Unreal Nature

May 16, 2018

Handiwork

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… he just covered their handiwork, and for that he had great admiration.

This is from Weegee: Murder Is My Business by Brian Wallis (2013):

… As Didato lay crumpled on the sidewalk, his stylish straw boater cast upright to one side, photographer Arthur Fellig — later known as Weegee — heard the call come in over the police radio. From his one-room apartment directly across the street from police headquarters, Fellig sprinted the three blocks to the crime scene, lugging his big 4×5 Speed Graphic camera, and probably arriving before the police themselves.

[line break added] Looking at Didato, Fellig cased the scene. He liked to photograph murders: the subjects never moved. As he reported later, “The easiest kind of a job was a murder, because the stiff would be laying on the ground. He couldn’t get up and walk away and get temperamental and he would be good for at least two hours.” So Fellig took his time, and got at least three usable shots. The first required him to step over the corpse, but by shooting from just inside the doorway, he was able to show both the bloody body and the former name of the restaurant spelled out in delicate Italian tile work.

[line break added] For the second shot, a classic, Fellig crouched down low, practically in the gutter, to take a long view of the body laid out on a diagonal, almost abstract, without any distracting context. Simple: just a flashbulb photograph of a dead gangster, showing very little blood, lying on the sidewalk beside the murder weapon and his hat, like he was sleeping.

[line break added] The third and probably final shot was taken from several yards back: it shows a gaggle of policemen and two white-suited waiters standing nonchalantly in front of the restaurant, perhaps discussing the case, and virtually ignoring the still-warm body, which has been turned face up, presumably for identification.

[ … ]

… For someone who claimed murder as his business, Weegee showed surprisingly little interest in the psychology or motivations of killers, or the guilt or innocence of the accused. Although he was an enthusiastic reader of detective stories, he was not interested in solving crime or producing forensic photographs. No evidence has emerged that would indicate that his work was ever used in trials or by police. In fact, Weegee rarely photographed murderers themselves. Mostly, he just covered their handiwork, and for that he had great admiration.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

May 15, 2018

Almost Possible

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… it seeks to marry two experiences of reality — dream and waking, unconscious and conscious — into one whole.

This is from ‘Anamorphic Love: The Surrealist Poetry of Desire’ by Katharine Conley found in Surrealism: Desire Unbound edited by Jennifer Mundy (2001):

The concept of anamorphosis — literally from the Greek words for form (morphe), seen backwards or understood retrospectively (ana) — could be understood as emblematic of the surrealist worldview.

… At the exact moment when the sun sinks below the horizon it should be possible to see day and night simultaneously, to capture in one glance the visual clarity of daylight and the visionary quality of night. It seems almost possible, and yet it is not quite. Such a moment in time represents Breton’s idea of surreality as a desired instant of convergence even as it is simultaneously an emblem of separation.


Joan Miró, Stars in the Sexes of Snails, 1925

Miró’s Stars in the Sexes of Snails is an ‘in-between’ work, a hybrid between a painting and a poem, a poem-painting. The visual elements in the painting — the bright red circle, the black star and its trails of black light, the thin ink-like black line overwriting the circle and adding weight to the bottom two-thirds of the canvas, the blue-grey mist swirls in the top left-hand corner, the washed background overlaid with faded black splotches in random organic shapes — include words. The calligraphic words read downwards at a diagonal from the upper left-hand corner: ‘stars in the sexes of snails,’ or perhaps more accurately, ‘stars in the shape of the sexes of snails.’ The words are so visually striking as to function almost as an anamorphosis. After an instant, their visual impact fades and they become readable, transforming Miró’s washed canvas background into the equivalent of the surrealist poet’s paper, almost rendering it invisible before the dominance of the poetic line itself.

The work crackles with a mix of visual and verbal significance creating what Rosalind Krauss has called a ‘magnetic field,’ in reference to Breton and Soupault’s Les Champs magnétiques. Krauss sees both Breton and Soupault’s text and Miró’s paintings from 1925 as sharing ‘the problem of inventing a language which would simultaneously describe the world of objects and the opacity of the medium that renders them — whether that medium be line or words.’

