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January 31, 2007

Not ugly enough to appreciate?

Barcepundit's Jose Guardia links to a fascinating piece on modern art, titled "Admit it - you really hate modern art":

There are esthetes who appreciate the cross-eyed cartoons of Pablo Picasso, the random dribbles of Jackson Pollock, and even the pickled pigs of Damien Hirst. Some of my best friends are modern artists. You, however, hate and detest the 20th century's entire output in the plastic arts, as do I.

"I don't know much about art," you aver, "but I know what I like." Actually you don't. You have been browbeaten into feigning pleasure at the sight of so-called art that actually makes your skin crawl, and you are afraid to admit it for fear of seeming dull. This has gone on for so long that you have forgotten your own mind. Do not fear: in a few minutes' reading I can break the spell and liberate you from this unseemly condition.

Spengler also explains why modern artists can become rich, while modern composers starved. It's because modern art does not overwhelm the senses, while modern music does:
Why is it that the audience for modern art is quite happy to take in the ideological message of modernism while strolling through an art gallery, but loath to hear the same message in the concert hall? It is rather like communism, which once was fashionable among Western intellectuals. They were happy to admire communism from a distance, but reluctant to live under communism.

When you view an abstract expressionist canvas, time is in your control. You may spend as much or as little time as you like, click your tongue, attempt to say something sensible and, if you are sufficiently pretentious, quote something from the Wikipedia write-up on the artist that you consulted before arriving at the gallery. When you listen to atonal music, for example Schoenberg, you are stuck in your seat for a quarter of an hour that feels like many hours in a dentist's chair. You cannot escape. You do not admire the abstraction from a distance. You are actually living inside it. You are in the position of the fashionably left-wing intellectual of the 1930s who made the mistake of actually moving to Moscow, rather than admiring it at a safe distance.

That is why at least some modern artists come into very serious money, but not a single one of the abstract composers can earn a living from his music.

Return to the topic of "break[ing] the spell and liberat[ing] you from this unseemly condition," it just so happens that Salvador Dali (who called modern art a "grandiose tragedy") believed it was his destiny to rescue painting from modern art:
Salvador means "savior" and Dalí said he was "destined for nothing less than to rescue painting from the void of modern art." Dalí disparaged modernism (which he saw as lacking respect for craft) as a dead end. He rebelled by infusing contemporary art with virtuoso draftsmanship and painstakingly realistic technique.
In other words, he knew how to draw and paint, and his paintings actually looked like something. (Unlike Jackson Pollack, who knew only how to drip and spill.)

The only slight disagreement I might have with Spengler is his statement that "by inflicting sufficient ugliness upon us, the modern artists believe, they will wear down our capacity to see beauty." I'm not even sure that what they are inflicting is necessarily ugliness, because that would require a depiction of something which is ugly -- which would in turn generate an emotion, a reaction. Many fine artists have accurately depicted ugliness, especially human ugliness. Depicting something like spilled paint or a solid black canvas really depicts nothing at all, and I think it's more on the level of nihilism.

By contrast, here are a couple of Dali's depictions of ugly beings, from Hell:

Lucifer.jpgdalisig.JPG tarbaby.jpg

They're meant to be appreciated as ugly.

A leading Dali dealer and art scholar told me that he loved talking to young fans of Dali who had not yet been to college, because they had not yet been taught to hate Dali.

I'm sure the fact that Dali draws bigger crowds than "traditional" modern (forgive me) artists doesn't help endear him to professors either.

MORE: Another advantage that modern art has over modern music is that it's easier to participate in the former than in the latter.


AND MORE: Great news for Dalí lovers! Via Pajamas Media, the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation now has an online catalog of the works of Salvador Dalí. What's great about this catalog is that it lists the works alphabetically, chronologically, and by the location all over the world.

January 18, 2007

De gustibus est disputandum!

Speaking of ham sandwiches, some people will swallow anything -- including other people:

Marco Evaristi, an edgy Chilean artist, served meatballs made with his own fat to his dining companions at his latest exhibit in Santiago. On the plates in front of them was a serving of agnolotti pasta and in the middle a meatball made with oil Evaristti removed from his body in a liposuction procedure last year. Some of the meatballs will be canned and sold for $4,000 for 10 units. "You are not a cannibal if you eat art," he said.
This reminds me of what Salvador Dali said after signing his name to an omelette:
When an autograph hound asked Dali for his signature during lunch, the eccentric artist whipped out a pink marker and signed his half-finished omelet, much to the dismay of his fan. "Art should be edible," Dali announced.
I think this gastronomic occasion calls for cannibalizing another Dali (who painted "Autumn Cannibalism" and wrote a fabulous cookbook.)

dali soft skulls with fried egg.jpg

The title is "Soft Skulls with Fried Egg Without the Plate, Angels and Soft Watch in an Angelic Landscape" (1977).

