Unreal Nature

May 26, 2018

In a Cloud

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… It is the cultivation of a special kind of visual experience, which fastens upon certain objects in the environment for its furtherance.

This is from ‘Seeing-as, seeing-in, and pictorial representation,’ a follow-up essay to the title essay in Art and Its Objects, (2nd edition) by Richard Wollheim (1968; 1980):

… It is important to appreciate that, while a standard of correctness applies to the seeing appropriate to representations, it is not necessary that a given spectator should, in order to see a certain representation appropriately, actually draw upon, rather than merely conform to, that standard of correctness. He does not, in other words, in seeing what the picture represents, have to do so through first recognizing that this is or was the artist’s intention.

[line break added] On the contrary he may — and art-historians frequently do — infer the correct way of seeing the representation from the way he actually sees it or he may reconstruct the artist’s intention from what is visible to him in the picture, and, for a spectator reasonably confident that he possesses the relevant skills and information, this is perfectly legitimate.

That the seeing appropriate to representations is subject to a standard of correctness set by an intention separates it from other species of the same perceptual genus i.e. representational seeing, in that with them either there is no standard of correctness or there is one but it is not set — not set uniquely, that is — by an intention. A species of the first sort would be the perception of Rorschach tests, and a species of the second sort would be the seeing appropriate to photographs.

The diagnostic efficacy of Rorschach tests demands that correctness and incorrectness do not apply to their seeing. By contrast, correctness and incorrectness do apply to the seeing appropriate to photographs, but the contribution that a mechanical process makes to the production of photographs means that causation is at least as important as intention in establishing correctness.

[line break added] What or whom we correctly see when we look at a photograph is in large part a matter of who or what engaged in the right way with the causal processes realized by the camera, and it is absolutely of a piece with this that the sitter/model distinction, which holds for paintings, does not hold for photographs.

[ … ]

… I now think that representational seeing should be understood as involving, and therefore best elucidated through, not seeing-as [as he’d claimed in the book’s title essay], but another phenomenon closely related to it, which I call ‘seeing-in’.

… The central difference between seeing-in and seeing-as, from which their various characteristics follow, lies in the different ways in which they are related to what I call ‘straightforward perception.’ By straightforward perception I mean the capacity that we humans and other animals have of perceiving things present to the senses.

[line break added] Any single exercise of this capacity is probably best explained in terms of the occurrence of an appropriate perceptual experience and the correct causal link between the experience and the thing or things perceived. Seeing-as is directly related to this capacity, and indeed is an essential part of it. By contrast, seeing-in derives from a special perceptual capacity, which presupposes, but is something over and above, straightforward perception.

… Seeing-as shows itself to be, fundamentally, a form of visual interest in our curiosity about an object present to the senses. This curiosity can take the form of an interest in how the object is or of an interest in how it might be or might have been.

… Seeing-in, by contrast, is not the exercise of visual curiosity about a present object. It is the cultivation of a special kind of visual experience, which fastens upon certain objects in the environment for its furtherance. And it is from this that the various characteristics of seeing-in, in particular those which distinguish it from seeing-as, follow.

… How, in perception generally and in the perception of the visual arts in particular, do seeing-as and seeing-in divide the field? The answer certainly does not seem to be that they divide the field according to the sorts of object perceived. On the contrary, there are many sorts of object which at times excite seeing-as and at other times excite seeing-in.

[line break added] An example which comes to mind is one which is often taken unreflectively as a central case of seeing-as: the seeing of clouds. For sometimes it seems correct to say that we see a cloud as a whale; but at other times, if the distinction is taken seriously, the situation seems to be that we see a ravine, or a vast sandy beach, or a cavalry charge, in a cloud.

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




May 25, 2018

Dream-like States

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:15 am

… with no ordinary purpose which touches life today but therefore with a purpose which goes outside and beyond it.

This is from Selections from the Journals of Myron Stout edited by Tina Dickey (2005):

April 26, 1966

It is as though … for the last three years, I’ve been “down” — physically depleted — I have been temperamentally or psychologically “asleep.” I recognize now that there have been so many times — quite regularly during those last three years — when I would get up in the morning, feeling still lethargic and drugged with sleep, that the idea of action was positively repugnant.

