Unreal Nature

July 29, 2017

Enigmas Solved Remain Enigmas

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… the painting to be painted is assumed in the gesture, the painted painting is the stiffened, frozen gesture.

This is from the chapter on ‘Painting’ in Gestures by Vilém Flusser (2014):

If you watch a painter at work, you seem to be watching a process in which various bodies (that of the painter, his tools, the pigments, and the canvas) move in some fundamentally obscure way that “results” in a painting. Still, you don’t have the feeling of having understood the process. And so, behind the observed movement, you project a further, invisible movement of an invisible body, perhaps the “painter’s intention” or his “idea of the painting to be painted.”

[line break added] From such an approach to painting, which can serve as an example of the occidental approach to the world, come familiar attempts to explain the phenomena we seem to be observing, the difficulties with which arise at the point where “idea” is equated with “painting” or “subject” with “object” (or whatever one wants to call this spurious dialectical pair). But this looks less and less like a genuine problem. Rather, we are dealing with a question that has been improperly posed because the phenomenon to be explained has not been properly observed.

[line break added] The suspicion arises that in observing the act of painting, one does not actually see what he thinks he sees. That is a tricky assertion. Would observing the act of painting properly just once be enough to dispel the problem of “body-soul” or “mind-matter” that has been consecrated by centuries and by religions, philosophies, and ideologies? Yes, it would be enough, if it were successful. The question is just this: how can you really observe something properly? Can you observe anything without having some kind of point of view? Don’t you always see what you believe you see?

[line break added] So if at first the demand to finally look at painting properly seemed banal, obvious, now it seems impossible. The truth lies in between. In fact, it is very difficult not to see things as the dominant point of view demands. But it is not impossible. There are methods of bracketing out prejudices of observation, even if these prejudices lie very deep in the observer. It is symptomatic of the crisis in which the occidental perspective finds itself that there are such methods and that they are being applied everywhere.

What you see when you observe the act of painting are synchronized movements, that is, the “gesture of painting.” At its most basic, “something” moves. But the moment you try to give “something” a name, you are in trouble. You do not see how the painter moves his body: you just think you see it. You don’t see the body of the painter, still less the painter that’s moving it. You see a moving body …

… One must have explanations that link the movement to its future. The meaning of the gesture, the painting to be painted, is the future of the gesture, and if one is to understand the gesture, it must be explained from this future.

… A phenomenon analyzed causally becomes, for the analyst, a problem that can be solved by enumerating the causes. A phenomenon analyzed semantically becomes an enigma for the analyst, a puzzle that is solved through deciphering. Yet, in the case of the gesture of painting, the gesture itself requires the one who is analyzing to take this position. He has to see the gesture as enigma because a causal analysis is insufficient to explain it.

… One analyzes problems to be able to see through them and so to get them out of the way. Problems solved are no longer problems. One analyzes enigmas to enter into them. Enigmas solved remain enigmas. The goal of an analysis of the gesture of painting is not to clear painting out of the way. Rather, it consists of entering into the enigma of painting more deeply so as to be able to draw a richer experience from it.

So an analysis of the gesture of painting is not itself a gesture that comes from outside, that is directed toward that of painting. It is rather itself an element of the gesture to be analyzed. The gesture of painting is a self-analyzing movement. It is possible to observe a level on which it analyzes itself. Specific phases of the gesture, for example, a specific stepping back from the canvas or a specific look, mean self-criticism, autoanalysis.

[ … ]

… The facts are these: we are gestures. Through them, we come up against the events of the world in which we are gesticulating, the world that gesticulates through us, and that we “mean.” But some of these events have meaning, point toward a future, which is to say toward us: for we are their future. These events are the gestures of others, in which we recognize ourselves.

… The meaning of the gesture of painting is the painting to be painted. This is not discussed very much in this essay because the intention was to pursue the gesture itself. Of course, the painting to be painted is assumed in the gesture, the painted painting is the stiffened, frozen gesture.

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

-Julie

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