Unreal Nature

March 15, 2017

As It Manifests Its Power

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… Where would memory, or its regrets, fit into this scheme of things?

Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… [In Weegee’s work] A vision of the city emerges in which flesh and its entanglements become the chief, unauthorized subject.

… For him, the city was like a strip show gone bananas.

Extreme spectacles involved him less, however, than the uncontrolled reactions to which they gave rise. Try as he might to arrange matters according to his sarcastic intent, it was the sheer random, ill-assorted, and unaware display of consciousness that carried him through the night. Much of what he saw and then concentrated on, with visual smarts, was marginal to the dire occasion. Eventually, the narrative impulse of the reporter gave way to a new understanding that stories themselves simply dissolved into the industrious chaos of the metropolis.

Weegee, The First Murder, 1945

[ … ]

Feininger gave his complete attention to each of his subjects, one at a time, delivered through crisp outlines and the richest gamut of black and white. The wares, products, and blandishments of metropolitan commerce are clogged and stacked for immediate purchase and use. New York, as he judges it, is a warehouse of supply and demand, constantly replenished. What’s startling and funny about Feininger’s picture of a raunchy Times Square movie theater, with “sexy” posters, is his view of it as just one more output of entrepreneurial spectacle.

Andreas Feininger, West 42nd Street, 1940

Feininger and Weegee were very different personalities who nevertheless had in common an idea of New York as a man’s town, a place where men slaked their appetites and produced the goods. Weegee often differentiated social milieu: he mocked the cultural pretensions of the upper class, showed his affection for blacks, and identified with the drunks at Sammy’s of the Bowery. For his part, Feininger performed as a dignified booster who had much in common with the Byron Company.

[line bread added] The classes are again just human strata; folkloric bits add their charm, while the city overall swaggers as it manifests its power. Where would memory, or its regrets, fit into this scheme of things? Or, for that matter, aspiration? New York was not changing, as Berenice Abbott supposed in the 1930s: it had already changed. In the form given to us by Feininger, it appears to us as an immense, solidified now.

… Though the legacy of Andreas Feininger had nowhere to go except into cliché, he put the finishing touches to New York, as an indelible icon at its historical zenith.

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




March 14, 2017

Detumescent Presence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… the quality is as unmistakable as it is rare — an artist’s total certainty, untouched by inhibition or affectation, as to his tastes.

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

… Slackness, besides repelling, provokes moral opprobrium, spells weakness of will, absence of energy. Attributes of art deemed to be desirable correspond to approved moral attributes: art is asked to be, for example, pure, strong, disciplined, generous. So form, in sculpture especially, is supposed to seem taut and muscular.

[line break added] No two sculptors of the same generation could be more different than Moore and Giacometti, yet this they have in common: Moore’s stated ideal of form is ‘pent-up energy,’ Giacometti’s ‘contained violence.’ From ancient Egypt to the Romanesque, the African to Michelangelo, the Parthenon to Brancusi, sculpture offers a tumescent presence. Except for bad sculpture. Claes Oldenburg, therefore, is arguably among the most revolutionary artists of all time, in that his sculpture glories in a detumescent presence — doesn’t only seem soft, it is soft.

[ … ]

Oldenburg’s brand of derangement, naturally enough, concentrates on the tactile. The objects he deforms are tools we constantly handle, never bother to contemplate, are familiar with through our sense of touch. They are virtually extensions of our bodies. At the same time, we trust them. Rather than doubt them we doubt ourselves. Their misdemeanor not only wrecks our poise but seems to reflect some weakness in ourselves. So the soft sculptures become a sort of insult to our amour propre.

This next is from ‘Rosenquist’ (1974):

Rosenquist’s art is public in that its formal elements are largely derived from the brashest kinds of commercial art, public in that its iconographic elements are generally taken over from the imagery of conspicuous mass-consumption and its attendant communal fantasies; in sensibility, it is beautifully private. It doesn’t make its meaning plain, doesn’t strike resounding chords of easily nameable feeling.

[line break added] Where other Pop Art often plays off emphatic irony against emphatic sensuousness or emphatic nostalgia or emphatic violence or emphatic melancholy, Rosenquist’s feelings about his imagery seem so inextricably mixed that one is left not puzzled but clueless as to his motivations; one simply senses a certain complex wonderment. He paints like a man absorbed in bringing back to mind for no particular reason an especially interesting dream. Some artists seem to have the attitude towards their imagery of a man flaunting his intimacy with an enviable companion; others the attitude of someone allowing you to view his collection of fetishes; others that of someone exposing his scars.

