Monday, October 26, 2015

Paris



Paris is a complicating city. I arrived a week ago and to be down right honest, I hated it at first. I hated the rudeness, I hated the attitude, I hated the clichés, I hated the sound of French, the idea of French, and the taste of French. But now, after a week, after being treated to the lows but then also the highs of this city, I must admit that Paris is a beautiful place with some very beautiful people.

Below are some quick observations of this city:


Paris Internationale – This off site fair was rapidly organized in about three months by a consortium of Paris galleries, Crèvecoeur, High Art, Antoine Lévi, and Sultana, plus Gregor Staiger from Zurich, in a disused but not deprived 19th century townhouse in a posh Paris neighborhood, easily walkable from Palais de Tokyo, and it was probably the best of the sort I have ever seen. Usually off site fairs are tragic. They feel like little parasites sucking the blood (money), hype and physical mass of the main fair in town. They feel like miniature versions of the grander affair and its like watching a child act like a grown up but without the cuteness and with all the pity. Paris Internationale on the other hand felt like an entirely different thing. This invitation only fair had 41 of the coolest of the cool from around the globe exhibiting art in funky little tucked away spaces or casually intermingling with each other. They ranged from big hitters like Proyectos Montclova from Mexico City to smaller local spaces like Paris’ Shaynaynay. There was a range and variety but they all felt fresh and a touch funky but there was a sellability, a buy-it-now feeling that made it less like an alterna-project and more like finding art treasure. There was an overriding sense of ‘cool’ but not in the, your-not-invited way, but in the, come hang out and chill with us way. The space was essential to the charm, which was rough but airy, prestigious and unfussy. The greatest kudos has to go to the organizers and their selection of exhibitors and their placement of them within this grand maison. There is a feeling of curation that rings back to the origin of that word. The idea of things in a home, within a space, and the care, placement and arrangement of this. What could have been a messy jumble was instead a thoughtful interplay that hummed its own tune and created a zone that was curious, relaxing and fun to wander in.


Rudeness – There is no denying that Parisians are rude. I don’t mean rude in a way that you might be thinking, an eye roll, a smirk, a puff. No, this type of rudeness is a crafted form, like their wine or cheese, Parisians have mastered the ingredients and methods of what rude can be. Their type of rudeness is a projection, an ouvert assertion that you are not only annoying, daft, and dumb but that you are repulsive in those qualities as well. This is manifest in basically anything like holding (not holding) doors open, moving out of the way (even for baby strollers), cutting in line, and (not) answering any question you might ask in not perfect French. You can just forget about not speaking French (perfectly) in this city. Most despise you for not being able to do so and with dismissive venom will tell you to learn French, flick a hand in your face and walk away. At first this rudeness appalled me to a point of fury and at times near tears (there were some very cruel moments) but after a week of it I have come to a certain degree of understanding if not acceptance. The French don’t do small talk. They don’t do it much with each other and they surely don’t want to do it with outsiders. They speak directly, intensely and sincerely and that is quality I found rewarding when finally engaged in it. The impatience for casualness makes the chitter and confusion of outsiders pure annoyance. While it may be mean to be such a way, it is just the way they are. Once you accept it, don’t have any expectations and seek no consolations then it stops bothering you as much. Also, being able to say a few key words with a perfected Parisian accent will save you so much heartache and maybe even gain you some allies.

Fashion – When you think Paris you of course think fashion. It is the city of haute couture and when you think of it there is a sense of tradition, timelessness, and grace. I must admit Paris does have a certain something that London and New York lack. There is more sexy, there is more smoulder, there is more vavavoom. My men’s fashion observations might be lacking because of late all things male just seem to ping off me and I don’t really see or pay attention to most of them but here are a few things I did notice. Scarves (they all wear scarves), gelled hair or coiffed mini lion’s manes (think Cary Elwes in Princess Bride), sweaters over collard shirts, dress shoes or sneakers (not sporty but more casual, usually white), vague moustaches. Women on the other hand stood out for their fashion style. This includes; cropped, short, boy-like hair usually slightly gelled back (again, think Cary Elwes in Princess Bride), hats (flat, wide brims in solid, usually dark colors), large thick and long coats worn off the shoulder - cape like, red and dark lipsticks, smoky eyes, thick, dark, sculpted eyebrows, loafers or casual sneakers without socks, long strappy, usually small, shoulder bags. Parisians also seem to really like perfume, sunglasses and block coloring. The appreciation of glamour mixed with the sensible and well made make style seem effortless yet infinitely considered.

Food – Ah food, another thing that the French basically win at, and this is true. The food here is simple, fresh and delicious. They love food here. People literally walk around carrying baguettes under their arms and everywhere, at almost any time of day, you will see clusters of tables outside (regardless of weather) with people smoking (they make smoking look like the coolest thing in the world) drinking wine (all the wine is good and cheap) and nibbling on small plates of this or that. I had some amazing meals from the classic to more specialties and they were all delish. What is more significant to remark upon then the food itself is the culture of it. Here you take time with a meal. You don’t scarf it down or eat on the run. You sit, you wait, you eat, you chat, you digest, and you eat some more. There is a care and an attention to time in the making, consuming and sharing of it. This of course happens other places but here it seems like a true part of the daily. Taking a break for coffee or even to grab a sandwich at the nearest boulangerie and eating it on a park bench is treated as important and necessary. I have most definitely gained weight on this trip and each pound has been worth it.

