Monday, 17 December 2012

Cypress Trees

By Julie Hinton Walker

Cypress Trees, Point Lobos, c. 1930
Coloured crayon on paper, 18.5 x 14.25 inches
Henrietta Mary Shore (1880-1963)

Their glance did not falter
Stepping closer, ever closer.
Hearts pounding.
“How does he not see my chest heaving with each breath?” she thought.
Standing as close as they dare, the spell would not break.
A touch?  Not yet.
Hairs of their skin bristled.
The aroma of the other was the sweetest taste on their tongues.
Treasured was this space between them;
This unknown place of new desire.
Swimming in the depths of this intimate moment, they lived all the possibilities
Before the first touch.
There would be no turning back.
The space between them became them.
Their embrace took over.
These two bodies already knew how to come together.
As they drew apart, both sensed they took a little of the other with them.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Towering Sky

By Julie Hinton Walker

Georgian Bay, Towering Sky 2009
Oil on canvas, 77 x 68 inches
John Lennard

Wondering where and what lay beyond the horizon has possessed the minds of thinkers since the first “look-out” posts for predators. Where once it was regarded as a perimeter of safety getting the tribe through the night, eventually it provoked dreamers to look beyond, to wonder about the undiscovered and for those fearless adventurers, to capture and learn its secrets…
     Each day breaks open the horizon flooding the sky in light and gifting us time in which to prepare for the night ahead. The steady rocks beneath our feet pool our water and allow us earth enough to plant our food.  We build shelters and find safety soothing our senses. It is a physicality we trust. It is a reality feeding our bodies and keeping us strong and grounded as the bottom edge of this canvas anchors the composition in bold and solid masses of colour.
     As the sun dips below the horizon, it leaves a stain of caution gilding the rocks; a yellow-orange alert that settles into the gut touching the primal. For those who react, there is a choice; stay comfortably within the familiar or, take leave of what holds us and approach the horizon with the mind to conquer. For those who dare approach, there is no longer night. There is no darkness. Primal fear finds its host now in the wind.  Perpetual light opens up and the adventurous ride with it rising above all senses.
     You have smashed through the horizon as an impassioned animal to its destiny. It is the rapture as a lover reclines lifting her head looking straight into the eyes of her lover in anticipation of skin. Hearts beat wildly racing towards this union falling into the arms and depths of the other. Clouds take shape as we explore the canvas. Her satin dress reveals just enough breast and he aches as she nudges her legs slightly. The blue-grey shadows of her gown shift and play in the light and their minds switch to white fury.
     Elemental energy infuses the sky. The explosion leaves nothing concrete. It is a battleground of shape over shape, colour weaving in and out of colour and the sound of our breath as witnesses. Clouds push and pull with no centre; ethereal moments without beginning or end dancing across, what was once, a blank canvas. You hear fragments of noise around you; notes that if pulled from the clouds and arranged on paper, would make music.
     When the clouds pass and the lovers fall breathless into one another’s arms, when the painter has filled his canvas and the musician plays his one last note, the moment of reveal is upon us. The story has been told and looking outward still, the next horizon comes clearly into view.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Even Man In

Review by Rory A.A. Hinton

Georgian Bay, Towering Sky, 2009
John Lennard

In his "At Home With Glenn Gould" interview Vincent Tovell asked Gould about his musical influences. Gould mentioned Arthur Schnabel. Tovell asked what it was about Schnabel that singled him out. Gould answered: "Well, I think in part it was the idea that Schnabel seemed to be a person who didn't really care much about the piano as an instrument. The piano was a means to an end for him, and the end was to approach Beethoven." 
     Gould used the words 'in part' (in part) because he was attentive enough to have known that for Schnabel approaching Beethoven was merely the means to another end. Schnabel was a musician in inventive transition. Gould could relate (hence the influence). Because he transitioned between part composer, part conductor, part critic, and part musician (among his other partitas), Gould seemed to be a person who would have known about and approved of music critic Harold C. Schonberg's creative claim about Schnabel: "[He] was the man who invented Beethoven."
     Schnabel approached Beethoven to invent Beethoven. His piano was merely a translation device to accomplish this task. Schnabel's musical modus operandi is based on the idea that Beethoven is an artist of note because his work, like all great works of art, is an instance of serious generosityGreat artists like Schnabel recognize the generosity of Beethoven's work in that it beckons you to approach it with aesthetic admiration (the erotic enthusiasm of the Eroica). Some never get beyond the admiration. Schnabel did. That is serious business.
     This example from the history of music illustrates the criterion for great art (of any genre). Inventive artists like Beethoven are worth approaching because there is a generous method to their serious madness. Their generosity consists in the opportunity their work creates for us to approach the object of artistic expression. But their seriousness consists in reminding us that acting upon this opportunity demands something of us. This is certainly true when it comes to Schnabel's influence behind Gould's music. Gould's inventive approach to Beethoven (let alone Bach) constrains you to realize that if you want to experience more than just "a momentary ejection of adrenaline" in art (as Gould describes it), then you must gradually work at understanding the structured harmonic whole of an artistic work that makes this adrenaline possible. This gradual awareness produces something much more satisfying: a state of wonder and serenity. Only generous art worthy of that serious name produces that satisfying result. But it comes at a price. 

Brooklyn Bridge, NY
John Lennard




     The price listed for Lot 44 at the Canadian Contemporary Art auction held by Waddingtons on March 08, 2012 was between $2,800.00 - $3,200.00 CND. The price realized for this lot was $3,360.00 CND. The lot was entitled Brooklyn Bridge, NY. The painter of this lot is John Lennard. The price for his paintings are on the rise.
     Ryan Green from the prestigious Master's Gallery in Calgary, Alberta knows a good investment when he sees one. His recent decision to show his work is an institutional confirmation of Lennard's status as one of Canada's leading contemporary painters. Roberts Gallery in Toronto, Ontario is no less discriminating. It recently listed a Lennard 2009 work entitled Georgian Bay, Towering Sky for $10,000.00 CND in an exhibition that featured a number of his other paintings. It was purchased by a pair of private collectors who recognize the historic significance of, the contemporary interest in, and the future returns for this painting and the body of work it represents. While there is certainly more to Lennard than merely describing him as an "artist to collect" (as one magazine recently classified him), it still pays to collect his paintings. John described the significance of Georgian Bay, Towering Sky to me in one word: risk. That word does double duty: it describes his work as an artist and his worth as a human being. Investing in Lennard is well worth the risk. Wherein lies the profit? Certainly not on the margin.
     Despite the promising profit margin for collectors, Lennard is not a marginal painter. He does not waste his time with fashionable trends. His work is clearly centered within the pictorial tradition of modern art (his debt to J.W. Morrice is unmistakable): "It is important to look more to the tradition of painting," Lennard insists, "instead of looking for inspiration in what other contemporary artists are doing. I try not to get caught up in the latest fashion or trends. I feel that way you will be closer to finding your own voice."
     Lennard's lack of interest in fashion trends to the contrary, it is best to interpret him as working with a voice that is similar in tone to the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who said of his working method: "Demolish the rules, but keep the tradition." This is the voice of a generous tradition and a serious demolition. All great artists speak through it. Wilhelm Worringer goes so far as to claim that this voice (a decidedly volitional one, on his reading) dialectically spoke within the tradition of modern art (from Piccasso to Pollock) in order to make abstraction comprehensively possible. It should therefore not be overlooked, nor undervalued: "The element that impresses me most when I see another artist's work," Lennard states, "is if their intent is pure in what they are trying to convey. There are many elements that make up a strong piece and they can be personal. I enjoy seeing a piece that comes out of the tradition of art with one's own signature. That is what I hope to accomplish in every painting." Lennard runs the serious risk of signing his name on a generous tradition. This is not safe, and for good reason. Safety in art borders on the margins of dishonesty. It also produces derivative pictures.
     At first it might seem counterintuitive to think of Lennard's work as located within the pictorial tradition of modern art, at least as this is represented by the work of the Group of Seven. This counterintuitiveness is fueled by the brand of abstract means by which he paints. However, the representational tension between, say, the Group of Seven and the Painters Eleven that you get in Lennard's work is as deliberate as it is liberating. His work is a decisive commentary on the risk an artist takes by demolishing the rules without destroying the traditional context that gives them sense (if not substance). The same can be said of Kazuo Nakamura who, because he broke the rules in similar fashion, is correctly described as the "odd man out." Lennard is best described as the even man in. He evenly demolishes the rules by painting beneath, between, behind, and beyond the tension of two traditional tendencies in Canadian painting. He has found his move. 

Finding The Move, 2010
John Lennard


     What is the painterly equivalent of approaching Beethoven for Lennard? The answer to this question requires an answer to another question. During a conversation over dinner one evening in Toronto I asked John what he was reading. He said he was reading Martin Heidegger's book What Is Calling Thinking? Heidegger's book is a philosophical commentary on what it means to think as a person within a tradition. This kind of contextual thinking must be learned. Heidegger writes: "We come to know what it means to think when we ourselves try to think. If the attempt is to be successful, we must be ready to learn thinking ... We learn to think by giving our mind to what there is to think about." It is not without significance that Lennard was reading this book. What is called painting? We come to know what it means to paint when we ourselves try to paint. As such, we must be ready to learn painting. Lennard has learned precisely because he gives his mind over to what there is to paint about.  
     If thinking is a response on our part to a call which issues from the nature of things (what there is to think about), then painting does the same thing. The best pictures open up an encounter with reality as we experience it. What does this mean, exactly? Using Warhol's jargon, it means being receptive to the reactive opportunity that life provides to get away with something in style. In this sense, painting is like playing a musical instrument (Lennard is an accomplished musician). As Pat Metheny once put it, he is not so much a guitarist as he is an artist, and the guitar is merely a translation device for his art. Lennard is not so much a painter as he is an artist, and his paintings are translation devices for his art (so is his music, his capacity as a university squash instructor, and his penchant for chess).
     John's paintings provide the space for us to think about what it means to be, as Michel Foucault once put it, "historically condemned to history." Lennard does not mind the condemnation. Georgian Bay, Towering Sky is generous enough to present you with the fuzzy artistic line that resides between a scenically representational bay and a sexually abstract sky, but serious enough to force you to refuse to choose between either realistic representation or existential abstraction as the interpretive framework of this literally multi-layered painting: a towering life is never lived on the horizon of a binary relation. Brooklyn Bridge, NY is generous enough to invite you into a decidedly New York state of mind, but serious enough to challenge that mind to consider the political, economic, and ecological implications of a post-9/11 Manhattan skyline: a less than towering sky indeed. Finding The Move is generous enough to inspire you to consider the game of chess as a metaphor for a life well found, but serious enough to force that metaphor into descriptive service by reminding you that the outcome of the game of life is as variable as the totality of moves on a board comprised of 64 squares: sometimes in life we never do find the move (ask Bobby Fischer).
     It is not without note that Lennard is an accomplished musician with a Rollins-like capacity for jazz improvisation. He once told me the story of playing and recording with the drummer Bob Moses in New York (Moses was part of a trio that included Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius on Metheny's debut recording Bright Size Life). In response to John's question about the form and content of their musical collaboration, Moses said to him: "You don't know anything. I don't know anything. Let's see where this takes us." This comment is a perfect description of the conceptual importance of John's work. It is generous in that it lets you in, but serious in that it requires something of you. If you enter in you must be willing to take yourself somewhere. Lennard's art forces us to face the following question: "You don't know anything. I don't know anything. Are we willing to see where this takes us?" Lennard seems to be a person who doesn't really care much about painting as an instrument. Painting is a means to an end for him, and the end is to approach reality so we can reinvent it. 

Glenn Gould. "The Subject Is Beethoven." Complete CBC Broadcasts 1954-1977 (DVD 1). Sony Classical, 2011.
Liz Garbus. Bobby Fischer Against The World. Mongrel Media, 2011.
Martin Heidegger. What Is Called Thinking? Harper Torchback, 1964.
Michel Foucault. The Foucault Reader. Vintage Books, 1984.
Pat Metheny. Bright Size Life. ECM Records, 1976.
Roald Nasgaard. Abstract Painting In Canada. Douglas & McIntyre, 2008.
Robert Mugge. Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus. eOne Films, 2009.
Vincent Tovell. At Home With Glenn Gould. CBC Radio, 1959.
Wilhelm Worringer. Abstraction And Empathy. Ivan R. Dee, 1997.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Romantic Capitalism

The Romantic Manifesto
Ayn Rand
Signet (Penguin Group)

Review by Rory A.A. Hinton

The Romantic Manifesto

de Kooning: "I don't think painters have particularly bright ideas."
de Antonio: "What do they have?"
de Kooning: "I guess they are talented at painting things."

Art criticism assumes a philosophy of art. And a philosophy of art assumes a philosophy. Every critic has one. Since people are the product of their philosophical premises, and since art critics are people (Barnett Newman's comments about "aesthetes" to the contrary), then art critics (and ipso facto the critical reviews that they write) are the product of their philosophical premises. Art and philosophy live within the same province, if not the same provenance.
     The Romantic Manifesto demonstrates this by accomplishing in 180 pages what philosophers in the modern period failed to do: create the philosophical basis for a rational aesthetics. Granted, 'rational' is a loaded term. But it is not as if Ayn Rand failed to define and defend what she meant by it. Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology alone provides a cognitive basis for her neo-Aristotelian rational philosophy, not to mention her extended apologia for it in Philosophy: Who Needs It. Who does? Everyone (art critics included).
     Read Rand's rationally redacted raison d'être: "In order to live, man must act; in order to act, he must make choices; in order to make choices, he must define a code of values; in order to define a code of values, he must know what he is and where he is - i.e., he must know his own nature (including his means of knowledge) and the nature of the universe in which he acts ... he needs metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, which means: philosophy."
     This sentence from The Romantic Manifesto is an example of how Rand is able to distill her loaded work in philosophy into a sense bite for the purpose of promoting her aesthetic theory. She explains how philosophy provides a realistic view of the universe (metaphysics), a rational means to know that universe (epistemology), a reason to live in that universe (ethics), and a robust basis for selectively re-creating that universe (aesthetics). In fact, the chapter entitled "What Is Romanticism?" (which sets out Rand's definition of art and her criterion to determine its quality) can rightly be said to distill the book's distillation. This is the reason why I focus most of my review on it.
     The book also considerately presents a caveat lector to potential readers since Rand did not like to load unwanted words upon the unintended: "Those who feel that art is outside the province of reason," Rand writes, "would be well advised to leave this book alone: it is not for them." In other words: those whose postmodern tastes in art and its criticism are more Heideggerian than Aristotelian won't have much use for this book, nor for this review.
     Speaking of postmortem tastes, contemporary art publications are prone to publish art-speak jargon containing more vacuous adjectives than veritable nouns. ARTFORUM magazine is a case in point. Many of its articles over the past fifty years read like they were written by the art critic equivalent of "the jerky contortions of self-inducedly brainless bodies with empty eye sockets, who perform, in stinking basements, the immemorial rituals of staving off terror" (John Coplans' insightful remark that Warhol's 32 Campbell soup cans painting is "the greatest breakthrough in art since the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp half a century earlier" is a notable exception).
     Rand wrote those words about a certain class of artists in 1969 in the introduction to her Manifesto. Whether she was referring to the New York School artists (including the more-light-than-bright Willem de Kooning) is anyone's (educated) guess. If so, then that explains why there was apparently no conceptual love loss between her and Clement Greenberg, unlike the consentual love found between him and Helen Frankenthaler (his one-time lover), the "absolute doyenne" of post-painterly color field painting. After Frankenthaler saw the first Jackson Pollock exhibit at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950 she is reported to have said: "It was all there. I wanted to live in this land. I had to live there, and master the language." Dominique Francon she was not.
     With this postmortem reference in mind you can easily characterize these jargon-laced articles as what you would get if you contortedly used something like Pixmaven's The Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator to create a "critical response to the art product" (or CRAP, for short). For example, I typed in '66666' into the generator and received the following sentence: "The iconicity of the Egyptian motifs visually and conceptually activates the essentially transitional quality." Compare this with the following randomly selected sentence written by Annette Michelson in her 1971 ARTFORUM review of Michael Snow's 1967 film Wavelength: "The film is the projection of a grand reduction; its 'plot' is the tracing of spatio-temporal données, its 'action' the movement of the camera as the movement of consciousness." Since Amy Taubin described Michelson's review as a "brilliant essay," I will leave it up to her to determine the essentially transitional quality of these two critically responsive sentences.
     (There is a point to this seemingly self-indulgent digression: art criticism is only as clear as the philosophy which generates it. It is therefore a sad conceptual commentary for Whitehead to correctly point out that all philosophy (of art or otherwise) is but footnotes to Plato (the great art negator), and not to Aristotle. Consider Aristotle's definition of truth: "To say of what is that it is, and to say of what is not that it is not, is true; whereas to say of what is that it is not, and to say of what is not that it is, is false." This footnote nicely serves as a philosophical metaphor for Rand's approach to art. When it comes to 85% of contemporary art criticism (and the actual art which is its sufficient condition), there is no accounting for Platonic waste).
     Rand did not waste words, let alone time. In this sense she shared Robert Rauschenberg's antipathy toward abstract expressionist artists: "I was never interested," Rauschenberg states, "in their pessimism or editorializing. You have to have time to feel sorry for yourself if you are going to be a good abstract expressionist. And I think I always considered that a waste." Time waits for no art critic. This is why Rand wastes no time in the chapter "What Is Romanticism?" to objectively define her subject matter: "Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments." Fourteen words is all it takes. That there is a measured economy to the words she chooses and uses is indicative of the moral ideal within which she writes (but more on the economy later).
     Rand argues that a person gains a knowledge of the perceivable world through conceptual abstractions. This knowledge is summarized by metaphysics (the study of "being qua being" to use Aristotelean jargon). The only way for a person to bring these summarized abstractions into perceptual awareness is through art. Art therefore serves a philosophical function. It does this by not only making a person's conceptual view of themselves physically explicit through the means of artistic media (painting, sculpture, literature, etc), but by also teaching a person how to stylize their conscious awareness of the world they perceive and conceive. "An artist does not fake reality," Rand writes, "he stylizes it. He selects those aspects of existence which he regards as metaphysically significant - and by isolating and stressing them, by omitting the insignificant and accidental, he presents his view of existence. His concepts are not divorced from the facts of reality - they are concepts which integrate the facts and his metaphysical evaluation of the facts."
     What makes Rand's aesthetics romantic? For her Romanticism is a category of art based on the fact that a person possesses the freedom to choose. Despite historically emotive connotations to the contrary, a 'romantic' aesthetics is a rational one: it has less to do with the familiarity of one's emotion and more to do with one's faculty of volition. An artist selectively re-creates through artistic media those aspects of physical reality that represent their sense of life. This re-creative process forces the artist to confirm "whether man possesses the faculty of volition - because one's conclusions and evaluations in regard to all the characteristics, requirements and actions of man depend on the answer." If you affirm that a person has the faculty to determine their own destiny, then you are a volitional romantic and will re-create accordingly. If not, then you are a non-volitional naturalist.
    To be a naturalistic artist is to be a person whose work reflects an "anti-value" orientation. Naturalism reflects the idea that a person's efforts to change their existential lot are futile since their fate is ultimately determined by forces beyond their conscious control: lets meet, think, and be weary, for tomorrow we lie. For Rand, to be a romantic artist, in turn, is to be a person whose work does not merely record or photograph, but rather creates and projects a concern not with things as they are, but with things as they might and ought to be (the romantic significance of photography was unfortunately lost on her - but fortunately for us we have found Evan Perry). To be a romantic artist is to philosophically glorify our existence and to psychologically desire a more interesting, because more noble, life. Art inspires nobility. This is its potential cash value.
     For example, on this reading the New York School of abstract expressionism is a naturalistic movement. It is based on a philosophy that is fatalistically emotive. Hence Rand's Rauschenbergean sentiment. This is especially true in the case of Pollock who is dismissed as a "pathologically abusive and self-destructive individual." The destructiveness that characterized his life came from somewhere. It was the product of his philosophical premises, and they were anything but romantic ("empty eye sockets" indeed).

Untitled 1930-1933
Basalt Head
Jackson Pollock


     You might disagree with Pollock's premises, but that does not mean that you must deny him artistic merit. You might dismiss Pollock's art as an example of work based on a style that is a "blurred, "mysterious" murk," only admired by a person "who is moved by the fog of his feelings and spends most of his time out of focus" (as Rand describes it), but that does not mean Pollock could not paint, nor sculpt for that matter (consider his recently disclosed Basalt Head "death mask"). There is, therefore, an important distinction to be made here between aesthetic matter and aesthetic merit. An artist can be dismissed as naturalistic, but that does not mean that they lack natural talent. It is the fact of the matter that matters. And when it comes to Rand's rational aesthetics, it is concepts over concretes that matter most.
     I am not concerned with applying Rand's rational aesthetics to particular artistic instances. Initial work has already been done in this area. What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory Of Ayn Rand is a good introductory attempt to critically apply Rand's rational aesthetics (duly interpreted) to artistic matter. Those interested can read Torres' and Kamhi's work and decide whether they are doing objective justice to contemporary art. Rather, I am concerned with briefly commenting upon a relatively uncharted but not unrelated area of Rand's aesthetics: its relation to the "moral ideal" of capitalism.
     Rumor has it that Andy Warhol (business artist extraordinaire) did not respect Rand's philosophy of art, and that Rand denounced him as a result. If this is more than mere rumor, then this reality should not distract us from the ideality that Warhol should have respected it, and that Rand should not have denounced him in turn. Whether this denunciation was the result of her personality getting the best of her principles is open to debate. (I am sure Nathaniel Branden would have something interesting to say about this issue). What ideally unites Ayn as an artistic philosopher and Andy as a philosophical artist is their common concern with capital. The artistic significance of this mutual concern has been strangely neglected. 
     What makes capitalism an "unknown" ideal for Rand relates directly to its moral function (a notion strangely neglected in modern economics). In her essay "What Is Capitalism?" (a nice economic companion piece to her essay "What Is Romanticism?") Rand writes: "The economic value of a man's work is determined, on a free market, by a single principle: by the voluntary consent of those who are willing to trade him their work or products in return. This is the moral meaning of the law of supply and demand." Romanticism and capitalism turn on the moral importance of volitional consent. What makes capitalism a "moral ideal" for Rand, rather than just an economic system, is the context it creates for the free creation and dissemination of products. It makes volition possible.
     We are mass producers and mass consumers en mass. The freedom that the moral ideal of capitalism creates provides the possibility for us to turn this reality into something noble. This is why Warhol matters, despite Randian commentary to the contrary. For example, while Stephen Hicks is right to claim that when Warhol smirkingly said "Art? - Oh, that's a man's name" Warhol was announcing the end of art, Hicks is wrong to link Warhol's remark with the idea that art itself had reached a dead end and had become nothing. Hicks thinks that Pop Art was nothing more than a reductio ad absurdum of modernism, and that Warhol was cynically clever enough to acknowledge it with a smirking whimper (while bringing home as much bacon as possible while there was still time - celebrity portraits as cash cow wallpaper).
     Art is always something. The question is not whether art ended with Warhol, but rather what conception of art ended. With a bang Warhol introduced a new conception of art, one that nicely fit into a capitalist context: good art is good business.  