[line break added] Others seem to be persuading themselves how fervently they’re on the side of life, others to be confiding that the material was admittedly unpromising but look what they’ve managed to make of it. Rosenquist’s art is free of salesmanship. It radiates — I can’t say why, but the quality is as unmistakable as it is rare — an artist’s total certainty, untouched by inhibition or affectation, as to his tastes. To be in the company of his work is like being in that of one who is acute, relaxed, entertaining, enigmatic.

James Rosenquist, Flaming Capsule, 1970

James Rosenquist, Time Stops the Face Continues, 2008

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




March 13, 2017

This Needing and Making

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… You struggle both on behalf of and against what you have already accomplished.

This is from the essay ‘Studio notes, 1993-94’ in Robert Mangold (2000):

[ … ]

26 February 1993

I create and shape my work to satisfy my needs. This does not mean that I am two people, one who needs and one who makes; there is only one person. I cannot say to my other self, ‘Tell me what your needs are, I will try to satisfy them.’ But it is rather a whole process, this needing and making.

I want certain things from my work at any particular time, many of these are unspecified, not clearly in focus. You work on the focus of the work as you make it.

And this does not mean that at the end of the process you can state the aims of the work, as made visual. It does not work that way.

30 March 1993

Each set or group of paintings I do develops a set of rules or constants, things that are true in each work. When I start with a new idea, part of the job is to find the logic. There are many possibilities in setting up the rules; they are seemingly arbitrary but in reality, each idea settles, makes a union with, its rules, and they are resolved. This resolution, the constants in the series, set the framework for the struggle within each work to again find a union or resolution, but in the face of the works the rules are not important.

[ … ]

29 April 1993

Painting and Seeing and Being

A camera can only see, it can only record.

A person can only see, he or she cannot record.

When you view a painting, you exist in relation to it.

The relationship is one of seeing and being, not seeing alone, since it is impossible to separate seeing from being.

It is the experience of seeing and being in front of a work which affects us.

[ … ]

14 March 1994 a.m.

The dilemma today for the artist is the same as it has always been. When I go to the studio, what shall I do? How can I make something of meaning? And by meaning I am talking about meaning to me. It is easy to make something that looks good, that it is momentarily topical, but to make something of meaning is not easy. And by meaning I do not mean that it takes one further step down some historical, political or stylistic road.

Albers said Angst is dead.
Minimal sculptors and critics said the same for Painting.
Conceptual theoreticians declared the end of the object,
And Earth Art signalled the end of the gallery.
So here we are many years later with a surplus of Angst, paintings, objects, and galleries.

Artists are always struggling against history and the moment, to propel themselves forward, not forward as in progress, but forward as reaching for oxygen, or as a plant reaches for light. You struggle both on behalf of and against what you have already accomplished.

My most recent previous post from this book on Robert Mangold is here.




March 12, 2017

The Manifold Acts of Other People

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:51 am

… recognition or acceptance descends upon me from others like a gift, like grace, which is incapable of being understood and founded from within myself.

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):

… The value of my external personality as a whole (and, first and foremost, the value of my external body — which is our exclusive concern in the present context) has a borrowed character: it is constructed by me, but is not experienced by me in any unmediated way.

I can strive in an unmediated way for self-preservation and well-being, defend my life with all the means at my disposal,and even strive for power and the subjection of others, but I can never experience within myself in any unmediated way that which constitutes me as a legal person, because my legal personality is nothing else but my guaranteed certainty in being granted recognition by other people — a certainty that I experience as their obligation in relation to myself. For it is one thing to defend one’s own life in fact against an attack in fact — animals act in exactly the same way in this case. It is an entirely different thing to experience one’s right to life and safety and the obligation of others to respect this right.

And, similarly, there is an equally profound difference between my inner experience of my own body and the recognition of its outer value by other people — my right to the loving acceptance or recognition of my exterior by others: this recognition or acceptance descends upon me from others like a gift, like grace, which is incapable of being understood and founded from within myself. And it is only in this case that certainty in the outer value of my body is possible, whereas an immediately intuitable experience of that value is impossible — all I can do is have pretensions to it.

The plastic value of my outer body has been, as it were, sculpted for me by the manifold acts of other people in relation to me, acts performed intermittently throughout my life: acts of concern for me, acts of love, acts that recognize my value.

