Unreal Nature

March 9, 2017

The Actual Fluidity and Contingency

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… this is, in turn, important for our open sensibility …

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

… Modern painters by and large — and I speak of what is most constant and rooted in advanced contemporary practice — wish to produce a work of art in such a way that the finished product gives you a most vivid sense of its making, its becoming, the intensity and immediacy of the artist’s inspiration or response to some perception or feeling.

[line break added] Hence, in modern painting, the touch or stroke is so very pronounced. You see that already in Impressionist painting, which at first glance looks like a hodgepodge or turbulence of many small strokes forming a thick and interesting crust on the surface. Through that materializing of the operation process in the modern work of art, the importance given to the stroke as a perfectly visible object, we become as much aware of the artist’s activity and mood as we are of the total image that is brought about through it.

[line break added] There is finally a fusion of the two, so that we cannot easily distinguish them. The quantity of the mark, stroke, or touch, whether as a discontinuous small unit or as a prolonged, continuous line — a tangle or labyrinth — pervades the whole; it is a trace or track of the artist in producing the work, but also a constituting form. That is a basic aspect of contemporary art.

Another important element is the concreteness of the surface of the object of art. In older painting the canvas is a kind of window through which you view a scene. The modern painter treats the surface of the canvas as a concrete definite tangible ground, as an object in itself. Instead of looking through it in order to view an imaginary scene, you look at it in order to experience the artist’s action on the plane of the canvas, his pigment and fabric of colors and forms. As a result, the old notion of painting as a marvelous, ingenious art of illusion gives way to a new frankness and directness of expression.

[line break added] All that the artist does is at once apparent as an effect or deposit on the surface, and therefore, the concrete elements of the stroke merge with the plane of the canvas (or with the actual structure of the piece of sculpture in three-dimensional space) as a materialized object. That vividness and simplicity of the object distinguish it from older art to such an extent that when we find older paintings that have both this touch and this surface quality, we think of those works as being precociously modern and congenial to contemporary sensibility.

A third aspect of modern painting and sculpture we shall call randomness. The work is so designed or constructed that the composition though well ordered looks undesigned, independent of any a priori scheme. The artist does not aim at symmetry or a legible pattern. He does not build up a rhythm that can be read off in a single manner. It is not written to a script or program that determines a regular extractable schema, a triangle or circle around which the figures are clustered or some other canonical arrangement.

[line break added] But he seeks a form that, in its aspect of contingency, randomness, and the accidental and concealed relationships in its frequent discontinuity, and in its many partial, segmented elements, gives us the most vivid sense of an order built out of unordered elements that in the end look only precariously ordered. The result is a constant interplay among chance, incompleteness, and the final order, completeness and rightness of elements.

[line break added] But it is a rightness of the final order that preserves a maximum asymmetry and appearance of accident in unpredictable relationship of the parts: hence, in Cubism, the conjunction of unexpected parts. It is a means of affirming the artist’s liberty and creativeness and his fidelity to experience, the freshness of his approach to the canvas or sculpture. What you see in the work has just been created and is a victory over the disorder and shapelessness of things.

[line break added] It has not been thought out in advance. It does not conform to an already established order but suggests the actual fluidity and contingency of the world. The modern painter is, therefore, indifferent to blank verse, to sonatas, to fixed forms that already exist as established canonical forms or types or presuppositions. And this is, in turn, important for our open sensibility with regard to the individual morality, and personal life, all that pertains to growth and invention, to discovery within life itself.

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




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