Andy Silk-Screens Ayn 


        Hicks disparagingly asks: "When has art in the twentieth century said anything encouraging about human relations, about mankind's potential for dignity, and courage, about the sheer positive passion of being in the world?" I decidingly answer that Warhol did precisely that by making the artist's life an aesthetically repetitive product. This is an issue that artists and their critics need to confront now, especially those critics and dealers who are, as Hicks rightly says, "capable of recognizing the original artist's achievement and who have the entrepreneurial courage to promote that work." Not only is Warhol's work still worth promoting, but also a philosophy of art that provides the rational basis for the reason why. Rand's rational aesthetics does precisely that, and Warhol's art is as rational as it gets.
     The evidence seems to suggest that Warhol's use of the term 'man' was said in the same way that Rand used it when she made the distinction between 'men' and 'man' and claimed that she was less interested in the former and completely interested in the latter. She was interested in the concept of man, the "ideal man" as she puts it (Roark as role model). In this sense Rand is a conceptual artist who used literature to selectively re-create reality according to her metaphysical value-judgements. To therefore speak of 'Art' as a man's name is a way for Andy to make a conceptual claim about the artistic significance of a man's life. Wayne Koestenbaum notes an entry from one of Andy's notebooks from the late 1960s in which he entertained the idea of "GALLERY LIVE PEOPLE" - "an exhibition in which people were the art." Real people as ideal products. This is in line with what Rand meant when she wrote: "I am a Romantic in the sense that I present men as they ought to be. I am Realistic in the sense that I place them here and now and on this earth." 
     Great art, in short, embodies a tension between the real and the ideal. It is an instance of serious generosityA great work of art is generous enough (realistic enough) to remind you that it is a masterful re-creation of the only reality we know of, but serious enough (romantic enough) to demand something of you. The demand is a volitional one: will you choose a noble life or a naturalistic one in light of the art that creatively confronts you (for the artist, the critic, and the consumer alike)? Romantic Realism presents the ideal without sacrificing the real.
     It is easy, within this interpretive context, to conceive of Andy's work as the worst form of naturalistic art imaginable (Hicks certainly does). All he accomplished was to remind us of our naturalistic surroundings, thereby fating us to our own consumptive compulsions. We are nothing but the product of our products. This interpretation is based upon a misconception. The misconception is to miss the conception behind Andy's work. His work conceptually clears away any and all naturalistic constraints by giving us the freedom to realize that all of us can be artistic in any way that we choose. That is the upshot of conceiving of commercial art as fine art. In fact, even this interpretation of Warhol's work is a product of the freedom that his work produces through his own selective re-creation of reality. Nobility is artistically open to anyone who acts upon the moral ideal which capitalism produces: "The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man's rational nature, that it protects man's survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice."
     What I am suggesting here is that the best philosophy of art for those engaged in the the best kind of art (business) is found within the pages of The Romantic Manifesto. The art world would be better served if art critics not only adopted this rational philosophy as the basis for their aesthetic work, but further investigated the systematic connections between art and its commerce. We do ourselves a disservice by leaving artistic analysis up to the irrationality of emotion (and the inevitable art-speak jargon that results). The best that can be said of publications like ARTFORUM, therefore, is they they are an excuse for words to sell a product (Thornton is right).
     Where does this leave the art critic? It turns the critic into an artist. Romantic art criticism is a volitional art form in its own right, especially when it rightly draws lines connecting the artist and the industrialist. To speak of the "art of the deal" (as Horowitz does) is to acknowledge the capitalist context that makes "bringing home the bacon" a Baconian concern (Koestenbaum's "commonism" over communism within the creative commons). Capitalism's monied deal is the only moral ideal because it provides the freedom for veritable volition to take place. By uniting capitalism and art together in the way that Warhol did, and the way that Rand wrote about, art criticism is best understood and practiced as a form of commodity PRomotion. Promoting art is dealing art. And dealing art is as commercially fine as it gets (consider Leo Castelli). Rand wore a $ broach. Warhol painted $ signs. Andy Silk-Screens Ayn? This too is a commercial for the moral ideal of Romantic Capitalism.
ARTFORUM International Magazine. New York, N.Y. September, 2012.
Ayn Rand. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Signet (Penguin Group), 1967.
Ayn Rand. Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology. Meridian (Penguin Group), 1979.
Ayn Rand. Philosophy: Who Needs It. Signet (Penguin Group), 1984.
Ayn Rand. The Romantic Manifesto. Signet (Penguin Group), 1975.
Emile de Antonio. Painters Painting. Arthouse Films, 1972.
Evan Perry. Re Figured. AGO Exhibition Catalogue, 2012.
Harry Binswanger (ed). The Ayn Rand Library Vol. IV - The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism From A To Z. Meridian (Penguin Group), 1988.
Louis Torres, Michelle Marder Kamhi. What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory Of Ayn Rand. Open Court, 2000.
Nathaniel Branden. My Years With Ayn Rand. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999.
Noah Horowitz. Art Of The Deal: Contemporary Art In A Global Financial Market. Princeton University Press. 2011.
Peter Schjeldahl. "Leo The Lion." The New Yorker. June 07, 2010.
Ric Burns. Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film. PBS, 2006.
Robert Hughes. Things I Didn't Know: A Memoir. Vintage Books, 2006.
Robin Cembalest. "Jackson's Other Actions: Pollock's Sculptures Resurface," ARTnews, September 13, 2012.
Sarah Thornton. Seven Days In The Art World. W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.
Steven Hicks. "Why Art Became Ugly." The Atlas Society. September, 2004.
Wayne Koestenbaum. Andy Warhol. Viking (Penguin Group), 2001

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Child Lost, Child Near

By Julie Hinton Walker

Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890)
"Self Portrait", 1887
Oil on artist's board, 41 x 32.5cm

