Unreal Nature

May 13, 2017

Air That Shows

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… “I used to wonder why the sea was blue at a distance and green close up and colorless for that matter in your hands.”

This is from The Primary Colors: Three Essays by Alexander Theroux (1994):

Blue is a mysterious color, hue of illness and nobility, the rarest color in nature. It is the color of ambiguous depth, of the heavens and the abyss at once; blue is the color of the shadow side, the tint of the marvelous and the inexplicable, of desire, of knowledge, of the blue movie, of blue talk, of raw meat and rare steak, of melancholy and the unexpected (once in a blue moon, out of the blue). It is the color of anode plates, royalty at Rome, smoke, distant hills, postmarks, Georgian silver, thin milk, and hardened steel; of veins seen through skin and notices of dismissal in the American railroad business.

[line break added] Brimstone burns blue, and a blue candle flame is said to indicate the presence of ghosts. The blue-black sky of Vincent van Gogh’s 1890 Crows Flying over a Cornfield seems to express the painter’s doom. But, according to Grace Mirabella, editor of Mirabella, a blue cover used on a magazine always guarantees increased sales at the newstand. “It is America’s favorite color,” she says.

Paradoxically, it is the only one of all the colors which can be legitimately seen as a close neighbor to, as well as essentially symbolic of, dark and light both, oddly black in the night and almost white at the horizon by day. (“… deep blue air that shows,” observes Philip Larkin, “Nothing, and nowhere, and is endless …”) It can darken, it can obscure, it may float to and fro like a mist, evoking serenity and power. Mirroring each other, the sea takes its color from the sky. As Helen Hunt Jackson observes in “My Lighthouses,”

I look across the harbor’s misty blue,”
And find and lose that magic shifting line
Where sky one shade less blue meets sea …

It might be said to be not so much a color as a state of the light. It is also the Void: primordial simplicity and infinite space which, being empty, can contain everything or nothing. “I saw Venice turn blue because she forgot to care,” sings lovelorn Charles Aznavour.

[ … ]

… Incidentally, blue water is invariably salty, warm, and deep and speaks of the tropics, where evaporation is great and dilution minimal — the Sulu Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Stream. Green water, on the other hand, is cool, pale with particles, thin with river and rain, often shallow. In the tropics it means land, just as in the north, with white jigsaw ice, it means a frozen bay is not far away. Water is always mysterious. “I used to wonder why the sea was blue at a distance and green close up and colorless for that matter in your hands,” writes Sr. Miriam Pollard, O.C.S.O, in The Listening God. “A lot of life is like that. A lot of life is just a matter of learning to like blue.”

… Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart,” played many love scenes in front of rolling cameras, but she insisted they never excited her. Discussing “the disillusionment of screen lovemaking,” she observed disdainfully that in the blinding glare of the bright blue calcium lights back in the 1920s, a screen lover bending to kiss her suddenly had purple lips and blue teeth.




May 12, 2017

Against Its Own Desire

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… achieved, not in a working out, but a working loose of these tight equivalences.

This is from the chapter on ‘Dubliners’ in James Joyce (2nd Edition) by Steven Connor (1996, 2012):

… On the one hand, then, the epiphany is a showing forth, a spontaneous revelation of the essence of an ordinary object: Stephen describes it in Stephen Hero unambiguously as the moment when ‘Its soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vesture of its appearance,’ On the other hand, and to to the precise degree that the epiphany must be a revelation for some perceiving consciousness in particular, it is not essential or self-sufficient, but brought into being in, and probably also by, the act of interpretative seeing itself.

[ … ]

… The fastidious, introverted scholar and writer, James Duffy [in ‘A Painful Cause’], who prides himself on his austere aloofness from the pettiness of bourgeois urban life, becomes entangled in an embarrassing affair with Emily Sinico, a married woman. He breaks off the affair, and hears nothing from Emily Sinico until reading of her death after she has been hit by a railway engine while apparently inebriated. At first, Mr Duffy is revolted by the vulgarity of her end, but becomes more and more aware of his culpability:

When he gained the crest of the Magazine Hill he halted and looked along the river towards Dublin, the lights of which burned redly and hospitably in the cold night. He looked down the slope and at the base, in the shadow of the wall of the Park, he saw some human figures lying. Those venal and furtive loves filled him with despair. He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he had been outcast from life’s feast. One human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness: he had sentenced her to ignominy, a death of shame. He knew that the prostrate creatures down by the wall were watching him and wished him gone. No one wanted him; he was outcast from life’s feast.

