Unreal Nature

February 28, 2017

Between Question and Assertion

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… It is concerned with re-creating the process of perception rather than the objects perceived.

This is from ‘Johns’ (1964) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

Johns is too much of an ironist not to enjoy the spectacle of our confusion. But isn’t it possible that he himself doesn’t know the answers, is not concerned with answers but only with questions. Total curiosity: that, I take it, is Johns’s ideal of an attitude of mind. The measure of h is own curiosity is the persistence with which he nags away at a question, letting it take him where it leads him. I think that this is where he is profoundly different from Marcel Duchamp, his affinity to whom may have been exaggerated.

[line break addedDuchamp is much more ready to impose himself on the situation, to decide where he’s going next, to make an intuitive leap to a certain position, gather himself and make another leap. By the same token, he is also much more the performer. Johns will take pleasure on the public’s confusion; Duchamp seeks to promote it. … Duchamp likes to play for effect. I don’t mean that he’s a clown, but he is a rhetorician.

Jasper Johns, By the Sea, 1961

… Certainly Johns is well aware of how the world reacts to his work — is extremely curious about it. But in an almost clinical spirit. He doesn’t do something in order to provoke a certain effect. He does something, then waits to observe the reaction it gets. The reaction may have an influence on what he does next, but this in turn is done experimentally, not rhetorically.

Jasper Johns, Periscope (Hart Crane), 1963

… The content always has to do with an aspect of the relation between reality and art. The early Flags and Targets emphasized questions of design and format. But in most of the work since then the focus has been on the relation between reality and the stuff out of which the work of art is made. This applies both to the bronzes with their smooth surfaces and unambiguous figuration, and to the paintings, with their broken painterly handling and their elusive, indefinable reference to our visual experience of the real world.

[line break addedJohns’s paint is poignantly beautiful, carries that inexplicable density and weight of feeling which spells nothing less than greatness in a painter. And it is always more than beautiful and emotionally charged paint. A field consisting of brushmarks in slightly varying tones of medium grey somehow gives the conviction that it is relevant to our vision of reality — a conviction that can’t explained or justified in rational terms. The only hint or guess that I can hazard is that it evokes a sense of reality through its evocation of a process of disintegration and re-integration.

… In Picasso’s first collage painting, for example, the Still life with chair caning of 1912, there is a piece of oilcloth upon which is printed a trompe l’oeil representation of chair caning. The oilcloth is a fragment of the real world incorporated into the artificial world of a work of art. Looking at the oilcloth we may be deceived that it is an actual fragment of chair caning. But it’s not chair caning, it’s oilcloth. The ‘real’ element in the picture is in fact its most artificial element in that it’s intended to deceive. And so on. Is this not precisely the kind of semantic paradox with which Johns has been concerned?

At a deeper level lies the fact that, like a Johns, an analytic cubist painting somehow gives us the feeling that it is about visual experience, however difficult it may be to name things to which it refers. It is concerned with re-creating the process of perception rather than the objects perceived. It is very evidently concerned with disintegration and re-integration. It operates, as a Johns does, in the area between question and assertion. It fuses lyricism with intellectual investigation.

Jasper Johns, Out of the Window, 1959

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




February 27, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… “I have to trust my nervousness.”

This is from the essay ‘Betwixt and Between’ by Robert Storr in Robert Mangold (2000):

… At a certain point … artists destined to be major round out their education, selectively sort through their affinities, and bear down hard on the primary aspects of their aesthetic project. At that point the individual artist knows most of what he or she needs to know, and has taken possession in his or her own name of whatever useful ideas they have gleaned from those around them. In essence their painting culture becomes almost wholly assimilated, an inner resource rather than an outer context, and, as such, inseparable from the daily practice of painting.

[line break added] De Kooning’s whimsical description of this self-regenerating reservoir of sensibility and know-how is the best we have. “You’ve developed a little culture for yourself, like yogurt; as long as you keep something of the original microbes, the original thing in it will grow. So I had — like most artists — this original sensation, so I don’t have to worry about getting stuck.”

By 1970 Mangold had reached that stage, and was ready to remove himself from the midst of the New York fray. … To the countryside where he resettled went his ‘yogurt,’ and what followed was the incremental and always painstaking realization of the potential implicit in the five years’ worth of mature work he had produced while in New York. From that time forward the fundamental components and dynamics of his work are markedly consistent. The works generated by them, however, differ significantly.

Figurative artists develop subject matter; abstract artists like Mangold develop ‘object matter.’ His basic themes have been the fragment in relation to the whole (how, for example, can a pie-slice shaped painting be read both as a section of an invisible circle and a form complete unto itself?); formal stability in relation to formal abnormality (an exploration begun with the distorted squares and circles of 1969-71); the tangible concreteness of painting in relation to the illusionism to which it lends itself (how does a surface assert its materiality while suggesting transparency?); the effect of image-scale upon image reception (what, for example, distinguishes a model from a work, and how does a small work function in comparison to a larger one of the exact same configuration?); and above all the desire to keep painting whole, with all its elements clearly legible yet fully reconciled with one another.

The constancy of Mangold’s concerns defies conventional notions of artistic growth and change. There are no radical breaks in his work; instead there is a process of gradually shifting focus, coming on the heels of long periods of intense concentration on a limited set of variables. “What happens to me,” the artist has explained, “is that I seem to go back and forth. I go a certain distance this way, then I have to go back and reconnect with what I lost.

[line break added] Things are always going in and coming out and going back in funny ways. I have to trust my nervousness. Then I just have to go back and check and figure out whether it’s a real thing I am feeling.” The consequence is paintings that are ‘timeless’ not in a metaphysical sense, but in the sense of being hard to correlate with any identifiable cycle within the artist’s career or any particular turn of the stylistic wheel in the art world generally.

[ … ]

Robert Mangold, Untitled, 1995

… Simultaneously categorical and conditional, actual and exalted, something that takes us beyond our ordinary awareness of the world and something that is only accessible through acute attention to immediate sensory particulars, painting is an exception to quotidian reality while being the fullest expression of ‘the real’ in all its physical concreteness and experimental contingency. As Mangold practices it, painting opens a parenthesis in consciousness and occupies that ‘zone’ on terms which keep it open

[line break added] To insist that this realm is aesthetic is not, however, to deny its psychological impact or spiritual importance. Certainly, Mangold does not. To the contrary he is forthrightly on the side of those who affirm art’s power to communicate. Surprisingly, given the programmed ambiguity of so much of what one sees in his paintings, the basis of his claims for abstract painting is the lack of ambiguity in its fundamental address:

I think of abstraction as being the most direct way of making a statement, because you’re least likely to be misread in terms of what you are saying … I think that abstract painting can be just as emotionally charged as whatever kind of painting. It’s just that I choose to eliminate references. To me that makes the painting more direct, and so I can read it better. It’s about the way it’s done and what it is and what its parts are. And it’s all revealed.

This directness answers a specific human longing, for in Mangold’s view the greatest spaces ‘between’ are those which separate us, those which open up or maintain distances and make people mysterious to one another. In that context art’s specificity and clarity — the paradoxical transparency of its riddles and the wholeness of it fragments — is the opposite of our opacity and incompleteness.

My most recent post from this book is here.




February 26, 2017

Incapable of Being Contained

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:08 am

… there is always something essential in me that I can set over against that world, namely, my inner self-activity, my subjectivity, which confronts the outside world as object, and which is incapable of being contained in it.

Continuing through 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 other is given to me entirely enclosed in a world that is external to me; he is given to me as a constituent in it that is totally delimited on all sides in space. Moreover, at each given moment, I experience distinctly all of his boundaries, encompass all of him visually and can encompass all of him tangibly.

[line break added] I see the line that delineates his head against the background of the outside world and see all of the lines that delimit his body in the outside world. The other, all of him, is laid out before me in the exhaustive completeness as a thing among other things in the world external to me, without exceeding in any way the bounds of that world, and without in any way violating its visible, tangible plastic-pictorial unity.

There can be no doubt that the entire stock of my perceptual experience will never be able to provide me with the same kind of seeing of my own total outer delimitedness. Not only actual perception, but even mental representations are incapable of constituting the kind of horizon within which all of me would be included, without any remainder, as a totally delimited being.

… The point here is not the epistemological subject-object correlation, the point is the living correlation of me — the one-and-only subiectum, and the rest of the world as an object not only of my cognition and my outer senses, but also of my volition and feeling. The other human being exists for me entirely in the object and his I is only an object for me. I can remember myself, I can to some extent perceive myself through my outer sense, and thus render myself in part an object of my desiring and feeling — that is, I can make myself an object for myself.