A country road leads to Zundert; the birthplace of Vincent van Gogh.  Twice, it seems…
     On the 30th day of March, 1852, a new and hopeful mother gave birth.  Something went terribly wrong.  A grave became the baby’s cradle as the new mother sat next to an empty one by her bed.  This infant boy never took a breath.  He neither opened his eyes nor felt the comfort and gentle hands of his mother.  His mother named him Vincent van Gogh.
     Such emptiness; how alone this new mother felt as life resumed to normal around her.  She was left with idle arms and a grave at the red-brick church five doors down.  Her husband was the preacher at this church.  She prepared lunch for him daily walking by the graveyard twice on her journey, never forgetting.
     On the 30th day of March, 1853, one year later to the day, a tiny baby boy was brought into this world and snuggled into the same arms of this anxious, yet loving mother.  She welcomed this child.  The pain of the previous year was not forgotten, but she would seek a sense of numbness in the activity this baby would bring to her life.  She named him Vincent van Gogh…
     When old enough, Vincent was responsible for certain day to day chores.  One of them was to deliver lunch to his father at the red-brick church five doors down.  He found a bit of adventure by going through the graveyard to and from his destination.  One day, he stumbled upon a headstone.  He read his own name.  He saw his birth day dug into the stone.  “Is this me?  Is this mine?” he thought.  “Is everyone born with their grave already marked and waiting?”  Death loomed large for this young boy; this boy born twice.

Vincent van Gogh
"Pieta", 1889
Oil on canvas, 73 x 60cm

My Mama, it is Vincent.  It’s me.
Lift your heavy head from a cradle of idle hands.
Down-cast eyes turn to see.
Immersed, your son stands before you in a deep pool of tears.
Remembrances; each drop you wept out of fear.
From Earth’s dark stone-cold grip be released.
With one child lost, see one child near.
My Mama, why am I more alive to you now deceased?
Perhaps, time has neither rendered raw nerves numb, nor open wounds scarred.
Cast adrift in black water, no healing will you glean drenched in wept tears.
Find darkness and bones where once a baby boy lay swathed.
I no longer dwell in this place of your fear.
So then, for whom is it you sob?
The watery image you watch over is a memory held fierce.
Mama, weep no more for the child lost.
Reach for me, your child near.

A mother’s love I have known.
Cold you stare…a vessel empty; incomplete.
A keeper of dark memory; alone.
Our lives lay entwined; rooted in this hungry earth at our feet.
You claw the dirt coffin.
Your nails cracked and blackened with a task so bleak.
Warmth and protection you offer.
In return, pain gives you feeling for which you seek.

Pulled from that grave,
You scream!  Yes, Mama, scream my name!
Rejoice!  It is me standing before you this day.
Why seek false comfort in love so misplaced?
Hear my voice sing; let past screams away fade.
No longer allow earth to leech life from your body.
If it is guilt – you have paid.  Be not this tomb’s marker.
A future holds no place for a martyr.
This young boy yearns for his mother’s smile;
For the touch of your gentle hand.
Remember how you held me that first little while?
A second chance this day does grant.
My heart, hear it pounding.
It beats for time lost and time yet to pass
Look into my eyes.
The reflection of your beautiful smile is all I ask.

Never will words be enough.
I am a painter.
My painted world holds beauty revealed.
Lost words spoken and meanings grow paler
Mama, for you, I paint to be healed.
I will show you colours fresh as wind whips them into glorious meringue.
See my brush, it is the wind.
Each canvas a stepping stone; a journey began.

Wondrous joy that brief moment you held me swathed;
That frail little creature slipping out of light.
Struggling against my last breath, I felt your touch dissolve.
You needed to know I would return when the time right.
It was never your fault.
Damage done, a second time in your arms, in your sight;
Numbed by past grief, the weight of me seemed never enough.
How do I bring you back to erase what was lost?
What may I gift?
I gift not my eyes for they bear witness to light’s colour.
I gift not my hands for they do guide.
No, instead, my ear….
With my ear, hear the song of birds, the laughter of happier times and the sunlight crystallize.
With the colours of the sun, a garden I’ll tend.
Be gone the sound of tears fallen from your beautiful eyes.
Let me paint you flowers rising up out of the depths.
This child near will paint until you smile and recognize.

I am a painter.
Come with me and see.
I live so you may, my Dear.
Peace and solace your mantra.
My Mama, forever one child lost.
Once more, feel one child near.
I am your Vincent.
Walk with me.  I am yours.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Sound Of Fallen Snow

In Memory of Matsuo Basho

By Rory A.A. Hinton

Frog - Getsuju

Jaded man covered
Basho's fallen snow.
Severed arms frozen

Snowed man melted
Limbless before pond.
Rooted tree stump

Thawed man listened
Snow fall ground.
Bellied up frog

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Death Of Hilton Kramer

Abstraction And Empathy
Wilhelm Worringer
Introduction by Hilton Kramer
Elephant Paperbacks

