Unreal Nature

June 12, 2017

Decisions

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… he knew that painterly qualities are not a matter of taste but of strategies that displace taste …

Continuing through Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade by Thierry de Duve (1991):

… The subjective question, “Where does painting begin?” is always already being asked, even when its answer is not yet available. Ever since his first faltering attempts, the first manifestations of his desire to paint, the painter has asked it of himself. Even if one was not born a painter, it is futile to want to assign a birthdate to the decision to become one, just as it is futile to want to assign to some pictorial “element” — such as the virgin canvas — the reductive status of an absolute beginning.

[line break added] One cannot escape the recurrence of some “primal scene” that starts the painter off on the rails of an irreversible becoming-painter. It is not the completion of the painting that he has before him, but, quite the contrary, its beginnings; it is not the virginity of an initial decision that he has behind him but, quite the contrary, the weight of an entire history in which he is born and that will condition his entire journey.

… even before a person makes the “decision” to become a painter, that “decision” is shaped, rendered specific, possible or impossible, fertile or sterile, by the historical conditions in which it is taking place. Duchamp, who must have had a sharp awareness of the conditions — personal as well as historical — that were handicapping his becoming-painter, would develop out of his Munich period a series of artistic strategies that would increasingly and more explicitly take these very conditions — conditions of impossibility or, better yet, conditions of indecidability — for the object of his own aesthetic life —

[line break added] “decisions”: to become a painter / cease to paint, to play the artist / to produce “anti-art,” to shut up / to let others speak about oneself, and so on. These strategies would always refer the pictorial product to its conditions of production, art movements to the history that orients them, the cubist train in which the sad young man is moving to the “laziness of railway tracks between the passage of two trains.”

Duchamp’s feelings for painting were very ambiguous or, better yet, ambivalent: he loved it / he detested it. He was enough of a painter that his eye was his privileged organ, the gaze his favorite “object a,” but he was not enough of a painter for his hand to passively follow the dictates of his gaze. His appreciation of the painting of others was sharp, and his judgments were well founded (as the catalog for the Société Anonyme demonstrates, despite some indulgences, always recognizable as such); his appreciation of his own work was lucid enough for him to know that he was not born a painter.

[line break added] He had a sharp perception of the historicity of modern painting, and he knew that painterly qualities are not a matter of taste but of strategies that displace taste; but he also knew that these strategies, if they were to be historically significant, nonetheless had to be neither voluntary nor manipulable. He was not unaware of the cathartic, hedonistic, and therapeutic value of art for himself and for others, but he had the intuition that its truth was more on the side of desire than of pleasure.

[line break added] He was aware that his century was engaged in the search for a pure visuality that would be a sort of essence of painting, but he refused to believe that pictorial thought could be invested entirely at the level of the retina. He liked the cosa mentale of painting, but he knew that the mental must be incarnated in the visible if it is not to run the risk of becoming literary or philosophic and thereby cease to be painting.

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

-Julie

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