Thursday, 31 January 2013

Opinions and Intentions

I decided to rework and lengthen a previous post.

A work of art does not necessarily have to be completed in order for it to be considered sublime, or for it to produce sublime effects. The sublime intention may already be inherent in the work through those initial strokes or marks made. Edmund Burke ‘defined the Sublime as an artistic effect productive of the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling and wrote ‘whatever is in any sort terrible or is conversant about terrible objects or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the Sublime.’ The notion that a legitimate function of art can be to produce upsetting or disturbing effects … remains fundamental to art today.’Addison believed that an art object could not be considered sublime but it could be beautiful. Where beauty relates to understanding, Kant refers to the sublime as a concept belonging to reason, showing a faculty of the mind exceeding every Standard of Sense. Diderot said that ‘to present the fact that the unpresentable exists. To make visible that there is something which can be conceived and which can neither be seen nor made visible: this is what is at stake in modern painting.’2

The unpresentable is the sublime. This seems not only to be the case for painting but for all forms of art. The artist must in some way be able to communicate more than what the audience sees. A dialogue that evokes either a positive or a negative response in the majority of our senses, creating a combined understanding of what we may or may not believe we understand. ‘But how to make visible that there is something which cannot be seen? Kant himself shows the way when he names ‘formlessness, the absence of form,’ as a possible index to the unpresentable.’3  I choose to mention Burke, Addison, Diderot and Kant as without their opinions on the sublime and art I would not have been able to form my own. No theorist is ever wrong, as in order for there to be a wrong, there must be a right and in that which is a reoccurring phenomenon such as the sublime, potentially different to each individual yet the same as some form of sensation exists for all individuals when viewing art, there can be no right or wrong.

In reference to Burke, it seems to be more about how we feel, for example, although such a work without boundaries could inspire anxiety, perhaps even terror; we receive some kind of pleasure through viewing it, releasing the aesthetic experience from beauty. A damaged work of art may inspire the same anxiety as an obscene work would, it disturbs yet we cannot pull away from it, we are drawn towards the beauty of it, despite its lack of aesthetic beauty. Take for example, the vandalised 1958 Rothko, while we take into consideration the initial horror of such a travesty as a defaced art work, we must also consider the intentions of the vandal or in this case, the other artist. If the work was damaged in protest or out of spite, does it make the work any less valuable? ‘Mr Umanets said he had written on the painting, but insisted his aim was not to destroy or deface it.’4  Does attempting to restore the work to its original state remove what was originally there, in this particular case, could the act of restoration itself be vandalism, or is it simply another layer to the history of the work? Does the vandalised work have more value than the restored work in the sense that the vandalised work was in itself conceived as a new work of art, titled ‘Vladimir Umanets, A Potential Piece of Yellowism’.

Would Rothko understand what this man was trying to achieve through his actions? Would he care? How valuable is an artist’s work to the artist, if the artist is no longer living? Are we falsely preserving art works in an attempt to make them last forever for the sole purpose of the public’s ability to view them? The hand of the restorer merely a life support machine for a work that once was? The unobtainable ability to ever restore or set up an artwork as it was once was. Isn't there something sublime in the knowledge of what once but no longer is, such as Francis Bacon’s slashed canvas work, in which essentially, the artist vandalised his own work. To some, these are more important than his finished paintings or sketches. By attempting to create infinite works of art, restored for years until they are but a shadow of the original, are we doing the work justice? Should art be allowed to ‘die’? Sometimes, it would appear that the original intention of the artist is completely irrelevant to how it may affect the viewer. Unfinished or damaged work is often more valuable than finished work; human beings seem to be drawn to that which is flawed, that which is incomplete or challenging. To those objects that will remain in a state of imperfection for as long as they exist, a strange beauty, an ugly beauty, a sublime error that lingers in our minds for reasons unknown.

'Infinity, though of another kind, causes much of our pleasure in agreeable, as well as of our delight in sublime images. The spring is the pleasantest of the seasons; and the young of most animals, though far from being completely fashioned, afford a more agreeable sensation than the full grown; because the imagination is entertained with the promise of something more, and does not acquiesce in the present object of the sense. In unfinished sketches of drawing, I have often seen something which pleased me beyond the best finishing; and this I believe proceeds from the cause I have just now assigned.'5

Burke seems to suggest here that the potential outcomes of a work of art, during the process of creation are what make a work of art infinite. The ways in which we can change the work are available to us in those initial marks made. Those first stages post creation, like a puppy, have the potential to become something extraordinary, full of expectation. The puppy may become a wonderful companion, or it may contract rabies and prove fatal to a human being. The promise of the unknown, may allow us to consider something to be sublime. In the same way, a few marks on a page; could lead to either disastrous or phenomenal results. This mystery allows our imaginations to consider something we are perhaps unable to visualise, to be great regardless, based solely on potential. All artworks could be considered infinite, if all artworks possess the potential to change, to develop with the times. Artworks are susceptible to change and are therefore infinite unless destroyed.

1. Wilson, Simon & Lack, Jessica, The Tate Guide To Modern Art Terms (London: Tate, 2008)
2. Jean-Francois Lyotard, "Answering the Question: What Is Postmodernism?" Translated by Regis Durand. from The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, (Minneapolis; University of Minnesota Press, 1984)
3. Harrison, Charles & Wood, Paul, eds., Art in theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002)
4. (Accessed 25th November 2012)
5. Burke, Edmund & Phillips, Adam, ed. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (Oxford University Press, 4 Jun 1998) SECTION XI: INFINITY in pleasing OBJECTS, 70.