Thursday, 3 March 2011

'American' Art

I won't pretend to have any kind of extensive knowledge of art but one aversion or dislike I'll try to overcome the tediums fnd difficulties of expressing is for certain American artists, or aspects of their work, and this aspect is their monumentality of scale. What tipped the scales to trying to actually set to words this feeling is seeing a few minutes of a programme on the artist Julian Schnabel, featuring some exhibition of his works, the scale of which as in short enormous, requiring high wall space and certainly not for any ordinary home.

Firstly the po-faced attitude that determines the wish to work on this scale, and the crudeness of this thought: since to work on a huge scale is very awkward, then it cannot lie within a natural desire for artistic expression; the natural expression of art I would say is someone like a child faced with a fairly ordinary piece of paper, canvas or whatever and start drawing or painting. Working on the huge scale cannot be done in any such whimsical, of-the-moment fashion, and the thought behind it which I find so poor is that "I work on a monumental scale; therefore my work is of monumental import." That scale is equal to artistic import. I'll mention here my favourite artist of the 20th centry, Paul Klee, whose works tend to be typically of dimensions someting like 30cm by 40cm or some such, and just as likely to be smaller than that as bigger. Thereis an unbumptious intimacy of such in Klee's case highly concentrated works, and which if blown-up can easily survive such magnification, since these enclosed universes are sufficient to themselves. They are perfectly formed in themselves and retain their interest and integrity whatever the scale. Contrarily the American artists I am thinking of, the likes of Rothko, need to work on the huge scale so as to overpower 'sensually', perhaps comparable to the bombast of someone like Wagner; and in direct contrast to Klee, when such works are seen in miniature, in reproduction on the page, the effect is diminished to the point of non-existence; the paucity of any aspect of formal interest in the image renders the picture wholly uninteresting,and this is the difference between these modern Americans, as well of course as plenty others, working on this scale and old masters like Tintoretto or Caravaggio. Their best works are structurally fascinating and while, as above, losing quite a bit in terms of overpowering the senses , they easily survive the reduction in scale to the page, ad if Caravaggio's Martrdom of Saint Matthew were, instead of 323 cm × 343 cm, 32 by 34cm, it would still be a masterpiece.

Another aspect to my aversion to the inner motivation to work on this unwieldy, 'unnatural' monumental scale relates again to the intimacy I spoke of in relation to Klee; the works he produces are intimate processes in the act of production, and also intimate experiences in the act of viewing for the perceiver. Klee is not seeking to make to pun a public exhibit of himself and his work. Contrarily these American artists and their grandness of scale are very much within the American order of thing precisely in their desire to make of theselves and their works as public as possible - the greater the physical object the more 'public' it is - the more it partakes in the public, physical arena and is open to perception by the greatest number. It is the opposite of intimacy, and part of what one could call the current American mores where there is no intimate, private self; instead one participates wholly as part of the public whole; and in its apogee this manifesting itself where troubled selves tell of their most private problems on carnivorous talk-shows. There is I suppose nothing wrong with wishing to partake in the public thoroughfare, in the social, political life but these should very much be incidentals to the artist, and such a desire is in itself crude, apllicable to things like advertising slogans and if dominant contrary to the subtle integrity of self that produces real art, art which to be real art must be intimate. This desire to be 'public' should come into play after the creation of the work, not as prior motivation.
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This has already taken up too much of my morning so rather re-read it, try and shape it into anything elegant, etc I'll stop there more or less mid-sentence.

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