Saturday, April 04, 2020

PLAGUE ART, part 3


Man Throwing Up  by David Lynch
Before David Lynch became a master at making unsettling, creepy films he was a master at making unsettling, creepy drawings and paintings.  He did an entire series of ill, vomiting figures:


This next one is called Six Figures Getting Sick:


From the same series:



I like Lynch's pictures, starting with his early, unconventional comic strip, The Angriest Dog in the World:



Detail

I think he brings a horror to his subject that more skillful artists have missed in the previous pictures I've offered.  This is not because Lynch explicitly paints vomit.  To the contrary,  I think his real strength is taking the most normal, innocuous elements and assembling them in a way that becomes far more ominous and unnerving than any pictures of dead bodies or skeletons.

For example, this next picture is called, She Was Walking to Her Home and Then There Was Someone.


Yikes!

Another example: There is Nothing Here.




Or the unnerving, Who Is In My House? which summons feelings of mental patient level paranoia.



Even words as bland as This Is My Truck become transformed by Lynch's images.



Who would've guessed that such harmless elements could be combined to create such a tone? And if such meanings can lurk beneath such safe concepts, what else is at risk?

The point is, an artist doesn't need to show circling vultures or blood and guts or skeletons...  a nondescript blob on a flat red ground can be more effective.




33 comments:

Michael L said...

Thank you for selecting these images, and making such insightful comments.
What I find fascinating is the text that accompanies these illustrations has such a variety of speakers: an omniscient narrator, the thoughts of a visible or invisible person, someone speaking to an undefined other, a title that changes how we interpret the figures, a dialogue related to the image in ways that viewers need to connect, or a combination. Lynch presents simple images, juxtaposes them with text, and lets us create the meaning in our own minds. I love art that respects viewers' intelligence!

Wes said...

These are fantastiscally creepy and unnerving. The way the painting interferes with the words is particularly effective, reminding me of a Jim Harrison aphorism -- how our worst thoughts can "spread out and infect the landscape." Like a plague, thoughts are contagious and infectious, and fear and loathing and paranoia become part of the world beyond our closest concerns. Notice how there is no silver lining or warm horizon in any of the images. Its a total world of doom and gloom begat by fear and misery.

Thanks!

kev ferrara said...

These are very interesting to contemplate.

What strikes me about the type-image aesthetic is, while image alone generally centralizes the subject as the focus of the expression, the words cause me to think it is the psychological state of the author-artist that is being expressed. The writing foregrounds the conscious symbolic mind of the author.

I suppose the lack of contemplation in the aesthetic content of the art allows the words to take over the show, decisively converting the pictures into literary art.

kev ferrara said...

"Man Throwing Up" is a quite extraordinary sculpture. The use of the toilet seat to put the viewer 'in the bowl' is clever. Though, as much as I think it good art... as with Eraserhead... I was much happier to see "The Straight Story." It is much easier to revulse an audience than to move them.

Anonymous said...

If you find Lynch intriguing , his books Catching the Big Fish and Room To Dream are deeply revealing , great reading .

Al McLuckie

Tom said...

David wrote
“ The point is, an artist doesn't need to show circling vultures or blood and guts or skeletons... a nondescript blob on a flat red ground can be more effective.”

I would add with some words attached to it! What is the the Shakespeare quote,”nothing is either bad or good but thinking makes it so.”
Everyone gets the willies. I wouldn’t attribute it with too much meaning. Everyone attaches scary, happy, or sad stories to things.

I always enjoyed The Worlds Angriest Dog in the city paper but those combine plaster head canvas contraptions look like most first year gradual school work. Badly made or bought canvas that is always stretched poorly with the inevitable I will use a plaster cast of and already existing form because I have no idea how to actually conceive something and then I’ll throw some paint on it for good measure. I would almost say the works are a generational statement instead of a individual statement. I don’t see pandemic, I see art school 101.

Wes said...

Tom said:
"Everyone gets the willies. I wouldn’t attribute it with too much meaning. Everyone attaches scary, happy, or sad stories to things."

