metanoiac; it changes the mind.

This is from an essay “Johns Metanoid, Metanoid Johns” by Richard Shiff in the book Jasper Johns: Gray (2007):

People surpass themselves. The aim of an artist as a creative individual, Jasper Johns suggested recently, is to do “something a little more worthwhile than oneself.” If your established worth is the culture and learning that your customary actions reflect, then to be worth a bit more than yourself — more than the self shaped by and confined within its socialization — would entail undoing cultural protocols, probing new modes of thought and behavior. To be worth more, you would need to change in a fundamental way — change your life — or, at the least, experience change and become a channel to its communication.

Johns acts as a human medium of change, not expression. Conventionally understood, the concept of expression implies a certain stability: the pre-existence of the thing expressed, whether an object represented or a person creating a representation. you express yourself by showing how you see, or desire to see, an object available to the competing visions of others. “A portrait is a model complicated by an artist,” Charles Baudelaire wrote in 1846, providing a pithy account of what his Romantic contemporaries understood — to every artist, a consistently individual vision reflected in each rendering. With varying degrees of emphasis, modern artists who followed Baudelaire accepted still another complication: the independent play of the material medium. When the artist complicates the model, we have Romanticism. When the medium complicates the artist, we have what many call modernism.

Just as the material medium yields to forces of self-expression, it resists them. Intentions, desires, established habits, even a person’s physical tics: all are subject to modification in accord with the exigencies of the medium. Every medium becomes a distorting agent of anamorphosis. To accept this, however, is to reject the more orthodox transference of an artist’s mentality, straight through skills of the hand to an aesthetic product. According to traditional theories of art, a practiced hand masters the difficulties presented by the medium, facilitating the mind’s desires. [ … ] The mind conceives, the hand renders, and the medium falls into line: end of theory, origin of art.

This orderly system collapses when an artist recognizes that a portrait in oil on canvas and a portrait of the same model in graphite on paper must differ in emotional valence, and that the difference holds even if the psychological dynamic between artist and model remains constant during the time of the two representations.

[ … ]

… To an unusual extent, [Johns] attributes his results to the material circumstances in which he chooses to operate. At work, it is as if he were attending to his process more than directing it. … [He feels that] The common failing is that people try “to figure out what’s going to happen, rather than seeing what happens.”

Johns’s explanation might be applied to every process equally. As a cause converts into an effect, human agency merely provides the energy and cannot guarantee the consequences. Turn a figure upside down. Will it look like the same figure, only inverted? Or will it seem to be something else? When an interviewer imagines Johns conceiving of a situation and thinking to himself, “It would be interesting to see that,” the artist extends the notion: “Or ‘it would be interesting to do that,’ which is not the same.” Seeing can be restrictive because it often follows a fixed conception of the thing seen: to ordinary habits of vision, an object upside down appears inverted. Doing is open-ended, its results far less certain. Having moved the object into an inverted position, you may have a different sense of it.

Diver 1962-63

… At work with whatever medium, Johns uses materials in recognition of how their properties relate to a specific physical environment. Ink, for example, can be applied as a runny liquid or relatively dry, and on absorbent paper or impervious plastic: you choose certain conditions, these conditions, and as a result, this happens. Everything has its condition. Long ago, Heinrich von Kleist applied this notion to thought: “Ideas come as we are speaking. . . . For it is not we who ‘know’; it is rather a certain condition, in which we happen to be, that ‘knows.'”

Johns does not actively reject the self, its self-expression, or its self-creation; nor is he concerned to negate the work of others. Rather, he evades the self and the objects it defines as it exercises its wants. The less reliance on the self and its expression the better, as he intimated in 1964: “If we come closer and closer to [a thing] to identify it . . . we will begin to wonder whether that ‘something’ is really ‘something’ or not. . . . I have begun to want an object to be free from the way I see it. . . . I want images to free themselves from me.” Images are not limited; artists are, and they limit images to mirror themselves.

[ … ]

… Change comes in various sizes. If the finality of repentance and conversion constitutes a grand metanoia, then the kind of change of mind (and heart) embodied within a material art like Johns’s is a petit metanoia. Such a turn in thought and sensation will be repeated many times over in the course of an artist’s inventing a work, perhaps with every mark made. Petit metanoia is the form of conversion experienced by secular believers in art:

I usually begin with some sort of an idea of what I want to do. Sometimes it is an image. I always want to see what it will make. Then, I actually start working. During the process I don’t have any morality about changing my mind. In fact, I often find that having an idea in my head prevents me from doing something else. It can blind me. Working is therefore a way of getting rid of an idea.

