Thursday, February 24, 2011

Little Pin of Low Mimetics

                  Borrowing from an excellent source for clear-thinking, Northrop Frye, one can find a useful division in literary art into “high” and “low mimetics”. Let us apply this division to representational painting.
High mimetics would fit paintings where objects and situations presented were idealized, as if air-brushed of all extraneous accidental imperfections .They are presented to the viewers at their very best of possible appearances. That usually is true throughout the image: it seems to convey an ideal state of the shown world. Leonardo and Raphael painted in the High Mimetics.
Seems to me that the taste for Low Mimetics arose in the Northern painting first and mostly remained there. Surely there would be some exceptions to be found elsewhere but the true seat, true hub of Low Mimetics is in the North.
In the “Deposition” by Rogier van der Weyden notice that the figure of Saint Anne is wearing a white scarf held in place by a pin. The entire painting is filled with crying mourners and still Weyden felt an obligation to install the little pin as if to show that reality is demanding this detail of practicality, no matter how drenched with tragedy is the subject. It strikes me as the spirit of Low Mimetics.

Can you imagine such attachment to the truth of daily life in Leonardo or Raphael? Italian art had to wait for almost one hundred years to see realistic, mundane elements in their art, brought by Caravaggio.

However bountiful and lush is this display he also included holes eaten out by insects and a wormy apple, because the passion for the real was so much stronger than the outside expectations of the ideal of high mimetics. Another example of low mimetics is in those true to life dirty feet of a pilgrim below, also by Caravaggio::

 Returning to the Northern art of the era [around 1600] we find low mimetics thriving to unprecedented degree. It prompted  a book by a painter Gerard de Laresse warning  painters against the abominable habits of depicting ,with obvious glee interior scenes of brothel trade, lecherous drunks cavorting in country pubs, lewd scenes with an overwhelming air of approval, paintings containing men relieving themselves in some shaded part of an interior, fondling eager hussies, gambling, fisty-cuffs and worse. Commentaries written now analyzing the meaning of those Dutch paintings are searching everywhere to support  rather pious idea that these works were honestly meant to be in fact stern warnings against debauchery, fornication, gambling, drunkenness and gluttony and other sins so lovingly depicted, I forgot to include.

Adriaen van Ostade: how is that for low mimetics?

And here is Rembrandt’s etching with his splendid chiaroscuro.
Thinking about mimetic arts: painting, sculpture, poetry, plays and prose I see that across ages the proportions of high and low mimetic are always adjusted not by tenor of the times but rather by individual taste of the artist. What sort of the world he wants to show to us- how close to reality he actually knows he will create his reportage on the world? Or, almost frightened by that possibility would he rather present us with another, alternative world, much improved wish or day-dream of elevated perfection would he unveil?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Puzzling Disparity

            There is something significant that should be examined and well understood in comparing the billowy success of modern visual art and collapse and disappearance of “experimental poetry”, ”experimental novel” and “experimental music”. They all vanished. Where is that inspired genius who was publishing poems consisting of one word repeated hundred times, where is the energetic composer, who was breaking concert pianos on stage? Who is reading Robbe-Grillet? Who is demanding that brilliant piece of new music by John Cage consisting of four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence?
            Oh, you fickle public –one day you sit in rapped attention when Cage is performing his difficult composition  and during the intermission hear that” he makes us aware of the primal silence”[ or some rubbish like that] and never played his music again?
            Somehow in music concert halls no one is breaking pianos any more, listens to silences, no one is publishing one word poems and nobody is writing experimental novels about nothing at all, like the celebrated Robbe-Grillet. Contemporary novelists are writing excellent prose devoid of any idiotic “experimentations”, poems are moving our hearts as before,while any classical music composed after “Metamorphosen” by Richard Strauss in 1945 is very rarely performed.
           And yet- on my territory of visual arts, coverall clad workers carefully, very carefully are moving into position a large chunk of rock painted blue to be the marvel and the pride of the Tate Gallery. Other words- cretinism thrives in visual arts while literature and music was allowed to give it well deserved shove of the cliff. I am puzzled by that disparity.
          Perhaps the explanation goes like this: when you buy a book you page through it and when it seems promising, engaging, illuminating, or sparkling with clever language you get it. Similarly with classical music- when it is a collection of discordant, chaotic screeches and painful yammering you toss it back. Wrapping buildings, cutting and displaying cows in formaldehyde –that is all sponsored by the limitless generosity of multinational corporations. Cunningly and with glee they see it as a welcomed absurdity helping to spread the sense of resignation, alienation from truth, beauty, our culture, even common sense.