… However, there is a detail of the narration which seems to prise open a chink of incongruity. ‘He gnawed the rectitude of his own life; he felt he had been outcast from life’s feast,’ we read. The slightly self-conscious elaboration of this metaphor is forgotten as Duffy starts to articulate to himself the nature of his guilt.

[line break added] But this sequence ends with a repetition of the phrase, which suddenly must be read as embodying a kind of relish: ‘No one wanted him; he was outcast from life’s feast.’ Mr Duffy, it seems, is rather pleased with this phrase. In the light of this awareness, which Mr Duffy does not share with us, the rest of his internal monologue starts to seem more like a performance than an unfolding self-confrontation.

[ … ]

… The famous passage which concludes ‘The Dead’ by evoking the falling of the snow all over Ireland is diffusive and excessive, where so much of the writing of the book had worked to concentrate and limit.

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gates, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

The words and cadence call attention to themselves, in their alliterations and repetitions, but they also point beyond themselves. [ … ] The passage describes and enacts relinquishment rather than mastery, and Gabriel becomes himself at the moment at which he loses himself. Similarly, the book becomes itself in the moment of losing its bearings.

[line break added] The consummation of the work, which everything leads us to expect to see coinciding with the advent of fulfilled self-knowledge in the interpreting self, is achieved, not in a working out, but a working loose of these tight equivalences. The interest of Dubliners lies, not in its evolution from the incoherence of snapshots or impressions into the wholeness of a completed work, but in the manner in which it continues to work against its own desire for definition and self-completion.

I’ve read that ending of The Dead so many times (and you probably have, too) … yet it never fails to be just as alive as the first time.

My previous post from Connor’s book is here.




May 11, 2017

Deferral of Decision Making

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… It tries to get to the point just before the only option was to play the tuba to the workers.

This is from Industry and Intelligence: Contemporary Art Since 1820 by Liam Gillick (2016):

… Shortly after 1963, something distinct from the modern art museum begain to emerge: the development of the contemporary art museum, which was often formed by people who felt rejected from an establishment that had founded various modern museums with specific ethics, objectives, and desires. The museums of contemporary art were promiscuous, sponsored, and part of a series of processes connected to management strategy — negotiation, compromise, and risk taking, all intended to be more responsive to what was actually being made and finding kindred spirits in the artists who refused to acknowledge any traditional hierarchies and who were highly conscious of coding, semiotics, and the limits of expression.

[line break added] Artists were synchronizing with a constructed society toward a transitory statelessness, leaving behind a model of shimmering stability within permanent work, [for] permanent insecurity, and the willful delusion of endurance via deployment of the nuanced mass that would become contemporary art.

[ … ]

… At the heart of the discursive is a reexamination of the day before as a model for understanding how to behave, activate, and present. It tries to get to the point just before the only option was to play the tuba to the workers. In the past, I have used this quite frequently as a device: the day before the brass band became the only option, the day before the mob became the workers, the day before the factory closed, the day before Hotel California was released — the idea of a French bar in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to listen to and everyone waiting for the arrival of the soft future.

The role of the discursive is to not look back too far.

[ … ]

… Art is a series of scenarios/presentations that create new spaces for thought and critical speculation. The creation of new time locations and shifted time structures actually creates new critical zones where we might find spaces of differentiation from the knowledge community. For it is not that art is merely a mirror of a series of new subjective worlds. It is an ethical equation where assumptions about function and value in society can be operated upon. There is no art of any significance in the last forty years that does not include this as a base-level differentiating notion.

The idea of the first work or the development of ideas is not toward the total production of all work in the future any longer. [ … ] The notion that an artist is obsessed by a structure or an idea’s content is sometimes self-perpetuated. The apparent work is no more than a foil or mask to a longer deferral of decision making. The art becomes a semiautonomous aspect of lived experience for the artist as much as the viewer.