[line break added] But in this act of self-objectification I shall never coincide with myself — I-for-myself shall continue to be the act of this self-objectification, and not in its product, that is, in the act of seeing, feeling, thinking, and not in the object seen or felt. I am incapable of fitting all of myself into an object, for I exceed any object as the active subiectum of it.

We are not concerned here with the cognitive aspect of this state of affairs (which constitutes the foundation of idealism). Our concern is rather with the concrete lived experience of our subjectivity and the impossibility of its — of our — being exhaustively present in an object, in contrast to the object-status of any other human being.

… Solipsism, which places the entire world within my consciousness, may be intuitively convincing, or at any rate understandable. But it would be intuitively quite incomprehensible to place the entire world (including myself) in the consciousness of another human being who is so manifestly himself a mere particle of the macrocosm.

… Everything inward that I know and in part co-experience in him I put into the outward image of the other as into a vessel which contains his I, his will, his cognition. For me, the other is gathered and fitted as a whole into his outward image. My own consciousness, on the other hand, I experience as encompassing the world, as embracing it, rather than as fitted into it … .

… Our concern here is only concrete lived experience, its purely aesthetic convincingness.

… What follows from all this is that only the other human being is experienced by me as connatural with the outside world and thus can be woven into that world and rendered concordant with it in an aesthetically convincing manner. Man-as-nature is experienced in an intuitively convincing manner only in the other, not in myself. I am not — for myself — entirely connatural with the outside world, for there is always something essential in me that I can set over against that world, namely, my inner self-activity, my subjectivity, which confronts the outside world as object, and which is incapable of being contained in it.

… I am not contained altogether in any external state of affairs — none of them includes all of myself exhaustively; for myself, I am located on the tangent, as it were, to any given state of affairs. Everything in myself that is spatially given gravitates toward my own non-spatial inner center, whereas everything that is ideal in the other gravitates toward his givenness in space.

… it is only the other who can be embraced, clasped all around, it is only the other’s boundaries that can all be touched and felt lovingly. The other’s fragile finiteness, consummatedness, his here-and-now being — all are inwardly grasped by me and shaped, as it were, by my embrace; in this act, the other’s outward existence begins to live in a new manner, acquires some sort of new meaning, is born on a new plane of being. Only the other’s lips can be touched with our own, only on the other can we lay our hands, rise actively above the other and “overshadow” all of him totally, “overshadow” him in every constituent feature of his existence, “overshadow” his body and within his body — his soul.

I am incapable of experiencing any of these actions in relation to myself. Not just because of the physical impossibility of doing so, but, rather, because of the emotional-volitional untruth involved in turning these acts upon myself.

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




February 25, 2017

In This Confusion

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… We are living in a formless age of transition …

Final post from Language of Vision by Gyorgy Kepes (1944):

… Literary imitation of nature tied to a fixed point of observation had killed the image as a plastic organism. It was quite natural, therefore, that the associative meaning should be identified with the literary content and hence disposed of as unnecessary [in early modern art]. Non-representational art clarified the structural laws of the plastic image. It reestablished the image in its original role as a dynamic experience based upon the properties of the senses and their plastic organization. But it threw overboard the meaningful signs of the visual relationship.

Juan Gris, one of the foremost of the painters working toward the new language of vision, made it clear that new, healthy plastic structure is not an ultimate goal, but only a new start toward the understanding of values inherent in the relationships of the meaningful elements of visible nature. “I try to give concrete form to what is abstract, I pass from the general to the particular, by which I mean that I take abstraction as my point of departure and the real fact as my point of arrival … I consider mathematics to be the architectural side of painting, the abstract side, and I want to humanize it; Cézanne makes a cylinder of a bottle, I began with the cylinder in order to create an individual unit of special type. Of a cylinder I make a bottle, a particular bottle. Cézanne works toward architecture, I work away from it … ”

… Values are, in human terms, the recognized directives toward a more satisfactory human life. They are the comprehended potential “order” in man’s relationship to nature and to his fellow men. Order makes sense only as an order in a definite field. Values are conditioned by concrete events of the physical, psychological and social realms. Values have not yet been formulated for our time. We are living in a formless age of transition, a chaos, incomparable to anything man has ever experienced before. In this confusion, plastic art, the most direct experience of order, the forming activity par excellence, gains significance.

… There are many convergent directions in these attempts to bind the liberated meaning-facets into a new dynamic whole. Painting enriched with new idioms, collage and photomontage, contributed toward the structural understanding of the relationship of representational signs, and cleared the way for this redirection. The motion picture made the first thorough analysis of the structural connection of representational images in actual time sequence. Advertising art pioneered in testing representational images in combination with pure plastic units and verbal elements.

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




February 24, 2017

The Invisible Tree

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 am

… as reliable as the bird, the waterfall, “these locusts by day, these crickets by night.”

This is from ‘Impact, Moral and Technical … ‘ (1951) found in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore edited by Patricia C. Willis (1986):

… Well, writing is difficult — at least it is for me. As Katherine Anne Porter said the other evening, quoting Lewis Carroll’s “Reeling and writing and fainting in coils,” “our salvation is urgency. That saves us.” I was also interested in Wallace Fowler’s statement that Paul Valéry thought writing poetry is a bending of the will to all kinds of constraint.

[line break added] Somebody asked me if I was going to say something about why I dislike poetry. I say it with all my heart: I fear and dread it, and we are estranged from it by much that passes as virtuosity — that is affectation or exhibitionism — and then talent comes to the rescue, and we forget about what we think and automatically we are helplessly interested. But here instinct outdoes intellect, for the rhythm is the person.

The following if from a 1951 review of Wallace Stevens’s The Auroras of Autumn:

The imagination is “a roamer,” Wallace Stevens says, and poetry is “a page from the tale that it tells”; this time, of “Hans by a drift-fire” near “a steamer foundered in ice,” “opening the door of his mind” to the aurora borealis — to “flames.” “The scholar of one candle sees an arctic effulgence flaring on the frame of everything he is, and he feels afraid,” but is at ease in “a shelter of the mind with supernatural preludes of its own” to enchant and hypnotize.

… The poison in the meditations of the serpent in the ferns is “that we should disbelieve” that there is a starry serpent in the heavens on which to fix the grateful mind.

Thus poetry substitutes for poverty, abundance, a spiritual happiness in which the intangible is more real than the visible and earth is innocent; “not a guilty dream” but a “holiness” in which we are awake as peacefully as if we lay asleep.

… The “ultimate poem” truly is “far beyond the rhetorician’s touch”; is as reliable as the bird, the waterfall, “these locusts by day, these crickets by night.”

… “If it should be true that reality exists / In the mind,” one has it all — “the heavens, the hells, the worlds, the longed-for lands,” “the invisible tree which may hold a serpent whose venom and whose wisdom will be one.”

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




February 23, 2017

View Through Kitchen

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… [The mind] does not accept a purely traditional inert content and impose a form on it, like a costume on a neutral mannequin …

This is from Worldview in Painting — Art and Society by Meyer Schapiro (1999):

… Perhaps the painting is an ideal empirical object, in the sense that it calls for persistent concentrated looking and attention to all that is there, but in this sense it is unlike the empiricism of science, which limits looking to observation of a relevant feature in a context of a problem that includes an appeal to generalities.

… What we call idealism and empiricism in art are better understood as programs than as descriptions of the art or of art in general. Courbet, refusing to paint angels and proposing to represent only what he had encountered directly, seems an empiricist. But in 1950 a painter who refuses to paint what he sees, since the result would be an unreality, an illusion, is also called an empiricist.

The following is from the essay ‘Art and Social Change’ in the same book:

… if a work of art is, indeed, a whole there cannot be an inconsistency of form and content. The mind that conceives the whole, we can say a priori, does not conceive two separate things. It does not accept a purely traditional inert content and impose a form on it, like a costume on a neutral mannequin, just as the mind does not accept all sensations indifferently and clothe them with arbitrary, independently constructed ideas. The content is itself a creation of an order related to that of pure formal design; it presents itself already as a traditionally designed form, or if it is a text, its interpretation even as a content implies a given viewpoint of the artist that is related to his manner of conceiving any forms.