City – Paris is probably one of the most gorgeous cities to walk in. It is not very large, it is very old and it maintains its past even with the demands and trends of the now. Little streets to meander on and these merge into large avenues that shoot straight towards one arch or another. The buildings are simply: so pretty. The window plants, flower patches and shrubs feel essential versus implanted. The fountains, the lights, the knob of a door, all these little and big things make this city an architectural sigh fest. This I found the most calming thing about being in Paris. After some incident of above mentioned rudeness or some minor drama of some sort I would huff and puff and take a directionless walk to let off steam and then I would find myself walking past and looking at the most amazing things entirely by accident, like oh weird, there’s Notre Dame, or damn, that is one amazing window frame. The city’s beauty exudes. It feels like an old garden that you can’t help but be stilled in when walking through it. Paris might have its flaws but there is an undeniable truth that it is a beautiful-beautiful city. If that produces some arrogance then maybe some of that has been earned.

Monday, October 19, 2015

I’m Sick in Paris and Working Another Art Fair




I’m sick in Paris and working another art fair and I just don’t even have words. Like literally it is really hard for me to even talk. It’s slightly comical compared to my usual, and at times annoying, verbosity, but the scalding hacking cough and throat pain conjoined with this lack of vocal abilities is just near tragic. In this state I have just arrived to Paris from London, waking up at 4am after de-installing on Sunday for Frieze. I’m whining but this is what I signed up for and what many other gallerists are also doing so I just need to suck it up and put on my game face. If I could last more then fifteen minutes without hacking so much I actually barf sometimes this might be easier but fuck it, even if my body is like die-die-die, when your playing the art game at this level you have to get it together and quick.

Where is this all going? I don’t know. I’m trying to be honest while sitting on the floor of the fair, waiting for touch up paint to come, waiting for the next coughing attack to come. Waiting for 6 o’clock to come so I can leave. Waiting for a cataclysm, waiting for a meteor, waiting for the something in the form of serenity.

I won’t talk about Frieze. I don’t want to talk about Fiac. I’ve talked enough about what I feel about art fairs and I feel the same way now as then. There is just nothing more to remark on it for now. It’s as bad as you think if you are honest. It’s as amazing as you think if you like illusions.

That is something I have been thinking a lot about lately. That word. Illusion. It is something that I think I lack more then others. Arrogant, yes possibly, but I do think this to be true, at least in some ways. The art world is full/actually just is illusion in many/if not all ways. To be a part of it, in any way, is to believe, buy into, support, and continue illusion. So what is illusion? It is smoke and mirrors. It is things that just are even when they are not. It is believing so that you seem to understand. It is accepting so that you won’t get left behind. It is the emperor with no clothes. It is belief that there even is an emperor.

Is this droll enough for you? Well hey, I guess it’s my small attempt to try to articulate, even if just to myself, the overwhelming feeling that has been produced by working more and more art fairs, year after year after year. There is a strange magic to it. The whole thing of it, but it is far more sinister then anyone, everyone, wants to admit. I am not throwing stones at glass houses. Things are what they are. Can that be changed? I am not sure anymore. I think it might be the grandest illusion of all to think things can radically, actually, really change. So maybe I’m the one with the biggest illusion and not enough of the other kinds.

But anyways, besides me being a sick puppy and being grumpy because I can’t sleep for more then 3 hours without a coughing fit, I AM IN PARIS! And I haven’t been since I was 18 with my high school boyfriend. That was many moons ago and I am a very different person then I was, maybe for the better, maybe for the worse but being back in Paris, as what I consider my adult self, is something I look forward too. I hope I can see some of this city in the midst of art fair duties and I hope to experience its art and tenor that is not all internationally imported and packaged.

If anything of note happens or is felt during my time here, I’ll report on it next week.

Till then, enjoy yourself, stay healthy and thank the stars above that you are not miserable coughing me at this moment.


Monday, October 12, 2015

All The Numbers on My Phone



I’m too depressed to blog. Instead I’m going to do this really weird thing where I write a list of everyone who is on my phone (people’s whose actual phone numbers I have). I don’t really call people and message them on one thing or the other instead but yeah. Numbers. Phone. Talking to people.

Who cares. Here goes.

I will only go by memory/not look at numbers or recent calls etc. I will omit last names for privacy.

P.S. Wow after I just did this I realized how many people I don’t remember who they are and also how long and boring this was so sorry in advance! Yikes!


