Abstract Critical

All-overness: Polke and Richter

Written by Dan Coombs

Sigmar Polke, Bikini-Frauen, 1999, acrylic and dispersion on printed fabric, 126.5 × 156.2cm. CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2014

Sigmar Polke, Bikini-Frauen, 1999, acrylic and dispersion on printed fabric, 126.5 × 156.2cm Christie’s Images Ltd. 2014

My old friend, the philistine, is most impressed by realist painting. “Why can’t you paint a tree that looks like a tree?” he says. I try to point out that painting never looks real to me, its just a set of devices that aspire to be more than the sum of their parts. My friend wants something he recognises, that he can believe in. I remember when every film I watched seemed real, now none of them do. “What is painting for?” he asks. Its quality, I say, is beyond comprehension, and the most difficult thing to achieve isn’t realism – that’s something any old hack can achieve – its all-overness.

“All-overness?” I’m trying to explain to him. Every part of the surface is held in a tension without breaking the plane. I’m having to qualify all-overness, with regard to say Rembrandt say, or Giacometti: they’re the painters where the solid forms emerge sculpturally from a ground. But all-overness, where the visual plane becomes a kind of scrim, or meniscus, as though reality, rather than a set of objects set in space, becomes a suspended field – think of Vermeer, or Cezanne, or how with the abstract expressionists all-overness became the singular condition. Freed of having to represent things, abstract painting could concentrate on its own essence, and its essence is to keep the eye moving around in a continuous flow, never stopping, never running out of energy, like a kind of perpetual motion machine. Or maybe because all-overness is the essential condition of illusionism, that rather than perspective, or foregrounds and backgrounds or shading, painting becomes a convincing illusion when it becomes all-over and seems to float in front of itself, suspended in the air. Reality becomes a field, even Uccello, who invented perspective, knew this. All-overness is a greater illusion of reality than realism because reality is all-over, we’re surrounded on all sides by infinity. Realism can be simulated, it’s relatively easy to copy a photograph, but how do you give it the quality of all-overness, how do you give the grin back to the Cheshire cat?

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1986, oil on canvas, 69.7 × 100.3cm. Christie's Images Ltd, 2014

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1986, oil on canvas, 69.7 × 100.3cm. Christie’s Images Ltd, 2014

My friend is staring into the bubbles in his pint. It’s not romantic twaddle, I’m saying – all-overness is a quality that can be drawn out of anything, a doodle, a stain, a meandering drip, the most quotidian black and white photograph, it has the effect of turning the image back into a question, like suspending an image into a state of ambiguity, or giving the simplest geometry a floating quality – even the zips in Barnett Newman’s zip paintings are themselves fields, held by the surrounding fields of colour. It turns the tables on meaning because it has the effect of effacing the particular meanings of the image and elevating the image into a state of contemplation, as though you are able to contemplate something without being implicated in it, without it looking back at you and imposing itself upon you. “Painting is a laying down of the gaze” as Lacan said, but that becomes clear when you understand that the gaze is not your gaze but the gaze of things that gaze back at you, and painting is a way of suspending the way that the things of the world gaze back at you with all their meanings, all their implications and threats. Painting doesn’t so much annihilate meaning as suspend it and this may be why painting is such an anathema to conservative, rational thinkers. Wasn’t it Adorno who defined conservative thinking as “intolerance of ambiguity”? Yet ambiguity is the condition that brings relief from all the meanings in the world, relief from ideology and rational delusions.

Sigmar Polke, Untitled, acrylic and dispersion on printed fabric, 35 × 27in. (90 × 70cm.) Christie's Images Ltd, 2014

Sigmar Polke, Untitled, acrylic and dispersion on printed fabric, 35 × 27in. (90 × 70cm.) Christie’s Images Ltd, 2014

Suspending, floating the image in the field of the painting, so we’re not implicated by the particularity of this particular woman but touched by the tilt of her head, a gesture as ephemeral as the ephemerality of the image, or the anonymous man, the staring man, who no longer stares at you but stares into nowhere, an all-over nowhere, into the nowhere that frees him from the particular. Similarly, if you stare at the image in a newspaper, it becomes a field of raster-dots, the image formed by the conjoining lines that connect each dot and fill the space between them in varying degrees, which creates from a distance the precise tones of the photograph, recreating the image out of the abstract field. This device of creating the image out of a field of conjoined or disconnected dots, or dots bleeding into each other, creates a transparent image, an image you can see through, so you can see the transparent layers beneath, layers of effervescent gestures and madly meandering drips, moving in many different directions at once.

