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danto abuses beauty

Post #600 • August 11, 2005, 8:12 AM • 94 Comments

I wrote the following in response to JL, regarding his Philosophy is Not Pretty post.

I care to come no closer to Danto than Modern Kicks, so thank you for the distillation.

The more I go through the what-is-art problem, the less I feel that the question will end anywhere. Art has taken many forms across time and geography, and we define it at our intellectual peril. It may sound odd to say so, but I think the problem with the question What is art? lies not in art, but in is. I can't envision a definition that would encompass all of the objects characterized as art without making it nearly synonymous with "stuff." Perhaps we classify something as art by virtue of widespread (if not universal) agreement by people who care about such matters.

If we refrain from defining it, does Danto's line of thinking still hold? Probably not, if, as you put it on behalf of Danto, "one can find a single instance of a work of art that is not beautiful, then beauty cannot be part of what defines art." But even if we went along for the ride, I suspect that at the end of that road, we would find that nothing can be a part of what defines art. I think we would find no inherent traits at all, just the above-mentioned inchoate widespread agreement.

The Goya (Saturn Devouring His Children) depicts a gruesome subject, but Goya executed it beautifully. The beauty here lies in the technique and the boldness of the composition, and the painting's ickiness doesn't defeat it. Danto finds the Matisse not beautiful, reasonably enough though I'd disagree, but again, it seems that he cannot define what he means by the term, as you point out.

We learn to detect beauty in the way we learn anything - we start with a native capacity to address some facts about the world and cultivate it. Factors innate to art and factors not innate to art inform that process. Whether beauty resides "in here" or "out there" misses the point - the physicists and theologians have already demonstrated that we make such distinctions because we don't have access to the Big Picture. If beauty occurs "in here" then everything occurs "in here."

And if "artistic beauty is an incidental attribute in most of the world's artistic cultures," then so follow all other attributes. I share your distaste for his conclusion - I would choose a stronger word than "freaky" - for all of the reasons you offer, and an additional one. He once summed up his primary thesis like so:

...the master narrative of the history of art--in the West but by the end not in the West alone--is that there is an era of imitation, followed by an era of ideology, followed by our post-historical era in which, with qualification, anything goes. In our narrative, at first only mimesis was art, then several things were art but each tried to extinguish its competitors, and then, finally, it became apparent that there were no stylistic or philosophical constraints. There is no special way works of art have to be. And that is the present and, I should say, the final moment in the master narrative. It is the end of the story.

From your report, it seems that he drove some vague terms towards a nihlist conclusion, in a manner that fits his ongoing deconstruction of the whole art enterprise. He has to strike down beauty because it stands in the way of his definition of art as "embodied meanings," which, as he says elsewhere, require the interpretations of philosophers - like himself. Beauty doesn't mean anything. We experience beauty. Since that doesn't fit his model, he blithely suggests that its hypothetical "annihlation" as it applies to art wouldn't matter much. What will people do with this notion? Justify some bad, bad art, and go make some more. You can't do much else with it.

Although art may have no intrinsic traits, we ought to consider that if we're not going to use it as an arena for the beautiful, then we're not going to get much out of it. You quote Danto:

Beauty is an option for art and not a necessary condition. But it is not an option for life. It is a necessary condition for life as we would want to live it.

It follows that we could regard beauty as a necessary condition for art as we would want to look at it. But although this seems obvious, Danto sets out against it, with the perverse result that he denies one of the greatest and most powerful methods that humans have brought beauty into their lives.

PS - thanks for introducing me to silentiary.




August 11, 2005, 9:15 AM

Looks like Dan's undies got all twisty too.



August 11, 2005, 9:33 AM

I read JL's piece closely. It is a nice piece of commentary. JL has the advantage of having read Danto's book and I haven't so I'll offer up...

Beauty is in the mind of the beholder



August 11, 2005, 11:11 AM

It's been a while, but I've already said what I think of Danto: I don't. He offers nothing of use to me, except yet one more example of self-aggrandizing hubris--and given the countless available examples, he's not even needed for that dubious function. His entire philosophical or theoretical contraption is supremely irrelevant to me, which means his very existence is moot for the purposes of my relationship with art. He does not signify; it's that simple.



August 11, 2005, 11:55 AM

Hi Franklin,

Thanks for a thoughtful reply (Dan, too.) Unfortunately one of the side effects of writing several long posts yesterday is that there's a lot of other stuff that was neglected and now demands I focus on it rather than having good conversations about art online. I'll try to reply in more detail later. But for now a few points.

To tell the truth, I don't think Danto would disagree with a lot of what you wrote. I can't go into detail now, but I think you'd be surprised to find him not as far from where you stand, at least in some ways, as you think.

I think he would disagree with you about the Goya, though that was my example. I'm afraid I disagree with you, at least. But the fact that the painting is not beautiful doesn't mean that it's not good. It just means that it is aiming at some other effect than creating or evoking beauty. We tend to equate "beautiful" with "good", and so get upset when someone points out that an artwork isn't beautiful. But it's just aesthetically successful in a different way.

It's probably the fault of my post, which doesn't cover all of Danto's book, but I don't read him as trying to "strike down" beauty. I think he would say that it's not up to him; he's just analyzing what has happened - in this case, that a lot of twentieth century art has actively rebelled against beauty as a criterion. In fact, rather than going against beauty, the point of his book is to try and correct that trend. That beauty isn't the sole end of art doesn't mean it isn't an option and that we don't need it. It may not be the only reason for art, but it's as valid as any other, and more important in our lives. I think his discussion is too limited on this point - he mostly discusses the role for beautiful art in terms of elegies and mourning - but the point holds.

You write (and Dan wrote something similar) "It follows that we could regard beauty as a necessary condition for art as we would want to look at it. " It's true, as Dan says, that when treating art Danto argues in one fashion, when life, another. I'd guess he'd say that's because they're different things. He'd agree that, taken as a general matter, we would not want a world in which art did not have the capacity for beauty. Where he would disagree is with the insistence that all instances of art be beautiful. There are different ways of pleasing. But as serious as art is, life is more so. Life without beauty, a world of pure disgustingness, would be an abomination. That some art achieves its ends through means other than beauty, not such a big deal.

I'm going to post (I hope later today) on Danto's discussion of disgust as an aesthetic category. It's what he sees as operative in Dadaism and later, similar movements. I think it's instructive that the sort of art that implicitly follows from what he finds in disgust is a rhetorical, moralizing, rule-based art.

Oy, last comment. The type of philosophy Danto does prides itself on conceptual clarity. If it doesn't have that, it ain't got nothing. Reading his book was a constant reminder that, while this sort of clarity can be useful and lead to a number of insights, it isn't always the best mode for dealing with something like art. The all or nothing quality that a definition of art must have within the rules of the philosophical game isn't well suited to acknowledging that even if some art lacks a type of attribute, the bulk of the field holds it. Part of the reason people like Danto enjoy picking at the problem is precisely these kinds of ambiguities. But it doesn't mean that what they come up with is always helpful.



August 11, 2005, 11:55 AM

Comments may not work. I have opened an urgent support ticket with my host. I apologize for the inconvenience.



August 11, 2005, 12:05 PM

Testing... well, maybe they are working.


Filip Hajny

August 11, 2005, 12:29 PM

Testing comments...



August 11, 2005, 12:50 PM

Jack. I don't suppose you have bothered to read Danto?



August 11, 2005, 12:58 PM

Danto is a pop philosopher who can only be taken seriously in an intellectual vacuum like the art world. Dan and JL have the right instincts in taking exception to him, but neither deals with the basic problem.

Let's go back to Language for a moment. Language evolved to help us deal with circumstances, to be able to say , "watch out for the snake" or "this fruit is poison, that fruit is food". It is meant to be useful, not perfect.

As civilization evolved language evolved with it. In Shakespeare's time, 400 years ago, our language was growing like a gangly teenager. it was only (precisely) 250 years ago that the Samuel Johnson's comprehensive dictionary of the English language was published.

Language is still young and still evolving. the world is a complex place and we have complex brains and we keep at it. There are circumstances in our world which cause us to have concepts like "art" and "beauty", and there are things which we choose to call "art" and things we choose to call "beautiful". "Art", in particular, as a class of things, seems to be evolving rapidly and we talk about it here on this blog. But art is not a thing, is it a word we use to refer to a set of experiences involving valuation in the absence of criteria.

When we talk about art we must - I emphasize "must" - remember to question everything we hear or read: is this real, is it specific, does it have substance, can I "see" it clearly? This question should hover in the back of your mind at all times, criticizing everything you read or hear.

And, further, we must always be aware that words are merely rough equivalents, useful tools. They are not real things. Just as Magritte's pipe is not a pipe, so "pipe" is not a pipe. I know this sounds obvious, but obvious as it is we lose track of it all the time.

Genius always goes for the real and the particular. When Clement Greenbreg wrote about art he wrote about the thing and his experience of it, and, as clearly as he could, what he made of it. At heart he was not a philosopher, theoretician or esthetician but an art lover deep into the experience of art who wrote about that experience. When he describes Pollock's painting with the phrase "thick, fuliginous flatness" or describes Pollock as so "encased" in a style that he is free to do whatever he wants we get that little shock of understanding which can only be brought by words which arise from experience, observation and incisive thinking.

Far more common is the "cosmic" writing of people like Danto, writing where words are "real" and sensible meaning is left behind like the vapor trail of a comet. There is a vicious seductiveness to this kind of thing; it veils the exigencies of the real world and lets us spin a gossamer conceptual web, to float away from nasty facts into a drugged daydream of lackadaisacal cerebral indulgence. It is the curse of academia, the foundation of most bad art writing and driving force of plagues like Postmodernism.

What can we do with the astonishing revelation that "beauty is an option for art"?
Or phrases like "the master narrative of the history of art" and the idiotic construction that follows: the "era of imitation, followed by an era of ideology, followed by our post-historical era " and "the final moment"?

When is that "final moment" Arthur? Where is it? What is it? Tell us what happens at that final moment? Does Lot's wife turn back and look at Babylon and turn into a shark in a tank? Go through Dantos writing and stop anywhere and take a couple of phrases and give them this acid test. It's bullshit folks. It is the great academic drug called bullshit. We all love it. But we cannot take it seriously. It is a waste of time.



August 11, 2005, 1:12 PM

Op:Have you read much Danto?

What are we to do, now that Greenberg is dead, and no longer writing?

Who fills the gap?



August 11, 2005, 2:07 PM

I have tried to read Danto, but all I could get from it is bad examples for my writing class to work on.

Greenberg was a rarity, the product of a particular time and place. You have to fill the gap yourself.



August 11, 2005, 2:14 PM

George: What are we to do?

Jack: Look, think, judge and choose for ourselves. Reject anything and anyone--regardless of position, reputation or fame--that does not ring true and does not prove useful. Call it as we see it, even if the herd is braying otherwise. If it looks, acts and sounds like a duck, assume it's a duck, and don't feel obligated to spend time and effort giving it the benefit of the doubt because it claims to be a totally different animal, or because others say it is. Make up our own minds, stand our ground, and let the chips fall where they may. Do not suffer fools gladly.

That's what we do, George, or at least that's what I strive to do.



August 11, 2005, 3:33 PM

Greenberg was just terrific, I think because he didnt bullshit.....I remember a video I saw of years ago of him visiting Jack Bush at his studio here in Toronto and he came in and went straight to the paintings and right off the bat said the few words "I like this one" and then just stood admiring it........that doesnt seem so profound, but to me it was the man just 'seeing' the art and in that moment taking pleasure in IT. Jack was near ..bringing more for him to 'see' and there was pleasure between the two of them......the artist /creator and the viewer/critic, a bond of giving so to speak. Now that was beautiful. there was no bullshit in that studio.



August 11, 2005, 3:36 PM

"There was no bullshit in that studio"

There never was, Elizabeth. I couldnt have put it better.



August 11, 2005, 3:46 PM

OP; what sign was Greenberg.......Im sorry I couldnt resist hahahaha



August 11, 2005, 3:55 PM

Capricorn, Jan 16, 1909



August 11, 2005, 6:45 PM

Beauty can not be abused.



August 11, 2005, 8:58 PM

I went to see the Cezanne Pissarro show at MOMA while you all were chatting about astrology. It was the momo vs. pomo battle of its day with Pissarro, the precursor of impressionism, painting about 20 years behind Cezanne, the source of cubism.
Pissarro was no slouch as a painter but he was thinking in the old-style, on the leading edge of the old style but still. Cezanne, on the other hand was thinking 20 years in the future.

