Unreal Nature

August 8, 2017

Extreme Ambivalence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… There was a dangerously narrow line between the yearning for integration with America and the unwillingness to be entrapped by its provincialism.

This is from The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning by Dore Ashton (1972):

… One of the editorials in View magazine of 1943, a periodical that was assiduously read when the New York School was in formation during the early nineteen-forties, cast a look back to the twenties and thirties and found that:

the two main themes of inspiration were the unconscious and the masses. The genuine artist, the pure poet, the authentic composer according to his political inclinations, believed either that his mission consisted in expressing the deeper feelings of the masses, or in giving form to his own dreams.

… At the time this editorial appeared, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, William Baziotes, and others were, in fact, deeply immersed in scanning distant archaeological horizons. Their quest had been prepared, as the View writer correctly noted, by the two most compelling issues of the previous decade: radicalism in aesthetic views and radicalism in social ideas.

… Their reverence — or at least the reverence that the rebellious students felt — was reserved only for artists proved in Paris. When Stuart Davis asked his young friend to write an article on his work for the magazine Creative Art in 1931, Gorky’s highest praise came in the form of associating Davis with his own modern heroes:

This man, Stuart Davis, works upon that platform where are working the giant painters of the century — Picasso, Léger, Kandinsky, Juan Gris — bringing us new utility, new aspects, as does the art of Uccello.

To work in the modern tradition was indeed a struggle. Very rare were the critics, galleries or museums that took the least interest in such work, which is undoubtedly why the charismatic figure of John Graham or Frederick Kiesler assumed such crucial importance.

… Picasso thoroughly dominated those who wished to enter the magic circle of modern art, and that commitment to ‘the new spirit’ in aesthetics was the deepest commitment made by those fledgling painters about to experience the Great Depression.

This alignment, which the editorialist for View generalized by speaking of the unconscious and the artists who sought to give form to their own dreams, often brought with it considerable conflict. The American artist, who was in fact a pariah and often doubted his right to be an artist, was never entirely comfortable with the doctrine of art for art’s sake. The unspoken need to be acknowledged by society as a professional was at least as strong as the need to be distinguished from the ‘true professionals,’ the Europeans.

[line break added] The same artists who assiduously studied Cahiers d’Art, or listened to Graham’s latest account of what Picasso was up to, often had moments of total rejection, in which they would praise, as did David Smith, the coarseness and directness of their own tradition, or speak deprecatingly of French cuisine in painting. Many artists in the Village suffered from episodes of extreme ambivalence (and continued to express it will into the nineteen-fifties).

At issue was the value of the sole historical distinguishing mark of the American artist: his isolation and loneliness. Individualism as an institution acquired in artistic circles a kind of hallowed legend, fed by both writers and painters.

… There was a dangerously narrow line between the yearning for integration with America and the unwillingness to be entrapped by its provincialism. Always during the twenties and thirties the political dangers, exemplified in numerous persecutions of ‘bolsheviks’ and celebrated breaches of the Constitution, worried the artistic community. The moment the concept of an ‘American art’ was broached, scores of reactionary journalists and entrenched special-interest groups sprang forward to denounce modern art. A progressive young artist, being trained in those years before the deep Depression, always sensed the risks in identifying with America as an ordained American artist.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

August 7, 2017

To Give Back to Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… he created a form of expression that forever denied the possibility of defining art metaphysically, i.e. basing aesthetics on absolute rules.

This is from the essay ‘Objects of Modern Skepticism’ by Herbert Molderings found in The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp edited by Thierry de Duve (1992):

… “Does the harmony the human intelligence thinks it discovers in nature exist outside of this intelligence?,” asks Poincaré at the opening of his book, The Value of Science. “No, beyond doubt a reality completely independent of the mind which conceives it, sees or feels it, is an impossibility. A world as exterior as that, even if it existed, would for us be forever inaccessible. But what we call objective reality is, in the last analysis, what is common to many thinking beings, and could be common to all.”

[line break added] For Poincaré the scientific laws of nature are pure symbols, mere conventions, which man creates for the sake of “convenience.” “The scientific fact is only the crude fact translated into a convenient language. … All these rules, all these definitions are only the fruit of an unconscious opportunism.” Mathematical and physical theorems cannot, therefore, fulfill the demand to be true. “The things themselves are not what science can reach … but only the relations between things. Outside of these relations there is no knowledge of reality.”

… He considers basic geometric and physical principles such as three-dimensional space, the law of gravity, and the theorem of the conservation of energy to be mere products of consciousness, arbitrary arrangements, which could be formulated otherwise. In physics, especially theoretical physics, epistemological confusion was so great that one spoke of a “physics of believers.”

… In order to enter this discourse Duchamp had to invent a pictorial method that could not be compared to anything that had been known as art until then. “Can one make works which are not ‘works of art’?” In this note from 1913 Duchamp accurately formulated the aesthetic problem with which he was confronted in view of his philosophical ambitions.

[line break added] He found the answer in commonplace objects that he transformed into hilarious pseudoscientific devices, carrying forward and transcending the literary example of Alfred Jarry’s “pata-physics” into the field of the visual arts. It is, by the way, this pseudoscientific, philosophical function and point of departure that differentiates the readymades from all other subsequent forms of object art, especially from the Constructivist spatial structures and the Surrealist “objects trouvés.”

… It is as if Duchamp had wanted to simulate this different “education of the senses” by exposing himself and visitors to the crazy objects in his studio presenting totally new environmental conditions and object relations. In order to subvert the common belief in “top” and “bottom,” “left” and “right,” as absolutes, he had to disrupt, retard, paralyze the usual corporeal thing-experience.

[line break added] The unexpected position of the coatrack, hat rack, and snow shovel in space serves this aesthetic purpose. Of course, these amusements bore no results for the sciences. But they had far-reaching consequences for the further development of the visual arts. Are all definitions of art and the beautiful not at least as relative as the so-called iron laws of nature? “These rules are not imposed upon us,” Poincaré wrote on one of the most basic axioms of physics, the principle of cause and effect, “and we might amuse ourselves in inventing others.”

[line break added] Duchamp had fun doing exactly this, not only by inventing what he called playful physics and ironical causality, but by blurring the line between works and artworks, between commonplace utensils and objects in the service of the mind. Thus he created a form of expression that forever denied the possibility of defining art metaphysically, i.e. basing aesthetics on absolute rules.

… The anesthesia of logical thought, the “cretinization” of reason, was Duchamp’s lifelong artistic occupation. Although he was indebted to the sciences for his revolutionizing of the visual arts as hardly any other artist in this century, Duchamp was basically hostile to scientific rationalism, which had assumed the role of religion and philosophy as the principal means to explain reality.

… All his life he had, indeed, dealt with optical illusions, not to further the natural scientific world outlook but out of the conviction that all experiences, scientific thought included, touch on mere appearance, on sense illusions. Duchamp was as ironic as his colleague in the novel: they shared the same attitude, namely as Duchamp put it, “to discredit science mildly, lightly, unimportantly” and to give back to life a nonfunctional, playful dimension.

My previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

August 6, 2017

The Boundaries Begin to Be Effaced

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:04 am

… The author begins to expect revelations from the hero.

Continuing through the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… Character is sharply and essentially differentiated from all forms of expression of the hero that we have examined up to now. Neither in confessional self-accounting, nor in biography, nor in lyric does the whole of the hero constitute the fundamental artistic task, the axiological center in artistic vision. (The hero is always the center of artistic vision, but not the whole that he is, not the fullness and completeness of his determinateness.)

Character is the name we give to that form of the author-hero interrelationship which actualizes the task of producing the whole of a hero as a determinate personality, where, moreover, this task constitutes the fundamental task: the hero is given us, from the very outset, as a determinate whole, and the author’s self-activity proceeds, from the very outset, along the essential boundaries of the hero. Everything is perceived here as a constituent in the characterization of the hero, i.e. fulfills a characterological function; everything reduces to and serves the answer to the question: who is he?

… Character construction may proceed in two basic directions. The first one we shall call “Classical character construction”; the second we shall call “Romantic character construction.” The foundation for the first type of character construction is provided by the artistic value of fate (we are using this term here in a very specific, restricted sense which should become clear from what follows).

Fate is the all-round determinateness of a person’s existence that necessarily predetermines all the events of that person’s life; hence, life is merely the actualization of (and fulfillment) of what was inherent from the very outset in the determinateness of the person’s existence.

… The very course of a person’s life, all of its events, and, ultimately, its termination are perceived as necessary and as predetermined by that person’s determinate individuality — by his fate. And, on this plane of character-as-fate, the death of the hero is not a termination, but a consummation; indeed, every constituent moment of his life assumes artistic significance, becomes artistically necessary.

It should be clear that our understanding of fate differs from the usual, very broad, understanding of it. Thus, fate, experienced from within as an external irrational force which determines our life regardless of its goals, meaning, and desires, is not the artistic value of fate in our sense, for this fate does not, after all, order our life, for ourselves, into a necessary and artistic whole. Rather, it has the purely negative function of disarranging our life, which is ordered or, rather, strives to be ordered by purposes and by various forms of that which has validity with respect to meaning and objects.

… In relation to the world view of the Classical hero, the author is dogmatic. His cognitive-ethical position must be indisputable or, to be exact, it is simply not brought up for discussion at all. For to do so would be to introduce the moment of guilt and responsibility, and the artistic unity and pervasiveness of fate would be destroyed. The hero would turn out to be free, he could be put on trial morally; there would be no necessity in him, he could be other than he is.

… In the question “who am I?” one can hear the question “who are my parents, from what kind am I descended?” I can be no more than what I am already in essentials; I cannot reject my essential already-being, for it is not mine, but belongs to my mother, father, kin, people, mankind.

… We turn now to the second type of character construction — the “Romantic character.” In distinction to Classical character, the Romantic type of character is arbitrarily self-active and full of initiative with respect to value. What is of the utmost importance, moreover, is that the hero responsibly initiates the sequence of his life as determined by meaning and values. It is precisely this solitary and utterly active position or attitude of the hero with respect to meaning and values, i.e. his cognitive-ethical position in the world, that the author must overcome and consummate aesthetically. The value of fate, which presupposes kin and tradition, is useless here for accomplishing artistic consummation.

… The hero’s individuality reveals itself here not as fate, but as idea, or rather, as an embodiment of the idea. Acting from within himself in accordance with various purposes, the hero actualizes that which has validity from the standpoint of meaning and objects, and in doing so, he actualizes, in reality, a certain idea, a certain necessary truth of his life.

… The author’s position outside the Romantic hero is undoubtedly less stable than it was in the case of the Classical type of hero. The weakening of this position leads to the disintegration of character; the boundaries begin to be effaced, the center of value is transposed from the boundaries into the very life of the hero (into his cognitive-ethical directedness from within himself).

… The author begins to expect revelations from the hero. There is an attempt to force an admission from within self-consciousness, which is possible only through the other; an attempt to do without God, without listeners, without an author.

The products of the disintegration of Classical character are the “Sentimental” and the “Realistic” character.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

August 5, 2017

Fix the Observation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… it aims to observe something and fix the observation, to “formalize” it.

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

… If we want to find out what is “really” going on, we must instead observe the gesture naively, as though we knew nothing about it and were seeing it for the first time.

Although this appears to be very simple, it is difficult. We have before us an ambiguous situation. Let’s say it’s a social event. A man is sitting in a chair smoking a pipe. There is another man in the room holding an apparatus. Both are behaving in an unusual way, if by “usual” we mean appropriate to the event. The man smoking the pipe seems not to be doing it so as to smoke but for some other reason. Although we might find it difficult to say why, it seems to us that he’s “playing” at smoking.

[line break added] The man with the apparatus, conversely, is moving around the area in a most peculiar way. If we set out to describe his path, then for us he becomes the main point of the scene, and the smoker becomes the explanation for the way he is circling around the middle of the image. That is noteworthy, for it shows that the situation is determined not so much by the relationships among the constituent elements as by the observer’s intentions.

