Saturday, August 13, 2005 +

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After the Crash

Perhaps you are not much interested in the world of tomorrow. But the world of tomorrow is very much interested in you. You may say to yourself, no doubt, “Whatever happens, somehow or other I’ll manage to find a way to enter it.” Well, it may be so. Let us hope that it will not be the way the lamb enters the jaws of the wolf.
—Bernanos, Last Essays

Read about tomorrow today:

After the Crash: An Essay-Novel of the Post-Hydrocarbon Age, by Caryl Johnston

At the same time pick up a book about yesterdays:

House of Holy Fools: A Family Portrait in Six Cracked Parts, by Amy Biancolli

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02005 08 13 +

Pray that the New York Archdiocese doesn’t make Catholics feel like chumps.

Friday, August 12, 2005 +

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GS 78 Posers

From Gospel Scenes:

They return to Jerusalem.

PETER. Master, look: the fig tree you cursed has withered away.

JESUS. Believe God. Whoever tells this mountain, “Get up and throw yourself in the sea,” and has no doubt but believes that what he asks will happen, will have what he asks. Therefore I say to you: whatever you pray for, believe when you pray that you will get it, and you will.

He again goes to the Temple.

CHIEF PRIESTS and ELDERS. By what authority do you do the things you do? Who authorized you?

JESUS. I also shall ask a question: answer it and I’ll tell you by what authority I do what I do. John’s testimony—was it from God or from men?

They say to themselves, “If we say from God, he’ll say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ but if we say from men we anger the people, who are convinced that John was a prophet.”

CHIEF PRIESTS. We do not know.

JESUS. Then you will not know by whose authority I do what I do. Let me ask you this. A man had two sons. He went to the firstborn and said, “Son, work today in my vineyard.” The boy replied, “Yes, sir,” but did not work. The man then went to his other son and asked him. First the boy said, “No, I will not,” but later he changed his mind and worked in the vineyard. Tell me, which son did his father’s work?

ELDERS. The second.

JESUS. Yes: that is why the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom before you.

CHIEF PRIESTS. John said it himself: he was not a prophet.

JESUS. A landowner planted a vineyard, set a hedge around it, built a wine press, and erected a tower; then he let the vineyard out and went to another country. At harvest time he sent a servant to the vineyard to receive his share of the produce. The tenants beat the servant and sent him away empty-handed. The landowner sent another servant. The tenants threw stones at him and struck his head before sending him away. The landowner sent another servant. The tenants murdered him. Many others were sent; some were murdered and some merely beaten. The landowner had a son, whom he loved. He said to himself, “At least they’ll respect my son.” He sent him to his vineyard. When the tenants saw the landowner’s son they said to themselves, “This is the heir: if we kill him the inheritance is ours.” They seized the son, took him out of the vineyard, and murdered him. Tell me—when the landowner returns, what will he do to the tenants?

CHIEF PRIESTS. He’ll destroy them and lease his vineyard to others who will give him its fruits.

JESUS. Do you remember the passage, “The same stone the builders refused is become the headstone in the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes”? Don’t be surprised when the Father’s kingdom is taken from you and given to a people who will bring forth its fruits. A king gave his son in marriage and invited the entire kingdom to attend the wedding. As the king greeted his guests he saw among them a man who was not properly dressed. He asked him, “My friend, why aren’t you wearing your wedding clothes?” But the man said nothing. The king said to his servant, “Tie his hands and feet, and toss him into the darkness where he will scream and chew his tongue.”

Herod’s supporters join the discussion.

HERODIANS. Master, we know you always speak the truth and teach God’s word regardless of persons or public opinion. Tell us, then, is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or is it not?

JESUS. Pretenders, do you wish to tax or be taxed? Show me a coin.

They bring out a silver piece.

JESUS. Whose image and name are on it?

HERODIANS. Caesar’s.

JESUS. Then give Caesar what is Caesar’s and give God what is God’s.

Although the Sadducees don’t believe in existence after death, some Sadducees pose Jesus a question about it.

SADDUCEES. Teacher, you know the law of Moses: “If brothers live together and one dies childless, his wife shall not marry outside the family; her husband’s brother shall marry her and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” Given this, consider the case of seven brothers. The eldest married and died, leaving no children. The second married his brother’s wife and also died leaving no children. So the third down to the seventh. Last of all the woman died. Tell us: at the Resurrection, which of her seven husbands will she be married to?

JESUS. On this point and others you misunderstand both scripture and God’s power. When men and women rise from the dead they will neither marry nor be given in marriage but will live like God’s angels in heaven. But why cite Moses, since you don’t believe in the Resurrection? You remember God said to Moses, “I am the God of your fathers: the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.” The God of Moses is not the God of the dead but of the living.

A Pharisee lawyer speaks up.