It was no contest. On a separate wall in the main gallery was a pair of paintings. The one on the left was a large painting by Pissarro. I went with a non painter friend and we had fun comparing the two paintings, obviously of the same subject. It was like the shoot out at the OK Corral, Cezanne won hands down. Then I read the large white label to the right of the Cezanne. It turns out that Cezanne asked Pissarro if he could borrow the painting in order to make a copy of it

This was a no holds barred comparison of how two avant guard artists were thinking about painting in its day (1875'ish) I looked at the works, putting myself into that time, a time before impressionism and cubism and called the finish. What a thrill!

The pomo-momo arguments here are bullshit.



August 11, 2005, 9:23 PM

My wife saw the show, George, and thought much the same thing. A friend went and was very impressed by Pissarro. Different strokes.

I learned tonight that momo means "peach" in Chinese, or Japanese, I can't remember which. What does it mean in George language?



August 11, 2005, 9:36 PM

Yo, pro, momo=peach, ho

Pissarro was really good in my opinion.

He is what I called MoMo (modernist as slot 1 in time) because when I thought about his paintings, thinking as a painter in his time I could see how he had one foot firmly in the history of the past.

Cezanne I call PoMo (occupying slot 2, more modern) because he picked up his foot from the past and put it on the canvas. Cezanne made a point, made the point, that a painting is marks on a canvas. There were several examples where the gray ground of Cezzane, a foil for the marks, filled in the image, stroked by the marks, just marks made on a canvas.Marks made on a canvas with total awareness



August 11, 2005, 9:46 PM

This was good stuff, so pardon me while I talk to myself.

Adding to #20 I was not making a quality judgement between Pissarro and Cezanne, only an observation. Cezanne was able to step forward and see the mark on the surface as the essence of painting with the subject at its service. Pissarro, on the other hand, used the mark to atomize the subject space, without bringing it into the painting space. He maintained his hold on painting of the past.



August 11, 2005, 9:54 PM

A curious aside.

As I said I went to MOMA with a friend. He's a translator but once was a photographer, so he knows something. We walked into the "minimalist" gallery. On the left was the very toned down MOMA example of Noland, it was the brightest thing inthe room. "Boy this gallery feels sterile" he said. I started to say something in defense and then decided he was right. I don't know who it belongs to (from a critics standpoint) but the work was a snoozer. Avoid



August 11, 2005, 11:31 PM

George, I think painting is more interested in what's good than what's in the past or the future.



August 11, 2005, 11:44 PM

Re: Hans' comment that "Beauty can not be abused."

I would say rather that beauty is not bruised, though abused. Our experience of beauty, our judgement that something does/does not meet what we intuit to be beautiful, is not annulled or destroyed simply because the word is deconstructed violently and with prejudice. {Similar to the christian idea that "God is not mocked" (Galatians 6:7).}

I wholly second oldpro's longest comment since I've been around here (#9). It is too easy, very nearly unavoidable, to slip into confusing the word for the experience - especially on a weblog designed to register word-comments about art (in all its possible incarnations). Ill-defined terms are not the root of the problem. Assuming that literal and definitive understanding exists is. (I stand guilty as charged - that damn heritage rears it's ugly head again.)

And it seems to take great perseverence and concentration to remember the vast gap between the non-verbal actuality and communication by words of the same.

Though now that I type it, I sense that perseverence and concentration don't exist in the quantities necessary to keep from stumbling blindly into that gap at one time or another. I suspect that it is some sort of over-arching critical attitude (again, see numerous recent comments by oldpro) that is required - a general recognition of the inadequately-describable qualities of things that motivates continual reconsideration of the words that stand in. I've got my own oxymoron to describe this attitude: ritual-anew. An unhaltable and irreplaceable ritual, of which the sole recurring activity is to ask again.

This sort of attitude makes it possible to grow one's taste. With it one can again and again take those incremental steps (usually invisible (anyone seen "What About Bob" with Bill Murray's "baby steps"?)) towards knowing more and understanding better. Without it one takes a lesson to mean that one has learned a thing and need not revisit that thing - there is no 'better' to be achieved.

Once again a rambling post by peg-legged and therefore off-balance Captain Ahab navigating his good ship Pequod on a starless night while on his quest to spear the great Moby Dick. It may turn out that Moby Dick is not a white whale at all, but an elephant, which would be too bad. My sincere apologies.



August 11, 2005, 11:52 PM

And in closing I would like to say that Jack, though blunt and remorseless, exemplifies this attitude in #12 and elsewhere on the blog.



August 12, 2005, 12:17 AM

Oldpro, fuckin nonsense.

This show wasn't about discerning quality. That was a done deal by the choice. Both artists were represented by good paintings (what a stupid undefined generic qualifier). I tried to look at each painting with eyes of the time, attempting to ignore my knowledge of what came after. If you don't know impressionism is coming next, Pissarro's paintings are really radical, you know, avant garde. My observation was about the radicalness of Pissarro's atomizing sensation but still tethered to painting from the near past. The fucking dumb arguments about modernism and postmodernism here are of a similar nature and stuck in the past. Read carefully, I am saying Pissarro was radical even though he had a foot stuck in the past. Just having a foot stuck in the past doesn't prove a damn thing one way or the other. It makes no comment on your mysterious goodness, screw it.

Pissarro's paintings were fucking good, critics who find otherwise are making a mistake. Why? I'll tell you why. Why, because Cezanne's paintings are even more radical, even more forward looking. If it hadn't been for Cezanne, Pissarro would have been a hero.

Just making some silly observation (I'm being polite) about goodness doesn't cut it if you are pretending to be the critic/painter here. Look at the works, look at them with eyes of there time. Look at the painting by Pissarro that Cezanne faithfully copied (a tad smaller) What was that about? Cezanne was paying an homage to Pissarro, and in turn creating another path to follow. (The painting was of a path with two people on it). On the left, we have Pissarro and the promise of Impressionism. On the right we have Cezanne and the promise of Cubism. My distinction about "time" is relative, born out by my knowledge of paintings history. It is precise, Pissarro's work precedes Cézanne's in time, as such it is relatively less "avant guard" but not less "good" (gag)



August 12, 2005, 1:05 AM

A tack on.

In my experience a show like Pissarro-Cezanne is an extremely rare event.

