Unreal Nature

December 31, 2016

The Least Amount of Hunting

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… To many people nature suggests nothing, signifies nothing, is nothing.

Continuing through The New Landscape in Art and Science by Gyorgy Kepes (1956; 1967):

… Central in the creation of self-regulating systems has been the grasp of the significance of feedback, of the circular causal process, or, to express it more generally, interdependence. We ourselves are self-regulating systems; when we put out our hand for an apple, our movement sends back to us a continuous indication of where we are; similarly to the guided missile, we continuously correct for error as we seek our destination.

[line break added] The proportioning of our flow of effort in accordance with the flow of return information brings us to our goal with an accuracy which is impossible to the infant who, not yet able to bring these opposites into harmony, overshoots or undershoots his mark. The engineer, too, in developing a guided missile, must learn to synchronize error and correction of error to avoid “hunting,” excessive oscillation about the point of coordination in order to obtain a design that will carry out its assignment.

[line break added] Every purposive movement is composed of two processes, not one; their symmetry in action is the measure of its success. The “elegant” — or most successful — mathematical solution is that which has involved the least amount of hunting, as shown by its minimum number of steps.

[ … ]

… They saw the men about them coerced by outer pressure and inner weakness into a uniform grey pattern, assuming personalities that offered the least friction to the regimenting processes of machine civilization.

Ruskin was among the first to sound a warning that technical discipline was robbing men of creativity by atomizing their work, letting them see only a part and never an integrated whole:

We have much studied and much perfected, of late, the great civilized invention of the division of labor; only we give it a false name. It is not, truly speaking, the labor that is divided, but the man: divided into mere segments of man — broken into small fragments and crumbs; so that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in man is enough to make a pin or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the head of a pin or the point of a nail. Now it is a good and desirable thing, truly, to make many pins a day; but if we could only see with what crystal sand their points were polished — sand of human souls — we should think that there might be some loss in it also.

Sullivan, the great architect, justly complained that men had been deprived of imaginative and affective power, their closest tie with nature’s embracing wealth:

That is because they have lost natural spontaneity of feeling, the capacity to enjoy simple pleasures, and to discern the beautiful when it is before their eyes. To many people nature suggests nothing, signifies nothing, is nothing. When the sun sets it means for them that the light must be struck. When the trees and fields are rich in summer verdure, that means nothing — one mosquito will outbalance it all; when the trees are bare in autumn, that means nothing; the awakening of spring with all its fantasy of joy, of color, of youth means nothing to them — other than colds and wet feet.

My most recent previous post from Kepes’s book is here.




December 30, 2016

Angering for Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… imagination of the finest type involves an energy which results in order “as the motion of a snake’s body goes through all parts at once, and its violation acts at the same instant in coils that go contrary ways.”

This is from Marianne Moore’s review of Wallace Steven’s Harmonioum written for The Dial found in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore edited by Patricia C. Willis (1986):

… In its nimbleness con brio with seriousness, moreover, “Normal Exquisite” is a piece of that ferocity for which one values Mr. Stevens most:

As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth
The big-finned palm
And green vine angering for life.

Poetic virtuosities are allied — especially those of diction, imagery, and cadence. In no writer’s work are metaphors less “winter starved.” In “Architecture” Mr. Stevens asks:

How shall we hew the sun, …
How carve the violet moon
To set in nicks?

Pierce, too, with buttresses of coral air
And purple timbers,
Various argentines

and “The Comedian as the Letter C,” as the account of the craftsman’s un”simple jaunt,” is an expanded metaphor which becomes as one contemplates it, hypnotically incandescent like the rose tinged fringe of the night blooming cereus. One applauds those analogies derived from an enthusiasm for the sea:

She scuds the glitters,
Noiselessly, like one more wave.

The salt hung on his spirit like a frost,
The dead brine melted in him like a dew.

In his positiveness, aplomb, and verbal security, he has the mind and the method of China; in such controversial effects as:

Of what was it I was thinking?
So the meaning escapes,

and certainly in dogged craftsmanship. Infinitely conscious in his processes, he says:

Speak even as if I did not hear you speaking
But spoke for you perfectly in my thoughts.

One is not subject in reading him, to the disillusionment experienced in reading novices and charlatans who achieve flashes of beauty and immediately contradict the pleasure afforded by offending in precisely those respects in which they have pleased — showing that they are deficient in conscious artistry.

Imagination implies energy and imagination of the finest type involves an energy which results in order “as the motion of a snake’s body goes through all parts at once, and its violation acts at the same instant in coils that go contrary ways.”