… The center of this situation is the man with the apparatus. He is moving. Still, it’s awkward to say of a center that it is moving in relation to its own periphery. When a center moves, it does so with respect to the observer, and the whole situation then moves as well. We must therefore concede that what we are seeing when we watch the man with the apparatus is a movement of the whole situation, including the man sitting on his chair. It is difficult to admit this because we’re accustomed to believing that someone who is sitting is not moving. Because we believe it, we think we’re seeing it.

In fact, when we turn our attention to the man on his chair, we see that the situation is still and the man with the apparatus moves within it; should we turn our attention to the man with the apparatus, conversely, the situation begins to move, and the man on his chair becomes the fixed element in a changing situation.

… the following problem appears: the man with his apparatus is the center of the situation only for us, watching him, not for himself. He believes himself to be outside the situation, for he is watching it. For him the man on the chair, at the center of his attention, is the center of the situation. And we, too, are located in the space, watching the man with the apparatus. We are part of the situation for him. That could mislead us into supposing that there are two different situations, one in which the man with his apparatus, whom we transcend, is at the center and another in which the man on his chair is at the center and in which we are involved.

[line break added] The two situations are different yet bound up with one another. But there is actually only one situation. We can confirm this because we are able to step away from our observer role and look at the situation from within it, which the man with the apparatus can do as well. By looking at his gestures, we can actually notice that he himself is not aware of some of his movements.

This view of ourselves in a situation (this “reflexive” or “critical” vision) is characteristic of our being-in-the-world: we are in the world, and we see it, we “know” about it. But to say it once more: there is nothing “objective” about this. The gesture with which we release ourselves from a particular role and which is just as available to the man with the apparatus remains bound to a “place” from which we can assert that we are experiencing the same situation twice. This “place” is the basis for a consensus, for intersubjective recognition.

… In contrast to the majority of other gestures, the point of the photographic gesture is not directly to change the world or to communicate with others. Rather it aims to observe something and fix the observation, to “formalize” it.

… three aspects can be distinguished but cannot be separated from one another. A first aspect is the search for a place, a position from which to observe the situation. A second aspect is the manipulating of the situation, adapting it to the chosen position. The third aspect concerns critical distance that makes it possible to see the success or failure of this adaptation.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

August 4, 2017

A Moth’s Part in Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:27 am

… He was little or nothing but life.

This is from the ‘The Death of the Moth’ by Virginia Woolf found in The Oxford Book of Essays edited by John Gross (1991):

Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow-underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us. They are hybrid creatures, neither gay like butterflies nor somber like their own species. Nevertheless the present specimen, with his narrow hay-colored wings, fringed with a tassel of the same color, seemed to be content with life.

[line break added] It was a pleasant morning, mid-September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months. The plough was already scoring the field opposite the window, and where the share had been, the earth was pressed flat and gleamed with moisture. Such vigor came rolling in from the fields and the down beyond that it was difficult to keep the eyes strictly turned upon the book. The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up into the air …

… The same energy which inspired the rooks, the ploughmen, the horses, and even, it seemed, the lean bare-backed downs, sent the moth fluttering from side to side of his square of the windowpane. One could not help watching him. One was, indeed, conscious of a queer feeling of pity for him. The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meager opportunities to the full, pathetic. He flew vigorously to one corner of his compartment, and, after waiting there a second, flew across to the other.

[line break added] What remained for him but to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth? That was all he could do, in spite of the size of the downs, the width of the sky, the far-off smoke of houses, and the romantic voice, now and then, of a steamer out at sea. What he could do he did. Watching him, it seemed as if a fiber, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I would fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

August 3, 2017

Red Rags

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… these exhibitions were fundamentally and profoundly educational …

This is from Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries by Sarah Greenough (2000):

… After a year of exhibiting American and European photographs at 291, Stieglitz, Steichen, and Keiley came to believe that the ideas behind the fine art movement in photography were drying up; that it was time, as the critic Charles Caffin counseled Stieglitz, to “shift your attack.” The elusive, evocative, and often ethereal work of the Photo-Secession that only a few years earlier had seemed to Stieglitz so revealing of the photographer’s “character, his emotions, his intellectual powers,” now appeared stilted.