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




May 10, 2017

Invasive Species

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… The issue … is not the one of style or the lack of style, but the … the interconnected relationships between aesthetics and lived social experience …

This is the essay ‘ “Systems Everywhere”: New Topographics and Art of the 1970s’ by Greg Foster-Rice found in Reframing the New Topographics edited by Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach (2013):

… The exhibition’s juxtaposition of abandoned, new, and incomplete structures instills the human-altered landscape with a sense of built-in obsolescence and distinguishes its rapid growth from the natural environment in which it is situated. For example, the first photograph in the catalogue, Robert Adam’s Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, contrasts the smooth-domed, anticlinal mountain dominating the center of the frame — itself the result of slow tectonic shifts — with the angular geometries and rhizomatic growth of the mobile homes that spread beyond the lower frames of the picture, as if to emphasize their status as non-native, non-natural invasive species.

[line break added] In The New West, Adams pointed directly to the intertwined dangers presented by both the rapidity and built-in obsolescence of modern homebuilding: “Development has been anarchic, building is monotonous. … Few of the new houses will stand in fifty years; linoleum buckles on counter tops and unseasoned lumber twists walls out of plumb before the first occupants arrive.” Similar issues appeared throughout the entire exhibition, from the anarchic spread of the subdivisions in Deal’s photographs of Albuquerque to the monolithic glass and concrete skyscrapers in Nixon’s Boston photographs, to the broken windows and crumbling support piers visible in the Bechers’s Typology of Coal Breakers.

Robert Adams, Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973

… As a part of the new landscape of automobiles, roadways, and suburban sprawl that had come to dominate post-World War II America, the human-altered landscape was paradoxically “strange” because of its relative newness and “familiar” because of its encroachment into aspects of everyday experience. … [T]he infinitude of these landscapes was explicitly temporal, since they typically unfolded from a mobile subject position (i.e. an automobile), and explicitly spatial, since this implied the simultaneous progression and recession of the scenery.

[line break added] The experience of this landscape was, therefore, incapable of being delimited to an autonomous object or a singular “view,” as aesthetic formalism would have it. Instead, it suggested that one must take into account not only the object or “view,” but also the particular space, light, and physical viewpoint of the spectator, whose experience necessarily unfolds over time.

New Topographics clarifies and reconfigures the possibilities afforded by the opposition of “art” and “document” that has tended to dominate much photographic discourse. For, like the modernist critics identified by [Rosalind] Krauss, Szarkowski defined the peak achievement in photography as a combination of exclusions: the creation of photographs that are not art — in the sense that they had to divorce themselves from the pictorial conventions of other fine art media — nor [are they] documents — in the sense that, paradoxically, they had to be composed with the final photograph in mind rather than the world from which they “took” their images.

[line break added] Therefore, it should not be surprising that, along with other systems artists, the New Topographics photographers inverted this formula to create work that was adamantly both art and document, thereby expanding the field of photographic discourse in the way that [Robert] Smithson, [Michael] Heizer, and [Richard] Serra were expanding the field of sculptural discourse. The issue raised by New Topographics, therefore, is not the one of style or the lack of style, but the photographers’ development of a systems-based methodology that draws attention to the interconnected relationships between aesthetics and lived social experience that earlier modernist formalism had tried to keep distinct from one another.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




May 9, 2017

The Thing That Runs Through the Silence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… I want the things that happen to not erase the spirit that was already there without anything happening.

This is from the 1966 interview with John Cage found in David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists (2001). Sylvester was accompanied by Roger Smalley:

[ … ]

David Sylvester: In one of your stories you talk about Schoenberg’s pointing out the eraser on his pencil and saying ‘this end is more important than the other,’ and you go on to say things which clearly show that you are out of sympathy, rather strongly out of sympathy, with that remark of Schoenberg’s. And I take it that you might also feel that Webern was a composer who used his eraser too much.

John Cage: He must have. He must have.

What’s wrong with the eraser?