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1986, oil on canvas,120.4 × 80.2cm. Christie's Images Ltd

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1986, oil on canvas,120.4 × 80.2cm. Christie’s Images Ltd

“It’s all very well,” my friend says, “but a tree is still a tree. It’s all very well quoting Lacan and Adorno, and describing the qualities and ambiguities of painting, but surely things are simpler than that. I don’t necessarily want cod-transcendentalism, though I understand this quality you are describing, this all-overness, is elusive and hard to achieve. Sometimes I take a photograph and it hints at such a quality but most of the pictures on my i-phone are pretty ordinary. I like the way photographs frame the world and name things and I like the way I can take a snap of my daughter and she stands in alignment with the picture plane and sticks up her thumb and there she is. I really just want to name things, I want to call a tree a tree.” But I’m determined to prove to him that great paintings are more matter of fact than he is, that you can make a painting by squeezing and scraping the layers of paint with a squeegee, and the bobbles and buboes of paint that break up the surface, breaking through the colour that lies on top of them, or through the gestures made with a brush that reinforce the surface without ever leaving their matter-of fact condition. Through these pure relationships the parts become a whole.

Gerhard Richter, Bäume im Feld, 1988, oil on canvas, 32¼ × 44 in. (82 × 112 cm). Christie's Images Ltd, 2014

Gerhard Richter, Bäume im Feld, 1988,
oil on canvas, 32¼ × 44 in. (82 × 112 cm). Christie’s Images Ltd, 2014

Take this boring photograph of some trees, for example, this photograph of a burning candle, this farmhouse which is so familiar in its banality, so everyday it feels like home. If you painted it with enough subtlety, with enough neutrality, so the fields of paint conjoined with each other in an equally balanced way, the scrumbled leaves which are smoothed out by the fan brush, leaving tiny areas of impasto still breaking through the surface, if you could paint the photograph with an equalising touch it would lift, it would float, without losing its matter-of fact quality, without having to artificially enhance it with some kind of artistry, like an English landscape painter who might drench the scene in some ghastly wistful melancholia, some dreadful romantic nostalgia. Or take this network of drips, with more drips on top and below, a perfectly controlled scattering of red circles of dripped paint; an invented network, a reality without  hierarchy, where the centre dissipates and disperses into multiple parts. The randomness becomes uncanny, the mind wants to reform the patterns back into something familiar, but the artist has got there first – heads appear, homunculi, alien life forms, strange microcosmic visions, where curlicues of paint become hails of fire, raining down upon an unfamiliar cartography.

Sigmar Polke, Laterna Magica, 1988-1996 artificial resin, lacquer, paint on transparent polyester fabric, verso/rector 52¾ × 60⅝in. (134 × 154cm.) Christie's Images Ltd.

Sigmar Polke, Laterna Magica, 1988-1996 artificial resin, lacquer, paint on transparent polyester fabric, verso/rector 52¾ × 60⅝in. (134 × 154cm.) Christie’s Images Ltd.

It’s not realism that painting aspires to, or meaning; these are the qualities painting wants to avoid. No expression, no heroics. No empiricism, no reality. No ideals, no nihilism. No aspiration, no positivism, no negation.

“So what’s left?” my friend says, “what is left for painting to do?”

Everything, I reply. Everything that painting has ever done. Why did the Neolithic cave dwellers paint bison on the wall of their cave? Nobody knows. But one thing that has always struck me about cave painting is that it was painted by the light of a fire. The flickering light from the fire would create the illusion of movement in the static images painted on the walls. Why did people need this? Not to create meaning but to escape from it. It must have been claustrophobic in those caves. There was no freedom, every day was another hunt for food, the bison were quarry. But in their paintings the cave dwellers let them escape, they set them free.

“I don’t know,” my friend says, “my mind seems to have turned blank.”

Precisely, I say, that is precisely the condition we want to achieve.

 

  1. Visio said…

    “Landscape Into Art” by Kenneth Clark (1949) makes a comparison of Benjamin Williams Leader “February, Fill

    Dyke”, 1881 and Camille Pissarro “Lower Norwood”, 1871. The author makes the point that one is pieced together

    (the Leader) and the other presents an envelope of unified space (the Pissaro). Author says the Pissarro is

    natural painting and the Leader is false naturalism. All-overness is an outgrowth of naturalism and

    impressionism. Part of the attempt to paint a kind of experiential reality.

