Unreal Nature

February 16, 2017

Stratified Spaces

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… [Monet’s] is the ocean of the vacationist, the tourist, but above all of the holiday …

This is from Worldview in Painting — Art and Society by Meyer Schapiro (1999):

… Painting has been an art of representation and, as such, of selected themes interesting to the artist. It therefore rests on a more or less explicit judgment of what is significant or valuable to him in objects and experiences; it exhibits a point of view, his ideas and feelings. Moreover, in representing objects the painter introduces an order among them; he imposes schematas; his picture of beings and things is also a habitual construction in a coherent style, with definite properties that may be chosen arbitrarily or in approximation to what is regarded as most characteristic or typical in the structure of bodies; it implies a widely held general aesthetic theory about what makes for the order, completeness, and harmony of the whole.

[ … ]

… We shall now consider landscapes that are not to be understood through texts and that have a more personal, often lyrical side — the landscape as an individual expression, a perception of nature, independent of a preexisting literary content. Our interpretation of such a work is based, to a large degree, on aesthetic components, as well as on the factual, concrete elements of the landscape. The choice of site, of season, the time of day, the moment, the dimensions, the light, the colors, the texture of the painting, and “execution” — all these enter into the meaning and expressive qualities of the landscape.

[line break added] Here we make no strict distinction between the forms, the ideas, and the meanings; the ideas are not only the explicit ones that can be put into words, but — thought I am embarrassed to say this so categorically — there are also implicit ideas, a disposition of the artist toward a particular set of values, what is vaguely called his outlook, or Weltanschauung, his mode of conceiving nature generally, though linked, of course, with behavior, with habit, and with response to situations.

Caspar David Friedrich, Monk Before the Sea, 1808-10

We see several pictures of the same theme — the ocean — on which we have a large body of poetic and prose texts from the nineteenth century. The first example is the painting of Caspar David Friedrich, a German Romantic, where, viewing the immensity of sky and water, stands a solitary central figure. He is in black, a monk in costume; his bald spot, a small white point, is contrasted with the vast extension of matter — as in Descartes’s philosophy where spirit is located as a point in a little gland and is held to be irreducible to matter, as extension, which it confronts in thought and which is able to activate.

[line break added] The monk is isolated on the pedestal of the earth, a cold zone, without vegetation, the bare elemental, primordial, inorganic earth. He faces the ocean as a darkness out of which rise in the distance, from the horizon, the clouds that become lighter and lighter. The whole upper stratum of the picture is luminous. One can interpret the painting in terms of a spiritualistic conception, God or spirit manifesting itself in nature through light. Spirit apprehends Divine Spirit, its source, which permeates nature; the material body culminates in mind, as the material world in the celestial light.

Gustave Courbet, The Sea, 1865 or later

Compare that landscape with Courbet’s picture of the ocean. Here, too, are distinct strata of earth, water, and sky; a little boat in the distance shows that man can venture on this immense void, but the foreground is strewn with great rocks, the signs of historical natural catastrophes, movements of the earth. The water is not a still darkness; its gigantic waves advance toward one, the clouds, too, are in motion — massive, heavy; and the light that seems to emerge from them is on a slanting line, unlike the horizontal lines of the waves, but more related to the rocks, which are peaked like the clouds. This conception corresponds, we may say, to Courbet’s avowed materialism.

[line break added] I don’t mean materialism in the sense of selfish interest or concern with money; it is materialism in the philosophical sense, the belief that substance is the only existent and has varied forms. It is the materialism of the scientist and of Spinoza, who speaks of God as substance; among the attributes of substance at a certain level of articulation or complex development emerge thought and feeling. In contrast to the thin painting of Friedrich, Courbet applies the paint very thickly and loves the textures that simulate flesh, hair, fur, foliage, wood, cloth, water, sand, earth as substances.

Claude Monet, Garden at Sainte Adresse, 1867

… In contrast to both Friedrich and Courbet, is an Impressionist view of the ocean — Monet’s picture … of the harbor of St. Adresse, outside of Le Havre; Monet’s family, his father and others sit in the foreground, enjoying the scene; there is nothing here of the philosophical mood of either Courbet or Friedrich, no suggestion of mystical illumination and divine presence, the moment of apprehension of spirit through light in an oceanic void.

… The water is enlivened by the movement of the dozens of boats and the puffs of smoke in the distance; the sea, too, is a human space for multiplied pleasures, for stimulation of the senses; the distinct sky, water, and earth are unified through common notes of bright color, elements of gaiety and charm. It is the ocean of the vacationist, the tourist, but above all of the holiday, the occasion of rest and joyous contemplation of the surroundings.

Claude Monet, The Port Coton “Pyramids,” 1886

… When Monet painted the ocean without human figures, as in his later views at Belle-Île, he fixed upon the great rocks and the water dashing against them. It is a more picturesque conception of the ocean as inhabited by the rocks, which are like outcroppings of the earth within the ocean. Sea and earth, through color and light, seem continuous, unlike the stratified spaces of both Friedrich and Courbet, and in that respect are nearer to Monet’s view of Saint Adresse.




February 15, 2017

A Tremulous, Waning, Crepuscular Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… The subject existed for them as something desired, but not actually contacted.

This is from New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… With their repeated contacts, their principles of selection, and the development of urban types, photographers became eloquent in sustaining long-term ideas about New York.

It’s not just that the image describes it, it also draws out certain features, to which later photographers respond in kind. As it builds, this dialogue becomes an imaginative continuum that attributes notions of worth and consequence to even a humble human settlement. It would be fair to call these notions the beginning of myths. Even when myths are partially grounded in fact, they uphold the dream a people has of itself. As New York was never a humble place, its myth could hardly be modest.

[ … ]

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), who came from a wealthy German-Jewish family in Hoboken, New Jersey, was a man of independent means who announced himself as a cosmopolitan aesthete and a messiah of photography as a fine art.

His circle (known as the Photo-Secession) numbered, among others, Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), Edward Steichen (1979-1973), and Karl Struss (1886-1981).

Edward Steichen, Flatiron Building, 1904

… They shared a loyalty to Walt Whitman’s apostolic vision of America’s grandeur, if not his egalitarian ethos. For their subject, they chose New York’s growth, manifested through an efflorescence of towers just then rising before their eyes. In their intellectual temperament, they were Symbolists, devoted to “a higher reality.”

[line break added] In their artistic sympathies, they were Tonalists, indebted to Camille Corot, James McNeill Whistler, and George Inness (whose later work at Montclair, New Jersey, is a direct precedent of Steichen’s landscapes). So, the first thing to notice when looking at the work of the Photo Secessionists is its paradox: a eulogy to the most up-to-date urban forms visualized through a pastoral style.

This “Pictorialism” acted as a filter that transformed a drab urbanscape — at least critics thought it drab, even ugly — into picturesque schemata. The filtered effect was realized through muted shades and half lit zones, although Steichen also used a soft-focus lens to achieve his poetic goal. A tremulous, waning, crepuscular light affects this pictorial vision of the ultra-modern.

[line break added] It was a sign of their precious taste that the Pictorialists executed their imagery through the exquisite modulations made available by platinum prints. They added simplicity to refinement through a compositional sense, influenced by Japanese woodcuts, that flattened the volumes of motifs, rendering them as dark silhouettes in a twilight sky. The subject existed for them as something desired, but not actually contacted.

… Not only does the pictorial veil obscure the forms of the tower and other “monsters,” it effects an emotional distance from them as well. There’s more than a hint of nostalgia in this distance, for the disembodied banks and buildings appear to recede in time, as if, together, they comprise a profile that will have to be remembered. The scrim through which they’re perceived acts as the gauze of memory. Though animated by steam and smoke, the Lower Manhattan of Stieglitz’s City of Ambition of 1910 has a spectral quality that does not auger confidence in the scene to come.

Alfred Stieglitz, The City of Ambition, 1910

To be continued.




February 14, 2017

Different Roles Elide

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… the Solar Bird’s different roles elide into one another, overlap, intermingle.

This is from ‘ Miró ‘ (1967) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

Solar Bird

Miró’s Solar Bird got its name from the circle inscribed on its behind. I asked the artist whether the languages he speaks have any equivalent for “She thinks the sun shines out of her ass,” but the expression was new to him. During this conversation I learned that the longer and lower of the two birds was the Solar Bird, the taller, fatter one the Lunar Bird. I had previously spent two afternoons admiring them while believing that each was the other and thinking how aptly each was playing its role. However, they had been playing several other roles besides.

Solar Bird

The Solar Bird changes identity most markedly as one’s viewpoint changes, but also suggests at least two or three identities from any single angle. From one position or another, it is a charging elephant, a seal, a boat, a horse, a motor bike, a turtle swimming, a best of burden, a sort of crucified figure, and a woman on her back. The crescent on top that stands for wings can be breasts as well as handlebars to be held by the man in the riding position.

[line break added] The knobs at the sides — the bird’s eyes — can be the woman’s stumps of arms — but also her breasts, and when they are these the wings are her arms stretched out to clutch or embrace. But these wings like a pair of horns are, of course, phallic too. The Solar Bird, indeed, might be a prototype for the third human sex which a sated world seems to be longing to discover.

Solar Bird

The multiple evocations are probably richer and wider than in sculptures by Arp or Moore in the same tradition. But the Miró is also different in kind. What it evokes is not so much entities, or fragments of entities, as actions — on the one hand the various actions of which it seems capable (flying, swimming, running, clutching, bouncing, etc.), on the other the will to action it inspires in the beholder, especially the desire to ride. Thus the scale, which seems puzzlingly small given that this is a piece on an ambitious scale, is probably explained by its need to relate to ours in a useful way.

[line break added] Again, formally, the piece seems to derive from certain Picasso sculptures and sculptural pictures of 1928 to 1932 which present anatomical fragments piled together — in particular a modelled Woman’s head of 1932 composed of soft phallic shapes. But these Picassos propose a static situation, in the same way as a house of cards, since their equilibrium is so willfully precarious. The Solar Bird, on the contrary, and the Lunar Bird as well, so far from suggesting something holding itself together, seem the embodiments of flowing, sweeping gestures.

Lunar Bird

The Lunar Bird rises, all rampant libido, looming up over humankind. Arrogant and hostile, it is crowned by a large crescent like the one on the back of the other bird, only, whereas in Solar this is there as if to be handled, here, inaccessible, it becomes a teasing emblem of domination. This seems a bird that might throw a stone at a personage. It is cocky, bullying, tumescent, and one can imagine avid women urging themselves on to the great spike that sticks out in front of it. So long as one stands facing it.

[line break added] From the side, that big thrusting thing is a pathetic bird’s tongue, and the monstrous eyes and threatening wings are sad, like a hungry fledgling’s. Another, almost equally ludicrous transformation happens round at the back. Especially from close to, the figure is gently female, in the manner of a matron. If one rode this woman, it would be as a baby on its peasant mother’s back. From here the horns belong to a placid, benevolent cow. The Lunar Bird, then, has three quite separate personalities — rampant man, feeble fledgling and fond mum — according to where one is standing; the Solar Bird’s different roles elide into one another, overlap, intermingle.

Lunar Bird

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




February 13, 2017

Flat and Painted

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

“… It must be like a first meeting rather than a ‘don’t I remember you from somewhere, haven’t we met before?’ feeling.”

This is from the essay ‘Autonomy, Actuality, Mangold’ by Richard Shiff found in Robert Mangold (2000):

… To repeat one of Mangold’s recent statements: “My paintings … build from each other, and each represents an attempt to make an individual and collective point. A point that is still somewhat hidden from me.”

