Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fear of the Nude

If you are a figurative artist than I believe you know how difficult it is to exhibit nudes, even partial nudes in American settings. A country that has violence in high schools, mayhem on streets, several wars abroad and glamorizes heroes of violence in mass-media cannot face a nude in art center.
The shock, the trauma, even possible collapse and cardiac arrest may ensue if a visitor to public art show would be unexpectedly presented with a sight of a nude. Oh, horror! What those depraved Satans of art had done to my innocence, now and forever bespotted, contaminated with the offensive image!
 It was so cozy and safe when all the exhibiting spaces were covered with acreage of abstract art offending no one. You could walk safely past yellow circles and red rectangles and pajamas-like stripes toward some nasty splatter and listen to assertive screech of the art-docent showing how to say “wonderful” as if it was three words ,a name of a Dutch master Won der Fool. And so it is all “WONderful”, except that this exclamation is reserved for lady-docent and art curators because it is evaluative and you should pensively say “interesting…”while looking at the pajama-stripes art-work. 

                                                           Kenneth Noland

Here is art that shows gums but has no teeth. It is guaranteed to be safe for children up to the age of two. Past that age however it may actually slow the cognitive development from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens. Visiting today’s museum, library or art-center you are safely in Crayolaland build for children. In contemporary world people expect they can take their children any place with them and complain if some of those places are not accommodating ‘children’s needs’.
Here is an incomplete list of groups most likely to press against showing nudes at a show:
-women who think that painting nudes is comodifying woman’s body and therefore is “degrading” women.
-those among Christians who abhore pleasures, sensuality, Eros and beauty of human body.
-the rigid doctriners of modern art who see no place for figurative art in contemporary culture.
- parents who drag along, push strollers and piggy-back children everywhere and want the whole world to be expurgated for their little tots.
-small-cranium hypocrites who think that any, even the most reverent show of nakedness is “pornography”.

 Beneath is a tiny sampling of XX century nudes which I will increase over time.

                                              Balthasar Klossowski de Rola,known as Balthus

                                                                        Egon Schiele

                                                                              Otto Dix

                                                                   Stanley Spencer

                                                                       Andrew Wyeth

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Symbols or Representation?

    In a book on symbolism the author uses a very broad definition of symbol claiming that any depiction of objects in a painting stands for something outside of the work of art and therefore they all are symbols. Thus a guitar in a painting "symbolizes" a guitar, hand is a "symbol" of a human hand. This is wrong: he confuses "illusion" with "symbols". An object portrayed in a painting is an illusion of an object that exists outside of a painting but once it is successfully painted it has gained its sovereignty. Now it becomes a positive, complete being on its own : an image that in many important ways differs from its origins in the outside world. There is an ontological difference between a painted guitar and a guitar: one is an apparition, an image made of light, while the other is a material being. Symbols exist differently: they are members of the mind’s library of symbolic meanings.

                                                      Sebastian Stosskopf :Vanitas still life

                                     A scull symbolizes death but the depiction of the scull shows us an illusion of a scull, not a symbol of it. One is visual the other is rational: Imago and Logos. Images are viewed while symbols are read. To apprehend the scull as a symbol of death one has to stop contemplating it as an image and engage in reading the logos of the scull, as a category of thought, not an image anymore.
                                   The image requires of the viewer only a cursory acquaintance with the visible world to come into being. One does not have to know what a guitar looks like to recognize it in a painting as some string instrument and allow the arrangement of paints to become an image of a guitar. For the symbol to come into existence a pictogram of an object has to occur and be recognized by the viewer’s library of symbolic meanings. So, the crossbones and scull do not have to be depicted with any attempt at accuracy to serve as a pictogram indicating a symbol of death. Indeed the individuating elements of the image are impeding and have to be overlooked, peeled away to show more succinctly the "noun" to be read and compared with the mind's library of symbols. Vertical bar in a child's depiction of a face is a pictogram of a nose and is "read" as a symbol of the noun "nose". At that point the child is no longer a painter, but a writer, hieroglyphic writer.