It means, does it not, that an action has been made, that it has been decided that is not an action which one wishes to keep, and so it is removed by means of the eraser? Not like the way of painting that we know of from the Far East, where the material upon which one is painting is of such value that one dare not make an action that requires erasure. So one prepares himself in advance before he makes a mark. He knows when he is making it that he is going to keep it. The possibility of erasing has nothing to do with that kind of activity.

Right. This is an important moral principle for you, isn’t it? In your essay on Jasper Johns you say: ‘There are various ways to improve one’s chess game. One is to take back a move when it becomes clear that it was a bad one. Another is to accept the consequences, devastating as they are.’


And that Johns is an artist …

… who accepts the consequences.

This seems to me a marvelous characterization of Johns as an artist and it’s obviously something which you feel is morally a very important point in Johns’ favor.

Oh yes. Absolutely.

And this presumably is an important principle for yourself in your own practice.

It’s also an extremely useful principle in all the circumstances of our lives.

It’s a principle of generosity: is that what it is?

Yes, and it leads towards enjoyment, experience, and all these things, and away from the things we know about through Freud — which brought about inability eventually to act at all. Guilt, shame, conscience.

[ … ]

The painter of course erases by painting another layer over what he’s painting. He doesn’t entirely get rid of what is there before, and somehow the virtue of what is there before comes through in a mysterious way. But he is erasing. Presumably in the same way, it’s not the eraser that you’re objecting to, it’s Schoenberg’s notion that the eraser is more important than the pencil.

I might put it this way, that I’m not objection to exploration.

Roger Smalley: You’re objecting to rejection? The total rejection …

Yes, look at what I’m doing. You see, I’m keeping all of those sketches, exactly as Duchamp did. I think his example is the one that impresses me. He didn’t throw anything away. He wasn’t ashamed. Finally, what I’m objecting to is those things I mentioned, guilt, shame and conscience, in the desire to appear good rather than bad.

[ … ]

… I’m averse to all these actions that lead towards placing emphasis on the things that happen in the course of a process. What interests me far more than anything that happens is the fact of how it would be if nothing were happening. Now, I want the things that happen to not erase the spirit that was already there without anything happening. Now, this thing that I mean when I say not anything happening is what I call silence, that is to say, a state of affairs free of intention, because we always have sounds, for instance. Therefore we don’t have any silence available in the world.

[line break added] We’re in a world of sounds. We call it silence, when we don’t feel a direct connection with the intentions that produce the sounds. We say that it’s quiet, when, due to our non-intention, there don’t seem to us to be many sounds. When there seem to us to be many, we say that it’s noisy. But there is no real essential difference between a noisy silence and a quiet silence. The thing that runs through from the quietness to the noise is the state of nonintention, and it is this state that interests me.

[ … ]

DS: And what you’re really saying is that, by submitting oneself to listening for a very long time, one does discipline oneself, one does learn attentiveness, one does learn to focus, which is what the whole thing is about, I take it?


But there is a totally other way. I mean it seems to me that Webern’s way is, by the very pithiness of it, by the extreme concentradedness of it, that you know that the thing is not going to go on for long. So you achieve from the very start an intense effort of concentration. And I’m not sure that this is a way that doesn’t to me personally make more sense, because assuming you’re using a gramophone, you have the possibility of hearing the thing again and again but each time listening with intense concentration, because you know it isn’t going to go on for long. Webern does create a situation of that concentration, does ne not?

He did for me. He no longer does. He might for another now still, and he might two hundred years hence have that usefulness for another person. It’s just that it doesn’t work for me any longer in that way. It just sounds like art, that’s all.

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




May 8, 2017

A Negotiation with Whom?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… he is more alert, more alarmed, perhaps more panicked by the indeterminacy of his addressee.

This is from the essay ‘Silences in the Doctrine’ found in Clement Greenberg: Between the Lines by Thierry de Duve (1996, 2010):

… In any civilization whatsoever, the artist’s trade obeys conventions. The latter are technical rules that lend body to the know-how of a specific profession or guild, but also aesthetic rules partially imposed on artists from the outside, by the part of society that supports them and commissions their work.

