Unreal Nature

January 23, 2016

To State the Question Correctly

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… he gives them back to us.

This is from the essay ‘What Realism Means to Me’ found in Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes (2014):

… [Chekhov’s] artistry says, to judge is presumptuous, to generalize is glib. What counts is to observe intensely, and when you do so you feel not so much inclined to advocate your opinion.

Chekhov got into trouble for writing like this. Soon after he started publishing stories in magazines, it appears that his editors, Suvorin of New Times and Plesheyes of the Northern Herald, both separately wrote to him saying they liked his stories, they wanted his stories, but whose side was he on? Was he a liberal, a conservative, for the regime, against the church? He replied, it is my job to state the question correctly.

Anton Chekhov

… There is one thing I think realism is definitely not, though it is often confused with it, and that is a technique. Technique is a skill you can learn so you don’t have to respond to what you are looking at, you don’t have to be inquisitive about it. If something is real to you, the question becomes, not How do I do that, but What is this phenomenon I’m perceiving? When a painter is armed with technique, technique is what you see in the painting, technique is what is real in it.

[line break added] Nineteenth-century French and English academy painting, with its minute details, expresses the attitude “I know what the world looks like, and I have the expertise to portray it.” It resembles the work of the Russian social realist painter Fairfield Porter described: “The artist knows everything and uses his eyes only to keep his hand from slipping.” [By contrast] The Flemish primitives like Van der Goes say with amazement, “so that’s what the world looks like!” and this amazement is reflected in the freshness and affection with which each detail is recorded on their oak panels.

… Sometimes I think about Fats Waller. When we listen to some old crooner gushing away we bring our own sense of irony to the experience and call it “camp.” But Fats Waller takes a different way with the same shop-worn song. He doesn’t trash the sentimental tunes he jokes around with; on the contrary, he gives them back to us.

[line break added] As Shakespeare keeps the scathing Mercutio around while Romeo meets Juliet, so Waller includes in his restatement of those tunes a good-natured, “realistic” recognition of the fact that, yes they sure are overblown, and once you’ve admitted that, you can enjoy them again and even accept their now deflated sentiments.

Fats Waller




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