Tuesday, February 27, 2007
The comment debate that raged over my post Getting It Wrong left me wanting to say more. I was confirmed in this view by this article in the Guardian, drawn to my attention by Lilly Evans. So, to expand the Renoir thought, the impressionists wished to paint without any imposed meanings or hierarchies, whether religions, political, social or aesthetic. To the contemporary imagination this seems to mean little more than painting an ordinary world full of ordinary people doing ordinary things. What it in fact means is the transformation of the field of the painting. With no pre-existing values, the question arises: what do we, in fact, see? The answer is a coloured plane to which we impute various seemingly non-intrinsic qualities, perspective obviously. I suffered a panic attack in the Renoir show because his sense that this is all we have is sometimes exhilarating but, for me at the time, it was suffocating. I felt a sort of drowning vertigo. We don't think like this now about the impressionists because they have been so emasculated and normalised by their sheer popularity. Which brings me to Roy Hattersley's drab piece about poetry in the Guardian. In discussing 'difficulty' in Auden and Larkin, all he really has to say is some poems need thinking about, at the end of which process, presumably, they too are normalised as further consoling banalities. No attitude could be more carefully calibrated to marginalise the appreciation of art. Conventional interpretations of impressionism, like Hattersley's view of poetry, simply reflect the fact that we live in the shadow of modernism, of whch impressionism was one crucial aspect. It was perhaps the greatest creative episode in history. But we cannot seem to stand on the shoulders of this giant, we prefer simply to turn our backs and cower, clutching our familiar things and dismissing all else as 'difficult'.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 4:55 am