Comments on: What’s Abstract about Art Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 By: Alan Gouk Sun, 13 Jan 2013 12:30:26 +0000 Robin is being very naughty. I have never thought or said that Manet paints ” flat”, nor Matisse neither for that matter. Indeed in my very first Essay on Painting, Studio International, October 1970, I challenged the notion of Matisse’s alleged ” flatness “. And in 1982, in Patrick Heron 1,Artscribe No 35, I wrote ” Manet,you cheat. You don’t paint flat at all “.I refer you to my article Letter from New York or Matisse on this site since April 2012, in which these issues are discussed at some length. In attempting to copy Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergeres in 1980, I bit of much, much more than I could chew, and sketched in the contents of the mirror impressionistically, more like Manet’s preparatory sketch, now in Amsterdam, where the background is less evidently a mirror reflection. By introducing a mirror, increasing bilateral symmetry and the pendular swing as we take in the orbs reflected in the mirror, Manet initiates one of the most complex plays of ” reality” and illusion in painting, not the least of which is that what we see in depth behind the barmaid’s head, ( Robin’s beloved deep space ), we are obliged to sense as existing behind us in our real space, since we as observers are positioned in the role of the male customer reflected obtusely in the mirror. What must female observers make of this? Alan Gouk. January 11th, 2013.

By: Robin Greenwood Tue, 06 Nov 2012 09:23:59 +0000 Yes indeed, we are close on this, though of course I still think you overdo the ‘association’ thing. I do like the Diebenkorn quote – I like the notion of continuity materialising. That takes account of the process of painting, whilst keeping it as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. And ‘continuity’ may be a better thing to talk about than ‘wholeness’, because it accomodates difference and variation better, perhaps.

By the way, there is a really excellent show of early Gillian Ayres paintings (from the 50′s) on at Jerwood Hastings, which I’m hoping to post an essay on soon, but it ends on 25th Nov. I can’t recommend it enough, it is first-rate abstract painting.

By: Ashley West Mon, 05 Nov 2012 21:28:33 +0000 I don’t know if you read my last article Robin – I’m sure there’s all sorts of stuff in there you find problematic, but I discussed this business about relationships and wholeness, and the process of observation – in the second paragraph of my discussion of Ocean Park No.29 (I remember discussing the term ‘passage’in an earlier draft – as probably the best way of describing it -in relation to this, but had to edit it out due to the word count):

‘It looks like a piece that is proposing an idea about unity and balance, but do we actually get a sense of final resolution? Standing in front of it, the eye constantly moves from this to that, and the mind flits from one association to another. The effort to take in the whole image at a glance seems almost to force or reduce it. It is as if what he leads us to, is in fact a carefully proposed question about the nature of things. What happens if one looks at the yellow and blue as (curiously), not being separate? Or, put another way, can one entertain the idea of a continuation across this division, because of, rather than in spite of the separation? One thinks here, not only about the relationship between zones in the landscape, but also the division of cells and tissues in the body, and the transference of forces in architecture. As with the nuances, it is less about how these parts appear as things in themselves (forms) and more about what they do or how they function through relationship. Diebenkorn spoke about the difficulty in overcoming inertia and his hope “that [he] can get things into that relationship where some kind of continuity materialises.”

By: Robin Greenwood Tue, 30 Oct 2012 09:51:48 +0000 This debate has got a little diverted of late, so I would just like to emphasise a point that relates directly back to the original article.

This visual ‘abstract-ness’ thing that I talk about is entirely a relational phenomena. This is why I spoke of the particular related passage of forms in the Van der Weyden, which had struck me on seeing the work, but which could have been another, seen by someone else. In isolation, the baby, the hands, the sleeves, etc… and indeed, lines, singular items of form, colours, smears of paint, geometry, are none of them abstract in themselves. The ‘visual’ or ‘abstract’ thing happens across correspondences, as a movement through the work; a passage, if you will. Perhaps even a passage in time?

