Unreal Nature

December 8, 2015

Between Reason and Unreason

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… is it really equilibrium and calm that we express and communicate, or is it not rather the excitement by which we are possessed?

This is from Art Brut by Michel Thévoz (1995):

Art does not come and lie in the beds we make for it.Jean Dubuffet

… For a long time the African and Oceanian arts were considered uncouth and inarticulate, unworthy of figuring in a museum, except as curios. Jean Laude has well analysed the ideological construct which arose hand in hand with the first ethnographic museums and which in the last resort served to justify colonial expansion in the name of the West’s alleged cultural and technical superiority.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] For the non-Western arts to be recognized as genuine cultural and artistic achievements, they had to be discovered by Gauguin, the Fauves, the northern Expressionists, and Cubists and Surrealists: by making explicit borrowings from them, these artists acclimatized them to our sensibility.

… at the very time when African and Polynesian statuary was recognized as genuine art, its inspiration failed and the production of these peoples were reduced to stereotyped objects catering for the tourist trade.

[ … ]

… It was Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, author of a fundamental study of the art of the insane, Bildnerei der Geisteskranken, published in 1922, who began to envisage the productions of his patients from an aesthetic angle. He tried to see the creative process from the inside by considering each style as the overall expression of the life experience of its maker.

… But, once again, such works would have remained valueless in our eyes had it not been for the modern artists who took an interest in them and who, through their own adventurous speculations, have made us capable of responding to them. Paul Klee pioneered the way. In 1923 he declared: “In the works which we hope will come off, is it really equilibrium and calm that we express and communicate, or is it not rather the excitement by which we are possessed?

[line break added] What is the equilibrium of a composition but the pot in which that excitement boils? … You are familiar with Prinzhorn’s excellent work. We can soon convince ourselves of this. Look, there is Klee at his best! And here, and here too! Look at these religious subjects: a depth and power of expression that I shall never attain to. A really sublime art … ”

… And yet, in this realm too, it must be admitted that for several decades now the springs of creativity have been drying up.

… The hospital studio, the group exhibitions, the comparison with others and the praise lavished on all end up by creating the same propensity to imitation and affectation as in professional artists.

… Therapeutic encouragement and paternalist benevolence act as a conductor towards “normalization”; they are in effect a much more subtle and efficient means of repression. Institutes for the “psychopathology of expression” are designed to neutralize that living utterance which madness can be, to maintain against it the positions taken up by medical science, to check the movement of reciprocity that these works desperately call for — in a word, to defend the line of segregation between reason and unreason where it is threatened most.

… Like Orpheus, who by looking at her killed the woman he loved, Western culture seems doomed to distort any other form of expression by the mere fact of taking aesthetic notice of it. True, the transition from the former stage of outright destruction to one of pillage and then of anthropological and aesthetic interest has the advantage of saving and preserving the objects concerned. But, while cultural colonization has taken to milder methods, the end result is much the same. The method now is one of ingestion, assimilation and homogenization.

My previous post from Thévoz’s book is here.

-Julie

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