Friday, February 18, 2011


I am about to contribute three paintings to a show entitled “Story-tellers” and the organizers requested from each participant a couple of paragraphs containing thoughts on story-telling. My opinions are here:
There seems to be two sources for content in an artwork; extraneous ones, like a literary source or an interior “story” that fulfils itself within the confines of the art-work without pointing outward for its origin or its elucidation.
Before art became truly itself there was decorated craft and by augmenting decoration with story-telling it has become art. That happy mélange lasted to great success until Impressionism. There is still some vestigial content in Impressionism but it is purposefully chosen to be minimal, un-assuming and banal for the sake of underscoring the decorative values of the paintings

               Fragment of Paul Cezanne’s painting ;already cleared of the "story-telling"abomination.Even though there is no "story" there is a message there.Painter seems to be telling the viewer:I looked from the window of my brother's house at these trees but the truth of their morphology meant little to me.I used their general direction and flat siluettes  to serve as heavy-handed props in my composition the way the Lords use their servants while avoiding to look at them.

Fragment of a Gerrit Dou painting [for a larger view click the link]        

 From the triumphal reign of Impressionism the entire officialdom of art frowned at content viewed as anachronism burdening art with non-artistic content. The painting was supposed to be about painting, not about something else. The only content ever accepted afterwards was the kind of content that was a joke about content. Of course truly serious, great artists were not asking art critics for permission to paint coherent, thoughtful, humanistic content. While museums were being filled to the rafters with hasty products of Albers, Rothko, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein and Klein -the real great artists worked ignored by the foam-machines of fame and praise. Their sin was the “story-telling”.
There is obviously something intentionally belittling in calling poetical, descriptive content of passionate inquiries into visible world “story-telling”, as if they were woven by infantile minds to put children to sleep. I wonder how enthusiastic would modernists be if we called for participation in a show of they work “Optical Trash”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Intensity of gaze

From the “Art of the Arts” by Anita Albus:
“Painting was able to claim its place as the art of the arts as long as it still encompassed the seven liberal arts within it; as long as the painters, in the contest of the arts, gave their utmost to breathe life into the world. Without their learning, without their counterbalance of morality, a new peacock butterfly can never spread forth its wings from the subverted profession. Look back at painting’s multilayered lepidopterous phase. The Lunar Orbiter sent back its images of our blue star from the immeasurable, lifeless reaches of space. If we had fully grasped this star’s uniqueness, we would look with different eyes at the fly that has finished its morning wash and is strolling over apple-green waxy skin around a globe with a stalk. Perhaps then we might have regained the intensity of gaze that distinguished a Van Eyck,or Rogier van der Weyden,Patinir or Gerard David, Flegel or Goedaert. We should take up from them – not to do the same as they did, but to have a share in the same: in perfect creation, in the imitation according to creation that is the form of our immortality.”
Fragment of “Madonna of Chancellor Rolin” by Jan van Eyck. Somewhere in this painting, at shoals in the distance teenage boys are skipping stones. I only read about it , never came close enough for such close examination, but to know it helps me, as a painter ,as a supplicant in the temple of my profession  to bear the grievous indignities of contemporary art to know they are there, skipping stones and that they will do it endlessly to hold the mental cosmos of our culture intact.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Figurative rubbish

Just by rejecting abstract art or the whole modern art and by dedicating one’s effort within representational art not much is guaranteed. Most of representational art is in fact awful. Simpering banality abounds. Epigonism of bad sources mounts up heaps of dreadful dross. Mere act of rejecting circulating counterfeits is right but that by itself is not valuable.
In many, all-too-many cases representational contemporary painting betrays the author as crypto-modernist who has little interest in observation, in study, in very serious inquiry into the World outside of the sparse thicket of his “concepts”. Paintings like that are so indefensibly naked revealing impatient disregard for any effort toward truth of the objects depicted, arrogant dismissal of respect for the splendor of the world.
I recall without pleasure an occasion when my dear friends told me of a lady friend they knew who paints only clouds. Sounded promising [meaning-more promising than if she chose narrow limits of painting only vacuum cleaners] but when I finally saw one of her paintings it was some amorphous congregation of whitish globs on a darker background. Apparently she found no willingness of looking up at the patiently available models, no sense of silently screaming idiocy of this artistic offering.
Out of this anecdote I can tease out two morals: one, that expectations of the viewers were lowered so low that anything, but anything enclosed by the rectangle of a picture frame will solicit at least an encouraging nod and a smile of approval, and a second moral is that our contemporaries have gotten used to the generally held opinion that artists are harmless morons and should not be confronted with heartless criticism. We live in the padded rooms and nurse tells us we are “great”.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Self-expression or portrait of the world?