December 29, 2016

In This Rivalry of Centers

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:04 am

… The two opposed schemes, the convergent and the concentric … penetrate each other in details of color and line …

This is from Vincent Van Gogh by Meyer Schapiro (2003). After a biographical synopsis, Schapiro does close readings of single pictures. Here he’s writing about Landscape with Ploughed Fields painted in 1889:

A landscape with two centers: the observer’s viewpoint, indicated by the violet furrows converging hurriedly to a point behind the dark trees at the left horizon, and accompanied by rushing streams of contrasted, colored strokes in the field; the second is the great sun at the right, with its concentric rings of yellow and orange strokes, reaching beyond the horizon and the frame, and complementary to the violet tones of the other vista and to the blues in the mountains below.

In this rivalry of centers we feel some relation to human conflict, a tension between the self and its goals. It has also a pictorial value as a dynamic means of expression and design. The two opposed schemes, the convergent and the concentric, are broken and varied, and penetrate each other in details of color and line, which also intensify the living reality of the scene. An irregular diagonal path moves across the field, cutting the main furrows and anticipating in the observer’s foreground space the rhythms of the distant shadows and hills. These long wavy forms are in turn contrasted with the straight lines of the enclosing wall.

With all these vigorous oppositions, the color is of an enchanting subtlety. Van Gogh has accepted the magic of sunrise coloring as a model and a source, and tried to capture its variations and poetic suggestiveness in pigment tones. In the yellow-green foreground field, he introduces long violet strips in the furrows and smaller touches of green and purplish reds play against violet and blue.

[line break added] And in the sky, within the prevailing luminosity, yellow gives way, at the sides, to cooler tones. Throughout, the color retains a woven texture; it is a continuous interplay of tiny contrasts and possesses, besides the energy of flashing points, the dynamism of great currents of colored particles moving in a single direction, varied from object to object, from region to region of the space.

Vincent van Gogh, Landscape with Ploughed Fields, 1889

My previous post from Schapiro’s book is here.




December 28, 2016

Other Glances Deposited and Hidden

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… everything returns to normal and nothing is left on the beach except for one single forgotten bone.

This is from the essay ‘Italian Landscape’ 1989 found in The Complete Essays 1973-1991 by Luigi Ghirri (2016):

… My Italian Landscape photographs came into being for different reasons and purposes, but in the end I saw that they were linked by a common connecting thread: a leitmotif that traverses themes, spaces, and objects as if chance and disconnected narration had mysteriously discovered its logic. I realized that it was useless to adopt a different way of organizing the materials which might suggest other paths; I preferred instead to mix up the cards, tracking down other glances deposited and hidden in some corner of my head.

from Italian Landscape

Next is from ‘The Impossible Landscape’ 1989:

… Lining them up one after another, these places form a sort of strange sequence consisting of stones, churches, gestures, lights, fogs, frost-covered branches, blue seas; they become our impossible landscape, without scale, without a geographic order to orient us; a tangle of monuments, lights, thoughts, objects, moments, analogies from our landscapes of the mind, which we seek out even unconsciously every time we look out a window into the openness of the outside world, as if they were the points of an imaginary compass that indicate a possible direction.

Finally, from ‘View From the Car Window’ 1990. This was a review of a book of photographs by Giuliano Grossi (whom I can’t find via Google):

… In one of his short stories, [The Drowned Giant], Ballard writes about the skeleton of an enormous and unknown animal, inexplicably washed up near a small town on the Atlantic. The unusual size of the carcass attracts people from the surrounding towns, who, once their amazement and fears have subsided, slowly draw closer to this outsider, this ‘Gulliver,’ and start to take it to pieces, collecting the bones to make bar signs or monuments or garden sculptures. Soon, everything returns to normal and nothing is left on the beach except for one single forgotten bone.

And yet, here in Grossi’s pictures there are no ‘souvenirs’ with which to decorate homes but fragments of reality that constitute a vision; it’s a bit like a car journey when we overtake a lorry or are overtaken in return and a succession of diverse images appear framed in the side window: sections of wheels, mudguards, logos, painted mountains, sacred images, colored lines, names and words, and all this alongside allusions to the lorry’s cargo: mountains of newspapers, boxes, biscuits, pianos, chickens, cars, cans and sandwiches — appearing like a photographic sequence in its own right.

by Luigi Ghirri

My most recent previous post from Ghirri’s book is here.




December 27, 2016

Only Changing, Never Growing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… Because he doesn’t let nature take him by surprise, but always has to take it by surprise, he doesn’t allow the total experience of the subject in all its richness to flood in and carry him along with it.