[line break added] I would sit down with my tea and read — removing myself as far as possible from the possibility of action — or of active thought, and though the reading I was doing could be and usually was something I was truly — even actively — interested in, yet I wasn’t “actively,” so to say, taking it in. I suppose I was taking it in in some way, however, for I believe I was “occupied” by it — perhaps no more than symbolically or visually — yet I would know what I had read; if broken off, I came directly into it when picked up at some later more active moment.

Yet the “tone” of such an experience seems to me to now have had a somnambulistic quality and there was something of a dream-like quality to it.

It wasn’t just when I’d get up; if I didn’t feel well enough to keep working in the studio [I] … went back to the sofa during the day. … Tiredness, not necessarily real, “active” sleepiness, but a stupored kind of drowsiness, or the real stupor/lethargy from arthritis; all these would encourage my sinking into this state.

It was a way of alienating myself from myself. It must have been what brought about my constant use of spy and detective novels, for reading them is, rather ritualistically, to dream.

It has been somehow necessary apparently in the state I was in to absent myself thus from myself.

It had always been my nature, before, to be actively occupied by what I was doing or reading or whatever my mind and imagination played about with, and it played back and forth, around and in and out, a wide field: in fact, too wide, perhaps, for the time span; for single focus concentration and development of following a single notion has always been so brief, a kind of “flightiness.”

In these somewhat dream-like states, however, I believe this problem somewhat eased me. I concentrated the focus, but to such an extent that I couldn’t get out of that focus and to another.

December 5, 1966

The “Basic Structures,” for instance, Tony Smith’s six-foot steel cube, or Mike Steiner’s metal forms (there are ten or twelve stainless steel cubes about fifteen inches [high] in his living room for seats), work of Bob Morris, etc. all have a sort of ritual character. The first thing I thought of in seeing Smith’s cube on [the] ARTnews cover (December 1966) was the Kaaba.

… One can say that both religion and art are efforts to achieve and sustain security and stability. The fact that today is such an insecure age gives strength to the idea of a basic religious impulse in these very contemporaneous expressions. They have a basic affinity with Stonehenge. They are quite primary objects, in-space, occupying and using space, their impersonality somewhat parallels our impressions from Stonehenge with no ordinary purpose which touches life today but therefore with a purpose which goes outside and beyond it. That affinity might seem at first to be tenuous, but I believe it possible that it is a deep-lying one.

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




May 24, 2018

Access and Contact

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

Andre grants us space and invents a place for us …

This is from the essay ‘A Theory of Proximity’ by Yasmil Raymond found in Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958-2010 (2014):

… In thinking again of the amorphous island beneath the feet of the kouros and the displacement of the figure’s weight to the base, one sees that this is not only a technical achievement, but, more important, a pending promise to touch the ground. It would take approximately two thousand years of trials and interrogations for sculpture to descend from the plinth to the ground itself.

[line break added] Among those artists who made that transition their quest was Carl Andre, for whom the ground would become not only the terrain of his artistic production but also the site of a complex relationship with the spectator. From the earliest floor-bound metal works on which one is invited to walk to the later timber formations around which one navigates, Andre’s sculptures demarcate space into areas of access and contact.

[line break added] This permission of entry into and proximity to sculpture, which transforms it into a material marker, is nonetheless infused with a politics of solemnity and intimacy typically reserved for monuments, graveyards, tombs, and shrines, thus transforming the experience of art into a visit to a “place” where one enacts an unrepeatable event.


[ … ]

… he sought to achieve a more difficult task: to implicitly shift the emphasis from the optical to the bodily, redirecting our focus to the habitation of a place constructed by matter. The prevailing subtext of this characteristic of Andre’s work remains linked to his assertion that the very conditions of artistic creation constitute a direct relationship to a “place” that is able to reorient the direction of our ambulation inviting us to depart from the rigidity of the familiar and leading us toward a new terrain of cognition.

[line break added] With his sculptures Andre grants us space and invents a place for us to be present, to walk around, and to be beside the material, shadowing the original displacement of matter, which came from the earth and was then transformed into solid form only to be recuperated and reinserted into the production line of art.