Part of the Occident's chronic problem is NOT attributing enough meaning to the subjective, given that the objective lacks meaning in toto. These paintings have great integrity because they stay dedicated to the source -- the subjective, or as Kev said, it is "the psychological state of the author-artist that is being expressed. The writing foregrounds the conscious symbolic mind of the author."

One need't like them to appreciate this integrity. Western art likes to assume that it is "showing" us something real and objective, whereas it almost always showing us something subjective. The artist says: "Look what I found!", whereas he/she is really saying: "Look what I found in my head."

Our greatest literary subjectivist was Shakespeare. None of his charactars are realistic.

I agree about the vomit scultpures, a little too obvious and juvenile. Like a rock guitarist that thinks destroying his/her guitar is part of the music.

kev ferrara said...

The artist says: "Look what I found!", whereas he/she is really saying: "Look what I found in my head."

The point of expressing something aesthetically is to artfully share the truth. If the art is only solipsism plopped on canvas, if it isn't sharing something that can be communal, only the hyper-responders to basic plastic stimuli will find interest in it.

Wes said...

Ha! Good answer.

The God of Truth is often invoked in the Occident -- by mystics, secularists, scientists, and religionists alike. Its likely our most important God. But truth is overrated, an overated God. As E.M. Cioran said: "As long as a single God is standing, Man's task is not done."

I much prefer to see the truth of a lowly subject, and NOT consider their truth for the Truth, for it is in the creative (and skilled) subject that new ways of seeing are revealed, not just what they see. Demuth's "I saw the figure 5 in Gold" is a marvelous blend of subjective seeing and superior skill, yet it has little to do with anyone's truth but Demuth's.

Solipsism is not subjectivism -- that's a straw man. When an artist confuses the two, yes, you get some bad art, pretty obvious. Its interesting that Shakespeares subjectivism is considered the greatest literature, and VanGogh's way of seeing is considered universally moving, but neither have much to do with sharing the Truth.

kev ferrara said...

There are no 'new ways of seeing.' That's fake Modernist jargon.

There are only expressions about experience; and each such expression has some degree of fealty to and some degree of estrangement from the objective (defined here as consistent and mutually experience-able phenomena.) And felt in that differential gap or interval between what is objective and what is expressed there is an intuition of strangeness which is the hallmark of the reception of poetic/aesthetic meaning by the intuition. The idea is expressed through the estrangement of subjective and objective, form and content.

Experience demonstrates. Art (or any signification) has truth to the extent that it demonstrates (aesthetic) experience commensurate with actual experience; we feel significant resonance with consistent experience. The reason we know truth 'exists' is because truths (demonstrative significations meant to express experience) resonate population-wide and not just with individuals.

The style of a work of art is completely irrelevant to its truth value because experience can only be conveyed through art through suggestion, which requires implication, which means the truth being expressed is not actually stated by the artwork.

Wes said...

Kev,

Dunno about "fake modernist jargon", but there are new ways of seeing, just as there new ways of living. The notion that there are NOT new ways of seeing seems to be primitivist dogma.

Your second paragraph is a good theory, well founded by various "objectivist" theories, but is only half the story, for the "subjective" is real too, as John Searle noted quite a long time ago. (I know, I shouldn't be citing a modern sexual harasser, but it fits here). So internal experience is equally a place for finding new ways of seeing, thinking, being. The "truth value" that results might be large or nil, and either result may not matter much. Though you are right that a small value might not "resonate" much with others. Others can't "see" it i.e., as they have not developed a new way of seeing. Van Gogh is a perfect example of us catching up with the him re how to see the world differently.

I would argue that style is the most important aspect of bringing new truths, if that is your goal. Lots of people painted starry skies before Van Gogh, but it was his style that brought a new way of seeing it.

kev ferrara said...

Wes,

Your misuse of the word "seeing" is confusing matters. Nobody 'sees' the world as Van Gogh paints it; nobody's visual cortex is going to be so influenced by looking at his work that they're suddenly going to notice whorls and swirls in the night sky.

What people respond to in Van Gogh (besides the graphic novelty) are his poems; his suggestive effects and how they join together into a suggestive effect complex that sensually expresses some idea about the experiences he depicts. To the extent that people can feel his idea about, for instance, the wonderment of a starry night, and share in that expression of wonderment, there is truth to his work. For truth expresses what recurs and is shared, definitionally. And a poem works not because of literal accuracy, but because in its essence, figuratively, truth is embodied.