THE LAWYER. Teacher, which command of the Law is the greatest?

JESUS. You know the first commandment, “Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” You know the second also: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

THE LAWYER. Rabbi, you are right. There is only one God, and there is none other than he, and to love him with all one’s understanding, strength, and will, and one’s neighbor as one’s self, is worth more than any amount of burnt offerings and sacrifices.

JESUS. You are near God’s kingdom: love your neighbor.

THE LAWYER. Tell me, who is my neighbor?

JESUS. A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell among thieves who wounded him, stripped him, and left him for dead. A priest was going down the same road. He saw the man and passed by on the other side. A Levite came by and also avoided him. Then a Samaritan came by, saw him, and pitied him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds after bathing them in oil and wine. He carried him to an inn, and nursed him though the night. The next morning he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and said, “See that he gets well—whatever the added expense I’ll repay you when I return.” Tell me, of the three, who was the neighbor of the person who fell among thieves?

THE LAWYER. The person who did good to him.

JESUS. Go and do like him.

JESUS to the some scribes. Tell me about the Messiah. Whose son is he?

SCRIBES. He will descend from David.

JESUS. Then why did David call him Lord, as in the psalm, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies my footstool”? If David called him Lord, how is he his son?

They can’t answer him. He turns to the crowd.

JESUS. The Pharisees and scribes preside over the Law. You may therefore do what they say. But you mustn’t do what they do, since they say and do not. They tie together heavy loads and put them on men’s backs and won’t lift a finger to lighten them. They do everything for display. They have the Law written all over them and they dress in dark robes. They are passionate for the head table at banquets and for the front seats in synagogues. They preen themselves on being recognized in public and being called Rabbi. You are to call no man Rabbi. You have one Rabbi, the rest are students. You are to call no man Father. You have one Father, he is in heaven. You are to call no man leader. You have one leader, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. The man who raises himself will be lowered and the man who lowers himself will be raised. Alas, Pharisees and scribes, pretenders! You block the door to God’s kingdom, neither entering yourselves nor allowing others to enter. Alas, Pharisees and scribes, pretenders! You eat up widows’ houses and make a show of being devout: thus you double your damnation. Alas, Pharisees and scribes, pretenders! You somersault land and sea to make a single convert, and then make him twice as twisted as yourselves. Alas, blind guides. You say, “If anyone swears by the Temple it does not count, but if he swears by the gold in the Temple he is bound by oath.” Ignorant teachers, which is more important, the gold or the Temple that sanctifies the gold? You say, “If anyone swears by the altar it means nothing, but if he swears by the gift of the altar he is bound by oath.” Blind fools, which is more important, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Anyone who swears by the altar swears by everything on it. Anyone who swears by the Temple swears by God’s kingdom and its king. Alas, Pharisees and scribes, pretenders! You deal in the herbs and spices and ignore the meat of the Law—charity, forgiveness, faith. Attend to these and the rest will have their place. Blind mouths, you vomit the ant and swallow the camel. Alas, Pharisees and scribes, pretenders! You scour the outside of cups and plates and leave the inside full of greed and crime. Blind Pharisees, clean the inside first, then the outside. Alas, Pharisees and scribes, pretenders! You build monuments to the prophets and filigree the graves of the just, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we should never have joined them in killing the prophets.” What you are saying is, your fathers murdered the prophets and you bury them. Children of snakes, no wonder you love graves, being worms. How can you escape damnation in hell? I shall send to you prophets, and wise men, and teachers. Some you will kill and crucify, some you will scourge in synagogues and persecute from village to village until on you comes all the righteous blood shed on earth from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias, Barachias’ son, whom you murdered between Temple and altar. What I say to you is, All this shall be laid to this generation. Jerusalem, my dear Jerusalem, who kill the prophets and stone the messengers sent you, how often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused. Look: your house is empty. I say to you, You will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he that comes in the Lord’s name.”

People are putting money in the Temple treasury. Many rich people are contributing large sums. A poor widow comes and puts in two copper coins amounting to a penny. Jesus sees her and points her out to his followers.

JESUS. What I say is. The poor woman gave more than the rest. They gave part of their wealth: she in her poverty gave everything, even what she needs to live.

He goes out of the Temple.

A FOLLOWER. Look, Master—what magnificent structures and stonework!

JESUS. Observe the buildings well: the time is coming when everything will be thrown down and not one stone will stand on another.

THE TWELVE. When will it be—what signs should we look for?