May 23, 2018

What I Assume You Shall Assume

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:13 am

Weegee’s city moment lies in the paradox of darkness stripped away by explosive light only to reveal deeper darkness …

This is from the essay ‘Weegee’s City Secrets’ by Alan Trachtenberg found in Weegee: Murder Is My Business by Brian Wallis (2013):

… By the time of the book’s publication [Naked City, 1945], Weegee had not only transformed himself from a Lower East Side immigrant kid named Usher to a famed city photographer, a celebrity (the name Weegee was sufficient for instant recognition), but he had also risen from an ambulance-chasing crime reporter in harness with the tabloid press to a self-proclaimed artist with a unique style of self-expression.

[line break added] Reportage allowed him to express himself as at one with his subject, the city instant. “For the photographs in this book,” he confessed in the opening chapter of Naked City, “I was on the scene; sometimes drawn there by some power I cannot explain [the untellable secret], and I caught the New Yorkers with their masks off … not afraid to laugh, cry, or make love. What I felt I photographed, laughing and crying with them.”

Weegee’s relation to the city is that it is part and parcel of himself, not a subject external to him but an extension of his being. He has no being apart from his immersion in and expressive rapport with the city, with its streets, its public and secret places. Wherever he turns, there he finds himself, not in the sense of mirror images but in the sense of cognate beings, what Whitman called “duplicates of myself.” To find himself duplicated is to find himself real, achieved as a person.

[line break added] Like Whitman, Weegee finds himself in all the others who comprise his city. It may be surprising to discover an aura of Whitman in Weegee’s writing — he seems at first so unliterary — but the analogy fits. Weegee’s dedication of his book “To You, The People Of New York” echoes Whitman’s incorporation of “you” as flush with the author in the making of the poem: “what I assume you shall assume.”

Weegee, too, can say about himself, as Whitman did, that he was “of Manhattan the son / Turbulent, fleshy, eating, drinking, and breeding.” Camera in hand, cigar between his teeth, eyes scouting the darkness, his own fleshy body about to pounce as the flash ignites, Weegee shares the poet’s insatiable appetite for sensation. In his words, “I was on the scene; sometimes drawn there by some power I can’t explain,” we can hear echoes of Whitman’s “call in the midst of the crowd, / My own voice orotund, sweeping and final.”

… The lightning — a flash caught in the instant of its appearance — resembles writing in an obscure script, as if the secret of the city is inscribed across the night sky.

… It may be Weegee’s most closely guarded secret that not illumination by flash alone but revelation by written metaphor empowers the photograph to ascribe reality; [as Weegee wrote] being a “page from life,” “it must be real.” Weegee’s city moment lies in the paradox of darkness stripped away by explosive light only to reveal deeper darkness, the dark of the word wrapped in metaphor. Is it Weegee’s secret finally that what his flash illuminates is not the city street as such but the unvoiced city becoming real through collaboration of eye and pen, of flash, lens, and word?

My previous post from this book is here.




May 22, 2018

Slippery Signification

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… Discussions about pornography were and are still shaped by and embedded in fantasies about the destruction of the social body …

This is from ‘History, Pornography and the Social Body’ by Carolyn J. Dean found in Surrealism: Desire Unbound edited by Jennifer Mundy (2001):

… In the 1950s and 1960s when many histories of pornography were first published, they tended to be stories about great writers from Gustave Flaubert to James Joyce, who had been ignobly persecuted by uncomprehending judges, juries, and moralists. In other words, they tended not to be about pornography but about works that had been mistaken for pornography.

[line break added] In a more recent effort to account for the seeming versatility of the concept, one historian claimed that pornography is virtually anything elites believe threatens their power at a given time and place. Others have spoken not of pornography but of a ‘pornographic imagination’ that expresses the self-shattering experience associated with works that seem pornographic but on closer examination are sophisticated pieces of literature — the French writer Georges Bataille’s work in particular, but surrealist eroticism as well.

[line break added] Most of these accounts, all struggling to validate and preserve in different ways the formidable, perhaps subversive and often discomfiting feats of imagination that emerge in unexpected places, indicate that we cannot ever assume that we know what pornography is. And yet they also insist that pornography is distinct from great literature and from the psychic soaring, expansion, and longing we attribute to the imagination. Although undoubtedly we can draw formal distinctions between what we think pornography is and other work — indeed, film and literary theorists have done just that — we cannot explain the radically contingent, oddly empty and thus slippery signification of the term.