… The early exhibitions at 291 of non-photographic works were a varied mix.

… Especially during the early years at 291, he and Steichen rotated “red rags” with exhibitions of both photographs and “understandable” art.

Stieglitz and Steichen’s aim, though, was not simply to pace their shows or humor their audience to ensure their continued visitation and it was not merely to find what Steichen later referred to as “an antidote” for more radical work. Rather, both wanted to set up a dialogue that would enable 291 visitors to see, discuss, and ponder the differences and similarities between artists of all ranks and types: between painters, draftsmen, sculptors, and photographers; between European and American artists; between older or more established figures and younger, newer practitioners.

Stieglitz himself benefited enormously from the varied program and his understanding of modern art grew exponentially from 1907 through the summer of 1911. Although when he first saw Cézanne’s work in the large exhibition at Bernheim Jeune in Paris in the summer of 1907, he scoffed, “there’s nothing there but empty paper with a few splashes of color,” by 1911 he assuredly proclaimed to a New York critic that “without the understanding of Cézanne … it is impossible for anyone to grasp, even faintly, much that is going on in the art world today,” and in 1913 Francis Picabia anointed him “the man best informed in this whole revolution in the arts.”

… This more mature, nuanced, and layered understanding of modern art and the exhibition process itself was evident in both the 1911 Picasso exhibition and the 1912 Matisse show. … As all involved undoubtedly anticipated, this exhibition, Picasso’s first in this country, incited a storm of discussion and Stieglitz seems to have taken great pleasure in confounding critics by telling them that the works they believed to be “the gibberings of a lunatic,” he found “as perfect as a Bach fugue.”

… [The Matisse show] too was greeted with bewilderment and derision, described by one critic as “impossible travesties on the human form … which make one grieve that men should be found who can by any chance regard them with other than feelings of horrible repulsion.”

Above all else these two exhibitions at 291 drew attention to what was for many one of the most disturbing and perplexing aspects of modern art: its attack on conventional notions of beauty in the human form. Within the space of one year Stieglitz presented some of the most radical challenges to these conventions that would be witnessed in the entire twentieth century.

[line break added] Moreover, although unintentional, as he was dependent on both what was available and what could be easily shipped, because he primarily exhibited drawings, small plaster casts, terra-cottas, and a few bronzes, he delivered these challenges in their most bare, unadorned, and provocative form, without the allure or distraction of color, scale, and, in most cases even patina.

[line break added] In this way, these exhibitions were fundamentally and profoundly educational: they provided a means of communication between one artist and another; they were intended not to sensationalize, and not simply to shock, but to instruct and provoke, to allow one artist to speak to another about the creative process. And they were, at their very core, conceived as a Socratic dialogue, where new, even revolutionary ideas were introduced by the comparisons that were made and the questions that were posed, in order that artists and the public alike were empowered to reach their own conclusions.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

August 2, 2017

The Aiming

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… She left excessive traces of her sticky desires throughout the domestic sphere of her house and studio, as well as in the passionate spaces of her photographs.

This is from Photography and the Art of Chance by Robin Kelsey (2015):

… critics and historians who have lauded her [Julia Margaret Cameron’s] aesthetic achievement have puzzled over the role of haphazardness in her work. Cameron invited, preserved, and defended signs of sloppiness and chance in her photography when other serious practitioners were seeking to eliminate them. Whereas Talbot emphasized the accidental encounter, Cameron highlighted the play of chance in the optical, chemical, and material processes of photography. In doing so, she brilliantly negotiated a host of contradictory Victorian commitments.

The puzzle of Cameron’s haphazard ways is not new. Writers in her day routinely remarked on the blemishes she abided. Although Cameron used up-to-date processes to make wet-plate collodion glass negatives and albumen prints, she showed scant concern for the forms of technical mastery that almost all professional photographers deemed essential to their craft.