JESUS. Don’t be misled by prophecies and portents. Men will say, “I am the one,” and “The time is coming.” Many will be deceived—you mustn’t be. If anyone says to you, “He is in the desert,” don’t follow him. If anyone says, “He is in the next room,” don’t believe it. Adam’s son will come like lightning out of the east shining into the west. You’ll hear of wars and threats of wars. Don’t be deceived: these things must happen, but they are not the end. Nation will war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes and famines and plagues: these will be like only the beginnings of birth pains. When you see standing in the sacred place the abomination of desolation Daniel saw, then everyone in Judea must escape to the mountains. No one on the rooftop must return to his house to get his clothes. Alas for those who are pregnant or have babies at the breast! Pray that you don’t need to escape in winter or on the Sabbath. There will be sorrow, such as hasn’t been from the beginning of the world until now and never will be again. If these days are not shortened, no one would live, but for the sake of the chosen the days will be shortened. Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at a mill: one will be taken and the other left. The people will fall by the edge of the sword and will be imprisoned by the nations. Jerusalem will be kicked by the nations, until the nations are weary. When a tree is budding and putting forth leaves, you know spring is near. Know then that it is near—at your very door. You will see it happen in this generation. Heaven and earth will be destroyed: my word will remain. You won’t see Adam’s son, but you will vindicate him before the world. The world will hate you; you will be tortured and killed; many will fail, and betray one another, and hate one another; evil will abound; love will grow cold: but whoever endures to the end will be saved. As to the day and the hour, no one knows, not the angels in heaven nor the son, but only the Father. As the flood came in Noah’s day, so Adam’s son will come. Before the flood up to the day Noah entered the ark there was eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage. No one knew until the flood came and took them all away. That is how Adam’s son will come. The earth will shudder; the sun will be darkened; the moon will not give her light; the stars in the heavens will fall; there will be a groaning among the powers of heaven. Then from the clouds the son of Adam will come with great power and glory: he’ll send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from the four winds and his trumpet will blast from the ends of the earth to the utmost reaches of heaven. So be alert: you don’t know when your master will come. If a man knew what hour a burglar intended to break into his house he would be ready and not let his house be broken into. Because you don’t know when the son of Adam will come, you must always be ready. Who is the dutiful and intelligent servant whom his master put in charge of the household to feed everyone at the proper time? Fortunate for that servant when the master returns and finds him at his task. He will give his servant charge of all his lands. But the neglectful servant, thinking his master slow in coming, will make slaves of his fellow servants and feast with gluttons, and his master will return when he no longer expects him. The master will torture the neglectful servant and put him with the other pretenders, where there will be screeching and chewing of tongues. Consider ten bridesmaids who took up their lamps and awaited the bridegroom. Five were prudent and five careless. The careless ones took lamps but no extra oil, while the prudent took containers of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long in coming they all grew drowsy and slept. At midnight they heard a shout: “The bridegroom’s coming! Get ready to meet him!” The bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps. The careless said to the prudent, “Give us some oil—our lamps are going out.” But the prudent answered, “There may not be enough for us and you. Get some from the sellers.” While they were getting oil the bridegroom came: the bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding and the door was shut. When the others returned they said, “Master, Master, open the door!” He said, “I don’t know you.” An employer was going away. He called his servants and made them responsible for his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, according to their ability. Then he left. The servant who received five talents used them to acquire five more. Likewise the servant who received two acquired two. But the servant who received one talent dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s wealth. After a long time the employer returned and called his servants in for an accounting. The servant who received five talents brought also the other five and said, “Master, you gave me five talents. Look: I have acquired five more.” The master said to him, “Excellent, my good and trustworthy servant. Because you have accomplished much with little I shall give you charge of much. Come: share your master’s delight.” The servant who received two talents said, “Master, you gave me two talents. Look: I have acquired two more.” His master said to him, “Excellent, my good and trustworthy servant. Because you have accomplished much with little I shall give you charge of much. Come: share your master’s delight.” Then the servant who received one talent said, “Master, I knew you were greedy—reaping where you haven’t sown and harvesting where you haven’t planted. I was scared and hid your talent in the earth. Look: you have back what is yours.” His master said, “You miserable and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I don’t sow and harvest where I don’t plant. You should at least have given my wealth to usurers, in order that I might get it back with interest. Take from him his one talent and give it to the servant with ten. Everyone who has used his wealth shall be given more and shall be rich, but everyone who has not used it shall be deprived of it. Throw the useless servant out into the darkness, where he can screech and chew his tongue.” When Adam’s son comes in glory with all his holy angels about him, he will sit on this throne of glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered. He will divide each nation, putting the sheep on his right side and the goats on the left. He will turn to his right and say, “Come into my Father’s blessing and inherit the kingdom I have prepared for you from the beginning of creation. I was hungry; you fed me. I was thirsty; you gave me drink. I was abandoned; you received me. I was naked; you clothed me. I was sick; you visited me. I was in prison; you came to me.” The righteous will say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, thirsty, and give you drink, abandoned and receive you, naked and clothe you, sick and visit you, in prison and come to you?” The king will say, “What you did to the lowest of my brothers you did to me.” He will turn to his left and say, “Leave me, you accursed ones, and dwell in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry; you gave me no food. I was thirsty; you gave me no drink. I was abandoned; you did not receive me. I was naked; you did not clothe me. I was sick; you did not visit me. I was in prison; you did not come to me.” They will say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or abandoned, or naked, or sick, or in prison, that we should go to you?” He will say to them, “What you did not do to the lowest of my brothers, you did not do to me.” Then these will go away to everlasting torment, and the just will enter into everlasting life.