  2. Dan said…

    Phil King: great show isn’t it Dan!?

    Dan Coombs :They both have a very strong relationship to the banal . As a sort of counterpoint to the sublime of American abstract painting . They both insist on struggling inside that to find beauty . Polke taps into the sense that there are layers in reality we can’t perceive .

    Dan Coombs: Polke doesn’t let go of banality even at his spaciest . Oddly , Richter abstracts are as intensely psychedelic as Polkes work , but they also have a matter of factness quality . Yes did love this show , it was beautifully curated . Any thoughts Phil ?

    Dan Coombs : Maybe banality is wrong word – maybe ordinary reality or “disenchanted ” reality

    Sara Kerry : Though that would depend whose reality and how far removed we/they are from it.

    Dan Coombs : Yes it’s quite hard to describe the effect . Like the swing between the ordinary and then seeing something beyond in it . I don’t know – maybe they’re just amazing painters who used what was available .

    Sara Kerry : I will have a look!

    Sofia Silva : They’re both very cinematographic. Polke is on the Wiener-Lang-Murnau’s line. He uses lap-dissolves. He superimposes loads of things and I think that for this reason he can be also quite dictatorial. The critics who identified Polke as the intellectual of the group made a big mistake because Richter’s languor looks much more like an intellectual and wry trickery. I think that Polke believes in what he does and this let him look like the beginning of Sunset Boulevard as well, very rapid and chronicle. Richter is not a dissolve, but a fade-in. You know those movies from the Sixties, not necessarily French, that begin with an out of focus fade-in coming from the opening of the protagonist’s eyes. I wouldn’t trust none of them (even if I like them both)

    Dan Coombs : Its much more revealing than an individual retrospective . I don’t know whether they’ve been put together much before or kept separate- Ive not seen a show of them together. Its insightful- like the juxtaposition above . Richter was working in a space where realism had no higher claim than any other way of working . He sort of acknowledges that in the form of the painting. It wasn’t working from photographs that was radical, it was working from banal photographs . The banality , or anti-art quality of the photo , makes their work feel real.

    Dan Coombs : I never realised how close in spirit they are

    Phil King : I think it is one thing to think about their connection in terms of an idea and quite another to see it laid out over time. that’s to say they both touch on something that isn’t an idea and then go to different places with it. It is something to do with chaos, with losing control… with letting stuff be stuff. as this perhaps isn’t something that we consider relevant to Richter the show really for me was a revelation of something in his work. Something that I’ve intuited but that gets blanked out in the layers of control that surround his work and its presentation. Polke brings the actuality of both their works production to the fore, the affect is electric and impressive differences burst out everywhere. Never have Richters looked so raw and textured. in return the Richters pull the Polke’s into a more organised realm, bringing out their finesse and elegance. But what comes out for me is their flat inhabitation of an Beuysian environment where disenchantment is accepted to an impressive and moving extent and the brute stuff of their paintings insists. They find different ways of creating a belief in the enchanting nature in each painting, each painting acting as a creative surprise and appearance of problematic and interesting ‘space’ . It is that surprising nature, the event of each different work, of illusion created from genuine disillusionment, that this show reveals so well.

    Harry Ward : Very interesting approach Phil/Dan – Banality being a European pop-art approach in opposition to the praising produced in American. Polke flattens out meaning by juxtaposing ‘everything’ as an equal. While Richter erases meaning through physical adaptation of the medium. Thanks for the insight.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      Gets my vote for pseuds corner.

      Once you have knocked the corners off an ironic anti-art Beuysian-Warholian banality, it remains for the rest of its days a banality.

      • Peter Stott said…

        I wonder how many pseuds have used abstraction and the learned behaviour of ‘contemporary art’ to hide the fact that they have no talent whatsoever. Go to Turner Contemporary now. First go and see the children’s art and see that primary school children are now doing better art than half the London Degree Shows. Then go and see what Mondrian did before he arrived at abstraction. Every single painting a work of genius. Paintings to knock the spots off anyone alive in London today. Then go and cry into your beer and if you ever had any honour in the first place, just go on the piss, because for practically everyone else, That’s all you’re good for.

    • John Holland said…

      Very funny. I always enjoy the way this genre of art-talk manages to avoid ever discussing anything as embarrassing as an actual, individual painting. They just ‘reference’ other, irrelivant, things like films, or philosophers, or sandwiches or anything that pops to mind.
      One thing Beuys is not though, Robin, is ironic.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Maybe not, but a “Beuysian” banality is.