If, as early as 1958, Mangold had already acquired the work-as-process ethic of open, creative ‘craftsmanship,’ why did he need to abandon realism for abstraction to act upon his beliefs? Illustrative realism might have been conventional, but abstraction was becoming fashionable and perhaps a more dangerous lure to disorient artistic ambition. How did Mangold adhere to the aesthetic principles he decided were important without lapsing into what are in fact old clichés about ‘creative process,’ clichés that seem to verge on his actual practice?

[line break added] Like Newman before him, Mangold designed his abstract art to escape ‘abstract art,’ the aesthetic category. Like others of his own generation, he would struggle “to get away from the language that painting had had for so long, and to find ways of dealing with the real world.” This was to have aesthetic experience ‘first-hand,’ as Mills advocated. The method that succeeded for Mangold was material — as direct as replacing artist’s canvas with builder’s plywood, masonite and metal.

… During the late 1960s, Mangold similarly attempted to minimize whatever ‘gesture’ or expression might be associated with color in itself, but he neither resorted to achromatic effects nor gave up actual painting. Recognizing how suggestive virtually any hue could be, he selected his palette from colors so routinely linked to mundane material contexts that they would bear no extended connotation: “I was attracted to generic or ‘industrial’ colors; paper bag brown, file cabinet grey, industrial green, that kind of thing. I didn’t want color that looked like Matisse or Abstract Expressionism.”

[line break added] This was color without ‘meaning,’ without conceivable artistic reference, lacking even the purity or formal extreme that Ryman’s painting connoted, and avoiding the anti-painting aesthetic of the Minimalist ‘object.’ In Mangold’s hands, color and its shaped support acquired neither illusion nor allusion, nor any general theory that could explain that color and shape. He had his own way of letting materials and forms remain mere matter — as matter-of-fact as the edge of a building or the distant horizon, no explanation necessary.

Robert Mangold, Divided Arc, 2010

… In 1958, Mills had opposed ‘solid and immediate facts’ to ‘stereotypes of meaning.’ A ‘fact’ came first-hand when an individual was open and free enough to receive it. ‘Meaning’ belonged to the ‘second-hand worlds’ of commerce, fashion, ideology — the worlds of re-orientation that most individuals come to inhabit most of the time. Ideally, artists (designers) would enter a first-hand world of direct experience within their private studios. To give such experience an interpretation, or even to reproduce it, was to alter, distort or diminish it.

… An abstract artist (like Newman) refused thematics of ‘abstract art,’ an aesthetic materialist who avoided the fundamental materiality of sculpture. Mangold the painter also acted as if he lacked interest in ‘painting’: “[My works] are paintings in the sense that they are flat and painted, but the painting process is not terribly important to me, and it takes the least amount of time … I don’t particularly like the term ‘painting,’ because [it emphasizes] process, or applying paint.”

… Like so many of Modernists, Mangold used his chosen materials, structures and elements of line and color as if they themselves had an autonomous identity to be respected. And he did this with a vengeance, reaching for an expansive aesthetic realm (his ‘oxygen’) in which the autonomous would be available to the senses, more real than ideal, no longer compressed into an intellectual system of reference, a logic, a critical discourse:

No one area of the painting should be more important than another — [not] even the idea … A painting must confront the viewer, there has to be a fresh experience in this encounter … It must be like a first meeting rather than a ‘don’t I remember you from somewhere, haven’t we met before?’ feeling.

If, in 1971, Mangold’s art meant something and if it now means something, that ‘meaning’ is autonomy itself. The autonomy of Mangold’s art does not hinge on freedom of expression (although this is always implicit), nor does it derive from the free play of compositional forces (a formalism), but rather from the materialistic specificity of the object as created — a bedrock of identity presumed to exist outside all reference.

[line break added] Had Mangold chosen to signify this kind of identity by drawing attention to the materials of his painting (pigment, binding medium, physical support), he would have reinforced a counter-productive idea, stressing the concept more than the experience. Rather than using form to convey a preconceived message, he was feeling his way through a world of objects as he was creating them.

The square brackets in the above are in the original.