… The outer body is unified and shaped by cognitive, ethical, and aesthetic categories, and by the sum total of external, visual, and tangible features that make up the plastic and pictorial values in it. My emotional-volitional reactions to the other’s outer body are unmediated, and it is only in relation to the other that I experience the beauty of the human body in an immediate way — that is, the human body begins to live for me on an entirely different axiological plane, on an axiological plane inaccessible to my inner self-sensation and my fragmentary outer seeing. … Only the inner body (the body experienced as heavy) is given to a human being himself; the other’s outer body is not given but set as a task: I must actively produce it.

… Such, then, is the difference between the outer and the inner body (between the other’s body and my own) within the concrete and closed context of a unique person’s life, for whom the relationship of “I and the other” is absolutely irreversible and given once and for all.

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




March 11, 2017

In Order to Breathe He Must Break the Windows

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… Tolerate the spasmodic, the obscure, the fragmentary, the failure. Your help is invoked in a good cause.

This is from the essay ‘Mr. Bennett and Mrs Brown’ by Virginia Woolf found in The Hogarth Essays (1928). Note that here ‘Edwardian‘ means the old and ‘Georgian‘ means the new:

… I want to make out what we mean when we talk about “character” in fiction; to say something about the question of reality which Mr. Bennett raises; and to suggest some reasons why the younger novelists fail to create characters, if, as Mr. Bennett asserts, it is true that fail they do.

… My first assertion is one that I think you will grant — that every one in this room is a judge of character. Indeed it would be impossible to live for a year without disaster unless one practised character-reading and had some skill in the art. Our marriages, our friendships depend on it; our business largely depends on it; every day questions arise which can only be solved by its help. And now I will hazard a second assertion, which is more disputable perhaps, to the effect that on or about December, 1910, human character changed.

I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless; and, since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910. The first signs of it are recorded in the books of Samuel Butler, in The Way of All Flesh in particular; the plays of Bernard Shaw continue to record it.

[line break added] In life one can see the change, if I may use a homely illustration, in the character of one’s cook. The Victorian cook lived like a leviathan in the lower depths, formidable, silent, obscure, inscrutable; the Georgian cook is a creature of sunshine and fresh air; in and out of the drawing-room, now to borrow The Daily Herald, now to ask advice about a hat.

… novelists differ from the rest of the world because they do not cease to be interested in character when they have learnt enough about it for practical purposes. They go a step further; they feel that there is something permanently interesting in character itself. When all the practical business of life has been discharged, there is something about people which continues to seem to them of overwhelming importance, in spite of the fact that it has no bearing whatever upon their happiness, comfort, or income. The study of character becomes to them an absorbing pursuit; to impart character an obsession.

… the Edwardian tools are the wrong ones for us to use. They have laid an enormous stress upon the fabric of things. They have given us a house in the hope that we may be able to deduce the human beings who live there. To give them their due, they have made that house much better worth living in. But if you hold that novels are in the first place about people, and only in the second about the houses they live in, that is the wrong way to set about it.

[line break added] Therefore, you see, the Georgian writer had to begin by throwing away the method that was in use at the moment. He was left alone there facing Mrs. Brown without any method of conveying her to the reader. But that is inaccurate. A writer is never alone. There is always the public with him — if not on the same seat, at least in the compartment next door.

… Many of them — I am thinking of Mr. Forster and Mr. Lawrence in particular — spoilt their early work because, instead of throwing away those tools, they tried to use them. They tried to compromise. They tried to combine their own direct sense of the oddity and significance of some character with Mr. Galsworthy’s knowledge of the Factory Acts, and Mr. Bennett’s knowledge of the Five Towns. They tried it, but they had too keen, too overpowering a sense of Mrs. Brown and her peculiarities to go on trying it much longer. Something had to be done.

… And so the smashing and the crashing began. Thus it is that we hear all round us, in poems and novels and biographies, even in newspaper articles and essays, the sound of breaking and falling, crashing and destruction. It is the prevailing sound of the Georgian age — rather a melancholy one if you think what melodious days there have been in the past, if you think of Shakespeare and Milton and Keats or even of Jane Austen and Thackeray and Dickens; if you think of the language, and the heights to which it can soar when free, and see the same eagle captive, bald, and croaking.

