Saturday, November 18, 2006


[No pictures today-- I am writing from Beijing, China, far away from my art collection, my scanner and my sweetheart (hi, Nell!). But I'll be home in a few days, when I can update my blog with fewer words and lots of good pictures.]

My feeble attempts to analyze pictures using words reminds me of Flaubert's lament:
Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity.
Don't get me wrong-- I'm a big fan of words. They have a tough job: to tame a wild, omnidimensional universe of feelings, thoughts and sensory impressions into a straight line with punctuation and spelling. All I'm saying is that pictures manage to take me a few inches closer to Flaubert's stars than words do.

Beethoven said, "music is a higher form of revelation than philosophy," and listening to Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, we surely believe him. Music is able to achieve that exalted height in part by leaving behind the limitations of words, just as the abstract part of art-- the shapes and colors and design-- leaves words behind. It is as close to music as the visual arts can come.

Call me sentimental, but I prefer illustration to abstract art precisely because illustration combines abstract visual design with those limiting, confining words that provide the content. Some people see the words part as an anchor. I see it as ballast.


Anonymous said...

Well said, David!

Have you memoized all the quotes you cite, or have a library of them in your Blackberry?

As I was reading I was trying to think what words mean to me. Certainly I cannot live without them, they frame and translate things I see and feel in one part of my brain, to a language perhaps more akin to logic, in another part of my brain. Somehow I find it hard to accept feelings on there own. I seem unable to let them exist without words. (I imagine that's the fault of my Philosopher parents.)Words can be the frame around a picture, and can bring out or diminish what lies within, what the artist has created. But your analogy, to a balast, is far better than mine.

Hope the mystery of the East feeds your spirit. Perhaps your next post can explore the art of China? Lots to talk about there (don't use the excuse that you are unfamiliar with it, you have now been there for pete's sake).


Anonymous said...

Beijing? Don't tell me one of my favourite blogs has been outsourced? Lou Dobbs

Anonymous said...

The words accompanying illustration are what give it context. Removing the words changes the context of the work. I will provide an example:

Visualize Alan Lee's illustrations for the Lord of the Rings. Without the words, what would they be? Would the work be as good? The watercolours are really lovely but what would the context of their creation be with Tolkien's words? In my mind, if I could actually separate Tolkien's words from Alan Lee's visual art when viewing the pictures, the pictures would have no meaning.
I would enjoy reading your explanation of "content" as just stating content is not enough of a statement for me. The impression I get is that you believe abstract art has no content. What about the sculptor Henry Moore? He was an artist that labelled himself an abstractionist? Does his work have no content? Does all abstract art have no "content"? I really am not sure about that kind of sweeping statement.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous / Catherine, it did not escape me that there is something Quixotic about memorizing words about the futility of language.

China was quite extraordinary.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous / Lou Dobbs, no they haven't outsourced me yet. I was in China for my day job.

I figure it will take them at least another six weeks to realize that my blog could be done better and far more efficiently by someone in Shanghai.


David Apatoff said...

Anonymous / anonymous, I agree with you that it is hard to find art that is so abstract that it is totally devoid of content. Art can claim to be "non-representational," but at some level even basic colors or musical notes, with no external point of reference, evoke moods or feelings that qualify as content. I have views on that (as you might expect) but I feel I have been filibustering my poor readers with too many words lately, so I want to give it a rest and circulate some great art before starting into philosophy again.