It presents two artists, at a turning point in history, who made paintings similar in subject and coloration. This allows a viewer to neutralize these aspects of the artworks and concentrate on the differences. It was obviously clear to me that Cezanne had made the intellectual decision allowing him to accept just the marks on a flat canvas as a painting. This was a huge intellectual leap, or maybe just a huge sensibility leap, whatever, Cezanne made paintings of marks.

My remarks about Pissarro having one foot in the past was descriptive. It is what he did. He made decisions to construct a three dimensional space, a space using small organizing details from the paintings which preceded him in history. Cézannes space acknowledged the plane of the canvas, made it part of the painting. This is a huge intellectual leap.

From a distance, based on overall appearance, the paintings looked remarkably similar. "Goodness" wasn't even an issue.



August 12, 2005, 7:49 AM

Using the F word a lot does not strengthen an argument, George.

You may gag on that awful word "good" but a value comparison was implicit in all the remarks you were making about the relative "avantness" of the two artists. And "goodness", however you want to say it, is, in the end, all we care about in art.

All painters accept that flat marks on a canvas make a painting. Marks as such came out from behind depiction with early Impressionism, not with the later Cezanne. Cezanne was just trying to paint a good (that's right: good) painting by clarifying and reinvigorating Impressionism according to his own ideas, not anticipate Cubism. If the record is correct, he had a hard time accepting what he had done, being particularly severely afflicted with the artist's curse of insecurity and doubt.



August 12, 2005, 9:53 AM

Op. sorry about swearing but sometimes...

My remarks had nothing to do with "goodness" The paintings in this show were all good paintings. Yes I had favorites, but this was a distinction based on taste and not a characterization of "goodness". I took "goodness" as a given.

Initially, I thought the Cezanne's were "better" than the Pissarro's. After looking awhile this thought dissipated. First, from a distance, if you don't know painting, you would have to read the tags to tell them apart. My first comment to my friend was about how solid the Cezanne's looked compared to the Pissarro's. He didn't understand what I meant, so we looked very closely at the two artists paintings while I tried to explain. In this process it became apparent how Pissarro's intent was different than Cezanne's. Overall, his pictures were more atmospheric. I felt this initially as a haziness but as he progressed he solidified this with the brushstroke, impressionist.

Never the less, Pissarro's paintings had roots in the late 19th century. His drawing, the structure underneath the brushstrokes still clung to depictive space. A diagonal here, a book there, all designed to push the space of the painting behind the picture plane.

While I agree that these painters were aware that they were making marks on the canvas, you miss my point. Pissarro's marks fractured becoming more atmospheric, he covered the canvas from edge to edge to create an impression of light and space.

Cezanne, on the other hand, made the mark the image. By this I mean, Cezanne accepted the plane of the canvas as a surface he was marking. In several of the painting he left much of the ground blank (Pissarro didn't do this) In one painting, so much of the (gray) ground shows through the brushstrokes stand alone drawing the image. It must have taken great courage to stop at that point and say, "voila." Further, it was obvious to me, that Cezanne's drawing favored the flatness of the picture plane. This was obviously apparent in several paintings where he avoided using the kind of visual clues Pissarro did to open up an illusionistic space. To the contrary, Cezanne, frequently used clues which kept the picture plane flat and vertical, horizontal banding, a blank corner etc.

To my eyes, these are not trivial distinctions. Both artists were courageous with what they were attempting to do but Cezanne made that extra step. That extra step which anticipated the future in painting. Now to be perfectly clear, I stated originally I tried to look at these paintings with eyes of the time, forgetting what I knew about history. By saying that Cezanne's work anticipated the future, I didn't mean he was clairvoyant, only that he took the crucial steps which allowed his paintings to become the inspiration for cubism (and all that followed)

Looking back in hindsight, I tried to make some distinctions about the two artists work as it fits into history. I used the modern-postmodern reference as a joke but it does exemplify the first-next sequence in time and in this particular case in the grounding of these artists. I'm afraid this touched on a nerve because of your flip remark which pissed me off. When I speak about Pissarro having one foot in the past, it's an observation not a judgement. My non-painter friend made the same observation about a couple of Pissarro's paintings. Frankly, he was radical, but in a more conservative way.

If, as you say, Cezanne had a hard time accepting what he had done, I can understand why. His paintings are a major conceptual break from the past. It's subtle, not abstract expressionism, but a subtle shift in emphasis. This is why I suggest they are forward looking opening up a path for the future. I don't think he was thinking this outloud, it was just a result of his process of making a painting

Again, this was a remarkable exhibition.



August 12, 2005, 10:15 AM

Cezanne said "‘I wanted to make of Impressionism something solid and enduring, like the art in museums." He also said something to the effect of wanting to do Poussin according to nature. His favorite painter was Rubens. He was definitely not thinking about being source material for Cubism.



August 12, 2005, 10:23 AM

I understand your point and what you are getting at, George.

One small aside, though. I f I am correct about Cezannes character, and that of most artists who are doing something new, I don't think he ever courageously stopped half finished and said "voila", he stopped because he didn't know what to do next and sat and obsessed about it.



August 12, 2005, 10:42 AM

A month before he died in 1906, Cezanne wrote this in a letter:

Will I ever achieve the goal I have sought so fervently and pursued so long?...I'm continuing my studies...I'm still painting from nature, and it seems to me that I make slow progress.



August 12, 2005, 10:48 AM

I can't speak for Cezanne's character. It appeared to me that in some of the paintings he left the ground intentionally exposed, as a color in its own right. The landscape which I referred to with the "voila" comment was painted on a gray ground. I looked at some of the other paintings and this was intentional (and unexpected by me) softening the contrast between the ground and the marks. I used "voila" for effect. Maybe, as you say he stopped because he didn't know what to do next and sat and obsessed about it.. On the other hand, the painting may have reached a state where although he realized he could continue painting, what he had was miraculously complete in it's light state, something that is hard to do intentionally and worth preserving. I thought the latter was the case.

The "voila" is the recognition that "it's done". In my experience this doesn't occur as paint-paint-paint-voila! It occurs more as you suggested, after stopping point but where you intuitively sense a resolution which you cannot initially accept. After a period of looking, you realize you don't need to do anything else. Doing something else is easier, it was Pissarro's solution, he painted the canvas until it was waterproof.



August 12, 2005, 10:54 AM

Ahab, re #24, if l catch your drift, which I am not sure I do, there is a perpetual tension between words and reality, and between words and meaning, words and sense, words and their own structure, and so forth. Language is obviously the most useful thing we have come up with as a species but it is always best when it is just that - useful - or when it is made into art. Generally both are better when the overt correspondence with reality is strong. No matter how hard we try, we are all verbally extravangant, wasteful and inexact. We just have to do the best we can.