… We must discover in any analysis of content those aspects that are central in the artist’s conception of the subject. The horror of the incident may be a meaning that exists for us from the very nature of the historical episode, but it may be iconographically minimized in the picture without our being aware of the fact, because our concentration is not so much on the picture as on our feelings about its effects. Only by a comparative study of the same theme in various styles can we arrive at a proper judgment of the content of a work, for we acquire by this comparison a more exact polarity in description and a more precise characterization.

The correspondence of forms and style can be illustrated by the Last Supper:

  1. Primitive type — sigma table with Christ at one end; no setting, but illusionistic detail; prominent fish and bread and wine.
  2. Early medieval — horizontal band; movement of Christ to center.
  3. Renaissance — further individualization; space and perspective; real gesture, but coordinated.
  4. Baroque — angular view; light and shade; dramatic quality.
  5. Northern art, sixteenth to eighteenth century — view through kitchen.
  6. Nineteenth-century impressionistic — insubstantial disembodied, spiritualistic conception; light, etc.

My previous post from Schapiro’s book is here.




February 22, 2017

In the Metropolis of Strangers

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… we have the unaffected display of somewhat battered human organisms in random moods.

Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… As a powerhouse on a phenomenal rise, and as a national symbol, New York had an identity problem. For many Europeans, twentieth-century Manhattan epitomized the America of their dreams, the signature metropolis of the New World. From the vantage of Middle America, though, the island often looked like a foreign enclave. … Certainly by the late nineteenth-century it had a foreign character, polyglot beyond compare. This was embodied by an inflow of poor Southern and Eastern European immigrants speaking a babel of tongues.

… [Lewis] Hine took many … pictures of immigrants at Ellis Island. In these images, he addressed himself to moments in which the voyagers, even as they face the camera, seem to be looking inward, their features luminously and tenderly modeled within an impersonal background. Many of them reveal a nervous dejection, characteristic of those obliged to wait around for unexplained reasons. In Slovak Mother and Slavic Immigrant detained women are loaded down with their few belongings. In Young Russian Jewess, the protagonist is seemingly transfixed by her solitude.

[line break added] The shadowy atmosphere emphasizes their feeling of transitory homelessness, loss, and hope. Hine extended himself toward such introspective phases, seeing them as states of vulnerability, and part of a historic adventure. Without concern for an entity called ‘New York,’ he nevertheless attended to a decisive stage in the evolution of its democratic consciousness. Hine was a practitioner of “enthusiastic endorsement of difference … viewed as a necessary condition of human flourishing, one that offers to individual men and women the choices that make their autonomy meaningful.”

… [Jacob] Riis intended viewers to sense the sordid world he described as threatening to impinge on their own territorial way of life. For Hine, by contrast, the industrious poor did not comprise the ‘other’ half at all. In his work, he sided with them and he centered them, casting bourgeoisie to the social margin. He would disclose their burden of long hours, low pay, brutal production quotas, and dangerous conditions as a grief imposed on them by the self-interests of the real others, the invisible employers profiting from an unregulated economic system.

[ … ]

… [Alfred] Stieglitz and his friends lived in a closeted, salon atmosphere. They were socially and emotionally indifferent to the life of multitudes, whom they depicted as nameless crowds. Although Hine’s stance and Stieglitz’s position would appear to have been incompatible, between them passed on person who, learning from both, changed the emotional weather of the photography of New York.

Paul Strand (1890-1976) had been a student at Ethical Culture and a member in 1907-8 of a camera club organized by Hine. Stieglitz’s 291 gallery was an appreciated stop on the club’s field itinerary. Though imbued with Hine’s ethical principles, Strand did, in fact, come of age as a latter-day Pictorialist. Such was his progress that by 1915 Stieglitz regarded him quite accurately as someone who would take Photo-Secession to a more advanced level.

Paul Strand, Blind, 1916

… By means of a false lens attached at a right angle to his real lens, he was able to face away from his subjects who were thus unaware that he was taking their picture within their personal territory. Hine continually maintained an equity of power between himself and his sitters; Strand gained a voyeuristic advantage over them, even at point-blank range. The result was a startling group of heads framed so close that, though they obviously breathe the air of the city, all physical evidence of the place itself has been removed.

Instead of a narrative about ‘conditions,’ subtly implied, we have the unaffected display of somewhat battered human organisms in random moods. The blowsy Irish washerwoman, the watery-eyed old Italian man, and above all, the awesome beggar woman in Blind — each bears the unreflective experience of that moment and no other. It is the apotheosis of the present, with all its “cruel radiance,” to quote James Agee.

