Unreal Nature

November 17, 2014

This Happens

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… The danger modernists have always seen in illusionism is that a public hungry for entertainment or affirmation will naively accept artifice as truth, and thus allow itself to be lulled or manipulated into a passive relationship with culture.

This is from Modern Art Despite Modernism by Robert Storr (2000):

… It is customary to use the expressions modern art and modernism interchangeably, but there is an important distinction. For the sake of simplicity, one may say that modern art is the art produced in the modern era, which, depending upon one’s larger sense of art history, began at the end of the eighteenth century, or the middle or end of the nineteenth … [It is] art that takes itself — its compositional techniques, methods of image making, physical presence, and constructive or destructive relation to the traditions of art — as its primary subject. Before modernist art is about anything else — an image, a symbol, the communication of an experience — it is about the logic and structure of the thing that carries meaning, and about how that thing came into being. In this respect, all modernist art is essentially abstract, even though only some modernist art looks it.

… it is erroneous to regard realism of any period as intrinsically reactionary. Realism worthy of the name takes observation of the given world as its primary task. The realists’ aim is to document the facts of experience and perception, and the most rigorous are prepared to sacrifice formal perfection and personal or consensus taste to that purpose. Thus, as critic and historian Linda Nochlin has argued, realism asserts the importance of the specific over the general, the actual over the ideal. For this reason, realism has always been the adversary of academic rules. In that same spirit, it has continually violated the laws of modernist abstraction as laid down by those who have interpreted its principles and practices as universal and absolute. In abstraction’s own struggle against the academy, avant-garde artists have sometimes carelessly, sometimes conveniently forgotten that strict realists are no less the enemies of canonical figuration than they are. Nevertheless, by persistently depicting what they see while refusing to tailor the results to a preconceived model, realists regularly offend both the avant-garde and the academy. Although academic sensibilities would never confuse strict realism with avant-garde art, advocates of the avant-garde have tended to lump all representational artists together, pushing realists into the opposition.

Of course, a realist’s choice of subject matter is never entirely neutral, regardless of how scrupulously neutral the finial execution of the work may seem. The decision to paint factories or nudes, cabaret singers or rural still lifes, is an ideological as well as an aesthetic one. Symbolism thus enters into images that may have no explicit narrative, and even the most documentary pictures invite exegesis. Beyond this, any description of a world in which everything has its place is a statement about order and stability. Appearances can be deceptive though, and much antimodernist art has exploited two opportunities inherent in such illusions. The first option is to unite in a single context objects, space, people, or events that could not possibly coexist in actuality. Surrealism does this blatantly; much superficially realist art does it discreetly. The effect of the latter can be as disorienting as that of the former, and sometimes more so, since the delayed jolt of a nagging “offness” in what seems at first glance like a perfectly ordinary scene threatens assumptions of normalcy at least as much as blatant fantasy does. The second option is to intensify the naturally static qualities of fixed images, evoking a preternatural immobility that can range in poetic connotation from amber eternity to icy inertia.

The danger modernists have always seen in illusionism is that a public hungry for entertainment or affirmation will naively accept artifice as truth, and thus allow itself to be lulled or manipulated into a passive relationship with culture. This happens. Modernists have opposed spectacle for the same reason, fearing that it will overwhelm viewers os completely as to deprive them of their critical faculties. This happens too. In both cases, the problem lies in the artist’s doing all the imaginative work, thereby transforming the public into a mere receptor or consumer while concealing the mechanics of the art and the artist’s decisions under a veneer of aesthetic wholeness. this seamless integrity seems to say that what is seen could have been no other way; what the image means is nothing other than its stated content.

-Julie

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