… All poetry is anamorphic, Michael Riffaterre has argued, because a poem can only be understood retrospectively due to the ways in which poetic language distorts regular forms of expression.


Joan Miró, Lady Strolling on the Rambla in Barcelona, 1925

… Surrealist love is anamorphic in the way that it seeks to marry two experiences of reality — dream and waking, unconscious and conscious — into one whole. It is within the theater of the reader’s mind, and in retrospect, that the two perspectives fuse, creating a fuller reality than the one perceived in everyday life, a surreality, wherein apparent contradictions might be resolved.

My previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

May 14, 2018

Omission

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… It will be observed that in this essay next to nothing has been said …

Continuing through Art and Its Objects, (2nd edition) by Richard Wollheim (1968; 1980):

… According to one kind of theory the work of art is nonphysical in that it is something mental or even ethereal: its location is in the mind or some other spiritual field, at any rate in a region uninhabited by physical bodies: hence we do not have direct sensible access to it, though presumably we are able to infer or intuit it or imaginatively re-create it from the object in the world that is its trace or embodiment.

[line break added] According to the other kind of theory, the work of art differs from physical objects, not in the sense that it is imperceptible, but because it has only sensible properties: it has no properties (for instance, dispositional or historical) that are not open to direct or immediate observation.

… In denying that works of art are physical objects, the first kind of theory withdraws them altogether from experience, whereas the second kind pins them to it inescapably and at all points. I shall speak of the first as making out of works of art ‘ideal’ objects, and of the second as making out of them ‘phenomenal’ or ‘presentational’ objects.

… The question then arises, if we are asked to think of, say, paintings and sculptures as intuitions existing in the artist’s mind, which are only contingently externalized, is this compatible with the fact that such works are intrinsically in a medium?

… if we do allow that the inner process is in a conceived medium, this seems to challenge the alleged primacy of the mental experience over the physical artifact, on which the Ideal theory is so insistent. For now the experience seems to derive its content from the nature of the artifact: it is because the artifact is of such and such a material that the image is in such and such a conceived medium.

[ … ]

… it is nevertheless evident that by the time we come to our attitude towards the objects of art, we have moved far beyond the level of mere spontaneity. To put it at its lowest: what is in origin natural is now reinforced by convention. Evidence for this exists in the fact that if someone is versed or experienced in art, no upper limit can be set to his capacity to understand expressively fresh works of art, even if both the works themselves and what they express fall outside his experience.

… both [Ideal and Presentational] theories rest upon the assumption, shared by many philosophers of art, that we can draw a boundary around the properties (or kinds of properties) that belong to a work of art. Each theory, it will be observed, posits as the work of art an object more impoverished than the nonreflective account postulates, and it then proceeds to justify this on the grounds that the properties excluded (e.g. physical, intentional) are not of aesthetic significance.

… The appeal of the view that a work of art expresses nothing unless what it expresses can be put into (other) words, can be effectively reduced by setting beside it another view, no less well entrenched in the theory of art, to the effect that a work of art has no value if what it expresses, or more generally says, can be put into (other) words.

… The difficulty here lies in the highly elusive notion of ‘identity,’ the analysis of which belongs to the more intricate part of general philosophy.

… It will be observed that in this essay next to nothing has been said about the subject that dominates much contemporary aesthetics: that of the evaluation of art, and its logical character. This omission is deliberate.

My previous post from Wollheim’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

May 13, 2018

The Animal

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:10 am

… it is by the universalization of the animal that human reality is dealt with.

