the rigorous m

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Archive for April, 2011

quotes: museum behavior

Posted by rigorousm on April 26, 2011

 

Our purported populism has always made us wary of those claiming, by virtue of their position or education, to know better than everyone else. One thing that’s changed, though, is that this populism, often disguised as the heady skepticism of continental theory, has managed to sneak into the very bastion of elitism, into the places where the aspiring intellectual first learns how to be a pompous snob: academic humanities departments. The institutionalization of deconstruction, identity politics, and Marxist criticism, in other words, has replaced the pious attitudes of previous eras with a different set of now-habitual postures: distrust of the canon and the institutions that preserve it. Whatever their merits, these frameworks have created enough ambivalence to make art appreciation a vexing enterprise for a generation of well-educated museumgoers. Because if you don’t believe in high culture, then what are you doing at a museum?

timothy aubrey, “how to behave in an art museum” n+ 1

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quotes: bacon

Posted by rigorousm on April 18, 2011

 

The sexual act is an extremely difficult subject to do, oddly enough. I don’t think the Picasso ones work, because they always look like toys that could pull along the floor. I never saw one of Picasso’s that ever looked erotic. (1973)

I think that the very great artists were not trying to express themselves. They were trying to trap the fact, because, after all, artists are obsessed by life and by certain things that obsess them that they want to record. And they’ve tried to find systems and construct the cages in which these things can be caught. (1966)

–Francis Bacon

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quotes: sylvester on bacon’s mouths

Posted by rigorousm on April 18, 2011

 

Was it Bacon’s intention that the open mouths should sometimes not seem to be screaming? When I put the question to him, he said that some were not. ‘You could say that a scream is a horrific image; in fact, I wanted to paint the scream more than the horror. I think if I had really thought about what causes somebody to scream it would have made the scream that I tried to paint more successful…. In fact they were too abstract. I’ve always been very moved by the movements of the mouth and the shape of the mouth and the teeth. People say that these have all sorts of sexual implications … I like, you may say,the glitter and colour that comes from the mouth, and I’ve always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset.’

“A late starter” pp 29-30. Looking back at Francis Bacon – David Sylvester

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quotes: vonnegut on anthropology, writing

Posted by rigorousm on April 17, 2011

INTERVIEWER

Did the study of anthropology later color your writings?

VONNEGUT

It confirmed my atheism, which was the faith of my fathers anyway. Religions were exhibited and studied as the Rube Goldberg inventions I’d always thought they were. We weren’t allowed to find one culture superior to any other. We caught hell if we mentioned races much. It was highly idealistic.

INTERVIEWER

Almost a religion?

VONNEGUT

Exactly. And the only one for me. So far.

VONNEGUT

I guarantee you that no modern story scheme, even plotlessness, will give a reader genuine satisfaction, unless one of those old-fashioned plots is smuggled in somewhere. I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading. When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time. One of my students wrote a story about a nun who got a piece of dental floss stuck between her lower left molars, and who couldn’t get it out all day long. I thought that was wonderful. The story dealt with issues a lot more important than dental floss, but what kept readers going was anxiety about when the dental floss would finally be removed. Nobody could read that story without fishing around in his mouth with a finger. Now, there’s an admirable practical joke for you. When you exclude plot, when you exclude anyone’s wanting anything, you exclude the reader, which is a mean-spirited thing to do. You can also exclude the reader by not telling him immediately where the story is taking place, and who the people are—

INTERVIEWER

And what they want.

VONNEGUT

Yes. And you can put him to sleep by never having characters confront each other. Students like to say that they stage no confrontations because people avoid confrontations in modern life. “Modern life is so lonely,” they say. This is laziness. It’s the writer’s job to stage confrontations, so the characters will say surprising and revealing things, and educate and entertain us all.

Paris Review No. 64 Interview with Kurt Vonnegut

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quotes: sylvester on bacon’s violence

Posted by rigorousm on April 17, 2011

 

Bacon constantly used the word ‘violence’ to designate a quality that he greatly valued in art. He knew that it was an ambiguous word and that his use of it provoked priggish disapproval of his own work. What he meant by ‘violence’ in art was that the energy pent up in things was being conveyed in a very immediate way.

“Images of the human body”p 212.

Even today Bacon is widely thought of as an artistic leper. People like to say complacently that they are afraid to go near the work. They decline to cope with its ‘violence’. … But the main objection that seems to emerge from the muddy controversy about Bacon’s violence is that it is something more specialized– that it’s a ‘morbid’ taste for real violence.