August 12, 2005, 10:59 AM

George, I usually am finished with a painting when my sense tells me that anything else would be downhill. Non-artists are often surprised that the completion of a painting seems like such a casual thing, but I tell them that the whole process is much the same, and that knowing when to stop is one of the hardest things an artist must learn.



August 12, 2005, 11:11 AM

Ah, the "quit while I'm ahead" method ;-)



August 12, 2005, 11:21 AM

Or "quit before I make it worse."



August 12, 2005, 11:30 AM

Op, Don't you find there is a particular state you may arrive at where the painting looks good enough to quit, but you intuitivly know it's not finished. It always seemed that when trying to continuing from this place I felt imposed upon by a cautiousness that I could only free myself from "by messing things up"



August 12, 2005, 11:38 AM

One of the most difficult things in painting is separating positive intuition from obsessiveness. When a painting looks good but I have the urge to continue I agonize over the quality of the impulse.



August 12, 2005, 11:45 AM

Well, your work looks more process oriented than mine. If I screw up, I just wipe it off and pretend it never happened. :-0



August 12, 2005, 11:51 AM

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August 12, 2005, 12:41 PM

According to the very heavy-duty Grove Dictionary of Art, Cezanne "distrusted any theorizing about art, rigidly adhering to his own views." Seems to me he didn't hurt himself any, and his work was better for it. The point, obviously, is that the artist needs to do his own thing his own way, do what he really connects with and believes in personally, and the hell with what this or that windbag theorist is self-importantly claiming.



August 12, 2005, 12:53 PM

George, I also do small oil sketches on paper where the medium allows me to just wipe it off (or part of it off) and start again. I love it, and do these pictures as a form of relief as much as anything. Acrylic on canvas is not nearly as accomodating.



August 12, 2005, 1:05 PM

Jack, I hope you are not referring to me as a theorist as I am a painter.

OP, did you ever think about giving up the acrylic on the paintings and using oil paint?



August 12, 2005, 1:29 PM

I was not referring to you, George, in #42. I was referring to the supposed authorities endorsed and/or deified by academia and the art establishment. My approach (and the one I think artists should take) to these purported sources of previously unimagined elightenment is this:

I owe you nothing, not even the merest notice, unless I find you sensible, reasonable, and useful. It is up to you to convince me that your ideas are worth anything. Your reputation, tenure status, publication record, media coverage and art world standing do not impress me in and of themselves. Either I buy you or I don't, and if I don't, you don't count. Simple as that.



August 12, 2005, 1:38 PM

Jack, I love the way you refuse to waffle.



August 12, 2005, 1:44 PM

Yes, Catfish, he is the Rock of Jackbralter.

George, my whole painting method is tied to acrylic mediums. 95% of a painting is medium. If I switched to oils I would have to change evertything, which might be OK, but I am too lazy, and besides, I'd quickly go broke.



August 12, 2005, 1:45 PM

Jack, the feeling is mutual.




August 12, 2005, 4:10 PM

Thanks, Catfish, but I'm just doing what I have to do. I don't see a better way to operate in a heavily BS-laden arena like the art world than being ruthless and uncompromising (unless, of course, one just wants to get along, in which case one may have to go along).



August 12, 2005, 5:24 PM

MOMA Online

This is about as good a job as I could expect for an online view of the exhibition of Cezanne-Pissarro paintings.

The painting of Pissarros, that Cezanne copied, is Louveciennes (3rd blue button)

The flash site has the paintings paired up as they were in the exhibition. A lot of the things I mentioned do not reproduce so well in a little image onscreen, you have to see the paintings. (so much for Kuspit)



August 12, 2005, 7:15 PM

Jack re;45, I couldnt have said it better.
OP re; 35 I agree with you completely, after 2 decades of painting, oil/canvas is my medium, I have it down now intuitively when to back off, when to say (despite any feelings of apprehension) enough I LIKE IT'!!
And to be perfectly honest, I have always had a strong ego and if I like it...then I could careless what others think lol. That attitude hasnt worked against me either, though some would think it would.
thanks for posting the show George, Im going to look at it now, what a treat.



August 12, 2005, 7:44 PM

WOW....what a show, just terrific!



August 12, 2005, 9:00 PM

Im just struck by how dark Cezanne's palette is. But its all quite beautiful, without question a terrific show.



August 12, 2005, 11:59 PM

George, thank you for the link to MoMA's Cezanne/Pissarro show. Quite the web presentation! And you can view them reasonably large, paired or singularly.

Favourite Cezanne: House of the Hanged Man
Favourite Pissarro: Climbing Path

How unfortunate that I cannot visit them. Now doubly sad am I.



August 13, 2005, 12:54 AM

I'm not sure it is worth going back to, but I want to quickly respond to oldpro #34. Quickly, did I say? Well, we'll see. I will, there is too much...I will sum up. Um, no, still too much.

oldpro, you've done a better job summing up my thoughts than I yours. Across a range of recent comments I've noted and tried commenting on the way one or another's writing has been unclear due to a confusion of several word-usages with assumed meanings (my own included, but usually only upon rereading after a day or so). You typed: "...there is a perpetual tension between words and reality, and between words and meaning, words and sense, words and their own structure, and so forth." Yes, this is something I intended to communicate, but didn't do very usefully. Thank you.

Like you, Jack has lately been affirming usefulness when considering the value of art writing or criticism or advice. You: "language is obviously the most useful thing we have come up with as a species but it is always best when it is just that - useful - or when it is made into art."

Then (still in #34): "generally both [language and art] are better when the overt correspondence with reality is strong." I can quite easily imagine examples of how this might be true in sculpture, or painting; but I'm not sure how "overt correspondence with reality" applies when referring to language, particularly with literature to be engaged as art. Is a poem really better when the OC with R is S? Is a poem really better when the OC with R is S?

I'm doing the best I can not to be "verbally extravagant, wasteful and inexact."

"Two sentences, ahab," I say to myself. I say, "next time, next time my post will only be two sentences."



August 13, 2005, 7:13 AM

danto is the best that we have in this life - embrace your life and accept that which you do not agree wih as fuel.



August 13, 2005, 8:33 AM

When I wrote"overt correspondence with reality", Ahab, I said to myself that I was opening up a can of worms, but one that no one would notce, so don't worry about it.