[line break added] An artistic tradition is stable when the artists willfully submit to the taste of their patrons and when the latter cultivate respect for the artists (court art is paradigmatic here), that is, when artistic conventions are what all conventions should be: a pact, a tacitly or explicitly signed accord between two parties who are familiar with each other, who know who they are and what they want. The avant-garde is born — can be born, is bound to be born, I’d say — when these conditions no longer exist. As Greenberg says in “Avant-Garde and Kitsch”:

A society, as it becomes less and less able, in the course of its development, to justify the inevitability of its particular forms, breaks up the accepted notions upon which artists and writers must depend in large part for communication with their audiences. It becomes difficult to assume anything. All the verities involved by religion, authority, tradition, style, are thrown into question, and the writer or artist is no longer able to estimate the response of his audience to the symbols and references with which he works.

Such a situation, Greenberg adds, leads generally to Alexandrianism: the artists turn in on themselves, forming a caste of clerics cut off from society, churning out infinite variations on a withered tradition.

… By breaking the convention (the rule), avant-garde artists provoke the public into taking stock of the fact that since the convention (the pact) is uncertain, it is in practice already broken and must be renegotiated, case by case. Conversely, by breaking the convention (the pact), avant-garde artists make the conventions (the rules) of their trade into the site of a negotiation. A negotiation with whom?

… A pictorial convention is indissolubly an aesthetic-technical precept and a social pact; one can no more separate the social from the aesthetic-technical than one can keep the same coin from having two sides.

The academic painter knows where his immediate social interests lie, and subordinates his technical and aesthetic means to them. He targets or believes he targets a clientele or — less cynically but less intelligently — he believes he is serving eternal or universal values while in fact he is unconsciously bending to the taste of those who bring him honor or material advantage.

[line break added] He treats his medium as though it were transparent, Greenberg would say, and thus it becomes a means — that’s the definition of medium — in the service of an end which is to reach the public, with whom the pact is sealed in advance. His strategy of address is selective, even and above all when he cloaks it in a universalizing discourse. The other is a receiver at the end of a chain of communication.

[line break added] The avant-garde painter is more sensitive to the fragility of aesthetic pacts, but infinitely more ambitious concerning their extension; he is more alert, more alarmed, perhaps more panicked by the indeterminacy of his addressee. He addresses his medium as though it embodied the addressee. For him, the other is not at the end of a chain of communication, and the medium is not a channel or a means. (Which does not imply, despite what Greenberg sometimes hints, that it is an end in itself.) The medium is the other. It embodies and materializes the otherness of the addressee.




May 7, 2017

When It Fails to Capture Any Meaning It Has No Existence at All

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… A lived experience is a trace of meaning in what exists, a gleam of meaning reflected by what exists.

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):

… A lived experience as something determinate is not experienced by the one who is experiencing: a lived experience is directed upon a certain meaning, object, state of affairs; but it is directed not upon itself, not upon the determinateness and fullness of its own present-on-hand existence in the soul. I experience the object of my fear as fearful, the object of my love as lovable, the object of my suffering as oppressive (the degree of cognitive determinateness is not essential, of course, in this case), but I do not experience my own fearing, loving, suffering.

… I must stop fearing in order to experience my own fear in its inwardly given determinateness (and not its object-related determinateness); I must stop loving in order to experience my own love in all the constituents of its present existence within myself.

… In my own life, my experiencing is not present for me. What is necessary is an essential point of support in meaning outside the context of my own life — a living and creative and, hence, rightful point of support — in order to be able to remove the act of experiencing from the unitary and unique event of my own life and to apprehend its present-on-hand determinateness as a characteristic, as a trait of the whole of inner life, as a lineament of my inner countenance (no matter whether of the whole of a character or of a type or only of an inner situation).

What-is-mine in lived experience becomes a positive given — a positive given that is contemplated — only when approached aesthetically. Not, however, what-is-mine in myself and for myself, but — in the other. For in myself it is illuminated immediately by the object and meaning to-be-attained, and, as such, it cannot freeze and solidify into something contentedly present-on-hand, it cannot constitute the axiological center of receiving contemplation not in the capacity of an inner purposelessness. Inner determinateness possesses this character only when it is illuminated not by meaning, but by love regardless of any meaning whatsoever.

