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Sunday, January 29, 2012

"The Humpty Dumpty effect": once the veneer of reality is broken in 20thc art by the analysis of the a priori visual structure that shapes that reality, the whole cannot be reconstructed.I accept this as having been inevitable but it still haunts me as the burden of the Modern condition.You can't go back to the garden.

I sent this to someone who wanted to read an excerpt of my drawing book.I edited it some more and as always amazed at how infinite the editing process is.

In our perceptual experience value is first level, lines second. Historically this is the case from the end of the universal use of chiaroscuro in 19thc Salon paintings to the primacy of lines in the Cubism and Abstraction of the 20thc. However, the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque went in the opposite direction And in art education this sequence from the Renaissance to the Baroque defines the method that is followed in constructing a drawing: construct the drawing first with linear measurement and insert value into that structure. Value in minute increments provides the veneer or the surface of the world that we call Reality. Courses that used to be advertised on  matchbook covers and your standard drawing class at the college level, all start with measurement. This is not to say that it does not work but by skipping over the level one of perception it ignores two truths:#1 the hierarchical relation of value to linear structure and #2 the notion that an object is part of a whole visual field. It isolates the figure from the ground in which it is embedded and jettisons a priori the role of light in the uncovering of the world.

Moreover, the use of line as measurement in classical drawing is very different from that derived from perception and the art of the 20thc. It imposes a top down order from rigid laws concerning the construction of the human figure and the use of systems of perspective. They both trap the visual world in a sort of intellectual vise.

Moreover, my method works. I have observed again and again students, who never internalized the rigid process of your typical beginning drawing class, get a fresh start studying my method. It becomes a sort of cognitive therapy where the linking of the way we see to drawing results in a drawing style that is natural and provides a base that can be built on.

At higher cognitive levels we interpret the values as recognizable things. In mid to late 19th c French landscape painting, chiaroscuro was used not only to give enough detail to make a world of recognizable objects but described the social classes by the styles they wore and locations of the objects in the landscape. I recall seeing in a show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1996 that interspersed salon paintings with Impressionist paintings done contemporaneously. In order to add even more specificity to the represented scene, one artist wrote the provenance of the boats on their sterns in a seascape. There is no doubt on the artist’s part that this representation is only a representation and not reality. The Impressionist artists of the the late 19thc became conscious of the a priori structures that made the world real, and cured art of the lazy notion that what is painted is in fact reality. We create reality from the a priori structures of the eye. In fact drawing and painting in the 20thc, undergoes what I would call the Humpty Dumpty affect. Whereas in the classical period all the analysis of the visual world supports a finished product that looks like the world we move in, in the 20thc the underlying systems for shaping the world, once separated out and used by themselves, lead to the reductionist trope toward abstraction that defines our century. ” All the kings horses and all the kings men could not put Humpty together again.” Lines end up constrained in Mondrian’s verticals and horizontals or are liberated as gesture in Kline and Joan Mitchell. Value ends up in Rothko’s numinous masses. Color perception ends up first in Matisse’s color patterns and finally in color field painting, or just the color panels of Ellsworth Kelly. Occasionally one finds a movement that takes an abstract language and moves it toward verisimilitude as in the work of the Macchaioli of Italy in the early 20thc, who used the pointillism of Seurat combined with the volumetrics of Caravaggio to create some heavily realistic work. Much of Picasso’s work never uses the surface of realism but except for the cubism done with Braque assumes a viewer placed in front of the scene depicted. In the hands of other artists his discoveries suffer what philosophers call reification: it is assumed that the language is reality. Like the Machiolli, that approach has a leaden quality to it.

 The following is a series of three drawings that show the genetic connection between value and line. I did these last Fall as a demonstration for the book I wrote on drawing of how the two are connected: Value as a lower order structuring of the visual, and line as a higher order that is built on top of the valuing of visual data. It also shows the separating out of line after the values is removed. At that point the line is free to be used in a totally self-referential way. Mondrian followed this process in his Apple Tree series which goes from value to purely linear in which the apple tree is no longer recognizable.

Jason Travers, as a student at AIB, did the last drawing. It is followed by a drawing by Twombly. Jason’s drawing shows the lines beginning to break away from the original value drawing and interacting with each other self-referentially. In the Twombly drawing the lines are free to "do their own thing.

Value drawing done with charcoal

Lines added at value shifts

Values erased and lines enhanced
Jason Travers drawing moving from value to linear approach

Cy Tombly drawing with liberated lines

1 comment:

  1. What haunts me still is the genesis of the Zombie artists I write about in another blog post.There is none of the visual dynamic you find in Mondrian or in Abstract Expressionism.What if its origins are elsewhere.Boris Groys in his discussion of Malevich points to him as a possible source..The absolute supremacy of his forms destroys the visual language of the past and gives us a new language grounded on nothing but itself.It is supposed to embody the revolution of the working class that erases the past. Mondrian comes to his abstraction via a reduction of perception that drags the past along with it in the form of warms and cools and push and pull.These zombie artist are in the Malevich strain of abstraction.