Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another look at Emma Smith (five notes on an experiment)

1. In a review I posted on Thursday, I talked about the way that many of Emma Smith's paintings seem to exist on the border between abstraction and figuration. In a lot of Smith's works, one or more shadowy figures seem about to emerge from or fall back into an abstract maelstrom of paint. I suggested that Smith's 'borderline' paintings reprise an important but half-forgotten moment in the history of modernist art, when masters like Pollock and Malevich stood on the edge of a commitment to complete abstraction, yet struggled to abandon the delights and perils of figuration.

My review argued that there is a psychic intensity implicit in a style which hovers between figuration and abstraction. Like the portraits of his family Pollock vandalised with broad abstract brushstrokes, or Malevich's pictures of peasants and soldiers slowly dissolving into an abstract landscape of primary colours, Smith's semi-abstract, semi-figurative works suggested to me some radical uncertainty about the nature and stability of reality. The intensity of Smith's paintings seemed to me to resonate with their exhibition on the site of an old mental hospital that once housed intense and troubled writers like Maurice Duggan.

There have been both positive and negative responses to my interpretation of Smith's work. In a series of e mails which also featured anxious enquiries about my progress on Smithyland and boasts about the number of eels he was catching in the stream near his new home, Brett Cross made some interesting remarks on my review:

Emma has probably received a lot of commentary on her work that mentions trauma and mental issues, just due to its style, so probably has very little patience with getting reviewed in that way - and you have been known to romanticise mental illness a little...You used the obvious approach critics might use towards art done in Emma's style - and one she might be sick of...The style of painting she's doing invites that sort of interpretation, sure, but could that be taken as an incentive to find another way to critique it? That might be all the more interesting because it's not taking the obvious path, and could turn up other more interesting analysis. It might be good to do something more.

If I understand him rightly, Brett is suggesting that, along with other commentators, I have too quick to pin hoary labels like 'intense' and 'expressionist' on Smith, and have ignored less obvious ways of dealing with her. Perhaps Brett is also suggesting that I have used allusions to famous painters like Pollock and Malevich and asides about history as ways of setting aside the difficult task of discussing the experience - the immediate, physical experience which is in some ways anterior to art historical commentary and literary allusion - of Smith's turbulent and enigmatic paintings.

What I'd like to do in this post is not to repudiate my review of Smith so much as try to complement it, by returning to her paintings and looking more steadily and closely at them, without drawing attention away to long-dead painters or Auckland history. For a notorious digressor like myself, this will be no easy task! These notes are, then, a sort of experiment rather than a linear argument.

2. I want to consider, as an example of the works by Emma Smith which seem to me to hover on the border between figuration and abstraction, the small black painting called Untitled (Woman), which was produced this year and featured in the recent exhibition at Unitec (I have reproduced the painting at the top of this post). This work is clearly, in some senses, a portrait, yet it seems, on first glance at least, disturbingly incomplete. The legs and torso of Smith's subject can be identified fairly easily, but the head has been obliterated by a flurry of brushstrokes. These strokes form an abstract block of black that contrasts with the expanse of white in the lower half of the painting.

I find myself struggling to 'complete' Smith's portrait by extricating a face and an expression from the darkness that have, seemingly, engulfed them. If I relax my attention, the face recedes into darkness, as the abstract features of the painting predominate. I find that I cannot view Untitled (Woman) as a figurative and an abstract work at the same time - I seem to have to choose one or the other option. I find the work's dynamism - its refusal to resolve itself, to present itself to me as a stable, easily-knowable entity - both troubling and strangely exciting.