… A lived experience is a trace of meaning in what exists, a gleam of meaning reflected by what exists. From within itself, a lived experience maintains its life not through its own resources, but through that meaning beyond its own bounds which it seeks to capture, for when it fails to capture any meaning it has no existence at all.

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




May 6, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… the lost summers of the writer’s youth are also “layers of civilization in his memory / … old photographs he didn’t look at anymore.”

This is from Michael Ondaatje’s chapter in The Other Side of Dailiness: Photography in the Works of Alice Munro, Timothy Findley, Michael Ondaatje, and Margaret Laurence by Lorraine M. York (1988):

… The grown writer’s longing for the fixed moment of the past — the partially eaten apple of experience — is powerfully captured in the epithet “wretched.” In Rat Jelly, poetry becomes the agent which is able to fix without rendering the subject lifeless or bland (the agent, if you will, which makes jelly of the rat, but does not allow us to forget that “it’s rat / steamy dirty hair and still alive.” Voiced in another (less gruesome) way, this type of poetic capturing resembles

… a blurred photograph of a gull.
Caught vision. The stunning white bird
an unclear stir.

And that is all this writing should be then.
The beautiful formed thing caught at the wrong
……  moment
so they are shapeless, awkward
moving to the clear
(“The Gate in His Head,” Rat Jelly)

In the later poems in There’s a Trick with a Knife I’m Learning to Do (1979), Ondaatje turns his attention to another element of the past which he must also “fix”: his Sri Lankan childhood. Writing of “Uswetakeiyawa,” a place where the imagination and the subconscious seem ready to surface at any moment, he describes “A landscape nightmare / unphotographed country.” Running in the Family will be his attempt to capture in words and photographs this untouched land of his past.

The past is, in fact, the other main element which Ondaatje associates with photography in his poetry. In “Tink, Summer Rider,” the photograph of a girl on a horse, “her hair turned by wind,” contrasts sharply with the image of the “serious,” “rigid” woman that girl later becomes (Dainty Monsters 40). The photograph thus becomes a poignant reminder of the lost wildness of youth — and, by extension, the lost wildness of human beings as a result of civilizing forces. This association is borne out in “Burning Hills” from Rat Jelly, where the lost summers of the writer’s youth are also “layers of civilization in his memory / … old photographs he didn’t look at anymore.”

… Homes in Sri Lanka are continually described as being invaded by the natural world, be it in the form of floods, snakes, or tiny “silverfish” which “slid into steamer trunks and photograph albums — eating their way through portraits and wedding pictures. Ondaatje is clearly horrified by this loss of a recorded past. “What images of family life they consumed in their minute jaws and took into their bodies no thicker than the pages they ate” …

a book eaten by silverfish [image from Wikipedia]

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




May 5, 2017

The Opposite of Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… The point of being an artist was no longer to be a supplier of goods.

This is from James Joyce (2nd Edition) by Steven Connor (1996, 2012):

Joyce became a modernist at the point when he made a choice to become an artist in distinction to a more secure middle-class occupation. For Joyce, to be an artist was to refuse the market place and to embrace the nomadic, insecure, and, as it seemed to many, parasitic life of the bohemian. We are apt to forget how recent an invention the figure of the bohemian artist is in European cultures.

[line break added] It does not date back much further than the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a period during which the collapse of the system of patronage, and the erosion of the privilege accorded to the writer, painter, and musician, who was now required to earn his living much like everybody else, began to make the work of the artist appear anomalous at best and superfluous at worst. Artists had no choice but to accept their reduced role, and to hug and nurture the very principles of their marginality.

[line break added] Henceforth, to be an artist was to withdraw from the world of getting and spending, to refuse to participate in the economic processes which began to encroach on every area of social life. This refusal expressed itself in a deepening mistrust of a society organized more and more around the logic of the commodity, the production of objects the value of which is determined wholly by the vicissitudes and vagaries of economic exchange in the market place.

In fact, the marginalization of the artist from the eighteenth century onwards managed to achieve something that centuries of aesthetic and critical enquiry had conspicuously failed to do: it threw up a universally applicable definition of art, now characterized clearly as the opposite of work. All over the newly industrializing world, bourgeois families trembled with the unspoken dread that young Henry (or, worse still, Henrietta) might one day announce the intention of going in for art, compared with which prospect a career as a streetwalker or receiver of stolen goods seemed like honest toil.

