Thursday, March 04, 2021

THE VIEW FROM BEHIND

     "Oh the things you can find if you don't stay behind!"  

                                            -- Dr. Seuss

When Raymond Sheppard drew animals at the zoo, they'd often turn their faces away.  Most artists would then move for a better view of the face but Sheppard stayed behind.  He found the forms and details from the back to be worthwhile subjects.  

It's an impossible angle to draw-- no eyes, nose or mouth.  No facial expressions, no standard guidelines, formulas or conventions for capturing faces from behind.  What art school teaches how to draw the south end of a northbound horse?



You can't draw pictures like this on automatic pilot; they require pure and honest observation from the very start:



The rear view of a rhinoceros head turns out to be an astonishing landscape of bumps, ridges and knobs.   By "staying behind" Sheppard found a reality more phantasmagorical than anything produced by Dr. Seuss's 's imagination:




The back of a tiny dormouse head was far subtler.  Without conspicuous landmarks and features, its extreme simplicity required the most sensitive line.  

 


Birds were of course among the most uncooperative subjects, but Sheppard still found details worth recording:








Sheppard's honesty when drawing heads from behind is all the more impressive because, when deprived of facial features, many artists have a great temptation to cheat.  

For example, in the following drawing artist Neal Adams cheated by sliding features over from the front of the face to make them visible, and faking details and lines that don't exist:


Worse, there is a tendency by critics, when viewing a faceless portrait, to cheat by imputing all kinds of things to the picture.  New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl bewilderingly wrote that Gerhard Richter's painting of Richter's daughter Betty is "the single most beautiful painting made by anyone in the last half century."
  

Washington Post art critic Sebastian Smee chimed in that “Betty is arguably the most famous painting by the most influential artist alive."  Like a Kuleshov experiment run amok, Smee gives the artist a helping hand by fantasizing all kinds of significance to the painting:
“Betty,” twisting away, evokes for me an impossible yearning: a desire to turn away from the din, the debacle, of political life and to dissolve instead — to bleed, to blur — into an intimate, apolitical present.
This kind of mendacity makes me value Sheppard's brand of honesty even more.  In the following quick sketch of a leopard, Sheppard draws just enough of the spots to show how foreshortening individual spots can reveal the structure of the animal.  They help make sense of the rear view.


What wonderful economy (a necessity when your subject might get up and move at any moment).

With all due respect to Dr. Seuss, there are wonderful things to be found behind the ear of a rhinoceros or in back of the jaw line of a sow.  These sketches are not flat recitations of fact, they are tests of our vision, our imagination, and our appreciation for the world in which we live.






174 comments:

kev ferrara said...

These Sheppard drawings are really great. You found yourself a great cache.

I know it's obvious to say, but Sheppard, Adams, and Dr. Seuss are each wonderful in their own way and should be celebrated for their unique gifts/contributions.

Adams actually did countless great covers, wonderfully drawn, for DC's horror/mystery line where he took 'the back view' - cinematic, over-the-shoulder POVs of kids getting into spooky trouble as they sneaked peeks at some haunted object, personage, event, or ritual. It was his signature idea for bringing the young prospective reader quickly into the spell of his forbidden vantages.

I find it slightly strange that you based this post in opposition to your own radically literalist interpretation of that Seuss quote, which completely changed its original meaning. In advance of similar spurious sorties allow me to remind the gathered that Hop on Pop was not in reference to impaling one's self on cola bottles, Oh, The Places You'll Go was not a travelogue about lavatories, and Horton Hears a Who was not about listening to a deafeningly loud rock band.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I agree with you on all three artists. With Dr. Seuss, I think the current political dispute is ridiculous, and I would've written a post about that but I wanted to get my hands on the "controversial" drawings first, so I could include them in a discussion. That's why the Dr. Seuss quote was fresh in my mind. Plus, I liked the idea of comparing that rhino profile with one of Dr. Seuss's magical skylines.

MORAN said...

The Sheppard drawings are awesome but someone needs to explain Betty to me.

chris bennett said...

Wonderful, wonderful drawings David, nearly every one. Sheppard embodies himself in these animals as much as he allows the animals to embody themselves in him.
Then the Gerhard Richter; the stillborn product of the intellect, and the likes of Peter Schjeldahl to embalm it with bullshit.

kev ferrara said...

Regarding the Gerhard Richter, I was unfamiliar with the work, and assumed you had mistakenly posted a photograph instead.

As for Peter Schjeldahl, so long as the moneyed institutions of the contemporary art world remain intact, there will still be a "high-status" place for hyper-articulate dorks to peddle their odes to scandalous banalities and crate-able tax-write offs.

However, it does seem like the party is winding down. The milieu feels hollowed out, the famous personages gone shuffling and pale, the bedazzling electroplating getting dustier by the day.

chris bennett said...

Yes Kev, I've noticed this too, at first I thought it might be wishful thinking, but it feels like it's beginning to happen. The postmodernist virus began flourishing in the petri dish of the arts where it was easiest to grow and has now spread to other hosts. Hopefully herd immunity will follow from this old start point aided by the vaccine of the unheard...

Tom said...

This article seems to apply to your post David and it may give a clue as to why the Richter painting creates a feeling at least in me of not being connected to anything but photography, in contrast to the "human" quality in Shepard's drawings. (Plus if the head going to be turned away from the viewer it should at least direct us to something to look at.)

"Interestingly, this interaction seems to work best with art that “is not a photocopy,” according to the neurologist. Lemarquis says an “unfinished” aspect of the work—the touch of its creator—helps the observer gain a sense of their own participation. Similarly, science has shown we feel a “distance” from artwork reproduced on a screen, compared to being in its physical presence."

Here's the link to the article
https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-that-heals-science-1945970/amp-page

kev ferrara said...

The postmodernist virus began flourishing in the petri dish of the arts where it was easiest to grow and has now spread to other hosts.

I'm beginning to think postmodernism is a new term for a tactic that's been around forever.

Think about it: Every punk stance is about lowering standards while savaging the reputations of past achievers. The Party Punks say phooey to the old fogeys, I'm your new pied piper; I've got the latest colors, sounds, fashions, patter, and enlightening substances you're looking for. While the Political Punks couch their tactics in terms that ping the pathologically compassionate, the pseuds, and the radicals.

In the former case, the market is pop culture. In the latter case, co-opting that coalition gains one passage through the looking glass of the attention economy, where economic sanctuary and chic may be found. But a market is market.

To put it another way, I find it impossible to distinguish between those who purport to believe in nothing and those who obviously care deeply about money, politics, power, status, and attention.

chris bennett said...

That could well be true Kev. This then would be my take on what you have just said:

The two world wars, by acutely testing confidence in our traditions, opened a breach for the naïve belief that if a system is corrupted it is the fault of the system itself and should be done away with entirely. A wheel breaks, let us get rid of all wheels and walk instead. Thus a pathologically materialist interpretation of reality takes the place of one born of long human experience. And such a reductionist view of human nature will inevitably lead to a relativistic value system structured around the superficial, "money, politics, status and attention".

I'd say an illustration of this in microcosm is Disney. A company that once upon a time made films with lines like 'always let your conscience be your guide' has replaced its core beliefs with an ideology. As a practical consequence of this it now relies on vandalizing heritage as a content to garner revenue - a ship, following a chart to nowhere, unable to find a harbour, feeding its decks into the boiler furnace.

kev ferrara said...

Chris,

This subject can take us off to the races.

I would add the 1960s to your World Wars as the seminal events from which the West has yet to recover. Now we're being pounded by the internet and totalitarian marriages of political ideologies and giant ravenous corporations.

I really like your analogy of the ship feeding its decks into the boiler furnace! That feels like it pertains to so much of what's going on with western culture. The fire in that boiler furnace is the insatiable appetite for clicks, views, social credit, attention, scalps, power, money, and so.

What won't be thrown in there to burn? Waterhouse's Lady of Shallotte almost got cancelled. Shakespeare is constantly on the chopping block. Statues of Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, and Churchill have hit pavement. Journalists and Creatives with lifelong careers have been sent packing for minor disagreements with the cult, often about mere words. Art itself has taken hit upon hit. Elderly people have been punched in the face for the 'crime' of being 'white.'

I heard it said recently that the hothouse of social media algorithm optimization and meme culture has rapidly done all the gain-of-function labwork to produce a rampant social virus, which then escaped out into the wild. True enough, but it's also related to the 'multipolar trap' idea... where, in any competitive market, when one agent develops a cheat that gives them a competitive advantage, soon all adopt it... and then the next cheat comes along, and all adopt it, until the entire labor pool is producing cheat-based hackwork.

'Cancel Culture' is ultimately a shortcut method for attaining status by peacocking as virtuous by publicly destroying what or who has been next show-trialed as profane.

But the status is built on nothing real. There's no steps to the ladder, no summit, no reward to earn. And the news/outrage cycle is insatiable.

All of which results in the inquisitor/executioner role having an addiction dynamic; where a dopamine victory that would normally have material reward in life, brings zero bounty/sustenance. And so the next fiending begins immediately.

Thus finding past incidents of anything resembling racism, sexism, nazism, fascism, and so on has become a kind of national dopaminergic trophy hunt with no upside for society. Addiction being the classic spiral to the bottom; the classic multipolar trap.

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- I think that's as good an explanation as any for how Sheppard found the loving patience to make these drawings.

kev ferrara-- you mean to say that you didn't recognize "the most famous painting by the most influential artist alive?"

chris bennett and kev ferrara-- It may be that the party is winding down or it may be that it has escaped the petri dish and has become a low grade infection across other human endeavors. Personally, I'm guessing that a lot of what we are witnessing is mere exhaustion as politics, civil unrest and a global plague have sucked the air our out of the room. It's more difficult to take frivolous cultural conceits seriously when there is rioting in the streets. You don't have to read The Masque of the Red Death to recognize that 2020 was not the year to convene in orgies of self-congratulatory excess like Art Basel Miami Beach. Those who continue to take such art seriously have mostly had the good judgment to confine their interests to discreet virtual auctions at Sothebys and Christies.

What will happen when the lull is over? Some historians suggest that, just as the 1918 flu pandemic was followed by the roaring '20s, we can expect a rip roaring cultural shakeup when people finally feel released from the cloud we've been living under. Will we see new super-strains of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst selling to even wealthier classes of decadent poseurs? Will culture take a politically strident turn, as the arts and their patrons compete to show who is more sensitive and woke? Will new technologies sweep art off in different directions, such as crypto art?. (Note this this particularly execrable example of crypto art from James Jean which sold this week... kinda makes you yearn for the days of Tracey Emin, doesn't it?) Or, it's possible that when the oxygen returns to the room, people will look around, shake their heads, ask "what were we thinking?" and begin a serious cultural renaissance.

Any bets?

David Apatoff said...

Tom-- Thanks for the interesting article. The new book seems to cover a number of issues that people have long intuited about the role of art, and I would love to see some serious neuroscientific data that proves or disproves some of these themes. Your point about the difference between an original and a photocopy makes perfect sense to me. The broader points in the article-- for example, that "art can “sculpt” and even “caress” our brains. So when we say a work of art moves us, that is physically the case"-- those points seem a little more difficult to verify objectively or use for any therapeutic purpose.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Every punk stance is about lowering standards while savaging the reputations of past achievers. The Party Punks say phooey to the old fogeys, I'm your new pied piper; I've got the latest colors, sounds, fashions, patter, and enlightening substances you're looking for."

Party punks have been saying phooey to the old fogeys ever since art began. That's what moved ancient Greece from doric to ionic to corinthian, and moved Europe from baroque to classical to romantic. You say, "Every punk stance is about lowering standards while savaging the reputations of past achievers," but your apparent presumption about the relative merits of the old and new doesn't relieve us of the responsibility to apply our best fresh thinking to the perpetual cycle of old values being challenged by new. Sometimes past achievers don't look so good in hindsight, and sometimes they just can't keep up with change. Bach and Mozart remain brilliant, but the punk Beethoven came along and broke all the rules at "a new stage in the history of mankind."

One doesn't need to "savage the reputation" of great 19th century painters to decide it's time for art to move on. Iris Murdoch loved the "old fogey" authors but wrote, "I think the psychological novel has had its day... Tolstoy and Checkhov went as far into the minds of our fellow men as it is profitable or seemly to go," so she looked for "a new line of advance"

chris bennett-- correct me if I'm wrong but it seems that the heart of the concern in your comment is with the philosophical content of the art. You don't like a "pathologically materialist interpretation of reality" and you prefer early Disney for its lines like "always let your conscience be your guide." But of course the great Dutch painters blossomed in a pathologically materialist society where wealthy bourgeois patrons-- and their painters-- loved rich fabrics, oriental rugs, beautiful metalwork. And if Jiminey Cricket was singing about the joys of cocaine instead of letting your conscience be your guide, how would that affect your view of those beautiful paintings of Geppetto's workshop, of Pinocchio undersea, of the imaginative pleasure island, of Tenggren's wonderful concept paintings?

kev ferrara said...

Party punks have been saying phooey to the old fogeys ever since art began. That's what moved ancient Greece from doric to ionic to corinthian

?? Those were developmental moves. Successive artisans kept the common thread of basic structure but increased its symbolic and decorative complexity. The opposite of a punk approach.

Bach and Mozart remain brilliant, but the punk Beethoven came along and broke all the rules at "a new stage in the history of mankind."

Again, this is development not vandalism. Beethoven built on what came before and added and added. He didn't dispense with thematic structure or melody or harmony or expression or syncopation or counterpoint or orchestration. He increased the power and range in all these categories. He was a genius.

And, of course, he lived in a day where he couldn't sell by the mouth. Or indoctrinate at a distance through media repetition and public relations. He didn't send flowery words out to invade the minds of his prospective audience in advance of a fair hearing. He didn't politic for an abandonment of judgment and taste so he could be lazy and sloppy and simply create to get attention and agitate the senses without providing a reward for listening.

your apparent presumption about the relative merits of the old and new doesn't relieve us of the responsibility to apply our best fresh thinking to the perpetual cycle of old values being challenged by new.

Fresh thinking is still thinking. Punks don't think, at least not well, nor do they 'challenge' the old. They simply vandalize, disparage, mock - invoking the heckler's veto - to make way for themselves.

A true innovator demonstrates the error of prior habits, conventions, or standards; as restrictions of negative benefit. This requires deep knowledge, and the work itself to argue the points. A punk just declares the prior standards moribund, or the prior forms deceased, and prior makers corrupt. Vandals cause regression while talking progress; claim corruption while embodying corruption.

Both Innovator and Punk require courage, but only the former is honorable; only the former actually appreciates the history of the artform's aesthetics and values and craft. And so only they can build on the deeper ideas or morph them with integrity.

Tom said...

David wrote

"Any bets?"

David, doesn't it if feel like things are breaking up or unwinding into different strands rather then coming together under one big central narrative?

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I question your distinction between "development" and "vandalism." You seem to be saying that if the change turns out to be good it's development and if it turns out to be bad, it's vandalism. But over the centuries, too many generations have equated "bad" with unfamiliar, and labeled creative destruction "vandalism." Surely we can't navigate this distinction just by looking for "a common thread of basic structure" or "building on what came before and added and added."

So many major dislocations were brought about by technical change alone:

Art was transformed by the invention of etching during Durer's lifetime; It enabled Durer and soon Rembrandt to sell multiple copies, to spread and publicize their work to a much wider audience, and to sell pictures to a new demographic with different taste. Sounds similar to how digital images distributed over the internet changed art today, doesn't it?

The invention of paint tubes 200 years ago transformed the logistics of painting and particularly the use of color. As Renoir said, “Without colors in tubes, there would be no Cézanne, no Monet, no Pissarro, and no Impressionism.”

Music was transformed by the invention of the piano just in time for Beethoven, but too late for Mozart who composed more for the harpsichord. The piano revolutionized the versatility and expressive possibilities of the compositions, ushering in the romantic period that wouldn't have been possible on a harpsichord.

There are dozens of these examples where growth or change wasn't brought about by rethinking artistic traditions but imposed externally by technological innovations. There are many others where economic reversals disrupted continuity in art.