… [In an inter-World-War about-face] Over and over, a vast array of critics, writers, youth leaders, sexologists, and others throughout Western Europe and the United States no longer associated the open expression of sexuality with the destruction of the body politic but with its renewal, so that critics now conceived material once deemed pornographic as signs of a healthy, vital, renewed, and integral masculine social body.

… Some writers thus believed pornography was so omnipresent that they sought not to contain but to appropriate its energies in the interest of purifying the social body. Yet no matter how purified pornography was, it could never be sufficiently cleansed, and no matter how colonized by the expansion of the non-obscene, it could never be sufficiently conquered.

[line break added] For as pornography became or was perceived to be increasingly pervasive, it also became increasingly intangible, protean, and promiscuous and traversed the boundary between private and public often undetected. According to different writers, commentators, and even religious figures, pornography was present in the magazine that made its way into the sanctity of the domestic sphere and surprised the innocent family, and was ‘trash’ that masqueraded as decent and even advertised itself as a moral guide.

[line break added] Most often, as one French lawyer put it, pornography enters homes under ‘benign appearance,’ and he noted that in contrast to the last century, now ‘pornography is everywhere, and no place, however sacred it is, remains completely closed, because [pornography] is a supple, rich, intelligent enemy who hesitates at nothing.’

… Antipornography laws thus became increasingly expansive at a historical moment when pornography was becoming more difficult to define with any precision. While nineteenth-century prosecution proceeded with confidence in the solidity of the pornography concept, twentieth-century legislators, scholars, critics, and others instead presumed its conceptual indeterminacy even as they seemed to know what they were pursuing.

[line break added] This dogged pursuit of something that no one can quite define suggests that pornography is not intrinsically empty, as so many of its proponents insisted, but rather allegorized the pervasive body-shattering, sadomasochistic and homosexual eroticism that appeared in so many guises that its meaning was hard to pin down and necessarily exceeded all efforts to contain or eliminate it.

[line break added] In other words, pornography expressed and still expresses violent eroticism as a potentially permanent dimension of the social body, so palpably and yet so intangibly (and imprecisely) that the United States Supreme Court judge Stewart Potter was forced to conclude in 1964 that he knew pornography when he saw it, implying that he could otherwise provide no substantive definition of its meaning.

… Discussions about pornography were and are still shaped by and embedded in fantasies about the destruction of the social body, a concept that identified a generalized threat to the fantasmic integral male body after which social order was fashioned. This recent meaning of the pornographic explains why, for example, surrealism and other modernist and postmodernist art forms have a pornographic dimension — are believed, metaphorically, to violate the dignified and impermeable, ideally masculine social body — since they not only depict eroticism in an often explicit fashion, but also enact, mobilize (and often deflect) that body-violating desire in their formal innovations.

[line break added] Surrealism arguably internalized the dramatic cultural paradox of the interwar period: it renewed, purified, and reinvigorated the body by giving free rein to eroticism, and yet in so doing manifested the social body’s potential permeability — that which can never be entirely cleanses or eliminated. For cultural and aesthetic conservatives, surrealism represented a destructive, dignity-sapping link between sexuality and violence no matter what its explicit content. … Pornography, in this view, would now be a symptom of repressed anxiety about our capacity for violence that we are still working through.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




May 21, 2018

The Hunt

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… She also found a great deal of pleasure in doing it.

This is from Kirk Varnedoe’s introduction to On the Edge: Contemporary Art from the Werner and Elaine Dannheisser Collection (1997):

… now that the collection has taken on its definitive character, we can somewhat clinically analyze the areas of depth, highlight the key pieces, and survey the breadth of coverage. It was quite another thing, though, to form that array item by item, to strategize the hunt, make sober choices while in the intoxication of pursuit, know when to commit and when not, what and when to buy or sell.

[line break added] Collecting art is at any moment an enterprise that exerts sharp, panic-quick pressures not only on one’s purse but on one’s taste and judgment, exercising and testing the gambler in one’s makeup, and the related ability to discern which instincts must be followed with fearless trust and which must be stifled. Add to this the pleasures and perils of the personal relationships that inevitably obtain when the mix of collectors and dealers is joined to a community of young and ambitious artists, and the pressure-cooker atmosphere intensifies.

