Unreal Nature

May 15, 2017

Not the One He Dreams Of

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… Is it not under the pressure of a pact that the artist creates, accepts, or aesthetically transgresses a technical constraint — a pact which he can sense as natural if he is in harmony with his public, and as illegitimate, violent, unjust, inadequate, absurd, “outmoded,” scandalous, or morally or politically unacceptable if the public with whom he is supposed to seal it is not the one he dreams of, or the one he would like to address, or the one he deems worthy of his art?

This is from the essay ‘Wavering Reflections’ found in Clement Greenberg: Between the Lines by Thierry de Duve (1996, 2010):

… To evoke works or the memories of works where the conventions of the medium are “active” is to evoke works where these technical prescriptions or constraints are either being established, respected, or transgressed. There are rare (and indeed debatable) moments when a new convention establishes itself before our eyes: such would be the case, to return to the convention of perspective, with Masaccio’s Trinity at Santa Maria Novella. The opposite case is more frequent.

[line break added] Paradoxically, it is when they are transgressed or abandoned that conventions become the most visible: thus with shading in Manet, with linear perspective in CĂ©zanne, with figuration in Kandinsky’s first abstract watercolor, and so on. But it is between their appearance and disappearance, when they are simply respected, that they are closest to their meaning as convention: a pact sealed between the artist and his public. This meaning is clearly not absent from Greenberg’s thought, but it is constantly left implicit and unsaid, as though it were self-evident.

[line break added] Here is an enormous blind spot: for if one recognizes that a convention is a technical constraint with which the artist struggles and to which he reacts by intuition or inspiration, that is to say aesthetically (either by deciding to submit to the convention because he judges it relevant and capable of pushing him beyond his own limits, or on the contrary by judging he has the right to leave it behind in order to say what he has to say), then one should also recognize that with this very action the artist seals, unseals, or reseals an imaginary pact with an equally imaginary public.

[line break added] Now — and I follow Greenberg closely here — it is under the aesthetic pressure of these technical constraints that an artist worthy of the name creates, accepts, or breaks a convention, that is to say, the pact. Must we not then conclude that the converse is also true? Is it not under the pressure of a pact that the artist creates, accepts, or aesthetically transgresses a technical constraint — a pact which he can sense as natural if he is in harmony with his public, and as illegitimate, violent, unjust, inadequate, absurd, “outmoded,” scandalous, or morally or politically unacceptable if the public with whom he is supposed to seal it is not the one he dreams of, or the one he would like to address, or the one he deems worthy of his art?

… one would search in vain through [Greenberg’s] texts for the least understanding of a reciprocal treason, the least sympathy for a deliberate and consequent breaking of the pact by avant-garde artists, the least affinity for the hatred resulting from the forced alliance with a cultivated class which, even if it had not abdicated, would still be illegitimate in its pretension to “more adequately represent the species.” To say nothing of the other hatred, the one resulting from the need to seek alliance with a class which anticipatively claimed to represent “humankind,” but which in actual fact has never had access to the tradition and was dispossessed of the necessary aesthetic culture.

That love of art and social hatred have entered into painful marriage under the name of the avant-garde is something which has truly been repressed in Greenberg’s conception of modernism, and this repression is all the more flagrant in that modernism — in the Greenbergian sense more than any other — is characterized precisely by the fact that the conventions are no longer self-evident, or in other words, that one no longer knows between whom the pact is sealed, nor between whom it ought to be sealed.

My previous post from de Duve’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: