Unreal Nature

January 31, 2017

Some Sort of Reverie

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… without lapsing into illustration (the result of the painter taking his eyes off the characters in the story in order to concentrate on making them tell it, and so having to use clichés to represent them).

This is from ‘Andrews’ (1958) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996). Please note that only one of the Andrews pictures I’ve chosen was painted before 1958 when this piece was published:

Michael Andrews, A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over, 1952

… The pictures are sparely hung, for all that they are a selection from the work of seven years. The paint has been put on diffidently: even where it has become physically thick through prolonged overworking, it does not give an impression of thickness. And the overall impact, so far from being one of blazing certitude, is of works that are unsure of themselves.

Their tentativeness, all the same, is very far from giving them a tenuousness. On the contrary, every one of them has a substance and a presence, the substance and presence of a necessary utterance. Each seems the result of a particular obsession, nothing seems painted for the sake of painting another canvas. We suspect that many a talented painter would produce an exhibition out of the thought Andrews puts into one picture, for we sense that each of his pictures embodies a period of life, an accumulation of experience.

But in spite of all that has gone into them — or more likely because of it — these paintings all look unresolved, with that endearingly unprofessional uneasy look that is so common in English paintings of figure-subjects: it is most frequently found in the work of minor artists of the eighteenth century, but even at the highest level, most Stubbses have it, as do Turner’s portraits. It is as if the artist had had to learn the language of his painting as he painted it, learn it more or less from scratch.

Michael Andrews, Colony Room, 1962

But Andrew’s awkwardness is not only an aspect of his pronounced Englishness. It is also the awkwardness of almost every modern painter who has not been content to solve his problems by simplifying them. Modern art, since Monet, has been a series of extreme statements, which is to say partial statements: its glory has been its demonstration of how much can be eliminated of the traditional apparatus of art without eliminating art. The modern artist who aims at the inclusiveness of traditional European art runs up against the difficulty of recovering that inclusiveness without embracing what have become the clichés of the tradition, and the awkwardness arises from trying to have one without the other.

Andrews, in his delicately bungling fashion, has in some ways gone remarkably far towards surmounting this dilemma. In the first place, he has succeeded in making every picture tell a story, as pictures used to do, without employing expressionistic deformations to drive home the point and without lapsing into illustration (the result of the painter taking his eyes off the characters in the story in order to concentrate on making them tell it, and so having to use clichés to represent them). The story is always some sort of reverie about life in our time, rather as early Bonnards are reveries about contemporary life.

Michael Andrews, Melanie and Me Swimming, 1978-79

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




January 30, 2017

The License He Gave Himself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… looking at them one by one, they provoke a bright mortal vertigo that only an artist of rigorous talent could have brought back from the edge to show us …

This is from the essay ‘At Last Light’ by Robert Storr found in Willem de Kooning: The Late Paintings, the 1980s (1995):

… Author of several of the great masterpieces of modern art — and to no other artist of his era is the honorific “master,” in both its artisanal and paradigm-setting sense, better suited — de Kooning nevertheless regarded his “minorpieces” and outright failures as of almost equal importance. With the works of his final years above all, we should do the same, for we have never before seen their like.

The story of how they came into being is complicated in detail but simple in essence. It is a melancholy and, occasionally, a distressing one as well. The purpose in telling it is not to add to the legends associated with artists of his generation– legends that have tended to obscure their work and caricature their natures in the minds of the general public and specialists alike. Instead, the reasons for the narrative analysis that follows are twofold. The first is to dispel the ill-informed speculation that has tainted the authenticity of these paintings and so endangers the artist’s reputation as a whole.

[line break added] The second is to describe the actual conditions and profoundly human constraints under which de Kooning worked during the 1980s so that those approaching the paintings, rather than being distracted by what they don’t know about them, can be freed by what they do know to lose themselves, eyes and mind open, in the brilliant undulating space de Kooning suffused with his ultimate energy and into which he then disappeared.


… As delighted as those surrounding de Kooning were to see the new work when it came, no one in 1979 and 1980 had anticipated the quantity of paintings or the evolutionary changes they entailed.

… all who closely watched the change in momentum occur agree on its basic causes. “By then,” [studio assistant Tom] Ferrara believes, “he’d made a conscious decision to be less self-critical, to err on the side of underworking rather than overworking [as he tended to do during the 1940s and 1950s]. He was trying to simplify, to concentrate on something he was best at, which is drawing. He had a warm, a cool, and a white. He knew his days were dwindling and he was propelled. He was not struggling. He wasn’t trying to prove anything. He was just doing. It became like breathing. He just breathed them out.”