A

Aaron – Used to work with him. We never got along.
Abby – Artist NYC.
Adam H – Friend-ish.
Adam J – Collector, guitarist in big metal band.
Adam T – Friend, photographs things in NYC. Has cute family.
Albert C – No idea
Alejandro – Rented a room from him in Mexico City (I think)
Alex I – Artist NYC.
Allie – Former co-worker
Amanda S – Former co-worker
Amber C – Not sure
Amber V – Sorta friends
Ambre – Runs art thing
Amy – Old roommate from college. Likes bunnies.
Andrew G – Goes out with Ambre V.
Andrew R – One of my besties, adore.
Andrew S – Used to go to collage, lives in LA.
Andrew W – Used to date. Poet.
Andu – Roommate, great hair.
Ann D – Stayed at her place when first arrived in LDN.
Anne H – Artist, lives in LA. Funny.
Anna K – Artist, seems very zen.
April H – Used to sorta work together.
Arielle – Friend from NYC.
Arielle G – Stayed in my apartment once.
Art Market – Old job.
Ash – Went to same college. See him in Berlin/NYC randomly.
Aunt Helen – My great aunt Helen.

B

Ben – Artist and friend, Coney Island.
Ben K – Artist and vague friend.
Ben K – Lives in LA. Very handsome. Not my type.
Ben R – Sews things.
Beth – Friend in NYC, has cute doggie, makes books.
Beth Israel – Doctor NYC
Bill – Artist (I think).
Bobby – Used to work with.
Brad T – Artist NYC.
Bradford – Runs film project.
Bradford K – Artist NYC, nice moustache.
Brook – Not sure.
Brooke – Lives in London. Tall.

C

Cameron – Not sure
Car – No idea what this is
Carmines – Best pizza where I used to live in BK
Casper – Artist, writer London, wears good earrings and hats.
Charlie W – Friend London, good beard.
Chloe – Artist, Chicago, wish we actually hung out more.
Chris H – Artist NYC but shows in LDN
Chris L – Artist, Cali.
Chris S – Art handler
Christopher - Writer NYC.
Cindy – Chinatown real estate contact and translator for old landlord.
Cinzia – Went to collage, haven’t seen in years.
Claire  - Went to collage, haven’t seen in years.
Cody – Friend NYC, PhD Renaissance Literature.
Colin – Just met in LA, seems fun and crazy.
Conner – Sweet guy from the Midwest. Tall.
Coop – Food Coop
Corey – Upstairs neighbor.  Not sure if he’s still in Dubai?

D

Dad – Dad
Dan L – Former co-worker
Daniel – Nephew
Daniel L – Artist, twin.
Daniel S – Artist, LDN, keeps weird hours.
Danika – Girl from Philly, smoked a lot.
Darlene – Used to be friends in college, haven’t seen in years.
Dave – Ex-boyfriend’s friend.
David F – Friend of Ex.
David F – Model/Artist.
David V – Does vinyl for shows.
Dd – Dunkin Donuts, so I can complain about the music in old BK apt.
Dean – Not sure.
Denesh – LDN, never actually hung out one-on-one.
Dennis – Not sure.
Dentist – Dentist.
Derek – Artist NYC, red hair.
Desi – Artist NYC.
Diana – Cousin’s wife
Doc S – Doctor in Greenpoint
Dora – Artist/Friend NYC. Xo
Drew O – Artist Chicago, woof.
DV – Friend, teal colors.

E

Ed – Artist LA, Missoni.
Ej – Friend of old friend.
Eliot M – Shipper
Elizabeth – Artist NYC (I think)
Ella – Friend LDN. Classy. Xo
Emilio – Electrician NYC
Envoy – Old work
Erika – Artist, Music. Xo
Erin – Not sure.
Eugene – Dated for 2 months. Films.

F

Felix M – Artist LDN, good dancer.
Florence F – Mother of artist.
Frances – Artist LDN.
Frank – Friend/Artist NYC.

G

Gia – Former Co-worker
Grant – Contractor

H

Harry S – Artist LDN, now in Berlin. Cooks well.
Hayley – Artist NYC.
Heather G – Artist NYC. Good writer.
Hillary - Facialist
Holly – Bestie in LDN. Fanta queen. Xo
Home – Parent’s
Horace – Landlord LDN

I

Iain – Artist LDN.
Isabelle – Artist LDN.

J

Jack – Friend and homeboy in LDN. Kiwi.
James J – Artist NYC, wears suits.
James L – Bebe lives in NYC again.
James S – Not sure. Maybe gallerist NYC.
Jamian – Artist NYC.
Jamie F – Artist think lives in LA.
Jane – Ex’s friend. Went to her wedding ages ago.
Jared – Artist/First/Only Tinder date. Oi.
Jason – Not sure which one.
Jason L – Artist Chicago.
Jean – Old upstairs neighbor.
Jeff – Think friend from college.
Jeff B – Homeboy from Venice Beach. Adore.
Jen C – Not sure.
Jen – I think from LA.
Jennifer – Not sure which one.
Jesse H – Annoying art/music guy
Jesse S – Young artist LA. Euro vibes.
Jimi – Old boss. Xx
Joe – Cats chill in his studio sometimes.
Joel – I think artist in NYC.
Johnny – Old friend from home.
Jon L. – Weirdo writer.
Jong O – Artist NYC.
Joseph M – Artist French.
Joseph W – Former friend.
Josh B – Artist LDN
Joshua S – Artist NYC
Justin B – Artist NYC, grills well.