[line break added] But it is perhaps not often enough noticed that the hardening of definitions of steady moralization of work from the eighteenth century onwards, and the deepening from the late eighteenth century onwards of the association between occupation and identity, the nature of one’s labor and the nature of one’s being. For Marx, the scandal of wage-slavery is to be measured, not in terms of the quantitative burden of labor it imposes, but in its denial of the ideal of authentic labor by which means alone man can fulfill his nature.

… To be an artist was to refuse (and, usually, to be refused) the idea of paid labor, but it was also, necessarily, to mimic, even to underline, the general moralization of work. The opposite of work (art) was not non-work, but a superior, redeemed, more essentially laborious kind of work.

Faced with a logic of the commodity which tended to relegate the production of art as useless, inefficient, or infantile, artists had two, sometimes associated responses. One was to compensate for the social undervaluation of art by a massive overvaluation. Art, writers like Shelley proclaimed, spoke a higher kind of truth, and possessed a transcendent value that could not even be measured in conventional economic terms. For this tradition, which extends through Flaubert and Wilde to Joyce, the artist is a superior kind of craftsman, whose godlike labor produces the only real value in a world of degraded mass consumption.

… However, the extraordinary capacity of the market to assimilate and capitalize upon the most radical challenges to its logic, and its ravening hunger to reduce works of art to the condition of commodities, also led some artists to a suspicion of the idea of the ‘work’ itself. Hence another, more extreme response to the social discrediting of art was for the artist to undervalue the work of art, or to refrain as far as was decently possible from producing works of art at all. Attention was thus deflected defensively from the vulnerable work of art to its less easily commodified producer.

… The point of being an artist was no longer to be a supplier of goods. If it was tediously necessary to turn in the occasional work, this was only to prove that one was an artist, the work itself being incidental to the artistic life of which it was the precipitate. As such, it was desirable to produce as little as possible. Artistic and material success became mutually defining opposites. Thus, when Samuel Beckett declared in 1945 that ‘to be an artist is to fail as no other dare fail,’ he was both reacting against the assurance of modernist ideas of the superiority of the artist’s vocation and giving voice to what had become a traditional association between being an artist and worldly failure.




May 4, 2017

Coy Relations to Notions of Quality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Constant and arbitrary reversal of positions have come to be expected like a nervous twitch to keep us intrigued.

This is from Industry and Intelligence: Contemporary Art Since 1820 by Liam Gillick (2016):

Donald Judd did not identify himself as a minimalist. Artists tend to deny that they are part of something that is recognized and defined by others. Frustrations are always unique. Contemporary art activates denial in a specifically new way. It does not describe a practice but a general being in the context.

… The question is how to categorize art today in a way that will exceed the contemporary. The inclusiveness of the contemporary is under attack, as this very inclusiveness has helped suppress a critique of what art is and, more importantly, what comes next. We know what comes next as things stand — more contemporary art.

… The contemporary is marked by a displayed self-knowledge, a degree of social awareness, some tolerance, and a little bit of irony, all combined with an acknowledgement of the failure of modernism and postmodernism or at least a respect for trying to come to terms with the memory of something like that failure. The contemporary necessarily restricts the sense in which you are looking for a breakthrough.

[line break added] An attempt to work is the work itself. Unresolved is the better way, leaving a series of props that appear to work together — or will do for now. In this case no single work is everything you would want to do. This is the space of its dynamic contradiction. Hierarchy is dysfunctional and evaded in the contemporary, and therefore, key political questions, whether ignored or included, are supplemented by irony and coy relations to notions of quality.

… This has been a style era rather than one of specific moments of change or development. At the edge of practice we only find more things to be absorbed. At the center is a mass of tiny maneuvers.

… Constant and arbitrary reversal of positions have come to be expected like a nervous twitch to keep us intrigued. The contemporary displays a disruption between intentions and results, leaving a contingent gap that makes it futile to look for contradictions.

… The regime of the contemporary is bloated, on the edge of usefulness, and reaching out endlessly in all directions.

My previous post from Gillick’s book is here.




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