… Whether expressed as solicitude or apologetic disparagement, the critical overcompensation for age frequently shown these paintings derives, I think, less from their appearance than from the way they disturb the composite mental picture many people have of the New York School of the 1940s and 1950s. Abstract Expressionism, to paraphrase W.B. Yeats, was not a country for old men. As things turned out, in fact, relatively few of de Kooning’s generation reached that status. Hard living took its toll early …

… in surveying the turgid mass of average 1980s painting, one is forced to conclude that the future of the art form rested at least as much with the old hands as with a rising vanguard that too often contented itself with acts of appropriation that recycled the images and mannerisms of its predecessors.

Setting the terms of this intergenerational relationship, Guston’s artistic transformation from Abstract Expressionist prince to Neo-Expressionist frog not only laid the groundwork for younger artists working in similarly bold, iconic modes but placed him — despite obvious differences of motive and experience — in a forward position among their ranks that would have made any falsely “hip” move on his part look ridiculous and any unearned old-masterisms on their immediately detectable.

[line break added] His activity reinforced theirs and vice versa, making him in this period of aesthetic transition the artistic peer, not the parent, of Susan Rothenberg, Elizabeth Murray, and their contemporaries. If you wanted to know what a brush could do, how forms reacted to pressure, or how it felt to be alive at that time, you could look at Guston, just as you would artists thirty or forty years his junior, and be assured that the answer forthcoming was in the present tense. Although he died in the first year of the decade, Guston’s late work is as much a part of “The Eighties” as it is a chapter in either his own unfolding story or that of his exact coevals.

De Kooning’s canvases of the 1980s are “Eighties” paintings by the same token. The difficulties he posed and the license he gave himself set a mark by which others then active can be measured. In scanning the thinly apportioned webbing of Brice Marden’s mid-1980s to mid-1990s canvases, for example, one inevitably thinks of de Kooning’s discursive tracery.

[line break added] Conversely, the raked color sediments of Gerhard Richter’s recent abstractions flash in the mind as one scrutinizes the scraped-down layers of de Kooning’s palette-knife drawn pictures from 1980 to 1982. Stylistic debts or coincidences are of less interest in this regard than decisiveness and freshness of effect. While he plainly could not match the strenuous exertions of those who gave “The Eighties” its period look, de Kooning did not need to make his presence felt.

[line break added] Instead, he could occupy a place on the scene much like the one Merce Cunningham, in recent years, has assumed amidst those performing the choreography he once danced full tilt. Shuffling through the racing flurry of younger bodies, Cunningham now arrives on stage, plants his painfully arthritic feet squarely on the floor, and extends his arms in stop-start motions of such space-shaping precision and emotional eloquence that the movements of the finely trained chorus around him may seem, by comparison, cramped and jerky.

Willem de Kooning, Untitled VI, 1983

… The de Kooning of anguished uncertainties is but one dimension of the painter’s complex and evolving character. The de Kooning who suffered and aged but succeeded in creating images of an almost disembodied beauty is another. Looking forward to these paintings from those of his youth and maturity, there is much to be learned. Looking back from them to his earlier, more celebrated work should, in time, correct the myth-restricted perspective long imposed upon it. Looking at them as a self-sufficient group, they reveal a formal and emotional scope that is astounding.

[line break added] Lastly, looking at them one by one, they provoke a bright mortal vertigo that only an artist of rigorous talent could have brought back from the edge to show us — and that only de Kooning has done thus far. In the end, therefore, it is not just identification with or compassion for the man that compels our attention, though as we watch him approach the final days of his creative existence such feelings play a justly greater part in our appreciation of his work. It is what he saw in the evanescent light and what he made of it that matters most.




January 29, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

… in order to live and act, I need to be unconsummated, I need to be open for myself … I have to be, for myself, someone who is axiologically yet-to-be, someone who does not coincide with his already existing makeup.

This is from the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… The author is the bearer and sustainer of the intently active unity of a consummated whole (the whole of a hero and the whole of a work) which is transgredient to each and every one of its particular moments or constituent features. As a whole which consummates the hero, this whole is in principle incapable of being given to us from within the hero, insofar as we “identify” ourselves with the hero and experience his life from within him.