So you noticed.

The phrase, and the thought itself, needs explaining and perhaps fruitful disagreement. By "overt correspondence" I meant to imply a kind of evident cooperation with, relationship to, and use of, and by "reality" (this is where the sticky part is) I meant something more than things and facts, something more like "exactness".

A poem is a good example because it is the most challenging one. I would say probabky that the part of a poem where correspondence with reality is least insistent are the more "musical" characteristics, such as rhyme, meter, etc., although even here I am not sure.

The part of a poem that needs to be correspondent with reality is the actual meaning, what is said, not so much that you need words like "rock" and "man" and "air" but that the subject must be very precisely "tuned in", like turning a radio dial to get the best signal. The idea itself is not very well tuned in, I'm afraid; miore like a stab in the dark that I instinctively feel is true. "Reality" needs to be further qualiified to make it work.



August 13, 2005, 8:40 AM

OP; I noticed and 34 really made sense to inner dialogue with what is real....does that make any sense????
btw. do you love the poet stanley kunitz?? his collected works books makes me cry everytime.



August 13, 2005, 10:14 AM

Elizabeth, I don't know quite what you mean by "an inner dialogue with what is real".



August 13, 2005, 12:09 PM

I get your drift, if your drift is that the best art does not primarily pretend to be something it is not. Though it may and likely will point to other associated dreams or realities, it is especially present in the here and now of the viewer/reader/listener's experience of it.



August 13, 2005, 5:55 PM

Ahab I was not including art in the "correspondence with reality" requirement, except for verbal art, very tentatively. I am having a hard enough time justifying that without bringing in visual art.

I think I need to work out the whole thing better. I haven't been thorough enough about the relationship between obvervable reality, what strikes the "minds eye" best and the idea of precision of expression. The mere thought of working it out gives me a headache.



August 13, 2005, 7:53 PM

"I have a headache." You sound like you're trying to get out of an undesirable and uncomfortable intimacy.

Okay, I'll narrow the focus back down to verbal art. I read a handful of Elizabeth's Stanley Kunitz poems today paying careful attention to potential instances of strong correspondence with reality. Might there be an example in one of these five poems that you feel props up the idea of SCwithR? And if there is such an example does it also point to the Quality of the piece?

I've generally found that well-written fiction and poetry generate more relevant meaning than well-investigated or well-analyzed reporting tends to provide. A tapestry of words affects me aesthetically, as an art experience; but I am not sure where the correspondence with reality occurs, if at all. I might be able to say that the poem affects me when it touches closely on my esoteric understandings about my real (experienced) world, but I wouldn't expect these to be universal.

"Touches closely." "Strikes a chord." I only seem able to find metaphorical language paralleling other sensual experiences of my world in order to communicate these thoughts about things written. How mind-bending. Headache inducing even.



August 13, 2005, 8:33 PM

Writing exists in the imagination. If you understand the words, you build a personal mental construct. At the hands of a skilled writer it becomes a visualization.

Op and a few others here might remember radio, real radio, the Lone Ranger and the Shadow radio. Radio is considerably different from TV because it requires active participation, the listener fills in the picture. Danto could say painting died with Radio ;-(

While I'm playing with these ideas, there is a point. Painting is visualization which exists in the imagination. There is the literal painting, its physical qualities and the painting that exists in the imagination. For me what's interesting is when the two are congruent.



August 13, 2005, 8:53 PM

You typed 'congruent,' George, I suppose you meant 'congruous.'

Though the painting that exists in the imagination can presumably exist without a corresponding tangible painting, or literal if you prefer, the reverse cannot be true (unless one subscribes to "If a tree falls in the forest but no one to hear..." sort of philosophy).

To paint as good a painting as possible is to incidentally, necessarily, unavoidably, create an imaginative equivalent. To solely visualize a good painting guarantees one nothing and gets one nowhere.

This would seem to negate notions of congruousness, or congruity.



August 13, 2005, 8:54 PM

Or congruency.



August 13, 2005, 9:12 PM

Ahab, I think I meant congruent, a one on top of the other match.
I'm feeling my way through this, and it might not be true in all cases. The idea runs counter to "the willing suspension of disbelief" phrase used by filmmakers. Maybe it's only true for abstract paintings.

What set me down this path was the recollection of a time I was reading William Gibson in an airplane to Holland. By the time I landed at Schiphol, I didn't know where I was. Gibson's books are Science Fiction and he is brilliant when it comes to weaving a tale that transports you to another place (WG coined the word cyberspace)

Just a thought



August 13, 2005, 10:14 PM

"You sound like you're trying to get out of an undesirable and uncomfortable intimacy."

Well put. I may have painted myself into a corner.

I have to postpone this discussion. I've been out to an opening which was HOT and NOISY and I had several BEERS and I have not got George's appetite for waxing profound under such circumstances.

Tomorrow morning I will read the Kunitz poems and try to isolate some examples to point to and perhaps extricate myself or otherwise weasel out of this situation.



August 13, 2005, 10:19 PM

yer no fun hic



August 14, 2005, 8:06 AM

An interesting article from the UK Guardian on digitalization and photography.
Movers and fakers



August 14, 2005, 12:04 PM

I'm afraid I would have to fault Kunitz on the reality issue, Ahab. He is very plain and down to earth, and the poems have charm, but they do not have the "zing" which I expressed so clumsily in the phrase "correspondence with reality". They are really just too plain and prosaic,

By "correspondence with reality" I meant more than just using words to mean something concrete. I meant using words to gather something actually or potentially vague, or "cosmic" (in the Danto sense) together, boil it down and "make it realer than real", make it come across and grab you by the short hairs, give you goosebumps.

Here are a couple of examples. Both deal with the most "cosmic" subject we have: the fragility and evanescence of life. Both find a way to take it down, pack it into a few words and blow you away.

This is "Dirge in Woods", by that most underrated of Victorian poets, George Meredith:

A wind sways the pines,
And below
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.
The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
Even we,
Even so.

Zowie! It leaves you suspended breathless in the massive utter quiet of the pine forest as the dead needles drop softly around you. Not "breath of air", but "breath of wild air". Not mosses that "grow" but mosses that "glow". Not "forest floor" but "flooring". Not "overhead" but "overhead, overhead". And the marvelous, childlike "as the clouds the clouds chase" and the plaintive but perfect "Even we, even so". This is a huge chunk of "reality" bundled into a tiny package, washed over us with perfect understatement. This is genius.