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Modern French Painters

More excerpts from Jan Gordon, Modern French Painters (1922/3). I quote at least once from each chapter.

The number of Art critics who have been right about the artists of their own day, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. I have not the temerity to thrust myself among them. Ruskin himself, admitting the dangers of contemporary criticism, pushes up Turner to the detriment of Claude. Time has had her revenge and Turner has slipped down below Claude again, to the detriment of our faith in Ruskin’s foolhardy judgment (“Introduction”).

Following after the Gothic comes a period which I have called the European period, and which represents the time which elapsed between Giotto and the Impressionists. But it might have other names, it might be called the “nature” idiom or the “scientific” idiom, since it is characterized by what may be called a scientific curiosity in the physical appearance of nature, and comes to an end as soon as that inquiry is exhausted. As the other idioms corresponded to the permanency of their peoples, so does this scientific idiom, it changes its dialect and develops with the development of civilization (“The Languages of Art”).

The study of nature comes to a natural climax in two ways: first, exhaustion of the visual method and, secondly, invention of the mechanical method—the photograph. The visual examination of nature comes to an end in Manet, and by a natural path develops into a study of the means by which nature is visible, that is, light (ibid.).

One has been asked why not go on in the old road? Why not be content to continue that matter-of-fact representation of external fact which was so easy to understand and under which we had so much pleasure in eating our dinners? The answer is that one cannot stand still. It is contrary to the laws of nature. There is no such thing as lack of change. The mountain is falling into the valley, the earth never travels the same course twice, history, in spite of the old saw, never repeats itself. The artist is man brought to the highest point of sensitiveness to life. How, then, cannot he be the most ready to respond to the law of nature? (ibid.)

The analysis of nature as a tangible fact comes to an end about the moment when the philosophical doubt of nature as a tangible fact is becoming understood. The Impressionists’ abrupt change, from the study of the tangible to the study of the intangible—light, is not too far removed from Kant’s declaration that space is a property of the mind. I wish to make no claim that the Impressionists had any ideas of being practical philosophers; but I do suggest that ideas become commonly suitable for the human race at certain stages of development, and that these ideas appear spontaneously under different aspects (“Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism”).

At the first exhibition of Impressionism there were about a hundred exhibitors. How many of these are to-day known to the public? The three most famous were never au fond Impressionists. These three, Renoir, Degas, and Cézanne are all in direct contradiciton with one of the chief tenents of the Impressionist theory—that of taking the subject direct from nature without any artistic control or composition of the pictorial elements. Of the other painters Monet, Sisley, Guillemin and Pisarro had high talent. Of these seven men, the first three would have made their mark in any age and under any conditions. It may be doubted whether the last four would have been peculiarly remarkable but for the novelty of their research and the new technique which was inspired by it (ibid.).

The true use of knowledge is to deepen our sense of the marvelous, no revelation can do anything more than increase our sense of wonder. The self-conscious seekings of the Neo-Impressionist (Pointillist) group do not indicate that art grows necessarily more beautiful thereby. It is a truism that art does not grow more beautiful by increase of knowledge. Neither the language of Leonardo nor of Sir Joshua Reynolds helped either to be a better artist than was Botticelli or Gainsborough respectively. But this growth of self-consciousness does show one thing. It shows that art has not degenerated into a stagnant state of self-content. It shows that art is elastic enough to keep pace with the mental growth of civilization: Art, by developing, proves that it is still alive, that by growing it is, indeed, the exact contrary state to that which it has been accused of, namely, decadence. Art falls into decadence when it stagnates. Bouguereau and Poynter are the decadents, not Cézanne or Van Gogh. It is not new movement which we must fear, but lack of movement, or rather lack of movement commensurate with its period. The arts of Egypt or of China, which represent societies stable over centuries, could show stability parallel to that of their social frame. The arts of Greece grew and declined within a short period (ibid.).

