I scan the greats, almost desperate;-
Hoping for not much more
than to be productive , as they were:
to lead a life enriched by an art
as detailed and as painful as life:
to mark my days with pregnancies,
that my ideal may sprout
and give to the world
that remainder of my spirit
made of flowers and sweet air.
It is right and best to ask the expert
straight questions, so the mystery
of what they do may be reduced
to its basic atoms, and one is freed
from talking in a wasteful way
(in images and abstractions)
about the most important things.
for those who take their pride
from what they do, especially,
such basic talk is difficult;
but the exercise is worth it.
Hospitality is the first and greatest gift that is given by a well rounded soul.
When I asked an old woman on the tram whether she needed help with her trolley, she told me, "This is my chariot, but my horses have gone."
The way a spiritual pundit tries to cure himself of doubt is to consider all art, all life as a spiritual food. That way nothing is left out, and everything in life, including death, acquires a value and become edible. Above all, as long as the meal is substantial it does not even have to have a name or be significant. We are speaking here of human feasts. Some lives are so immense, so expansive, that the morsels of their table are preserved as art or religion. This idea of a spiritual economy, of something deeper than an image, gives one courage to deny the show of talent, to rid one's self of any obtrusive self-satisfaction or ambition, and join at last the ranks of those without sign or canon, though with ethics and science; those who are cursed to dine upon difficult fare. What earns points, spiritual points, are risks; and these require enormous bursts of energy and leaps of faith, for one must leap into what one doesn’t know, what we haven't seen. Skimming through a biography of Frederick the Great today, this remark made me giggle: "Zimmerman saw him eat an eel paté which was so hot that one of his Majesty's dining companions claimed it looked as if it had been cooked in Hell".
People confuse classicism with a style, but it should be understood as a movement of the spirit, or the tying-off of a new idea of living. A certain freshness and simplicity is bound to reoccur with each renewal, for classicism is not a mode, but a return to our essential selves, a blossoming outwards from the center of our spirit. Goethe described classicism as drawing a ring of culture around a people, so that they are able to understand themselves as a distinct group, and may attain perfection within a limited set of meanings. The vanishing point of culture is brought much closer in, and for the first time, within the classical revival, culture is felt and lived as a nourishing limit, and the individual is no longer alienated within it. This limit is civilization, a true society, where the individual may find human satisfaction. It is a matter of the unification of the living arts: all those lifestyles which we have come to call our own, but which now are offered up as completed forms, as perfected culture.
A head of Raphael's is like a soliloquy from a tragic play: a pose, or gesture is an idea, like a melody that everyone remembers and carries about in their mind.
It is no small thing that wine tastes best from a wine glass, coffee from a coffee cup and water from a tumbler.
It is not so much the anatomical detail that is important, as the maintenance of monumentality in each of the parts.
Hitchcock said the writer's job was to provide material with content, but the director's job was to guide the camera. For the painter too, the choice of material is not so much based on content but the richness of form.
There could be a dozen Master's theses written on the history of the underpainting; on the possibility of the grand tradition within the studio without the underpainting. I am beginning to believe that such a tradition, if it takes into account any sort of chiaroscuro, and bold and accurate colour decisions at that, requires some sort of underpainting. And all this vis-à-vis Cézanne and the Impressionists. The grey underpainting (which I suppose derived from the sinopia of fresco) through its convenience as a tonal guide and shorthand of form, became a sort of clotheshorse for colour (just look how often Rubens and El Greco rode upon it as a shortcut to the mid-tone), and caused painters eventually to view colour as a mere covering, and to forget about the timbre and the rhythm of colour in painting. Colour is treated almost a cosmetic; - delicatesse, as Poussin would have it. Fresco: this was the great training ground for colourists. Its role in the case of the Venetians is even today underrated, perhaps understandably so, due to the serious lack of murals still extant. Fresco taught artists how to draw with colour; how to rely on tones above and over any effect of reworking or tactility. That is why the crutch of the Florentines was the cartoon, while that of Rubens and the great oil painters it was the underpainting. One must allow this, there is no recipe, but the colour science must come first. That is why the greyscale must serve as a reminder (as in fresco) and not revert to a theatre of chiaroscuro. It was for this reason that Poussin stated that Carravaggio was born to destroy painting. It was also this theatre of colour that Cézanne fought against, with the leading players highlight, mid and dark, that caused painters to forget the primacy of colour. This disassociation is related to the view that colour is an incident only mildly related to form. But colour, as the great colourists teach, is a flexible, biomorphic entity; - further, as the researches of Malevich demonstrated, colour creates form, (remember he called his Square the regal infant) and must be seen as an architectural creature alive in speed, chroma, texture; a building block, the protein of art, having rotundity, weight and atmosphere.