You don't need disrespectful punks to declare that wood engraving is "moribund" after the development of color printing, or that the values of 20th century magazine illustration will start to wither on the vine after pictures start moving and talking. As another example, artists used to have a lucrative monopoly on supplying dirty pictures; you'd have to turn to Courbet if you wanted something like "The Origin of the World." But then photography and pornography turned that whole dang market moribund.

Putting aside those dislocations imposed externally by technical innovations or by changes of religion or empire, "creative destruction" of past taste due to impatience with the old guard has been at the heart of a lot of artistic change over the past 250 years. If changes brought about by "punks" such as Manet or van Gogh were truly successive additions, would audiences have been so confused / outraged / dismissive? In music, insolence toward the old structures was a key part of rock n' roll or jazz. And who welcomed Stravinsky's Firebird as an "addition" to existing musical structures?

Tom-- Yes, I'd agree with you we are living in times of disintegration, although disintegration of old power structures isn't always unhealthy, and there's probably no era for which a "best of all times / worst of all times" argument couldn't be made.

kev ferrara said...

You seem to be saying that if the change turns out to be good it's development and if it turns out to be bad, it's vandalism.

Funny, I thought I was making a particular and clear distinction that would avoid that very charge.

I'll try again.

Innovations and progressive developments build on what exists and are careful about what they dispense with because the people involved are actually interested in real progress, rather than rank self-aggrandizement and the savaging of rivals and past paragons in order to remove physical and philosophical opposition to their rise.

Whereas those intentions, conscious or not, are exactly why punk vandals want to rip up tradition and all its values. The past, its standards and heroes, get in the way of an easy ascension. If the net is down, returning serve couldn't be easier. When the punk vandal uses terms like 'progress' it is merely salesmanship aka conning. Like the invaders from Mars Attacks cleverly repeating the phrase "We come in peace!" as they march on civilization with disintegrator rays.

Over the centuries, too many generations have equated "bad" with unfamiliar, and labeled creative destruction "vandalism."

Human are both highly reactive and highly adaptive. They'll get disturbed and outraged at almost anything new and adopt almost anything after a while depending on who mediates their lives. Then today's blithe early adopter and free spirit becomes tomorrow's authoritarian reactionaries. And the cycle spins on.

To properly assess any latest thing we need to think deeper than the average Joe's reflexive adoption or rejection. We need to reflect and try to model forward consequences. For the last twenty years some of best and brightest minds have been working on addicting human beings to useless, divisive, misery-inducing, and now destructive online pursuits. Not everything new is progress.

I can't imagine why you would think that I would think that the invention of paint tubes and the piano were acts of vandalism. I've often argued here that technology is a key driver of just about everything, including culture, philosophy and politics. And I don't believe any technology is vandalistic per se. Although it certainly can be used for that purpose. That proverbial knife always has a three uses.

Artistic Composition itself - poetics/aesthetics - was a technology that took two thousand years to develop. A beautiful beautiful technology. Those that disparaged it without having aptitude and access to study it, those who furthermore disallowed it to be taught - and there were many who took this seductive and reductive authoritarian path - they were truly vandals. Like the barbarians who burned the Alexandria Library to the ground on three separate occasions.

disintegration of old power structures isn't always unhealthy,

First do no harm. Chesterton's Fence is often the lid on Pandora's Box.

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

...it seems that the heart of the concern in your comment is with the philosophical content of the art.

Yes, perhaps, but it depends on what you mean by the term 'philosophical content'. The map of the terrain is not the same thing as the terrain itself, and likewise, any theory of what drives human behaviour will always be a bowdlerization of what it attempts to predict. This is not to deny that simplification is necessary as a tool to coerce the dynamics of a complex system within an understood and accepted set of prescribed parameters - developments in the principles of thermodynamics have made jet engines more efficient, yet are pretty hopeless when, for example, applied to weather patterns. So the problem arises when a theoretical model is assumed to be a comprehensive account of phenomena. There is currently such a belief system that insists hierarchies are constructed only by power struggles. That this is a gross and dangerous misunderstanding is evidenced by the effect on society when it is forged into an ideology and applied to its institutions and individual beliefs (and used, BTW, as a tactic of flat out war on merit and intrinsic values).

What I mean by 'philosophical content' is truths about the human condition abstracted from observations of its behaviour over millennia, manifested as embodied wisdoms in the great traditions of the world. Not, for example, some teenager with pink hair poking me in the chest with dogmas parroted from internet memes derived third hand from a bunch of French intellectuals.

You don't like a "pathologically materialist interpretation of reality" and you prefer early Disney for its lines like "always let your conscience be your guide." But of course the great Dutch painters blossomed in a pathologically materialist society where wealthy bourgeois patrons...

I put the adjective 'pathological' in front of 'materialism' for this reason. Material is only part of what we are, but if it is believed to be all, or 'only', what we are then I would call this a pathological view of material. The Dutch society of the 17th century was not pathological in its understanding of the role of the material in their lives because they did not believe it accounted for everything. So although oftentimes their acquisition of art reflected the desire to show off status and wealth, this behaviour was within an existential framework that believed in intrinsic value, merit and morality. It is the reason their art flourished. It's the reason it gave us Vermeer, Rembrandt, Frans Hals and that little goldfinch tethered to a perch by a thread.

And if Jiminey Cricket was singing about the joys of cocaine instead of letting your conscience be your guide, how would that affect your view of those beautiful paintings of Geppetto's workshop, of Pinocchio undersea, of the imaginative pleasure island, of Tenggren's wonderful concept paintings?

It would not affect my view in the slightest. Because with an authentic work of art content and its embodiment are one and the same.

chris bennett said...

Just to expand a little on my reply to David's last point quoted above:

The assessments by the two journalists of the Gerhard Richter did not cause me to disbelieve what my eyes were telling me about the actual work itself. No more than the nonsense spouted by those in the Manchester Museum of Art to justify taking Waterhouse's 'Hylas and the Nymphs' from public display changed my view of that painting.

With regard to Pinocchio, the philosophy of the cricket's song is expressed in the story as a whole, and not something placed among its events to give them a spin in line with an ideological agenda. That's what making 007 a black woman is all about. If the dehumanising effect of racism is the subject then produce a film like 'In The Heat Of The Night'.

Another example of what I mean, but keeping things Disney; When 'Sleepy Beauty' is distorted to meet the requirements of the new ideology you get 'Frozen', and a story form that embodies a truth about the human condition is stripped of its heart and replaced by barren, sterile propaganda.

Heavy-handed instances I know, but hopefully you get my point.

kev ferrara said...

No more than the nonsense spouted by those in the Manchester Museum of Art to justify taking Waterhouse's 'Hylas and the Nymphs' from public display changed my view of that painting.

The psychological research on those who seek to forcefully control thought/speech/art because they are 'outraged' according to their ideology shows that the they lack ability in reading and listening comprehension. (Whether this is what led them to the ideology or whether it was caused by ideological indoctrination is unknown.)

The result of the combination of being 'outraged' and poor at apprehension/comprehension leads maoists to have anxiety issues and to act thuggishly to implement their will to 'correct' the world. And because the issue is beyond the reach of reason and conscience, they'll use any tactic to get their way; historical distortion, lying, elisions of key facts, emotional manipulation, demonization, vandalism, aggression and intimidation, struggle sessions, and so on. (That all this correlates so strongly with malignant narcissism is not surprising.)

The end result is that the nice people usually obey the maoists. The nice people are easily manipulated, don't care for strife, and don't recognize the dangers of giving in to thugs and the mad ideologies that fit their emotional needs. Meanwhile those who aren't intimidated, who can think for themselves and are able to read and resist the madness are outed before they are organized.

All to say, the signals maoists send out are not about convincing substantial minds. They are about standing down the far more numerous nice people. Leaving the resisters standing alone, with a target on their backs.

chris bennett said...

Indeed Kev, and well said.
But one warrior is worth ten thousand cowards. Again, Disney: Gina Corano would not back down, and her example reminded many of how courage is part of the harvest of living by what is true. A hero encourages; the archetype set against our fear of the oncoming mob.

kev ferrara said...

Art was transformed by the invention of etching during Durer's lifetime; It enabled Durer and soon Rembrandt to sell multiple copies, to spread and publicize their work to a much wider audience, and to sell pictures to a new demographic with different taste. Sounds similar to how digital images distributed over the internet changed art today, doesn't it?

Superficially similar. Essentially different.

The word 'virtual' means fake, an illusion. Says Goethe, a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished. A culture is a home. It cannot consist of vapor.

When one searches for community or home or culture, and only virtual versions of these are found, again we have the situation of positive initial sensation without the sustenance that would evolutionarily justify that sensation in real life.

Wes said...

"The Dutch society of the 17th century was not pathological in its understanding of the role of the material in their lives because they did not believe it accounted for everything."

Tulips?

Chris James said...

This is top shelf drawing. That's all I got.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- The problem I had with your distinction between artistic "development" which builds on precedents and artistic "vandalism" which tears down Chesterton's fence is that the outcome of your test seems so dependent on the assumptions/prejudices of the person administering the test.

For example, I recently posted a story from Harvey Dinnerstein about how in 1928 Vassar threw away the plaster casts used for art instruction, in the belief that they were no longer relevant to art instruction. One side believes this is an act of ignorance, tearing down the fence without understanding why it was built. The other side insists, "We understand perfectly why it was built, and we have long lists of historical reasons why that kind of instruction is obsolete, including the invention of photography, the inherent dishonesty of the illusions of realism as revealed by WW I, and the stale lifelessness of French classicism and the academy as a result of generation after generation working with such plaster casts. Once you've reached an impasse over history, how do you resolve it? Certainly not by saying, "punk vandals want to rip up tradition and all its values." There is no limit to the insults that can be lobbed by both sides.

We see a similar impasse over the "reasons for the fence" almost everywhere there is a tug of war between conservatives and progressives. You might think that patient fact finding by an objective third party might resolve such disputes, but it doesn't seem to work that way. For example, in the US we're seeing a big debate over restrictions on voting rights. Conservatives say, "You're ignoring the historical reasons for the restrictions-- if you take down the fence, you'll permit voter fraud." Progressives say, "We know damn well the reasons for the restrictions-- they disenfranchise specific groups that you'd prefer not to vote and gerrymander districts so a minority wields disproportionate control over the majority." Once the debate reaches that impasse, it's impossible to claim that one side respects and builds on history and the other side doesn't. These disputed histories are litigated and facts are presented to judges following the rules of evidence. But even after judges rule for one side or the other, the disputes remain unresolved; people just continue to believe whatever they want. So much for being "on the side of history."

You also write, "I can't imagine why you would think that I would think that the invention of paint tubes and the piano were acts of vandalism... I don't believe any technology is vandalistic per se."

My point was that technological innovations often come out of left field and disrupt formerly peaceful fields that had been developing according to your model. So for example, painters may have been patiently building on historical techniques for grinding pigments and creating mediums, continuing oil paint traditions started in the Renaissance, when all of a sudden unrelated industrial developments with tin open up the rainbow and change all the rules for portability and accessibilty of paint. You now have impressionists doing plein air painting that was once physically impossible. Are these the godless vandals you're criticizing? Does that count as continuity, or a disruption of history?

Tom said...

David many artist where painting outside before the "paint tube." Maybe someone invented the paint tube because they were aware that more artist where interested in painting the appearance of nature. Pervious generations painted for architecture and probably thought the whole idea of painting from nature was not the reason for painting. I think Tiepolo only did two outdoor wash sketches in his entire life. The invention of the art tube might reflect more a change in artistic outlook then some arbitrary technological invention. The invention might be more like Adam Smith's invisible hand, that is, some one sensing a new need and then creating the thing that will fulfill that need.


David wrote
""We understand perfectly why it was built, and we have long lists of historical reasons why that kind of instruction is obsolete, including the invention of photography, the inherent dishonesty of the illusions of realism as revealed by WW I, and the stale lifelessness of French classicism and the academy as a result of generation after generation working with such plaster casts. Once you've reached an impasse over history, how do you resolve it?

What can one say about such statements. Everyone needs their opposition so they can define themselves. Modernism seems like any other illusion and it's honesty hasn't ended any wars and it certainly hasn't made the world any more beautiful. Most people would rather spend some time in Paris or Provence where generation after generation has lived then in Tyson Corner Virginia.

It's the violence of the renunciation that so grotesque. Why throw away the plaster casts, put them away in the closet. Maybe some one will become interested in them again in a few years. What is the invocation Zen monks chant before their meal, "..this food comes from many workers, both past and present..."



Anonymous said...


"Or, it's possible that when the oxygen returns to the room, people will look around, shake their heads, ask "what were we thinking?" and begin a serious cultural renaissance."
Here's hopin'....



On Beethoven's advances, here's an interesting essay on the subject:

http://www.studiesincomparativereligion.com/Public/articles/Spiritual_Currents_in_Music-by_Joscelyn_Godwin.aspx

chris bennett said...

Constable's outdoor painting box contained syringes filled with paint.
But this is only by way of general interest. I believe Kev's point holds in principle.

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kev ferrara said...

The other side insists, "We understand perfectly why it was built, and we have long lists of historical reasons why that kind of instruction is obsolete, including the invention of photography, the inherent dishonesty of the illusions of realism as revealed by WW I, and the stale lifelessness of French classicism and the academy as a result of generation after generation working with such plaster casts.” Once you've reached an impasse over history, how do you resolve it?

Umm... Aren't photographs also illusions of realism?

Is your supposed ‘impasse over history’ a valid proxy for an actual impasse over Art? I don’t think so.

In terms of art, you’ve merely re-aired a series of tendentious opinions, rationales, and slanders fronting as unassailable assertions of fact. All based on a limited, distorted, reflexively critical, and radically negative view of the art of the era and its teaching.

Is it really your position that because a visual recording machine is invented, that means visual poetry is over? You think it was a poetry machine that was invented? You think because war looks spectacular, all realistic painting lies? I mean, what kind of arguments are these? Who would believe them? I would invite you to prove any of them without resorting to selective referencing of inferior works (strawmen) and appeals to ‘authority’ or politics.

Even if I were to grant validity to your suite of claims I would still need to grant further that a bunch of opinions and assertions have the same validity and worth as hundreds of years of stellar and progressively evolving results - the greatest works of art in history, glorious works of culture that ennoble, inspire, and provide solace to millions - and a correspondingly deep and coherent aesthetics of visual poetics. And I obviously don’t grant that equivalence.

Even without arguing technically, it would be inarguable that the reason anybody cared about art at the point these rad-chic bohemian slogans you have disinterred were developed is because of what Art had done and been up to that point. And to devalue, disparage, and dismiss the what and why of all that greatness because of a few mere opinions is a wretched arrogance; the vandalism of punks is the right phrase for it.

Richard said...

> You think it was a poetry machine that was invented?

Art wasn’t a poetry engine either, at least not as far as general audiences were concerned.

Nude sculptures are exciting because they’re nude and have pleasing hip to waist ratios, not because of their artistic values.

Paintings of wealthy or comfortable subjects were exciting for the same reason the Kardashians and travel shows are today.

If audiences were busily consuming the poetic content of art, they would have reacted more viscerally to its disappearance, but they didn’t because they weren’t.

When VR becomes the standard, photographers will complain that VR has robbed audiences of 2D photographic composition, but the audiences will just be happy to get to see high definition boobs glistening on an Italian beach that they can reach out and touch.

kev ferrara said...

Art wasn’t a poetry engine either, at least not as far as general audiences were concerned.

Art isn't automatically poetic, true. Don't think I claimed that, though.

You might not be well acquainted with the era in question. It was an era where there was a culture of crafting and appreciation for the arts, and self-entertainment was a necessity. Millions tried their hand at poetry, just as they tried to paint and draw and sing and play an instrument. Almost everybody with schooling had some training in aesthetics and basic craftsmanship. Children were taught about dark and light values in art class. Poetry and poetic appreciation was everywhere. Yeats, Tennyson, Dickinson, Whitman, Shakespeare, Poe, Milton, Shelley, and so on... were all in common cultural circulation. Art prints and engravings were everywhere, museum going was a common past time. And so on. If you look at the artists who rose to the top during the era, every one was a poet. Maybe the public couldn't pinpoint just why they were being effected so by any particular work - most of the aesthetic technology was not public knowledge - but they were elevating poets nonetheless. An interesting anecdote for perspective on the era; When a German minister commented that the "Science of Art" had advanced more in Germany at the turn of the century than in any other country, it was internationally reported.

Nude sculptures are exciting because they’re nude and have pleasing hip to waist ratios, not because of their artistic values.

Then why aren't all nude sculptures equally famous?

Paintings of wealthy or comfortable subjects were exciting for the same reason the Kardashians and travel shows are today.

Then why are people still looking at Sargent, Zorn, Boldini, Fechin, et al and not the thousands of other serviceable portraitists?

If audiences were busily consuming the poetic content of art, they would have reacted more viscerally to its disappearance, but they didn’t because they weren’t.

First, good poetry disguises itself. That's in fact how it gets much of its power. So people don't 'consume' the poetic content of the art, they consume the art, and the poetic content acts subliminally on their psyche. The mystery of that is part of the fascination that people have always had with art.

Second, people did and do complain. But forces are at work to transcend resistance. Technology evolves. And advertising gets involved, and the 'next new thing' is hyped to the rafters. Kids buy in. The old values and virtues are slandered to pander to the kids and the thrill seekers. And people who sell technology try to make it as easy as possible to access, and seemingly full of wonderful content. They put the movie theater down the street. The juke box in the diner. They put the radio in your car. They put the phonograph, TV, cable, and the internet in your house, the smartphone in your pocket.

Life gets more hectic, more stressful; people getting and spending, laying waste their powers. Everything is vying for your attention. And evolving to maximize sensation to get that attention. Because attention is the first step to sales, the first letter in the famous acronym AIDA. Algorithms adapt and maximize to your habits and offer you more.

Turns out fear is cheaper than fiction, let's go that way. Politics feeds on hate, more of that. And the constant barrage of sensation without sustenance causes exhaustion. Instead of recreation (refreshment, relaxation, restoration) the culture is just more physical stress designed to addict; sugar and dope and porn. And people can't stop and nobody selling addiction is going to stop. That's the spiral to the bottom, the multipolar trap that leads away from art and toward mass anxiety, politicization, and attention deficit disorders.

To put it more simply; Limbic Hijacking cannot coexist with Poetry.

Richard said...

It was an era where there was a culture of crafting and appreciation for the arts, and self-entertainment was a necessity.

Appreciation for the arts was popular, but that doesn’t mean that they were appreciated primarily for aesthetic reasons.

Yes, reading and writing poetry was commonplace, but I’d wager it had a lot more to do with Limbic Hijacking than you’ve suggested, and orders of magnitude less to do with a focused appreciation on the aesthetic artistry.

Was Lord Byron a lyrical genius? Absolutely.

Is that the real reason women were pouring over his lurid verses, or did they like that Byron’s lyrical genius gave them an excuse to spend hours titillated by Don Juan’s sexual escapades under the hot Spanish sun without castigation by the Lady’s society?

Was it irrelevant that the great paintings and sculptures of the 19th century were of nude bodies, beautiful vistas, and displays of wealth, or was that the real purpose?

Then why aren't all nude sculptures equally famous?

Because some people are better at making pornography than others. For the same reason that Kim Kardashian’s butt balancing a champagne glass is dramatically more famous than any old nude on redtube.

If the aesthetics was the primary driver, not the pornography, then we should expect the most famous sculptures to be something entirely random and neutral -- a shoe, a cardboard box, a dog.

Instead, in both painting and sculpture, the greatest works all happen to be those pictures that are of subjects that are limbically hot.

Then why are people still looking at Sargent, Zorn, Boldini, Fechin, et al and not the thousands of other serviceable portraitists?

The only Sargents anyone looks at are of beautiful rich women. The only Boldinis anyone looks at are of beautiful rich women. The only Zorn paintings anyone looks at are of beautiful rich women.

I don’t think general audiences look at Fechin at all, that seems to be relegated entirely to artists, amateur artists, collectors and art historians.

On Politics, and the world going to hell (apparently):
Politics has always fed on hate. It’s no more hateful today than it’s ever been before – try being a communist, black nationalist or fascist in 1950s America. Try being a monarchist in 1780s America. At least today you’ll survive the walk from one side of the street to the other no matter what political philosophy you belong to.

Richard said...

** And if the sides without real institutional power stop being able to cross the street without getting murdered, that will not be some newly grotesque situation, but merely a return to the historical norm.

The people outside the regime have always been getting their heads smashed, their bodies drawn and quartered, their books burned, their voices cancelled, their property robbed.

It stinks being on the outside. But the nascent progressive leviathan is much more historically commonplace than conservative pundits pretend.

kev ferrara said...

I seem to have missed a memo or two.

Didn't realize most of the popular art from 1800 to, say, 1930 were nudes, and nudes are just pornography. Same goes for the billions of art prints that were sold, all 'hot' limbically, especially all those naughty and violent landscapes. Same with the history of illustration; all porn, violence, and horror.

I also didn't realize that Sargent, Zorn, and Boldini's only appeal is that people simply must see rich women; which means art appreciators are just the same dumb gawkers who watch reality television but with fancier vocabularies. (Must've been some survey I missed that sussed that fact out.) Now that I think of it, the people I've seen crowding in front of Sargent's male portraits were surely figments of my imagination.

I was also, apparently, mistaken in my belief that Fechin became a millionaire in two different eras from the popularity of his portraiture. I was equally duped into the idea that recent sales of his paintings have reached eight figures.

Can you imagine somebody being that clueless and misinformed?

Richard said...

> Didn't realize most of the popular art from 1800 to, say, 1930 were nudes, and nudes are just pornography. Same goes for the billions of art prints that were sold, all 'hot' limbically, especially all those naughty and violent landscapes

No, not all nudes, but mostly pornographically interesting. Yes, this includes landscapes.

A landscape of a deserted Greek cove with sailboats brings most people a feeling of monied leisure. Monied leisure is at least limbically warm. It’s got the unmistakable nose of Mediterranean mistresses, power, wine, and so on — Durrels in Corfu, et al.

Sometimes it’s a more mystic northern atmosphere or a English rural scene, in which case it’s still offering vicarious safety and simplicity — still creature comforts, like religion. Not unlike a flip through the Thanksgiving issue of Better Homes and Gardens.

I think you’d be hard pressed to find many major images from the 19th century that isn’t directly appealing at an animal level.

Am I surprised an artist would mistake interest in pictures of appealing things for interest in artistry? Not at all. Who would be more likely to jump to such a conclusion than an artist themselves.

Rappers also believe people listen to rhymes for their lyrical flow, when any honest person on the outside knows that people just love thinking about big butts and money. They just don’t have a whole cottage industry built around academically aggrandizing their products as a spiritual pursuit yet.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kev ferrara said...

Richard,

I assume you are harkening back to past discussions on this board around Kant's disinterestedness/contemplative criteria for art and Joseph Campbell's definition of pornography as something that is acting as a substitute for some profound life need. Both of these can be seen as discussing the problem of literalness. Which is, in fact, in contradistinction to figurativeness, a.k.a. poetry, suggestiveness, expression and so on.

The difference between the experience of a literal work and a figurative work should be vast. Although, we must note that with some subset of viewers a certain stern left-brain frame of mind takes the reins of the art experience and only what is similar in the two and concretely descriptive seems to make it to the conscious mind. There's not much to say about these viewers, except that they can't really be part of the aesthetic conversation.

Anyway, your whole 'thesis' is easily defeated simply by pointing to the fact that the same 'subject matter' (in the literalist sense you are emphasizing) is found in trash paintings that nobody cares about, and in genius paintings that have made a place in a million hearts.

When you analyze why this is so, you realize that in literal work, subject matter is everything. And in figurative work subject matter is a chimera.

To be more specific, we must get to the question of 'imaginative closure.' This is the mental reflex whereby an incomplete set of abstract suggestions that refer to a single element or idea are instantly merged into a complete thing in some deep place in the mind. This figurative mode of apprehension is the foundation of aesthetic experience.

In a literalist rendering, such suggestion is absent. So our instinct for imaginative closure goes unengaged. When we see an object literally represented, we look at the canvas and say "ah, there is that thing."

But with a figurative rendering, we are seeing suites of suggestions which can only be finished in the mind. So in seeing 'an object' we are actually looking into our own imaginations at the object, not at the canvas.

If the scales could drop from our eyes, what we actually see in figurative work, this curious collection of barely related suggestions, is quite strange. So strange in fact that some deep part of us knows instantly that the work is obviously filled with distortions of reality. This sensation of poetic strangeness is an admission up front that what is depicted is not so, a fiction. And so the imaginative reality that forms in the mind is free to be contemplated outside of 'interestedness' in the sense that Kant meant it.

Richard said...

Yes, agreed on your formulation.

Where we may disagree, is that I think this synthesis of suggestion is still sought out for fundamentally base ends by general audiences, today or in Ancient Greece.

A good artwork, by becoming whole in our minds eye, rather than being merely literal, is paradoxically more real than the real. This makes it significantly *more* capable of engaging our baser instincts with a believable simulacrum of experience. Journalistic painting breaks the fourth wall, poetry envelopes us.

Does that poetry take artistic mastery? Yes.

But is that poetry the general audience’s primary goal?

Or is their goal first and foremost base, a desire to taste pleasures past or unknown to them, while the poetic skill of the artist merely amplifies that pleasure?

I think the answer is undoubtedly the second. Absent the poetry, 19th century audiences would still have sought out pictures of pleasing vistas, magnificent bodies, wealth, Jesus.

80,000 years before the Greeks poetically perfected it, a weak old caveman huddled over a small rudimentary sculpture of a vagina that let him remember the pleasure of having a woman for himself.

kev ferrara said...

Richard,

There is a long history and tradition of idealism and poetry in the arts. In my research, which aligns with my experience, that is the dominant viewpoint and always has been. As I've said before, of course one can never get entirely away from associations with life when looking at 'realistic' narrative work. But thinking it is, at bottom all base is obviously wrong. Simply by reading how artists teach each other should disabuse you of that cynical theory.

The nature of figurative language is important here.

Figurative expression is built of abstractions. And these abstractions are culled from personal experience in personal ways. So they inherently contain a subjectivity. Which is another way of saying they contain commentary; levels of commentary actually in the event. We all have our viewpoints, and the more interesting we are as artistic thinkers and experiential beings, the more creative, unexpected, distant, yet possible, even inevitable in retrospect, the connections we can make. Figurative language in general is filled with strange transpositions that alienate the work from real life, again admitting to fiction-hood. Good poetry never uses a thing for what it actually is. Because the nature of poetry is to "render feeling but transmit understanding."

As abstraction builds on abstraction, the entire picture takes on one person's unique sensibility; one person's ideals, commentary, handwriting, personality, thoughts, memories, force, and so on. All that meaning becomes fused with the portrayal.

Abstraction is the opposite of 'hot' in the 'interested' way Kant understood. Furthermore, meaning and commentary are also not 'hot'. Nobody sane truly believes a fiction built of abstractions filled with commentary is real life. Thus the limbic system does not activate much, if at all.

Although the more naive the audience member, the more likely they are to not realize the difference between real experience and aesthetic experience; to not disentagle the wonderment of art and the plainness of reality. But we can't put guardrails around all of experience just to shield a deficient minority from their own errors of ignorance, inexperience, and misconception.

Problems of the type you assert more consistently arise in arts based on cameras because of the inherent literalism of that machine. I think it is undeniable that movies, serial television, and news shows hire the most bewitchingly fertile-looking people imaginable simply to appeal to base instinct. And with that artistic cheat, imo, so began the culture's downward spiral into pornography.



Laurence John said...

Kev: "To be more specific, we must get to the question of 'imaginative closure.' This is the mental reflex whereby an incomplete set of abstract suggestions that refer to a single element or idea are instantly merged into a complete thing in some deep place in the mind"

Why is that surprising though ? The 'incomplete set of abstractions' in a painting aren't arbitrary. They were painted to resemble real world things, so of course the brain will see the illusion.

Kev: "But with a figurative rendering, we are seeing suites of suggestions which can only be finished in the mind. So in seeing 'an object' we are actually looking into our own imaginations at the object, not at the canvas."

Why does this strike you as a note worthy phenomena rather than being simply the way that the brain interprets marks on a surface as looking like the image they were intended to look like ?

Everything we look at that appears to be 'out there' in the real world is actually an image assembled in our own brain / imagination.

Kev: "of course one can never get entirely away from associations with life when looking at 'realistic' narrative work"

What a bizarre statement. Why would you even WANT to 'get away from associations with life' when you're painting a picture of a cowboy descending a mountainside on a horse and want to imbue it with a believable sense of realistic physicality (for example) ?

Richard said...

> Simply by reading how artists teach each other should disabuse you of that cynical theory.

By base, I’m not making a moral judgement, nor being pessimistic. I see nothing more fitting than an animal to be concerned with animal things, and humans are animals. This is fitting and beautiful.

I like the pornographic, and I no more fault a woman today listening to rap because it gives her a WAP than I fault a Victorian woman for reading Byron to get a WAP. It’s good to have a WAP, our society would be better off if there were more WAPs.

We’ve become very weak as a species, and I think it has largely to do with the aesthetic thesis itself.

It drives artists and writers to fiddle with poetic exercises, rather than give us art which is pornographic, sexy, and strong, and violent, and “immoral”, and animalistically alive.

Give me Odysseus joyfully getting home to murder a hundred men who are trying to fuck his wife and kill his son, after spending 20 years banging a nymph and blinding cyclopses. Lymbically hot art would be a fresh respite after the last few hundred years of Puritan mind numbing aesthetics.

And audiences, I believe, agree. The Internet has democratized culture, and culture wants to shake off both the modernists and the traditionalist aestheticians, who are both sophists. We’re getting back to our pre-Renaissance blood, sex, and villainy, and it is good, we’re entering a period of cultural flowing after 600 years of dark ages.

kev ferrara said...

The 'incomplete set of abstractions' in a painting aren't arbitrary. They were painted to resemble real world things, so of course the brain will see the illusion.

I took care to distinguish between purely iconic mimesis (photos, literalism), and suggestive/poetic mimesis (which is only superficially iconic and more importantly haptic/ metaphoric.) To be artful is to be, in the main, suggestive. Suggestions don’t mimic reality, they evoke it.

Why does (looking into our own imaginations at the object, not at the canvas)
strike you as a note worthy phenomena?


Because most people do not appreciate the fact, and it was relevant to the discussion.

Everything we look at that appears to be 'out there' in the real world is actually an image assembled in our own brain / imagination.

Yes, but there is a distinction between how our brain puts together reality and how our brain puts together suggestive art. And that has to do with how abstractions purify and hollow out objects, force-ideas, and concepts and referents of any kind in the act of poesis. Which then allows them to be used subliminally and metaphorically or any version of the wide variety of tropes available. Reality is not hollowed out, although our senses do auto-abstract. But they abstract very finely, equivalent to continuously. Whereas with poetic abstraction you get intervals. Which is just why music is poetic. (In music, the intervals are pre-chosen and instrumentalized. In art, its all personal choice. Unless you’re following a Reilly type method.)

Why would you even WANT to 'get away from associations with life' when you're painting a picture of a cowboy descending a mountainside on a horse and want to imbue it with a believable sense of realistic physicality (for example).

I wrote that because as I am answering Richard, I am also addressing Modernist claims of ‘superior purity’ - criticisms which David raised earlier. (Might be a nice time to point out that, for example, Red Square on White Canvas by Malevich is actually literalist, not abstract. It doesn’t actually evoke anything. It simply states geometric forms.)

Also, my quote was in the context of discussing the difference between statement and suggestion. Not in dispensing with referents altogether. Again, to state something literally asks the audience to read the icon as a symbol, as a kind of word. The meaning then comes from recall. With suggestion, along with the act of imaginative closure the audience is flooded with force-meanings that contain the actually relevant and true information about the superposed referent. A thing is what it does, not what it looks like. Thus the idea of painting with verbs (forces actually) rather than nouns (mimetic descriptors).

kev ferrara said...