Mrs. Dannheisser remembers rising on one occasion at 6 a.m. to arrive at a gallery at 8:30 on what was in principle the first day of an exhibition, only to find all the works already sold. Competitive collectors, operating in a volatile world of hot rumors, super-charged egos, and heady cash flow, vied for opportunities to acquire the best of the emerging talents. Mrs. Dannheisser was in the thick of it, and passionately active.

Yet, at a critical point in the mid-1980s, she became deeply dissatisfied with the results. Walking into her Duane Street space, which was hung with an array of paintings by several of the trendiest artists of the time, she saw the ensemble as too predictable, too much in conformity with the approved taste of the moment — a downtown, ostensibly avant-garde space that was in essence indistinguishable, she says in retrospect, from “a rich woman’s uptown apartment.”

[line break added] This was not at all what she wanted, and she resolved, once again, to alter her direction — to empty out most of what she had acquired over the past four or five years, and to begin once again to form, on new, revised terms, the serious in-depth contemporary collection that had long been her aim. Once more profiting by selling paintings at their prime moment of desirability, Mrs.Dannheisser cleared her collection of much of its early-1980s American painting and redirected her funds into different areas …

[ … ]

… Moving well beyond the limits of an ordinary domestic collection, yet acting with a combination of spontaneous risk-taking and ruthless pruning that no institution could easily match, Mrs. Dannheisser formed an ensemble of contemporary art that is exceptional in its combination of range and focus. She also found a great deal of pleasure in doing it.




May 20, 2018

That Presupposes Too Much Already

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… it develops an eye for what science itself cannot see, and yet discloses.

This is from the essay ‘Science and Ontology: From Merleau-Ponty’s ‘Reduction” to Simondon’s “Transduction” ‘ by Miguel de Beistegui found in Gilbert Simondon: Being and Technology edited by Arne de Boueveer, Alex Murray, Jon Roffe, and Ashley Woodward (2012):

If philosophy today must, as I believe it does, posit itself as ontology again, it cannot do so without engaging in a close confrontation with the natural sciences. Why? First of all, because many of the questions and issues that traditionally fell under the authority of philosophy, and which helped clarify the fundamental meaning of that which is, now fall under that of science. More importantly, though, and as a result of the evolution of science itself, because such questions and issues have been radically transformed in the hands of science, especially in the last hundred years.

[line break added] Does this mean that, henceforth, philosophy must become philosophy of science, and let its own problems and methods be determined by those of science? Not at all. In the light of the event of science, philosophy must avoid a twofold trap: that of philosophizing without taking into account the challenge of science for thought; and that of subordinating philosophical thought to scientific procedures and ‘facts.’

… Rather than reiterate the opposition of the sensible and the intelligible, of sense perception and intellectual intuition, Merleau-Ponty chooses to speak of the visible and the invisible. Between the two, there is no longer an opposition or a hierarchy, but a movement of deepening and extension of a single structure; the invisible is the invisible of the visible itself, and accessible only in and through the visible.

[line break added] In so far as all experiences are rooted in the sensible, it remains, however, that sense perception constitutes the exemplary or archetypal sense of what is bodily given, and not one of its modalities only. Perception is essentially sense perception. At the same time, it is irreducible to — and potentially always more than — sense perception. It is this chiasmic structure, indicative of a new sense of being beyond the disputes of idealism and empiricism, which Merleau-Ponty precisely calls the flesh.

… The scientist is himself too busy looking for ‘ways to grasp and get a grip on the phenomenon’ (‘des “prises” par où saisir le phénomène‘) to be able really to ‘understand’ it. Yet it is the phenomenon itself that the scientist has in mind, not its mere image or representation. The thought of the scientist is not motivated by the concern to see — and a fortiori to see, as Merleau-Ponty claims, that one always sees more than one sees — but to ‘intervene’ and to ‘find a foothold’ (‘trouver des prises‘).

[line break added] In this effort to get a firm grip on things, however, ‘the scientist discloses more than he sees in fact.’ It is this excess that becomes the object of philosophy. In a way, the philosopher is an opportunist guided by the question regarding the sense of that which is. He sees ‘behind the back of the scientist what the scientist himself does not see.’