Something which I did not really touch upon in the essay, but which has come up in relation to Pollock, is the business of ‘wholeness’. David has unpicked this to some extent in his new essay, and we should perhaps switch the debate there. The Pollock brought in here to this exchange gains a wholeness by being pretty much the same all over; it’s a kind of minimalism, a lack of relations, a move towards literalism. The Weyden, if it attains a state of wholeness, achieves it by very different means; I’m not sure it does, or whether it matters. It seems more of an ‘ongoing’ experience, rather than a single recognition of unity. Perhaps this relates to the ‘abstract-ness’?

By: Robin Greenwood Mon, 29 Oct 2012 13:34:56 +0000 Hysteria? Must have missed that.

By: John Holland Mon, 29 Oct 2012 12:46:57 +0000 I can see that this is getting me nowhere, and you will continue on your imperious (and impervious) way with your category errors (Kuhn was writing about the culture of science- the extrapolation to culture generally is too simplistic to be very useful.).Pp

By: Terry Ryall Mon, 29 Oct 2012 11:27:58 +0000 Just a small point about Downton. It’s popularity can hardly be based on what you describe as “an audience who remember or mis-remember, the past”. The vast majority of people who watch it were not alive to experience and therefore have memories of the period that it portrays. Perhaps you under-estimate both it’s audience and it’s achievement as drama.
However, this does little to increase our understanding of your belief in the importance of Pollock which you are strangely coy about sharing. I don’t know if this format is the best way of addressing the question of Pollock’s importance but it’s what we have so why not make full use of it to define your substantive point for those who are sceptical about his role in any sort of paradigm shift thingy?

By: Noela Bewry Mon, 29 Oct 2012 11:08:32 +0000 You may want to end the discussion around paradigm shifts, but I was wondering if you feel we have come to the end of new paradigms for painting?

By: David Sweet Mon, 29 Oct 2012 09:19:14 +0000 Kuhn’s book isn’t really a scientific work, more a history or philosophy of science. Its claims are cultural, and can’t be proved or disproved.

Clearly what is coming over in all this to and fro is the importance of Pollock, and what his work means. The epistolary format is not the best way to sort that question out.

My final point on paradigm shift is to mention the uncertainties it produces by looking at an example outside Art or science.

It’s widely felt that the biggest change in British life over the past few decades has been the movement from a mono-cultural to a multi-cultural society. Multiculturalism is the new paradigm. It was instituted when the presence, visibility and social contribution of ‘anomalous’ populations passed a certain threshold and could no longer be accommodated under the existing paradigm.

But, undeniably there are anxieties around this shift. ‘Downton Abbey’ plays into these anxieties, creating an entertainment based on the old mono-cultural paradigm for an audience who remember, or mis-remember, the past. If this is a coping strategy, that’s ok. The problem comes from thinking that the earlier state of the paradigm, is retrievable.

Back to art.

The work of Lucian Freud is an entertainment, albeit high-class entertainment, based on the earlier, pre-Manet paradigm. We can enjoy (though, actually I don’t), Freud’s mastery of illusion, the semi-tone, solidity, depth, oil paint, and all the rest of it, as we can enjoy costume drama and stories about people who dressed for dinner.

At least ‘Downton Abbey’ and Freud are explicit. But elsewhere, in calls for painting to adopt a more robust three-dimensionality, in Mark Stone’s article about modernism and dematerialisation, as well as in Stone’s paintings, (which appear to employ a sort of homeless chiaroscuro) to say nothing of the hysteria about van der Weyden, the same anxieties and the same yearning for a return to older paradigms are plainly audible.

By: John Holland Sun, 28 Oct 2012 19:04:41 +0000 David-
I’m glad you are so respectful to the elderly.

Your application of the scientific notion of the paradigm shift to painting is exactly what concerns me- art after Manet is NOT the same as science after Einstein, and to elide the two is to fundamentally misrepresent the natures of art and science.
As I said before, you are trying to apply a false level of objectivity to your ideas, which are ultimately value statements- Einstein did not deal with value statements, he dealt with verifiable, predictive equations. Science is an accumulation of knowledge, a progressive activity, in a way that art is not. Manet can’t be proved to be either wrong or right, whatever his place in the history of art.
It’s not so surprising that art, and critics, want to ape the objectivity of science now- it is, after all, the defining methodology of our age (not for much longer perhaps). Maybe that’s why artists now talk about their ‘practice’ rather than their art.