It drives artists and writers to fiddle with poetic exercises, rather than give us art which is pornographic, sexy, and strong, and violent, and “immoral”, and animalistically alive.

Give me Odysseus joyfully getting home to murder a hundred men who are trying to fuck his wife and kill his son, after spending 20 years banging a nymph and blinding cyclopses. Lymbically hot art would be a fresh respite after the last few hundred years of Puritan mind numbing aesthetics.

And audiences, I believe, agree. The Internet has democratized culture, and culture wants to shake off both the modernists and the traditionalist aestheticians, who are both sophists. We’re getting back to our pre-Renaissance blood, sex, and villainy, and it is good, we’re entering a period of cultural flowing after 600 years of dark ages.


Richard,

I'm all for good villainy. But if you want pornography, you already have enough for a lifetime. And if you think that garbage is going make for a more robust and 'manly' society, you've already had that thesis trashed by reality. The whole problem with 'insterestedness' is that it makes you chase a lie into exhaustion.

If you want MMA, videos of street fights, explosions, bodily/property damage, snuff films, and gore galore... I'm sure you can find it and knock yourself out.

Why art need get involved, I have no idea. Hot presentations requires little imagination, no abstraction, and no imaginative closure. The only audience participation is in the specific confusion of the image with reality, and one's body and senses acting accordingly. Sensation for its own sake; the mantra of the 1960s sensualists. Next step booze, drugs, staring into the abyss of addiction, and then oblivion.

All to say, I think you are mistaking spectacle and decadence - mob entertainment - for Art. But if you've got something else in mind, link to some great art work that fits your prescription so I can better understand you.

Richard said...

> Why art need get involved, I have no idea.

Because poetry can distill, extend, etc.

We have plenty of pornography, but none of it is particularly hot.

Take Laocoon wrestling snakes, or even Frazetta. Instinctually hot, but it’s a refined fire. More sweat, more muscles, more aggression, more testosterone, more estrogen, more fear, more perfect proportions.

There’s not a single porn flick on the Internet with half the pornographic execution of Frazetta. He just pulled his punches a little too much because he’s been abused by our de-sexed, pacifist civilization.

> And if you think that garbage is going make for a more robust and 'manly' society, you've already had that thesis trashed by reality.

Our society is “hyper sexual” in the same way it’s “hyper political”. It’s all puffery with nothing underneath. No one willing to kill for their beliefs. Millions of wives going totally without a good f#ck.

I think you’re confusing cause and effect;
Society became less politically charged, and so people feel much safer wearing politics like a badge and cancelling people. If someone is willing to kill for their beliefs, you’re going to be a lot more circumspect about trying to get them fired over those beliefs.

Society became less sexually charged, and so people aren’t worried about sex. When a larger man could come along and bludgeon you for your wife, sex isn’t light fare. When society has become totally desexed, everyone feels safe larping as sex monsters. Our Internet porn today is what you get in a desexed society, it is limbically not that hot. It’s more medical than anything.

Even our violence is not terribly violent. You watch the videos of these terrorist attacks, and the kids aren’t going in raging and red faced. They do it as a totally symbolic and intellectual act. They’re not even scared because they know if they put their hands up afterwards the police aren’t allowed to shoot them. There’s more violence on any single page of the Bible than a terrorist’s livestream.

Richard said...

But the beauty of today’s empty pornography is it holds the seeds of destruction for our desexed, depoliticized, nonviolent society.

Generations of children raised on sex will only treat it as a larp for so long. Children raised on violence should eventually punch each other in the face.

Culture will, I believe, un-domesticate man, and we can get back to the business of creating real art, real culture, real civilization, and so on.

David Apatoff said...

Chris James wrote: "That's all I got."

That's the most important thing.

Wes-- speaking of the Dutch "tulip craze," are you following the crypto-currency artwork by Beeple which exists only as a digital file and was sold by Christie's for a $69.3 million? Morons.

Tom and chris bennett-- Yes, I'm sure that painters developed syringes and other devices to make paints more portable and bring them closer to the experience of nature. I think Renoir's point was that impressionism would've been impossible without ready access to a wide variety of colors that paint tubes provided for the first time. An engineering advancement, a quantitative change, resulted in a qualitative difference in art.

Laurence John said...

Kev: "Suggestions don’t mimic reality, they evoke it."

Going back to my example of a painting of a cowboy descending a mountainside on a horse (I'm imagining a Frederic Remington)... the believable sense of realism comes from the fact that the artist has made the picture look enough like reality to evoke it without anything looking 'off' or 'confusing' to the viewer. That's a high degree of mimesis even if the painting wasn't based on a single photograph or life study. There is still a lot of observation (of horses, rider and landscape) used in order to imbue the image with a sense of believable 'realism'.

To hear you talk about 'suggestions' I would imagine you were talking about a semi-abstract painter where the image is half garbled / randomised, rather than the type of work i know you like.

Kev: "With suggestion, along with the act of imaginative closure the audience is flooded with force-meanings that contain the actually relevant and true information about the superposed referent"

Again, if the painting didn't look enough like the thing it was trying to depict (what you're calling the referent) it would fail.

kev ferrara said...

If the painting didn't look enough like the thing it was trying to depict (what you're calling the referent) it would fail.

True, but the question is, what is 'enough?' Turns out when you delve deep into visual metonyms, that answer to that question is far less than you think.

Such that, as per my earlier point, you only think this looks like reality. In actual fact you are looking at an aesthetic fiction built of deftly placed scraps of visual music.

kev ferrara said...

More sweat, more muscles, more aggression, more testosterone, more estrogen, more fear, more perfect proportions.

‘More equals better’ has been tried a thousand times. The vapidity of the prescription has already been parodied perfectly with, “This amp goes up to 11!” And it didn’t even need to be parodied, because excess is its own parody.

Frazetta’s ‘refined fire’ - that synthesis of opposites - despite the mayhem and menace, is exactly why it is beautiful. There is power and restoration in strange beauty, exhaustion in baroque porn and violence for its own sake.

Frazetta specifically talks about what separates him from his imitators is his taste. He talks about the importance of suggestion and mystery. The less that does more. That’s how you get power in art. Because the more you do with less, the more concise you are, the more room opens up in the work. Then you can add additional concise, intense, concentrated poetics into the work. And there’s still more room to add and layer suggestion.

But you can only do this with abstractions because, again, abstractions have been cleared out of their redundant bulk; the abstraction process leaves only what is absolutely necessary, and it turns out, that is hardly anything at all.

Having said all that, I'd like to see a Bisley that paints like Bougereau. Maybe that's just Tiepolo with axes and clubs. Also, you might like Luis Falero's work.

Laurence John said...

Kev: "In actual fact you are looking at an aesthetic fiction built of deftly placed scraps of visual music."

I'm aware that a lot of realistic paintings are made out of visible abstractions when seen at varying distances (although they may coalesce into a more 'realistic' image from a distance), and that the human brain fills in the blanks.

I don't get why you find that a revelatory insight.

Richard said...

> are you following the crypto-currency artwork by Beeple which exists only as a digital file and was sold by Christie's for a $69.3 million? Morons.

The oddest thing to me is that they don’t appear to actually own the IP of the image at all, they merely own the NFT which refers to the image.

So it’s not as if the purchaser could claim copyright infringement, and force others to stop replicating their property.

Perhaps more strange, since the artist isn’t signing over any intellectual property rights, the artist could still claim copyright infringement and force the owner of the NFT to stop publishing the picture that they think they purchased!

kev ferrara said...

I don't get why you find that a revelatory insight.

Since you kept getting me incompletely when you repeated what I said back, including in this most recent response, I could only assume you didn't get the actual insight I was proffering in its full measure. Which would also explain why you interrupted my discussion with Richard in the first place to tell me you already understood what I was saying. (A bizarre thing to interject with in any case, as the conversation was not directed at you.)

So we can end it here. Be well.

David Apatoff said...

I haven't had a lot to contribute to the discussion about the state of pornography, or whether there are "millions of wives going without a good fuck" or whether our violence is up to the standards of Odysseus (although I would remind everyone of Oscar Wilde's admonition, "A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.")

I'm not sure I even know what it means to say, "You watch the videos of these terrorist attacks, and the kids aren’t going in raging and red faced." Who are "the kids?" Surely not the grizzled, trigger-happy coots who attacked the Capitol? Perhaps we're referring to Dylan Roof and Tim McVeigh and all of the other far right terrorists who never rage or get red faced when they slaughter innocents? Ah, well, perhaps it's best that I remain bewildered on these points.

But I did detect a meaningful thread in the Kev Ferrara / Laurence John / Richard dialogue that I did want to weigh back in on.

I agree strongly with Kev's point that a picture may look like reality, but excellent pictures are "an aesthetic fiction built of deftly placed scraps of visual music," and if you ask "how much" a picture has to look like the thing it is trying to depict, "Turns out when you delve deep into visual metonyms, that answer to that question is far less than you think." Yes yes yes.

I also agree with the point that "‘More equals better’ has been tried a thousand times. The vapidity of the prescription has already been parodied perfectly with, “This amp goes up to 11!” And it didn’t even need to be parodied, because excess is its own parody." I would not have used Frazetta as the poster boy for this argument because many times in his career he has been guilty of this same offense, laying down countless excess lines as he overworked many of his drawings. Even with his paintings I often prefer his unfinished paintings to his overdone completed paintings..

I think Bouguereau makes the same mistake. his pictures have a glassy perfection throughout, where I sometimes think less would have been more. Sargent, I think, did a better job of prioritizing. He knew when to let go.

Yes, "Frazetta specifically talks about what separates him from his imitators is his taste. He talks about the importance of suggestion and mystery. The less that does more. That’s how you get power in art." Frazetta would have been a better painter if he practiced what he preached more often.

But the point that I wanted to weigh in on is what Kev has described as Frazetta’s ‘refined fire’ - that synthesis of opposites." One reason I believe illustration and comic art have been among the most powerful forms of art in the last century is precisely that. Illustration constructs its lofty artistic elevations on a firm foundation of base pleasures; it marries the neocortex with the lizard brain, resulting in art that stimulates on both the intellectual and the sensory planes. It is why thin blooded conceptual artists and game players blatantly steal genuine illustrations and incorporate it glue them to conceptual art, so people will want to see it.

[CONT.]

David Apatoff said...

[CONT.]


Where I disagree is on that point of exactly "how much" a picture has to look like something. Kev seems to think there is one true melding point of form and concept where everything comes together seamlessly in a supernova of imagist poesis, achieving a totality that is more than the sum of its parts. I say that if Kev is willing to acknowledge that a picture has to look like reality "far less than you think," he should be open minded about a sliding scale that takes you all the way to abstraction, balanced with other considerations to achieve a different kind of totality, different but equally "art."

kev ferrara said...

"If Kev is willing to acknowledge that a picture has to look like reality "far less than you think,"

My point was not to do away with reality, but to evoke it poetically rather than state it literally. The result of that poesis is something that feels like reality in the sensual imagination even more than it looks it. The reason for it to also look like reality sufficiently is because otherwise the poem becomes about nothing, like a vehicle without a tenor. It's basic poetic structure as old, it seems, as mankind.

And this 'abstraction' you speak of, isn't. It's a misuse of the term. As previously discussed, if you don't auto-reconstitute the original upon which the abstraction is based, you aren't dealing with an aesthetic abstraction. You're dealing with a lossy design reduction or conventionalization.

Nor is your 'open mindedness' actually open minded. It is simply a kind of conceptual claustrophobia that makes you loathe to consider sensible qualitative distinctions because they won't let you love every snowflake equally, or something. It's an emotional issue with you.

Why you are so interested to equate design with Art, or primitive with sophisticated is beyond me. Each is good in their own way, each fit for whatever they're fit for. But if you understand this aesthetics stuff technically, you know they aren't equal qualitatively. As David Stove had it, "It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose."

Richard said...

> Perhaps we're referring to Dylan Roof and Tim McVeigh and all of the other far right terrorists who never rage or get red faced when they slaughter innocents?

That’s exactly what I’m referring to. Even our age’s extremists act the thing out symbolically, rather than being truly angry about much of anything.

Perhaps this may seem a funny thing to be nostalgic about — but there’s a moral quality to men’s violence being actually committed in a true fit of rage.

The alternative, a boy shooting up a daycare while blank faced and apathetic, is somehow much more disgusting, for the very fact that the act is so divorced from emotion.

It’s play acting at anger, it’s a LARP, for we live in an age so very domesticated that one can scarcely get truly angry anymore.


> I would not have used Frazetta as the poster boy for this argument because many times in his career he has been guilty of this same offense, laying down countless excess lines as he overworked many of his drawings.

I was not talking about Frazetta underworking his rendering, I was referring to him not making his images hot enough. When Homer describes the pop and sizzle of the Cyclops’s giant eyeball as Odysseus drives a glowing ember into it with all his weight, like a man driving a ship mast into a boat, that’s a good amount of heat.

Frazetta plays at Homeric heat but always holds back, he never quite goes for the jugular.

When Frazetta gets sexy, he may make big breasted women naked in dramatic poses, but find in his pictures a woman run through by the oversized cock of a Minotaur, never.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I thought you'd lunge for my throat over my Frazetta remark. Resolving aesthetic theory should be fairly uncontroversial by comparison.

You write: "Nor is your 'open mindedness' actually open minded. It is simply a kind of conceptual claustrophobia that makes you loathe to consider sensible qualitative distinctions"

I suppose it is possible that you just happened to be born in the time and place that painting achieved it highest evolutionary stage, the rocket to the moon following millennia of bones in the nose. However, surely you must recognize that other people born in different cultures (some of which were far older and historically more refined than yours) might not share your personal preferences. An Asian person might find your taste garish and point you to the subtler elegance of Hokusai. Other cultures might smile in doubt when you explain to them that art plays a more meaningful role when it is stratified from life, hanging in a frame on a wall. You can explain to them all you want that the taste of your culture is superior to theirs and you have the "sensible qualitative distinctions" to prove it but I hope you won't be too disappointed by their response. After all, you can't even persuade post-modern punks within your own culture, who look at you today as if you're the one with a bone in your nose.)

This is not new stuff. Herodotus gave us the first hard assessment of cultural relativism 2,500 years ago when he asked himself, "What makes the Persians so different from the Greeks? Why don't they see obvious logic the way we do?"

When you talk to people in your own culture about "evoking reality poetically rather than literally," you might find yourself challenged on what exactly you mean by "reality." Rothko's melancholy paintings reflect one very real state of mind, while Franz Kline's action paintings reflect another. A theoretical physicist might tell you that your version of "reality" is not real at all, while a maimed war veteran might tell you that the "reality" of western civilization as portrayed in 98% of the paintings you admire is a lie, or that realism in painting is inadequate to map the landscape of their tumultuous experiences, so they turn to Otto Dix or George Grosz for stronger medicine.

I don't think I'm equating design with art or primitive with sophisticated. I view these as creative polarities (just as you describe Frazetta's refined fire) which can be teamed with each other in creative tension. We may differ in that I don't think there's any one perfect balance of these polarities. As William Irwin said in a different context, "The question is permanent; answers are temporary." So for example, if the concept plays a more important role, the design might serve a lesser role. If a cultural context is "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," then a dose of primitive roughness might be more welcome than another excellent but lifeless academy painting, where passion stopped enlivening the art a century earlier.

Laurence John said...

David: "Where I disagree is on that point of exactly "how much" a picture has to look like something."

I can see how this topic becomes muddled. My issue with Kev is that I think he overstates things when he says things like "...in figurative work subject matter is a chimera". As I see it, it's how the subject matter is realised that reveals the quality of the artistry (e.g. the staging of the narrative drama, the painterly decisions in rendering form etc.) The amount and quality of abstraction that goes into the creation of an image is of importance to the image's quality (obviously. That's largely how we judge an excellent painter vs an average painter on purely technical terms) but that doesn't mean that the subject matter is non existent, irrelevant, 'cool' (meaning we're disinterested in it) or that the quality of the final image is ALL in the abstraction.

