quinta-feira, março 09, 2017

Seeing Comes Before Words: "Ways of Seeing" by John Berger



“But because it is nevertheless ‘a work of art”’ – and art is thought to be greater than commerce – its market price is said to be a reflection of its spiritual value of an object, as distinct from a message or an example, can only be explained in terms of magic or religion.”

In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

“Original paintings are silent and still in a sense that information never is. Even a reproduction hung on a wall is not comparable in this respect for in the original the silence and stillness permeate the actual material, the paint, in which one follows the traces of the painter’s immediate gestures. This has the effect of closing the distance in time between the painting of the picture and one’s own act of looking at it. In this special sense all paintings are contemporary.”

In “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger

I find it strange when someone tells me they’re attached to a certain painter and that painter in question is a genius; the definition of 'genius' is fairly broad, so one person's definition might not be another's. I haven't fully formed my argument, haven't pin pointed what it is that niggles at me. I think essentially the problem is that I attach 'genius' in other areas of human endeavour such as science or music or literature, to advancement. To pushing forward into new frontiers; to problem solving, to presenting the world in a different way. I suppose Cubism might meet those criteria, but a lot of Picasso's work seems purely derivative of existing art work and artists (e.g. Duchamp, Cezanne, Matisse, and especially African art and children's art) and he worked backwards into flatness, primitivism and naivety. He was certainly innovative and good at seeing and pulling together different visual stimuli into new combinations. Science too builds on existing knowledge, but what Picasso did would be equivalent to throwing out the entire body of scientific knowledge and methodology and declaring that the earth is flat, the moon is made of cheese, there are green fairies all around us, and then being declared a genius. Maybe his genius was having the audacity to toss everything aside and adopt novelty and an 'anything goes' attitude as the basis of some of his flung-together art, which is still the philosophy we have today, for good or ill. I am, of course, always open to having my perspective changed. And still regarding Cubism and Cezanne, back in the 90s there was a huge exhibition of Cezanne at the Tate in London which I saw. One thing was clear as I walked round the exhibition, Cezanne couldn't draw and not even paint very well. What he appeared to have done was develop a style that masked his deficiencies, which led him to his seminal work, the landscapes that influenced Braque and Picasso. It was one of the greatest unintended jokes of modern art, an artist who couldn't draw or paint having so much influence on later artists. Then came the bathers and confirmation that Cezanne really was a ham fisted artist. I don't mind the opening up of the definition of art - art anarchy if you like - if only it didn't coexist with the highly hierarchical art world with its demigods like Cezanne, where value is constructed largely through external values, because 'traditional' aesthetic parameters were destroyed. If I say art = infinity, then all subsequent art is merely infinity + 1?

My pet peeve is still the interpretation of Picasso as a genius. He was mainly an insider and most artists who get known are insiders. Anyone who has been to art college (I haven’t) knows that if you didn't go to a college of renown the chances of success are stacked against you. Added to that, the chances of you getting an exhibition are minute if you are not seen as a social equal to the movers and shakers of the art world. Success in the art world is not about quality, it is largely about who you know, connections. In that world, the internet and networking with others outside the art world is much more attractive. I remember a friend of mine who attended an art college saying that a lecturer kept on telling the students about how many geniuses were missed by the art world because the art world didn't look for geniuses because it was not interested in art, it was instead interested in personalities and products to sell. Having spent many years in the art world in Lisbon, London, Paris, and Madrid, all I can say is, how right he was. The art world isn't interested in art. It’s interested in selling stuff…


Now that I bashed Picasso and Cezanne, I’ tell you who I really consider to be a genius, painting-wise. Bosch! People like to say is he was a “'medieval genius'.  Bosch was certainly a 'genius' but there was nothing 'medieval' about either his art or the city in which he lived and worked. He was a brilliant innovator in so many ways - his landscapes fully equal Leonardo's, his figure drawings are superb, and his rendering of materials like glass is absolutely unprecedented anywhere (and certainly nothing to equal it was achieved in Italy), while his command of perspective was astonishing, stretching from brilliant still-life, close-up details literally to infinity. Furthermore his works were being collected during his lifetime in Venice - which was one of the most artistically sophisticated and advanced cities in Europe. No, Bosch was definitely one of the greatest and most innovative of all artists and the idea that he was some kind of mystical medieval genius should be buried once and for all. I’ve said my piece. Now I rest in peace.

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