My personal opinion is that it's better art than canned fat from the overweight Chilean artist.

More tasteful too.

January 12, 2007

Licking the climate of blasphemy

Among the highlights of my trip to Spain was visiting the various Salvador Dali museums including his house in Port Lligat, the official Dali Museum in Figueres, and the Castle in Pubol.

Dali fans will immediately recognize the unmistakable landscape of Port Llligat which Dali made famous. This is the first thing you see at the crest of the hill just above his house:


The house was originally a one-room fisherman's shack which Dali bought with proceeds from his art when he was very young, and remodeled over the years, adding a room at a time. The shack grew, meandering up the hill in haphazard fashion, eventually coming to look like this:


Looking over to the right from my vantage point in the last picture, another view of the tiny fishing port:


From inside the house, the view through the window of Dali's studio:


That landscape is in the background of many Dali paintings. In fact, that very same window can be seen in the self portrait Dali did of himself painting Gala:


While alas, I doubt I will ever be able to afford original art by Dali, I collect his prints when I can find them at decent prices, and I just scanned a recent acquisition -- "The Blasphemers" (Dali's depiction of Inferno, Canto 14).


You can see a hint of Dalinian landscape in the background -- and of course the Dalinian crutch. According to this critic, the tongue (a skull, IMO) represents the blasphemer:

The enormous tongue with teeth obviously represents the blasphemer's tongue, which has reduced him to a flaccid cripple, upheld by a crutch at one end, and flowing over a boundary at the other. The symbol is simply a meditation on the idea of blasphemy, and could have been created without the Dantean imagery at all, pure Dali. The case is not always as extreme, but there is no question that the enormous zest in Dali for his own symbologies and his own whimsy are the primary driving forces in the Inferno drawings, not a desire truly to illustrate Dante's text. He is not necessarily in disagreement with Dante, as Blake often is, but generally doing his own thing with themes supplied by Dante.
I have a tendency to see Dali in Dali, and I think he is also doing his own thing by revisiting a much earlier theme.

"Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano," to be precise.

You didn't know skulls could do that? Take a look!


["Sex on the Beach at Port Lligat" might be a good alternative title.]

Here's Dali's description:

"The obsession, accordingly to which the jaws are the most philosophic instruments that man possesses. The lyricism of the piano is brutally possessed by the jaws of a fossil skull. This vision is a retinian product, a hypnogogic image of pre-sleep, occuring in the course of a siesta, contrary to the images resulting from the effects of mescalin, which can neveer reproduce instantaneous memories."
What Dali leaves out is the obvious similarity between skulls and grand pianos. The grand piano's shape is very skull-like, if you think about it, and the keys are like teeth.

Were I a skull, I'd probably think pianos were at least cute, if not irresistibly sexy.

It's not that much of a str-r-e-e-tch. And if the two managed to conceive something, I think it might look a lot like the blasphemers' tongue.

In "Soft Self Portrait with Fried Bacon" (1941), Dali seems to acknowledge that his own head looks like a grand piano, while the uncontrollable tongue threatens to get away from his head, pulling it inexorably downward:


Tongues, skulls, pianos, sodomy. A lot of seemingly unconnected parts to a very paranoid puzzle. It makes a great deal of sense to me, but I can't explain why. Dali being dead, the interpretation of his art can take place on an infinite playing field.

But the best for last. There's a crucial element which makes my paranoid side wonder whether Dali might have anticipated this essay.

Bureaucrats! And atmospherocephalic ones at that!

I kid you not.

In 1931, Dali painted "Average Atmospherocephalic Bureaucrat in the Act of Milking a Cranial Harp":


As if the bureaucrats didn't have enough to do.

(Obviously, "atmospherocephalic bureaucrats" is code language for those who have global warming on the brain, and they're planning to sodomize the lyricism of our pianos and use their unending tongues to administer an endless licking all the way to hell.)

MORE (01/12/07): What happens when skulls and evil bureaucrats merge? In 1968 Dali did the "Aliyah" series to commemorate the founding of Israel, and one of the images seems to be (in my opinion, anyway) a revisitation of his piano-sodomizing skull.


The title is "Yea, Though I Walk Through The Valley."

I think the image of the skull (death) with the multitudes fleeing is an obvious reference to the Nazis (whose bureaucrats of death used the skull as insignia) and of course the Holocaust.

(Needless to say, I think the man's utter genius will become more and more apparent over time. Many critics couldn't see past his carefully staged buffoonery.)

UPDATE (01/15/07): I just stumbled upon another image which I think shows that Dali was quite aware of the similarity between skulls and pianos -- "Skull with its Lyric Appendage Leaning on a Bedside Table which Should Have the Exact Temperature of a Cardinal's Nest" (1934):


If the temperature is right, fertilization occurs?