… At the present moment we are suffering, not from decay, but from having no code of manners which writers and readers accept as a prelude to the more exciting intercourse of friendship. The literary convention of the time is so artificial — you have to talk about the weather and nothing but the weather throughout the entire visit — that, naturally, the feeble are tempted to outrage, and the strong are led to destroy the very foundations and rules of literary society.

… Their sincerity is desperate, and their courage tremendous; it is only that they do not know which to use, a fork or their fingers. Thus, if you read Mr. Joyce and Mr. Eliot you will be struck by the indecency of the one, and the obscurity of the other. Mr. Joyce’s indecency in Ulysses seems to me the conscious and calculated indecency of a desperate man who feels that in order to breathe he must break the windows.

[line break added] At moments, when the window is broken, he is magnificent. But what a waste of energy! And, after all, how dull indecency is, when it is not the overflowing of a super-abundant energy or savagery, but the determined and public-spirited act of a man who needs fresh air! Again, the obscurity of Mr. Eliot. I think that Mr. Eliot has written some of the loveliest single lines in modern poetry. But how intolerant he is of the old usages and politenesses of society — respect for the weak, consideration for the dull!

[line break added] As I sun myself upon the intense and ravishing beauty of one of his lines, and reflect that I must make a dizzy and dangerous leap to the next, and so on from line to line, like an acrobat flying precariously from bar to bar, I cry out, I confess, for the old decorums, and envy the indolence of my ancestors who, instead of spinning madly through mid-air, dreamt quietly in the shade with a book.

[ … ]

… For these reasons, then, we must reconcile ourselves to a season of failures and fragments. We must reflect that where so much strength is spent on finding a way of telling the truth the truth itself is bound to reach us in rather an exhausted and chaotic condition.

… In the course of your daily life this past week you have had far stranger and more interesting experiences than the one I have tried to describe. You have overheard scraps of talk that filled you with amazement. You have gone to bed at night bewildered by the complexity of your feelings. In one day thousands of ideas have coursed through your brains; thousands of emotions have met, collided, and disappeared in astonishing disorder.

[line break added] Nevertheless, you allow the writers to palm off upon you a version of all this, an image of Mrs. Brown, which has no likeness to that surprising apparition whatsoever. In your modesty you seem to consider that writers are of different blood and bone from yourselves; that they know more of Mrs. Brown than you do. Never was there a more fatal mistake.

[line break added] It is this division between reader and writer, this humility on your part, these professional airs and graces on ours, that corrupt and emasculate the books which should be the healthy offspring of a close and equal alliance between us. Hence spring those sleek, smooth novels, those portentous and ridiculous biographies, that milk-and-watery criticism, those poems melodiously celebrating the innocence of roses and sheep which pass so plausibly for literature at the present time.

… Tolerate the spasmodic, the obscure, the fragmentary, the failure. Your help is invoked in a good cause.

My previous post from this book is here.




March 10, 2017

How Hard Is That Purification from Insincerity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:26 am

… “If one hates anything too long … one forgets what it is one could love.”

This is from ‘Reticent Candor’ (1952) found in The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore edited by Patricia C. Willis (1986):

… As Ezra Pound, J.V. Healy says, followed T.E. Hulme’s precept, that language “should endeavor to arrest you, and to make you continuously see a physical thing, and prevent your gliding through an abstract process in formulating the three discourses just cited — exposition consonant in vividness with hs best use of metaphor — “the seabell”s perpetual angelus” and the lines about standing at the “stern of the drumming liner, watching the furrow that widens behind us.”

The next is from a review of Selected Criticusm — Prose, Poetry by Louise Bogan (1956):

… Unmistakable emphasis is placed on two capacities as indispensable to achievement — instinctiveness and “coming to terms with one’s self” — instinctiveness as contrasted with Henry James’ Mona Brigstock who was “all will.” Goethe’s central power is seen as “interpretive imagination,” an interior compulsion linked with integrity. In The Family Reunion, “an integration,” Miss Bogan sees T.S. Eliot “in complete control of himself.”

[line break added] Was Joyce in Finnegan’s Wake, she asks, “the farceur” or have we here, “immaturity transcending suffering?” — a query one connects with Henry James’ observation in discussing Turgenev’s fiction: “The great question as to a poet or novelist is, how does he feel about life? What in the last analysis is his philosophy? This is the most interesting thing their works offer us. Details are interesting in proportion as they contribute to make it clear.”