Certainly Bacon’s work often depicts convulsion, but in life such writhings commonly accompany the most intense of pleasures. But of course the same expression can appear on a face screeching with erotic delight or crying out in pain or acclaiming the scoring of a goal; torture and excitement can produce identical paroxysms. To say as much is not to claim that Bacon was not painting agony but was painting orgasm; it is only to affirm that Bacon was interested in painting positions of the body and grimaces of the face which could mean both agony and orgasm and which were interesting to him just because they were ambiguous as well as being indications of intense feeling. Even so, were it necessary to decide that the convulsions meant either pain or pleasure, the second seems the likelier alternative, for Bacon’s faces, like Picasso’s, are often ‘distorted’ according to how we see faces that are very close to ours, and a combination of paroxysm and extreme proximity to someone most often occurs in our lives when we are having sex.

“The painter as medium” p 188. Looking back at Francis Bacon, David Sylvester

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quotes: sylvester on bacon on painting

Posted by rigorousm on April 17, 2011

While allowing that ‘the image matters more than the beauty of the paint’, Bacon felt that painting tended to be pointless if the paint itself were not eloquent. He aimed at the ‘complete interlocking of image and paint’ so that ‘every movement of the brush on the canvas alters the shape and implications of the image.’ All sorts of ways of putting paint on and taking it off were used to bring into being something unforeseen; it was a question of ‘taking advantage of what happens when you splash the bits down’. Painting became a gamble in which every gain made had to be risked in the search for further gain. Winning, as always, was largely a question of knowing when to stop. For many years Bacon hardly ever stopped in time.

—  David Sylvester, “The painter as medium” Looking back at Francis Bacon pp 185-186

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quotes: young on being-vague

Posted by rigorousm on April 17, 2011

 

Painted in curly letters high on the wall was the phrase FOR NICE GIRLS WHO LIKE STUFF. While I waited… I thought about this statement of purpose, and how blurry it was, and how accurate in its blurriness. FOR NICE GIRLS WHO LIKE STUFF exactly summed up the feelings of anticipation and anxious self-regard that a mall coaxes from shoppers. I thought of horoscopes and fog and mingling crowds…. Vague things. I felt united with every other customer in the mall, committed as we were to the promenade. It was soothing and stimulating at once.

— Molly Young, “Sweatpants in Paradise: The Exciting World of Immersive Retail” The Believer Vol 8, No 7, September 2010 p 4.

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quote: nagles on scholastic purpose

Posted by rigorousm on April 17, 2011

 

As a scholar, you can start anywhere. And that’s the beauty and the challenge, the frustration and the terror and the lifetime obsession of a scholarly bent. I start with this set of questions because I just can’t figure it out.

The goal of a scholar is to reveal things that otherwise might never be seen or studied or considered or understood or debated. But that’s an infinite list! It’s also in many ways the job of an artist, to show us things about ourselves. The scholarship of anthropology sometimes gets trapped in its own lofty language…. If I can help illuminate some facet of us as a species that makes culture, as a species that tells stories, as a species that plays in ways that connect us to each other, then I’ve done my job.

— Interview with Robin Nagle, “Everything Single Thing You See Is Future Trash. Everything.” The Believer Vol 8, No 7, September 2010 p 69.

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quotes: willem de kooning

Posted by rigorousm on April 17, 2011

 

In the old days, when artists were very much wanted, if they got to thinking about their usefulness in the world, it could only lead them to believe that painting was too wordly an occupation and some of them went to church instead or stood in front of it and begged. So what was considered too wordly from a spiritual point of view then, became later — for those who were inventing the new esthetics– a spiritual smoke-screen and not worldly enough. These latter-day artists were bothered by their apparent uselessness. Nobody really seemed to pay any attention to them. And they did not trust that freedom of indifference. They knew that they were relatively freer than ever before because of that indifference, but in spite of all their talking about freeing art, they really didn’t mean it that way. Freedom to them meant to be useful in society. And that is really a wonderful idea. To achieve that, they didn’t need things like tables and chairs or a horse. They needed ideas instead, social ideas, to make their objects with, their constructions– the “pure plastic phenomena”– which were used to illustrate their convictions.Their point was that until they came along with their theories, Man’s own form in space– his body– was a private prison; and that it was because of this imprisoning misery– because he was hungry and overworked and went to a horrid place called home late at night in the rain, and his bones ached and his head was heavy– because of this very consciousness of his own body, this sense of pathos, they suggest, he was overcome by the drama of a crucifixion in a painting or the lyricism of a group of people sitting quietly around a table drinking wine. In other words, these estheticians proposed that people had up to now understood painting in terms of their own private misery. Their own sentiment of form instead was one of comfort. The beauty of comfort. The great curve of a bridge was beautiful because people could go across the river in comfort. To compose with curves like that, and angles, and make works of art with them could only make people happy, they maintained, for the only association was one of comfort. That millions of people have died in war since then, because of that idea of comfort, is something else.

