Thursday, June 16, 2011

In which the author has many things to say about...audience, the good and meaning

There was a young woman poet, C.S. Merrill, who worked for Georgia O'Keeffe in her final years, from 1973 to 1979, doing a bit of everything to help out (except art). She would sit down after each day and write what she and the artist discussed or did, and later published a book of poems, O'Keeffe: Days in a Life, (New Mexico: La Alameda Press, 2000). From these poetic notes, we find that O'Keeffe tended not to like her most popular paintings; she liked "a painting/with black V/white below/blue above" which was "what she was trying/to do." But it wasn't in the desired style -- so it was not going to be famous. Georgia O'Keeffe overly concerned about audience? At odds with what they wanted? She, the woman who said "I am not fine..."!!!  How astonishing!

Then comes a poem that gets to a central difficulty artists have, making the judgment: "Is it finished? Is it good?"   When I think I have done all I can with a painting, and am painfully aware of all the decisions I have made, all the work I have done to complete it, and remember the other destroyed paintings in its wake, I think, "this is a good painting." Since it is so easy for me to talk to myself and agree with what I have said, I have had to develop a system: if Charley and I both like it, then it is good.  O'Keeffe settled that; she had an African mask "oval and black with protruding mouth/and slitty eyes; long braid/extending up from the head:

She used to take it with her summers
hang a painting next to it --
if it held its own
the painting was good,
next to the mask.  (from "68,"  January, 1978)

And so it was good.

Turning back to Rosalind Krauss and Rauschenberg, Krauss unpacks the ways that he was changing the audience's expectations: how, after so many modern movements, to find meaning. Krauss refers to Renaissance art, to that little tiny landscape, tucked just over the Virgin's ear in so many Annunciation paintings, the little world going about its quiet little business just out of reach of miracles. She says this kind of painting portrays "a tunnel of deep perspective -- an allee of trees, say" which is "just about to arrive at its destination in the horizon's vanishing point, when something at the very forefront of the picture -- the lily the angel of the Annunciation is handing to the Virgin, for example -- blocks the whoosh into depth." So you have, on the one hand, this little distant world that is beautifully fixed in illusionistic space, in miniature, but then you are brought back to the flat faces of Mary and the angel and the world of the icon and halo.  The moment in the foreground, Krauss says, must "'hold' the surface, preventing its 'violation by an unimpeded spatial rush.'" And, generally, it does, even though we see the "two conflicting modes of being ... real versus ideal, secular versus sacred, physical versus iconic, deep versus flat" and the funny thing is that it is that tiny real world back there behind the halo that is "real," and yet it is the one part of the painting that most makes use of illusion, perspective, the whole ball of wax. It is "the flattened wafer of the surface-bound icon that is touchably real" (p. 88, from "Perpetual Inventory" cited in yesterday's post). And so, if I am understanding her properly, what Krauss seems to suggest is that this dual nature of the picture plane requires us to perform the Keatsian suspension of disbelief and thus re-integrate the picture.

And, if I am getting that right, then I would suggest that the Keatsian moment and the re-integration, finding that meaning, is REALLY FUN for us as viewers and what can take the place of that exactly once you've broken it and you say you don't want anyone to put it back together? ...  Yes, well, while Rauschenberg may have said, or hinted, that he didn't want it all put back together,  he did, actually. Krauss quotes another critic, Brian O'Doherty, who says that Rauschenberg really was invested in "the integrity of the picture plane" (87).  For me, Rauschenberg's most compelling work is the large photographic prints (there was a show recently in Los Angeles of several Gemini prints). Krauss discusses the "seamlessness" (95) he achieved with this breakthrough.  And yet, for me, there is, along with the "seamlessness," an in-and-out quality not unlike that Renaissance duel.

So, again, as I did yesterday, I am going to say I will stop here and go work.... and buy an early Krauss book, because, clearly, when I read some of her pieces years ago, I wasn't ready.

No comments:

Post a Comment