My previous post from Shiff’s essay is here.




February 12, 2017

Being Affirmed and Founded

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… I am situated on the boundary … of the world I see.

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):

… On what plane of lived experience does the aesthetic value of outward appearance lie? Such are the questions we shall now take up.

There can be no doubt, of course, that my own exterior is not part of the concrete, actual horizon of my seeing, except for those rare cases when, like Narcissus, I contemplate my own reflection in the water or in a mirror. My own exterior (that is, all of the expressive features of my body, without exception) is experienced by me from within myself. It is only in the form of scattered fragments, scraps, dangling on the string of my inner sensation of myself, that my own exterior enters the field of my outer senses, and, first of all, the sense of vision.

[line break added] But the data provided by these outer senses do not represent an ultimate authority even for deciding the question of whether this body is or is not mine. That question is decided only by my inner self-sensation. And it is again my self-sensation that imparts unity to the scattered fragments of my outward expressedness, translating them into its own inner language. This is the case in actual perception: in the outwardly unified world that I see, hear, and touch, I do not encounter my own outward expressedness in being as an outwardly unitary object among other objects.

[line break added] I am situated on the boundary, as it were, of the world I see. In plastic and pictorial terms, I am not connatural with it. While my thought can place my body wholly into the outside world as an object among other objects, my actual seeing cannot do the same thing; my seeing, that is, cannot come to the aid of thinking by providing it with an adequate outward image.

… It is precisely in this that the difference lies between the world of artistic creation and the world of dreaming as well as that of actual life. In the world of artistic creation, all the participants are equally expressed on one and the same plastic and pictorial plane of seeing, whereas in life and in dreams the main hero — I myself — is never expressed outwardly and requires no outward image. The first task an artist must accomplish is to invest with outward bodiliness this leading actor of life and of dreaming about life.

… What is involved is less a matter of having an insufficient memory of our own outward appearance than it is a matter of a certain fundamental resistance exerted by our outward image. One can easily ascertain by way of self-observation that the initial result of such an attempt will be the following: the visually expressed image of myself will begin to assume unsteady definition alongside myself as I experience myself from within; it will just barely detach itself from my inner self-sensation in a direction ahead of itself; it will shift slightly to the side and, like a bas-relief, separate from the surface of my inner self-sensation, without breaking away from it entirely.

[line break added] I shall become slightly “doubled,” but shall not come apart completely: the umbilical cord of my self-sensation will continue to connect my outward expressedness in being with my inner experience of myself. A certain renewed effort is required in order to visualize myself distinctly en face and to break away completely from my inner self-sensation.

And when we succeed in doing this, we shall be struck by the peculiar emptiness, ghostliness, and an eerie, frightening solitariness of this outward image of ourselves. What accounts for this?

… My own inner I — that wills, loves, feels, sees, and knows — I structure from within myself in terms of entirely different value-categories, and these are not directly applicable to the outward expressedness of myself. However, my inner sensation of myself and my life for myself remain present in me as the one who is imagining and seeing; they are not present in me as the one who is imagined and seen.

… In order to vivify my own outward image and make it part of a concretely viewable whole, the entire architectonic of the world of my imagining must be radically restructured by introducing a totally new factor into it. This new factor that restructures the architectonic consists in my outward image being affirmed and founded in emotional and volitional terms out of the other and for the other human being.

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




February 11, 2017

An Inimical Relationship of Sense and Reason

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… Because they worked with fierce honesty … the wrongness of some of their theoretical attitudes matters far less than does the soundness of the concrete foundation they built …

Continuing through Language of Vision by Gyorgy Kepes (1944):

… Space-time is order, and the image is an “orderer.”

… “Everything we call nature, is, in the last analysis a fantasy picture,” Malevich says, “with not the least resemblance to reality.