I feel a temptation to look away from Untitled (Woman) - from the black paint on white paper that comprises the work - towards the safety, or relative safety, of reference and allusion. It would be possible, surely, to write a whole essay about the place of Untitled (Woman) in the tradition of black paintings, dropping distinguished names like Goya and Hotere along the way. The artist's decision to obscure the face of her subject could be examined, and references could be made to novelists like Kafka and Robbe-Grillet, who denied their characters full names, or painters like Michael Illingworth who preferred masks to faces. The artist's decision to work on a small sheet of thin paper, rather than on something sturdier like canvas, could be discussed at length, with reference to painters like Clairmont who condemned much of their work to a slow death by working on unstable materials. Each of these discussions might be interesting, but each would lead me inexorably away from a direct encounter with the black brushstrokes on that small piece of paper.

What can I say about Untitled (Woman), if I abjure, for the time being at least, detours into the worlds of art and literary history, and other exegetical manoeuvres? I might try to describe the work in front of me in great detail - to measure it precisely, to count its brushstrokes, to compare the quantities of marked and unmarked paper - but this sort of exercise would, surely, become pedantic.

What am I to do, then? I want to try to describe the peculiar effects Untitled (Woman) has on me by turning to a couple of philosophers who have tried to get to grips with the ways humans perceive and interpret images. I don't want to use these philosophers to escape from Untitled (Woman), but to help me appreciate what is going on when I view the work.

3. In his biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ray Monk describes the way the philosopher would stoop, fascinated, with a stick in his hand, over a piece of dirt near the house in Ireland where he lived for some years. As Wittgenstein puzzled over the image he had scratched into the dirt with his stick, his landlady would gaze out the window and shake her head at the strange ways of her guest. The image Wittgenstein drew and examined so obsessively has become famous to philosophers, psychologists, and anthropologists as the 'duck-rabbit' composite portrait. In his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein argued that we can see the image either as either a duck or a rabbit, but not as a duck and a rabbit at the same time. Whether we see a duck or a rabbit may depend upon the culture we live in, on our worldview, or simply on our mood at the moment we look at the drawing.

The 'duck-rabbit' was important to Wittgenstein because it proved to him that no image is self-disclosing. We do not encounter images without preconceptions, and then passively receive them: to a greater or lesser extent, our minds help shape them.

Wittgenstein's discussion of the duck-rabbit image helps me to understand the sometimes-disturbing dynamism of Untitled (Woman) and some of Emma Smith's other works. Just as I cannot look at Wittgenstein's famous image and see it as a duck and a rabbit at the same time, I find I cannot 'stabilise' Untitled (Woman) by viewing it as both an abstract and a figurative work. I see a figure emerging from and transcending an abstract chaos, or I see the chaos swallowing the figure. And whether I see Untitled (Woman) as figurative or abstract depends importantly upon my state of mind while I view the work.

4. If Wittgenstein's lesson about the nature of perception helps me understand the instability I find in Untitled (Woman), what can account for the curious mixture of excitement and unease I invariably feel, whether I view the painting as either a figurative or an abstract work? I have turned to another philosopher, Martin Heidegger, to help me to grapple with this question.

The University of Auckland's Julian Young is one of the key Heidegger scholars in the English-speaking world, partly because he has the rare ability to explain and discuss the German thinker's gnomically provocative formulations in lucid prose. In his 2002 book Heidegger's Philosophy of Art, Young argues that Heidegger eventually abandoned his early, deeply reactionary belief that art was impossible in the age of modernity, and began to write enthusiastically about modernist poets like Rilke, Trakl, and Celan and about modernist painters like Cezanne and Klee.

Young argues that the distinction between the concepts 'world' and 'earth' is central to Heidegger's philosophy of art. Heidegger uses the term 'world' to describe the reality we inhabit in our everyday lives - a reality whose parameters are set by our technology, our language and our cultural practices. Beneath or beyond our world of houses and buses and shampoo and budget forecasts and scientific hypotheses lies 'earth', a vast, partly-incomprehensible latent reality which is capable of generating very different 'worlds' to our own.