… Whereas most portrait photographers of her day used ample overhead lighting to produce a sharp image, Cameron preferred the chiaroscuro created by angled and restricted sources of light. Often working in a relatively dim space, she opened up her camera’s aperture to let in more light, but this severely limited her depth of field. … Cameron also refused to employ headrests or other devices to help sitters remain still during her exposures, which despite her wide aperture remained long due to the restricted lighting.

… Most curious yet, sharp focus is often reserved for areas that pictorial convention would have deemed of secondary importance. For example, in a photograph entitled A Dantesque Vision, the face of the model (Lady Elcho) is luminescent and indistinct, while the bark of the tree against which she leans is rendered in exact detail. In numerous portraits, whether made indoors or outdoors, the area of clearest focus represents clothing or vegetation rather than the subject’s face. Although a preference for soft focus was not uncommon among Victorian photographers of artistic pretension, this arbitrary allocation of focus was bizarre.

Whereas writers on Cameron’s work once tended to chastise her for poor technique, they now often assign her glitches a positive value. [Julian] Cox, for example, has argued that Cameron “was not afraid to reveal the exigencies of her own labor, as though leaving traces of her hand convincingly demonstrated that her work was made very consciously and by an artist rather than a machine.” This gloss touches on vital paradoxes at work in Cameron’s practice, whereby accidents come to signify ambition and defects to signify distinction. By bringing forth these paradoxes, her photography took on a wayward originality.

… In [a] letter to [John] Herschel she [Cameron] asks: “What is focus — and who has a right to say what focus is the legitimate focus?” Cameron audaciously presumes to establish photography and its standards anew.

… The ideal pictures at which Cameron aimed were perhaps less important than the aiming itself. As one writer noted at the time, her “out of focus” photographs “give the hope that something higher than mechanical success is attainable by the camera.” Her photographs were arguably all about giving viewers that hope.

Cameron’s decision to work with the new wet-plate process contributed to the complex modernism of her practice.

… Using technical processes associated with clear opticality, Cameron produced pictures redolent of an emotive, overly liquid, out-of-control vision.

… The domestic authority of the Victorian woman stemmed from her ability to regulate her desire and thus restrain the tendency in the modern era for wants to run rampant. It was through her that the domestic sphere was to tame the instinctual drives and rapacious inclinations of market life. Cameron, however, strewed her domestic space with signs of her irrepressible passion.

[line break added] In “Annals,” she recalls retaining the “habit of running into the dining room with my wet pictures,” which “stained such an immense quantity of table linen with nitrate of silver, indelible stains, that I should have been banished from any less indulgent household.” She left excessive traces of her sticky desires throughout the domestic sphere of her house and studio, as well as in the passionate spaces of her photographs.


Julia Margaret Cameron, A Dantesque Vision, 1865

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

August 1, 2017

His Place

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… his ‘place,’ so cherished for its anarchic vitality during the preceding years, turn[ed] overnight into a quiet warren of dying spirits.

This is from The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning by Dore Ashton (1972):

… Even in the twenties, the little towns throughout America usually had at least one piano teacher and often a circle of literary ladies subscribing to newly organized book clubs, but art was taught very rarely in the local high school, and if there were art classes, they were horribly debased. Mechanical drawing, even in the universities, was the nearest approach to art, and it was taught for obvious utilitarian reasons. These extreme conditions sent the determinedly artistic youth fleeing to the few large cities in America where there were usually a few art schools and some pretensions to visual culture.

[line break added] Most often, the would-be artist tried to get to New York, where a school such as the Art Students’ League, with its open system allowing the student to choose his instructor, promised a grand initiation to sophisticated life. But even New York had its artistic limitations in terms of an audience. Murdock Pemberton, recalling his years in the twenties as arty critic for The New Yorker, sarcastically outlined the taste of the time: ‘Of course there was a national fondness for art expressed in the annual feed and coalyard calendar and the Maxfield Parrish boy on the swing.’

… Whatever artistic milieu that did exist … was in New York, and it was closely quartered with the literary bohemia that flourished in Greenwich Village.