It is this communal recognition that causes the artist-poets I research to speak of bringing "appreciations" from their life into their work. Artists must be hypersensitive to the hidden nature of experience. Whereas it is the job of the journalist to notice and record facts, specifics, details, etc. It is the job of the Artist to feel or sense how these concrete things map abstract relations across gaps of feeling in a timeless way. For it is the abstract relations between things where truth resides, not in facts themselves. (But, of course, abstracted relations must be attached to real experience in order to be justified, at least, as poetry.)

By the way, Van Gogh, famously, was a great admirer of Howard Pyle's work, saying he "was dumbstruck" by Pyle's art in Harper's.

A few asides: Definitionally, there are no "new truths." Truths can only be repackaged; old wine in new bottles. If you have some definition of truth that includes one-off phenomena, we'll be in the same definition-warping morass as with your warping of the term 'seeing.'

I have no idea why you think my second paragraph is founded in objectivist theories. My sources were around long before Ayn Rand, if that's your reference.

Tom said...

Wes wrote
"Part of the Occident's chronic problem is NOT attributing enough meaning to the subjective, given that the objective lacks meaning in toto. These paintings have great integrity because they stay dedicated to the source -- the subjective,..."

Wes the source includes both the subjective and the objective. I would say if there is really a "problem," the problem is thinking there is some distinct line between the two. There is only a conflict if you "think," there is. I would say instead of, "not attributing enough meaning to the subjective," the real issue a nagging sense of doubt, in "The West," and looking for security in a answer or faith in something you think you are lacking like not being subjective enough. I have never seen a cat who failed to catch a mouse sit around and ponder how he needs to become a better cat or trust his subjective instinct more.:) Maybe there really isn't any conflict between the two (if there are really two) but they are in accord with each other, they complement each other. Why favor one. Maybe navigating more and trying to conclude less is a more in tune with life.

Where does the world end and your "head," begin and who is doing the finding? What did the Chinese painter say, "I paint what I dream, forests, waterfalls and sky's."

Then after all that you say Shakespeare's characters are not realistic?

Wes said...

Kev and Tom,

Short answers here from me:

Kev,
1. Sorry, no Ayn Rand citation was intended. I intended "objectivist" in the more general sense.
2. I disagree about "seeing" reality differently. That is the genius of the true artist -- if they can convey it. I would cite Seth, the Canadian cartoonist, especially re his sensibility of a Canadian “saudade”.
3. Disagree about "no new truths". Sounds Platonic to me.

Tom,
1. Agree that there is no dividing line, but to Kev's point, too much subjectivism borders on solipsism, somewhat embarrassingly so. Too much objectivism is banal and dull, like photorealism.
2. The chinese artist's statement is quite accurate, but he/she could have added Mondrian's dreams of color and line and it would still be correct.
3. That is the genius of Shakespeare -- that his characters are not akin to "photorealism".

Cheers!

David Apatoff said...

Michael L-- Agreed. And one of those potential voices is the kind of voice schizophrenics hear in their heads. I think the more intelligent viewers are more open to the unsettling possibilities.

Wes-- Thanks for the Jim Harrison quote. I couldn't find it on the internet, but I spent some enlightening time looking at other Harrison aphorisms in the process.

Kev Ferrara-- I think "the type-image aesthetic" is aided immensely by the visual presentation of the type. Lynch's lettering looks easy but it is deliberately simple and ragged, as you might expect from someone with a mental disability or the impaired outlook of someone naive who doesn't quite understand what's going on. If the text were lettered in a more polished, formal way I think it would distract from the image.



kev ferrara said...

I think "the type-image aesthetic" is aided immensely by the visual presentation of the type. Lynch's lettering looks easy but it is deliberately simple and ragged, as you might expect from someone with a mental disability or the impaired outlook of someone naive who doesn't quite understand what's going on. If the text were lettered in a more polished, formal way I think it would distract from the image.