Merleau-Ponty seems to be going even further, when he warns philosophy itself against its own impatience to see and understand, and even against the ease with which it can generate concepts and become complacent with the language it forges to interpret scientific data. Philosophy must become aware of the traps of its own, natural language (what Merleau-Ponty calls ‘gnosis,’ especially in relation to Heidegger), and not only the objectivistic tendencies of science. If Nature is an all-encompassing something (un Englobaut), he writes, it cannot be thought on the basis of philosophical concepts alone, and least of all ‘by way of deductions.’

[ … ]

… [For Simondon] The individual — the phenomenon in the narrow sense of the term — is not the whole of being, but only one of its phases, and actually the final one only. Far from constituting the origin and the completion of philosophical thought, then, the perception of the phenomenon, as the fully individuated thing we are for the most part familiar with, only provides a point of entry into the process that unfolds prior to it, and of which it is itself the completion.

… [For Simondon] if I am, to use Merleau-Ponty’s own terminology, of the world and of being, it is not, first and foremost, because I perceive, but because of the pre-individual and impersonal singularities that I share with the natural world as a whole. In a way, the thematic perception is already too advanced in the operation of individuation. It grasps subjectivity at a stage that presupposes too much already, and which the thematic of individuation is precisely there to make explicit.

… The being of the phenomenon that is here in question does not refer back to a horizon of transcendence, but of immanence, in so far as it designates the internal genetic dimension of the phenomenon itself.

… Philosophy need not shy away from the challenge of science. Yet the challenge in question is a challenge for philosophy. It is a challenge that, if taken up, makes philosophy richer. If philosophy becomes richer in the process, it is by remaining philosophy. It remains philosophy to the extent that it develops an eye for what science itself cannot see, and yet discloses. It is concerned to disclose the being of the phenomena science analyses. The question regarding the being of phenomena is the question of philosophy. It cannot be developed, however, independently of science. Philosophy is neither within nor outside science. It traverses it.




May 19, 2018

Between the Meaning

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… in order to determine the meaning of a work of art we have first to determine what the meaning-bearing properties of the work are …

This is from ‘Criticism as retrieval,’ a follow-up essay to the title essay in Art and Its Objects, (2nd edition) by Richard Wollheim (1968; 1980):

It is a deficiency of at least the English language that there is no single word, applicable over all the arts, for the process of coming to understand a particular work of art. To make good this deficiency I shall appropriate the word ‘criticism,’ but in doing so I know that, though this concurs with the way the word is normally used in connection with, say, literature, it violates usage in, at any rate, the domain of the visual arts, where ‘criticism’ is the name of a purely evaluative activity.

The central question to be asked of criticism is, what does it do? How is a piece of criticism to be assessed, and what determines whether it is adequate? To my mind the best brief answer, of which this essay will offer an exposition and a limited defence, is, criticism is retrieval. The task of criticism is the reconstruction of the creative process, where the creative process must in turn be thought of as something not stopping short of, but terminating on, the work of art itself. The creative process reconstructed, or retrieval complete, the work is then open to understanding.

To the view advanced, that criticism is retrieval, several objections are raised.

The first objection is that, by and large, this view makes criticism impossible: and this is so because, except in exceptional circumstances, it is beyond the bounds of practical possibility to reconstruct the creative process.

… an alternative view of criticism follows. This alternative may be expressed as, criticism is revision, and it holds that the task of criticism is so to interpret the work that it says most to the critic there and then. Assuming the critical role, we must make the work of art speak ‘to us, today.’

… The thesis I have in mind, which is generally called ‘radical historicism’ and is best known through the advocacy of Eliot, holds that works of art actually change their meaning over history. On this thesis the task of the critic at any given historical moment is not so much to impose a new meaning upon, as to extract the new meaning from, the work of art.

… A second objection to the retrieval view of criticism goes deeper in that it concentrates upon the view itself and not merely upon its consequences. According to this objection, retrieval is, from the critical point of view, on any given occasion either misleading or otiose. From the outset the objection contrasts retrieval with its own favored view of criticism, which may be expressed as, criticism is scrutiny — scrutiny of the literary text, of the musical score, of the painted surface …

… Suppose we confine ourselves (as the objection says) to that part of the creative process which is realized in the work of art. It becomes clear that there is something that reconstruction of this part of the process can bring to light which scrutiny of the corresponding part of the work cannot. It can show that that part of the work which came about through design did indeed come about through design and not through accident or error. Scrutiny, which ex hypothesi limits itself to the outcome, cannot show this.