Although our modern 'world' is only one of many different constructions of reality that have existed - Heidegger is fond of harking back to the 'world' of the ancient Greeks, which he considers was very different from, and very much superior to, our own - we tend to forget the partial, contingent nature of the reality we inhabit, and treat it as the only and ultimate 'world'. In doing so, we forget the existence of the mysterious latent reality Heidegger calls 'earth'. (It is important to realise that Heidegger's 'earth' is not supposed to be understood as some supernatural entity created or maintained by a God somewhere outside the universe. 'Earth' is simply the parts of reality our concepts and practices make us unable to perceive.)

Heidegger believes that authentic art can help lead us out of the mental maze within which we live. Although art must, by its very nature, be made up of the perceivable things of our 'world', it can gesture towards the mysterious 'earth' that lies beyond our world, and in doing so remind us of the contingency of our reality, and the possibility of other realities.

Heidegger's concepts of 'world' and 'earth' might seem obscure and mystical, and his belief in the power of art to lead us toward some sort of radically transformative experience might seem, at best, romantic, but Julian Young helps us to unpack the philosopher's arguments by showing that they were products of Heidegger's love of art and the dialogues he conducted with a series of writers and artists.

In a particularly fascinating section of Heidegger's Philosophy of Art, Young discusses the philosopher's admiration for, and unique interpretation of, the paintings of Cezanne. In his last decades, Heidegger often travelled to Provence, the setting for many of Cezanne's paintings, to meet friends and give seminars. Heidegger became fascinated with the dozens of paintings Cezanne had made of Provence's Mt Sainte Victoire, and made several pilgrimages to the peak.

Julian Young notes the way that Cezanne's paintings of Sainte-Victoire often seem to hover on the boundary between figuration and abstraction. Cezanne was always a figurative artist, but as he painted Sainte-Victoire again and again he began to appreciate the abstract quality of the mountain's rocky slopes. Cezanne began to use semi-abstract blocks of colour to express the solidity and depth that the mountain's surfaces sometimes concealed. The stylised, semi-abstract nature of some of Cezanne's paintings of Sainte-Victoire means that, when we turn our gaze toward one of them, our eyes may take a short time to 'recognise' the painter's subject matter. For a moment or two we may see, not a mountain in the south of France, but a tangle of lines and colours - a sort of pre-composition, out of which our minds 'construct' Sainte-Victoire. In the precious, disconcerting moments before we 'see' the mountain, we may notice something analogous to the mysterious 'earth' underlying our limited, constructed 'world'. We may realise that the reality we know is not the only or ultimate reality, but one of an infinite number of possible expressions of the 'earth' which is its ground. This realisation can fill us with terror, because it seems to undermine the certainties by which we have become accustomed to living. It can fill us with wonder and excitement for the same reason. Heidegger was obsessed with Cezanne's paintings of Sainte-Victoire because he saw, in these arrangements of paint on canvas, a more profound exploration of the limits of reality than anything that could be achieved by a theoretical physicist or a rocket-probe aimed into outer space.

Heidegger's interpretation of Cezanne helps me to understand both the excitement and the unease I feel when I view Untitled (Woman) and many other paintings by Emma Smith. Untitled (Woman) achieves a troubling dynamism by combining but not reconciling figurative and abstract elements, and by therefore forcing us to choose, again and again, to treat it as either figurative or abstract. Because we have to choose to see paintings like Untitled (Woman) as figurative works - as depictions of aspects of our 'world' - we are reminded of the contingent nature of our 'world', and of the mysterious latent reality - the 'earth' - that lies beyond our 'world'. This knowledge can be both disconcerting and strangely exciting. When we look at Smith's paintings, we may see a new, higher horizon, or a burgeoning abyss.

5. These notes were intended as an experiment, and I am not sure the experiment has been entirely successful. I began by saying I wanted to look closely at Emma Smith's paintings, and to avoid digressing into the sanctuaries of art history and literary scholarship and other exegetical disciplines, and yet, looking back, I find I have spent much of these notes digressing. Weren't my detours through Wittgenstein's philosophy of perception and Heidegger's philosophy of art simply ways of avoiding engagement with paintings like Untitled (Woman)?

In my defence I'd like to argue that when I turned my thoughts to Heidegger and Wittgenstein I was trying, not to set aside the experience of viewing Emma Smith's work, but to find a way of explaining this experience. Whether I have been successful or not I don't know. I hope, though, that the seriousness of my engagement with Emma Smith's work, both in this post and in the one that preceded it, indicates the esteem in which I hold that work. I hope that other readers of this blog will conduct their own experiments with Smith's beguiling and disturbing oeuvre.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um Maps did you know Heidegger is one of Kerry Bolton's heroes???

He was a Nazi!

11:46 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Of course Maps knows that about Heidegger - it is well known that Heidegger was a Nazi. But I don't think Maps - to defend him - is saying he has Heidegger as a "hero". I don't think that is the point here...

During the war he used his position in the Nazi Party of have academics who were rivals (or who he didn't like) sent to concentration camps.

But before WWII he was a very popular philosopher throughout the world. The aspect of his philosophy that Maps is considering here are not directly relevant to Bolton's status.

But that he was a Nazi is relevant in considering his overall view...

But he studied with Husserl (who he shafted as he was Jewish and Husserl who helped him in his student years, was bitterly saddened by this betrayal...) who was an important phenomenologist then developed his own philosophy

His writing on art (e.g. Van Gogh and the poet Holderlein) is quite poetic (in fact in his philosophic writings includes poems) - but some of his views on the folk and "techne etc are dubious. Sartre, who was kind of existential Marxist, admired Heidegger's work.

Perhaps Bolton is also a great artist!

1:23 am  
Blogger Dr Jack Ross said...

I have to say I thought the comment-stream after your previous post (on Emma and Ellen's shows) was extremely illuminating in a number of ways.

First, I think it's great to hear reactions to an exhibition being fought out in public this way - just as if NZ had some kind of tradition of critical debate over such matters. We never will have if people just shut up about their views and don't put them out there to talk about. So kudos to you for that, Scott - but also to Emma and Bronwyn, for coming out punching.

Second, though, while it's good to see Maps ready to revisit his own views like this, I still fear that some of the point of the previous comments hasn't quite been absorbed. You admit yourself that this new review is as much a digression through Wittgenstein and Heidegger as it is any kind of response to Emma's work. I can see how this can be motivated by your sense of the "resistance" to facile theorising of this one painting, but I do think that (again) you let the intoxication of verbiage carry you away at times (a failing I share, so I'm maybe hyper-sensitive to it).

Example: "Heidegger eventually abandoned his early, deeply reactionary belief that art was impossible in the age of modernity, and began to write enthusiastically about modernist poets like Rilke, Trakl, and Celan and about modernist painters like Cezanne and Klee."

Did he? Maybe so. But not about Celan, surely? The two met (famously) in Heidegger's Black Forest hideaway after the war, but Celan - at any rate - recorded his disappointment and dissatisfaction with the meeting. Nothing was "from the heart" - there was no apology, no acknowledgment of the monstrous errors of the German culture machine. Celan revered Heidegger (or he did until then, at any rate), so this was a major disappointment to him. Was the Holocaust a mere detail to be passed over so lightly? That seems to have been his interpretation of Heidegger's reluctance to engage in any thing but intellectual gossip.

I haven't read enough of Heidegger's work to know the quality of his engagement with the other writers and artists you mention, but putting Celan in your list in this way is very misleading.

8:36 am  
Blogger maps said...

I think it's quite reasonable, and even necessary, for people to raise the issue of Heidegger's Nazism in a context like this. I don't have any time for the approach to intellectual history which involves walling a consideration of the more unworldy ideas of thinkers and writers off from the times they lived in and the political choices they made.

As Richard points out, Heidegger was deeply involved with Nazism. As the Nazi-appointed rector of Freiburg university in 1933-34 he ran about giving fascist salutes, made speeches urging stduents and staff to submit to the will of the Fuhrer, and stood by and watched while Nazi students burned books. I'm not aware he was involved in deporting dissidents to concentration camps, as Richard claims, but his behaviour was still obviously disgraceful.