This is from Two Lessons on Animal and Man by Gilbert Simondon, translated by Drew S.Burk (2011; 2004):

… at the end of Antiquity, the Stoics deny intelligence to animals and develop the theory of instinctive activity, namely an activity comparable to intelligence in its results but in no way based on the same internal functions. Specifically, animals are not as attached to the cosmic fire as man, to the pûr technikon, to this artisan fire which cuts through all things, assembles them and gives them meaning. But above all, despite everything, Antiquity constituted an opposition, and crystalized an opposition between theories that are fundamentally naturalistic, physiological and those by contrast that would tend to consider man as a being separated from the universe.

[line break added] Nevertheless, despite this opposition between natural behavior and human reason, behavior by beings above all made of matter, what we generally find in Antiquity is the notion of gradation between animal reality and human reality, either via ascending gradations as we find in the work of the physiologists or via degradation as we find in the Platonic doctrine. But whether we are dealing with gradations or degradations or whether it is the distance we admit exists between the animal reality and the human reality, we are nonetheless led to a progressive phase of a possible continuity.

… On the contrary … the intervention of the doctrine of spiritual activity, starting with Christianity, but much more still at the interior of Cartesianism, constitutes a dichotomous opposition, an opposition that affirms two distinct natures and not merely two levels, putting on one side an animal reality devoid of reason, perhaps even of consciousness, and most certainly some sort of interiority and on the other side a human reality, capable of self-awareness, capable of moral feelings, capable of being aware of ones acts and their value.

[line break added] In this way, we can see, and this is really important, that the most systematic teachings are not, as we could say, the teachings of Antiquity, but, on the contrary, those of a certain number of priests of the Church, reflecting moreover with moderation the work of St. Thomas that partially goes back to Aristotle, and who is one of the most moderate of all Medieval authors and above all, in the end, the Cartesian teachings which are quite frankly totally systematic and dichotomous doctrines.

… we will look at the Cartesian system with regards to the notion of animal life that presents a trait-by-trait contrast of human life and animal life. I will allow myself to say that this precisely excessive, bizarre, scandalous character of the kind found in Descartes’ doctrines provoked a movement of thought that, in the final analysis, was perhaps favorable to the discovery of the scientific theory of instinct, of behaviors that are animal behaviors, and finally by a very curious turn of events, to a contemporary theory of human instincts.

… in returning to things often produced when theory encounters reality testing, notions such as the animal are found to be generalized and universalized enough to permit the thinking of human behavior itself. This is characteristic of the development of the problem of the relation between human and animal life during the 19th and 20th centuries that denies Cartesianism not in order to state the animal is a being of reason and has an interiority, a being that has an affectivity, a being that is still aware, and thus has a soul, which would simply be a reversal of Cartesianism, but which reverses Cartesianism in a most unexpected and singular manner: the content of reality you put into the notion of animality, this content allows us to characterize man. Namely, it is by the universalization of the animal that human reality is dealt with.

… In the end, contemporary theses consist of saying: what we discover at the level of instinctive life, maturation, behavioral development in animal reality, allows us also to think in terms of human reality, up to and including social reality which in part is made up of animal groupings and allows us to think about certain types of relations, such as the relation of ascendency-superiority, in the human species.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

May 12, 2018

Found Planes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… Did he think that they had something to say or show?

This is from the Introduction to Paper Airplanes: The Collection of Harry Smith; Catalogue Raisonné, Volume I edited by John Klacsmann and Andrew Lampert (2015):

… Of all Smith’s near-mythic endeavors, perhaps the most wondrous and wondered about are the vast array of curious objects he accumulated over many decades. He was an inveterate collector whose possessions were as unusual and encyclopedic as his creative and scholarly pursuits.

… All of which brings us to Smith’s extraordinary collection of found paper airplanes.

… A number of Smith’s friends knew of his involvements with the paper planes, but few can really speak to the specifics of this attraction or when it first started. Smith’s close friend William Breeze recalls:

He and I discussed it more than once as we usually met for dinner and a trip to the Strand on Fridays (my payday in those days!) and walked the neighborhood. He found several planes and would immediately stop and fish out a pencil and make notes on it. As I recall he was interested in the changes in their morphology over the years, with some plane designs disappearing and then mysteriously reappearing years later.