Review by Rory A.A. Hinton

Abstraction And Empathy

I am less interested in Wilhelm Worringer's classic book Abstraction And Empathy and more concerned with Hilton Kramer's introduction to it. However, my indirect interest is not a direct commentary on Worringer's worth. Much has been written about his psychology of style in modern art since it was first written in his 1906 doctoral dissertation, the year before Pablo Picasso painted his El Greco inspired Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon. Kramer's brief introduction is a noteworthy part of that written history, and evidence enough of the book's importance. The turn to the subject in modern art cannot be understood without it.
     My interest centers around two concerns. First, Kramer's reading of this classic text is as classic as it is, and should therefore be read by anyone interested in an influential view on the psychological basis of abstraction in modern art. Second, Kramer's brief introduction presents us with a hermeneutic key for understanding much of his critical work written over a very productive twenty year period for the T.S. Eliot inspired literary journal The New Criterion: from articles like "The Eakins Retrospective" in 1982 to "Does Abstract Art Have A Future?" in 2002.
     This key is the sine qua non for appreciating why Kramer was one of the most notable defenders of modernism in art during the latter half of the twentieth century. It also provides the interpretive basis for his idea that Pop Art was primarily a cultural, and not an artistic, assault on the entire pictorial tradition of modern art (an idea that conveniently renders it unworthy of any sustained critical response by those committed to Eliot's "common pursuit of true judgement"). He did not deny that Pop Art was a movement of note. He just denied it artistic merit, let alone influential longevity (despite the Condé Nast brand of media success that "the Warhol phenomenon" found within the art world, as Kramer so brazenly describes it). Accordingly, Pop Art should be summarily dismissed as merely "the fallout of the 1960s counterculture," and should be understood as such by the artistic aristocracy. The double entendre of Kramer's 1987 obituary "The Death Of Andy Warhol," therefore, is pretty difficult to miss.
     One need only read Wayne Koestenbaum's Andy Warhol (let alone the recent scholarship upon which it is based) to experience serious pause when confronted with Kramer's hermeneutics of dismissal. Koestenbaum's smart biography contributes toward the convincing counterfactual claim that Kramer's Pop Art obit (written in response to the death of its chief representative on February 22, 1987) is a fallout of his own commitment to a conception of modern art that finds its basis in his reading of Abstraction And Empathy. And it is precisely this conception of modern art that Pop Art (especially in the work of Warhol) called into artistic question and left seriously wanting. I don't deny that Kramer's idea is noteworthy. I just deny it critical merit, at least as a criterion (old or new) used to dismiss Pop Art's aesthetic importance.
     What is Kramer's key? Answering this question requires a brief description of the raison d'être of Worringer's book. Worringer argues that the history of modern art is the history of artists working within a dynamic tension between two volitional tendencies: the will to empathy, and the will to abstraction. To be empathetic is to experience a settled confidence between the human species and the phenomena of the external world. Empathetic artists derive their sense of the beautiful from being able to personally identify with the objects of their artistic representation, thereby gaining a sense of personal identity in the process. They are realists: they have read their space, felt at home within it, and have naturally rendered it in their paintings. Renaissance art is realist in precisely this sense.
     In contrast, to be abstracted is to have experienced "the dread of space," to have felt alienated from it, and to have sought one's identifiable sense of the beautiful through less than realistic renderings (as exemplified by Egyptian, Byzantine, and Abstract Expressionist art). Worringer claims that the primal artistic impulse to abstract from perceptual reality is the result of the psychological need to achieve personal identity in the face of the subjective "confusion and obscurity of the world-picture." Worringer states: "The primal artistic impulse has nothing to do with the rendering of nature. It seeks after pure abstraction as the only possibility of repose ... It is the consummate expression, and the only expression of which man can conceive, of emancipation from all the contingency and temporality of the world-picture." Plato rears his mimetic head even here, in form(s) and in content: art is the existential process of producing an expressive product in response to the primal need to achieve identifiable certainty in an uncertain world (wherefore art thou, Aristotle?).
     While empathy and abstraction are, in principle, mutually exclusive tendencies, the history of modern art demonstrates a prolonged tension between them. You cannot understand Cubism as a movement, for example, without knowing about this tension. In fact, Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon is a first rate example of a painting that embodies it. Picasso confronts his own alienation of spacial depth by abstracting from the empathetic tradition of natural representation. He accomplishes this by using two-dimensional means to express three-dimensional dread. Cubism as therapy.
     The significane of Jackson Pollock's Full Fathom Five (1947) can be expressed in similar fashion. Pollock painted it to satiate an artistic need that is "the deepest and ultimate essence of all aesthetic experience." According to Worringer, this is the need for self-alienation. And self-alienation, so the story goes, is a necessary stage on life's contingent way toward determining self identity. To describe this painting as the result of "creative accident" only serves to show the psychological impulse behind it (and in Pollock's case 'psychological' was cashed out in Jungian terms). It is also not without note that its name derives from the following line from Shakespeare's The Tempest: "Full fathom five thy father lies / Of his bones are coral made / Those are pearls that were his eyes." Abstract Expressionism as therapy.
     The turn to the subject in modern art (from Picasso to Pollock), therefore, owes much to Worringer's psychology of style. It provides the basis for the claim that the difference between these two artists is only a difference in artistic degree, but not a difference in psychological kind: you abstract from scandalous space because it is something that cannot be empathetically faced.