[line break added] The hero cannot live by this whole, he cannot be guided by it in his own lived experiences and actions, for it is a whole that descends upon him — is bestowed upon him as a gift — from another active consciousness: from the creative consciousness of an author. The author’s consciousness is the consciousness of a consciousness, that is, a consciousness that encompasses the consciousness and the world of the hero — a consciousness that encompasses and consummates the consciousness of a hero by supplying those moments which are in principle transgredient to the hero’s consciousness and which, if rendered immanent, would falsify this consciousness.

[line break added] The author not only sees and knows everything seen and known by each hero individually and by all the heroes collectively, but he also sees and knows more than they do; moreover, he sees and knows something that is in principle inaccessible to them. And it is precisely in this invariably determinate and stable excess of the author’s seeing and knowing in relation to each hero that we find all those moments that bring about the consummation of the whole — the whole of each hero as well as the whole of the event which constitutes their life and in which they jointly participate, i.e. the whole of a work.

… The author … orients the hero and the hero’s own cognitive-ethical orientation within a world of being that is in principle consummated, that is, within a world which derives its value, independently of the yet-to-be meaning of the event of a lived life, purely from the concrete manifoldness of its already existing makeup. If I am consummated and my life is consummated, I am no longer capable of living and acting. For in order to live and act, I need to be unconsummated, I need to be open for myself — at least in all the essential moments constituting my life; I have to be, for myself, someone who is axiologically yet-to-be, someone who does not coincide with his already existing makeup.

… all these moments or costituents of our life that we recognize and anticipate through the other are rendered completely immanent to our own consciousness, are translated, as it were, into its language: they do not attain any consolidation and self-sufficiency in our consciousness, and they do not disrupt the unity of our own life — a life that finds no rest within itself and never coincides with its given, presently existing makeup.

… Even if we succeeded in encompassing the whole of our consciousness as consummated in the other, this whole would not be able to take possession of us and really consummate us for ourselves: our consciousness would take that whole into account and would surmount it as just one of the moments in its own unity (which is not a unity that is given but a unity that is set as a task and in its essentials, is yet-to-be).

[line break added] The last word, that is, would still belong to our own consciousness rather than to the consciousness of another, and our own consciousness would never say to itself the word that would consummate it. After looking at ourselves through the eyes of another, we always return — in life — into ourselves again, and the final, or, as it were, recapitulative event takes place within ourselves in the categories of our own life.

… the author [on the other hand] must move the very center of value from the hero’s existence as a compelling task into his existence as a beautiful given; instead of hearing and agreeing with the hero, the author must see all of him in the fullness of the present and admire him as such.

… If there is only one unitary and unique participant, there can be no aesthetic event. An absolute consciousness, a consciousness that has nothing transgredient in itself, nothing situated outside itself and capable of delimiting it from outside — such a consciousness cannot be “aestheticized”; one can commune in it, but it cannot be seen as a whole that is capable of being consummated. An aesthetic event can take place only when there are two participants present; it presupposes two noncoinciding consciousnesses.

[line break added] When the hero and the author coincide or when they find themselves standing either next to one another in the face of a value they share or against one another as antagonists, the aesthetic event ends and an ethical event begins (polemical tract, manifesto, speech of accusation or of praise and gratitude, invective, confession as a self-accounting, etc.). When there is no hero at all, not even a potential form, then we have to do with an event that is cognitive (treatise, article, lecture). And, finally, when the other consciousness is the encompassing consciousness of God, a religious event takes place (prayer, worship, ritual).

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




January 28, 2017

Involved in the Experience

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… If one sees on scales a pound of iron balancing a pound of feathers, one becomes involved in the experience …

This is from Language of Vision by Gyorgy Kepes (1944):

… A picture-surface becomes a vital spatial world, not only in the sense that the spatial forces are acting on it — moving, falling and circulating — but also in the sense that between these movements the field itself is charged with action. The actual visual elements are only the focal points of this field; they are the concentrated energy. Color, value, texture, point, line and area radiate different amounts of energy, and thus each element or quality can encompass a different radius of the picture-surface. These fields extend into every dimension and each field has its own unique form.