… When Arshile Gorky was twenty-one, he left New England for New York where he quickly established himself in a studio on Sullivan Street near Washington Square, right in the heart of the Village. His imposing presence seemed not to have been noted by the literati, though he was often in the little tea shops and cafés frequented by the writers. Yet he, Stuart Davis, John Graham, Frederick J. Kiesler, and a score of others in the artistic vanguard were well aware of the literary and philosophical heroes of the day (Nietzsche, Spengler, Wells, Havelock Ellis, Freud, Schnitzler, Chekhov, Strindberg, Toller, Hauptmann, Dreiser, et al.).

… The Depression brought the artists into an entirely new context with their society. Some even regarded the Depression, which was bitterly described by many as ‘the great leveler,’ as the long-hoped-for cataclysm out of which a humanistic America might arise. From all accounts of the painters and sculptors who were young during the early years of the Depression, the sight of the breadlines and the general despair that settled soon after the crash was deeply traumatic.

[line break added] An artist in New York would have seen his ‘place,’ so cherished for its anarchic vitality during the preceding years, turn overnight into a quiet warren of dying spirits. The physical pangs of hunger were not nearly so great as the psychological shock that hurtled even the most thoughtful Americans into unprecedented confusion. Nothing, not even the vast literature of disillusion that characterized twentieth-century America, could have prepared artists for the reality of universal despair.

[line break added] This tremendous upheaval, bringing changes ranging from the most trivial details of life, such as what to eat for breakfast on a drasitc budget, to the problem of what to do without paint and canvas, and how to preserve one’s individualism in the midst of mass prostration, drove out all thoughts of continuity and structure.

My previous post from Ashton’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

July 31, 2017

The Machine Runs Only on Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… This moment, which Duchamp struggled hard to freeze on crystal, is not the moment of expansion, or of explosion, or of the setting on fire; it is, on the contrary, the moment of contraction, of shrinkage, when everything is possible but in suspense.

This is from the essay ‘Possible’ by Jean Suquet found in The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp edited by Thierry de Duve (1992):

Everyone knows that he scribbled a moustache on the Mona Lisa, baptized a urinal “Fountain,” spun a bicycle wheel with its fork in the air, and fabricated puns from the crudest obsession. I don’t want to dilute the salty taste of these healthy snickers. Throughout his life, with obvious pleasure, Marcel Duchamp said “No” — a “no” that brought glory to his name, and rightly so.

[line break added] But what if these negations were really only shadows cast by the sun of a “yes,” whose rays sparkle through the splinters of the Large Glass? This hermetic window, to whose crystallization the glorious naysayer almost secretly devoted between fifteen and twenty years of work, will be the object of our questions.

… When Duchamp crystallized his scheme for the Large Glass (not yet having lost interest in someday unveiling it to onlookers), he considered accompanying it — as if with a manual of instructions — with a brief and dry text that would set his frozen machinery in motion. And here I want to make the point that I will be hammering to the end: the machine runs only on words. For Duchamp very carefully retained the notes, scraps, and sketches that, made in 1912-1915 in Paris, preceded the actual construction of the Large Glass; but not until the Large Glass, “definitively unfinished” in 1923, broke while confined to a crate in the back of a jolting truck on a Connecticut road, not until then did the words, firing from the cracks, start the engine.

[line break added] Instead of repairing the shattered Large Glass as soon as he was informed of its breakage, Duchamp decided to publish, at the cost of more very meticulous work, the corpus of writings that recorded his plans — resurrecting the imaginary flesh: the fabric of words that would drape again the skeleton of rods and gears. Only then did he restore the image between two new plates of glass, now to be read through the foundational grid of his writings.

[ … ]

… Infinity, by definition — to expand on one of the tautologies that Duchamp loved — is that which has no end. Consequently, and most logically, the Large Glass remained definitively unfinished

… Why? … One glimpse at the Large Glass is enough: it represents the instant before, it is a delay in glass. The chariot is drawn back. The scissors are closed. When they open (in a minute? soon? tomorrow? never?), they are going to spread the strings which are going to liberate the weight which is going to fall into the liquefied gas which is going to rebound as a splash which is going to be dazzled by the oculist mirrors which are going to direct drops to the tender gravity who is going to … Well, but nothing is going anywhere in the Large Glass.