Heidegger was investigated for his Nazi-era activites after the war, and banned from teaching for a while. He had a breakdown, attempted suicide, and retreated to a sanatorium for a while, but eventually came back and resumed his career, all the while seeking to downplay his actions during the Nazi era.

It's only since Heidegger's death that the full extent of his involvement with Nazism in 1933-34 has been exposed. A series of books have been written arguing about whether all of his thought is tainted by his involvement or not. There is no consensus amongst scholars on this question, and a passionate debate continues.

Since I'm using Julian Young's account of Heidegger's philosophy of art in this post, I should explain Young's view of Heidegger's involvement with Nazism and its consequences for his thought.

In his 1998 book Heidegger, Philosophy, Nazism, Young accepts the seriousness of Heidegger's involvement with Nazism during his tenure as rector at Freiburg, but tries to argue that most of Heidegger's work is not tainted with Nazism. Young argues that Being and Time, the pre-Nazi work that made Heidegger famous, cannot be condemned in the light of the events of the '30s. He believes, though, that Heidegger's critique of modern life in Being and Time, and his longing for the dawning of a new epoch in history, led him to mistakenly see Nazism as a movement which would transform and regenerate the West.

The texts Heidegger produced in 1933-35 are, Young believes, tainted by a longing for a great leader and movement that can concretise the philosophy of Being and Time. Young argues that, after being effectively forced out of his Rectorship and ridiculed for his obscurity and intellectualism by the Nazis, Heidegger turned against the movement. He cites a lecture course on Nietzsche that Heidegger gave in the late '30s which features attacks on 'biologism', ie racism, and which refers to something like (I don't have the text in front of me) 'the universal technological nihilism of our age, expressed in America, the Soviet Union, and Europe'. Young argues that phrases like these are coded attacks on Nazism. It is certainly true that Heidegger was investigated by the authorities for his views as the Nazi era went on, and that spies were placed in his lectures.

Young believes that, after the war especially, Heidegger turned away from his view that authoritarian action could bring about a new era for humanity, and focused instead on the ways that individual humans could overcome the 'forgetting of Being' which was supposedly the curse of the modern era. And Young believes that Heidegger's engagement with modernist art and poetry, and also with the poetry of Holderlin, was essential to this process.

9:49 am  
Blogger maps said...


I don't have enough information to be able to take a position on all the nuances of Young's argument in Heidegger, Nazism, Philosophy. I do think that the attempt to claim that all of Heidegger's thought is 'Nazi' is ridiculous. Being and Time in different ways inspired Sartre, Marcuse, Derrida and many other European philosophers with left-wing or liberal views: would we want to say that these thinkers are all therfore crypto-Nazis? On the other hand, I think, as I said at the start of this comment, that attempts to create a wall between thinkers and their actions are also ridiculous. I don't think, then, that Heidegger's Nazism should be discounted when we consider this thought. I think we perhaps have to proceed on a case-by-case basis, looking at individual texts and arguments and asking whether they have any relation to the darkest chapter in the life of the man who produced them.

I think that the problem of understanding Heidegger's Nazism is probably complicated by the fact that Heidegger was never a very nice human being. He seems to have been quite a petty, obsessive individual, capable of acts of great spitefulness, both before, during, and after his involvement with Nazism. It'd perhaps be hard to know, then, whether his refusal to apologise to friends and acquaintances who suffered during the war - people like Karl Jaspers, Karl Lowith, Marcuse, and, as Jack notes, Celan - for his involvement with Nazism signifies some sort of continuing sympathy for Nazism, or simply a continuing lack of courage and goodwill.