I totally agree that the typography and 'word balloons' are very expressive, and of a tone with the art. All very effective, in my opinion. However, the subject of the typographic expression (including the balloons) is still the meaning of the words (and other basic symbols: house, face, hands, truck, dark smear, dark cloud, etc) in the context of the mental state of the author.

Words are so clear and (thus) so blatant and conscious, they can easily wrest focus and attention away from art (and any other type of symbol), given half a chance. Since the focus of a work is, literally, the point of it (the culmination of its demonstration), where words take focus, as here, they are the point.

I'll harken back again to Rockwell's 'Adventurers' as an example where the typography/words have been exquisitely calibrated, designed, and located to take a secondary, but still strongly contributive, place in the visual signification hierarchy. Thus keeping the work Art, rather than a kind of visually-enhanced Literature.

kev ferrara said...

Disagree about "no new truths". Sounds Platonic to me.

Basic empiricism tells us we cannot know if some relationship is True until its essence (or pattern, or structure, or system) iterates. A one-off phenomena is only a fact, a piece of news. Or it even be an accident or an error in the observation process. Only when some phenomena repeats does any sane person say, "Ah, we have something here! It wasn't just my imagination!" And if it repeats enough times for us to correctly intuit its nature, it has repeated in various guises for longer than mankind has memory. Consistency of phenomena is undeniable.

Tom said...

I like the way you wrote your answers Wes! Like the Mustard Seed Manuel of Painting.

kev ferrara said...

2. I disagree about "seeing" reality differently. That is the genius of the true artist -- if they can convey it. I would cite Seth, the Canadian cartoonist, especially re his sensibility of a Canadian “saudade”.

"Seeing" is different than Seeing. What you mean to say is that a new sensibility in painting can influence taste; the sensibility of people, or even the zeitgeist. Yes. Obviously.

But this has nothing to do with Truth, necessarily. Taste can be brutally superficial.

Wes said...

David, the Jim Harrison quote is from his book of essays -- Just Before Dark essay "Passacagli on Getting Lost":

"When we are lost we lose our peripheries. Our thoughts zoom outward and infect the landscape."

Harrison is a great aphorist in all his wrtings -- poetry, essays, and fiction. Enjoy!

chris bennett said...

These four paintings by Burne-Jones form an unforgettable masterpiece in the room in which they are situated (and were commissioned for) in Buscot Park House, Oxfordshire, England.

I was looking forward to seeing them again this spring but alas they will be self-isolating from the public gaze.

Which made me think of them and realise they are obliquely relevant to David's post - I've been trying to think of a painting depicting 'plague' that carried a redemptive quality within it, because I believe that all art should have redemption as the woof to its senario's weft. But this briar Rose series is the nearest I can get.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Legend_of_Briar_Rose#/media/File:Briar_Wood_Buscot_Park.jpg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Legend_of_Briar_Rose#/media/File:The_Council_Chamber_Buscot_Park.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/69/The_Garden_Court_Buscot_Park.jpg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Legend_of_Briar_Rose#/media/File:The_Rose_Bower_Buscot_Park.jpg

chris bennett said...

EDIT:
I said that the Briar Rose sreies was commisioned for the room in Buscot house but on checking this discovered that the paintings were first aquired from exhibition in the usual way and it was only the extra decorative 'joining' panels that were commission specifically for the siting of the paintings in the house.

Wes said...

These are odd and beautiful paintings. The figures are reposed in sleep from which they can't awaken -- is that right? Some kind of Sleeping Beauty poison has conked them out. They are not dead from plague. They look peacefully reposed. But the amount of triangular detail in the foreground, midground and background is anxiety producing, so the overall effect is not reposeful, and fits well with plague anxiety.



Wes said...

Kev,

You said:
“Basic empiricism tells us we cannot know if some relationship is True until its essence (or pattern, or structure, or system) iterates.”

1. That describes a Santayana "trope" well enough, certainly a useful idea if the phenomena recurs or repeats enough to count on it. Such an idea, regardless of name, has practical results for knowledge and technology, as we know.

2. A "one-off", is not useless, however. Scientifically, they are very significant. A medical case study is by definition a "one-off", but is considered of great value for teaching purposes, as unique or new phenomenon, etc.