This is from ‘Picasso I’ (1960) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

There is a tendency in modern art towards the isolation of one aesthetic quality or another, say, linear tension, luminosity, weight or weightlessness or both of them contrasted, compositional geometry, contrasts of texture, the sense of movement, the flatness-depth duality. A modern work will often, rather than embrace and reconcile several such qualities, be concentrated towards possessing one or two of them to an extreme degree.

[line break added] The quality isolated doesn’t merely acquire an especial intensity; it is as it were placed there on exhibition, it is exposed. For it is not predicated of something but, rather, offered for our contemplation as if it were itself a thing. A picture is not about, say, the weight of the dead Christ but about weight, not about the surging movement of a Bacchanalian revel but surging movement.

Picasso’s position among modern artists is connected with his genius for isolating particular aesthetic qualities with an unequaled ruthlessness and brilliance, and for doing it to an unequalled range and diversity of qualities. He does it, moreover, with no fear at all of being obvious [i.e. he doesn’t care that it is obvious].

[ … ]

Picasso’s compulsion to isolate particular aesthetic qualities is analogous to his habit of breaking down the human figure into fragments and building some of them up into a new construction within which the fragments retain their separate identities. He breaks down art into its several elements and exhibits them separately.

… It is because the pattern of his career in its entirety is so thrilling that he is magnified by an exhibition on the colossal scale of the Tate’s, where most artists would be diminished by its size. One walks about in these rooms in a state of amazement, vastly excited, and vastly entertained.

But if one can bear to drag oneself away to take a look at Bonnard’s La Table [see below] and Matisse’s portrait of Derain downstairs and then return to the Picassos, they now look curiously inert. One had imagined under the spell of Picasso seen whole, that modern painting just couldn’t be better than this: one had forgotten how much an individual great modern painting could do, that it can offer a dimension beyond Picasso’s scope (as one forgets when watching a first-rate film that the theater can offer a further dimension than this).

[line break added] A dimension is missing as the result of a too urgent and all-embracing compulsion to isolate particular qualities. Picasso seems to decide what it is that he wants to abstract from his subject, and then to shut his eyes and mind to it until he has given form to his decision and can make a fresh start on something else. Not necessarily on a different canvas, perhaps only on a different image, but on a different image. The film The Picasso Mystery is illuminating about this.

[line break added] It shows the myriad transformations undergone by a big painting of a beach scene, and each transformation is a change of image, never, as with the successive states that were photographed of paintings by Matisse, a further stage in the evolution of an image. The transformations are like those in the pattern seen in a kaleidoscope, forever forming and re-forming as it is shaken up, but only changing, never growing, whereas transformations in Matisse belong to a process of growth.

[line break added] There is no growth because each change cancels rather than qualifies what was there before: Picasso doesn’t allow the experience of a subject over a period of time, with every alteration of heart and mind and perception that occurs, to accrete in a single painting in which every successive layer of the experience is somehow still active. Because he doesn’t let nature take him by surprise, but always has to take it by surprise, he doesn’t allow the total experience of the subject in all its richness to flood in and carry him along with it.

[line break added] He maintains his omnipotence by keeping his separate experiences of the subject in separate compartments. The dialectical process is excluded by which a stage negates what has gone before, which is again negated and so forth, so that at the end of a series of contradictions [by other artists who do] we are left with a distillation of the sustained experience.

Pierre Bonnard, La Table, 1925

… The greatest paintings don’t need the context of a great one-man exhibition.

My most recent previous post from Sylvester’s book is here.




December 26, 2016

Those Who Put to Use the Contradictions of Their Character

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

Guston never erased the sign that gave his creations life …

This is from ‘Preface: P.G. All in All’ by Robert Storr at the beginning of the essay collection Go Figure! New Perspectives on Guston edited by Peter Benson Miller (2014):

… Chief among the lessons Guston still has to teach is the necessity of constantly messing up the tidy models of artistic “progress” that aesthetic ideologues and tastemakers keep handing down from on high. Of greater importance, however, is the example Guston set of the imaginative and critical freedom available to artists who explore, put to the test, and make their own the widest range of possibilities within their grasp at any given moment (choosing a negative “existentialist” formulation to articulate a quixotically positive ambition, Guston titled two essays of 1965 “Piero della Francesca: The Impossibility of Painting” and “Faith, Hope and Impossibility”), as well as the opportunities available to those who fully account for and put to use the sharper contradictions of their character and of their time.

[line break added]  Guston was never an autobiographical painter per se, nor was he a “history painter” in the traditional sense of that term. Yet his work breathes — and sometimes gasps and wheezes — lived experience, and he crammed more of it into a relatively short span than most of his generation while often seeming to be ahead or behind the pack. But just how ahead of or behind his time was Guston during any given period of his career, just how out of step?