[line break addedStrand reduced story content in order to obtain an elemental rawness of view; his abrupt treatment of these underdogs confers on them a great power of earthiness and sorrow. To look at these stolen street portraits is to be drawn into an uncomfortable complicity with the photographer’s voyeurism, yet even as his pictures effect a great intimacy, they short-circuit any feeling of connection — a very urban kind of dissonance. This tough approach may not have derived from any social judgment. Rather, it seems to have come to Strand as detachment, reflecting his claim to an asocial freedom of perception that could be developed only in the metropolis of strangers.

My previous post from Kozloff’s book is here.




February 21, 2017

Experiences Not Messages

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… — something already known but lost in the depths of the mind.

This is from ‘Magritte II’ (1969) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

It wasn’t enough for Pharaoh that he had seen seven fat kine being eaten by seven lean-fleshed kine. He had to find a meaning. The meaning as interpreted turned out to be the same as that of the dream about ears of corn. Symbols are interchangeable.

Magritte resented any tendency to read his images as symbols. “If one looks at a thing with the intention of trying to discover what it means, one ends up no longer seeing the thing itself, but thinking of the question that has been raised.” The interpretation of an image was the denial of its mystery, the mystery of the visible. “One cannot speak about mystery, one must be seized by it.” His images are to be looked at, not looked into.

Pharaoh’s dreams were interpreted because they were messages from God; ours because they are messages from ourselves. Magritte presents dreamlike images as experiences not messages. He evokes extreme or impossible physiological states or events which have an intense affective import — being crowded, being trapped, being immobilized, defying gravity, etc. — with great immediacy but no sensuous correlative, just as in dreams the action is all in one’s head. And he depicts this action with a conspicuous absence of distortion, so that the artist seems to have no attitude towards the phenomenon, and the spectator is not distracted by speculation as to what is meant, is left free to concentrate on what is there.

René Magritte, The Human Condition, 1933

… In a lecture given in London in February 1937, he said: “There is a secret affinity between certain images; it is equally valid for the objects which those images represent … We are familiar with birds in cages; interest is awakened more readily if the bird is replaced by a fish or a shoe; but though these images are strange they are unhappily accidental, arbitrary. It is possible to obtain a new image which will stand up to examination through having something final, something right, about it: it’s the image showing an egg in the cage.”

[line break added] Lecturing in Antwerp the following year he had more to say about this insistence of his that it wasn’t enough to indulge in free association, that he was involved in an ‘investigation’ of reality directed towards the discovery of images which would have a certain inevitability: any object he dealt with presented a problem to which there was “only one correct answer,” an answer that was “strictly predestined” — something already known but lost in the depths of the mind.

René Magritte, The Human Condition, 1935

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




February 20, 2017

Something That Is Blocking Your Mental and Physical Path

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… the rewards of painting are to be found in the degree to which specifics belie expectations …

This is from Sylvia Plimack Mangold’s interview with her husband, found in Robert Mangold (2000):

[ … ]

Sylvia Plimack Mangold: In my view there is a distinction between painting that relies on the physical world for its imagery and work that doesn’t. Your physical world, ‘your kind of painting,’ consists of your materials and the surface on which you paint. These have a reality and a presence, and this presence is not disguised as something else.

Robert Mangold: I think this is correct. I want the work to be directly in front of you, something that is blocking your mental and physical path. You can size it up and walk away, but you can’t see it as a recording or a translation of what is already in the world.

The following is from the book’s essay ‘Betwixt and Between’ by Robert Storr:


… [this is the last paragraph of a seven (all equally long) paragraph description] Although the entirety of the painting is accessible from any location in front of it, the expanse of the work lends itself to distinct views. At a distance from the painting roughly equal to its length, the composition falls into place like a majestic icon that is liminally askew. Step to one side or the other and the disparity between the curves in the two end panels are perspectively averaged out, but the ellipses begin to bow and rock.

[line break added] Step towards the painting ten feet and the greys swell outward while added understanding of precisely how their erratic roller edge locks into the blue, causing that edge to flicker and respond magnetically to the nearest of the similarly active gaps between canvases, and this causes the grey to slide back and forth. But for those gaps the grey would advance ahead of the blue as one approaches the canvas; however, awareness of the absolute flatness of the painting snaps it back into place, destroying the illusion at the moment of its birth.

