SUBLIME: The Unpresentable

"After hiking miles into the wilderness and discovering my first real waterfall, I immediately began looking for the pumps and conduit that make it work" Fred Tomaselli, Interview with Siri Hustvedt, 2007

Things are dying down a bit and here I am back to reading consistently, yes. Though I think after I finish this, I will take every one's advice and find a different type of book to read. All these essays might be stirring my brain into a tizzy. 

SUBLIME is broken up into 7 chapters, the first of which is this, The Unpresentable. I must admit that I've read little about the Sublime and it's relationship to art, so there will be a lot of learning going on.  Here are the two essays I connected with from this chapter. 

Barnett Newman
The Sublime is Now//1948

This essay opens with discussion regarding beauty and it's relationship with European art. Newman makes some key points about human nature's obsession with creating perfection, and how those notions of perfection are tied to the sublime.  Of course he talks about Greek art, "there is no doubt that Greek art is an insistence that the sense of exaltation is to be found in perfect form," and then moves to mention a climax in the struggle between beauty and the sublime via the Renaissance.  He makes a great statement about Michelangelo; 
"It was no idle quip that moved Michelangelo to call himself a sculptor rather than a painter, for he knew that only in his sculpture could the desire for the grand statement of Christian sublimity be reached."
Illusion is one thing, but Michelangelo was correct in believing in the aura and presence behind a perfectly articulated human form completely imagined out of a giant piece of marble.  Newman goes on to discuss how the impulse of modern art was a desire to destroy beauty. Newman reaches a climax in emphasizing the continuous presence of European culture in modern art.
"So strong is the grip of the rhetoric of exaltation as an attitude in the large context of the European culture pattern that the elements of sublimity in the revolution we know as modern art, exist in its effort and energy to escape the pattern rather than in the realization of a new experience. Picasso's effort may be sublime but there is no doubt that his work is a preoccupation with the question of what is the nature of beauty."  
Newman is stating here that the sublime notions that live deep in the work of European art via their relationship to beauty are so strong, that the sublime continues to be a presence in modern art. That modern art escapes the pattern but fails to offer a new experience. He gives Picasso as example of a well celebrated artist who was completely obsessed with what is beautiful, regardless of this obsession, Picasso's works still came out sublime. Newman makes an excellent final point, that I will save for you to discover later, but what a wonderful and concise essay.

Barbara Claire Freeman
The Feminine Sublime//1995

In this essay Freeman talks about the relationship between the sublime and the history of masculine discourse that perpetuates "the material and psychological oppression of actual women."  This essay was heavy in it's reference to many ideas that I had not actually considered before.  Freeman identifies what she means by feminine sublime, and then goes on to discuss it's relevancy to politics. This sums up a great deal of what she is getting at, 
"...the sublime is not the presentation of the unpresentable, but the presentation of the fact that the unpresentable exists. To invoke the nondemonstrable - not as a familiar feature of aesthetics but rather in the context of the incommensurable - is to situate the sublime as a site of resistance to aestheticism and also to underscore its political and ethical dimensions." 
So here, Freeman is saying that the very nature of the sublime becomes a site of resistance to emphasize political and ethical dimensions, I'll make the jump and say, feminine political and ethical dimensions. She continues, 
"Unlike the masculinist sublime that seeks to master, appropriate or colonize the other, I propose that the politics of the feminine sublime involves taking a position of respect in response to an incalculable otherness. A politics of the feminine sublime would ally receptivity and constant attention to that which makes meaning infinitely open and ungovernable."  
I love this last point, to take a seat back and respect the otherness of the sublime for what it is, instead of trying to  master and colonize it.  Duly noted, oh, but art?  Sometimes these books have really juicy essays that give artists many delicious things to think about without actually manifesting some critical point regarding art. That is not necessarily true for this essay however, because the way we create meaning and make visual associations has entirely to do with accepted patterns of masculine rhetoric.

This chapter also features interesting essays by Derrida and Zizek,, plenty to think about. On a side note, I'm not going to say how awfully annoyed I am to have missed Zizek speak 3 separate time here in New York City, (Occupy Wall Street, Columbia, and at a Brooklyn bookstore....) this place has a way of making it impossible to find the time to get to where you want to be. You know, it's that whole, full time job thing, that suspends infinitely availability. 

Okay! Time to finish prepping my canvas and eat lunch. Painting later and Paul McCarthy opening tonight.  I love days off.

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