The next one is by a not underrated but impossible to overrate poet, the famous speech by Prospero after the masque (play) in "the Tempest"
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

This is interesting in relation to "reality" because the subject of the text is insubstantiality. The play has ended and all the illusions it presented have melted into "thin air" (yes, he said it first), leaving not a "rack" (bit of cloud - what better image?) behind. It is all a dream, and our "little" lives are "rounded by a sleep". No Scientist describing the vast emptiness of eternal space/time could possibly give us a more convincing - more "realistic" - picture of the fleetingness of life, nor one that zaps you every time you read it.

This is what I mean by the poor phrase "correspondence wiuth reality", less actual concrete, reality, which Kunitz, for example, handles well, but a reality that makes the unreal real, brings it across and serves it up to you.

And when you read this stuff, as I do, and then read someone like Danto - well, there you are.



August 14, 2005, 1:14 PM

Know how I know you're right, oldpro? Because I got the shivers reading Meredith's "Dirge in Woods". As I read it I had the feeling of zooming in on his scene at each of those phrases that you highlighted shortly after. Zowie, truly.

I now get your meaning of "correspondence with reality". Intangible and elusive reality is artfully condensed into words (or possibly into paint or steel as well) to deliver a shivering-good and tangible grasp of it. To have affirmed with language that which we know to be true but cannot otherwise touch or prove. Elizabeth's "inner dialogue with reality".

Other poets whose works have left a similar mark on me: Milton, Blake. It's as though I am the canvas and the poem is the medium with which I've been painted upon. That's probably somebody else's thought, too immediately cliche to have come up with it myself.

Cheesy though I am.



August 14, 2005, 1:33 PM

Changing gears...way back up the post you (oldpro) mentioned Lot's wife (she is not named for anyone ready to cry, "foul! sexism!"). Well, she was looking back at Gomorrah, not Babylon. I suppose you might reply that Gomorrah was another Babylon-type.

Interesting though that you would equate the pillar of salt she was said to have turned into with Hirst's shark. She looked back with longing to that Gomorrah of 20th century art - that which shall not be named, well no, then you won't know what I mean: the porcelainportapotty - and instantly became a shaky caryatid of salt barely holding up nearly a century of bullshit. What a good parable.

By the way, I read Matty's Frankfurt essay On Bullshit, and thought I would leave you all with this little predecontextualized tidbit: "Excrement is not designed or crafted at all; it is merely emitted, or dumped. It may have a more or less coherent shape, or it may not, but it is in any case certainly no 'wrought'."



August 14, 2005, 2:15 PM

Ahab, you should give me the benefit of the doubt. I knew Lot's wife looked back on Sodom, just as I knew she turned into a pillar of salt. But Sodom and salt would have not have made a very appropriate off-the-wall swipe at Danto. Sodom was destroyed for it's licentious ways, particularly homosexuality, which was not the point. Babylon was more appropriate as a symbol of generalized overindulgence.

Turning her into the U****L definitely would have been much better, particularly because of the physical resemblance to a pillar of salt. But since that insane "week of the pisspot" a while ago I have been afraid to mention it.



August 14, 2005, 2:35 PM

Actually, Sodom serves the above example well. Their crime wasn't specifically homosexuality, but hubris and greed, which various heavenly figures find offensive cross-culturally. Generalized overindulgence was exactly the issue.

Ezekiel says: "This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it."



August 14, 2005, 2:37 PM

Here is one that still shivers my brain:

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Kind of high falutin when you first read it, but solid as a rock in a mirage. The last stanza especially. Written by a Jesuit about a hawk.



August 14, 2005, 3:08 PM

Franklin; a curious note: want to hear the kewlest thing about sodom and gommorah, the roadsigns are up in israel as you pass by on the highway and you see this column of salt that is Lots wife when she looked back and shes got a great figure lol...then what was really freaky was I noticed the colour of the landscape (since Im an artist lol ) we got closer..all the green started to just vanished and then suddenly no green growing anywhere and then as we got further away the plant life returned ...its really amazing how nothing grows there till now even ...god must have used some big brimstone bomb!!



August 14, 2005, 3:12 PM

Ahab; your cute not cheesy .....



August 14, 2005, 3:46 PM

a few favorites of mine by Kunitz;

The Artist
His paintings grew darker every year.
They filled the walls, they filled the room;
eventually they filled his world----
all but the ravishment.
When voices faded, he would rush to hear
the scratched soul of Mozart
endlessly in gyre.
Back and forth, back and forth,
he paced the paint -smeared floor,
diminishing in size each time he turned,
trapped in his monumental void,
raving against his adversaries.
At last he took a knife in his hand
and slashed an exit for himself
between the frames of his tall scenery.
Through the holes of his tattered universe
the first innocence and the light
came pouring in.



August 14, 2005, 3:53 PM

Yeah, Catfish, that shivers my timbers, too.

When I was trying to weasel out of my overbroad statement about words and reality by saying that words as such were probably the least constrained to correspond with reality I immediately thought ot Hopkins and began to wonder anew what I was talking about. I hope my obsessiveness, and Ahab's habit of catching me up, does not lead me further into this morass.

Franklin, you cannot say, flat-out, that "Generalized overindulgence was exactly the issue" for Sodom. The story, as related in the King James version of Genesis, with the mob bent on "knowing" the angels and Lot's condemnation of them and his offer of his daughters and the mob's turn-down of the daughters is the only "iniquity" spelled out in the body of the story. I know this brings up all sorts of PC problems, between the religious right-wingers and the gay activists and the translation revisionists and so forth, but the message in the story is pretty clear. Sodom was undoubtedly a "generally" bad place, but the story of Lot does not encompass that.



August 14, 2005, 3:58 PM

The Guilty Man

The years of my life were odd that now are even.
Think! to be young, amused, and not a fool;
Playing the worlds game----------think!--------with world's own rules,
And nothing lost, I think , I think......but years.
Heart against mouth is singing out of tune,
Night's whisperings and blanks betrayed; this is
The end of lies; my bones are angry with me.

Father, the darkness of the self goes out
And spreads contagion on the flowing air.
I walk obscurely in a cloud of dark;
Yea, when I kneeled, the dark kneeled down with me.
Touch me; my folds and my defenses fall;
I stand within myself, myself my shield.