… Just as any force can be manifested only through resistance to an opposite force, so spatial forces may be perceived only as they meet opposing spatial forces. A random placing of spatial forces, point, line, area, will open the picture-plane, but because these forces are so haphazardly arranged, they will not reach a balanced constellation in which they are equal in strength and opposite in direction. The picture surface is made hollow; the two-dimensional background, the frame of reference in which the spatial movements can be measured is missing. The spatial vitality cannot reach full maturity.

If the forces and their induced fields are of equal optical quality and spatial strength, a balance will be reached, but it will be without tension, static and lifeless. If, however, one knows how to estimate the forces and their energy-field, he will be able to use such opposing fields so that each will balance the other on the picture-plane.

[line break added] A line or shape in a certain color and position will have a field opened and advancing toward the spectator; another unit will create a field in a receding direction; another will activate a field tending upward on the surface; and yet another, down. Those movements may be different in terms of their optical measures and qualities — that is, opposite in direction, weight, intensity — but, if they are equal in strength in terms of their spatial fields, a dynamic equilibrium will be reached on the picture surface.

If one sees on scales a pound of iron balancing a pound of feathers, one becomes involved in the experience because of the apparent optical contradiction in logic. One is forced to think about the nature of the opposing materials and grasp their further relationships. The sight of an adult balanced by a small child on a see-saw, because of their different distances from the center of gravity, induces a similar experience.


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




January 27, 2017

The Prime Initiation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:26 am

… It is in “the waste of time, of passion, of curiosity, of contact — that true initiation resides” …

This is from ‘The Hawk and the Butterfly’ (1934) found in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore edited by Patricia C. Willis (1986):

… Blue belongs to the church; also to the poet, and it is not a surprise to find in the work of an author who lives in Ireland “the stars and the deep blue they swim in,” the blue hem embroidered with roses, “tombs of lapis lazuli,” the blue-eyed hawk, unicorns with aquamarine eyes, and a “low blue hill flooded with evening light.” Mr. Yeats speaks of having a ring on which are a hawk and a butterfly — “the straight line of logic” and “the zigzag of imagination”; and often becomes the symbol — that is to say, is “the sign of a moral thing” — and is his mask, which he defines as “that which is one and toward which one moves.”

… “All things are from antithesis” the poem says — “out of hell or down from heaven. We cannot have unmixed emotions. There is always something in our enemy that we like, and in our sweetheart that we dislike. It is the entanglement of moods which makes us old” — “yes and no”; “maybe and perhaps.” As opposed to “those intuitions of coming power which every creator feels,” “the dark powers cling about us day and night, like bats upon an old tree.” From Leda’s egg hatched Love and War and Mr. Yeats wonders to what extent the hatred of Synge and James Joyce for Ireland, is love.

This next is from ‘Henry James as a Characteristic American’ (1934):

… Education for him, in a large sense, was conversation. Speaking of Cambridge, he said, “When the Norton woods, nearby massed themselves in scarlet and orange, and when to penetrate and mount a stair and knock at a door, and, enjoying response, then sink into a window-bench and inhale at once the vague golden November and the thick suggestion of the room where nascent ‘thought’ had again and again piped or wailed, was to taste as I had never done before, the poetry of the prime initiation and of associated growth.”

… A child is not a student of “history and custom, … manners and types”; but to say that Henry James as a child was “a-throb” with the instinct for meanings barely suggests the formidable paraphernalia which he was even then gathering. It is in “the waste of time, of passion, of curiosity, of contact — that true initiation resides,” he said later; and no scene, strange accent, no adventure — experienced or vicarious — was irrelevant.

[line break added] When older, he alluded to “the maidenly letters” of Emerson; but in New York, Emerson had been strange and wonderful to the child he had invited “to draw near to him, off the hearth-rug.” He was “an apparition sinuously and elegantly slim, … commanding a tone alien to any we had heard round about”; and the schoolmate Louis De Coppet, in “his French treatment of certain of our native local names, Ohio and Iowa for instance, which he rendered … O-hee-oh and Ee-o-wah, … opened vistas.”

[line break added] He said, “There hung about the Wards, to my sense, that atmosphere of apples and nuts … and jacknives and ‘squrruls,’ of domestic Bible-reading and attendance at ‘evening lecture,’ of the fear of parental discipline and the cultivated art of dodging it, combined with great personal toughness and hardihood”; and there was ” ‘Stiffy’ Norcom … whom we supposed gorgeous. … (Divided I was, I recall, between the dread and the glory of being so greeted, ‘Well, Stiffy — !’ as a penalty for the least attempt at personal adornment.)”