      • Dan said…

        “Henceforth I would have to cosent to combine two voices: the voice of banality (to say what everyone sees and knows) and the voice of singularity (to replenish such banality with all the élan of an emotion which belonged only to myself).”
        ― Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        My, you are well-read, Mr. Coombs. Is there anyone you could quote about why that boring, banal old tree painting is a masterpiece?

  3. nc said…

    Dan, this is exactly how I feel. You were able to put it in words so well. Most people don’t get this! I will keep your article and share with “my old friends”!

  4. Peter Stott said…

    Dan you’ve been wanking so much you’ve gone blind.

  5. Peter Stott said…

    Who is this painting you’re talking about. What’s the full name? David Painting? Susan Painting? I haven’t a clue… WHO IS THIS MR/MRS Painting you keep talking about? WHO?????!!!!!!!

  6. Peter Stott said…

    Richter’s abstracts are chronic. I have no idea why he is famous, other than he has the money for a very big studio and lots of paint. His phto-realist stuff is utter sh*te.

    Polke is a much more talented and interesting artist but he falls short of greatness. His show at Tate Modern was an absolute disgrace to art.How to fill a very big space with garbage? Fill it up with very large garbage. I bet some of those stretchers cost £3000 to make, never mind storage and transport cost, all specially tailored for curators who have no idea about art whatsoever, from what I saw. I can’t wait for it to be over for such tat. Tat no doubt paid for by the British taxpayer to LORD IT OVER THEIR OWN. I think I’m just going to puke with disgust. Goodbye.

  7. Tracy Roberts said…

    ” I like work that doesn’t tell you what to think , but shows you how to feel ! ” as Joan Mitchell said

    ( Joan Mitchell , abstract painter , sky arts , wednesday 11th june 3.30 )

    Asulutely ! It takes time to develope an eye , Noela’s quite right . There certainly is the satisfying all – overness , startling rightness ( as in Sandra Blows work ) or cohesive whole / oneness . Great artical Dan .

  8. Robin Greenwood said…

    Dan,
    Your writing obviously strikes a chord with a lot of people. I tend to agree with John Holland that it is more than the work deserves.

    I got an invite to a show of abstract painting in the post today – I won’t say whose it is – but the strapline is:

    “Searching for ambiguity beyond content. Marks and erosions suggest sensibilities between reality and the enigmatic.”

    Your essay only encourages this. You and Patrick Jones make strange bedfellows in the “beauty above all else” camp. Meanwhile I’ll labour on in my plodding, unpoetic, conservative manner, striving foolishly for content beyond ambiguity and meaning beyond aesthetics.

    • Pete Hoida said…

      The following is from the notes to the Naxos recording of Schoenberg’s Moses and Aaron. The first paragraph relates to Alan Gouk’s comments on developments from Schoenberg on.
      The second relates to what I perceive as the contradictions inherent in abstraction as made manifest within the art form (music in this instance). The Welsh National Opera production now goes to Covent Garden. I can’t elucidate further.

      “it must be seen as the composer’s ‘fragmentary masterpiece’. This assessment of the opera is not only because it is his most comprehensive score, but also because it represents the climax of his association with the dodecaphonic method of composition, described by Schoenberg himself as ‘a method of composition with twelve notes related only to each other’. Schoenberg himself declared with some pride: ‘I could even base a whole opera, Moses and Aaron, on a single tone-row’ (Composition with Twelve Notes).

      ‘The meaning of the events is completely different from their biblical sense’, Fedele d’Amico has precisely stated, ‘for the Bible the resort of Aaron to the golden calf is a falling back into idolatry, rather as heathen polytheism is opposed the monotheism of Moses. For Schoenberg’s Aaron the golden calf is simply a further symbol for the same God of Moses, a visible sign, indispensable for the people for them to come into contact in some way with his invisible being, and to be able to perceive and love him also in imperfect and limited form. […] For Moses, on the other hand, every ‘sign’ is only degradation: and of course not only the miracles and the material promises but also the table of the law, which he breaks for that reason as a trivial materialisation of the divine ethic.’ (Berlin, 1959) The tables of the law and the golden calf: in the radical interpretation of Schoenberg these – the analogy is with the compositional style – are in no way categorically different: they are emanations of one and the same abstract series method, an aesthetic cypher for the inexpressible divine name. So this score, sublimated to the highest point, peaks in a sequence of unique illustrative suggestions: in the dance around the golden calf. The escalation in this turbulent scene of the second act appears consequently part of the problem of the abstract ‘divine thought’ itself: Moses has led the people into the imageless region of the wilderness. The wilderness, however, is the nothingness of the fata morgana and of phantasmagoria, setting loose, as it were, a series of illusory images.