These compact, unequivocal studies are set off by a kind of dry humor-incognito which is idiosyncratically eloquent. Henry James “really was a great poet and profound psychologist,” Miss Bogan says. “He has been thought genteel when he had become the sharpest critic of gentility, a dull expatriate when his books flashed with incisive American wit.” “He must be approached as one approaches music,” she says. “He continuously shifts between development and theme, never stops, never errs.”

[line break added] She affirms Rilke’s conviction that “we must adhere to difficulty if we would make any claim to having a part in life” and feels that we have in Rilke “one of the strongest antidotes to the powers of darkness”; “often exhausted, often afraid, often in flight but capable of growth and solitude — he stands as an example of integrity held through and beyond change.”

… perhaps with his tendency to diatribe in mind, she says, “Pound’s ideal reader is a person who has experienced real discomfort at being shut up in a railway train, lecture hall, or concert room, with well-modulated voices expressing careful, well-bred opinions on the subject of the arts.” Contradictions presented by W.B. Yeats are set forth: his august statement, “We are artists who are servants not of any cause but of mere nature” and his “lifelong struggle against the inertia of his nation”; “his variety of stress and subtlety of meaning”; his vehemence: “how hard is that purification from insincerity, vanity, malignance, arrogance, which is the discovery of style.”

… typical of the whole temper of the book — Miss Bogan says of Yvor Winters, a writer “very nearly without listeners, let alone friends and admirers, his interest appears limited only because he has made choices, proof of probity and distilled power in unlikely times. These facts should delight us.”

A fascinating book, abounding in important insights such as “Loose form must have beneath, a groundswell of energy.” “If one hates anything too long … one forgets what it is one could love”; the advice of W.B. Yeats that we “write our thoughts as nearly as possible in the language we thought them in.” And we are warned against “stubborn avant-gardism when no real need for a restless forward movement any longer exists; the moment comes,” Miss Bogan says, “for a consolidation of resources, for interpretation rather than exploration.”

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




March 9, 2017

The Actual Fluidity and Contingency

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… this is, in turn, important for our open sensibility …

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

… Modern painters by and large — and I speak of what is most constant and rooted in advanced contemporary practice — wish to produce a work of art in such a way that the finished product gives you a most vivid sense of its making, its becoming, the intensity and immediacy of the artist’s inspiration or response to some perception or feeling.

[line break added] Hence, in modern painting, the touch or stroke is so very pronounced. You see that already in Impressionist painting, which at first glance looks like a hodgepodge or turbulence of many small strokes forming a thick and interesting crust on the surface. Through that materializing of the operation process in the modern work of art, the importance given to the stroke as a perfectly visible object, we become as much aware of the artist’s activity and mood as we are of the total image that is brought about through it.

[line break added] There is finally a fusion of the two, so that we cannot easily distinguish them. The quantity of the mark, stroke, or touch, whether as a discontinuous small unit or as a prolonged, continuous line — a tangle or labyrinth — pervades the whole; it is a trace or track of the artist in producing the work, but also a constituting form. That is a basic aspect of contemporary art.

Another important element is the concreteness of the surface of the object of art. In older painting the canvas is a kind of window through which you view a scene. The modern painter treats the surface of the canvas as a concrete definite tangible ground, as an object in itself. Instead of looking through it in order to view an imaginary scene, you look at it in order to experience the artist’s action on the plane of the canvas, his pigment and fabric of colors and forms. As a result, the old notion of painting as a marvelous, ingenious art of illusion gives way to a new frankness and directness of expression.

[line break added] All that the artist does is at once apparent as an effect or deposit on the surface, and therefore, the concrete elements of the stroke merge with the plane of the canvas (or with the actual structure of the piece of sculpture in three-dimensional space) as a materialized object. That vividness and simplicity of the object distinguish it from older art to such an extent that when we find older paintings that have both this touch and this surface quality, we think of those works as being precociously modern and congenial to contemporary sensibility.

A third aspect of modern painting and sculpture we shall call randomness. The work is so designed or constructed that the composition though well ordered looks undesigned, independent of any a priori scheme. The artist does not aim at symmetry or a legible pattern. He does not build up a rhythm that can be read off in a single manner. It is not written to a script or program that determines a regular extractable schema, a triangle or circle around which the figures are clustered or some other canonical arrangement.

[line break added] But he seeks a form that, in its aspect of contingency, randomness, and the accidental and concealed relationships in its frequent discontinuity, and in its many partial, segmented elements, gives us the most vivid sense of an order built out of unordered elements that in the end look only precariously ordered. The result is a constant interplay among chance, incompleteness, and the final order, completeness and rightness of elements.