… The critical reception and historical accounts of postwar American art have long been and seem forever fated to be bound to patently false chronologies and dubious determinisms. Accordingly, Guston remains assured a place as the indispensable piece of the puzzle that never fits, the perpetual exception to the rule. When it comes to aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic) lawgivers, he is, by example, among the ever-vigorous spoilers who renew faith in individual intuition just when it seems that professional and public consensus has swept the field, and especially when — as is now occurring — academics try to co-opt his achievement in order to contain dissent and reinforce orthodoxy.

[line break added]  Guston was always more interested in the act of painting than in the vogue for action painting and, later on, was more committed to telling stories than he ever would have been worrying over “the problematics of narrativity and/or performativity,” to borrow bits of currently fashionable critical jargon.

… the essential truth is that at just the moment when midcentury academic modernists in North America were declaring painting dead or, shy of that, dismissing it as culturally and politically retrograde, a leading member of a former avant-garde approaching the end of its tether abruptly changed course and gave painting fresh things to do and, by means of painting, gave his country a jarring wakeup call.

[ … ]

… unlike the legendary sixteenth-century Rabbi Low of Prague, who conjured up the first golem, Guston never erased the sign that gave his creations life, so that to this day they quiver and will forever continue to quiver with a raucous, soulful, and altogether uncanny vitality.

Prague reproduction of the golem




December 25, 2016

Only His Own

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… he can see and understand only his own consciousness. He is in no way enriched. In what belongs to others he recognizes only his own.

This is from Speech Genres & Other Late Essays by M.M. Bakhtin (1986):

… The event that has an observer, however distant, closed, and passive he may be, is already a different event (see Zosima’s “mysterious visitor”). The problem of the second consciousness in the human sciences. Questions (questionnaires) that change the consciousness of the individual being questioned.

The inexhaustibility of the second consciousness, that is, consciousness of the person who understands and responds: herein lies a potential infinity of responses, languages, codes.

… When consciousness appeared in the world (in existence) and, perhaps, when biological life appeared (perhaps not only animals, but trees and grass also witness and judge), the world (existence) changed radically. A stone is still stony and the sun still sunny, but the event of existence as a whole (unfinalized) becomes completely different because a new and major character in this event appears for the first time on the scene of earthly existence — the witness and the judge.

[line break added] And the sun, while remaining physically the same, has changed because it has begun to be cognized by the witness and the judge. It has stopped simply being and has started being in itself and for itself (these categories appear for the first time here) as well as for the other, because it has been reflected in the consciousness of the other (the witness and the judge): this has caused it to change radically, to be enriched and transformed.

[ … ]

… The exclusive orientation toward recognizing, searching only for the familiar (that which has already been), does not allow the new to reveal itself (i.e. the fundamental, unrepeatable totality). Quite frequently, methods of explanation and interpretation are reduced to this kind of disclosure of the repeatable, to a recognition of the already familiar, and, if the new is grasped at all, it is only in an extremely impoverished and abstract form.

[line break added] Moreover, the individual personality of the creator (speaker), of course, disappears completely. Everything that is repeatable and recognizable is fully dissolved and assimilated solely by the consciousness of the person who understands: in the other’s consciousness he can see and understand only his own consciousness. He is in no way enriched. In what belongs to others he recognizes only his own.

My most recent previous post from Bakhtin’s book is here.




December 24, 2016

Rituals of Strife

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… Idioms developed for one field may be applied to phenomena encountered in the other.

Continuing through The New Landscape in Art and Science by Gyorgy Kepes (1956; 1967):

… The difference of energy potential of high and low, warm and cold, positive and negative are the causes of physical action, and the differences in potential of nerve fibers are the basis of neural activity; the collision between the known and the confronted unknown generates human purpose and understanding.

[line break added] The conflicts between man and his environment, between man and woman, between man and man, between group and group are the motive forces that shape technique, culture and human history. Early myths symbolized life’s processes — childhood, adolescence, maturity and old age; and the succession of the seasons, days and nights and the movements of the heavenly bodies — as rituals of strife between cosmos and chaos, between the divine powers and the powers of evil.

… To comprehend nature’s visible records as dynamic counterparts of artistic expression is to find a common key to the morphology of our inner world and the morphology of natural processes. Idioms developed for one field may be applied to phenomena encountered in the other. Articulating our inner world with metaphors drawn from the form events of outer realities, exploring outer realities with the morphological content of inner experience, we may read the significance of the patterns we meet today.