Mildred's Dread

     Much of the content of the preceding five paragraphs owes its existence to Kramer's penchant for sympathetic commentary. His introduction alone is worth the price of the book. In fact, it was his reputation as a modern defender of conservative high culture that initially motivated me to read Abstraction And Empathy. My thinking was that if someone like Kramer thought Worringer was worthy of his critical attention (at least worthy enough to write an introduction), then I was willing to put forth the effort to understand why "[f]ew doctoral dissertations have come to occupy as important a place in the history of modernist art and criticism" as it does, and why it has such "enduring importance" as one of the "classic texts in the literature of modernism." 
     While reflecting upon how the relation between representation and abstraction relates to the question of whether abstract art has a future (especially in light of how the Minimalist movement determined its relative demise), Kramer writes the following in 2002: "As all of us know (but sometimes forget), abstract art - especially abstract painting - derives, aesthetically, from representational painting. Whatever the degree of purity abstraction can be said to attain, it cannot make claim to a virgin birth. If abstract painting could be said to have a genetic history, its DNA would instantly reveal its debt to ... the aesthetic vitality of representational painting." 
     According to Kramer's reading, empathy and abstraction are "the two fundamental aesthetic impulses known to human culture." Hence the enduring importance of Abstraction And Empathy (at least for Kramer). His reading of this classic text, and the central place of these two impulses in that reading, is the hermeneutic key behind the genetic history of his vitality and influence as an art critic. In particular, this key not only explains his reason for thinking why abstract painting was representationally derivative, but more importantly why Pop Art gets summerly dismissed as nothing but a cultural by-product. 
     How does Pop Art call this idea into artistic question and leave it seriously wanting? The logic behind Kramer's hermeneutics of dismissal is in the form of a disjunctive syllogism: art is either A or E (or both). If art is P (Pop Art, say), then it is neither Abstract nor Empathetic. Therefore, Pop Art is not art (despite its name). It must be something else ("the fallout of the 1960s counterculture," say). The issue here is not so much Kramer's logic, but the semantic framework that gives it sense. If you reject Kramer's inclusive premise ("art is either A or E"), then the most that can be said is that Pop Art is nothing but the artistic casualty of Kramer's critical commitment to Worringer's psychology of style. Kramer's premise can and should be rejected, along with the idea that it produces and the framework within which it functions.
     By rejecting the representational form and the psychological content of Kramer's modern framework, Pop Art replaces one hermeneutic key with another one. After Pop Art there are many-if-any keys (the more the merrier). You pay your money, you choose your key, and you open whatever door suits your artistic fancy. Kramer did not get Pop Art's aesthetic importance because he chose a key that assumes too much and delivers too little. It assumes too much by implicitly endorsing a subjectivist interpretation of modern art, despite postmodern critiques to the contrary (especially in the work of Martin Heidegger), and it delivers too little by not giving Pop Art the critical attention it rightly deserves (especially in the work of Andy Warhol). It lacks critical merit in precisely this sense. 
     Kramer disparaged that the most distinguishing characteristic of the prodigious outpouring of "commentary, homage, and celebrity-worship" found in the obituaries written in response to Warhol's death was "the way it confined itself to the terms which Warhol himself had set for the discussion of his life and work ... It was as if no language but Warhol's own - the language of hype - could be expected to have any meaning when it came to explaining just what it was that made him important." This disparaging refrain can be found in Kramer's further observation of the general tendency of the obituaries to "take refuge in [Warhol's] fame, in his personality, in his business affairs and his entourage, even in his wig, and leave the art more or less unexamined ... It turned out that almost no one could bring any conviction to the task of specifying what that achievement had consisted of."
     Warhol's achievement manifested itself in the very things in which Kramer finds fault. Arthur Danto correctly points out that one of Warhol's great artistic achievements was his creation of a "new kind of life for the artist to lead." To speak of his fame, his personality, his business affairs, his entourage, and even his wig, was the clearest instance of "specifying what [Warhol's] achievement had consisted of." By uniting art with a life stylishly led, Warhol overcame the historic tension between Worringer's volitional tendencies by simply ignoring them (with deep superficiality). Instead, he simply created a new criterion: art is what you can get away with. With this new criterion Warhol forced his friends and foes alike to use "the terms which Warhol himself had set for the discussion of his life and work." This is nothing new. The Philosophy Of Andy Warhol is as full of linguistic hype as Abstraction And Empathy. It all comes down to the brand of hype you use, and how much of it you can get away with. Like Pablo and Jack, Andy got away with much. 
     Warhol was not the only "cultural" casualty of Kramer's hype. Jean-Michel Basquiat was similarly dismissed. Kramer's inability to make modern sense of Basquiat's work forced him to focus his attention on the "liberal left-wing types" who "needed to make a bow in that direction (the disadvantaged, minorities, and so on)" as the culturally correct basis for why people took Basquiat so seriously. Since his work was neither abstract nor empathetic, how else could you understand why people liked Basquiat so much? Kramer's modern modus operandi is as clear as it is consistent: when in doubt, use the hermeneutics of dismissal and go cultural. In fact, Kramer's assessment of Basquiat's work is less than dismissive: "His contribution to art is so minuscule as to be practically nil." It might be practically nil (Kramer obviously had no use for him), but it certainly is not financially nil. Basquiat's Dos Cabezes (1982) sold for just over 7 million USD ($7,082,500.00) on November 10, 2010 at Christie's in New York. This is a gigantic price to pay for something so apparently minuscule. At least when it comes to the buying habits of the high culture that Kramer so desperately sought to create and promote, Andy and Jean-Michel had the last laugh.

Dos Cabezes (1982)
Jean-Michel Basquiat


     The artistic aristocracy to which Kramer belonged is better served by interpreting Warhol as one of their own. It serves Kramer's cause to realize that his hyped dismissal of Warhol's significance for high culture makes his criterion not-so-new. If any criterion is new now, its the one that follows from the following argument: if you take care of artistic freedom by promoting the idea that democracy is for society but not for culture, then the market will determine the "common pursuit of true judgement" through the dynamic tension between two all consuming tendencies: the will to buy, and the will to sell. These tendencies are based on taste. Taste is context still, and the context continually changes.
     By conflating fine and commercial art Andy created a new basis for an independent high culture, one that understands (and ultimately rejects) the modern assumption upon which the distinction between fine art and commercial art was based. He creates a new independence by by-passing the psychological component as a motivational impulse behind modern art, and replaces it with a capitalist one. If Warhol is right that good art is good business, then it follows that beauty is in the hand of the objective consumer, and not in the eye of the subjective beholder. Capitalism is an artistic ideal because it is a moral one. 
     The question is not whether an independent high culture is possible after Warhol's work. The question is whether those who have long associated themselves with the old high culture are willing to adopt Warhol's work as a model for the new artistic aristocracy at the beginning of the twenty-first century. This new high culture does not reject "commercial entertainment" as something beneath it (as Kramer maintained). It celebrates the "commercial" within "entertainment," uniting art with economics as the new conceptual basis for an independent high culture in the postmodern art world. 

Hilton Kramer

Hilton Kramer: March 25, 1928 - March 27, 2012.

Andy Warhol. The Philosophy Of Andy Warhol: From A To B And Back Again. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.
Hal Foster. "Andy Paperbag." London Review Of Books. March, 2002.
Hilton Kramer. "The Eakins Retrospective." The New Criterion. September, 1982.
Hilton Kramer. "The Death Of Andy Warhol." The New Criterion. May, 1987. 
Hilton Kramer. "Does Abstract Art Have A Future?" The New Criterion. December, 2002.
Hilton Kramer, Roger Kimball. Counterpoints. Ivan R. Dee, 2007.
Martin Heidegger. "The Origin Of The Work Of Art." Off The Beaten Track. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Susan Sontag. "Fascinating Fascism." New York Review Of Books. February 06, 1975.
Tamra Davis. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. Arthouse Films, 2010.
Tony Scherman, David Dalton. POP: The Genius Of Andy Warhol. Harper, 2009.
Wayne Koestenbaum. Andy Warhol. Viking (Penguin Group), 2001.
Wilhelm Worringer. Abstraction And Empathy. Ivan R. Dee, 1997.