04 June 2018
Dr Great Art Podcast Episode 36: Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical
The newest Dr Great Art Podcast. Episode 36: Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical.
Paintings and novels, far from being hidebound, as is often squawked, are quintessentially antithetical: excellent disciplines for new metaphoric thought. They are ideally adversarial. They incorporate, use and criticize. They have achieved a condition of being perpetually "genres undermined." They have been in a permanent state of crisis for a minimum of several hundred years. What more could one ask for as a difficult, challenging and rewarding fray?
#arthistory #painting #novel
Dr Great Art Podcast 36 36
Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical
Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical: Excellent Disciplines for New Metaphoric Thought
Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the 36th "Dr Great Art" brief podcast.
My artecdote this time concerns how paintings and novels, far from being hidebound, as is often squawked, are quintessentially antithetical: excellent disciplines for new metaphoric thought.
First a quick quotation:
"A culture of experience, of thinking, of consciousness. Correspondingly, the progress of humanity can only be achieved through progressive thinking, anticipatory thinking, imaginative thinking and an alteration of behavior –…– only as the result of a change of consciousness. The famous "do-able" or "make-able" — we must transfer this from the technological dimension into the cerebral dimension.)" --- by Christian Doelker, from his book Kulturtechnik Fernsehen — Analyse eines Mediens, translation from German by me.
Eine Kultur der Erfahrung, des Denkens, des Bewusstseins. Entsprechend sind Fortschritte des Menschen nur zu erzielen durch ein fortschreitendes Denken, ein antizipierendes Denken, ein imaginatives Denken und eine Veränderung des Verhaltens –…– nur als Folge eines Bewusstseinswandels. Das berühmte “Machbare” — wir müssen es aus der technologischen Dimension in die geistige Dimension verlegen.
Painting and the Novel: Antithesis
Whereas both media theorist Christian Doelker and I have been known to claim that new media "demand" a certain learnedness, this is exaggeration. Rather, they offer opportunities. 'Demand' makes these technological developments sound all-important and dictatorial. Such language is symptomatic of a common affliction: the adoration of new media, new technology, new toys. We must stop worshiping or reproaching our tools and begin to use them. Their importance is in their application — the philosophies and expressions they embody. Significance can often be better thought through in conditions of self-imposed circumscription, testing and transgressing the boundaries of received deliberation. In this light the so-called traditional media of painting and the novel are the major league of discourse in many ways.
There are numerous other reasons to choose to work in or study these two, painting and the novel, here are a few:
- slightly more resistance than newer forms to the vagaries of trendiness,
- self-reliance in production,
- proven philosophical openness,
- sheer presence,
- anti-Puritanical sensuality,
- a tradition of shedding the skin of tradition itself,
- a confidence in redefinition rather than cultural amnesia and ignorance.
As I discovered after moving to Switzerland from the US, one reason often cited in Europe for painting or writing novels, or alternately for not doing so, is simply stated as "tradition." I fervently take exception with this. "Tradition" used so abstractly has no identity other than that of a bothersome insect. The standard street myth is that Europeans are borne down creatively by their (wonderful) tradition, while Americans are freed to be so creative by their total lack of one. This is self-imposed self-aggrandizement by both continental groups. Citizens of the New World have tradition — many traditions, almost all European ones and more. They are the descendants of the Old World, not from another planet. If Europeans have it, so do they. PLUS, African traditions, Asian ones, Native American ones and more.
Additionally, North America is concomitantly not "freer," no matter how frequently they assert that. For most minor artists and authors I have met on both these continents tradition today, this seems to mean only a feeling of a burden, loaded with little actual historical knowledge at all. What is needed is knowledge without a debilitating sense of a weight — dialogue with and against tradition, as I have discussed previously and often. And one major reason for my teaching of Art History and for the whole Dr Great Art project.
Painting and the novel offer good conditions for this in the sheer opposition they present to the creator.
True, earlier in the century there was too much emphasis placed on these two media and this was exploited to be dismissive of many others. Yet, as noted, there is an equally counter-productive inversion at work now. Early photographers, e.g., honored painting to an extreme. The best found their way out of this. Peter Halter describes the solution to this problem for photographer Paul Strand.
"In regard to painting this meant that as a photographer one should learn from it rather than try to imitate it, as was common…at the time…."
Now "new" media — anything new — may be glorified merely for the fact of technological newness. We in the art and literary worlds have too often only memorized the idea of a "burden," creating for it an illusory existence.
Paintings and novels are quintessentially antithetical. Ideally adversarial. They incorporate, use and criticize. They have achieved a condition of being perpetually "genres undermined."
Painting and the novel are artistic disciplines and forms which have a history of sabotaging themselves. They are in a constant state of crisis. This makes them fertile ground for the application of my metaphor(m) theory and for testing the broadness of the extended text concept. One self-critique: I have stated this in the odd passive construction so common to art critics, speaking of what "painting" or "the novel" does, when clearly that is a metonymy — it is painters and authors who do things, which then exist embodied in paintings and novels. Painters and novelists are deeply involved in a dialogue with and against the past. Let me cite Harold Bloom:
"…I cite again the Emersonian difference, which is to say, the American difference: a diachronic rhetoric, set not only against past tropes, as in Nietzsche, but against the pastness of trope itself, and so against the limitations of traditional rhetoric."
I would purport that in our period this is the condition of the awake perceiver everywhere. Bloom's insight is deep, and it is Emersonian, but by no means is this limited to one country as he presumes. The pastness of trope must be wrestled with and overcome. Each painter and novelist must struggle with his or her daemon, who is the angel, who is the attendant spirit (from Latin, genius), perhaps even genie: the precursor, god and self. Space is fought for and won with blood, not avoided with new toys incorporating dead ideas. This ineffable spar is the only way to occupy the holy ground of the other, finally creating one's own sacred space. As I have discussed in a previous podcast, Nr 34, I believe this struggle should now be reinterpreted, away from Bloom's oedipal, joust-like view and be visualized as a critical public dialogue, modeled on call-and-response. All the same, the necessary exertion remains.
New media are important, nevertheless! Do not get me wrong --- especially as they can create opportunities for new philosophical and formal inventiveness (e.g. sequentiality in comics, public immersion in interactive media). Traditional forms and formats now have aspects of new media and vice versa. Notions are best transported to other realms in order to facilitate the greatest concentration: in other formats, within contrasting aesthetic objects and in surprising relationships.
One such new conception, in many ways stimulated by the presence in our lives nowadays of a vast array of media and approaches, often simultaneously, is my notion of "Mongrel Art." Mongrel art antipuristically, syncretistically unifies varieties of artforms, disciplines, tendencies and philosophies into imaginative wholes. Like healthy dogs of mixed, indeterminant breeds. Or to jumpcut to another metaphor, the opposite of the "hothouse flowers" that so much Late Modern and Postmodern artworks are.
Rudolph Arnheim has shown that the forces of composition themselves, especially as gestalts, have psychological force, hence convey meaning. Structure itself can embody disparate, complicated, even contradictory meanings. Cognitive science and metaphor theory have expanded and grounded Arnheim's insight.
Painting and the novel have been in a permanent state of crisis for a minimum of several hundred years. What more could one ask for as a difficult, challenging and rewarding fray?
Thanks for listening. Podcast number 36.
Paintings and Novels are Quintessentially Antithetical
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I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my room-filling painting-installations with accompanying paintings.
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