[line break added] Walk close to the painting from one extreme to the other, and the sequence of shapes, lines and intervals goes by like the on-again-off-again vistas glimpsed out the window of a train passing in and out of a string of tunnels. Combine all these views, all these discoveries, all these attempts to pin down what is and isn’t occurring within its confines and you have Blue/Black Five-panel Zone Painting (1998) by Robert Mangold.


Descriptions of painting can be tedious to read. For those who love painting they are not tedious to write; they make you look harder, and you indulge yourself in the hope that some of the picture-lust that inspired the effort is present in the retelling. Currently many professional critics favor more abstract styles of discourse.

[line break added] The problem is that abstract discourse about abstract art encourages the belief that the important things to be said about such art are general, and that only specialists need concern themselves with details of appearance and method. As a result members of the public are often told what a work means before they are told what it is.

This approach effectively splits the audience in two, and cheats both sides.

[ … ]

… if the reader finds that description [of Blue/Black, part of which is given above] wanting — or at any point tires of the broader discussion of Mangold’s art that follows — they should not blame the artist but recapitulate the exercise for themselves by standing in front of a comparable work and patiently detailing an alternative first-hand version of their own.

[line break added] So doing they will bypass the art critic as middle-man with that middle-man’s blessing, and put themselves in the position of the painter who on a daily basis returns to the particulars of his practice to ask himself what is distinctive about them, and in what combinations those particulars are sufficient to the demands of the pictorial conventions from which they were extracted and to which they transformationally respond. The only answers to those questions are specific, and as Mangold’s work demonstrates time and again, the rewards of painting are to be found in the degree to which specifics belie expectations and unique visual events undo the straight-jacket of inherited form and received aesthetic wisdom.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




February 19, 2017

A Hollow, Fictitious Product

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… What occurs here is something in nature of an optical forgery: a soul without a place of its own is created, a participant without a name and without a role — something absolutely ahistorical.

Continuing through 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):

… Something like a transparent screen has to be inserted between my inner self-sensation (the function of my empty seeing [see previous post]) and my outwardly expressed image: the screen of manifestation — his possible enthusiasm, love, astonishment, or compassion for me. And looking through this screen of the other’s soul (whih is thus reduced to a means), I vivify my exterior and make it part of the plastic and pictorial world.

This possible bearer of the other’s axiological reaction to me should not become a determinate human being, for, if that were to happen, he would immediately exclude my outward image from the field of my representation and assume its place: I would see him with his outwardly expressed reaction to me, when I would already be in my normal position on the boundaries of the field of vision; and, in addition, he would, as a participant with a definite role, introduce an element of a particular story into my dream, whereas what is really needed is an author who does not himself participate in the imagined event.

The point at issue here is precisely how to accomplish the task of translating myself from inner language into the language of outward expressedness and of weaving all of myself totally into the unitary plastic and pictorial fabric of life as a human being among other human beings, as a hero among other heroes.

[line break added] One can easily substitute for this task another task which is entirely different in kind, namely, the task accomplished by discursive thought: thinking has no difficulty at all in placing me on one and the same plane with all other human beings, for in the act of thinking I first of all abstract myself from that unique place which I — as this unique human being — occupy in being; consequently, I abstract myself from the concretely intuited uniqueness of the world as well. Hence, discursive thought is unfamiliar with the ethical and aesthetic difficulties of self-objectification.

Ethical and aesthetic objectification requires a powerful point d’appui outside itself; it requires some genuine source of real strength out of which I would be capable of seeing myself as another.

Indeed, when we contemplate our own exterior — as a living exterior participating in a living outward whole — through the prism of the evaluating soul of a possible other, then this soul of the other — as a soul lacking any self-sufficiency, a soul-slave, as it were — introduces a certain spurious element that is absolutely alien to the ethical event of being.

[line break added] For, inasmuch as it lacks any independent value of its own, what is engendered is not something productive and enriching, but a hollow, fictitious product that clouds the optical purity of being. What occurs here is something in nature of an optical forgery: a soul without a place of its own is created, a participant without a name and without a role — something absolutely ahistorical.

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




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