[line break added] None of this is shown. Here we are at the heart of the contradiction. In clear sketches and with sentences that don’t stop along the way, Duchamp imagined the plan for a picture that would strip the Bride bare. And when the moment came to realize it, he chose a point of view that held the last veil in suspense. However much the jolting chariot comes and goes — as the Bride’s letters come and go, as the weight falls, as the gas runs and the balls roll — however much time runs with both legato and staccato movement, the Large Glass cuts through it all. It represents an instantaneous state of rest, it is an allegorical appearance, exalting above all a single moment.

[line break added] This moment, which Duchamp struggled hard to freeze on crystal, is not the moment of expansion, or of explosion, or of the setting on fire; it is, on the contrary, the moment of contraction, of shrinkage, when everything is possible but in suspense. Note 82 perhaps provides the key. I want to avoid distorting it, and I know very well that separated from its context its meaning is altered, yet I will quote from it two major propositions: le tableau est impuissnat … le langage peut [the picture is impotent … language can].

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

July 30, 2017

In the Voice of the Other

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… What renders the hero so weak internally (so unserious, one might say)?

Continuing through the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… From within itself, inner life is not rhythmic and — we can put it even more broadly — it is not lyrical. Lyrical form is introduced from outside and it expresses the axiological relationship of the other as such to the experiencing soul, and not the relationship of the experiencing soul to itself.

… Almost all object-related and meaning-related moments in the hero’s lived experience that could have persisted against the fullness of aesthetic consummation are absent from the lyrical work — whence the ease with which the hero’s self-coincidence, self-equivalence is accomplished. (Even in the philosophical lyric, meaning and object are rendered totally immanent to lived experience, are contracted into lived experience, and as a result leave no room for noncoinciding with oneself and for going out into the open event of being; the thought here is thought that has been lived through, thought that believes only in its own factual existence and neither supposes nor sees anything outside itself.)

What gives the author such full power over the hero? What renders the hero so weak internally (so unserious, one might say)? What makes the isolation of lived experience out of the event of being so complete?

… [There is] the illusion that the hero preserves himself and preserves his own inner position — the accumulated stock of pure self-experience; it produces the illusion that in a lyrical work the hero has to do only with himself and for himself, the illusion that he is solitary, and not possessed. This illusion makes it easier for the author to penetrate into the innermost depth of the hero and take complete possession of him. It enables the author to permeate all of the hero with his own, i.e. the author’s, self-activity: the hero is pliant, yielding, and surrenders all of himself to the author’s self-activity of his own accord.

… Lyrical self-objectification is a seeing and hearing of myself from within the emotional eyes of the other and in the emotional voice of the other: I hear myself in the other, with others, and for others. Lyrical self-objectification is a being possessed by the spirit of music (a being permeated and saturated by it). The spirit of music, the possible chorus — this is what constitutes here the firm and authoritative position of being the inner author, outside myself, of my own inner life. I seek and find myself in another’s emotional-excited voice; I embody myself in the voice of the other who sings of me; I find in that voice an authoritative approach to my own inner emotion or excitement; I sing of myself through the lips of a possible loving soul.

… Distinctive forms of “playing a fool” are also possible in the lyrical mode. In all cases where the hero begins to free himself from possession by the other — the author (i.e. the author ceases to be authoritative); where meaning-related and object-related moments gain immediate validity for the hero, that is to say, where he suddenly finds himself to be in the event of being, in the light of to-be-attained meaning — in all these cases, the ends of the lyrical circle no longer meet, and the hero can no longer coincide with himself: he begins to see his own nakedness and to be ashamed, and paradise is lost.

… Such, then, is the essential character of lyric and of the author-hero relationship in it. The position of the author is strong and authoritative, whereas the independence of the hero and of his directedness in living his own life is minimal: he does not really live a life of his own, but only reflects himself in the soul of the active author — the other by whom he is possessed.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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