What about Heidegger's relationship with Celan? In the passage from my post which Jack cites, I am actually glossing Young's argument, not expressing my own opinion. I probably should have made this clearer. I haven't read enough of Heidegger's early writing on art to know whether it is cut from the same reactionary cloth as his politics in the
mid-30s, and I haven't studied Heidegger's writings on people like Celan, Rene Char and Klee in the way Young has.

I'm not committed to all of the views Young advances in his book - for one thing, I didn't actually have time to assimilate them all before Brett borrowed the bloody book! - but I did find his account of Heidegger's interpretation of Cezanne's late work fascinating, and useful, because it seemed to resonate with the strange way works which exist on the frontiers of abstraction often make me feel.
And I don't see how Heidegger's interpretation of Cezanne, and the concepts of 'world' and 'earth' which underpin it, are obviously contaminated by his Nazi past.

10:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this article from wsws proves heidegger was always a nazi

those who defend him are reactionaries themselves..?


10:29 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

German Students! The National Socialist revolution brings complete upheaval to our German life....Do not let dogmas and “ideas” be the rules of your being. The Führer himself and alone is the German reality, present and future, and its law. Learn always to know more deeply: from now on every matter requires decision and every action responsibility. Heil Hitler!"
Martin Heidegger.

10:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry Bolton and Heidegger -

12:29 pm  
Blogger maps said...

That interview with Bolton is a real goldmine. I wonder why he didn't wipe it from the net last year, when he was running around deleting all his writing for neo-Nazi sites like the Adelaide Institute?

The part of the interview where Bolton expresses support for people who burn down churches is especially embarrassing for him, considering that he's tried in recent years to rebrand himself as a crusader for Christian civilisation, which he equates, bizarrely, with European civilisation.

The interview also contains this rather nasty expression of anti-semitism, from the man who now claims never to have had anything against the Jews:

'Help build an alternative sub-culture in the way of the Jewish-led 'New Left' built their hippie sub-culture during the 1960s and 70s; one based on the Western ethos, rejecting the Judeo-American ethos'

Bolton invokes Heidgger in support of his view that the key to the 'regernation' of the West is the return to some mythical, pure European cultural and intellectual tradition, uncontaminated by foreign influences. He raves on about the threat of Asia to New Zealand, so I assume he considers Asia beyond the pale.

But Bolton doesn't seem to realise the profound influence of Asian thinkers on Heidegger. Some scholars have actually suggested that Heidegger flogged some of the key concepts in Being and Time from Taoism and Buddhism. Whether or not that is true, he certainly translated parts of the Book of Tao in the '40s and engaged in dialogues with Zen Buddhist thinkers who visited him from Japan. One of these he published under the title 'A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer'. The fact that Heidegger, who was hardly the most humble of men, would identify himself an 'inquirer' in this context tells us something about his respect for some Eastern intellectual traditions. Maybe Bolton needs a different hero?

5:00 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I think it is possible to be "schizophrenic" about such things. that is Heidegger was a deep thinker and his influence as Maps says is deeply important in philosophy and Art etc but his Nazism is a reality - but to what extent he was as deep a Nazi say Goebbels - who in fact started as writer (and a philosopher) and I believe was actually shocked when Hitler came out strongly against Jews - then - when Hitler offered him a post - he buckled.

I think it is well understood that the kind of deep and "volk" thinking about Being and the "earth", reality etc was close enough to the kind of late Romanticism that inspired people to really "dig" Nietzsche (who was not anti-Semitic at all - Wagner was) and even Schopenhauer. This starts too look into some "heavy questions...Maps was aware of Pierre Joris thing "Translation At the Mountain of Death" (I think it is) which I think is brilliant - but Jack may have a different view. That (for others) is Celan's experiences of meeting Heidegger... (Joris's translation seems to make it more clear that (whoever translated Celan before in the poem he wrote) Celan was indeed deeply upset by Heidegger 's attitude. [But then Joris criticized Jack's thing connecting Celan and and the Britney Spears - which I think was wrong - I think Jack made a great thing there!