See how Matisse, Picasso and Orozco had an ally in the colour black ! This colour of all colours they wielded like a magic weapon, or a primitive torch, to melt those bonds which first forced colour into memisis.
Flesh post Renoir. After surveying its scarification in modern art though Picasso, Giacometti and Moore, one almost forgets that the healthy human skin is, yes, lustrous.
The artist builds a sacrificial altar, then sacrifices himself on it, again and again,- or in truth, for as long as he can bear such singularity.
Fasting simplifies the soul.
Against mythos. In this day and age, mythos becomes bathos. Gods don’t work in scripts. Only well written humans. One should almost ban props. What we require is the science of the body, and a very accurate one at that: a study of physiognomy. The body is capable of expressing everything itself. This science, or this representation of man, which no seems so hard and extreme, is our mythos, or it will come to seem so. Merdardo Rosso loathed Renaissance art because of its opera and outworn prejudice of skill and procedure. He used to tell the story of his Child's head being the audience favourite when it was exhibited beside a sculpture by Michelangelo. Rosso and Degas, in their sculpture possessed the same type of courage: essentially that of Romantics on a philosophical diet.
I met a man the other day on the street near the Market, whom I should call one of the notable thinkers of Melbourne. He told me art was wonderful: almost as beautiful as poetry; and that art was neither self-expression or concerned with pleasing others: - its business was to show the way: - to reveal, as he put it, 'the shining path'. Not just beauty, but ugliness was part of this revelation. We talked much about the fact that humankind had once been given a choice (or, I should say, embodied an alternative); and followed, (as he termed it) a 'technological' path, and neglected the spirit (which I would understand as the life of the body). He lamented the fact that our society was caught between the drunk and the lawyer (he himself was an alcoholic). The drunk, I suppose, representing self-abandonment or self-neglect; and the lawyer, the exploitation of the body.
But when he kept on about the hopelessness of a spiritual comeback, describing the world as a type of Hell, governed over by a demonic sense, I told him that it was high time we set about articulating Heaven. How could I refuse the spiritual path ? The path of the body ? But what is man ? he asked: Does he exist ? I told him that I supposed our idea of man was an idea which we had agreed upon, - a type of consensus.
This lead us to a discussion of conscience. He asked of what value was conscience to the future of our so-called 'species'. I answered, none whatsoever; for a person, if they are to have any insight into their own nature, must have the courage to deny conscience altogether; - conscience being the picture formed in us of the idea of 'man'; of what it is to be 'human', built up through our association with ourselves and others. I added that conscience offered a way of living with others: it gave certain fringe benefits.
My philosopher mentioned the 'totem', which he understood as the footsteps of a tribe, or the ancestry of a group of people; which I would also call a conscience: that is, an ancestral memory which is bound up with spiritual activity over millennia. I said I thought that perhaps the first growth signs of the conscience in a people (especially a group of people who are living together out of choice) are those values or representations of feelings, which come to be called, for instance, 'love', 'jealousy', 'envy', 'hatred', etc. These emotional symbols grow into an image of man, and function as his grounding thoughts and basic emotional orientation; his conscience.
I told him that we must start to articulate a new conscience, a new representation of ourselves; what a Christian might understand as giving shape to Heaven: shaping ourselves and living by example. I said I could not afford to be a pessimist; as there was too much work to do in the other direction. When I told him he was in denial, he wondered whether or not that was a river in Egypt. Chaos was a productive aeon. According to him, Chaos came after the 'primordial soup'; after all things had lost their interrelation – their conscience-; and indeed in many creation myths, the dreaming always climbs from a growth fastened onto the surface or from a convulsion within the being of primal beings, the original people or giants, who could be termed the true barbarians or grand atheists (people just like us); - and it is only from this Dreamtime, when it is fully grown with all its gods and creatures, that the real world – the one in which we once claimed to live – emerges via a thousand different births, experiments and transformations.
And so, after a while, pondering on this, I left my thinker, with both of us exchanging hopeful signs. He went back to his bench, to drink and to meditate, and I trailed up the hill towards the library.