3. You make too much of a repeating "trope", as if it was the only thing worth looking at or considering. “One off’s” tell us that there is a virtual reality struggling to be freed from the heavy and dumb reality that endures and buries it.

4. The notion that it was a hidden fact that has "repeated in various guises for longer than mankind has memory" has no real scientific basis but is Platonic in essence. There are new phenomena as a result of the flux, which doesn't just recur, but also brings new things into existence.

Kev, you also said:

"Seeing" is different than Seeing. What you mean to say is that a new sensibility in painting can influence taste; the sensibility of people, or even the zeitgeist."

5. No, what I meant to say is what I said: "there are new ways of seeing, just as there new ways of living." Biology is not destiny, either for the eyeball or the psyche.

6. I do consider a new sensibility more important than a new truth; new truths are overrated; new sensibilities are underrated. Superficiality is not of lesser value than depth.

7. I also consider seeing is more important than knowing and doubting more important than believing.

Cheers!

kev ferrara said...

1. Not sure why you’re referencing Santayana (or CW Williams’) views. The Pre-Socratics, Aristotle, and a thousand other thinkers and artists since, have discussed and debated the definition and reality of truth and qualia long before CW Williams rebottled it as ‘Tropes.’ Which he did because it was hip in insouciant academic cliques in the 60s to say empirical discovery was just another kind of literature and any reference to truth or reality but a poetic fantasy. So ‘trope’ was borrowed from poetics to grease that half-baked slander attempt. (And it was even a poor match, because ‘tropes’ has a much wider meaning in poetics than in Williams’ cribbing.)

2.& 3. It would seem an obvious point that the whole reason a seemingly one-off medical case study is recorded is because of its possible value in tending to subsequent similar cases and identifying prior similar cases. Identifying underlying mechanisms (a type of true relationship) that port to a whole class of scenarios is both the goal of science and exactly what the pursuit of truth is about.

The medical world is going through this at this very moment, when only a few days ago ER doctors noticed a peculiar hypoxia among intubated covid patients inconsistent with standard ARDS/Pneumonia. This one-off observation quickly resulted in a thousand-off echoes of the same phenomena across the interconnected world. Immediately the covid intubation protocols were re-debated, with the result that countless lives that would have been lost have been given new breathing room.

Novelty alone is what belongs in the tabloids or on social media distraction feeds. A one-boobed girl with three hearts is just a cheap-thrill headline until we start looking at where and how the genetics went wrong… thus attaching the investigation to every other human being on the planet.

The very weakest tolerable definition of truth I've heard is "Truth is what is predictive."

kev ferrara said...

4. Saying "It is Platonic in Essence" is no argument for the truth of that statement. Denying the consistency of phenomena is just pomo keepaway; a mere game of language. You wouldn't be able to use your computer to type any such denials unless consistency was, in fact and truth, reality. For computers are utterly based - from power source to code to pressure sensitivity - on consistency of phenomena. Thus truth (in the sense I have been using it.)

Furthermore, the word choice in your declaration (that my argument is Platonic in essence) admits the concept of ‘Essence’ into evidence. Maybe you can explain how Essence can exist outside of the possibility of meaning portability across time and space.

5. Please define the difference between your use of "Seeing" and your use of Seeing and some example of each which is not encompassed by my earlier translations/partitions of your meaning.

6. I don't dispute that new sensibilities can be significant, and that art may play a role in bringing them about.

Can you give me an example of a "New Truth" that isn’t simply a new fact?

When you say "superficiality is not of lesser value than depth" can you explain to me what you mean by "value." What is the value system you are embedding this claim within? Also can you give me an example of something you consider superficial and something else you consider deep?

7. Refer back to my question in 5 above. Also, you may ‘consider’ and declaim whatever postmodernist word-bromides you wish. But what you embody is what you really believe.

chris bennett said...

These are odd and beautiful paintings. The figures are reposed in sleep from which they can't awaken -- is that right?

Yes Wes, as you say below; sleeping beauty.

Some kind of Sleeping Beauty poison has conked them out. They are not dead from plague. They look peacefully reposed. But the amount of triangular detail in the foreground, midground and background is anxiety producing, so the overall effect is not reposeful, and fits well with plague anxiety.