[line break added] But it is a rightness of the final order that preserves a maximum asymmetry and appearance of accident in unpredictable relationship of the parts: hence, in Cubism, the conjunction of unexpected parts. It is a means of affirming the artist’s liberty and creativeness and his fidelity to experience, the freshness of his approach to the canvas or sculpture. What you see in the work has just been created and is a victory over the disorder and shapelessness of things.

[line break added] It has not been thought out in advance. It does not conform to an already established order but suggests the actual fluidity and contingency of the world. The modern painter is, therefore, indifferent to blank verse, to sonatas, to fixed forms that already exist as established canonical forms or types or presuppositions. And this is, in turn, important for our open sensibility with regard to the individual morality, and personal life, all that pertains to growth and invention, to discovery within life itself.

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




March 8, 2017

Knowing One Another

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… These images are eloquent about space: an unknown interior space that’s off-limits and a social space that’s charged by psychological dynamics …

Continuing through New York: Capital of Photography by Max Kozloff (2002):

… Those in the ghetto of Harlem were horribly overcrowded and gouged by white landlords who knew their tenants had nowhere else to go. “I remember,” said Gordon Parks, who was raised there, “swarms of slow moving people, moving close together up on Lenox Avenue — past the chili shacks, rib joints, funeral parlors and storefront churches — knowing one another but seldom bothering to speak. A city of blackness crammed inside a white city where, when you walked out the door, you became a stranger.”

Siskind’s group (Harlem Document) refused to see Harlem residents as either heroic or dangerous; they come forward as aggrieved, resilient, dispirited, sensual, and quite frequently pious. The difference between media stereotypes and the content of this Harlem imagery is the difference between a determined projection of preconceived meaning and the observation of behavior and moods.

In this case, it was informed observation. The white, working-class photographers lived in run-down tenemants, as did their subjects. The picture takers, first generation offspring of Jewish immigrants, mingled with the children of recent black migrants from the South. Both sides knew displacement and prejudice, though obviously in different intensities.

[line break added] Of course, the presence of the camera implied the privileged mobility of those who used it, which may help to explain their sensitivity to the confinement of life in Harlem. Though the “document” certainly emerges as rhetorical in tone (the photographers wanted conditions changed for the better, after all), it’s nuanced in feeling.

Aaron Siskind, The Wishing Tree, 1937

… These images are eloquent about space: an unknown interior space that’s off-limits and a social space that’s charged by psychological dynamics, either between the subjects themselves or between them and the photographer.

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




March 7, 2017

To Joke About What We Mind Most About

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… there is this contradiction between cool in the treatment and soul in the subject-matter …

This is from ‘Lichtenstein’ (1969) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

Some artists like to think they are working in the dark, others that they are firmly in control. The preference seems almost more a matter of generation than of individual temperament. Most of the artists whose styles were formed in the 1940s subscribed to the idea that making art meant feeling one’s way through unknown territory. Robert Motherwell spoke — as if wearing Whitman’s beard — of the painting process as a ‘voyaging into the night, one knows not where, on an unknown vessel.’

… The typical art of the Sixties is as different from this as Colonel Borman’s journey to the moon is from Lévi-Strauss’s journey into the tropics. It is carefully planned, tightly organized, precise in execution. It is technological (as in its use of silk-screen and spray-gun or as in sculpture ordered from the factory by telephone). It is also handsomely financed; and this is not incidental.

[line break added] The art of the Forties was an art of outsiders, its audience other outsiders. The art of the Sixties has a public and a publicity machine: it is soundly professional and socially acceptable. It is sure of itself and has an air of certainty and decision. The artist, like a good executive, makes up his mind what he will do and does it, or gets it done to his specifications.

Lichtenstein is one of those who make a point of painting in a quasi-machine-like way, following a predetermined course.

… He evidently relishes the element of certainty, the knowing ‘exactly what it’s going to look like.’ And the pictures themselves, hard and precise and cool, look as if they were about certainty. But they aren’t about certainty — rather the opposite, as we shall see — and it’s largely the interplay in them between certainty and uncertainty that makes them go on as they do being surprising though they have the look of an art that is not going to sustain its impact.