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




January 26, 2017

The Observer’s Odd Way of Looking

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… Within the conflicting, intersecting systems of the lines, van Gogh has introduced connecting parallels and continuities.

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 Chair and Pipe painted in 1889:

The Chair and Pipe, 1889

… The chair, a familiar object that we scarcely know after years of use, has been transposed to the canvas with great fervor; its form and weight and rigidity and texture have been realized in a most complete manner. Van Gogh’s conviction about the importance of this chair penetrates us and holds us, until we feel a mystery in its presence. This mystery grows when we see the chair in its surroundings, which are also tangible objects but incomplete; none is an object-for-a-spectator, none has been singled out for a privileged presentation.

[line break added] Underneath the simplicity of the objects, we encounter the difficult involvements of coexistence in the unsteady bewildering crisscross of the chair legs and rungs with the joints of the tiles — an involvement that is mostly an affair of chance juxtaposition and perspective, the observer’s odd way of looking, which determines an intricacy useless for our knowledge of the chair and ordinarily unnoticed. But not altogether so, for the oblique position of the chair frees it from the surroundings and suggests the freedom of the human being in this rigid geometrical world.

Within the conflicting, intersecting systems of the lines, van Gogh has introduced connecting parallels and continuities. Clearest is the yellowish right angle traced on the door and fitted precisely to the leg of the chair. At the foremost lower rung a zigzag line of the floor reaches from leg to leg. The crossing lines of the rush seat belong as much to the network of the floor as of the chair.

The color too has an aspect of intricacy in the scale and contact of tones. In the high-keyed scheme, the richly varied yellow, strengthened by the white wall, lies between the orange-red tiles and the cool green door, and is recalled in both through yellowish lines that repeat the directions of the chair. Correspondingly, the blue-green of the door reappears in blue outlines of the yellow rungs and legs, and the darkest brown tones of the tiles and in other contours of the chair.

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




January 25, 2017

The Differences

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 am

… individuals momentarily confronting their own singularity challenge us to do the same.

This is from the title essay by Jeff L. Rosenheim in Diane Arbus: In the Beginning (2016):

There are and have been and will be an infinite number of things on earth:
individuals all different, all wanting different things, all knowing
different things, all loving different things, all looking different.
Everything that has been on earth has been different from any other thing.
That is what I love: the differences, the uniqueness of all things
and the importance of life. … I see something that seems wonderful;
I see the divineness in ordinary things. — Diane Arbus, high-school essay on Plato, 1939

In a high-school essay on Plato that she wrote at the age of sixteen, Diane Arbus described her sense of what was waiting to be discovered out there in the world. Her fascination with the differences between all things and, more significantly, between all people may have been part of what initially compelled her to pick up the camera. It certainly permeates her work from the beginning of her picture making in 1956 and sustains it to the end of her life fifteen years later.

… When Arbus first ventured into the New York City streets to photograph, she was exploring much of the same terrain — pedestrians in Times Square, bathers at Coney Island, street fairs in Little Italy — as her predecessors and contemporaries, from Paul Strand and Walker Evans to Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, among others.

[line break added] Each had a distinct way of working and, with the striking exception of Arbus, a way of remaining anonymous. To hide his intentions and make candid portraits, Strand attached a fake lens to the side of his camera; Evans secreted his camera in the folds of a winter coat to photograph fellow subway passengers; Helen Levitt fixed a right-angle finder to her 35mm Leica to record kids at play in Spanish Harlem.

[line break added] Leon Levinstein and Louis Faurer found more subtle ways to hide in plain sight. Friedlander, in an ironic sleight of hand, manages to disappear by making himself or his doppelgänger the subject. Both William Klein and Winogrand use the force of their physical presence as the invisible center of their pictures, while in Robert Frank’s work, a lyrical absence resonates at the heart of the matter.

All these photographers developed strategies to remain personally disengaged and largely detached from their subjects, convinced that as documentarians the only legitimate record was one in which they themselves appear to play little or no role. By contrast, Arbus was looking for the poignancy of a direct personal encounter: “For me the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated.” This longing to know, this curiosity about the hidden nature of what she was photographing, coupled with her belief in the power of the camera to make that visible, is, above all, what sets her apart.

