Unreal Nature

October 12, 2015

All the Craziness You Needed to See

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… the line that had in the past been the distinction between wit and dreams — was for Dubuffet an illusion.

Continuing through High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik (1990):

… Caricature died so that modern art might live. Just as it becomes impossible, after the work of 1908-10, to distinguish in Picasso’s own work between “caricature” and high drawing, it soon became impossible to distinguish between modern art that self-consciously drew on the caricature tradition and modern art that just looked like other modern art. The conceptual leap that saw large-scale possibilities in the recycling of little jokes simply became part of the modern tradition; artists did it without thinking about where it came from.

[ … ]

… Where Picasso had integrated caricatural style into poetic portraiture, and where the Surrealists had found in jokes the stuff of dreams, Dubuffet’s portraits obstinately insist that caricatural wit (and the social life it belongs to) is itself a kind of mania.

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Jean Dubuffet, Jules Supervielle, Large Myth Portrait, 1947

… The line between constructive, healthily “socialized” outward life and dangerous (if arrestingly rich) mental life — the line that had in the past been the distinction between wit and dreams — was for Dubuffet an illusion. You didn’t have to look past the caricature for the craziness; the caricature itself showed you all the craziness you needed to see. Look into the caricature, the Surrealists had suggested, and you may see there a little piece of the intricate psyche of modern man; look into the psyche of postwar man, Dubuffet’s portraits insist, and all that remains is a caricature. The change from what Picasso did with caricature to what Dubuffet does with it is, in a way, like the difference between James Joyce’s and Samuel Beckett’s reuse of low verbal comedy.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] In each case, the older artist finds in comic form — the caricature for Picasso, the pun for Joyce — the possibility of a kind of pregnant reduction that, by focusing down on what in the past had seemed merely coincidental resemblances of form or language, simultaneously opens his art to a dazzling multiplicity of reference. Graphic satire allows us to enter the mysteries of African art; Irish wordplay revives the Greek epic. For Dubuffet, however, as for Beckett or Antonin Artaud, comic form was made serious not by transforming it, but by insisting on it: by making caricatural drawing and slapstick routines so intense and unrelenting that the emotion they provoked, from sheer overload, would spill back over into the grotesque.

Dubuffet_DhotelShaded1947
Jean Dubuffet, Dhotel Shaded with Apricot, 1947

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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