The artist of to-day is not trying to add little by little to the list of objects [e.g. frogs, peasants, factories] which can be allowed fit matter as beauty “containers”. . . . He is trying to destroy the illusion of the picturesque, and to build up in its place a sentiment for the pictorial. . . . Cézanne is almost the first painter who dared to eschew all suggestions of the picturesque. . . . One can assert that the person who cannot perceive the beauties of Cézanne has never properly seen the beauties of the Old Masters. By understanding Cézanne all good painting seems to become more significant; and all bad painting less valuable (“Cézanne”).

The highest emotional value which Nature possesses is its spatial value. . . . Space takes us in the throat and shakes us with emotion. In the cathedral, space first moves us and on it our final remembrance lingers. Cézanne, striving to realize nature, struggles with the problem of space. The spatial value of colouring forces itself upon him, and in consequence of his solution of this problem he forces upon the spectator a realization of space which is far more poignant than our normal sensations (ibid.).

When we are actually face to face with nature the beauty which moves us is dependent upon a feeling of more or less exact proportions between the different objects in the scene. . . . When one tries to copy this in paint, one must at once make compromises. . . . The Chinese or Japanese painter does not attempt this compromise. . . . Van Gogh’s apprecation of nature is akin to that of the Chinese or Japanese . . . the intensity of his sense of space. . . (“Vincent Van Gogh”).

The eye is in continuous though almost imperceptible motion. . . . The circle is a satisfying figure, excellently complete, but the interest in it is soon exhausted. With the ellipse . . . the eye is tempted to move and to re-analyze the curves and balances. . . . We are all under the unconscious domination of gravity. . . . There is, then, in the horizontal figure an ease of grasp, and a satisfactory sense of stabilty; in the vertical we find more difficulty of grasp but a corresponding increase of interest because of balance which seems to be an inherent quality. From the former figure we get a sensation of peace, from the later a feeling of dignity and of inherent power (“Renoir”).

The quality of suggested movement is one of the most valuable in Art. The power of organizing forms which seems to possess an internal power of movement mark out the great artist from the smaller.

Owing to his power of suggesting movement to the eye the great artist can to some extent control the order in which his harmonies are appreciated. . . . The harmonious succession of shapes, of colours, of light and shade, of movement to and fro, in and out, puts us in contact with something which is more consistent, more complete, and therefore more valuable and satisfying than the often chaotic nature which we normally perceive (ibid.).

Of course the four chief controlling lines of a composition are constituted by the frame. Whatever linear harmonies we place together upon the canvas we cannot forget that these must also harmonize with the limiting edges of the picture. This institutes a great difference between nature and art, for nature has no frame. This consideration of the harmonic use of the limits of the frame is specially remarkable in Renoir. His mise-en-page is almost always superlative. In no other artist can it be studied with more ease and with more satisfaction (ibid.).

[Gauguin] desired to rid everything of accidentals and to get down to the stark innocence of nature. He thus rejects the analytical method of the Impressionists. He ignores the accidentals of light as did Cézanne, but for a very different reason. He says, “If I wish to express greenness, a metre of green is more green than a centimetre”. . . . Nobody [in European painting] had ever wanted to express “greenness” before (“Gauguin”).

The painter has now been trying to pierce down to the meat of art, to those things which depend upon painting alone. . . . The artist who is seeking for the root matters of art, the things which belong to painting and to nothing else, is trying to find something which will be beyond the chances of taste or of fashion. Owing to the cast of his civilization and to the mental bias of the present day the artist is seeking these permanencies rather within himself than from without. But he always remains an ego facing something which is external, and his ego can only communicate with other egos by means of this joint external element “nature,” therefore the artist will draw his primary inspiration from this common source. If he draws too far within himself, if he becomes too personal, he risks that danger of becoming unintelligible as a man who invents a language which nobody else can decipher. This danger faces some modern artists (“Art and the New Civilization&rdquo).

If the most profound impulse of humanity were towards realism, towards imitation of nature, successive genius would be continually at work regenerating pattern back to nature. There would result a sort of see-saw, the easy careless artistic kind of workmen debasing the work through slovenly copying, the great and real artists drawing it back to realism. In practice this does not occur. It is true that careless artists debase the pattern, and that the good artists revivify it, but this process of revivification is not through a return to nature, but usually by means of reasserting the value of proportion, space, and rhythmic harmony. Like the tale in Russian Scandal we will find some good artists who make elaborations and complexities, while others strip down to the bare bones of structure. The one aims at the Beautiful, the other at the Sublime. But the process of revivification sometimes even helps to carry the pattern even farther from nature. A return to nature is always conscious. When, however, a partial return to nature is shown—and it occurs from time to time—it will usually be found to be coincident with a general decadence; when the moving spirit which dictated the major outline of the art is no longer a living force, when faith is dead, and when humanity has unconsciously to find some other background and a new reason for its art. In periods of decadnce, complexity for the sake of complexity and a return to nature are almost inevitable (“The Designing Instinct”).