… Was it the transformation of paper to plane — from trash to treasure — that compelled his collecting?

… As with his other collections, Smith was not necessarily looking to show that the planes were different, but rather how much they were the same, if not solely in design then in impulse.

“He was always, always, always looking for them on the street any time he could find them,” says Smith’s one-time protegé M. Henry Jones, a skilled animator and inventor. “He would run out in front of the cabs to get them, you know, before they got run over. I remember one time we saw one in the air and he was just running everywhere trying to figure out where it was going to be. He was just like out of his mind, completely. He couldn’t believe that he’d seen one. Someone, I guess, shot it from an upstairs building.”

Smith’s extant collection contains 251 “samples” (as he described them in a note found with the planes). The earliest example is dated 1961, and the last comes from 1983. All of the planes were found in New York City, and nearly each one is annotated with handwritten information detailing when and where he acquired it, sometimes including such specific details as cross streets; which side of the street it was found on; the time of discovery; and other pertinent information.

… As would be expected, the examples found in this collection run the gamut in terms of size and construction. They are made out of everything from childrens’ homework, spiral bound notebook paper, and colored construction paper to fliers, hotel stationery, receipts, telephone book pages, a menu for the nightclub Max’s Kansas City, and a psychedelic handbill for a Greenwich Village concert by Dave Van Ronk, The Mothers of Invention, and Ian and Sylvia, amongst many other materials. Flattened and filed away by Smith, many of the planes are weathered and decomposing, trampled by busy New Yorkers and tourists, or run over by uncaring cars and bicyclists.

… Even though it cannot explicitly be said why Smith collected his paper airplanes, it is certain that others were not looking at them — or for them — with such a calculating eye. Leading paper airplane experts Ken Blackburn, John Collins, and Dean Mackey all agree that no one else seems to have been doing such research.

[line break added] While there were plenty of informative how-to publications filled with paper plane designs, there are no serious academic or anthropological studies on the subject in English. Was Smith planning to write a book on his found planes? Did he think that they had something to say or show? Maybe [Smith’s close friend] Rosebud [Feliu-Pettet] summarizes it best when she points out:

You know, he was an anthropologist — everything was fodder for his mill, as it were. Hanging the microphones out of Allen Ginsberg’s window just to get street sounds — it was all part of the same picture, the society at this time, in this world. All of his collections were part of this. This is what was happening, in this time frame, in this universe, in New York City.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

May 11, 2018

How Brief a Moment

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… To see the problem in a new light so that it doesn’t present itself as the same god damned thing you’ve already tried and failed with …

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

1962

… If one could only realize how brief a moment the freshness of an intuition lasts in the entire temporal process of achieving it in the painting! You get a fresh inspiration, go to work on it, and the first thing you know (if you know it!) it is gone and you’re working out of stale habit, and the inspiration (as you think it will) doesn’t appear in the painting.

1964

… The endless time it’s taking me to paint this series of black and whites — at the bottom it’s a fear of looking at what may be fearful … Really to look frankly and see what there is to see, becomes more and more difficult. When there was more promise, always, when I was younger (even 10 years ago) the adventure of it was enough to stir me out of it.

[line break added] The adventure now no longer appeals so strongly. When something now does stir me … it’s wonderful, but the promise of it does not lead me on in spite of everything. So I must work at it; working, waiting, trying and waiting, again and again, while working for the “magic” to happen, not in the canvas but in me. Then it might happen on the canvas.

***************

I keep painting from out of a frame of reference of what I think I know to be true about what I have already on the canvas. … All of this without proper examination of what actually is on the canvas. …

I seem to resist being open to a full feeling — awareness — to prefer to go on on the basis of what I’ve done in the past instead of realizing what I’m doing in the present.

It’s all evidence of how hard we can work (and that doing over, again and again, getting nowhere because I’ve climbed aboard a psychic treadmill) to keep from being really alive !