This is what the moderns seemed to think. That if they could do away with subject matter altogether then they'd have a painting that could be judged purely on it's own abstract terms. But, when you divorce mark making from subject matter all becomes arbitrary... paint for paint's sake. How do you tell whether the artist has made successful abstract choices or not if the painting is not OF anything ?


David: "...if Kev is willing to acknowledge that a picture has to look like reality "far less than you think," he should be open minded about a sliding scale that takes you all the way to abstraction"

Kev has already addressed your misinterpretation of the "far less than you think" bit in his reply above (first paragraph), but I'm not sure you've seen the distinction yet.

My own interest in the painted image diminishes in almost exact relation to the sliding scale which ends at what you're calling 'abstraction' (non-representational).

That's not to say I can't appreciate abstract design / colour / pattern for it's own sake (graphic design and textile design are interesting to me). In fact, If I was a millionaire and owned one of those mid-century Eames style houses I may very well want a large piece of abstract expressionism for the wall, just to complete the period decor.

David Apatoff said...


laurence john wrote: "when you divorce mark making from subject matter all becomes arbitrary... paint for paint's sake. How do you tell whether the artist has made successful abstract choices or not if the painting is not OF anything ?"

Exactly. That's something that the early abstract painters, who were mostly intellectuals, recognized from the start. If you're going to venture out onto this murky path (risking ridicule and scorn with each step) how do you measure success? In fact, how do you distinguish a masterpiece from an accidental paint spill?

Clement Greenberg, the scribe of the abstract expressionists, put the issue right up front: "The nonrepresentational or abstract, if it is to have aesthetic validity, cannot be arbitrary and accidental, but must stem from obedience to some worthy constraint." The only difference is, they are willing to accept a broader range of constraints as "worthy" than fealty to a photograph. In fact, one of the reasons the pioneers of abstraction started exploring new worlds to conquer is that fealty to a photograph was already becoming devalued by... photography.

The casualty rate for this kind of art is high, as it should be. If 95% of representational art is junk, than 99% of abstract art is junk. Yet it's those rare examples of screaming successes that have me coming back, believing that there's something of value here and trying to understand its parameters. I've tried to point out individual examples on this blog that I find worthwhile. Most recently, I believe, was Miro's painting "Le Paysage" which hung in the office of Gordon Gekko, the hyper-aggressive alpha male in the movie Wall Street.. You may argue, "That's not art, that's design" but the professionals who carefully constructed that movie set believed there was no realistic painting that could convey virility and dominance so effectively (Richard should like that). There are a million paint spills and abstract paintings that would be far less effective at conveying that same message, so to sort this one out required the existence of... criteria.

kev ferrara said...

My issue with Kev is that I think he overstates things when he says things like "...in figurative work subject matter is a chimera". As I see it, it's how the subject matter is realised that reveals the quality of the artistry (e.g. the staging of the narrative drama, the painterly decisions in rendering form etc.)

We're actually very close to agreement here. The main point of difference I would emphasize is that the more the artist does with the so-called subject matter the more the subject is no longer the 'subject matter' but the treatment and handling of the subject matter and how it is populated with elements, how and why those elements are selected, and how they all relate or alienate or justify each other.

Furthermore, once we get past staging and painterly decisions and characters and props and setting, into theme and tropes and narrative structure, and synthetic 'moments' (visual epiphany) and musicality and Image, the wheels really come off the cart of literalism. Good suggestion is always implying more than what's stated. And that means that most of what we experience of the poetic picture is actually sublime to it.

Look at Frazetta's Egyptian Queen. Photoshop out, or otherwise block from view, the tiger in the foreground. Suddenly the picture goes unbalanced, it feels unfinished. How can that be so if the "subject matter" only refers to the main thing happening in the picture? Why or how was that tiger necessary or a crucial part of the subject matter? Now imagine anything in that picture removed. And you will see that everything in there is necessary.

It is really difficult to make this argument in words because it is so easy to say "oh, that's a picture about a cattle stampede in a rainstorm," and think some accurate statement about the picture's subject has been made. But it isn't. The deep interconnectedness of everything is the actual subject, and that complex web of relationships causes the aesthetic/sensual reception of meaning in the audience's mind.

And that's why I say that subject matter is a chimera. "Subject matter" stems from the myopic literalist's mode of thinking; an historical artifact of Word People trying to talk about Art without having any insight into it.

kev ferrara said...

You may argue, "That's not art, that's design" but the professionals who carefully constructed that movie set believed there was no realistic painting that could convey virility and dominance so effectively (Richard should like that). There are a million paint spills and abstract paintings that would be far less effective at conveying that same message, so to sort this one out required the existence of... criteria.

The meaning you seem to be ascribing to the painting alone is the result of a symphony of interacting elements in the film and the scene, only one of which is the painting.

There is no doubt that even vague abstractions have tendencies to suggest possible meanings. But so do the inchoate burblings of an infant. In such cases, only context or assistance from translators actually realizes a meaning. And it is only the closure down on meaning that gives satisfaction. So the inchoate burblings alone were insufficient.

Laurence John said...

Clement Greenberg: "... if it is to have aesthetic validity, cannot be arbitrary and accidental, but must stem from obedience to some worthy constraint"

So, if you throw out subject matter what is the worthy constraint other than 'design' ?

As i said above, i can appreciate the 'design' aspect of some large abstract paintings in the same way i can appreciate an art deco rug, but that's not the same thing as 'art' (as Kev keeps pointing out).

David: "In fact, how do you distinguish a masterpiece from an accidental paint spill?"

You tell me.

David: "There are a million paint spills and abstract paintings that would be far less effective at conveying that same message, so to sort this one out required the existence of... criteria"

To me, the message of the painting in that scene is that he (Gordon Gekko) has the money to afford a large, rare painting. It's meaning - in the scene - is as a status symbol. I don't see anything in the painting itself that conveys a specific meaning. Do you ?

kev ferrara said...

However, surely you must recognize that other people born in different cultures (some of which were far older and historically more refined than yours) might not share your personal preferences. An Asian person might find your taste garish and point you to the subtler elegance of Hokusai. (...) You can explain to them all you want that the taste of your culture is superior to theirs and you have the "sensible qualitative distinctions" to prove it but I hope you won't be too disappointed by their response.

You've shifted the question from structure to taste.

My argument was never that Hokusai wasn't tasteful. Or even that Miro or Rothko weren't tasteful.

Laurence John said...

Kev: "... the more the artist does with the so-called subject matter the more the subject is no longer the 'subject matter' but the treatment and handling of the subject matter and how it is populated with elements, how and why those elements are selected, and how they all relate or alienate or justify each other."

Kev, firstly, there's confusion over terminology. I use 'subject matter' in the everyday way to mean 'the man on the horse riding down the hill' or whatever it happens to be.

What you're talking about - pretty much all the elements that make the image work in the way it does - is what I would refer to as 'form' or the 'formal aspects' of the work. In the sense of 'form and content'. But I'd be happy to substitute for 'treatment' or 'handling'.

Kev: "The deep interconnectedness of everything is the actual subject"

But, here you again sound as if you're saying the subject matter (content) is irrelevant and the treatment is everything, which I don't believe, and I don't believe you believe either.

Surely the content and formal aspects are like a mutually supporting structure. The treatment wouldn't be possible if there wasn't the content to illuminate.

kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

I understand that there's a common denominator between seeing a picture of a horse facing you with some of its hooves off the ground, and sensing like you're seeing, hearing and feeling a manic-tempered horse hurtling toward you at breakneck speed, hooves thundering against the mud, heedless of your safety. But I think the differences far overmatch the literalist similarity.

Considering the phrase 'subject matter' to mean "that which the picture is of," in comparing the poetic image and the literal picture, a yawning difference opens up. Such that the phrase 'subject matter' must change meaning when applied between the respective picture types or its definition becomes contradictory.

Poetry is built of suggestions. The more you suggest what was previous stated, the more disappears from the canvas and reappears in your intuiting mind. And of course, a great deal that can be suggested can never be represented at all in the context of a 'naturalistic' poetic work. This goes beyond form because what is suggested is exactly not the form. Form is stated on the canvas in order to induce the suggestion, which is absent.

So in great poetic work, the amount of stuff that the picture is 'of' is mounting, yet cannot be referenced by words or as objects that can be discussed as 'subjects' that appear on the canvas in the literalist understanding. (For example, the representation of a psychological state, which David seems to think is a modernist invention.) And then how increasingly inapt the literalist idea of 'subject matter' becomes at actually describing what the picture is actually 'of'.

The more a picture represents with suggestive forces what a thing does or means or feels or how it exists through depth or its sensual qualities and how it relates to other things, the more what is represented takes on its own self-sustaining reality in the mind. And the more that happens the more what we have is presentation, not representation. Only the latter is actually reference.

By the time the poet is done transforming all the representation into an interweaving complex of effects which feel rather than look, the subject per se has been reduced and atomized and splattered across the whole canvas and merged with a whole lot more.

And I'm saying that, if we want to speak sensibly about what's going on, that network, which is all productive of sensually-conveyed meaning, and which includes remnants of the references, is the actual depicted subject of the picture.

chris bennett said...
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chris bennett said...

Laurence,

To add to Kev's point in the interest of helping out by way of what I hope is a clarifying question:

Is the subject of Michelangelo's three Pietas the same?

Laurence John said...

Chris,

The subject matter is the same (Christ after crucifixion) but the treatment is completely different in each case.

chris bennett said...

Then what is the value of a different treatment?

Laurence John said...

Chris,

Presumably to explore a different aspect of the same subject. Maybe he was displeased with one version and thought "damn, i should have done it this way..."

Or maybe it was just another commission.

kev ferrara said...

Right back into the word trap I discussed earlier; where some simple pseudo-specific text label (Christ after the Crucifiction) is lazily yoked to the picture without providing the slightest insight into what the actual content of the depiction that might differentiate it from ten thousand other works.

Why isn't the subject "A Droopy Guy on a Lady's Lap?" Why isn't it "Some seated lady in a robe finds a mostly nude guy?" Why isn't it "Dead dude lays on a lady?"

Well, if we take your literalist text-based method of determining "the subject" then any general descriptive phrase will do. "A relation between a nude male figure and a cloaked female figure" would also suffice. Maybe the subject is simply "religious."

But the subject isn't the label; it isn't defined by the meanings of the collection of words you assign to it. Stop thinking literally. Stop thinking in words. The treatment and the subject are the same thing. Such cannot be translated into words.

Laurence John said...


Kev, I used the phrase 'Christ after crucifixion' because Chris asked me what the 'subject' was of the Pieta (In the next sentence i said "the treatment is completely different in each case").

For you to then infer that I therefore only see or think in words when looking at visual art is a feeble attempt at a gotcha moment. It's also a barely disguised insult. I'm generous enough to assume that most people have enough intelligence to realise that the title of a work is only a label to identify the work.

But let's ask anyone else who's still reading whether they agree with your formulation that "treatment and the subject are the same thing".

David, I'd be interested to hear your take.

chris bennett said...

Presumably to explore a different aspect of the same subject. Maybe he was displeased with one version and thought "damn, i should have done it this way..." Or maybe it was just another commission.

None of these answers tells me what the value of a 'different treatment of a subject' could be. So what do you mean by 'treatment of a subject'? Different ways of finding the same thing? How, when you have found the golden fleece, is a different way of finding it valuable? And let's be clear, it cannot be because it would change or 'improve' the quality of the subject, because that would mean it would change the subject itself.

As Kev has just said; (and he has explained it many times) the label is not the subject. The title is not the subject; 'Prince' or 'Lord' is not the same thing as the man. The wash label on your fur coat ain't the fur coat.

Richard said...

> Why isn't the subject "A Droopy Guy on a Lady's Lap?" Why isn't it "Some seated lady in a robe finds a mostly nude guy?" Why isn't it "Dead dude lays on a lady?"

You’re making a great argument against your case here. This makes obvious that the subject is more/different than the treatment.

The treatment of the picture will never tell you the nature or relationship of Christ and Mary. The treatment can show you the subtlety of that moment, but you’ll never surmise from the treatment which events and circumstances lead up to that moment, that on the woman’s lap is her son, the creator of the universe made flesh and murdered by human kind.

This isn’t just about “thinking in words” as you regularly accuse. Narratives aren’t words, they’re merely transmitted that way.

Told in words, but once transmitted they become the same substance as art and poetry — the story lives and grows in our imaginations into something visceral, experiences and sensations in the mind. The sensation of motherhood, the sensation of God, the sensation of a universal irony, the sensation of a tragedy in the fabric of the universe — these are subject of the work, but are nowhere found in the treatment thereof.

Richard said...

And the standard caution applies, if you experience all narratives and subjects as something merely literal rather than visceral, “that sounds like a personal problem, man”.

David Apatoff said...

Kev no. 1: "My point was not to do away with reality...."

Kev no. 2: "There is no doubt that even vague abstractions have tendencies to suggest possible meanings."

Kev no. 1, allow me to introduce you to Kev no. 2. As long as Kev no. 2 remains correct (which I believe he is), Kev no. 1 need not fret about "doing away with reality" completely. As I've said, I think we should be talking about a sliding scale. If we can just set aside the dogma, we'll realize we are haggling over degree. I understand that some of us are less comfortable at the extreme end of the continuum than others, and that's fine, but even at the extreme end the supposed dichotomy between realism and abstraction is leaky at best.

Laurence John and Kev Ferrara-- We may have a concrete example in front of us that can help bridge some of these differences.

Compare two alternative ways of depicting strength: In example no. 1, Frazetta paints a muscular hero gritting his teeth, bringing a battle axe down on some opponent. A submissive woman clings adoringly to his leg. In example no.2, Miro paints an abstract vertical form in the shape of one of those rough hewn priapic Stonehenge megaliths. The latter painting is monumental in size; it is higher contrast, in colors designed to convey strength and agelessness.

The two approaches are very different, yet we can identify several similarities in how these two artists present strength. Frazetta's barbarian has a wide stance, his legs spread for a firm foundation, just as Miro's form is wider at the base of the shaft. Both psychologically convey solidity-- nothing is going to tip over this baby. Frazetta's barbarian is scarred and sculpted more harshly than the soft, rounded female that clings to his leg. The Miro central column has uneven edges that look as if they'd been chiseled out of granite, with sharp, angular corners. Like Frazetta's figure, the column's potency is heightened by being contrasted with smaller, rounder shapes. Miro's two small circles might evoke a number of associations, from the moon over Stonehenge to testicles accompanying that shaft. Both Frazetta and Miro employ a palette that suggests the dust of ages; no bright or artificial colors here, nothing polished or new.

I'm not suggesting that either Frazetta or Miro consciously intended these meanings. I think both are intuitive and mostly subconscious. But if we set aside our absolutist dogma and approach these two paintings with genuine curiosity, I don't see how we can call one "art" and the other "design devoid of content." Kev wrote, "The reason for it to also look like reality sufficiently is because otherwise the poem becomes about nothing." For me, the Miro painting passes that test. It evokes power and solidity more effectively, more timelessly, and yes, more "poetically" than Frazetta's painting, without drawing the blood on the battle axe.

Am I reading too much into Miro's shapes? Well, many different cultures across the millennia have employed similar thick vertical columns to convey power. In India they sculpted lingams. In ancient Greece they sculpted herms (when they weren't sculpting explicitly phallic monoliths as on the island of Delos). More broadly, just the act of erecting huge stone columns at Stonehenge and Avebury is an act of resistance against gravity, as proof that someone passed this way once... that's a more gender neutral manifestation of strength. In fact, it's the number one rule of all protoplasm so I think we can't banish it from our minds when looking at a painting. In all of these cases, a vertical form means something that a horizontal form does not. A high contrast, dark form means something that a soft focus, pastel colored form does not. People who object that we still need to see Conan gritting his teeth are missing a certain kind of "poetry."

Laurence John said...

Richard, what you've just mentioned is what I'd call 'backstory' in which you need to know additional info about the subject matter to understand the work. Or rather, knowing the backstory will influence how you'll interpret the work, or provide additional context.