But as has been stated before, man asserts himself in the material world not only by means of thought but also by means of all his senses. Art is a sensuous form of consciousness, an important instrument in the conquest of nature, and representation is the creative assimilation of nature. The artistic conquest of space is not an end in itself, nor is it a matter of the senses alone. Herein lay the limitation of these [modern art] pioneers of the language of vision. They had taken the first step toward freedom but they were hampered by lost faith in the integrated human existence.

[line break added] Their work was shaped in pseudomaterialism and resulted in isolation — of sensory experience. The division of labor, dictated by shortsighted considerations, creating a one-sided individual, gave rise also to division within the individual, an inimical relationship of sense and reason. Instead of using the conquest of the senses for further integration of man with his surroundings, painters in their revolt against an involved and planless social system carried this fatal division into the sphere of creative expression.

Because they worked with fierce honesty, however; because they were content with no half-measures, but gave themselves completely to the rediscovery of the materials with which they dealt; because they brought to their perception of new visual surroundings senses cleared of the fog of tradition, the wrongness of some of their theoretical attitudes matters far less than does the soundness of the concrete foundation they built for the new representational control of the visible world.

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




February 10, 2017

There Are Medicines

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… it is a fact as well as a mystery that weakness is power, that handicap is proficiency, that the scar is a credential, that indignation is no adversary for gratitude, or heroism for joy.

This is from ‘The Farm Show’ (1937) found in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore edited by Patricia C. Willis (1986):

… Jersey heifers were being judged, shining strands like the hair of a Sieglinda that formed the lock at the end of the tail, striking the ankles of the animal at each step. The much waiting and deliberateness of the comparisons gave ample opportunity to notice the clamshell wrinkles about the eyes, line within line; the clipped-rabbit texture of the dewlaps seamed by longitudinal wrinkles, the hairs from opposing directions coming together in a ridge down the tail; the oiled hoofs and small devil-horn points on the forehead, polished to the texture of agate.

The following is from ‘Compactness Compacted’ (1941):

Women are not noted for terseness, but Louise Bogan’s art is compactness compacted. Emotion with her, as she has said of certain fiction, is “itself form, the kernel which builds outward form from inward intensity.” She uses a kind of forged rhetoric that nevertheless seems inevitable.

… And there is fire in the brazier — the thinker in the poet. “Fifteenth Farewell” says:

I erred, when I thought loneliness the wide
Scent of mown grass over forsaken fields,
Or any shadow isolation yields.
Loneliness was the heart within your side.

[ … ]

… What of the implications? For mortal rage and immortal injury, are there or are there not medicines? Job and Hamlet insisted that we dare not let ourselves be snared into hating-hatefulness; to do this would be to take our own lives. Harmed, let us say, through our generosity — if we consent to have pity on our illusions and others’ absence of illusion, to condone the fact that “no fine body ever can be meat and drink for anyone” — is it true that pain will exchange its role and become servant instead of master? Or is it merely a conveniently unexpunged superstition?

Those who have seemed to know most about eternity feel that this side of eternity is a small part of life. We are told, if we do wrong that grace may abound; it does not abound. We need not be told that life is never going to be free from trouble and that there are no substitutes for the dead; but it is a fact as well as a mystery that weakness is power, that handicap is proficiency, that the scar is a credential, that indignation is no adversary for gratitude, or heroism for joy. There are medicines.

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




February 9, 2017

This Blue

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

van Gogh’s is not merely background color; … it is the dominant quality , the very idea, of the entire painting …

Last post from Vincent Van Gogh by Meyer Schapiro (2003). After a biographical synopsis, Schapiro does close readings of single pictures. Here he’s writing about Mademoiselle Ravoux painted in 1890:

Mademoiselle Ravoux, 1890

… The drawing here, relatively unimaginative in detail, although it builds up an imposing compact form, is less important than the pervading blue, an ultimate blue of wonderful richness, depth, and jewel-like luminosity, new to the art of the time. This blue has a beauty akin to that of blue stained glass and mosaic, where it is allied with a similar simplicity of form.

