Unreal Nature

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.”

-Julie

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