… In reacting to Arbus and her camera, her subjects are revealed almost as if they were alone, catching a brief glimpse of themselves in a shop window or a mirror. The exchange on both sides of the camera — of seeing and being seen — raises existential questions in the subject, questions that ultimately transmit themselves to the viewer.

… From the beginning and throughout Arbus’s work, individuals momentarily confronting their own singularity challenge us to do the same. The photographs call into question what we thought we knew about identity, gender, race, appearance, and the distinction between artifice and reality. At the same time, without embellishment or fanfare, Arbus brings us face to face with what she had first glimpsed at the age of sixteen, “the divineness in ordinary things,” and through her photographs we begin to see it too.




January 24, 2017

They Don’t Fuse

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

Sickert only combined them by having them exist side by side.

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

The tragic flaw in English painting is compromise, unwillingness to be committed to a point of view, a desire to have the best of two or more worlds (especially, in our time, a present and a past world).

Walter Sickert, Ennui, 1913

Sickert, however un-English he was in his habit of looking straight at the visual facts and in his easy mastery of picture-making problems, was thoroughly English in his lack of single-mindedness. His paintings do too many things. They are highly visual, with a camera’s indifferent reflection of fortuitous effects of light and a marvelous eye for the totally unexpected shapes which crop up in nature if only one can be mindless enough to see them; they are highly aesthetic, with their impeccable design and harmonisation of tone and color, and their fastidious feathery touch, a moth’s kiss of a touch; they are highly psychological, with a novelist’s eye for specific human tensions.

[line break added] There has never been another painter who managed to combine these particular qualities. And the point is that Sickert only combined them by having them exist side by side. They don’t fuse as the disparate elements in the work of great artists fuse so that each is inconceivable without the others.

To begin with, although he is both a brilliant observer and a consummate designer, his recording of sensations doesn’t fill out the whole design. To see what I mean, compare the Camden Town interiors in the exhibition at the Tate with Vuillard’s The Loaded Table (c. 1908) in the permanent collection. Vuillard has grasped the entire space of the scene and everything in it as a comprehensive whole: sensation has become composition.

[line bread added] The Sickert interiors are aesthetic arrangements within which there are passages of observation which are fresher and keener than Vuillard’s; but only passages — only the nude on the bed, not the nude on the bed in the room. Vuillard translates what he has seen into a painting; Sickert sees like a draughtsman, and then builds a painting round his drawing.

There is the same dissociation between his eye and his handling of paint. The brushwork looks marvelous, only it’s not a vehicle for his sensations but a way of covering the canvas with a lively and lovely surface.

Edouard Vuillard, The Laden Table, 1908

Sickert, for all his French training, painted as Legros accused all English artists of painting, by making a drawing and filling it in. And it’s no answer to say that Sickert’s actual method was like that — doing a drawing, transferring it to canvas, painting it without transforming the shapes. The point is that a visual painter is a kind of painter who can’t afford to work like that, more especially if his handling is conspicuous: the way he paints needs to be as empirical as the way he sees, else he risks producing something like a piano sonata scored for symphony orchestra.

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




January 23, 2017

They Swallowed Things Whole and They Sweated Them Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… wanting to love one, he could no longer love the other as he had previously.

This is from ‘Guston’s Late Work: A Conversation’ between four people, the only one of whom I’m going to quote is Robert Storr. It’s found in Go Figure! New Perspectives on Guston edited by Peter Benson Miller (2014):

[ … ]

Robert Storr: … the nature of looking done by Guston’s generation, the kind of looking de Kooning did, that Gorky did, and so on and so forth, was long, sustained assimilation. They swallowed things whole and they sweated them out. I think now people scan and store. Appropriation is appropriate for scanning and storing; the process of assimilation, digesting, remaking whatever it is, the metabolism of their kind of looking and what goes on now is utterly different.

[ … ]

RS: … When Guston and his generation were painting there was a certain kind of aesthetic idea and an ethical set of variables around it associated with Abstract Expressionism. When Rauschenberg and Johns began to be seen, they were understood as the categorical antithesis of that, particularly Johns. He was seen, they were understood, as the categorical antithesis of that, particularly Johns. He was seen as cold, deliberate, calculating, anti-human, every possible thing you could think of.

