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Below the Surface - De File — LiveJournal
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Below the Surface
A few hours on my hands and knees, blood rushing into my head, reminded me of the virtues of looking at what's underfoot. And then, listening to Sonic Youth's Washing Machine, which may be my favorite album of theirs as an album -- Daydream Nation and Sister start stronger but end less impressively -- I remembered how I'd wanted to share with you this shot of a mundane surface illuminated by the pale light of a late fall afternoon:

Even though my inner narcissist may be leading me astray, it seems important to me to declare that this is the sort of image in which I love to lose myself. As a teenager captivated by the spare paintings of Andrew Wyeth, who does such a wonderful job of capturing the look of the rural southeastern Pennsylvania landscape where I spent my first decade, I was incensed to read the condescending statements of art critics who dismissed his work as decorative kitsch. I still am, come to think of it. Because what makes Wyeth a great artist, much like Edward Hopper, with whom he has a lot in common, is his ability to present a realism that doubles as abstraction. Look at what's underfoot in one of the fields he depicted again and again and you will find a field every bit as Modernist as the sort Clement Greenberg thrilled to discern in the work of Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock. The difference, I think, is that Wyeth gives viewers the option of looking elsewhere, not because he is pandering to the backward tastes of Middle America, but because even the most rigorously pure art emerges from the messy spaces of the everyday.

That's why, if I may take this point into the realm of metaphor, I love Sonic Youth so much. Since music is far less mimetic than painting, the opposition between realism and abstraction plays out on a different plane. But I still think it proves useful, even if those two terms only function figuratively. The great thing about a record like Washing Machine is the tension between the moments of pop songcraft, exemplified by the simple tunefulness of "Trouble Girl" and the fields of sound that throw them into sharp relief, stretches filled with the rubble of melody that remind me, yes, of the way the fields of my childhood looked at this time of day on a late fall afternoon.

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Current Location: 85704
Muse: Sonic Youth's Washing Machine in the other room

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From: bobo_amargo Date: December 4th, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Grief Shrift

Far be it from me to come, with overmuch enthusiasm, to the rescue of Clement Greenberg, but there's one suggestion in your depiction of the antithesis between abstraction and realism that I want to protest against a bit.

I think the idea of purity as it was reflected upon among modernists of the abstractionist vein isn't best juxtaposed against an idea of the "messiness" of the everyday world. The charge that naive realist painters dissembled the medium was meant to bring out the fact that pictorial representation, like perception itself, was a messier, more complicated business than anyone had hitherto imagined.

Compare the analogous charge that modern logic is purificatory. What someone like Frege was after, though, was a script by means of which the neat but misleading conflations of natural languages were painstakingly separated and spread out. Logical space is more not less cluttered than the spaces of everyday language. Of course, we have ways in the everyday of prizing things apart as well: pragmatics (mostly discovered, however, after the fact of modern logic).
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 5th, 2006 04:47 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: Grief Shrift

That's a good point. I should have been more clear. When I wrote of purity I meant in the sense of art as gesture, that the work is an autonomous expression of the artist's mind and/or spirit, rather than something shaped in advance by the range of possible reception. I guess what I was trying to convey is that someone like Wyeth, who got slammed for pandering, was acknowledging the diversity in training and inclination in his audience insofar as he pursued abstraction within the context of realism instead of in opposition to realism.
From: bobo_amargo Date: December 14th, 2006 01:15 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)


I suppose your Lukácsist tendencies are showing themselves there, which is fine by me (though a certain version of my old modernist self might prefer to have his Wyeth and "eat it," too [by which I mean, of course, have my Wyeth and crash my BMX on that snow-covered, the-center-cannot-hold road]).

Puts me in mind of some at-the-time-shocking-seeming advice Michael Fried gave to CK when he was in Berkeley lecturing on Caravaggio and they had lunch together: abandon Benjamin for Lukács. Given his commitments, it's still hard to fathom what he was trying to convey by such a remark (was he being selfless?).

(FYI: it's a rainy San Francisco day, and I'm listening to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)

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