Unreal Nature

March 17, 2015

Challenge to Habits of Mind and Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… if an image disturbs, it has struck a chord, proving that something forceful in it has touched something alive in the viewer.

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

… In selecting the images for this book, I have followed my own instincts. That does not mean that I have hewed strictly to my own taste. Quite the opposite, much of the work represented here is distasteful to me. However, I do not regard the disturbance it causes as a verification of the work’s unredeemable nullity but rather as a useful challenge to my habits of mind and eye. For if an image disturbs, it has struck a chord, proving that something forceful in it has touched something alive in the viewer. Mediocrity will not do this except cumulatively; it simply fades into the background.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Art that stands out therefore deserves the attention it has claimed, at least to the extent of one’s examining the reasons for its having achieved that threshold of effect. If the impact lingers, then the viewer becomes responsible in a larger way, since any break in consciousness that throws off sparks or brings repressed thoughts and feelings to the surface demands to be taken seriously. That is what he avant-garde expects in response to the shocks it administers; correspondingly, it is reasonable to treat the memorable gestures of the anti-avant-garde with equivalent seriousness.

A large percentage of the art to which we pay heed in this manner withers upon extended scrutiny and seems unlikely, by that measure, to stand the test of time. Still, the effort made has not been wasted; it is the price exacted for broadening our culture while refining our criteria for judgment. And always we owe it to ourselves and the art in question to stay alert to the manner in which the artists’ failures shed light on our own susceptibilities. The truth is that artists are periodically bound to lose their bearings. Consequently, art is more than likely to go off its rails. Risk is meaningless if the possibility of provocative deviance is excluded from this equation.

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

-Julie

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