… the newly made thing recalls to us the “And yet … ” and “But also … ” and “That, too … ” of lived experience rather than the tendentious categories of received ideas.
… On the one hand, we see the attempt to find a space for art completely outside the cycles of seduction and consumption, an attempt that seems, perhaps inevitably, to carry its own burden of puritanical self-righteousness. On the other, the alternative to this accusatory retreat seems to be an increasingly hysterical and mannered insistence that the exhausted party of consumer culture is still all the world there is (“And some swing madly from the chandeliers …”*).
[line break added] For many among our own “sobering few,”* this unhappy scene marks the inevitable outcome of an attempt to make art out of non-art, to substitute secondhand culture for firsthand experience as the subject of art. The only sane future for art, they argue, lies in a complete divorce from the materials of mass culture, and in a return to “perception” — to the specific engagements of realist painting and sculpture.
[line break added] Faces and bodies and landscapes remain as central to experience now as any television image, they argue, and the future of painting relies on art’s renewed allegiance to those subjects — in a return to the somatic, the individually observed, the personally felt, the seen.
Yet one of the triumphs of modern art has been to show us that sight is manifold, and that looking hard at secondhand culture can become as meaningful as the scrutiny of first-order nature. Perception itself, after all, cannot operate outside of an inherited vocabulary of schemata. By enlarging and reforming and revising the vocabulary of art to include the new vernaculars of modernity, art has reformed and enlarged the vision of us all.
… Of all the unsuccessful general theories of art, probably the least bad has been the one that suggests that we use the concept of “art” to call attention to any made thing which seems to unify what we had always thought before were opposites and, in doing so, reminds us of the ineluctible complexity of life.
[line break added] Flowing pattern and truthful detail reconciled, as in Raphael; a child’s color and Cézanne’s drawing, as in Matisse; Chester Gould and Emily Dickinson, as in Elizabeth Murray — what matters is less what the particular opposed terms may be than that the newly made thing recalls to us the “And yet … ” and “But also … ” and “That, too … ” of lived experience rather than the tendentious categories of received ideas.
[*Letter to Lord Byron
…..by W. H. Auden
How we all roared when Baudelaire went by
“See this cigar” he said “It’s Baudelaire’s.
What happens to perception? Ah, who cares.”
Today, alas, that happy crowded floor
Looks very different: many are in tears:
Some have retired to bed and locked the door;
And some swing madly from the chandeliers;
Some have passed out entirely in the rears;
Some have been sick in corners; the sobering few
Are trying to think of something new.]
My most recent previous post from this book is here.