Anon raises some cogent points but I feel we cant tip toe around Heidegger - he was a Nazi - he did this and that - but he didn't actually kill anyone - I only saw it on YouTube that he sent people away to the camps (or his actions maybe caused that ..certainly some professors who were Jewish were sacked) - I think he just destroyed Husserls' life I mean he didn't kill him (Husserl was reduced to poverty but not mistreated otherwise I think) ..and as Maps implies it is hard to find where a fascist starts and a humane being begins. It argues hat we cant have simplistic views of these issues...

When I first studied Heidegger in 1994 I was averse to his view of 'techne' and so on (I have to concede that even now I find his philosophy very difficult to get a handle on) and wrote and essay showing or extolling the great benefits of technology etc... the philosophy lecturer accepted my arguments... I mean not that I was attacking H's Nazism...that wasn't emphasized. But it wasn't hidden.

Perhaps Heidegger shares aspects of his thinking or his "sensibility" with Knut Hamsun who had a strange view. Aspects of his views are very interesting. But in much he is wrong, it seems to me..

It is almost as if Heidegger "took over his "victims" who were the poets and artists he actually admired - such as Holderlin and Trakl - both of whom he gave money too on a regular basis. Did he also know Rilke? It seems his philosophy was almost a religion to him - so "human" things were perhaps less important. This is what perhaps is the "beginning" of what can become a "real" Nazi, or someone thinking in these ways about the "Folk" and "pure blood" and etc

5:26 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

But later I thought more about his writing about art etc and it is quite beautiful and rich in its own way ...and his influence in areas of modern thinking is important so I think this is diverting it (his Nazism - how much he was etc - how influenced] is something to put on hold as his ideas can be sued. One can use say Derrida's (or Deleuze's say) ideas here without swallowing everything Derrida (or others) wrote or believed.

It is virtually impossible to just concentrate on the art "on the wall." Wittgenstein was right: we bring our own views & concepts & perceptions to things.

And I am afraid I think much art really does indicate deep disturbance in the creator of that art - that may not be bad in all cases. I think it is almost perfect that the art was situated near that mental asylum - not that we can "prove" a connection - it is a part of the experience of that art. And there is this oscillation between the abstract and the figurative per se...

"This is the dying room."

In red? A great work of art itself.

5:26 pm  
Blogger Tin grew Emma Smith said...

Thanks for revisiting the work. The second passage of the review does come closer in my mind to engaging with it- The duck/rabbit analogy in particular. I want the images to appear to wrestle or undo themselves, the erasures / the frequent obliteration to concentrate the viewers experience of viewing on their own perception / apprehension ( and the range in this ; sometimes as if movement glimpsed out of the corner of the eye and other times as if assaulted by a profusion of lost content)... maybe . Or maybe that is an easy way of not having to explain what the paintings are actually of and about - Maybe that is not really interesting for me to do anyway ( too many ever changing codes ) I hope I wasn't overly defensive - It does seem to me that artists who work with frenetic gesture and line work ( expressionist/ abstract expressionist /post expressionist etc )are too readily relegated to the territory of the emotional, unconscious, possessed ..etc and by inference the unaware . Needless to say this does undermine the philosophical , political, formal etc achievements to be found in this way of working ( not speaking about my own work here . I don't consider my work expressionist/ post/ or otherwise .. I do hope it stands outside of all that anyway ,as its own thing - nothing new there.) I agree with Jack that debate is crucial and think Richards comments are really thoughtful. Thanks again for taking the work seriously enough to revisit it Scott.Emma

10:39 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I think debate about art is great. As if Art matters. And for me Art is not just painting or whatever - in a way it in encompasses everything - or can do.

The kind of work (and it is difficult to categorize any artist's work but we inevitably do this kind of 'sorting') but Emma's art I feel can be in that field.

Some creative workers work in a way that makes them vulnerable to being called "idiot savants" and from what I can gather (via the bio that I borrowed for so long from Scott!) Pollock feared being put in that category, and even that he couldn't even 'draw properly'.