K

Kabir – Went on a few dates years ago.
Kait – Old co-worker
Kasia – LDN girl, never hung out.
Kat – Old housemate LDN, great hair.
Katie – Not sure
Katrine – Accountant
Kavi – Old friend, lost touch, scientist.
Kaylee – Old friend, lost touch.
Kelly – Sister in law
Kelly P – Sorta worked with.
Kevin B – Web designer LA.
Kevin C – Artist/writer NYC, good headbands.
Kevin L – Artist NYC.
Korouem – Never met IRL.
Kristie – Artist Canada, photos sic.
Kristopher – Old housemate LDN
Krit – Artist, Thai.
Kylie – Artist Detroit.
Kyo – Girl from NYC, seems sweet, wish knew better.

L

Laura – Used to work with, Italian.
Laura A – Not sure.
Lauren C – Not sure.
Leigha – Artist NYC, big eyes.
Lesley B – Cutie used to live in LA. PhD in dance stuff.
Leslie – Old roommate NYC.
Leslie K – Friend Artist LDN. Hugs.
Liz – Old friend from home.
Lucy – Not friends anymore.
Lucy C – Lives in LA.
Lyndsy – Friend/Artist NYC.

M

M - Godmother
Maddy – Niece
Maja – Artist/Friend NYC. Xo
Maria – Artist/Friend LDN. Xo
Marin – Cousin
Marisa – Old friend, not in touch.
Mary – Not sure
Matilda – Not sure
Matthew – Used to date, Music.
Max F – Ex-boss-ish
Max S – Poet NYC.
Melanie – Old shift leader at co-op
Melissa – Artist NYC. Sic.
Michael – Brother
Michael M – Artist LA.
Michael R – Gallerist Berlin.
Mike – Berlin
Mike P – Former co-worker
Milano – Artist/friend LA. Wish lived in same place. Xo
Miles – Friend BK – Hikes.
Mindy – Artist Chicago.
Miona – Lives in Berlin
Molly – Went to college. Think nurse now?
Mom – Mom
Murat – Dealer NYC
Mustafa – Not sure


N

Napalitano – Old pharmacy BK
Nathan – Not sure
Nathan W – Chess and piano
NHS – Doc UK
Niall – Artist Canada
Nicholas – Nephew
Nick D – Artist NYC
Nick F – Used to go to collage. Not in contact.
Nick S – Super in BK
Nico – Artist Friend DF. Xo.
Nichole S – Friend NYC.
Noah – Artist NYC.
Norm – Artist NYC.

O

Olie – Friend-ish UK
Olivia – Artist/Friend NYC
Olivia S – San Fran
Oskar – Artist Norway

P

Patrick M – Cousin
Paul – Friend’s Ex
Penny – Ex-boss. Xo
Pete – Brother
Peter S – Artist NYC
Phil – Not sure
Photi – Gallerist NYC
PKG – Old work
Pocahontas – Shipper NYC
PPOW – Old work

Q

Qian – Not sure

R

Rachel – Friend NJ?
Rachel – Not sure
Rachel M – Artist NYC
Rbt – Artist South now NYC I think.
Rebecca – Artist/Friend NYC. Xo.
Rob C – Artist LDN, sic videos.
Robyn – Cousin
Rod – Ex-boss LDN
Roland – Friend, LDN good cook.
Ron – Ex-boss NYC
Rosario – Curator
Rose – Artist NYC, sweetie
Rozsa – Gallerist LDN. Xo
Ryan S – Artist not sure where now.
Ryder – Used to date years ago. Sweet cat.

S

Sam – Artist NYC, booboo
Scott V – Former intern
Sonel – Books NYC
Sophie – Photography NYC.
Spencer – Artist LA

T

T berry – Poet/NYC
Talia – Artist NYC
Tao – Former roommate- writer
Ted – Not sure
Thomas – Not sure which one
Thomas D – Artist NYC
Thomas S – Friend from college
Tierney- Ex co-worker
Tim – Ex-co worker
Tom – Friend and gallery partner. Xo.
Tony – Friend. Ex-coworker
Travis – Philly kid
Travis F – Gallerist NYC

V
Vanessa – Friend, Ex-coworker. Xo
Vet – Cats

W

Wendy – Friend/ Ex –Boss. Xo
Whitney – Artist NYC
Will J – Friend/Gallerist LDN
Willow – Former friend.
Winston – Artist
Wojciech  - Polish homeboy. Xo

Z

Zachary – Friend and Ex
Zachary D – Artist and Friend NYC

Monday, October 5, 2015

Art and Anarchy


 

The other week there were some books left on the kitchen table and they were left there for a long time. I asked around and no one seemed to know whose they were. Most seemed like throwaway sort of books. Something about guerilla gardening has been scaled in my mind as the must utterly useless book I may have ever seen but there was one that caught my eye and that was Art and Anarchy by Edgar Wind. It is an old copy and it has a cover, texture, smell and quality that only older books have. I have started to read this book and I have been more then surprised about how much I am enjoying it.

It is about art and it investigates if art/imagination has the ability to be a disruptive force in society (thus the anarchic angle). The book is derived from a series of lectures that Wind gave in 1960 at Oxford and it was edited into a book in 1963. This date gives you a general sense of the moment of ‘contemporariness’ that Wind is end framing his inquiry within. Wind is an art historian in a classic way. He seems a chap as well who is as British as can be (although born German) and he has that certain enthusiastic flit of language and unquestionable grip on knowledge that makes reading this book almost too easy. But luckily, he’s too smart to make it dull and his style of writing, and presumably lecturing, is one that I wish I could have seen and will read more of.

I am writing about this today not because of style points only but because of what Wind is writing about. It is very much inline with many things that are occurring in art today. Ideas surrounding authenticity, connoisseurship, who makes art and how it is translated in aesthetics and taste is very much on pulse with what is going on today. It is quite astonishing really, the closeness in which Wind strikes the cord of things today and that revelation makes everything seem so small and connected in both revealing and disheartening ways.

I think it very important and necessary to remember that things are not in a vacuum of existence and that things aren’t as unique, dire, or new as one supposes. We’re on a wheel. Art, culture, politics, all of it. Let us not forget this and maybe, just maybe if we remember enough of the recent and far pasts we can maybe, just maybe halt, mend or improve this wheel we are all on.


Below is the first lecture:

REITH LECTURES 1960: Art and Anarchy Edgar Wind Lecture 1: Art and Anarchy: Our Present Discontents

I hope that the word ‘anarchy’ in the title of these lectures will not suggest that I shall speak in defence of order. I shall not. A certain amount of turmoil and confusion is likely to call forth creative energies. As we know from the uneasy lives that were led by Dante, Michelangelo, or Spenser, not to speak of Mozart or of Keats, the outward circumstances under which great art is produced are often far from reassuring. And if we look at the great patrons of art, the men of enterprise who cajoled great artists into production, they were rarely distinguished by a restful temperament. Whatever the Medici, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Ambroise Vollard may have had in common, it was not, I believe, a quiet existence. Dissatisfaction and discontent, far from being inimical to the arts, seem, on the contrary, among their inseparable companions. While I should not like to be dogmatic on this point, and would hate to encourage the completely mistaken view that the best artists and patrons are those who are disgruntled, I would venture on one single generalization: if it is the highest wish of a man to live undisturbed, he might be well advised to remove art from his household.

Art is—let us face it—an uncomfortable business, and particularly uncomfortable for the artist himself. The forces of the imagination, from which he draws his strength, can be very disruptive and he must manage them with wisdom and economy. For if he indulges his imagination too freely it may run wild and destroy him and his work by excess. Yet if he plagues it with the wrong kind of drill, and uses too many contrivances and refinements, the imagination may dry up; it can atrophy.

On the whole, great artists do not fear atrophy, but many of them have feared excess.
The notebooks of Baudelaire, for example, abound in prescriptions for a strict regimen by which he hoped to tame and regularize his genius: ‘to find the daily frenzy’, as he put it, trouver la frénésie journalière (where the word journalière suggests the daily toil of a journeyman). And when Goethe wrote his Annalen, a sort of annual account of his occupations, compiled when he was old and supposedly calm and Olympian, he revealed that he was nervously afraid of the wild tricks that a lively imagination might play on an otherwise cultivated man. ‘What is the good’, he writes, ‘of curbing the sensuality, shaping the intellect, securing the supremacy of reason? Imagination lies in wait as the most powerful enemy. Naturally raw, and enamoured of absurdity, it breaks out against all civilizing restraints like a savage who takes delight in grimacing images’.

Goethe and Baudelaire had little in common; and the discipline each imposed on himself as poet is almost the opposite of that chosen by the other: Baudelaire chastising his Muse with acid paradox, Goethe trying to soothe his demon with muted commonplaces. But both felt, and felt with the same intensity, a sacred fear of the imagination which animated their poetry.

The term ‘sacred fear’ is, of course, much older. I have borrowed it from Plato; and from Plato I shall borrow a great deal more. Although no philosopher has praised the divine madness of inspiration more eloquently than Plato, he viewed it (like Goethe and Baudelaire) with grave suspicion. He rated the strength of man’s imagination so high that he thought a man could be transformed by the things he imagined. Hence he found miming a most perilous exercise; and he devised curious laws that would prohibit the miming of extravagant or evil characters. Recitations were to change at such moments from dramatic to narrative language, so that a certain distance would be established between the speaker and what he says, as if we were to speak of evil only in the third person, not the first, for fear we might otherwise become evil.

To us, these regulations seem eccentric. There can surely be no harm in impersonating a grotesque figure? A few extravagant gestures, performed for the amusement of ourselves and others, will not poison us to the root. Indeed, if Plato had his way, all children’s games would have to be supervised by a magistrate.

Plato knew, none the less, what he was saying. The games of children, according to him, are a crucial instrument in the forming of character because it is through imitation that we acquire tastes. As Sir James Harris, a sober Englishman of the eighteenth century, remarked: ‘We feign a relish till we find a relish come, and feel that what began in fiction terminates in reality’. That is, of course, what Plato meant.

Edmund Burke, who in the practice of oratory must have been an accomplished mimic, made this experiment on his own person. ‘I have often observed’, he says of himself, ‘that on mimicking the looks and gestures of angry or placid or frightened or daring men, I have involuntarily found my mind turned to that passion whose appearance I endeavoured to imitate; nay, I am convinced it is hard to avoid it, though one strove to separate the passion from its corresponding gestures’.

If we accept these observations as valid—and it would be difficult to deny that innocent games are not always innocent, and that fiction is apt to take root in reality— the consequences are most unpleasant: for we are forced to take art as seriously as Plato, who in the end advises us to appoint a drastic censor. Now we all know what kind of thing effective censorship is; it is a contradiction in terms, because censorship is like pruning: it gives new strength to what it cuts down, and if it attacks the root it destroys the plant which it wants to save. Yet, with all these reservations clearly in mind, we can still learn a good deal if we observe how Plato imagines his censor in action, how he wishes an ideal state to proceed when it officially bans a dangerous poet. ‘If any such man’, he says, ‘will come to us to show us his art, we shall kneel down before him as a rare and holy and wonderful being: but we shall not permit him to stay. We shall anoint him with myrrh and set a garland of wool upon his head, and send him away to another city’.

If this ritual were to be translated into modern terms it would sound like a burlesque: it would mean that before an artist can be condemned he must receive the highest possible honour, something like the Order of Merit. Plato understood what few seem to understand today, that the only dangerous artist is the great one: ‘a rare and holy and wonderful being’. Plato believed—and he unmistakably said so—that great evil ‘springs out of a fullness of nature . . . rather than from any deficiency, whereas weak natures are scarcely capable of any very great good or very great evil’. It is obvious from this remark that Plato was spared the kind of experience which moved Jacob

Burckhardt, the great Swiss historian, to define mediocrity as the truly diabolical force in the world. Since we know the great truth in Burckhardt’s dictum, it is not easy for us to follow Plato when he suggests that only the strong imagination can be destructive, while the troubles caused by the weak one are negligible. But then, Plato lived in Greece, and his own evidence and that of others suggest that the Greek forces of destruction were not mediocre.

At the risk of saying the obvious, I must here recall a fact of ancient history. Plato saw Greek art and Greek poetry achieve their subtlest powers of persuasion at the very time when he saw the Greek state disintegrate; and he sensed, and perhaps felt in his own person, a profound connexion between these two developments. If the Greeks had not been so responsive to an exquisite phrase or a beautiful gesture, they might have judged a political oration by its truth and not by the splendour with which it was delivered: but their sobriety was undermined by their imagination. If I am not mistaken, Plato found himself in much the same dilemma as an experienced physician who diagnoses an illness for which no cure is known, but in despair and out of charity for his patient he prescribes a remedy, which does not work. In such cases we do not say that the diagnosis was wrong because the remedy failed. And perhaps that courtesy should be extended also to Plato. His remedy—state censorship —is a desperate one, and an obvious failure. His diagnosis may, nevertheless, be right.

Looking at these events from a safe distance, a modern critic of Plato might concede that the political disintegration of Greece occurred while Greek art reached its highest refinement; but if that critic has read David Hume, he is bound to ask another question: Why claim a connexion between two events merely because they happen to occur together? Could that conjunction not be an accident? Recurring Accident?

It certainly could, and it would be foolish to deny it; but it is odd that the accident should recur. In the Italian Renaissance, again, the most splendid release of artistic energies was attended by political disintegration. In Burckhardt’s great book The Civilization of the Renaissance, the opening chapter describes the anarchy, strife, and despotism, the violent eruptions of human passion, by which the Italian city-states were lacerated; and Burckhardt gave to this, the most painful chapter of his book, an ironic title. He called it ‘The State as a Work of Art’ (Der Staat als Kunstwerk). He took that title, I think, from Hegel’s Philosophy of History, where a comparable heading—’ The Political Work of Art ‘—appears over a chapter on the Greek citystates; and here the meaning is unmistakable: it signifies a state swayed by the artistic imagination. ‘Even in its destruction’, writes Hegel, ‘the spirit of Athens appears magnificent. Amiable and serene in the face of tragedy is the gaiety and recklessness with which the Athenians accompany their morality to its tomb’.

It ought to be obvious by now that in connecting the word ‘art’ with the word ‘anarchy’ I was completely unoriginal. I merely continued to reflect on a thought which had occupied Plato, Goethe, Baudelaire, Burckhardt; and a host of other authors could be invoked, equally different from each other and equally close to the sources of art, who have made the same observation. The fact, however, that these thoughts are not new should perhaps recommend them all the more to our attention. If the release of imaginative forces is a threat to the artist, which he must control with the greatest care, then to a lesser degree the same threat is transferred to us when we share in the artist’s experience. But what precautions do we take, in our busy artistic life, not to be overwhelmed by these forces, or not to choke them? How does our artistic economy avoid excess or atrophy?

I do not mean to ask this question in any narrow professional sense. We are here not concerned with the problem, interesting though it is, how a professional art critic, for example, who is obliged to visit one exhibition after another, manages to keep his sensibility fresh and his judgment sharp; or how a professional historian of art can survey all the medieval ivories in existence without letting his perception of them get stale. That men engaged in these professions do occasionally lose their sense of proportion is one of those occupational risks with which any profession must reckon.

My question refers to the general public, whose sense of balance is much more important: for it is essential to the well-being of a society that the whole should be less mad than the parts. I have heard eminent and intelligent men speak on Art and Society, and on Art and the State, and the problem which preoccupied Plato all his life did not cross the threshold of their awareness. They rested their case on the generous assumption, that the widest possible diffusion of art can have only a benign and civilizing effect, a view which Burckhardt, on the historical evidence, would have dismissed as silly and shallow optimism.

The late Mr. Kussevitzky used to say that we can never have too much music: the more music is performed and heard, the better for everybody. It is clear, I think, that he has had his way. More music is offered and heard today than in any age in history; and presumably the same is true of the diffusion of literature. It is certainly true of the visual arts. We are flooded with exhibitions, and glutted with picture-books, and these vast aggregates of available images are absorbed with an eagerness and, I may add, with a degree of intelligence which leaves the older generations speechless. The instances are now extremely rare in which a person faced with an unfamiliar idiom of painting will dismiss it as the trick of a buffoon who cannot draw. These tantrums we are now happily spared; but the surrender to art, on almost any terms, is equally alarming. It is as if the floodgates of the imagination had been opened and the waters were streaming in without meeting resistance. The sacred fear is no longer with us.

But perhaps the fear has become superfluous. Diffusion brings with it a loss of density. We are much touched by art, but it touches us lightly, and that is why we can take so much of it, and so much of so many different kinds. If a man has the time and the means, he can see a comprehensive Picasso show in London one day and the next a comprehensive Poussin exhibition in Paris, and—what is the most amazing thing of all—find himself exhilarated by both. When such large displays of incompatible artists are received with equal interest and appreciation it is clear that those who visit these exhibitions have acquired a strong immunity to them. Art is so well received because it has lost its sting.

Artists working today are aware, I think, although not many are so unwise as to say so, that they address themselves to a public whose ever-increasing willingness to receive art is matched by a growing atrophy of the receptive organs. If modern art is sometimes shrill, it is not the fault of the artist alone. We all incline to raise our voices when we speak to persons who are getting deaf. Artists as different in character as Arp, Picasso, Rouault, Klee, have all made use, at one time or another, of what André Gide has called ‘the gratuitous act’, a cruel shock which we ought to feel when we meet the patently absurd or the repulsive. Bertolt Brecht invented for a comparable purpose the dramatic technique of ‘alienation’; and we know how earnestly the Angry Young Men have tried to shock their public into attention—but these effects have little chance of lasting. The shock wears off when it becomes familiar, and the device by which it was first achieved receives a place in the long gallery of modern devices where, well classified and clearly labelled, it attracts and contents the dispassionate pilgrim, or just arouses his curiosity.

It might be thought that Plato ought to envy the condition in which we find ourselves.
That dreaded demon of the imagination, which he tried to exorcize, has finally lost the power to hurt us. Those savage masks of grimacing idols which frightened Goethe out of his wits have all been safely domesticated. We have them with us, and they give us pleasure. Isaiah’s prophecy of the peaceable kingdom, that ‘the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox’, has been fulfilled in our vision of art, but of art alone: for in no other phase of our existence are we prepared to make the peculiar sacrifice which is required here. In Isaiah’s paradise the kid and the ox remain as we know them, but the leopard and the lion are obliged to shed their teeth.

And that may possibly be the cause of our present discontents. As Plato and Baudelaire and Goethe saw rightly, the glories of art are inseparable from its risks. But however wildly our lions and leopards may act, we know they are tame, and their leaps will not frighten us.

It is fortunate that this form of apathy was explored again by a great philosopher. About a century and a half ago, when these symptoms first began to appear, they were clearly recognized by Hegel, and he studied this modern malady with the same care as Plato had studied the ancient. He explained that when art is removed to a zone of safety, it may still remain very good art indeed, and also very popular art, but its effect upon our existence will vanish.

It is worth listening to Hegel on this point. Whatever the weakness of his metaphysics, as an observer of the world of men he was as sharp-sighted as Montaigne. The artistic life that he saw about him resembles ours in many ways. It was the height of romanticism, and of Berlin romanticism at that. Imagination had been released from the restraints of convention, and it was felt that art had finally come into its own. The displays showed great freedom and variety. One could see sombre, diabolical pictures with a touch of fairytale and sinister wit, comparable to the art of Fuseli in England; and next to them chaste, abstemious, neo-classic designs, much like the outline drawings of Flax-man. And then there were, of course, the New Primitives, noble savages communing with nature and lovers of folk-art and medieval antiquities, and above all the so-called Nazarenes, who founded their art on religious conversion.