To more than a small extent beauty of design is enshrined in suitability, in a proper respect for the artistic medium employed. Thus, large works in stone must be more compact than large works in bronze, since stone is more breakable; and from this comes the fact that many broken fragments of Greek statuary are more beautiful than the completed figures, the processes of nature having reduced the work until it is suitable to the material (ibid.).

Every kind fo adventure should be applauded. If the results are valueless the future generations will judge them: posterity can always be left to deal with results; but for humanity the encouragement of even futile adventure will have a real value; amongst the futile must also spring up the real (ibid.).

When we contrast the scientific spirit with the creative we realize that science is at root an extension of the monkey habit; curiosity is strongly marked in animals, as is also the imitative element. One does not deny to science a creative element, nor does one deny an aesthetic content in scientific work. But the moving spirit behind science is curiosity; analysis, not creation. This is but an extension of the animal. Creation is human. Art and not science most profoundly marks our separation from the rest of the animal world (ibid.).

Artists can be divided into two classes. The creative impulse can develop from two centres: either the artist has a spiritual driving force, which compels him to find a means of expression, or else he is greatly gifted with craft, and has to struggle to find some motive upon which to work. El Greco and Blake are examples of the first; Holbein, Veronese or Tiepolo are examples of the second [Matisse an example of a third type: the gifted craftsman who seeks a spiritual force.] (ibid.)

The result of the use of mental realities—instead of carefully studied aspects—to produce artistic effect, is that the artist may with them more powerfully create the genius loci of his object. We do not, as a rule, remember things which are fugitive as easily as those which are permanent. Thus, a landscape such as that in the background of Piero della Francesca’s “Nativity” recalls the actual quality of Southern Europe more forcibly than does either Corot or Turner. The latter artists are often only interested in a study of light effects, in an analysis of nature&rquo;s appearance at a particular moment. Therefore, if we do not catch her again at such a moment something has gone out of the likeness. But Piero is concerned with the placing of two or three trees upon the side of a hill over a particular kind of stream. These features are recognizable no matter what light may play over the object. All primitive art, because it deals with mental symbols, has this vivid power of awakening belief. We are more ready to credit the Angels of Fra Angelico than those of Veronese; Botticelli’s goddesses are more divine than those of Rubens (“Henri Rousseau and Utrillo”).

From Leonardo until the Impressionists the only ancient art which had any general recognition was the art of Greece, and, within architectural limits only, the art of the Gothic. During Napolean’s day that gigantic masterpiece of Egyptian culture, the Sphinx, was massacred by the soldiery of the “most intelligent nation of Europe.” It was, however, almost an accident that this Greek art became the ideal of the Renaissance. The art of Fra Angelico, of Botticelli and of the French Primitives indicates a line upon which the arts of Europe might have developed, had ancient Greece and imperial Rome been a little more effectively obliterated by the Turks or by the Goths. This art was in principal an architectural and a coloured art rather than an attempt a naturalistic imitation. It was an art which depended upon spirit rather than upon material, thus fulfilling the first law of the Chinese artistic canon, “Ch’i yun shen tung,” which has been translated as “Spirirtual rhythm expressed in the movement of life.” But this art was turned into the materialistic development which reaches a climax with Veronese and France Hals (“Savage Art and Modigliani”).

The Negro art concentrates in general upon the idea of creating images of mystic import in harmony with the religion of “Tabu”. . . . The representation of humanity is more and more conventionalized, more and more simplified and withdrawn from realism. We find images of extraordinary power, full of subconscious suggestion, among these carvings. They solve in the simplest and frankest way many of the problems confronting the artist of to-day; yet in spite of this simplicity they convey to the fullest extent the effect intended. These masks of War God or Devil Dancers convey their meaning in a more powerful and more direct manner than all the tortured humanity of the naturalistic European school. These sculptures in wood reaveal what are called plastic qualities of the highest order, that is to say, their values lie in their shapes, in the curves and in the contrasts of their surfaces. They are the works of men who have thought only as sculptors; there is no literary preconstruction. Sometimes these images become so conventionalized that all sembance to representation is lost, yet without sacrifice of the meaning. They thus become abstract works of art, depending upon qualities which are those of painting alone, thus speaking the pure language of the painter’s art, as music speaks with its own tongue, borrowing from no other art, nor requiring to be explicit in order to be intelligible (ibid.).

For the recognition of certain properties of objects the power of picturing without imitating results in a heightening of consciousness. By this means art can make sensible to us even in small things that magic value of space which by nature we perceive only before the vista or in the cathedral (“‘Space’ and ‘Life’ in Painting”).

Real life is not an external property of living things; but life must be an external, visible property of Art. . . . In a non-living thing the property of apparent life, the mystic sensation that this inanimate mass will move if we but turn the eyes away from it, is so remarkable that the meaning of life as life acquires an extraordinary value (ibid.).

We have . . . two powerful factors in sculpture which owe their value to the aesthetic use of space; the delight of the eye in proportions of plane and of mass, and the illusion of life properties which spatial proportions can induce. Both of these are due to design. The pleasure which likeness to a known real object brings must be recognized as a factor in art, but such a pleasure is less vivid and less lasting, and suffers a speedy decay if we realize that in an attempt to gain imitation the suggestion of life has been sacrificed. The aesthetic factor of life is the work of the artist, it depends upon his sense of design, upon what he draws from within himself, and depends much less upon what he copies from nature. We may say that nature is the bucket in which the water is drawn from the well, but nature is not the water. Space in painting has value similar to that in sculpture. The Chinese artists ascribe to space (or infinity) the greatest value in painting as an art; and, because landscape gives to them the best opportunity of space suggestion, they name landscape the most profound of the plastic arts. In painting, space is produced by three means: first, by imitation of the usual effects of nature; secondly, by the spatial properties of colour; thirdly, by spatial qualities of line, perspective, proportion, and so on. The eye can delight in proportions of suggested space in painting even more than it does in sculpture. In painting, space has a value more positive than it has in actual life. The sense of space is distilled out—it becomes a more concentrated draught. Mr. Berenson, the founder of most modern criticism, in his excellent work on the Florentine Painters calls this sense of space in painting “tactile value,” because the sense of space, as we have explained, is allied with the muscles of touch. He says:

How is it that an object the recognition of which in nature may have given me no pleasure becomes when recognized in a picture a source of aesthetic enjoyment? The answer, I believe, depends upon the fact that art stimulates to an unwonted activity psychical process which are in themselves the source of most (if not all) of our pleasures and which here, free from disturbing physical sensations, never tend to pass over into pain. For instance, I am in the habit of realizing a given object with an intensity of two; if I suddenly realize this familiar object with an intensity of four, I receive the immediate pleasure which accompanies a doubling of my mental activity. . . . This is what form does in painting; it lends a higher co-efficient of reality to the object represented, with a consequent enjoyment of accelerated psychical processes and the exhilarating sense of increased capacity in the observer.


There is a general tendency to preach that work is noble, leisure useless and on the whole degrading. The practice of the world contradicts this statement. There is a unanimous tendency to struggle towards a position in which labour becomes no longer a necessity. . . . Only because it is so potently necessary do we elevate it to a virtue in order to take the edge from its undesirablility. . . . In reality leisure is the desirable thing in life, and in spite of the fears of moralists it is rightly to be so considered. If man were habitually of a lazy nature, then leisure would be, no doubt, the evil which it is depicted. But very few men, save in enervating climates, can survive the infinite boredom which continued inaction brings. The man whom fortunate circumstances relieves from the slavery of compulsory work fills it with some activity. It is curious that this activity usually takes the form of some kind of pursuit of which the aim is the enhancement of the consciousness of life or the development of faculties which indirectly lead to life enhancement (“The Value of Art”).

The function of all good art and, indeed, of all forms of real beauty, is to increase the sense of the value of life (ibid.).

In the arts . . . perceptions by which we make our way through the world are suddenly relieved from the mere demands of existence itself. In ordinary life the demands of existence weigh down upon our perceptive powers in the same way that the power of gravity limits us in the use of our strength. On the moon we should suddenly get the sensation of extraordinary force [“If we were to seize a rock which would weigh upon earth a hundredweight, and hurl it from us, we should have almost as much pride in the feat as though the rock were really a hundredweight heavy.”]; in the arts we receive a sense that the powers of perception are doubled or quadrupled in penetration. This reaction produces the feeling of more power to overcome existence; a sense of superior life is communicated to us (ibid.).

Though in life colour is not intensely necessary, yet the colours have quite definite physiological reactions—the excitement of red, the calmness of blue, etc.—by means of which a mood can be evoked, and by means of which the other aesthetic values may be enhanced. Form and movement are the two visual functions of life which are most positively useful. These are, in consequence, the most commonly potent of the life-communicating qualities. In a non-representative (or abstract) art the problem of form reduces itself to a fusion of fine shapes with the suggestions of movement. As soon as realism is allowed, as in sculpture or pictorial art, two other factors come into play in the imitative quality of form and what we may call the aesthetic paraphrase. . . . In the compromise which is undertaken between imitative form and harmonious form, that quality which possesses the least absolute value, the imitative, is the first which is (or may be) discarded. The frankness with which this has been recognized by the present-day artists is the chief factor which so dismays the public (ibid.).