      The indissoluble double bond between Moses and Aaron, on which all Schoenberg’s attempts to cope with the third act foundered, reflects the question of how to deal with the dilemma of communication: the hard line and necessity, the opportunistic approach and failure. The opera thus takes as its theme the central question that every interpretative art has to pose – thus also completely centralto the theatrical art of opera. Rarely in the realisation of an opera score has the question of the self awareness of the form itself and its function been so radically dealt with as here.”

    • Dan said…

      sentence 3, paragraph 2- sculpture is different Robin. Arent meaning and aesthetics bound up together ?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Yes, but they can be separated, as your examples show and as you seem to want to promote.

        The problem I have with the all-over “scrim” thing is that it says nothing about quality, coherence or value of content, and you (and others) mistake it for wholeness. Do all Richters achieve this spurious wholeness, just by using the all-overness? Do some fail? Which ones, and why? Perhaps, like Robert, you think all painting achieves organic wholeness naturally, just by being painting. You wish.

        Personally, I dislike this idea of painting as a meaningless cobweb before my eyes. I want to dash it down. If that Richter painting of trees was in focus, you would see more clearly what a dumb and dreary thing it really is. I wonder which English landscape painter you had in mind to insult? Have you looked at any? Why not make a real, actual comparison? For my money, you could pick any number of second or even third-raters from the history of British landscape painting and they would have something more to say for themselves than the Richter.

      • Dan said…

        Robin, you think Richter’s work has no content ? I suggest you get acquainted with his work. He transcends the intentionality of having “something to say”, sure- but this doesnt mean Richter’s work has no content, far from it, in fact I find your criticism of his work laughable .
        Obviously you havent read the article carefully. The art would consist of the all-overness intensifying, particular specific content of each image- which I thought I explained. Its obviously not something that can be imposed on anything, but you are right to raise the issue of content , and I agree with you , it is the crucial issue .

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Isn’t “intensifying, particular specific content” somewhat at odds with your meaningless ambiguity? Or is it just that can’t get my plodding brain round such profound poetic contradictions.

        Go on then – what is the specific content of the tree painting, what is its value? Why do you think it is any good? Can you say any more than that it is just “beautiful”?

        “[W]istful melancholia” and “dreadful romantic nostalgia” begin to seem at least like degrees of some kind of genuine human emotion, compared to Richters ironic disengagement. I have actually looked at his work a lot, as you will see from the archive of this site. I concluded that he occasionally and by chance did a moderately interesting abstract painting.

      • Dan said…

        Meaning and content are not the same thing.
        “The mark of a bad poem is its descent into meaning” Paul Valery

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Paul “rent-a-quote” Valery:
        “That which has always been accepted by everyone, everywhere, is almost certain to be false.”
        Mmm… could that apply to Richter?

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Could it be, in fact, that it’s you and your fellow supporters of Richter-as-genius-who-can-do-no-wrong-including-the-incomparable-julia-every-Richter-is-a-masterpiece-peyton-jones who are the real wistfull and misguided romantics, because none of you can actually tell me what’s good about that boring tree painting other than that it tickles some obscure intellectual fantasy amongst you all.

        Go on, compare it with “Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River)” by John Constable. That would be fun.

      • Noela said…

        I think Richter’s work is variable, and I must say I have wondered when he blurs a lot of his paintings whether it is to get away from them looking too boring and photo realistic. However, some of his abstract pieces have the ‘ wall of sound ‘ appeal , which often works for me.

      • Robert Linsley said…

        RG, check out this blog post:
        http://newabstraction.net/2014/06/11/the-sameness-of-abstraction/
        I think it’s pretty clear about both Richter and my own work, which is not as you describe.

  9. John Pollard said…

    The trouble with this pleasant show is that it seems to be punching well above its weight; take it away from Christies and knock a number of noughts off the values and it doesn’t seem that bad.

    Richter’s abstracts raise some questions about ease of production and the relevant quality or value of the final image/work. You can squeegee all of the day and finally you will get something that looks interesting. Of course you need to have the eye to spot this but then this veers towards the artist being a critic and not so much of a creator.

