November 28, 2007


Talking to a Swiss artist at our local cafe the other day (he's now a citizen of the states), I learned that he is now painting for the first time. Young with arms tattooed to his shoulder blades, he was formerly working in film, trained at CalArts, I asked him the classic question: why painting?

He talked about a kind of finality in painting, the absence of which he missed in the world of moving pictures or whatever.


Which brings to mind a bit of Chesterton:

Critics are much madder than poets.
Homer is complete and calm enough; it is his critics who tear him
into extravagant tatters. Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only
some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else.
And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in
his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.
The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats
easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea,
and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion,
like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything
is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only
desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in.
The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician
who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head
that splits.

This might be the kind of paradox that Chesterton would appreciate, that the finality of painting enables us to build the poet's raft. Seeking the infinity of media over the infinity of meaning seems to induce a splitting headache.


and more:

Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists,
and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be
an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation;
the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe,
you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way,
you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck,
you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.
The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world
of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws,
but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like,
free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes.
Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him
from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles
to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle
breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end.
Somebody wrote a work called "The Loves of the Triangles";
I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved,
they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case
with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most
decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations:
they constitute the THING he is doing. The painter is glad
that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay
is colourless.

Posted by Dennis at November 28, 2007 10:17 AM

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