Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Song And Sight Exactly

Today I was planning to do a post about the Dawn spacecraft out at the asteroids, using its ion thruster to move from the asteroid Vesta to the asteroid Ceres. I’ve posted about the Dawn spacecraft a couple of times, and I wanted to follow-up on something I said in one of those posts.

Scientist At A Hamburger Stand

A Piece Of Paper Above An Asteroid

And I was going to say that the Dawn spacecraft was like a plot from a science fiction movie but it was real, carrying on with the “science fiction movie” language from yesterday’s post.

But my thinking, today, got completely derailed in a completely unexpected way.

So I may return to the Dawn spacecraft tomorrow. I’m not sure. Today I’m just going to recount what happened to me this afternoon.


Late this afternoon I was in Chicago for a while. At some point I realized I was right next door to a Chicago Public Library. So I went in to see if they had an old, obscure book about oil painting I’ve been looking for. They didn’t. And I noticed the Chicago library used a slightly different numeric classification system than our suburban libraries.

(Chicago did still use numeric classifications, though, they haven’t embraced the so-called “bookstore model” many libraries are adopting. If you don’t know what the "bookstore model" refers to you are lucky. I wish I didn’t know and I’m not going to post any links to it here.)

Anyway, although the Chicago library didn’t have the oil painting book I was looking for, I tracked down their fine arts section and looked through the painting books they did have on the shelf.

I noticed that with their classification scheme the shelves right next to the fine arts books contained pop music books. And as that registered with my thinking, I saw a photograph on the spine of one of the music books and that derailed my thinking completely. I gave up, for the moment, and for the day, really, looking at painting books and I pulled out the book with the familiar picture on the spine. I even took a photo of the cover.

This book. Pattie Boyd’s autobiography, “Wonderful Tonight.”

Pattie Boyd, of course, is the real Layla. She was the muse and inspiration behind Eric Clapton writing “Layla” and George Harrison writing “Something” and other great songs. I’ve posted about Pattie Boyd, and her autobiography, a few times.

The Good Old Days—Umm, Yeah...

Equally And As Hopelessly Lost

Thinking About Arranging “Layla”

For some reason it was something like shocking, seeing that book next to the painting books.

I’m so used to our suburban library system of classification that the juxtaposition was completely unexpected for me.

So then I got to thinking, again, about paintings versus photographs because I think that cover photograph of Pattie Boyd from her modeling years is more beautiful than any painting.

And I wondered, again: With photographs creating a kind of “standard” for what is possible in the realm of images, is it even possible for painters to live up to that standard, or even surpass it in one way or another?

A few weeks ago I found a very interesting essay by artist Alexi Worth speculating that Manet may have developed his bright and blunt style of portraiture partially as a response to the enthusiastic embrace by the French public of the then new medium of photography: The Lost Photographs of Edouard Manet

And I’ve done posts about the trend in fine arts called hyperrealism, where artists embrace photorealism as a craft and make selection or some other criteria a part of the process: The Margins Of Water In The Wild and The Abandonment Of Meaning and “Kari Loses An Underwire From Her Bra...”.

I don’t think Manet’s style is the answer, if there is one, to this issue. As eye-catching and beautiful as many of his canvases might be, I don’t think any of them match, or could have matched, the beauty captured by that photograph of Pattie Boyd.

I don’t think modern hyperrealism is the answer, because that simply makes a copy of a photograph.

I don’t think any of the abstraction approaches to images that developed after the post-impressionists are the answer. Abstraction doesn’t even attempt to directly mirror reality in any recognizable way.

I’m starting to think that photography may have capabilities—the “autographic” value maybe that I posted about in This Woman From The Canals Of Mars—that cannot be matched by any painting approach.

There very well may be some option available to painters that I’m not immediately aware of. Painters can be amazingly skillful, passionate and creative. Just because I can’t think of something that certainly doesn’t rule out a painter, some contemporary thoughtful and skillful person like Manet, looking at the issue and developing an approach or style which can duplicate or even surpass the power of photographs.

But I don’t think anybody has done it yet. And I don’t think I’m going to figure out what it is myself.

Of the image-making things I know and am familiar with, the only open question in my mind is: I wonder what Cezanne would have created if Pattie Boyd had posed for him?

I don’t know what I would imagine Cezanne would have come up with. He almost always seemed to work out something only he would have thought of.

I don’t think a Cezanne image would have been powerful or beautiful in the same way as that photograph. But I don’t know. Maybe Cezanne would have found a way to capture Pattie Boyd’s image, her beauty, or his reaction to it, in such a way that the power and beauty of his image would have equaled or exceeded the power and beauty of that photograph.

Maybe the “answer”—if there is one—is the classic French business that I quoted in my post The Tache And The Touche: A painter looking at the motif, reacting to it, and shaping every touch of paint on the canvas to match the painter’s reaction to the corresponding bit of real life in front of the painter.

I don’t know. That seems to take the answer out of the realm of a process or style an artist could adopt, and it would ask the artist, always, to look within, to be able to introspect so deeply and respond to that introspection so honestly, that the power and beauty the artist saw and responded to would not be duplicated, but, sort of, brought to life, again, in a different way. The famous Cezanne phrase of a harmony parallel to nature.

Such an outcome wouldn’t duplicate photography. But it would, in its way, accomplish a similar end. And, in fact, it would accomplish something outside the capabilities of photography, by building on what was happening inside the artist.

I don’t know.

I’m glad we have photography.

And I’m sorry painting isn’t as dynamic a cultural happening as it was in nineteenth century France, because I think I’d really enjoy seeing a great many different artists trying to deal with this in their own way.

In the modern academic world painters seem to establish a consensus and then stick with it regardless of any popular reaction (or lack of one). And modern commercial fine arts seems to be driven by arbitrary, even chaotic, market forces—whatever galleries and auction houses can manage to sell. And modern pop art is hardly even accessible to painting.

I bet in some way or another painters will work out this issue of mechanical images versus hand-crafted images and come up with something better than just painting quickly or abstraction or hyperrealism.

Maybe it will be something like Cezanne’s approach to realism, motif-inspired harmony parallels.

I’d really love to see what they come up with.


Songs capture something
an artist sees in someone
and a camera

captures exactly
whatever an artist sees.
Can any painting

capture both such things
the song and sight exactly
to hold forever?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Reduction Of The Muse

“The Librarian And The Painter”

No comments: