Comments on: Titian and Modern Abstraction 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: Robert Linsley Mon, 08 Jul 2013 14:45:23 +0000 David, thanks for your response. I’m trying to be polemical about the religious/secular business, because maybe the spiritual origins of abstraction have been too much stressed, and it just doesn’t appeal to me. On the other hand the idea of the once and only, single time and space is very compelling to me and not much discussed.

You may be right that I use the word arbitrary too much, but it is definitely not the same thing as random. To me arbitrary means a finite number of choices, any one of which is as good as any other. You would be right if you said that likely doesn’t apply to Titian, as it does to much abstraction today. In this context it means that the fall of light, and the fall of a drapery, or the angle of a limb, is just what it is, momentary, unforeseen, unrepeatable in reality. I want to use that aspect of realism – the once and only – to explain why a particular form or arrangement in a painting is striking.

Your idea of overlapping circles running off the edge of the canvas is very interesting. Sounds like something he might do. Speaking of which I made a slight mistake in characterizing the Actaeon as based on a pyramid. The pyramid is in the middle of the canvas, but it is nested in a larger form like a parenthesis, made of the curtain and Actaeon’s body on the left and Diana’s body on the other side. Forms within forms – it’s so beautifully complex, and fits well with your idea.

By: David Lloyd Sat, 06 Jul 2013 06:14:41 +0000 I really enjoyed your article. I learned lots about Titian. I was especially interested in your rearrangement of the Allegory of Love paintings. I take issue with the word ‘arbitrary’ in regard to Titian’s composition, but I know what you mean. They seem more fluid and organic, less geometric, and as you say, less symmetrical. I still feel there is a kind of symmetry working in Titian. I have a theory that he shifts the symmetry so that it is goes off beyond the canvas. Obviously it’s not strictly symmetrical, but it refers to a roughly symmetrical organisation of pictorial elements So, for example in the Pesaro Altarpiece if that right-hand pillar is the central line of symmetry and you imagine the rest of the symmetrical framework going beyond the painting. I don’t know….I have to say it’s not a Titian I’ve spent a lot of time with, but you’ve piqued my interest. With the later work I have a ‘theory’ that he uses a system of overlapping circles which go beyond the limits of the canvas.
But maybe you’re right and the composition is more arbitrary, although to me that implies a randomness. And with Titian I feel there is a visual reason for everything. You can really see this when he does more than one version of a painting.
I Like that you point out his melting of forms together. This seems crucial to the Titian effect. Especially in the late work, and gives it that overall shimmering quality. I’d like to see more work on Titian’s composition.
I have to say I take slight issue with you at the end when you say that art had to become secular to become abstract. You could make a case that abstraction came out of some very spiritual traditions. For example Mondrian was in no way an art-for-arts-sake formalist. Although it’s possible i’m mis-reading your argument.

By: Robert Linsley Fri, 05 Jul 2013 13:02:38 +0000 I guess my work would be reified emergence, which would also fit Pollock’s. Stella’s would be a reification of the experience of shock or meaning or pleasure when two disparate things come together, a more common mode.

By: Robert Linsley Fri, 05 Jul 2013 10:13:14 +0000 Very interesting.

By: David Sweet Fri, 05 Jul 2013 06:23:25 +0000 Titian’s liberated colour and adventurous compositional decisions explain his continuing appeal for painters. The case for his abstraction may be a little more complex. The Pesaro altarpiece is obviously about a family at prayer. What Titian seems to be doing with the organisation of the connected drapery right at the centre of the painting is reifying prayer. The intercession starts at the mouth of the kneeling figure on the left, passes through the Church, represented by St Peter, and proceeds via a very narrow isthmus that joins the virgin’s robe to the Book, rising onwards and upwards, as prayers do, to the Madonna herself. In other words the shapes are a way of turning an abstraction, prayer, into a tangible and therefore paintable form.

When he wanted to find a way of painting lust, another abstract idea, he chose to personify it through the figure of Bacchus, leaping from his cart, his gaze fixed on Ariadne. But reification of abstract entities, the painted prayer in the altarpiece, does relate to ‘modernity’ in the visual arts. The Impressionists reified light, Cezanne, his ‘sensations’, van Gogh reified his chair, (because he wasn’t sure it was real), Pollock reified his unconscious. Maybe Still reified the sublime, or tried to, and many painters seemed to have attempted to reify space, rather than work with it in its ‘unreal’ state, namely as illusion. Reification is a problem in philosophy, but has been extremely productive in the practice of modern painting.