Unreal Nature

January 30, 2016

To the Next Generation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… They exist outside art, outside the painting culture, not as art but as a challenge to art.

This is from the essay ‘Henri Rousseau and the Idea of the Naïve’ found in Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes (2014):

… The twentieth-century taste for naïve art is a twist in the long story of this ancient antithesis of culture and nature, and what Schiller had to say about the naïve in 1795 is apropos today. The naïve in naïve art is not there by virtue of what the picture represents, since a naïve action or sentiment could just as well be depicted in a sophisticated painting. Rather, an equation is made between an unknowing technique and a pure heart.

[line break added] Thus, Philippe Soupault: “In order to paint Rousseau dipped his brush in his heart.” If one can ignore the saccharine content in this metaphor, there is a point being made — the opposite of the one George Orwell was making about Salvador Dali when he spoke of “a dexterity that goes no higher than the elbow.” Rousseau bypasses the artifice in the arm.

In naïve art, then, style is a fixed moral issue; therefore it must be made clear that the unknowingness of the technique is not counterfeit, that it did not come about through laziness, incompetence, or contempt for the culture of painting, but through a true lack of awareness of what the culture is and how to acquire it.


… The little twin portraits of Rousseau and his wife that Picasso owned, and always kept by him, have less artistry than the worst recent “Bad Painting.” they have none of the cause and effect of a deliberate style, they bypass form-making, they are as indefinite as the conjunction of figure and landscape in [Rousseau’s painting] Myself. They exist outside art, outside the painting culture, not as art but as a challenge to art.

[line break added] This is not what Rousseau meant but it is what Rousseau meant to the next generation. It took Picasso many years and some pretty drastic measures of breaking up and reassembling not just the grammar of painting but also the grammar of the human face before he achieved through form-making a blatant, strident presence equivalent to these.

Rousseau_Wife ………………………….rousseau_henri_2

Rousseau’s art and his career in art cannot help but provoke a braided reaction, just as much in us now as it did in the young artists during Rousseau’s lifetime; among the elements that compose that braid might be cheerful mockery at its childishness, admiration for its simplicity, and regret for our own lost innocence.




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