Hegel saw it all, and he found it wanting. He did find it interesting, but in his view that was not a compliment. To apply the word ‘interesting’ to a work of art was, in fact, a romantic invention; and in carrying on that habit today we inadvertently adopt a romantic attitude. In Hegel’s day it was new, and he saw what it meant. An ‘interesting’ object has an arresting quality; it arouses our attention; we take cognizance of it and then let it go. An ‘interesting’ experience is one that has no lasting effect.

So Hegel drew up his bill of particulars. As he saw it, the moment had arrived in the world’s history when art would no longer be connected, as it had been in the past, with the central energies of man; it would move to the margin, where it would form a wide and splendidly varied horizon. The centre would be occupied by science—that is, by a relentless spirit of logical inquiry. The kind of science which Hegel foresaw bears no resemblance to the science of today: in that he was a bad prophet. But the place of science in our lives he foresaw correctly, and he was equally foresighted in the place he assigned to art. He explained that in an age of science people would continue to paint and to make sculptures, and to write poetry and compose music, and in so far as they did these things it would be desirable they should do them well. But let us not be deceived, he writes: ‘however splendid the new effigies of the Greek gods may look to us, and whatever dignity and perfection we may find in the new images of God the Father, Christ, and the Virgin Mary, it is of no use: we no longer bend our knees’. What Hegel meant was beautifully illustrated some forty years later by Manet when he painted ‘The Dead Christ Mourned by Angels’. This picture was not intended to force anyone to his knee. It was painted for an exhibition, not for a church. Manet wanted it to be admired as sheer painting.

It should be clear, then, that by moving into the margin, art does not lose its quality as art, it only loses its direct relevance to our existence: it becomes a splendid superfluity. An art thus detached from the realities of living does not cease to be widely and intensely enjoyed. On the contrary, nothing gives us greater pleasure than to commune with images which are so free. As Baudelaire explained with incomparable clarity, the laughter aroused by a comedy of Moliere, which is significant laughter because it refers to life, is narrower and less intense than the pure, disengaged and uncontrollable laughter which may seize us before an extravagant drôlerie engraved by Callot, a fantasy unrelated to our existence. According to Baudelaire, this is ‘art for art’s sake ‘, a proud art which is no one’s servant and which poses all its problems from within.

Although Hegel relegated this art to the margin, he was fascinated by its inherent powers. His language grows eloquent and almost poetic when he describes the plastic freedom and freshness of adventure which an artist or poet is likely to gain when he allows his imagination to roam without fear, entering lightly into diverse experiences, some familiar, others remote, without allowing himself to be caught in any. A poem of love, conceived in this spirit, will be a poem of imagined love and draw its tone and form from the imagination only. In such productions, Hegel says, ‘we find no personal longing, obsession or desire, but only a pure pleasure in the phenomenon’; and he describes that state of detachment as ‘an inexhaustible self-abandon of the imagination, an innocent frolic, and with it an inward warmth and joy of sensibility raising the soul, through the serenity of form, above any painful involvement in the limitations of reality’.

Any modern believer in ‘pure art’ must admit that this description is compelling. Hegel was no stranger to that rarefied experience which Mr. Clive Bell enjoyed in what he called ‘significant form’, but Hegel’s language was more radical. He explained that the absolute freedom of art, by which art can attach itself freely to any substance it chooses in order to exercise the imagination on it, has made of the new artist a tabula rasa. Infinitely susceptible to new shapes because no shape can be regarded as final, he is in a state of perpetual self-transformation, engaged in what Hegel quaintly calls unendliche Herumbildung, an infinite plasticity.

It is clear that Hegel foresaw developments of which we now have the full confirmation, but in spite of the brilliance of his description, in one respect his analysis is an incomplete as Plato’s. Plato did not foresee that the dangers of art, which he feared so greatly, might not affect a people who had come to immune them. Hegel, on the contrary, could not imagine that art would ever again become dangerous. Although he envisaged an art of the future which might be richer and subtler than the art he had seen, he supposed that, no matter how varied our art might become, it would always remain disengaged from reality because, as he put it, ‘art has worked itself out ‘. According to Hegel, when art becomes pure it ceases to be serious, and that is, in his view, its final splendour.

I have drawn a rather dark picture of the immunity to art which we seem to have acquired. We touch the surface of many different artistic experiences without getting seriously involved in any. If Hegel were right, that state of safety would continue for art in perpetuity: but here it is possible that he overshot the mark. To make statements about perpetuity is one of the failings of Hegel’s philosophy, and we may say without pride that this is a weakness to which we are no longer prone. When Hegel observes that in our civilization, no matter how lively and varied art may seem, it remains a marginal occupation, we must admit that the statement is true: but when he adds that art will remain marginal for ever, we have every right to be sceptical, and thus more hopeful than he wanted us to be. ‘At certain times’, if I may quote Burckhardt again, ‘the world is overrun with false scepticism… Of the true kind there can never be enough’.