[line break added] But unlike these older blues, van Gogh’s is not merely background color; applied also to the dress and dominating the face (which is doubly submerged — through its pallor and weakened profile), it is the dominant quality , the very idea, of the entire painting, compulsive in its excess and leading us, through its omnipresence and dark intensity, to a mystical, ecstatic mood. Unfamiliar and imaginative as it is, this blue depends for its final effect on the Impressionist method of vivifying color by the tangible play of touches, which produce a perpetual flicker within this dark recessive tone.

[line break added] These touches, like mosaic cubes, are patterned material units; each region has its own clear arrangement in contrasting directions that reinforce the major forms as distinct parts of a single darkly glowing whole. The method retains, however, the marks of the hand and its impulse in the free variation of the strokes, and the blue itself is modified in tone by cooler blues on the bodice and sleeve, by violet touches on the skirt. The general vigor of execution, the abrupt breaks of contour, the rugged drawing of the chair and the girl’s back, introduce a masculine energy into this ecstasy of endless blue.

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




February 8, 2017

The Street Was Exchanged for the Freeway

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… “No longer a polis, the city is regarded as a hunting ground for small incident that may, at any moment, speak of the cruelty, the ludicrousness, or the impromptu wackiness of life.”

This is from the essay ‘Photographing Posturban Space: The Demise of Street Photography and the Rise of the Spectacular’ by Steven Jacobs found in Spectacular City: Photographing the Future (2006):

… In some sense … the history of urban photography runs parallel to that of urban planning, which came to exchange the model of the centralized metropolis New York for the horizontal urban paradigm of Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, or Las Vegas. Both leading conceptual artists and the New Topographics shifted their gaze geographically by exchanging the inner cities for an urban landscape that came to be paradigmatic for the late-twentieth-century urban condition: the suburban metropolis of Los Angeles, anonymous tract houses in generic suburbs, disconsolate wastelands, slick new office parks, nondescript spaces in peripheral zones, and the non-places of the global city.

These spatial changes of the city also resulted in a dominant style of urban photography. In their depictions and interpretations of the new urban fringes, the edgy style of street photography was exchanged for a more topographical approach, often reminiscent of nineteenth-century urban and landscape photography. When downtowns made room for peripheral areas; hectic street life and density were exchanged for emptiness and openness; small-format cameras for large view cameras; physical proximity for distance and detachment; spontaneity for calculated framings; speed for slowness; a hot aesthetics for one of aloofness; the here and now of the decisive moment and of the unique encounter for repetition and interchangeability.

Furthermore, the demise of street photography was also caused by several social changes of the city centers. To a large extent, the process of suburbanization (or disurbanization) erased public space in the inner cities, the ultimate hunting grounds of the street photographer. The street was exchanged for the freeway and the flâneur had become a chauffeur. In addition, with its ghettos, monofunctional office quarters, gentrified neighborhoods, streets reduced to traffic corridors, atriums, malls, theme parks, and tourist sites, the late-twentieth-century metropolis was no longer capable of embodying a kind of civitas.

Especially in its so-called humanist phase shortly before and after the Second World War, street photography, both in its celebration of neighborhood life and in its appraisal of the hectic rhythm of the inner cities, was closely connected to the idea of a metropolitan community. Although the modern metropolis was the breeding ground for social atomization and the process of individualization, intellectuals and artists had presented the city as a spatial realm reflecting the colorful interaction and unity of its components. Street photography appealed to this notion of the city as a democratic public space. During the last decades, however, public spaces have been increasingly privatized and/or transformed into theme parks.

… The last representatives of the grand tradition of street photography (Winogrand, Arbus, Davidson, Clark, Goldin) no longer presented the city as a polis, but rather as a hunting ground for colorful details. In his overview of the representation of New York in the history of twentieth-century photography, Max Kozloff stated that in the 1970s, “the erstwhile and shopworn iconicity of Manhattan was replaced by scenes of ever more local or even private import, which no longer represented any thinking about the city as a whole. … No longer a polis, the city is regarded as a hunting ground for small incident that may, at any moment, speak of the cruelty, the ludicrousness, or the impromptu wackiness of life.”