This pure form of comfort because the comfort of “pure form.” The “nothing” part in a painting until then– the part that was not painted but that was there because of the things in the picture which were painted– had a lot of descriptive labels attached to it like “beauty,” “lyric,” “form,” “profound,” “space,” “expression,” “classic,” “feeling,” “epic,” “romantic,” “pure,” “balance,” etc. Anyhow that “nothing” which was always recognized as a particular something– and as something particular– they generalized, with their book-keeping minds, into circles and squares. They had the innocent idea that the “something” existed “in spite of” and not “because of” and that this something was the only thing that truly mattered. They had hold of it, they thought, once and for all. But this idea made them go backward…. That “something” which was not measurable, they lost by trying to make it measurable; and thus all the old words which, according to their ideas, ought to be done away with got into art again: pure, supreme, balance, sensitivity, etc.

Spiritually I am wherever my spirit allows me to be, and that is not necessarily in the future. I have no nostalgia, however. If I am confronted with one of those small Mespotamian figures, I have no nostalgia for it but, instead, I may get into a state of anxiety. Art never seems to make me peaceful or pure. I always seem to be wrapped in the melodrama of vulgarity. I do not think of inside or outside– or of art in general– as a situation of comfort. I know there is a terrific idea there somewhere, but whever I want to get into it, I get a feeling of apathy and want to lie down and go to sleep. Some painters, including myself, do not care what chair they are sitting on. It does not even have to be a comfortable one. They are too nervous to find out where they ought to sit. They do not want to “sit in style.” Rather, they have found that painting– any kind of painting, any style of painting– to be painting at all, in fact– is a way of living today, a style of living so to speak. That is where the form of it lies. It is exactly in its uselessness that it is free. Those artists do not want to conform. They only want to be inspired.

The argument often used that science is really abstract, and that painting could be like music and, for this reason, that you cannot paint a man leaning against a lamp-post, is utterly ridiculous. That space of science– the space of the physicists– I am truly bored with by now. Their lenses are so thick that seen through them, the space gets more and more melancholy. There seems to be no end to the misery of the scientists’ space. All that it contains is billions and biollions of hunks of matter, hot or cold, floating around in darkness according to a great design of aimlessness. The stars I think about, if I could fly, I could reach in a few old-fashioned days. But physicists’ stars I use as buttons, buttoning up curtains of empitness. If I stretch my arms next to the rest of myself and wonder where my fingers are– that is all the space I need as a painter.

— Willem de Kooning, “What Abstract Art Means to Me,” written for a symposium held at the Museum of Modern Art, February 5, 1951.

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quotes: silverblatt

Posted by rigorousm on April 12, 2011

MS: I believe that words and their arrangement in sentences are what get our attention. I want, as Barthelme has his Snow White character say in his first novel, I want to hear words I have never heard before. I want the words and sentences to peacock around, to open their plumes. Art speech– I’ve called it that after art songs– is a form of speech no one can speak unless someone else is speaking it. In other words, when I start to speak it you can hear a writer lift up their eyebrows and say, “Oh, it’s safe to noodle around. It’s safe to throw in a word or not to know where the sentence ends.” In other words, to speak from the realm of style rather than from the realm of information or communicative exchange. I want to hear their styles, I want to hear the emotion that goes into shaping a style.

… I can hear when an interview has gone well. Often the writer has taken the time to restate something. That’s part of a writer’s spell: wording it differently. Repetition and knowing how to artfully repeat– I’m not talking about Gertrude Stein here– these things remind a reader what, where, and who is speaking. These are often sprinkled throughout a novel. Conversation does that, and a writer’s conversation in particular will reemphasize elements. And when this happens, you start to enter the hypnotic world of writing, a world created by language and syntax. That is what a writer– whether they’re conscious of it or not– grows to be gifted at.

– Interview w/ Michael Silverblatt, host of Bookworm on KCRW. The Believer vol. 8, no. 5. June 2010. pp. 69-76

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