***************

I keep succumbing to the tendency while I’m in the process of painting of considering — or rather unconsciously assuming — that what I’ve already worked so hard to get on canvas — to get where I already “am” in it — is somehow already achieved (and thus inviolable) and can only be added to. I lose the flow of process backward and forward, like an alternating current, constant, and through which it is necessary to be conceiving and perceiving the position in terms of the whole process, from as far ahead as I can projet it to as far back as where I first laid brush to canvas and so set the first problem of achieving.

In particularly low moments, what’s on the canvas seems a barrier against my doing anything with it, a great block there in front of me — immovable and incomprehensible. At other times it’s only a fantastically recalcitrant, stubborn thing.

To see the problem in a new light so that it doesn’t present itself as the same god damned thing you’ve already tried and failed with, for then (as above) it is simply a frustrating impossibility. To see openly, frankly!

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

May 10, 2018

Other Roads

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… it was with great relief that I could deal with things that I could trust and manipulate, things that are unthreatening.

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

The reaction to my early work was mixed and I couldn’t get anywhere with it. It wasn’t shown until 1964, when Eugene Gossen came by, which was four and a half years later. So during that time I got a job working at the railroad because I had to support my wife and myself. The four years at the railroad was sort of my sculptural finishing school, working in the New Jersey flats and the industrial wasteland out there, working with masses of material, the freight cars and trains and engines and locomotives and the tracks …

I worked mostly as a freight brakeman in yard service and local service, and a few road jobs. It was a matter of shunting cars around to sidings of industries and making up trains and, as trains would come in, breaking them down, classifying them: the operation of making up and breaking down. Drilling, it’s called. Drilling strings of cars. It’s very much like my work: taking identical units, or close to identical units, and shifting them around.

But the thing about working on the railroad, it got rid of any ideas of grandiosity in sculpture in my head, because the masses that you’re dealing with are so large. You cannot move a freight car by yourself. You can stop one with the brake, and if it’s going too fast you really have a hell of a problem, but you can. But it’s not strength that allows you to deal with these cars at all; it’s knowing what their properties are and knowing what to do. It’s a kind of low level craft or cunning, dealing with the freight cars. But the pleasures of the grandiose, I just lost any sense of that there, and it was with great relief that I could deal with things that I could trust and manipulate, things that are unthreatening. [1972]

***************

Smith represented a great body of work and nobody wanted to do more Smiths because he was still alive at that time. If anyone was going to do more David Smiths, David Smith was going to do them and nobody else. So sculptors looked in other directions because that work was being done. The greatest and the best influences are, I think, the great negative influences, where a man blocks out a great body of work and for those who come immediately after him, that road is closed to them. They have to find other roads, which is the healthiest thing that could happen. Then the people who come after that, the first generation followers, can go back to where the master blocked the road and study the thing a little bit more closely. [1970]

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

May 9, 2018

Below the Impersonal Surface

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

Weegee sees violently, abruptly, and with an unerring sense of the moment of great tension.

This is from the essay ‘Weegee Gives Journalism a Shot of Creative Photography’ by Paul Strand found in Unknown Weegee (2006):

… Thousands of photographs, words, and drawings are published whose interest, though often very real, is nevertheless momentary and soon forgotten.

We do not remember for long the what of events, unless it is accompanied by the how and the why in understandable human terms. To give us this, the journalist must also be an artist, bringing his understanding of life, his sensitivity, and above all, his own participation in what he is experiencing to a high point of focus, sharpening its essential reality.

Weegee’s Naked City, in both photographs and text, is a remarkable example of photographic journalism which has gone far beyond transitory interest. When you look at this book, you will never forget some of the things you see in it. You will be profoundly moved, disturbed, perhaps even frightened by the poignant truthfulness with which this man sees and speaks.

Weegee is a specialist in the drama of what most of us neither see nor want to see. In fact, most of us sleep while Weegee works — at night. He is the photographer of all that teeming, violent, human life that goes on in New York below the impersonal surface of more or less orderly work-a-day living.

