22 August 2009

Kahnweiler, Kant and Kubismus (KKK?)

Working on a little essay to post here. In the meantime, here's a little quote from Kahnweiler's, Der Weg zum Kubismus [translated as The Rise of Cubism] (1920) to whet your appetites:

"At this point, Braque's introduction of undistorted real objects into the painting takes on its full significance. When 'real details' are thus introduced the result is a stimulus which carries with it memory images. Combing 'real' stimulus and the scheme of forms, these images construct the finished object in the mind. Thus the desired physical representation comes into being in the spectator's mind....

"This new language has given painting an unprecedented freedom. It is no longer bound to the more or less verisimilar optic image which describes the object from a single viewpoint....

"Our a priori knowledge of [geometric] forms is the necessary condition, without which there would be no seeing, no world of objects.... Humanity is possessed not only by the longing for these lines and forms, but also by the ability to create them."

21 August 2009

Writing and not writing

I have a paper to write. A big paper. An important paper. Actually, I have severals of these, all due in short order. I am procrastinating the writing of them. I dread writing them. So naturally, it is time to go to the library to gather more research. This is actually necessary... I think. But is doing more research and reading an excuse to avoid the pain of writing? And why is writing painful? Because it forces us to be exact, to pin ourselves down, to commit? And in the end, what is the goal of writing? Who benefits from writing? Is it primarily the writer, as either an act of either intellectual rigor and personal growth or confessional purgation? Or is it for the reader who can cannibalize the writer's knowledge or voyeuristically feed on his or her life? But already this veers towards the turgid, and away from the polished exterior of the ideal self-presentation of writing.

28 June 2006

A Map of Art History

The most recent issue of Drawing Magazine has published "The Flowering Staircase: 1435-1935," a genealogical chart of artists from Michelangelo to Thomas Eakins and Robert Henri. Somehow they bothered to list Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle (illustrators), while Picasso is palpably omitted. Obvious biases aside, it has some value for the student of art history.

(Here's the link to the author of the Staircase.)

03 April 2006

"Art is whatever the artist says it is" and other quotable quotes

After discovering that I have this blog, a friend of mine Googled me last night in order to find its URL, which of course, was not possible since my full name does not appear here. However, he did find the MySpace page of one of my former students, who, surprisingly enough, actually took notes on the things I said in class, and then posted the pithy bits to her blog. As it turns out, I think that they are both funny and pointed. If you follow the link, I recommend first muting your speakers so as not to be subjected to the horrible rock 'n' roll music that she has blaring on her page. You'll also need to scroll down a bit. My quotes are on the right-hand side. And, by the way, I don't condone any of the other content on her site. Here they are.
And in the "art" vein, this:

[Thomas] Kinkade testified in a deposition that excessive drinking and "some normal rowdy talk" had taken place, but he denied touching the woman. "But you've got to remember," he said, "I'm the idol to these women who are there." In the recent arbitration case, he also testified that he had never claimed to be perfect.

Via Amy Welborn.

14 March 2006

Color Theory and Perception

Go to the Apple web site to see this interesting little video that explains some of the more basic aspects of color and perception theory. I guess most everyone is probably familiar with this stuff by now, but it never fails to fascinate me.

Incidentally, a more detailed—but equally accessible to the layman—discussion of these things can be found in this book by Harvard neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone, titled Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing. I came across this book half on accident the other day in the library while doing some research for my prof on a tangentially related subject and have been pretty absorbed by it ever since. It's really a useful book for just about anyone who is interested in art or design on some sort of practical level. I remembered that I heard an interview with her a couple of years ago on NPR discussing her ideas, which you can listen to here.

There are some problems with Livingstone's ideas. She is a neurobiologist afterall and not an artist or art historian, but still there are certain mechanisms of vision which relate to the visual arts, and which are about as close to being as objective about art as you can possibly be. For instance, her statement that artists are people with poor stereopsis (ability to perceive three dimenions) and this enables them to create convincing perspectives is really stupid, but then again, as someone who has never been able to "get" one of those Magic Eye pictures, there may be some truth to it.

27 January 2006

Cézanne in Provence

Montagne Sainte-Victoire Seen From Bibémus, 1897, by Paul Cézanne

The art Cézanne made in Provence, especially his last convulsive images of Mont Sainte-Victoire, ultimately shook painting to its core. It effectively destabilized centuries of representation to reach a deeper, fuller, nearly hallucinatory kind of realism. In the early 1900's, when Cézanne's paintings began to be known to younger artists like Braque, Picasso, Matisse and Mondrian, these works provided the foundations for Cubism and the multiple strands of early Modernism.

So writes critic Roberta Smith in the New York Times in her exceptionally cogent review of the exhibition "Cézanne in Provence" opening January 29 at the National Gallery of Art.