I myself work or operate in that 'liminal' way and yet I am also (sub) consciously "planning" what I do - that said ultimately what I do - is decided by how I feel, in fact by kind of intuition. Any 'philosophy I have is kind of there running in the background - in fact if I have just read someone's views I will or may be influenced by that and then reading some other approach I will be influenced somewhat by that and so on..I really cant sit down, think out plan or a big idea or whatever - for me it always comes from a deeper level that I cant understand. And I rarely even used to revise anything. I just lost interest once I had written what I had to write. Then I would look at the ravings and wonder who or what wrote it...

When I used to write poems to be read once week (I did start off writing poems about 'real' things or events - that is they were thought out (although quickly)) - I used write very rapidly and without even much conscious thought* - sometimes almost in kind of frenzy - I couldn't operate any other way. In no way could I sit down and make myself work or write. I just had to wait for the emotional experience or event in myself to come or something to strike me - it might be a phrase or even a word or some music or a painting or a book...then I would kind of "take off" on perhaps a tangent perhaps as some composers make music. Regarding what I produced I couldn't often explain what it was about or what I wrote it or whatever.

I once commented on a reading by Michelle Leggott that she had some "great images" (in the poems she read) and she quickly said "but there is a considerable intellection operating" (or something like that.) So Leggott is probably closer in her mode (I mean as a literary example perhaps to art, although obviously there is no real parallel) to Emma as an example than myself...

I quote myself as I am one example perhaps of kind of art brut! But I am, while eccentric, not completely insane** as far as I know!

But Maps jokingly called me the leading Postmodernist of Panmure ... hmm...but of Derrida ...I picked up one of his books and read "This then shall not have been a book." - copied it into my book to use somewhere and then shut Derrida's book! (I did enjoy quite few essays / books by Barthes though...

However obviously Emma doesn't work quite in my (almost totally "intuitive") way!

But there is always this interaction between the more "controlled" thought out aspects of art and the intuitive.

*But clearly what I had there was a complex - or simple and muddled! - thought process going on - just that I don't quite know what it ever was! [ But I didn't write when I was drunk. And didn't take any illegal drugs or use marijuana - but I was certainly drinking a lot in those days]

** But many of the 'outsiders' were relatively or were more or less quite

4:06 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

And I really find Emma Smith's art quite extraordinary, quite valuable, and that ambiguous tension it evokes give it a complex, thought filled, and enigmatic richness.

4:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re Heidegger and Nazis:

2:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Heidegger’s philosophy deserve credence? Probably, if you’re a liberal (or progressive of late). It certainly is not a product of the American Right. Any student of politics needs to understand the philosophy, before they can accept or reject the system being espoused. More information is a good thing. Hegel's method has been an enabler for those who like to treat their own questionable opinions as self-evident and scientifically proven. On the other hand, Hegel lays claim to many true accomplishments, such as correctly identifying Kant's weakness around concept of Noumenon. thought it all leads, by various paths, to dark sunglasses, coffee shops, chinos, ciggies, folk singers, et. al. Crikey. The world would be a much simpler place if great men were also good men. All too often, that is not the case.We are like post-apocalyptic survivors with our knowledge of culture and morality shattered into fragments. We are able to understand science and philosophy and believe ourselves whole. Heidegger, whom he of course credits, and modern Continental philosophy, with its breakthroughs of phenomenology and hermeneutics, profoundly expands the horizon of what we are able to explain. All well and good. But all of this wonder still leaves our predicament, unchanged, just where it is. Our compartmentalization of the virtues incessantly sabotages the function of meanings in our language. I do think that is exactly what we are observing. Pendulum swing...much too far. Politics never seems to want to stop in the has a life of it's own, aside from morality.
So step up...


2:29 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why bother to read heidegger at all?
it is just boring.
it is incomprehensible.
it has no practical use.
telling that you go straight to the secondary literature.
let others like young do the reading!

1:19 am  

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