Weegee sees violently, abruptly, and with an unerring sense of the moment of great tension. The rawness of flashlight tends to intensify this explosive quality.


“Auto Accident,” ca. 1940

… There is much in the subject matter of this book which is sensational. But sensationalism is not Weegee’s purpose. He is an artist, a man of serious and strong feeling. In that area of life in which he has lived and worked, his photographs truly record the way he sees. To this reviewer they are an extraordinary amalgam of sardonic humor, resentment of injustice, pathos, and a compassion tinged with bitterness. They seem to say, over and over again, “Life should have some dignity.”

My previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

May 8, 2018

There Is a Man Cut In Two By a Window

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… it was necessary only to get close to the glass …

This is from the editor’s introductory essay ‘Letters of Desire’ in Surrealism: Desire Unbound edited by Jennifer Mundy (2001):

The word desire runs like a silver thread through the poetry and writings of the surrealist group in all its phases. In the surrealists’ meditations on poetry, freedom and love — the three watchwords of this international movement that aimed to ‘change life’ — desire was seen as the authentic voice of the inner self. It was an expression of the sexual instinct, and, in sublimated form, the impulse behind love.

… In the early years of the surrealist movement desire was not a dominant theme. For much of the 1920s the group focused on the dream, revolution, poetry, and above all, love, and although desire was implicit in all of these it was not identified as a major aspect of surrealism. In the late 1920s and early 1930s however, desire — specifically, though not exclusively, erotic desire — came much more to the fore in surrealist art writings. There was a new willingness to confront the darker aspects of sexuality and a new urgency in the surrealists’ explorations of the deeper workings of the mind.

… The surrealists’ exploration of desire was influenced by psychoanalysis but not subservient to it. Freud was regarded, with but a few reservations, as a pioneering figure of incalculable importance but the surrealists rejected the notion of ‘cure’ and the standards of ‘normalcy’ implicit in psychoanalysis. They also ultimately — and in their poetic texts quite insistently — preferred a vision of desire as an active, ever-creative force to a concept of desire founded on the notion of lack.

… [André Breton] described how once, as he was falling asleep, he became aware of a curious phrase that came totally unbidden to his mind but that struck him in its strangeness as having a personal and poetic resonance. (The phrase was ‘There is a man cut in two by a window.’) Other sentences quickly followed: in Breton’s words, they ‘knocked at the window’ of his consciousness. Here Breton pictured the barrier separating the conscious and the unconscious as a sheet of transparent glass: it was necessary only to get close to the glass and be receptive in order to hear the messages from ‘the limitless expanses’ of the mind wherein, he wrote, ‘desires are made manifest.’

Surrealism aimed at surmounting the antinomies that govern so much of our mental life. In 1930 Breton announced:

Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions. Search as one may one will never find any other motivating force in the activities of the surrealists than the hope of finding and fixing this point.

However, if the goal was fusion, the process of reaching that goal necessarily implied a consciousness of the barrier between the self and the other, the inner and outer worlds. The barrier might be very fine, even, at the limit, permeable. Breton spoke of a ‘capillary tissue’ separating the two realms. Duchamp towards the end of his life envisaged an ‘ultra thin’ liminality marking the separation of two elements, or their passage from one state to another as in the almost imperceptible melding of the smell of tobacco smoke and the smell of the mouth that exhales it.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

May 7, 2018

The Fit

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… we tend to see it corporeally: that is, we tend to credit it with a particular look which bears a marked analogy to some look that the human body wears and that is constantly conjoined with an inner state.

This is from Art and Its Objects, (2nd edition) by Richard Wollheim (1968; 1980):

…We might begin by considering two false views of how works of art acquire their expressiveness: not simply so as to put them behind us, but because each is in its way a pointer to the truth. Neither view requires us to suppose that works of art are anything other than physical objects.