August 14, 2005, 4:21 PM

I like this one better, Elizabeth, more evocative and intense. I think he was better when he was younger.



August 14, 2005, 4:29 PM

Im happy to share them with you OP (smile) E.



August 14, 2005, 6:52 PM

Yeah, I wondered if oldpro had shyed away from the Sodom associations, early on, which is why I only went as far as Gomorrah, and noted that he may have left it to operate as a Babylon-type in the background. Sensitivity to pc isn't necessarily complicity with it.

I am loving the poetry. So much easier to appreciate corporately than a badly reproduced digital version of a Cezanne or whatever. How old is The Jesuit Hawk, catfish?

I have a friend who wrote his post-grad multi-disciplinary thesis on the indispensability of page design, including fonts and layout, as related to the transmission of literary meaning. This blogsite has a really great interface, but I think the poems might read better in a different font, maybe one with serifs, hey Franklin?



August 14, 2005, 7:28 PM

No, my use of Babylon was by no means PC, not at all.

Now, as I look back, I think the "parable", as you put it, would have been most effective as "Did Lot's wife look back at Sodom and get turned into a urinal?". Not as subtle or complex, but much more effective, much more "in correspondence" with the "reality" of what it was supposed to do. This is getting pretty precious, I know.

The Hopkins poem was probably written late 1870s or thereabouts. Almost all of his poetry was published after his death, many years later.

I believe Franklins MFA thesis was written in poetic form, though he may not want to admit it now.



August 14, 2005, 7:36 PM

Tell me more about Franklin's MFA thesis.



August 14, 2005, 7:43 PM

Ask Franklin. I'm not going to rat on him. At least not any further than I already have. I may want to use it as blackmail someday.



August 14, 2005, 7:45 PM

Sometimes I think about Gerard Manley Hopkins when I am speculating about the dire state of things in the art world. He was virtually unrecognized during his lifetime and did not associate with any active poetry scene that I know of. There was not much "buzz" nor much "lift" in his environment. Yet he wrote dy-no-mite poetry, though not that much of it. And I don't think he was very satisfied with what he did write. It is probably true that he was a priest first, a poet second - a denial of the conventional understanding that one must give one's all to art to be any good.

He certainly provides an example for keeping a singular flame burning, brightly too. Morris Louis seems to have had a few things in common with Hopkins. They both did it "their way".



August 14, 2005, 7:53 PM

Of course a lot of his being unknown was his fault. As I remember he would actually protest when anyone wanted to publish something. And it was a time of inspired poets, so he did not have a retrogressive establishement to fight, at least as far as I know. But I don't disagree with you.



August 14, 2005, 8:05 PM

Franklin. You just gonna sit there and let oldpro denigrate your hard-earned MFA? Stand up for yourself, man.

My MFA thesis had no required written component. The sculptures, installed, and an oral exam. I named Johnny Cash and Robertson Davies as cultural influences. That was about as poetic as I got.



August 14, 2005, 8:12 PM

I wrote my graduate thesis in rhymed couplets - about five pages' worth. A few reached profundity but most of them were groaners - Ogden Nash-inspired train wrecks of verse. Nevertheless my committee signed off on it in its entirety, as it addressed all the necessary issues. I'm led to understand that the following year they implemented rather specific thesis guidelines, which were certainly not in place when I wrote mine.

I don't think I have it in digital form. One day I'll type it up and post it.

One couplet comes to mind:

A painterly painting gives the eye ease;
Just look at Manet or the Japanese.

There was also this:

Appropriation and forced social relevance -
I wouldn't mind seeing it all trampled by elephants.

Like I said, one day.



August 14, 2005, 8:37 PM

ahab: do you really like Johnny Cash? I think his last couple of albums brought beauty to Armageddon - The Man Comes Around explicitly so. When I play it in my painting class students start dancing. It's got a beat, they say. All his late stuff made the dark side brighter than I had imagined it could ever be. It is very beautiful.



August 14, 2005, 9:50 PM

Five pages of rhymed long did your thesis take? I'm not sure I need to read them so no hurry on making them available. But I like the way you rhymed relevance with elephants.

As to Johnny Cash, I've done some casual homework by digging up many of his albums and most of his writing, both old and new. Talk about a correspondence with reality - he had that both in his lyrics and his delivery. The five or so most recent records under the American Recordings label are unnervingly beautiful. You mightn't expect to enjoy a song sung from the viewpoint of a guy strapped into a live electric chair, for example.

His producer, Rick whats-his-name, deserves some credit for bringing Cash back to his art, and for giving him a renewed audience. Visual artists suffer from the current dearth of critics who have in times past served them in a similar role - not as managers, not directors, but producers. I suppose curators see themselves in this role, but I view curators with about as much trust as I do advertising executives.



August 14, 2005, 11:46 PM

ahab: I first heard Johnny Cash at Springlake Amusement Park in Oklahoma City during the 50s. You had to pay to ride the Big Dipper, but listening to Johnny Cash was free. A rival park had a guy in a speedo laying in a pit full of rattlesnakes rendered lethargic (and smelly) by heat lamps. He had lots of people peering down the special viewing hole they had set up. But the looking (and smelling) was free too.

In contrast, not very many people gathered on the grass around the stage for Johnny Cash, which was off the beaten path a bit, down a hill off to the side of the main rides. But there was something extra in him. If I had to put a number on it, I would say he was 5% better than the typical pop performer of that time. Not a lot, but A LOT.

And oldpro, you are right Hopkins did not have to fight a decayed establishment that was in control of almost everything. But he had to deal with the Jesuits who, while they did not tolerate much less foster an intellectual vacuum, at the same time could be repressive in their own way. Every artist has crosses to bear and I still fear there may be too many of them in the current landscape for anything great to grow, but Hopkins stirs a glimmer of hope. Really, so does Johnny Cash. His producer might deserve some credit (I don't know crap about the music world), but Johnny Cash was the one who sang the songs, from the beginning in the 50s until his demise. The clarity of his last work is the rough equivalent of what Karen Wilkin calls the "late style" when she writes about Olitski's recent warehouse show.


Jerome du Bois

August 15, 2005, 2:17 AM


Glad you're still around, man.

Tony Kushner used a quote from Stanley Kunitz as his epigraph for "Angels in America:"

In a murderous time
The heart breaks and breaks
And lives by breaking.

You can be heartbroken and still stand tall.

How? You pray standing, pied beauty.




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