… The certainty evaporates as soon as Lichtenstein starts talking about the cliché’s relevance to life, as against its usefulness to art. When I asked him, not too seriously, whether he liked girls who looked like the cliché girls he painted, he threw the ball back by saying — and this wasn’t sophistry — that the kind he painted were ‘really made up of black lines and red dots.

[line break added] I see it that abstractly, that it’s very hard to fall for one of these creatures, to me, because they’re not really reality to me. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a clichéd ideal, a fantasy ideal, of a woman that I would be interested in. But I think I have in mind what they should look like for other people.’

Yellow and Green Brushstrokes, 1966

… In the brushstrokes series, as in the cartoon images of love and war, Lichtenstein takes subjects with a high emotional charge and deals with them as commercial art would ‘by a very removed method,’ as he puts it. ‘It’s really not so much that I really use that method but that it appears as though I’ve used it and as though the thing had been done by a committee.’

I feel that his best work is generally work in which there is this contradiction between cool in the treatment and soul in the subject-matter — as against the still lifes, the landscapes and parodies of Jazz Age ornament. It is a contradiction that corresponds to one of our most needed mechanisms of defence: to joke about what we mind most about.

Lichtenstein’s method of doing this is the inverse of Jasper Johns’s, the artist whose ironic use of common emblems showed the way to Lichtenstein and the other creators of Pop. Johns takes cool subjects and paints them with soul, or what looks like soul. Lichtenstein takes soulful subjects and paints them with cool, or what looks like cool.

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




March 6, 2017

The Family Relationship

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… They stand entirely on their own.

This is from the essay ‘The Zone Paintings’ by Arthur C.Danto in Robert Mangold (2000):

… The Zone Paintings embody — as do indeed all of the families of paintings the artist has achieved over the past twenty years — a fixed set of rules. There are, accordingly, two kinds of creativity: the creation of the rules which define the family, and the execution of the rules in making individual paintings. Executing the rules, however, is never entirely mechanical.

… With Motherwell and Diebenkorn, there has … been an obsessive reversion to the same idea, over and over, as if the artist hoped that a painting might emerge which would embody that idea to perfection (Motherwell explicitly confided that he would stop painting Elegies when he did one which at last realized the idea perfectly). With Mangold, by contrast, none of the Zone Paintings can be imagined as fulfilling what the others merely aspire to.

[line break added] The family relationship is wholly different from the relationship between an examplar and its lesser instances. Each member realizes a different set of possibilities as defined by the identical phenotype, and no individual painting could hope to possess them all. From this perspective, the members of the family are all alike. There is no ideal or paradigmatic member to which the others aspire.

by Robert Mangold

… If each of the zones behaved itself, so to speak, and stayed within the boundaries of the panels to which it corresponds, the Zone Paintings would be perfectly symmetrical. The boundaries of the zones would coincide perfectly with the boundaries of the panels, and in particular the right and left arcs would intersect the right and left sides of the paintings at precisely correspondent points. In consequence, the sides would be equal to one another in height.

[line break added] But because of the ways the zones penetrate into one another’s territories, there are de facto asymmetries throughout the Zone Paintings, even if the overall impression of the works is that of balance and symmetry. The arcs differ in length, the sides differ in height, the bases of the zones differ in width. If we imagine an axis perpendicular to the base, bisecting the entire work, the two sides would constitute incongruent counterparts.

… their right-left asymmetries, which differ from Zone Painting to Zone Painting, make the works virtually immune to architectural placement — in lunettes, for example, or in bays.

… it is, for practical and economic reasons, unlikely that a space pre-exists in which one or another Zone Painting could fit exactly. So they must be hung, as paintings, on walls to which they have no further relationship than a conventional rectangular painting would.

From this perspective, if sound, the architecturality of the Zone Paintings is a way of proclaiming the autonomy of painting. These works imply possibilities of placement to which they refuse to conform.

by Robert Mangold

… The Taoist thinker, Chuang Tzu, once wrote of a tree, whose trunk was so gnarled and bumpy, its branches so twisted and bent, that no carpenter would look at it twice. His counsel was to be like that tree: ‘Axes will never shorten its life, nothing can ever harm it. If there’s no use for it, how can it come to grief or pain?’

[line break added] Such bristling non-conformity was the formula for that sort of metaphysical independence to which Taoists aspired. While resembling Chuang Tzu’s tree in no further respect, the Zone Paintings proclaim their independence and indeed their autonomy by the distance at which they hold the architecture they imply. They stand entirely on their own.

My most recent previous post from this book is  here.




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