[line break added] There was an absolutely marvelous essay written by Leo Steinberg at the time describing the impact that Johns had on him. He was devoted to Abstract Expressionism. When Johns’s work came along, he found himself compelled by it and resenting the fact that he was because he found that, wanting to love one, he could no longer love the other as he had previously. He was conflicted about this shift in identification with a work of art, and in the real generational philosophical-aesthetic paradigm shift that was taking place in him as a viewer of these works. [ … ]

[line break added] The sweet part of it, of course, is that Johns now collects art of many kinds. Among the things he’s collected are works by Guston. So the person who was seen as the antithesis of his work is an artist that he himself is interested in. He also has some marvelous de Kooning drawings. A couple of years ago, there was a show [at Leo Castelli] of Guston and Johns together, and the parallels are very revealing. And it is revealing partly because it is clear that Guston influenced Johns in his later phases.

[line break added] Guston gave him permission for direct — if you want to call it that — symbolic or poetic or narrative painting that Johns needed in order to go in the direction that he has gone in recent years. Now, obviously he too has many other sources for this; one is not the master of the other. But clearly looking at Guston’s work unlocked something in him or a possibility in his own work that might not have been realized in the same way had it not been.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




January 22, 2017

They Do Not Experience the Process of Their Experiencing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… An author creates, but he sees his own creating only in the object to which he is giving form …

This is from the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… In life, we are interested not in the whole of a human being, but only in those particular actions on his part with which we are compelled to deal in living our life and which are, in one way or another of special interest to us. And, as we shall see below, least of all are we ourselves able or competent to perceive in ourselves the given whole of our own personality.

In the work of art, on the other hand, the author’s reactions to particular self-manifestations on the part of the hero are founded on his unitary reaction to the whole of the hero: all particular self-manifestations of the hero have significance for the characterization of this whole as moments or constituent features of it.

[line break added] What makes a reaction specifically aesthetic is precisely the fact that it is a reaction to the whole of the hero as a human being, a reaction that assembles all of the cognitive-ethical determinations and valuations of the hero and consummates them in the form of a unitary and unique whole that is a concrete, intuitable whole, but also a whole of meaning.

… What in life, in cognition, and in performed actions we call a determinate object acquires its determinateness, its own countenance, only through our relationship to it: it is our relationship that determines an object and its structure, not conversely. It is only where our relationship to an object ceases to be founded on a necessary principle (becomes a matter of whim, as it were), where, in other words, we depart from our principled relationship to things and to the world — only then are we confronted by the determinateness of an object as something foreign and independent.

[line break added] The object’s determinateness begins to disintegrate for us and we ourselves fall under the domination of the contingent, with the result that we lose ourselves and we lose the stable determinateness of the world as well.

An author, too, does not immediately find a noncontingent vision of the hero, a vision founded on a necessary principle of creation; his reaction to the hero does not immediately become a productive reaction founded on a necessary principle, nor does the whole of the hero immediately arise from the author’s unitary valuational relationship to the hero. Before the countenance of the hero finally takes shape as a stable and necessary whole, the hero is going to exhibit a great many grimaces, random masks, wrong gestures, and unexpected actions, depending on all those emotional-volitional reactions and personal whims of the author, through the chaos of which he is compelled to work his way in order to reach an authentic valuational attitude.

[line break added] In order to see the true and integral countenance of someone close to us, someone we apparently know very well — think how many masking layers must first be removed from his face, layers that were sedimented upon his face by our own fortuitous reactions and attitudes and by fortuitous life situations. The artist’s struggle to achieve a determinate and stable image of the hero is to a considerable extent a struggle with himself.

… An author reflects the hero’s emotional-volitional position, but not his own position in relation to the hero; his own position is something he actualizes — it is objective, that is, actualized in an object, but does not itself become an object of examination and reflective experience. An author creates, but he sees his own creating only in the object to which he is giving form, that is, he sees only the emerging product of creation and not the inner, psychologically determinate process of creation.

[line break added] And in fact, such is the nature of all active creative experiences: they experience their object and experience themselves in their object, but they do not experience the process of their experiencing. The actual work of creation is experienced, but this experiencing neither hears nor sees itself; it sees and hears only the product that is being created or the object to which it is directed.

[line break added] The technical aspects of creation, craftsmanship, may be a matter of conscious knowledge, but, once again, only in the object. As a result, the artist has nothing to say about the process of his creative activity: the process of creation is altogether in the product created, and the artist has nothing left to do but to refer us to the work he has produced. In our own analysis, we shall in fact look for it nowhere else.

My previous post from Bakhtin’s book is here.




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