For in the same way as we learned to read the differences between the eruptive violence of an angry man’s lashing fist and the caress of a mother’s hand, or between the orderly growth of a twig and the erratic darting of an amoeba shapelessly pouring itself into a chain of asymmetry, so can we discern the differences of direction, meaning and scope of a new multitude of resembling patterns: a flow of fluid passing an obstruction, a Schlieren photograph of heated air around a Bunsen flame, a solar prominence shooting 140,000 miles high.


My most recent previous post from Kepes’s book is here.




December 23, 2016

Letting Go

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… letting go is continuous with hanging on, because the number series continues to contain what is at each moment left behind or gone beyond.

Continuing through In Defence of Quantity: Living by Numbers by Steven Connor (2016):

… When I listen to music, what do I hear? Well, I hear ‘the music’ to be sure, though perhaps I never hear all of the music, and not being able to get my ears round all of it may be part of what that listening involves. Listening is a counting that is not able to take account of everything. But the fact that I must bring myself into a condition of intonation in order to listen means that I listen to something more. Music is a making manifest of listening itself, a listening made musical by lending an ear to itself. Music is the imaginary matter of this listening.

… it is a making apparent of how much is not apparent to me of how I make myself up as I go along.

… What kind of thing is a listening consciousness? It is consciousness as a mode of self-collecting, in the way, perhaps, in which one is said to ‘collect one’s thoughts.’ Collecting in this manner is founded upon the movement from one to two, as it is described by Fred Kersten:

The form ‘Pair,’ or the form ‘Plurality,’ is actualized (or conferred) by virtue of an active collecting (specifically, an active counting or colligating). In the presentation of a pair, we discriminate not only the perceiving, grasping and objectivating ‘This’ and ‘That,’ each as self-identical and numerically distinct from one another, but we also can discriminate the active grasping of ‘This’ and then going on to actively grasp ‘That,’ still holding ‘This’ in grip, but still keeping ‘This’ and ‘That’ separate. Indeed, the constituting of a pair proves to be the foundation for collecting and counting.

Collecting, like counting, means adding items one by one (they have to be items, or functionally identical units) to a loose, mobile, quasi-totality, without having to hold the whole of the growing sum and all its constituent elements. In counting, letting go is continuous with hanging on, because the number series continues to contain what is at each moment left behind or gone beyond. One need not be or remain conscious of everything one experiences, or experiences of oneself, precisely because one has the relation to oneself of being able to count through. Number, and perhaps only something like number, allows for this kind of coherence-in-dehiscence, this ‘numeric matter.’

… Listening gives our listening to itself in a way that seems to externalize or automatize it, relieving us of the need to keep hold of ourselves. We do not need to keep the count as long as music is doing the counting, and that counting forms a numeric matter that lets us hear ourselves. It is the pleasure, when it is, of a work that just ‘works,’ a work that does all the work for itself.

My most recent previous post from Connor’s book is here.




December 22, 2016

The Green Clock at the Midnight Hour

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… all this in an atmosphere like a devil’s furnace …

This is from Vincent Van Gogh by Meyer Schapiro (2003). After a biographical synopsis, Schapiro does close readings of single pictures. Here he’s writing about The Night Café, painted in 1888:

Van Gogh judged The Night Café, which he painted for his landlord to pay the rent, “one of the ugliest pictures I have done.” Yet it gave him great joy to paint, and there are few works on which he has written with more conviction.


… let us quote his own strong description:

I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green.

The room is blood red and dark yellow with a green billiard table in the middle; there are four lemon yellow lamps with a glow of orange and green. Everywhere there is a clash and contrast of the most alien reds and greens in the figures of little sleeping hooligans, in the empty dreary room, in violet and blue. The blood red and yellow green of the billiard table contrast with the soft tender Louis XV green of the counter on which there is a nosegay of rose color. The white coat of the patron, on vigil in a corner of this furnace, turns lemon yellow, or pale luminous green.

Some days later, he wrote: “I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin one’s self, run mad or commit a crime. So I have tried to express as it were the powers of darkness in a low drink shop … and all this in an atmosphere like a devil’s furnace, of pale sulphur, all under an appearance of Japanese gaiety and the good nature of Tartarin.”

In his account, van Gogh says nothing of one of the most powerful effects: the absorbing perspective, which draws us headlong past empty chairs and tables into hidden depths behind a distant doorway — an opening like the silhouette of the standing figure. To the impulsive rush of these converging lines he opposes the broad horizontal band of red, full of scattered objects: the lights with their great halos of concentric touches, the green clock at the midnight hour, and the bouquet of flowers, painted with an incredible fury of thick patches against the smooth wall above the crowd of bottles.




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