Unreal Nature

April 30, 2018

Matter of Fact

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… Irrelevance is indeed a prime feature of the intractable there-ness of things as they are …

This is from Bathers, Bodies, Beauty: The Visceral Eye by Linda Nochlin (2006):

… I will be talking about the realist body and its relation to — or more often, rejection of — conventional beauty. I will position “real” beauty as “realist” beauty, and therefore as a kind of antibeauty. By this I do not necessarily mean ugliness, although I might at times. But a contrary is not a contradictory. And all nonbeauty is not ugliness: there is a wide range of possibilities, including attractiveness (no, she’s not beautiful but she is attractive), piquancy, sensuousness, elegance, and so on.

[line break added] As to the antibeauty which is involved in the realist project, we might think, for purposes of argument, of realism as a vertical continuum, with the sublime, whether Longinian or Burkean, at the top, the concrete, the contemporary, and the ordinary in the middle, and the abject or the grotesque — the latter especially in antibeauty’s more recent, Postmodern manifestations — at the bottom.

The production of the realist body as I figure it is impelled by two quite different impulses: that of magic and that of critique. Realism as magic is the time-honored quest for the bodily presence of the absent, or the dead, as a bulwark against danger and dread.

… I would like to reiterate that realism is not merely a question of accuracy nor a certain category of subject matter. In some ways, it is better accounted for in terms of what the realist rejects — harmony, poncif, the ready-made gesture, universal ideals of beauty. Realism at its best is a critical practice in terms of both formal language and viewpoint.

… Whereas the nonrealist may work through distillation and exclusion, the realist mode implies enrichment and inclusion. Realism has always been criticized by its adversaries for its lack of selectivity, its inability to distill from the random plenitude of experience the generalized harmony of plastic relations, as though this were a flaw rather than the whole point of realist strategy.

[line break added] The “irrelevant” distractions characteristic of realist styles are not naive mistakes in judgment but are at the heart of metonymic imagery, the guarantors of realist veracity. Irrelevance is indeed a prime feature of the intractable there-ness of things as they are and as we experience them.

… One might say that reality itself, in the largest sense, changed in the twentieth century. Certainly an artist’s notion of his or her relation to reality was altered as other representational modes, especially photography and cinema, intervened between vision and imagery. But also the artist’s self-awareness of what he or she is doing was heightened over the course of the century. Perception, once an absolute, is, for the contemporary artist who bases his whole enterprise upon it, the most fluid, relative, and elusive of phenomena.


Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992

… It is helpful, in approaching her paintings, to think of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus and the idea, current in the last century, of art as a kind of fatal spiritual illness, painterliness as a kind of disease of the pictorial, a symptom of some deep disturbance in the relation of paint to canvas. As a young student, Saville was impressed with the fact that women were equated with looked-at-ness, she confided in a recent lecture. They were supposed to be petite and supportive.

[ … ]


Alice Neel, Self-Portrait, 1980

… “More beautiful than a beautiful thing is the ruin of a beautiful thing,” Rodin is said to have proclaimed apropos of Ce qui fut la belle haulmiere. Rubbish! Where the human form is concerned, at least. Neel’s aging body droops, sags, bulges; it is far from ideal, certainly not beautiful in the pathos-full way that Rembrandt’s old women are said to be beautiful. But there is nothing tragic about it; it is not meant to represent the ruin of a beautiful thing.

[line break added] What Neel is after in this portrait is what realists have always in their varying ways been after, and that is a certain notion of truth: unflinching, matter of fact, provocative. In a way, one might consider this nude self-portrait as a realist testament, a literal tribute to that naked truth, magic or critical or both, which has always been at the heart of the realist project.

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

-Julie

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