It was the landscape of Provence, more than anything else, that pushed Cézanne to make his particular changes. It prodded him to unhinge painting from conventional representation, to create breathing space between his brushstrokes and what they described. The proof is in the making. He brought a new equilibrium to painting's essential trifecta — the act of seeing, the psychic and physical process of painting, and the finished work — that gives the medium its novelistic richness and, even now, its firm grip on the imagination.

It is interesting to consider that although many of the artists that were affected by Cézanne's painting at the beginning of the twentieth century were political radicals who desired to overthrow the established institutions of Church and State and wanted a "modern" art that, in its rupture with the past, would express this radical agenda, Cézanne was conservative in his beliefs and a devout Catholic. Although it also happens, as his dealer Amrbroise Vollard tells us, that when the light was good for painting on Sundays "the curate had to get along without Cézanne."

I hope that everyone will make the effort to get to the exhibition. It should be more than worth it.

While you're there, be sure not to miss the exhibition of sculptures on tour from the Orasanmichele by Ghiberti, Nano di Banco and Verrochio, a rare opportunity to see monumental Florentine sculpture in the U.S.

21 January 2006

Ora et Labora

The painter Balthus at work

With apologies to WB+, I have borrowed the title of one of his recent posts, because in part, Whitehall has been the impetus for this post. (Be sure to read his follow-up post, too.)

The notions of Ora (Prayer) and Labora (Work) have been very much on my mind lately, not least because I have been laboring in many areas lately toward many, but overlapping, ends. On the one hand, there is the on-going struggle to finish my M.A. thesis. Then there are my classes, my research assistantship, some service work for the university, my catechism class, dabbling with my paints, and lastly, this blog. And at the same time, I have endeavored to implement a greater degree of discipline in my prayer life, to which end The Garden of the Soul has been most helpful.

But they have also been on my mind because I have turned to painting icons, which being both paintings and devotional aids seem to be the epitome of ora et labora. I recently hunted up a quote by one of my all-time favorite artists, and devote Catholic, Balthasar Klossowski, known as Balthus. In his memoir, Balthus says,

I always begin a painting with a prayer, a ritual act that gives me a means to get across, to transcend myself. I firmly believe that painting is a way of prayer, a means of access to God.

Sometimes I've been reduced to tears, facing the challenges of a painting. Then I hear a godly voice speaking to me from within: "Hold on, resist!" It's a certain kind of grace, as in the libretto of Mozart's Magic Flute. These words, whenever I hear them, make me continue with my work. Follow the path until life is over.

What Balthus points out to us is not merely that the activity of painting can be an act of prayer. He also points us back to the divide that exists between the artist's intentions and the realization of the same. The work is a struggle towards an unattainable perfection. His Holiness, John Paul II, noted this condition in his 1999 Letter to Artists:

All artists experience the unbridgeable gap which lies between the work of their hands, however, successful it may be, and the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed in the ardour of the creative moment: what they manage to express in their painting, their sculpture, their creating is not more than a glimmer of the splendour which flared for a moment before the eyes of their spirit.

The romantic concept of the artist as a tormented genius, which albeit needs nuancing and contextualizing, is not entirely off the mark. To make art—but I don't limit this strictly to art—is to enter into an uncertain half-way place between where one is and where one wants to get to, a place where the getting-to becomes more unlikely as one proceeds. It is the existential crisis tout court.

The crisis is insurmountable for anyone who does not have access to prayer. Because while art is a deliberate immersion in one's own perspective of the world, that is, one's subjectivity, prayer is the opposite. Prayer demands that one look at the world and oneself through the eyes of God. Prayer is the perfect complement for the work, because the work has usually only the glimmerings of the goal in mind and is entirely concerned with the striving, but without knowing how to get there. Prayer, on the other hand, has the goal so firmly in mind, but without the least concern for how the goal will be accomplished. It is the act of faith that the goal will be accomplished, and indeed has already been secured by divine intervention.

It must be this security which transforms the labora into ora, and vice versa. Because the work becomes a willingness to submit to the divine will and a way of communing with it; the work rests not only in the assurance of our being made complete in the image of Christ, but also a way of participating in that process as it unfolds.

I was going to write a short review of James Elkins' book What Painting Is, which I just finished, but I have decided against doing this because the premise of the book can be summed up fairly neatly: Elkins' sees alchemy and its belief that base substances (the prima materia, in alchemical-speak) can be transformed into the mythical, supernatural philosopher's stone as a metaphor for painting. In painting, it is colored muds that are miraculously transformed by the artist's labor into a transcendent object; through the process of painting they are made meaningful.

But perhaps this is taking the wrong end of the stick, or brush. Painting, and art in general, ought to be regarded as a metaphor for the very real work of transformation which the Holy Spirit is working out in the lives of every Christian. Like painting, it is slow, and works with imperfect, intractable elements made of mud. But unlike painting the end is certain.