[ … ]

… In an age of city marketing, which relies heavily on commercializing urban images, contemporary urban photographers are compelled to take a self-conscious position vis-à-vis their own medium and the functions it serves. The reluctance of these artists to depict the city by means of ‘straight photography’ is undoubtedly inspired by the complexity of today’s urban landscape, which, in itself, is increasingly staged, simulated or turned into images by the processes of gentrification, mallification [= transformation into a mall], and tourism.




February 7, 2017

Instead of Treating Reality as a Sort of Lucky Dip

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… instead of treating reality as a sort of lucky dip, the painter might commit himself to achieve real penetration …

This is from ‘Auerbach’ (1961) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

His paintings are oil paintings and their thickness is simply the outcome of a gradual accumulation of layer upon layer of impasto. I mention this difference of technique because its import is far from being merely technical and because its consequences are perfectly visible: we don’t require inside information or chemical analysis in order to recognize that the substance of a Dubuffet seems rigid and opaque as lava, that of an Auerbach fluid and, for all its density, somehow transparent.

… with Dubuffet — and the other exponents of what Lawrence Alloway has aptly called ‘matter painting’ — the thickness of the material has a decided purpose of its own, whereas, with Auerbach, the thickness is no more than a by-product of another purpose.

The matter in ‘matter painting’ is symbolic. It symbolizes the idea of the massive materiality of the physical world. It symbolizes the relationship between man and the raw materials with which he builds, the inchoate matter which is at once responsive and resistant to his will to impose a form upon it and which both submits to his manipulation of it and inspires that manipulation. (‘My connection with the material I use,’ says Dubuffet, ‘is like the bond of the dancer with his partner, the rider with his horse, the fortune-teller with her cards.’)

[line break added] And, having this life of its own as a concrete substance (and not merely as a vehicle for the act of painting), the material in ‘matter painting’ gives the illusion of being subject to the same natural hazards as is the material of a building: observing fissures in its surface, contrasts between rough and smooth in its texture, we spontaneously associate these with natural phenomena, with wear and tear above all, but also the growth of moss or lichen and so on. Thus the thick opaque matter of these paintings seems not only to have a life but to have lived, to have been weathered and ravaged by time.

Frank Auerbach, Primrose Hill, Spring Sunshine, 1961-2/1964

Auerbach’s paint is thick, needs to be thick because he needs time to bring his image to fruition, but when we look at the painting, it isn’t the paint that we notice: the image is what imposes its presence.

It imposes itself from the start, but it needs time to gain clarity (as it did for the painter). Auerbach’s pictures don’t sing out feeling or emotion. They impress us as having tremendous strength of design, and this strength gives them an authority which commands our continued attention rather than seduces or disturbs us into giving it. The image that emerges is an image of structure, of firmly articulated masses of great density in a space that is equally taut and architectural.

[ … ]

… It’s often lamented that there isn’t enough of nature in the art of today, that paintings have become ends in themselves. It seems to me that there’s too much of nature in the art of today, that most painting is packed with allusions to the physical world, is a ragbag of memories of things, and bits and pieces of things.

[line break added] I believe that what is wanting is not reference to nature but a more firmly focused reference; that instead of treating reality as a sort of lucky dip, the painter might commit himself to achieve real penetration into clearly defined areas of reality; and that his work might acquire imaginative breadth, not by claiming the freedom to hint at a rich variety of things, but by concentrating together all the richness and variety of his perceptions of some particular thing — his visual perceptions, his tactile perceptions, his perceptions from close to and from far away, his perceptions when he is standing still and when he is on the move, the changes in his perceptions and the play of memory upon them, in short the total experience of an object.

[line break added] It is because of the subtle and profound way in which Auerbach’s work gives expression and coherence to the complexity of our perceptions of simple things that he is for me the most interesting painter in this country.

Frank Auerbach, Railway Arches, Bethnal Green II, 1958-59

My most recent post from Sylvester’s book is here.




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