Follow by Email

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Mondrian and Monet flowers in Paris and Notre Dame as Rhizome

My book on Drawing and Painting languishes in virtuality, somewhere on the servers at KDP, although occasionally on my dashboard I see someone scratches at the file to bring it in to actuality but then after a page or two lets it lapse into the mostly unread. Is the unread like the undead when it reverts back to the virtual? Not quite fully alive? I notice that spell check won't let me consider the spelling of virtuality as valid; so I look it up and find it has a rather esoteric philosophic meaning making its way from Duns Scotus to Charles Sanders Pierce, Bergson, Proust and Deleuze, though not in direct order of descent. It seems it has uses in many domains of intellectual pursuit: Virtual Image in Science, Virtual World in Technology, Virtue in etymology and the Possible in Ontology. The most intriguing is the actuality of the Eucharist as truly embodying the blood and body of Christ: (actual vs virtual), which was held as untrue by the Sacramentarians and supported by Luther.

What I can gather from this divagation is that information needs red-blooded humans to make it truly come alive. Like a revolution needs people in the street willing to spill blood to fulfill the words of its goals.

Seeing an art show in a gallery does fit the bill of live human contact activating art. The reality of the white cube, so close to that of a church with believers, will never die (I hope). 

In Paris I saw a show at the Musee Marmottan Monet of the early work of Mondrian that changed my opinion about Piet. If you put his work into the context of those whom he influenced especially post WW11 American artists he comes across as the progenitor of an arid intellectualization of art. Early Stella for example is an hard-nosed Yankee interpretation of Mondrian. If you see the abstraction in the context of his early work, his painting becomes more tentative and probing. The overall mood of many of his landscapes is reminiscent of the  Hudson River School’s use of luminism to evoke the transcendental. Even as he begins to coax an underlying linear visual structure out of these landscapes the moody light of dawn or dusk remains.

Throughout his career he drew flowers belying my understanding that they were limited to the pre-abstraction stage of his career. The petals are soft and pliable and verge in their organicism on the infinite. On the one hand they could be seen as the antidote to his abstraction, on the other hand the abstraction has a lot of that pliability, a gentle push and pull off of the flat surface of the canvas.  Notions of tenderness and delicacy come to the fore.


This reconsideration of the geist of his work helped me reconsider the work of the late Monet on permanent display downstairs from Mondrian. My first response is that he is a better abstract painter than his imitator Guston. And like Mondrian was moved by the organic growth of flowers, although his flowers are more explosive like Dylan Thomas’s green fuse.


So the role of the flower seems formative in abstraction. At least in Europe.

The plug has been pulled on Notre Dame’s magic. I heard from my sister who spoke with someone involved in funding the repairs that the scaffolding put up for the renovation pre-fire is so completely welded to the stonework that there is a risk of collapse of the building if they are separated. The notion of hierarchy and the blending of heaven and earth embodied in the building have been severed. I am sure anti-hierarchical Bataille would have loved this and Deleuze would encourage leaving it as is or turn it into a structural rhizome as part of the infrastructure of the urban sprawl.



  1. Another thoughtful pondering of Art History by Martin Mugar that takes us seamlessly from the folly of virtuality to the millennia-old truth of experiencing first-hand the magic that fine painting offers.

  2. A rhizome works with planar and trans-species connections, while an arborescent model works with vertical and linear connections.


  4. Your comment on art having to be seen to be “activated” reminded me of this strange theory related to quantum physics and observation!

  5. That the observation participates in the creation of the universe is intriguing.