Unreal Nature

October 26, 2015

Uncanny Delight

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Both … were in revolt against the idea of the sublime landscape as an icon of solemnity …

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


Krazy Kat is an imaginary vision of a perfectly happy and harmonious place. As much as any artifact of the twentieth century, it seems to have achieved the status of the joyful unifying popular comedy that criticism struggles to name — the form that Baudelaire, looking at E.T.A. Hoffmann, called “absolute” comedy; that Auden, looking at P.G. Wodehouse called “Edenic comedy”, and that the Russian literary historian Mikhail Bakhtin, looking at Rabelais, called “carnival comedy.”

[line break added to make this easier to read online] It is arcadia without nostalgia; the visual language in Herriman looks “modern” in a way that, say, McCay’s and Fisher’s invented worlds do not. Yet mutual incomprehension between high and low still afflicts discussion of Herriman’s place as a modern artist. Just as the high tradition either excludes Herriman, or sees him as a peculiar special case, the admirers of the low tradition treat the provisional categories of art history as though they were timeless descriptive terms.

[line break added] So, for instance, a recent admirer of Herriman’s could say, loftily, that though Herriman uses “Surrealist devices,” he is not a Surrealist, when the point of course is that Herriman’s style was fully evolved before Surrealism employed some of Herriman’s devices. The problematic affinity can’t be wished away by taking it out of history.


… It is not just that a comic strip can be like a Miró, it’s that a Miró is, as he declared, is a little like a comic strip. Both Miró and Herriman were in revolt against the idea of the sublime landscape as an icon of solemnity; both sought to make instead a landscape that was musical and free. Both Herriman and Miró wanted to draw sublime landscapes that would be an uncanny delight to look at, and this unpretentious ambition was more revolutionary than it may sound.

Joan Miró, Dog Barking at the Moon, 1926

… The dream of play is one that is deeply embodied in all of the century’s art, and we are, of course, familiar with the various attempts to gain the possibility of free play for painting and drawing. One way, of course, is to cut the knot and make “visible action” the whole subject of the painting. Yet another way to fly into “ethereal spaces” involves not the splatter and splash of paint, but the creation of interrupted stories, through narratives that bear no moral or allegorical freight beyond their own implied joy of action.

Joan Miró, Dialogue of Insects, 1924-25

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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