    And I realise that Richter both deliberates over the act and often does some extra work after the squeegeeing, so there is thought, skill and control as well. And I like some of the work but I wonder whether I am being sucked in by the attractive physicality of the broken surface that the technique always delivers.

    I saw this after seeing Alan Davie at Portland Gallery: a different world……

  10. JontyS said…

    Didn’t Deleuze say that the essential job of painting was to paint forces? I like your argument, and I think you come close to something great with “all overness”. I think a sense of wholeness- but without the platonic implications is good too. Matisse is the exemplar here for me, a painter who holds his paintings on the verge of collapse whilst simultaneously creating a wholly rigorous pictorial language. a great paradox, or as you would say- ambiguity.

  11. John Holland said…

    I like a lot of what you say about painting, but it seems to me that there is a problem with the two artists you link it to, Richter in particular.
    These paintings suffer from the common post-conceptual trope of a lack specific visual intelligence, of being essentially sophisticated illustrations of a philosophical point. They take this quality of the all-overness, the suspended field, and reduce it to a formulaic essence, one in which the infinately complex possibilities of colour, space and form are reduced to a repetative and easily-read ‘strategy’. One Richter is pretty much interchangable with any other. The beauty that you ascribe to them seems more like a simplistic eye-candy charm that sweetens the putative ‘meaning’.

    As such, don’t they rather conform to, rather than oppose, the ‘consumerist model of looking’ that David Sweet talks about?

  12. jenny meehan said…

    Thanks so much for that, it was delightful!

    We all have something inside us that wants obvious clarity regarding what we encounter in life I think…the poetic is always a more challenging experience. I wonder about the impact of our instant answer culture on our ability to gaze/contemplate. As David says, a super description of the art of painting…one I find personally very useful and helpful! Thanks!

  13. David Sweet said…

    This is a good description of the art of painting: Poetic, but not defensive. And it stresses the medium’s potential and possibilities. The central idea of a suspended field whose status is ambiguous, but which is internally highly functional and productive, is a reasonable way of thinking about painting and not incompatible with modernist theory.

    It raises the issue of how contemporary viewers can engage with painting defined in these terms, especially as they are likely to have developed other ways of seeing the world, real and mediated. The lost viewing practice of cave dwellers, facing a constellation of rush-lit animals, would be applicable in front of Pollock. But nor is it too different from the way we experience cinema, where the suspended field coheres by virtue of the ‘all-over’ luminous effort of the projector, underscored by the screen’s own all over reflective capacity.

    At the moment, the protocols of instrumental vision – eyes market-trained to locate images, target gestalts, subtract information, recognise objects of desire, etc. – are culturally valued. The ‘gaze’ fell victim to feminist critique some time ago and I’m not sure how it’s faring in the sociological discourse right now. Maybe a Lacanian twist will help with its rehabilitation.

    In front of paintings, instead of deploying the prevailing consumerist model of looking, the viewer’s vision should perhaps aim to establish an interface with the material placed in the suspended field. For the viewer, ‘seeing’, in this context, might involve a kind of ‘hovering’, a strategy of remaining ‘in the air’ or lingering in or near a place, rather than settling on an image, or hook, or ‘meaning’. Of course what emerges from such an engagement could be said to be ‘accessible to eyesight alone.’ But what’s wrong with that?

    • Terry Ryall said…

      I rather like this idea of the cave-dwellers’ viewing practice. The art of looking and seeing was a serious business for those dudes, perhaps often making the difference between survival or suffering a gruesome death. An injection of the intensity of such motivated ‘looking’ might be preferable to the described ‘consumerist model’.

  14. Joe Packer said…

    Nice piece Dan, modernist tropes or not, attempts to ‘explain’ the act of painting to non painters in words are always interesting, although ultimately never wholly achievable I think. Just trying to work out who the friend was, ha ha.

  15. Dan said…

    Thanks Noela , We’re going to see the Matisse show next week. Thanks Robin , but there’s no irony – dont the paintings above look BEAUTIFUL

  16. Robin Greenwood said…

    Masterful, Dan, a piece of comedy writing in the fine tradition of Pete and Dud. Did the modernist tropes follow you round the room? The show certainly left me feeling blank and meaningless – job done!

    Ambiguity is the last refuge of a scoundrel…

  17. Noela said…

    Hi Dan, I reckon your friend needs more exposure to non realistic or non figurative art to gradually develop an eye for it. He probably listens to music without demanding it should remind him of a field or a tree. It all takes time to understand and be able to process what one is looking at.