What is self-expression? Making faces to the mirror? Is it the annoying nagging of a brat ”mammy, look at me!”?  Coming from numberless sources that seems to be purpose of art-making by the modern artist. He/she/it  is pouring out his/her/its innermost self  toward viewing public with the hasty assumption that all these embarrassing self-revelations is just what strangers want from authors of contemporary art. A huge mistake. Indeed a fundamental one. So large a mistake that only a conceited amateur, lazy dilettante could commit without shame.Art, which is part of human history defined itself long ago and decisions at a New York art-party cannot change it.
Artist’s task is to give portrait of the world. That is his subject: the world. Shoemaker has to forget about expressing his inner anguish and make outstanding pair of shoes. An artist has to prove that his enamoration and profound knowledge of the world qualifies him to deserve the special position in society. Because the subject is the world the necessary method is representational art. If one would ever felt that it is limitation too confining than I strongly suggest that person thinks little, knows lamentably little about the world.

Peddling Fraud

I have meekly {at times] kept my opinions to myself knowing well that I am surrounded by a solid and loud certainties of people who spent little time forming their own opinions and  rashly joined the chorus of the accepted  general opinions. Regarding modern art they would most often say they don’t know much about it but they know what they like and would point to some piece that seemed less offensive than the rest, hoping that it covered the expectation of appearing to be a sophisticated viewer. What they would never do is to say-regrettably all I see is a total fraud, a shocking elevation of moronic nonsense. Would they be lying to avoid confrontation with guardians of orthodoxy? Or, would they be more ominously, really believing that there is something ineffable, something otherworldly they have no vocabulary to express of what they are viewing and at least a sage nod is due to those mystifying efforts. Be sure I have no such inhibitions. I have spent my life thinking intensely, laboriously and ceaselessly each day about art honing both discernment and knowledge of true achievements. The more I have learned about the past of art the worse was the comparison with modern art. Any piece of modern art is worthless: not some of them while some shining exceptions remain “great”.Idiotic squares of canvases were and still are “admired” and “valued” by the same public who for several generations believed in curative value of hokum of psychoanalyses, now finally discredited as fraudulent pseudoscience. Modern art and psychoanalyses are in fact sisters.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Precision versus “More-or-Less”

Every art-work that is worthy of our admiration radiates powerful sense of authority. It is constructed and executed in such intricate way that we are forced to see absolute air of necessity spanning across each molecule of it. Nothing could be altered, removed, omitted-we are confronted with an object that is closed, concluded not unlike a flower or an oak. It is realized to its utmost of being and presents itself with unmistakable authority. One of the first impressions upon viewing such art-work is the pleasure of its completeness.
To myself I call it precision, even though it may be not the best name, because it might be confused with some tedious mechanical imitation and that is surely not what is meant here. I think of precision of Shakespearian sonnet or “Madonna of Chancellor Rolin” by van Eyck.
To that difficult end all the efforts of an artist, I believe should be leading. One of the ways to look at it would be to think that the artist at the very start is gazing at a piece of modern art, an empty panel. Minimalism, to be sure. Now-he can simply approve it as the very best he can possibly do and sign it knowing that some respectable museum is still missing an empty canvas as a good example of that important trend in modern art-or, he can take the slippery risk of covering it with some paint, already admitting to belong to the tardy lot that is “still” painting, rather than overstepping the” limitations” of the canvas. Now, the further he goes in constructing the image the further he recedes from the newest in modern art. If some sensible voice should fail to stop him before much is done he may come to the territory where expressiveness, meaning, beauty, observation of visible world ,poetical interpretation of the experienced world is –and that could be very troubling, because that is just what “old” art were about for thousands of years. Why would one want to be in such company?! And that is where modern artist would cautiously pull back and proudly sign his new creation. Something is there, something greasy and spattered with simulated “passion” and ready for admiration.


Ever since I started learning painting I found myself surrounded by aggressive front of advocates of modern art.Seemed as if anybody with normally developed cerebrum and intending to be an artist would join the „progressive” adventure of experimentation,discoveries,demolition of the old and erection of the new art.Sounded so enticing,irresistible inarguable-who,after all would be against values like freedom of experimentation,discoveries,unbounded creativity,right? However I found quickly that under the attractive wraps of “creativity” and “progress” and “freedom” instead of new-found treasures of art there were only chaotic smears,arrogant rejection of the world and laughable dilettantism of poseurs,styling themselves as “artistes”.
This absurd situation is so entrenched by now that the whole officialdom of art is infected by it.Each museum,each art center,and most art galleries are directed by people who believe that modern art is not a grim joke but a sanctified mission by and for elevated souls and whoever objects is dim-witted hick.
The subject,like most subjects is complex  and should be cut up into segments,separate boxes and examined issue by issue and I intend to do just that in this blog.Even though the subject is so large I want to leave space and energy for the art I admire and delight in.This way postings will keep a good balance between criticism and rejection of modern art and enthusiasm for any art that deservedly belongs to the glorious continuum we started fourteen thousands years ago.