That's not the same contention I have with Kev's formulation that "treatment and the subject are the same thing".

I'm saying that even in a work where no backstory is required such as Sargent's 'Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose' there is still subject matter and treatment.

kev ferrara said...

The treatment of the picture will never tell you the nature or relationship of Christ and Mary.

I'm using Lawrence's extended definition. Which includes figural relationships. And the point was to show how vague a label can be and still apply. As well, the larger point was that when the poeticization/aestheticization/expression/composition procedure is completed reference itself becomes the illusion.

The treatment can show you the subtlety of that moment, but you’ll never surmise from the treatment which events and circumstances lead up to that moment.

Yes, how the subject is treated, which, using Lawrence's extended definition of treatment, either provides or does not provide any clues as to back story.

This isn’t just about “thinking in words” as you regularly accuse. Narratives aren’t words, they’re merely transmitted that way.

They're transmitted in many different ways, not just in words.

I should point out generally, that my familiarity with how sculpture works aesthetically is not my area at all. I never would have picked Michaelangelo's Pietas to make the case because it cannot have all the tropes I am mentioning. So... thanks Chris!

kev ferrara said...

Kev, I used the phrase 'Christ after crucifixion' because Chris asked me what the 'subject' was of the Pieta (In the next sentence i said "the treatment is completely different in each case").

In the context of the point I was making, which is what Chris was trying to help with, what you answered with seemed to be a complete out-of-hand rejection of my arguments without even engaging them.

Regarding my supposed 'insult'... since I'm offended by you getting offended, we're even. ;)

kev ferrara said...
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Richard said...

> I'm saying that even in a work where no backstory is required such as Sargent's 'Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose' there is still subject matter and treatment.

If you’re taking prior knowledge out of the equation, I fail to see how Kevs formulation would be wrong given such a narrow definition of Subject.

(And I fail to comprehend what Subject is exactly, absent prior knowledge)

kev ferrara said...

I think we should be talking about a sliding scale. If we can just set aside the dogma, we'll realize we are haggling over degree.

The structural difference I'm trying to articulate is not some degree of difference along a 'sliding scale.' An entire layer of the structure is missing in the modern art designs you're trying to champion as equivalent. These are real structural differences with recurring consequences for what the commmunication can offer and how it is apprehended by the intuitive imagination. Such is NOT 'dogma.'

Compare two alternative ways of depicting strength (...) 1, Frazetta paints a muscular hero gritting his teeth, bringing a battle axe down on some opponent. A submissive woman clings adoringly to his leg.

The 'depiction' is a chimera that the literalist chases as explanatory because he cannot see beyond it. A million muscular teeth-gritting battle-axe-wielding barbarians have come and gone. Yet people still flock to see Frazetta's. Proving it is exactly the abstract aesthetic forces disguised by the 'depiction which are the actual origins of the power of his work. An axe on a canvas is just an incident. The epic quality is a gestalt effect.

The Miro central column has uneven edges that look as if they'd been chiseled out of granite, with sharp, angular corners. Like Frazetta's figure, the column's potency is heightened by being contrasted with smaller, rounder shapes.

We all well understand, David, that graphics can produce basic aesthetic forces. And yes that is part of the foundation of Art.

Simply as an orchestration of 'abstract' forces, Miro's graphic design, a big simple diagram, does not compare to Frazetta's intense interweaving complex of sublated forces. The former is barely cartooned. While the latter is composed and orchestrated.

And yes one can look at vague, unrefined forms and be tantalized, and search for possibilities as to how to resolve them as referents. I'm sure somewhere out there in the world, there's a composition identical to Miro's on a wall that might engage a passerby for a moments speculation. But, as I've been trying/failing to explain, because Miro is not sublating anything, he isn't being poetic, he is being a designer of non-referential graphics. He is not talking about anything or suggesting anything.

If you do the suggestion on his behalf, if you fill in the blanks, that's called Mad Libs. A kind of game.

kev ferrara said...

I'm saying that even in a work where no backstory is required such as Sargent's 'Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose' there is still subject matter and treatment.

Imagine sufficiently explaining the picture to a blind man without concentrating almost wholly on the effect of the elements rather than their identities.

Richard said...

By treatment, I wonder if Laurence is thinking mere style, where treatment actually means something closer to the poetry.

That visual poetry is inextricable from the subject. The subject is a character in the poetry, the treatment.

Just as in a poem that describes a flower, the poetry is not merely a layer or style overlaid on the object “flower”, but rather the flower is a figure inside the poetry. It’s inextricable from the poem. You could not pick up the treatment of a poem about a flower, and drop it down on a poem about a bull. It’s not an algorithm for stylistic rendering, its visual Communication of a more complex idea.

Richard said...

(Or rather, it should be of done well)

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote: "But let's ask anyone else who's still reading whether they agree with your formulation that "treatment and the subject are the same thing". David, I'd be interested to hear your take."

I rarely check the statistics-- I have to re-learn how to do it each time-- but we're down to 53 "still reading" and I have no clue about how many of those are still slogging through this discussion.

I understand the point Kev is trying to make, but as you might predict, I don't think art or its nomenclature is as orderly as all that. I don't see how treatment and subject can possibly be mutually subsumed as Kev suggests. Note that as chris bennett added ("the label is not the subject. The title is not the subject") perhaps we should add "the title," as a third category and the one that might most legitimately be considered an irrelevant "label" distinct from the art, used merely to catalogue or insure inventory.

My newest post (about Dr. Seuss) opens with a story about how Paolo Veronese saved his hide by changing the subject of a painting, and thereby changing its significance. The treatment remained identical but the subject changed with words. A ultra-purist might argue that radical consequences such as the painful death of the artist or the perceptions of the viewers are irrelevant to the treatment, but that strikes me as myopic. Yes, I think we should be sensitive to the intentions of the artist and to the various filters we might apply to our perceptions of a painting, but when someone says, "Stop thinking literally. Stop thinking in words." it sounds to me like he is saying "put on blinders and view it the way I prefer." As an extreme, several great artists have literally incorporated words in their art. When Beethoven put words in a symphony for the first time, I'm sure there were plenty of people who said, "Hey! You can't do that," but Beethoven did anyway and the 9th symphony was born. Saul Steinberg put words and faux words in his pictures, and the words illuminated his treatments and vice versa. Sometimes the subject and the treatment are the same and sometimes they are not (try Magritte's "ceci n'est pas un pipe," where title and image are deliberately set in opposition to each other to make a point) but I don't see how anyone can claim there aren't differences, or that those differences are irrelevant.

kev ferrara said...

Just as in a poem that describes a flower, the poetry is not merely a layer or style overlaid on the object “flower”, but rather the flower is a figure inside the poetry. It’s inextricable from the poem. You could not pick up the treatment of a poem about a flower, and drop it down on a poem about a bull. It’s not an algorithm for stylistic rendering, its visual Communication of a more complex idea.

Now you're getting it Richard.

Laurence John said...

Richard: "By treatment, I wonder if Laurence is thinking mere style"

No, I'm not.

And I'm guessing by your use of the word 'mere' that you imagine 'style' to be something superficial like 'surface brushwork' ... which I don't.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

David wrote

"My newest post (about Dr. Seuss) opens with a story about how Paolo Veronese saved his hide by changing the subject of a painting, and thereby changing its significance. The treatment remained identical but the subject changed with words."

The subject did not change. Veronese's subject, seems to be humanity itself, it's self centeredness, it's indifference, it's distraction even the animals are preoccupied with their own concerns. The inquisition intuited his subject and that was why Veronese was summoned. The title changed not the subject.

kev ferrara said...

I don't see how treatment and subject can possibly be mutually subsumed as Kev suggests.

In poetic work it mostly is. In apoetic work, it mostly isn't.

Imagine sufficiently explaining Sargent's 'Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose' to a blind man. To do so, you would be concentrating almost wholly on the effect of the elements rather than their identities.

The treatment remained identical but the subject changed with words.A ultra-purist might argue that radical consequences such as the painful death of the artist or the perceptions of the viewers are irrelevant to the treatment, but that strikes me as myopic.

I was hoping for 'dogmatic' again, but the combination of 'ultra-purist' and 'myopic' will do.

Now, I'm sure even a latitudinarian hyperopic ultra-impurist like you will recall that a primary principle of art is unity. Artistic unity is manifested by ultra-related stuff contained within the frame/canvas, all to a singular effect. What is written about the work, how it is labelled is no more part of the work than any other outside text referring to the work might be. The title next to the picture is no more in unity with the work than a review of it in the newspaper, or a passing reference to it by a gallery viewer.

Saul Steinberg put words and faux words in his pictures, and the words illuminated his treatments and vice versa. Sometimes the subject and the treatment are the same and sometimes they are not (try Magritte's "ceci n'est pas un pipe," where title and image are deliberately set in opposition to each other to make a point) but I don't see how anyone can claim there aren't differences, or that those differences are irrelevant.

The only rule or principle that applies to comedy is that it be funny. Everything else can go out the window. I'm not referring to comedy.

chris bennett said...

Calling our painting of an apple on a plate 'Eve's Gift', 'Bramley from a Somerset Garden', 'Windfall', 'Isaac's Enlightenment' or 'Mary Jane's Lunch' will not change the subject one jot. But I can Imagine Laurence saying something like "Ah, the actual subject is 'Apple on a Plate!" But why is this description of the painting any more true than it being fruit you painted before putting it in your daughter's lunch box or a windfall picked up in a garden? And Eve did give Adam an apple, and it was a falling apple that Newton himself said inspired his theory of gravity.

But 'Apple on a plate' is of course the most down to earth (no pun intended) utilitarian description of what is in front of our eyes and could therefore be called 'the subject' rather than 'the title'. But if we imagine an apple painted by Chardin, Bonnard, Cezanne, Kanevsky or Sargent they would all feel different. Why? Well, they are all looking at an identical object yet they are each painting about something different; different poems extracted and abstracted out of what is before them. The poem itself is the subject. 'Treatment' is how it is told. This is why critics can only discuss treatment and any attempt to 'tell us what the poem means' and to represent its 'subject' always fails.

Laurence John said...

Chris: "Calling our painting of an apple on a plate 'Eve's Gift', 'Bramley from a Somerset Garden', 'Windfall', 'Isaac's Enlightenment' or 'Mary Jane's Lunch' will not change the subject one jot."

No disagreement there Chris. David has changed course by segueing into title alteration and the introduction of actual text into an image. Different topic.

"But 'Apple on a plate' is of course the most down to earth (no pun intended) utilitarian description of what is in front of our eyes and could therefore be called 'the subject' rather than 'the title' "

Oh, so you agree that there is such a thing as a subject ! That's how I've been using the word. As a simple descriptor of what we're seeing in the painting.

"The poem itself is the subject. 'Treatment' is how it is told."

No... a poem is a 'form' and the poem has 'content'.


dictionary definition: " a composition in verse, especially one that is characterized by a highly developed artistic form and by the use of heightened language and rhythm to express an intensely imaginative interpretation of the subject "


I'm genuinely baffled that the commonly used terms Subject Matter & Treatment, or Content & Form have lead to such a display of mental gymnastics.

chris bennett said...

No... a poem is a 'form' and the poem has 'content'.

So you see the poem itself and its content as distinct?

Laurence John said...

That's not what I said Chris.

Please take another look at the dictionary definition.


chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

What you said was 'the poem has content'.
The house has people living in it. The house and the people are distinct.

Laurence John said...

Sorry Chris, that was my error. It should have read:

"A poem has 'form' and a poem has 'content'

(although sometimes people will refer to a poem as a 'form' of literature...)

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "people still flock to see Frazetta.... Proving it is exactly the abstract aesthetic forces disguised by the 'depiction which are the actual origins of the power of his work. An axe on a canvas is just an incident. The epic quality is a gestalt effect."

The latest scientific polls confirm that 47.25% of people flock to see Frazetta because they love the way he paints butts and breasts. 31.75% flock to see him because they have Walter Mitty dreams about his subject matter. 9.5% love those smooth, itty bitty lines he draws. 7.5% flock to him because he is a great investment, and the remaining 4% love him for his "gestalt effect" or because he has a cool signature.

Laurence John said...

Chris: " This is why critics can only discuss treatment and any attempt to 'tell us what the poem means' and to represent its 'subject' always fails."

p.s. this is an odd claim too. Since when have critics been unable to analyse meaning in a painting or illustration ? (unless the image is deliberately obscure or surreal).

Laurence John said...

Boom Tish David.

Kev: "people still flock to see Frazetta.... Proving it is exactly the abstract aesthetic forces disguised by the 'depiction' which are the actual origins of the power of his work. An axe on a canvas is just an incident. The epic quality is a gestalt effect."

To prove that assertion, you'd have to paint a similar image but with all the illusionistic 'incident' (what I'm calling 'subject matter': the Barbarian with the Axe, the woman, the leopard etc.) removed or somehow scrambled so it no longer resembled anything in particular.

How popular do you think the resulting image would be ? Wouldn't it resemble the early experiments in non-representation by some like Picabia ? ...

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/de/Francis_Picabia%2C_1913%2C_Edtaonisl_%28Ecclesiastic%29%2C_oil_on_canvas%2C_300.4_x_300.7_cm%2C_Art_Institute_of_Chicago.jpg

chris bennett said...

"A poem has 'form' and a poem has 'content'

OK, just to get things clear about what I am understanding you are saying: you see a poem, form and content as three distinct things?

Since when have critics been unable to analyse meaning in a painting or illustration?

They certainly try, but my point is that they fail every time and in every case. The analysis often begins as "what they're saying is..." or "What this means is..." Because great works of art are by a certain definition self-contained or unified they cannot be paraphrased or interpreted without losing almost everything the work is 'about' (its true subject). Which is precisely why nearly all post modern work, unlike true works of art, depends on analytical interpretation for its validity - its subject is ironic in its reference.

Tom said...

Laurence wrote

"To prove that assertion, you'd have to paint a similar image but with all the illusionistic 'incident' (what I'm calling 'subject matter': the Barbarian with the Axe, the woman, the leopard etc.) removed or somehow scrambled so it no longer resembled anything in particular."

It's hard to paint something "sharp," like an axe without something sharp. David's Miro example reminded me of the Disney animators ability to express all the human emotions while only using a pillow as the subject.

An artist needs a subject which in fact is really only a form, so they can express their ideas. It seems what Chris is saying as I understand it is, the true subject of a painting is what it is about which is expressed in how it is done. Another word we could use for what a painting is about instead of subject is topic.

Laurence's "subject," allows the artist to experience and express his topic. Just like space needs objects to express its vastness. Just like the sun needs objects to reveal the beauty of light and shade. The object/subject is the vehicle that allows the artist to state the true topic of his work.

An artist may paint an apple but what he is really interested in is the light striking the apple. The subject may be an apple but the arrangement of the light and shade is the true topic of the painting. He needs the object/subject to paint his topic, light and shade. The artist may paint two trees but what he is really interested in is the distance between the two trees so he can express his ideas about the topic, the vastness of space.

The narrative as "subject" offers the artist the opportunity to express his ideas about the nature of energy. Most people sense one of the main topics of Caravaggio's painting, is the dramatic light and shade even though the subject is a religious narrative. Ruben's subjects may be lots of naked ladies but people still sense one of his main topics the exuberant energy of the universe. Turner knew and understood boats but most people would sense the topic of his painting goes well beyond the subject of boats.

Look at how much surface, space and distance is felt between the animals ears in the Sheppard drawings that David posted. That space is brought into being by the subject and the artists response to it.

kev ferrara said...

To prove that assertion, you'd have to paint a similar image but with all the illusionistic 'incident' (what I'm calling 'subject matter': the Barbarian with the Axe, the woman, the leopard etc.) removed or somehow scrambled so it no longer resembled anything in particular.

No, I don't think so. I think we'd just need photorealists creating inert ineffective works (as beavers create dams) that have similar elements and props to a Frazetta work. Then you can see what a difference there is between a copier and an artist.

Even a recreation of a great work by a non-artist or bad artist will be enough to demonstrate the difference. A few years back somebody digitally recreated Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott 'note for note' in 3D software. The software jockey was absolutely clueless about aesthetics, composition, suggestion, and the like. And the resulting recreation was shockingly dead. By which I mean, nothing was effective. Which means there was no poetry to it at all. Yet all the 'objects' and 'elements' were replicated. I believe Chris was the one who had found this Waterhouse knock off.

Laurence John said...

Chris: "OK, just to get things clear about what I am understanding you are saying: you see a poem, form and content as three distinct things?"

Yes (I can sense you're setting up a semantic trap)... the particular form (treatment) of the content (subject matter) give rise to what we refer to as 'poetry' (if it's any good).

(I should add that I never refer to a painted image as a poem when speaking about paintings in real life. I'm only using it here because you and Kev use it all the time).

Laurence John said...

Tom: "It's hard to paint something "sharp," like an axe without something sharp"

What did you think of the Picabia painting ? It has sharp edges and corners in it.


Tom: "Laurence's "subject," allows the artist to experience and express his topic"

I think you've grasped the point of my last comment, which Kev seems to have missed.

Laurence John said...

Tom: " Most people sense one of the main topics of Caravaggio's painting, is the dramatic light and shade even though the subject is a religious narrative. "

I wouldn't assume though that just because an artist uses a lot of a certain visual device that that 'topic' (your word) is their main interest.
The lighting in Caravaggio's work, as i see it, is a dramatic device to make the subject matter more striking.

kev ferrara said...

An artist may paint an apple but what he is really interested in is the light striking the apple. The subject may be an apple but the arrangement of the light and shade is the true topic of the painting.

The introduction of 'topic' as distinct from subject is a conceptual distinction that is equally as general and in the literalist mode as 'subject'.

Ultimately 'topic' is just a verbal-textual interpretation, rather than an experience of the work as it actually performs on the mind. And that will be profoundly lossy by necessity. Topic cannot encompasses the complexity that forms the unity of great works, like Carnation Lily Lily Rose, Lady of Shallot, this Walter Everett, or much else. As Dean Cornwell wisely noted, "Art is a language complete and distinct from English. Anything that can be sufficiently expressed in words is not a fit subject for painting, and vice versa."

The real consequence of introducing 'topic' into these text exchanges is to reduce the literary understanding of "Subject" to what we are led into thinking is present on the canvas and which we can articulate. But what aren't we led into thinking is present 'on' the canvas? We can notice: Heat, wind, action, reeds, sky, table, people, wall, air, danger, thought, depth, light, feeling, form, drama, intent, topic, subject, balance, mood, luminosity, and keep going. And so, in arriving at a 'subject' of a painting, all that's happened is that we've selected the most obvious referents to our own mind and discarded everything else less obvious. An editing job as well as an verbal-textual interpretation.

chris bennett said...

I believe Chris was the one who had found this Waterhouse knock off.

Laurence John said...

Kev: "I think we'd just need photorealists creating inert ineffective works (as beavers create dams) that have similar elements and props to a Frazetta work."

That wouldn't prove anything except that there are weak painters who over-rely on photo ref.

You said "Proving it is exactly the abstract aesthetic forces disguised by the 'depiction' which are the actual origins of the power of his work"

So, how do you remove the 'depiction' and just show the abstract aesthetic forces ?

kev ferrara said...

That wouldn't prove anything except that there are weak painters who over-rely on photo ref.

The point proved is that weak painters and photo-dependence are both apoetic.

So, how do you remove the 'depiction' and just show the abstract aesthetic forces ?

Exactly. You can't. Great artists/poets paint and compose all with implicative forces/sensation caused by suggestion. Everything is an effect from the micro to the macro and the relations between the micro and the macro and everything at every scale. From the way they draw and render to the way they evoke narrative or setting to the way they compose the gestalt.

When we try to tease apart and analyze something this organic and delicate into verbal-conceptual categories, we end up reducing it to inert reference or form-gibberish.

Laurence John said...

Kev: "Exactly. You can't."

Which has been my point all along.

chris bennett said...

Yes (I can sense you're setting up a semantic trap)...

I have not the slightest interest in setting semantic traps, least of all because it is disrespectful to somebody trying to have an honest conversation in good faith. Articulating some sense of this stuff using words is very difficult, so we have to be "as clear as we can in our speech" (Jordan Petersen) in order to have any chance of accomplishing something somewhere near what we mean here.

the particular form (treatment) of the content (subject matter) give rise to what we refer to as 'poetry' (if it's any good).

What you mean is now very clear to me, and thank you for carefully articulating it. But your equating content with 'subject matter' in the way you have been using the term renders it untrue. Because if it were then we could only recognise the 'subject' of a painting of an apple on a plate as 'Apple on a Plate' if the poetry is any good.

Laurence John said...

Chris,

Sorry, too late. See above.... I win the Cadillac Eldorado. Kev got the set of steak knives.

got to go,

Later

chris bennett said...

I wouldn't be too sure Laurence... :)

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

> The latest scientific polls confirm that 47.25% of people flock to see Frazetta because they love the way he paints butts and breasts. 31.75% flock to see him because they have Walter Mitty dreams about his subject matter. 9.5% love those smooth, itty bitty lines he draws. 7.5% flock to him because he is a great investment, and the remaining 4% love him for his "gestalt effect" or because he has a cool signature.

And you pretended not to know what I was talking about with pornography!

Tom said...

Laurence wrote

"What did you think of the Picabia painting ? It has sharp edges and corners in it. "

That's true. Maybe when looking at sharp edge of a axe one senses the physical damage it could cause while a sharp edge in a abstract painting doesn't have the ability to carry that kind of meaning. While a comer itself can be the legs of a triangle or the meeting of planes which can lead to great fun.

Laurence also wrote,
"I wouldn't assume though that just because an artist uses a lot of a certain visual device that that 'topic' (your word) is their main interest.
The lighting in Caravaggio's work, as i see it, is a dramatic device to make the subject matter more striking."

Sorry I wasn't trying to separate things. Of course your right it makes the subject more dramatic but it can also become a subject in an of itself. The revealtory power of light. But I probably look at art to much from the making side of things.

chris bennett said...

But I probably look at art to much from the making side of things.

On the contrary Tom, it's why you have the subtle understanding.

chris bennett said...

The play of light is one of the key elements with which a painter both reveals his tale and spiritualizes it at the same time. A kind of Holy Ghost of painting forming the trinity with space and form, the father and the son.

Light, space and form then are an indivisible union. The subject born in the image of the Holy Trinity.

kev ferrara said...

Which has been my point all along.

If you're not even reading what you're writing, don't expect us to either.

Laurence John said...

Chris, you said "The poem itself is the subject." I think you actually mean the poem is the final destination / end point (of the artist's mission). The confusion is with your use of the word 'subject' and the way I'm using the word. So we hopefully just have a semantic problem.

Kev, you said "treatment and the subject are the same thing"

and also "...Proving it is exactly the abstract aesthetic forces disguised by the 'depiction' which are the actual origins of the power of his work."

You still sound as if you're saying that poetic effect can be divorced from subject matter (what you're calling 'referent' or 'incident'). I'm saying it can't be. If it could then David would win the internet, because all the abstract-expressionism he keeps banging the drum for would be all we require for meaningful poetic effect.


He's my final, final, final attempt to explain the issue, and I'm going back to where I started pretty much, by arguing with Kev's formulation:


Artists can produce the likeness of something on a surface using suggestive painterly abstraction.

The fact that the image is just an illusion and isn't actually that close to reality if you get specific about it, has lead you to the conclusion that the 'subject matter' of the painting isn't really doing any of the work; The abstraction is doing all the work.

I'm saying this a flawed conclusion.

Without the subject matter to 'realise' the artist would have nothing to marshal their decision making toward. (You could also say 'without having anything to say about the subject, the poet would have nothing to compose a poem about').

As with non-representational painting (as I've argued above) all the mark making would become arbitrary.

So, the correct conclusion is that the subject matter is not mere incident; the treatment of the subject matter is what makes the painting (or poem) work.

Laurence John said...

Tom: "That's true. Maybe when looking at sharp edge of a axe one senses the physical damage it could cause while a sharp edge in a abstract painting doesn't have the ability to carry that kind of meaning."

Tom, Thanks. I can tell you get my points, which is such a relief after the feeling of being gas-lit in this thread. And, your use of the word 'topic' doesn't bother me in the least, even though I wouldn't use it myself.

Chris: "But your equating content with 'subject matter' in the way you have been using the term renders it untrue"

When i said 'semantic trap' above I didn't mean you were playing devious word games. I sensed that our disagreement came down to terminology. I'm using 'content' and 'subject matter' synonymously. Please don't get hung up on terminology so that it blinds you to the larger point i'm making.

chris bennett said...

I'm using 'content' and 'subject matter' synonymously.

I don't see how you can be, because you consider Michelangelo's three Pietas to be the same subject.

I'm saying they all have the same label or title, but are embodiments of different content.

kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

Here's Richard getting my point that form and content in poetry cannot be distinguished, and me acknowledging that:

Just as in a poem that describes a flower, the poetry is not merely a layer or style overlaid on the object “flower”, but rather the flower is a figure inside the poetry. It’s inextricable from the poem. You could not pick up the treatment of a poem about a flower, and drop it down on a poem about a bull. It’s not an algorithm for stylistic rendering, its visual Communication of a more complex idea.

Now you're getting it Richard.


David and Chris also acknowledged my meaning correctly. I also repeated my meaning in eight different ways in an attempt to get it across. In fact, I've probably repeated the same idea dozens of different ways over time here.

Now here's you defining "subject matter":

I use 'subject matter' (thus also content) in the everyday way to mean 'the man on the horse riding down the hill' or whatever it happens to be.

Here’s you listing examples of “subject matter” (thus “content”) as a series of nouns that comprise an incident, absolutely distinct from any poetic effect whatsoever:

“…illusionistic 'incident' (what I'm calling 'subject matter': the Barbarian with the Axe, the woman, the leopard etc.)”

Here's you now saying the exact opposite, taking, in fact, my position:

You still sound as if you're saying that poetic effect can be divorced from subject matter (what you're calling 'referent' or 'incident'). I'm saying it can't be.


Laurence John said...

Chris & Kev,

Tom has understood my points and also re-worded them in several different ways to demonstrate it.

You're both misinterpreting what I'm saying and getting bogged down in semantic hair-splitting.

chris bennett said...

It's not my fault if you keep contradicting yourself Laurence and that you are misunderstood because of it. I've pointed it out twice and both times you have not addressed it, now just waving it off semantic hair-splitting.

Laurence John said...


Kev: "Here's you now saying the exact opposite, taking, in fact, my position:

You still sound as if you're saying that poetic effect can be divorced from subject matter (what you're calling 'referent' or 'incident'). I'm saying it can't be."


If you think that is the 'exact opposite' of my earlier statements and is 'taking your position' then you're not following. It's a counter argument to your statements:


"An axe on a canvas is just an incident. The epic quality is a gestalt effect."

"Proving it is exactly the abstract aesthetic forces disguised by the 'depiction' which are the actual origins of the power of his work"

Laurence John said...

Chris or Kev,

Have another read of my 'final, final, final attempt to explain the issue' and tell me where you think the error is.

Richard said...

tell me where you think the error is

You didn't ask me, but I believe it's right here:
Without the subject matter to 'realise' the artist would have nothing to marshal their decision making toward. (You could also say 'without having anything to say about the subject, the poet would have nothing to compose a poem about').

You're putting the order of operations backwards.

In bad art, bad poetry, the artist decides on the subject first, and then tries to overlay the treatment on top of that subject. In poetry, this might go: "I shall make a poem about a flower. Okay, now how shall I describe this flower with a flourish? It was white as.... as a ... something about snow...."

In both good art, and good poetry, the artist feels the gestalt/poetry first, and then uses subjects to approach that communication; "I shall make a poem expressing the fragility of life. Now, would perhaps a tiny flower eeking out life between the cracks of a sidewalk be a good way to express that fragility? I think perhaps it might."

Laurence John said...

Richard,

In my experience, subject matter precedes treatment.

(Stephen Sondheim goes even stronger: "content dictates form")

Also your 'overlay' analogy is misleading, and as I said above (about 'style') a vast reduction of the idea of 'treatment'.

Richard said...

In my experience, subject matter precedes treatment.

I agree that generally it does, but I would also say that generally Art and Poetry are pretty bad.

You can feel when art was written treatment first -- the succinctness of the statement is clear and all-consuming.

Looking at Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, one can see immediately that he envisioned the gestalt first.

The image rang in his head like a bell.

He did not wander in his mind, saying "I shall paint a man. What shall this man be doing? Standing. Where shall he be standing? Hmm, perhaps a mountain. What shall he look like? Perhaps he'll be in silhouette, because I cannot imagine his clothes with specificity."

On the contrary, it is immediately clear that this is the kind of poetry that jumps into the mind whole-cloth, by way of some Apollonian inspiration, and then it's the artist's humble job to turn that poetry into a definitive expression.

Laurence John said...

Richard,

I'll leave your last comment open to others to chime in on.

kev ferrara said...

Tom has understood my points and also re-worded them in several different ways to demonstrate it.

Tom wrote this:

"Laurence's "subject," allows the artist to experience and express his topic."

I believe I convincingly argued that both 'subject' and 'topic' (in your shared senses of these words) are personally edited-down verbal/textual interpretations of the aesthetic events taking place via the experience of the canvas.

And it is a mistake to think like that because it is literalist and reductive; the picture's elements as macro dolls performing a macro scene whose 'point' or allegorical meaning can be grasped through interpretation. This is a highly lossy translation into a completely inappropriate language which blinds us to what is really 'represented.' (Which is not even representation, but a kind of presentation. See my prior discussion of that relevant point.)

Furthermore, in making that error, Tom's understanding of your position once again distinguishes form from content, which I've explained does not hold for aesthetically functioning poetic work. Because, again (sorry everybody), the suggestion is everywhere, at every scale, in every relation, and in every 'thing'. And goes beyond 'thingness' entirely, beneath it, behind it, and within it. The web or weave of suggestive relations goes from edge to edge, top to bottom, in and out. So all is one. And in each suggestion at every scale, scope, and depth, there is sensually-implied meaning, and that in turn suffuses the canvas with the same.

So, even the poetic content isn't expressed 'through' or 'via' the represented elements. The elements themselves only exist poetically; they are built wholly from poetry/sensually-suggested meaning. Everything contributes, and everything that contributes is simultaneously contributed. Everything experienced is the poem and only the poem.

Richard said...

Or, to use an example from my favorite Poem--

Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.


I cannot in any way imagine how one would move from subject, to this "treatment". Rather, it's clear to me that the gestalt came first, and the various subjects arose to accomplish the goal of this specific expression.

kev ferrara said...

It is immediately clear that this is the kind of poetry that jumps into the mind whole-cloth, by way of some Apollonian inspiration, and then it's the artist's humble job to turn that poetry into a definitive expression.

Yes. The synthesis comes like a rush; the essence of the Image is a kind of epiphany. And then it needs to justified. But to do so, it first needs to be back-engineered. And then the justification needs to be orchestrated.

And then in the orchestration of that justification, everything becomes poetry and poetry becomes everything.

(Justification orchestrated to make an overall point, not incidentally, is exactly what it entails to marshal and present an argument - as in an English composition. This was the meaning of "composing" across all modes of expression prior to modernist manipulation of the language.)

kev ferrara said...

Without the subject matter to 'realise' the artist would have nothing to marshal their decision making toward. (You could also say 'without having anything to say about the subject, the poet would have nothing to compose a poem about').

As with non-representational painting (as I've argued above) all the mark making would become arbitrary.

So, the correct conclusion is that the subject matter is not mere incident; the treatment of the subject matter is what makes the painting (or poem) work.


This is an argument about process, not the result and how it functions as experience as it interacts with the viewer's imagination.

Laurence John said...

Kev: "I believe I convincingly argued that both 'subject' and 'topic' (in your shared senses of these words) are personally edited-down verbal/textual interpretations of the aesthetic events taking place"

That's what happens when we discuss a visual image in words.