                                                                  Joan Miro : "Girl"

                                 Kandinsky, Miro and at times Klee were writers of new kind of pictograms; playful pictograms without clues, fake cryptograms where wish to communicate has been replaced by an illusory meaningfulness.  An object in a painting becomes unique and separate from its outside-world origin. Not so with pictograms; they are very closely dependent on resembling all other instances representing the same meaning, like hieroglyphs or letters.
                                  Because symbols stand for ideas they need not be individuated, but sometimes they are, as in a Vanitas still-lifes of XVII century. A scull in such a still- life is painted to the utmost of realistic depiction of a scull, and at the same time it is a symbol of Death. Confronted with such still-life the powerful image of corruption and demise of life speaks to us directly and additionally we can ,and do read the symbolic words of the Christian warning :Vanitas! The scull in such still- life is both a strongly appearing image and a potent symbol. But then there are images-symbols that however beautifully executed as images reveal their symbolic meaning only to some and to increasingly fewer viewers. The dog at the feet of the couple in "Betrothal of Arnolfini" means fidelity and at the time it was painted it was clear to everyone. Now of course the understanding of it shrunk considerably. Images are perduring whilst symbols erode into obscurity.

                                             Fragment of "Betrothal of Arnolfini" by Jan Van Eyck

                                  Symbolic language enjoys considerable popularity among art critics who love to discover symbols everywhere. That means more than reading the handful of symbols placed by the artists but going on their own Symbol Safari and discovering new ones, placed in artworks by the "subconsciousness". Yet language of symbols is not a rich, dynamic, expressive, mentally rewarding form of communication. It is static, stale, reminiscent of what first attempts at any language could have been. The message in most cases is like a few one-word placards propped against each other. Not a very good tool for conveying anything of complexity, subtlety or uniqness. Yet, symbolic interpretations of art-works are generating longest texts full of exaggerated constructs and conjurer’s tricks of ideological fancy wholly unwarranted by the simple image that served as a bottom stool for the ridiculous overreaching into the stratosphere of cheap ideas. Since the art critics and art historians naturally tend toward the world of ideas rather than close contemplation they look with impatient distraction at the language of representation and dismiss it as narrowly literal. Oh, Rembrandt -shame on you for painting all those self-portraits without a nail to hang a symbol on!
                                                             Rembrandt van Rijn

                                In contrast language of representation with its directness, immediacy and irreducible complexity feeds and rewards the viewer in a way that can never be fully exhausted, cannot be dipped-out to its bottom. Yet, because images exist on the outside of discrete language, they don’t generate much text under the fingers of art commentators. What is so importantly, manifestly there remains uncanny, in plain view but appealing to viewer’s intimate acquaintance with directly experienced reality rather than covering the resplendent nakedness of images with rancid rags of concepts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Contour and Line

Contour is any object’s horizon. It can be diffused or sharply defined but it always is showing the edge of what is visible from a particular vantage. The kind of three-dimensionality we know is consisting of separate objects and their separateness is defined by contours.
It is possible to imagine a universe where objects are not separated by contours and abide as formless gruel of oneness. Perhaps this universe had such state in some obscure past and later coagulated into a gritty state we know where everything is vibrating inside of some medium yet to be understood that forms the space. What is much better understood is the world of discrete objects with their substantiality and palpable concreteness. In the name of all artists I want to express my profound appreciation for that state of universal affairs: bravo for substantiality and bravo for separateness!!!! That enthusiasm was not always equally shared; in Baroque painters imagined something like a cosmic shadow enveloping existence and out of the deep tenebrae objects were reaching toward the light. Other words- the darkness was the original and overwhelming state of visible world while light was rare and only fragmentary, illuminating some tips and extended extremities yearning for life-giving light.
Line exists in two-dimensional space while contour is three-dimensional. Line is conceptual, like all planimetric objects; points, triangles, squares, circles. Line preserves the flatness of the plane on which it is drawn while contour makes one side to  recede. Because of that effect contour belongs to figurative, representational art and line to decorative art.

Line is arbitrary, peremptory border. Contour is invasive toward its surroundings, cross-contaminating , commingling with its neighbor. Looking close, very close at the contour one finds inevitable consequences of being in the tumbler of physical world. As a result contour shows to the attentive eye “events of the edge” bristling with complexities, teeming with details.Lines were made by a busy razor and are much faster than contours tangled in eddies of talkative details.

Rembrandt van Rijn

Aubrey Beardsley