… If preliminary thought generates the idea, then the hand that renders the concept as an image and a certain object, changes it. The hand, its touch, is metanoiac; it changes the mind.



August 26, 2011

Reckless Abandon

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

…  the reckless abandon comes down to this: the painter himself must enter into the canvas before beginning.

This is from Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation by Gilles Deleuze (2003; first published in French in1981):

… It is a mistake to think that the painter works on a white surface. … everything he has in his head or around him is already in the canvas, more or less virtually, more or less actually, before he begins to work. … what we have to define are all these “givens” [données] that are on the canvas before the painter’s work begins, and determine, among these givens, which are obstacles, which are helps …

[ … ]

Bacon is asked if anyone at all, such as his cleaning woman, would be capable of making random marks or not. And this time, the complex response is that, yes, the cleaning woman could do it in principle, abstractly; but she could not do it in fact, because she would not know how to utilize this chance or how to manipulate it. It is in the manipulation, in the reaction of the manual marks on the visual whole, that chance becomes pictorial or is integrated into the act of painting. Hence Bacon’s obstinate insistence, despite the incomprehensiion of his interlocutors, that there is no chance except “manipulated” chance, no accident except a “utilized” accident.

In short, Bacon can have the same attitude toward both clichés and probabilities: a reckless, almost hysterical, abandon, since he turns this abandon into a ruse, a snare. Clichés and probabilities are on the canvas; they fill it, they must fill it, before the painter’s work begins. And the reckless abandon comes down to this: the painter himself must enter into the canvas before beginning.

… We do not listen closely enough to what painters have to say. They say that the painter is already in the canvas, where he or she encounters all the figurative and probabilistic givens that occupy and preoccupy the canvas. An entire battle takes place in the canvas between the painter and these givens.

in Bacon’s studio

… What does this act of painting consist of? Bacon defines it in this way: make random marks (lines-traits); scrub, sweep, or wipe the canvas in order to clear out locales or zones (color-patches); throw the paint, from various angles and at various speeds. Now this act, or these acts, presupposes that there were already figurative givens on the canvas (and in the painter’s head), more or less virtual, more or less actual. It is precisely these givens that will be removed by the act of painting, either by being wiped, brushed, or rubbed, or else covered over. For example, a mouth: it will be elongated, stretched from one side of the head to the other. For example, the head: part of it will be cleared away with a brush, broom, sponge, or rag. This is what Bacon calls a “graph” or a Diagram: … It is as if, in the midst of the figurative and probabilistic givens, a catastrophe overcame the canvas.

It is like the emergence of another world. For these marks, these traits, are irrational, involuntary, accidental, free, random. They are nonrepresentative, nonillustrative, non-narrative. They are no longer either significant or signifiers: they are a-signifying traits. They are traits of sensation, but of confused sensations (the confused sensations, as Cézanne said, that we bring with us at birth).

Study of a Baboon (1953)

… This is the act of painting, or the turning point of the painting. There are two ways in which the painting can fail, once visually and once manually. One can remain entangled in the figurative givens and the optical organization of representation; but one can also spoil the diagram, botch it, so overload it that it is rendered inoperative (which is another way of remaining in the figurative: one will have simply mutilated or mauled the cliché …).

… The diagram is the operative set of traits and color-patches, of lines and zones. Van Gogh’s diagram, for example, is the set of straight and curved hatch marks that raise and lower the ground, twist the trees, make the sky palpitate, and which assume a particular intensity from 1888 onward. … The diagram is indeed a chaos, a catastrophe, but it is also a germ of order or rhythm. It is a violent chaos in relation to the figurative givens, but it is a germ of rhythm in relation to the new order of the painting. As Bacon says, it “unlocks areas of sensation.” The diagram ends the preparatory work and begins the act of painting. There is no painter who has not had this experience of the chaos-germ, where he or she no longer sees anything and risks foundering: the collapse of visual coordinates. This is not a psychological experience, but a properly pictorial experience, although it can have an immense influence on the psychic life of the painter.

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



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