The first view is that works of art are expressive because they have been produced in a certain state of mind or feeling on the part of the artist: and to this the rider is often attached, that it is this mental or emotional condition that they express. But if we take the view first of all with the rider attached, its falsehood is apparent.

[line break added] For it is a common happening that a painter or sculptor modifies or even rejects a work of his because he finds that it fails to correspond to what he experienced at the time. If, however, we drop the rider, the view now seems arbitrary or perhaps incomplete. For there seems to be no reason why a work should be expressive simply because it was produced in some heightened condition if it is also admitted that the work and the condition need not have the same character.

… However, what is probably the more fundamental objection to this view, and is the point that has been emphasized by many recent philosophers, is that the work’s expressiveness now becomes a purely external feature of it. It is no longer something that we can or might observe, it is something that we infer from what we observe: it has been detached from the object as it manifests itself to us, and placed in its history, so that it now belongs more to the biography of the artist than to criticism of the work. And this seems wrong. For the qualities of gravity, sweetness, fear, that we invoke in describing works of art seem essential to our understanding of them; and if they are, they cannot be extrinsic to the works themselves.

… The second view is that works of art are expressive because they produce or are able to produce a certain state of mind or feeling in the spectator: moreover (and in the case of this view it is difficult to imagine the rider ever detached), it is this mental or emotional condition that they express. This view is open to objections that closely parallel those we have just considered.

For, in the first place, it seems clearly false. Before works even of the most extreme emotional intensity, like Bernini’s St Teresa or the black paintings of Goya, it is possible to remain more or less unexcited to the emotion that it would be agreed they express.

[ … ]

… In the first place, and perhaps most primitively, we think of a work of art as expressive in the sense in which a gesture or a cry would be expressive: that is to say, we conceive of it as coming so directly and immediately out of some particular emotional or mental state that it bears unmistakable marks of that state upon it. In this sense the word remains very close to its etymology: exprimere, to squeeze out or press out. An expression is a secretion of an inner state. I shall refer to this as ‘natural expression.’

[line break added] Alongside this notion is another, which we apply when we think of an object as expressive of a certain condition because, when we are in that condition, it seems to us to match, or correspond with, what we experience inwardly: and perhaps when the condition passes, the object is also good for reminding us of it in some special poignant way, or for reviving it for us.

[line break added] For an object to be expressive in this sense, there is no requirement that it should originate in the condition that it expresses, nor indeed is there any stipulation about its genesis: for these purposes it is simply a piece of the environment which we appropriate on account of the way it seems to reiterate something in us. Expression in this sense I shall (following a famous nineteenth-century usage) call ‘correspondence.’

… We might think that such a relation has a place only in connection with correspondences. For in the case of natural expression, the link between inner and outer is surely too powerful or too intimate to allow its mediation. It is not because tears seem like grief that we regard them as an expression of grief: nor does a man when he resorts to tears do so because they match his condition.

[line break added] So we might think. But in reality, at any level above the most primitive, natural expression will always be colored or influenced by some sense of what is appropriate; there will be a feedback from judgment, however inchoate or unconscious this may be, to gesture or exclamation. Again, when we turn to correspondence, it might seem that here we are guided entirely by appropriateness or the fit: that is to say, we appeal uniquely to the appearances or characteristics of objects, which hold for us, in some quite unanalysed way, an emotional significance.

[line break added] We do not (we might think) check these reactions against observed correlations. But once again this is a simplification. Apart from a few primitive cases, no physiognomic perception will be independent of what is for us the supreme example of the relationship between inner and outer: that is, the human body as the expression of the psyche. When we endow a natural object or an artifact with expressive meaning, we tend to see it corporeally: that is, we tend to credit it with a particular look which bears a marked analogy to some look that the human body wears and that is constantly conjoined with an inner state.

… We have now completed our discussion of the physical-object hypothesis …

… If my original assertion is to be vindicated, I am now required to show that what is of moment in aesthetics is the physicality of the works of art rather than their particularity.

To be continued.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.