Kev: "This is a highly lossy translation into a completely inappropriate language which blinds us to what is really 'represented.'"

Ditto.

Kev: "Yes. The synthesis comes like a rush; the essence of the Image is a kind of epiphany. And then it needs to justified. But to do so, it first needs to be back-engineered. And then the justification needs to be orchestrated."

Richard, this is Kev's way of describing the 'inspiration' moment. The rest is his verbally dextrous way of saying he agrees with the 'subject matter precedes treatment' equation.


Kev: "This is an argument about process, not the result and how it functions as experience as it interacts with the viewer's imagination"

Sounds like you agree with it though.

kev ferrara said...

That's what happens when we discuss a visual image in words.

No! What I've been repeatedly explaining is that your supposedly 'aesthetic' argument has been translated back from words rather than actual aesthetic experience. That's why you're not getting my points. What you actually feel aesthetically seems to be alienated from your conceptual language function, like there's either no messenger from your deep imaginative mind to the focally-present symbolic mind, or there's no translator at the latter station to translate the message into English. You're closed off some how, boxed out. Unless, you actually don't feel aesthetic phenomena, a third option, which I find unlikely.

Sounds like you agree with it though.

No, I mostly agree with Richard's view on it. But it's a different question, although I made an effort to relate it back.

Laurence John said...

Kev,

Thanks for the deft analysis and character assassination in one. You're very adept at that kind of thing.

However, the conversation, and my argument, is above for anyone who wants to make up their own mind about it.

Richard said...

> The rest is his verbally dextrous way of saying he agrees with the 'subject matter precedes treatment' equation.

No, I don’t think so. I believe that he’s saying once you’ve discovered the gestalt by way of inspiration you have to engineer (back-engineer) how to make that gestalt out of subjects and technique.

The gestalt/treatment defines the goal, the subjects are designed to achieve that goal. That’s treatment preceding Subject. The subjects aren’t primary or independent, they’re characters in the treatment.

kev ferrara said...

Thanks for the deft analysis and character assassination in one. You're very adept at that kind of thing.

You interjected in the discussion to tell me what I was saying was "obvious, not interesting, so why was I saying it?" And you kept saying that, no matter how much I explained things, because, it turns out, you could not understand the material.

So you entered taunting me. And kept taunting me, arrogantly, while actually being ignorant of my position or why I was saying what I was saying.

You then declared yourself the 'victor' in a conversation. As if this is a competition. And with a riposte that demonstrated that not only didn't you understand my position, but you didn't even remember your own.

And now, when I call you out on all that, you try to win Weepy Baby Public Thread Points™ by playing hurt to the crowd.

As I said earlier, I'm offended that your 'offended.' So we're even.

kev ferrara said...

K: "Yes. The synthesis comes like a rush; the essence of the Image is a kind of epiphany. And then it needs to justified. But to do so, it first needs to be back-engineered. And then the justification needs to be orchestrated."

L: Richard, this is Kev's way of describing the 'inspiration' moment.


No. I'm being technically accurate. This is not mere empty rhetoric. The 'breakthrough' Eureka is the end point of the argument, and you have to go back with your dumb linear intellectual brain and try to extract from your genius brain how it got there.

Laurence John said...

Classic Kev move: dishes out the insults but can't take them in return (if you think this thread is bad, you should have seen discussions from years ago).

Chris,

The ball is in your court. Kev has tapped out by resorting to insult slinging. So again with the same question:

Have another read of my 'final, final, final attempt to explain the issue' and tell me where you think the error is.

kev ferrara said...

R:The gestalt/treatment defines the goal.

It's the sketch of the goal. It's complete enough. It gets at some ineffable essence of the big idea while roughing in some of the general outlines of how you got there. But it still needs a ton of work to fully justify. And some errors or ellipses in aesthetic logic might be found that cause some minor changes to the general 'sketch' along the way.

The elements or characters are themselves also only sketches of sub-compositions. They too get justified and in the process poetified.

The defining process is the realizing process.

That’s treatment preceding Subject.

No, its a synthesis of the two. That's why the imagination is so crucial to the process. The imagination is a synthesizer. The Image is a synthesis. As you work things out, one goes back and forth between suggesting the subject and poeticizing it and bringing that poeticization into the total poetic weave. With the aim that the end result be as much a synthesis of 'treatment' and 'subject' as the sketch was.

This is insanely difficult. Which is why the great Imagists are all such geniuses.

kev ferrara said...

I win the Cadillac Eldorado. Kev got the set of steak knives.

Kev has tapped out

Sorry, Laurence, you don't get to play the ballgame and officiate it at the same time.

And nobody's fooled by the emotional tack you're now taking. As it skirts away from the actual substance of the argument, that doesn't suddenly disguise it's tactical nature. Which is to say, it's you who's tapped out and you're trying to project that on me to disguise your retreat.

The hurt ego has funny, funny ways. And here you thought you had 'won.'

Laurence John said...

Kev: "So you entered taunting me. And kept taunting me, arrogantly,"

It's weird that you accuse me of 'taunting' you when i was simply trying to engage you in a conversation.

And then you accuse me of being the "Weepy Baby Public Thread Points™ by playing hurt to the crowd"

Have a think about that.

Kev: "Sorry, Laurence, you don't get to play the ballgame and officiate it at the same time."

Oh, I know. It's you who controls the conversation. Don't worry about that. You'll always have the last word.

Richard said...

> This is insanely difficult. Which is why the great Imagists are all such geniuses.

I think this is basically how kids approach art, and what comes most naturally. Kids never draw things that they don’t have an emotional and sensory thesis about.

A kid drawing a big robot fighting Godzilla knows exactly the gestalt he’s after. Only grownups would be so silly as to pick a subject they don’t care about, and then try to discover the meaning after the fact.

The genius becomes necessary to unlearn the nonsense. Under different cultural conditions, that bar may not be so high.

chris bennett said...

The ball is in your court... So again with the same question: Have another read of my 'final, final, final attempt to explain the issue' and tell me where you think the error is."

There are two which you have not so far addressed.

Laurence John said...

hit me Chris

kev ferrara said...

I think this is basically how kids approach art, and what comes most naturally. Kids never draw things that they don’t have an emotional and sensory thesis about.

Yes, exactly.

The genius becomes necessary to unlearn the nonsense.

Well, I guess I would say the "genius" is to be able to dream something that is not only 'emotional and sensory' but also accurate enough that it can be justified as naturalistic. Its one thing to do that with a figure, another to do that with a whole scene, setting, and world, to keep that emotional-sensory thing going, as well as the accuracy thing, as you fill out the rest of the picture and get it all to work.

Its imaginative engineering. "Imagineering" as I used to say (until I heard Disney also used the term.)

kev ferrara said...

Laurence, you're on tilt. Here's your tone-indicating remarks from when you entered...

Why is that surprising though ?
Why does this strike you as a note worthy phenomena?
What a bizarre statement.
I don't get why you find that a revelatory insight.


'Taunting' may not be the right word. But there was clearly an attitude that came along with your questions. You'll note that I ignored the tone until you got emotional at the end.

Laurence John said...

Kev, you're hilarious.

I love the pretence that you don't use the same tactic.

In England It's call 'sarcasm' or 'cattiness'. You are genuinely good at it though.

kev ferrara said...

I don't think we'll come to terms, Laurence. Take care.

chris bennett said...

hit me Chris

I already have earlier up the stream. But I'll quote them again cos I'm a very conscientious person...

the particular form (treatment) of the content (subject matter) give rise to what we refer to as 'poetry' (if it's any good).

What you mean is now very clear to me, and thank you for carefully articulating it. But your equating content with 'subject matter' in the way you have been using the term renders it untrue. Because if it were then we could only recognise the 'subject' of a painting of an apple on a plate as 'Apple on a Plate' if the poetry is any good.

I'm using 'content' and 'subject matter' synonymously.

I don't see how you can be, because you consider Michelangelo's three Pietas to be the same subject.

I'm saying they all have the same label or title, but are embodiments of different content (subject).

Tom said...

Thanks for the kind words Chris. I like your comment on light, space and form as a Holy Trinity. Another triangle!

Tom said...

Laurence wrote,

"That's what happens when we discuss a visual image in word."


Exactly, "Remember that language is an instrument of the mind: it is made by the mind, for the mind." Sri Nisargadatta Maharaja

Tom said...

Laurence wrote,
"Without the subject matter to 'realise' the artist would have nothing to marshal their decision making toward. (You could also say 'without having anything to say about the subject, the poet would have nothing to compose a poem about').

As with non-representational painting (as I've argued above) all the mark making would become arbitrary.

So, the correct conclusion is that the subject matter is not mere incident; the treatment of the subject matter is what makes the painting (or poem) work."

Well I agree with what you have written. I don't see how what you have said is in any way in conflict with all the other things everyone finds in art.

In China art was considered and expression of the Tao. "That which can be spoken of is not the Tao. They give great consideration to what the subject of their painting should be, if fact they even categorized the subjects of painting. The landscape was their chosen vehicle, with wonderful notions like " a landscape should have places that are inaccessible to men." They divided subjects between things that don't move and things that move. They considered the smallest things worthy subjects from insects to a single plum branch as everything that is, is an expression of the Tao. The contrast of mist and mountains, rocks and water where consider vital subjects of painting and "one did not paint pictures for gold." LOL

The west was obsessed with, geometry, the tangible, and all that could be captured in parallel lines With the notion of bodies in space. One only has to look at a book like Andrea Pozzo's Perspective in Architecture and Painting to see the degree that artist took their obsession. Something fixed like architecture is itself is a perfect subject it frames and defines space. How many people today will draw a plan view or floor plan for their painting compositions knowing where the exact location of feet and hooves would be place in the ground plane of the picture? Bodies that move are perfect expressions of symmetry. Or knowing the actual distance between the viewer and the subject? It is almost like a astronomer locating planets in space. An expression of the solidity of things needs a subject that is solid it, needs a body. The planer development of the surface of forms demands a subject that is embodied.

As Chris wrote,"Sheppard embodies himself in these animals as much as he allows the animals to embody themselves in him."
Separation is just imaginary.

Sargent who was at the top of his perspective class at the Ecole des Beaux-Art sensed the humor of it all when he referred to his painting, "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose," as "Carnation, Carnation, dam silly pose." .

chris bennett said...

Tom,

Reflecting on what you have written above, I heartily recommend you read 'The Master and his Emissary - the divided brain and the making of the western world' by Iaian McGilchrist. If you haven't already then I think you will find very much to like, even love about it.

Here is a YouTube interview with him which will serve as an introduction.

kev ferrara said...

L: "That's what happens when we discuss a visual image in word."

T: Exactly, "Remember that language is an instrument of the mind: it is made by the mind, for the mind." Sri Nisargadatta Maharaja


And here I thought language was made by Fiskars in order to cut shrubbery.

Guess that means one's interpretive verbal editing of a poem down to digestible, discrete literal units is the best way to figure out what it's about. I learn so much here!

Tom said...

Thanks Chris interesting interview. I just started it, but I will be listening to the rest of it on my ride home. He got my attention!

Laurence John said...


Me: "I'm using 'content' and 'subject matter' synonymously"


Chris: "I don't see how you can be, because you consider Michelangelo's three Pietas to be the same subject.

I'm saying they all have the same label or title, but are embodiments of different content (subject)."



Chris, I thought we had gotten past that sticking point when I said this:

"I used the phrase 'Christ after crucifixion' because (you) asked me what the 'subject' was of the Pieta (In the next sentence i said "the treatment is completely different in each case")."

Laurence John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurence John said...

Tom: ""Carnation, Carnation, dam silly pose."

Tom, the quote I've got is "Darnation, Silly, Silly, Pose"

.... but maybe he had several put downs of his own painting :-)

chris bennett said...

Chris, I thought we had gotten past that sticking point when I said this:
"I used the phrase 'Christ after crucifixion' because (you) asked me what the 'subject' was of the Pieta (In the next sentence i said "the treatment is completely different in each case")."


What I asked you was "Is the subject of Michelangelo's three Pietas the same?"

OK, so you cannot see that the content of the three Pietas is different in each case (because you equate content with subject matter (as in label/title). OK, you use the word 'treatment to distinguish them, but have failed to supply any definition of what you mean by the term. If you can't get past that then there is no point in continuing the conversation on this topic. There will be other topics no doubt, and I look forward to future exchanges on whatever they might be.

Laurence John said...

Chris: "OK, so you cannot see that the content of the three Pietas is different in each case (because you equate content with subject matter (as in label/title)"

Again with the content - subject thing.

Chris: "(because you equate content with subject matter (as in label/title)"

No, that is also addressed way back.

Chris: "OK, you use the word 'treatment to distinguish them, but have failed to supply any definition of what you mean by the term"

quoting myself from above:

"What you're talking about - pretty much all the elements that make the image work in the way it does - is what I would refer to as 'form' or the 'formal aspects' of the work. In the sense of 'form and content'. But I'd be happy to substitute for 'treatment' or 'handling'."

chris bennett said...

Laurence,

Whether you choose to call it 'form' or 'formal aspects' or 'treatment' or handling' this is not a definition of what you consider its actual function to be upon the work itself and by extension how it gives each of the three Pietas a distinct quality separate from their common title ('subject by your definition). You are just substituting words in the belief that you are explaining what you mean.

Roger Fry was no clearer on what he meant by 'form and content' either, bolstering it with just another term 'significant form' in an attempt to persuade people, along with himself, that he knew what he was talking about. One only has to look at his paintings to know that he didn't...

Laurence John said...

Chris: "Whether you choose to call it 'form' or 'formal aspects' or 'treatment' or handling' this is not a definition of what you consider its actual function to be upon the work itself"

The treatment doesn't function 'upon the work itself' since the 'work itself' would be the end result hanging on the wall, as in:

Subject Matter > Treatment > End Result

So, the treatment is whatever decisions the artist makes while trying to work toward the best end result possible, to 'illuminate' their subject matter.

The amount of variables in the 'treatment' are, of course, impossible to list.

chris bennett said...

You keep contradicting yourself Laurence.
You write: "the treatment is whatever decisions the artist makes while trying to work toward the best end result possible" but also write: "the treatment doesn't function 'upon the work itself'..."

You say they three Pieta's have the same subject but have different treatments, so what is the aesthetic function of these different treatments, these 'decisions the artist makes', if the subject just remains the same?

Laurence John said...

Chris: "... but also write: "the treatment doesn't function 'upon the work itself'...""


No, i was trying to clarify 'the work' itself as being the 'end result'


Chris, what do you consider to be the 'subject matter' of Sargent's 'Carnation, Lilly, Lily, Rose' (by your own definition of 'subject matter') ?

chris bennett said...

No, i was trying to clarify 'the work' itself as being the 'end result'

Yes, I'm fully aware of that. Now please answer my question, before I answer yours.

Laurence John said...

Chris,

If you're unwilling to accept the term 'subject matter' in the way I've been using it then we'll just go around in circles like this forever.

Lets leave it here.

chris bennett said...

Laurence,

I have. And my questions have been formulated using the term as you define it, or any of the other words you keep substituting for it, by way of reply to you. But you have been unwilling to answer a single one.

So I'm happy to heave it here, as I suggested earlier.

However, I will show you the courteously of answering your own question; what do you consider to be the 'subject matter' of Sargent's 'Carnation, Lilly, Lily, Rose' (by your own definition of 'subject matter')?

It cannot be written. Just think of the alternatives to the painting's current inscrutable title and how see how this would lead the viewer away from the full diapason of what the image has to offer their senses; "Crepuscule in the Garden", "Chinese Lanterns", The White Pinafores", "Aglow in the Twilight", "Fleeting Enchantment", "Polly and Dolly", "Harmony in Peach and Green", "A Moment before Nightfall"... etc etc.

None of these titles would be 'untrue' but each of them is merely a selective literary interpretation of a minute aspect of what we are seeing when beholding the image itself. None of them can be considered to come anywhere near describing the subject in is implications, wholeness and fulfilment. If they could then there would have been no reason to paint it.