Monday, February 26, 2007

On Getting It Wrong

I went to the Renoir Landscapes exhibition at the National Gallery and suffered a panic attack. For some reason, I felt I was seeing him for the first time, without the gauze of prejudice and cliche - sunlight, nature, plein air, chocolate box, school trips, the French good life - through which the impressionists are usually seen. Seen thus, he is a very scary painter indeed. Even the critics, whose job should be to see without contemporary preconceptions, can't seem to push the gauze aside. This by Andrew Motion is fairly typical. Apparently learned, it is, in fact, no more than an anachronistic distillation of conventional contemporary thought. Gilbert and George, now honoured with a huge exhibition at Tate Modern, receive a similar treatment - this is good, this is what we must like, this is how we must like it. Germaine Greer, brilliantly, breaks ranks, pointing out the extreme, hermetic obviousness - both in form and content - of G & G. Critics can't seem to see things clearly. The same thing happened with the acclaimed and now Oscared movie Pan's Labyrinth. Leaden and essentially static, it nevertheless mesmerised the critics. People whine about access to the arts. What they don't realise is that the greatest barrier to access is received opinion.

20 comments:

  1. Its the money machine Bryan.

    Came back from Australia recently and watched "The Damned" "The Queen", & "The Last King of Scotland" back to back on the plane..

    Ho hum the first violent. The second OK but was only a telly program, the last err... Woudn't have paid to see any of them.

    The common denominator? The just won the top 3 Oscars.

    Oh yes "Borat" followed. at least that was a bit funny.

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  2. Just watched a minute or two of the G&G video, and if that's meant to be some kind of incentive to go and enjoy their work.....Good God.
    "But how witty, how clever. And how clever we are to understand it's so witty and so clever. We in their image and they in ours. They justified by us and us by them."
    Or alternately, "What a bucket of shite."

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  3. I meant to ask how did you find Renoir scary, Bryan. That his visions of the good life did protest too much?

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  4. What do you mean by scary, Bryan? Was your funny turn a bit like that of a five-year-old suffering from a sugar-rush after eating ten pink iced fancies in quick succession? I know Renoir tends to have that effect on me.

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  5. It's not about the good life, it's about the existence of anything other than colour, notably air and distance.

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  6. Fear of suffocation, Sophie, I didn't find him sugary.

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  7. Renoir's landscapes are all about perceptual horizons, lines of sight, and opacity. Colour is simply the information channel through which these issues are extruded. It's the past light cone which Renoir is seeking to capture, and in this sense, he was very much a General Relativist.

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  8. I think Bryan is right that it's all about colour. There is no air at all in his landscapes.

    But I think Bryan is wrong that this is in any way a 'scary' thing, however. It's just a thing.

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  9. I not sure I grasp the concept of a past light cone, Gordon. When I think about it, I feel quesy. Does that mean I'm possibly allergic to spacetime and need to be careful about what I think about? I think I can handle the future light cone if I hold on to something solid.

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  10. It's definitely air, Brit. I've calculated the refractive index from 'La Yole', and it could only be 78% Nitrogen, 20% Nitrogen, and 2% other trace elements.

    And, whilst Gilbert and George are, indeed, execrable, both in terms of literal output and aesthetic merit, citing Germaine Greer's denunciation of them is a bit like getting a blind person to tell you that the sound of the mechanical digger and air compressor outside your house, is neither pleasant, nor of artistic merit.

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  11. Unfair, Gordon, Germaine does veer into the deranged sometimes, but she is smart.

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  12. Dipped bravely once more into the G&G video extracts, and where they are talking about forming a friendship with the viewer......Give me strength. "Well, Goya. What is your art all about." "Oh, the usual thing- forming a friendship with the viewer."
    From looking at a few Renoir images, I can see how one could feel suffocated by the lack of breathing space but not half as suffocated as from being trapped within the incessantly self-conscious kind of psychological flashing of G&G.

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  13. Well, if you say so Bryan. But I've watched her on 'Late Review'/'Newsnight Review' for some years, and she doesn't so much veer into the deranged, as: check the rear-view mirror, put the indicator on, and then manoeuvre into the nutty lane. She was asked to review the first Spiderman film on one occasion, and complained that the film wasn't plausible, that a spider shoots silk from out of its abdomen, not its wrists!

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  14. She is smart AND deranged. She says smart, deranged things. This is nothing unusual for academics - indeed, it is the norm.

    But because she says so damn much about every damn thing, the law of averages alone means that she says a non-deranged thing every now and again by accident.

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  15. There's a technique to thinking about space-time, Neil. Basically, you flip back and forth between two different perspectives in your mind's eye. In one, you imagine time on the vertical axis, and space in the horizontal plane, with one dimension of space suppressed. In the other, you imagine the three-dimensional space of each horizontal plane in the other image.

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  16. Thanks, Gordon. I'll try that (Mmm, need to flip back and forth... vertical axis... suppress... I wonder what the food is like... how many visitors will I be allowed... three-dimensional space... no, it's ok, the doctor said I could come out here to have a fag...). You're very good at explaining things, Gordon. Maybe you should have a chat with that teacher who's afraid of clowns.

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  17. We seem to have two radically different views on Renoir: if I'm right, Bryan's that colour is all-important, and Gordon's that colour is simply a means to a separate end. I don't know how fair this is but if G Greer were to start talking of past light cones in relation to Renoir's art, would this be viewed as deranged? I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about, Gordon, but does it mean he's inducing a kind of hallucinatory effect in the viewer's mind? This though a pure guess.

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  18. I thought Bryan said that Renoir's landscapes were "about the existence of anything other than colour."

    Renoir's infrared landscapes are particularly fine, but amongst the least well-known of his work.

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  19. It's definitely air, Brit. I've calculated the refractive index from 'La Yole', and it could only be 78% Nitrogen, 20% Nitrogen, and 2% other trace elements.

    Hmmm... No wonder Bryan felt suffocated. Incidentally, if CO2 levels are going up, is O2 conc going down too? Is the atmosphere getting heavier? Does this have any significance for asthma sufferers?

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  20. I never pay attention to what the critics say (unless they agree with my own pre-conceptions) and on the subject of G & G, Germaine Greer was so close to my own opinion that I wanted to embrace her.

    Re Renoir: I happen to be a painter and can guarantee that intense concentration on a subject, particularly if painted from life with the intention of extracting from it only certain chosen elements - eg light, or line, or pure colour - demands such effort that there is no room left for theory. I can guess what Renoir was thinking/feeling when he was seeing what he saw and even though it's not my view, that's what I find interesting.

    Bryan, this is beside the point but in my email you didn't receive, I asked if I could send you a book. May I do so and if so where? My email:
    augustine DOT nda AT blueyonder DOT co DOT uk

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