… The basic problem is this: in order to determine the meaning of a work of art we have first to determine what the meaning-bearing properties of the work are, and it is only on a very naïve view of the matter that we can do this without invoking the creative process itself and thus losing the clarity of the distinction which the simple cases promised.

[line break added] A typical naïve view would be one that equated the meaning-bearing properties of a poem with the ordered and aligned words, or the ‘text.’ … I have argued that, if we take this view, absurd consequences follow even as far as the identity of poems is concerned, and something similar goes for similar views.

[line break added] Nevertheless to say that we have to invoke the creative process in order to fix the meaning-bearing properties of the work of art does not commit us to the view, already dismissed, that every work of art has every meaning-bearing property that the artist wished it to have. The retrieval view concedes that an artist may fail. The objection then misfires. The retrieval view has no difficulty in distinguishing — in principle, that is — between the meaning of the work of art and the meaning of the artist, and it identifies the former as the proper object of critical attention.

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




May 18, 2018

The High Humming

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… For [a] long [time] I considered this a weakness …

This is from Selections from the Journals of Myron Stout edited by Tina Dickey (2005):


In order to be one thing, a painting has to be so many other things also and at the same time.


Is it true that when it is, as it is today, dark, rather gloomy, utterly still, I respond unconsciously and become more “interior” in working? I find myself getting my eyes in closer and closer to the canvas, hovering right up to it, seeing one small spot at a time (and content to) like I am getting farther into the picture. I hear the high humming in my ears and practically nothing else. A plane passes over and it’s like a sound from another room, shut well out of my hearing. I’m not really seeing the painting; it’s more like I was inside the painting!


… Sometimes it’s as though I can’t work with what’s on the canvas, and neither can I work with anything that isn’t on the canvas!


There is part of my process in painting and drawing that, logically, seems futile; it seems irresolute, diddling. It’s not even muddling (that implies a clearer purpose than this has); I do it in a kind of hypnotic state. It comes over me, or takes me over. Perhaps it is that I am (rather mechanically) clearing away the underbrush — cleaning the drawing — erasing carefully at all edges and total white areas; touching up black in [the] painting, clearing away “ridges” of paint; white (chiefly) and black, in the scraping-the-paint-down process, this “state” often takes over.

It’s a state that’s almost somnolent. I’m a little bit removed — possibly deeply removed — from the alert time-and-place consciousness of where I am and what I’m doing — of purposefulness. “Something” has taken over.

For [a] long [time] I considered this a weakness — and something to be overcome — but my efforts to overcome it were useless.

… I have discovered that it is a very essential state in the whole creative process. As I get my feelings and “ideas” about what I’m doing muddled and unclear, I seem to resort to it — or to wait for such a state. I believe I don’t really feel that (to put it interiorly) the painting or drawing is mine until I’ve gotten muddled, then fiddled and diddled over it for long in this state; and then when I can approach the work again with the fresh, alert comprehensive vision that seems most productive to me it opens up, clears, seems beautiful to me again and I can go on to a conclusion.

… I am either absorbing something about what I’ve already got on the canvas or paper, or I’m reaching into areas of my perceptivity that I don’t otherwise reach in order to add to what’s there, or both.

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




May 17, 2018

What He’s Going to Do

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… there is the time of the work itself which is the span of its own disintegration and final obliteration.

This is from CUTS: Texts 1959-2004 / Carl Andre edited by James Meyer (2005):

Space is the possibility of working. Our notions of space in art are almost entirely derived from painting. Moving timber from one side of a room to the other is an entirely different kind of operation in an entirely different kind of space from the operation and the space involved in making a mark on a canvas. [1991]


… by definition if an artist sets out to make work, there can be nothing in the world of use to him in a way because what he’s going to do is to add something that’s not there yet. That is the hardest thing to find out: what that contribution you can make is that is not pre-existent in the world. You have to create what you’re looking for because there’s no hole there to fill. [1972]


There are at least three different dimensions to a work of art. There is the time it takes the viewer to experience the work. There is the life-time of the artist in which the creation of the work is an interval, and there is the time of the work itself which is the span of its own disintegration and final obliteration. The notion that a work of art stands outside of time is the alien one. [1991]

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




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