My reason for thinking of the Briar Rose series is because I believe what distingueses plague from other forms of natural disaster has to do with how it puts the world of humans into temporary suspension. We await the kiss of the Vaccine Knight.

Wes said...

Chris, you said:

"(The pandemic) puts the world of humans into temporary suspension. We await the kiss of the Vaccine Knight."

So true. Even Superman can't help us.

I'm thinking of getting a bumper sticker that say's: "Fauci for President".

Stay safe.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Some thoughts on Truth:

In the West we may link consistency with truth, but in Eastern traditions, our reality is actually an illusion, Maya.

In fact, some teach that creativity is a way for us to get in touch with the real Truth, beyond the Maya, the Divine.

One could even consider miracles. Our current Western society may balk at that word, yet I have a friend who should be dead, whose doctors with complete sincerity call her survival a miracle. I also know an oncologist and hematologist at a top US hospital, whose grandfather was an Indian guru, and who has been perfectly unfazed by seeing some impossible things.

Perhaps these miracles are simply things that in due time science will figure out. Or perhaps they are "one-off" events of Truth penetrating Maya, thereby rendering what we have found to be "consistent" only 99% consistent.

The empirical truths we discover are what makes science useful, but the questions it aims to answer are what makes it meaningful.

--

On Seeing:

Wes can correct me if I'm wrong, but what I'm getting from him that I'm not seeing understood or acknowledged in Kev's replies is our ability to "see in our mind's eye".

When I write a screenplay, I am transcribing what I am seeing in my mind, even though my physical eyes are not seeing it. Yet it's very much a visual experience, involving colors, shapes, movement. It is even passive--what I see is not something I can control. I can suggest a subject, an idea, a problem to solve, but what my mind feeds back to me comes from a place I have no power over.

Similarly, Van Gogh did not physically see the world around him the way he painted it, but I believe it's too facile to say he tried to suggest or express his "wonderment of a starry night". I don't think his M.O. was that of an illustrator, giving himself such a problem to solve graphically. When he looked at the stars, he may simply have seen in his mind (sharply or vaguely) the painting he was to paint. We call him a "visionary", after all.

kev ferrara said...

Benjamin,

I share your sense of the creative process. Although there are long-standing debates and differences between artists as to what exactly constitutes the inner vision. Jeff Jones said he could see the world in his mind's eye as it really is, but couldn't paint it. Berni Wrightson said he visualized as he drew. Other artists seem not to have inner visions at all, and they proceed in their work through the use of conventions, cliches, finger painting, construction, searching sketches, found objects/montage, accidents, randomness, alcohol, and so on.

I am aware of Maya theory, but I don't think its actually a refutation of phenomenal consistency. Whatever realm one might imagine we live within, it clearly has a steady gamemaster at the helm, and iron standards of play. And I wouldn't advise testing them in any way that might put you in mortal danger. Because reality (or 'reality') can't be argued with, no matter how we might wish it were simply a defeasible dream.

Regarding 'miracles'... there are countless tens of thousands of seeming miracles reported in hospital settings. They usually consist of the patient's own healing faculties re-awakening for some reason that could probably be known... if there were some way of knowing how every cell and organ in the body is functioning at any given time. But there isn't. That's an impossible ask that would kill the patient even if it were possible. So some mysteries must remain mysteries. But mystery does not entail miracle in the supernatural sense.

I believe it's too facile to say he tried to suggest or express his "wonderment of a starry night".

Yes, the words I used are only a weak symbolic placeholder for his actual expression, which is a complex feeling that only exists in the experience of the work itself. You may not know that I have argued many times here that it is utterly impossible for Art to be losslessly translated into English or any other text language.

knowledgehub888@blogspot.com said...

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Tom said...

Benjamin wrote
"When he looked at the stars, he may simply have seen in his mind (sharply or vaguely) the painting he was to paint. We call him a "visionary", after all."

One does not just,"see." And artist feels the relationship between the parts of nature. His brush moves from one point to the next point in a meaningful way. The points are a path of a felt rhythm, like the movement of water, that movements becomes visible on the canvas. HIs brush rises and descends with the valley and peaks of nature.

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