Passing from shape and movement we come to the third perception of use to life, that of space, which is the last developed, as well as the last to be consciously used in painting. . . . In Western painting, the spatial value has been appreciated and used by a few artists of genius. Actually, it is the most important of the visual qualities in the function of life for the spectator. . . . Owing to its importance, the spatial quality when dissociated from the needs of life has a most vivid life-communicating value for the spectator. The sensation of organized space produces in the observer the effect of Infinity in art [distinguish between this and Renaissance perspective] (ibid.).

An artist does not wish to be misunderstood; for if he is not understood his whole artistic life is a failure. Nor, in spite of popular belief, does the artist really delight in shocking the public. The true end and aim of the artist’s effort is appreciation; he is pathetically eager to be loved. But he wishes to be loved at a proper level, at his own level. He is like a women who is bold enough to persist that her husband like her for herself; and not because she becomes merely a sort of human cushion upon which the man can leave his own imprint (“Derain and Vlaminck”).

It is a common reproach levelled at modern artists that they despise the Old Masters, that they do not understand what realistic drawing is. In truth, Picasso and Derain, the leaders of two schools of modern thought in art matters, have always been the most most persistent students of the past and probably know far more about the Louvre than most of their academic opponents (ibid.).

Derain was probably the first who produced studies showing that the novel structure of Cézanne&rquo;s compositions had been understood by a painter, and who thus revealed a new path along which pointed the finger of the old man of Aix (ibid.).

It is, I think , possible that Derain, like Picasso, knows his art galleries too well. The great arts of the past arose to their peculiar excellencies because they despised the arts of their own past. Thus a Renaissance architect, contemptuous of the Gothic, would restore a Gothic church with Renaissance additions. There is in this attitude a certain truth to one’s culture and social conditions which is very healthy, and I feel that these harkings back to the past, on the part of artists like Derain and Picasso, would be the equivalent of a harking back by Renaissance to Gothic (ibid.).

With Gleizes, Cubism pursues its way to a logical development. This art of abstract flat surfaces is an art which, in its way, can reach to the highest points of pictorial purity. It is parallel with the music of the tone poem from which all melody is banished. There is, however, a further development of this abstract painting which I foresee. This is an art of moving shapes and colour, produced by some process akin to the cinema. This art, which has been hinted at in some dramatic productions, still needs the artist who can employ its possibilities. An art of moving abstract colour and form would place painting upon the same footing as music. At present the painting of Gleizes appears to me an arrested moment in a colour-form symphony which as no beginning and no end (“Cubism”).

The modern Realistic school is that which to-day is gaining ground and strength more than its rival, the Cubist, non-representative school. And, indeed, upon analysis the former conforms most nearly to the present stage of civilization. I am afraid that Cubism in art must lie on a level with ideals in politics; universally possible only with a re-created humanity—it is, in fact, the art of Utopia (“The Modern Realists”).

Marie Laurencin is as much an innovator as Matisse. Her line undoubtedly derives much from the Negro art—that simplified source of so much of the direct expression of personal vitality to-day—and something to Botticelli. Her colouring is purely her own. It is said that the most difficult task for the painter is to produce beautiful greys. Marie Laurencin’s silvery tints can only be called neutral because they are greys, but they seem to imply a new gamut of unpaintable colours, and they give an exquisite quality to the reds and blues which she contrasts with them. We may, perhaps, consider that women’s most valuable contribution to civilization has been the raising of taste. Marie Laurencin’s taste is impeccable. Was it not Peter Pindar who said, “Give me one man of taste and I will find you twenty men of genius”? (“The Women Painters”).

The Russian school is dominated by two factors: the peasant feeling for applied art, and the practice of Icon painting, which is a direct descendant from Byzantine decoration. We who live in the heterogeneous interiors to which bad taste, no taste, and manufactured taste have condemned us, can scarcely realize what it means to have been brought up in the midst of surroundings which have a uniform character and which belong to a national and therefore natural scheme of decoration. We cannot realize what it meant to be a Gothic, or an Egyptian, or a Greek, nor can we realize what it means to be a Russian (“The Slavonic Influence”).

The influence of Slavonic household art shows immediately when the Slav sets himself to painting. Roughly speaking, the Slavonic school possesses in the highest degree in Europe the power of colour as design. Even in great French colorists, such as Cézanne and Renoir, one finds that the beauty of the colour is a general beauty of interharmonized tints. If one stands so far away from a Renoir that all detail disappears one finds that the colour is distributed in vague patches, which are usually pleasing, but which are not very definitely organized into what one can call pattern. This power of colour design has of course struck the public in the Russian Ballets. . . (ibid.).

The second quality which stands out in the Slavonic shool is the heritage from the Byzantine which comes through the Greek Church and through Icon painting. In this art the artists can consider personages and objects as symbols rather than as representation; the symbol must be made recognizable, and once this necessity has been fulfilled the artist may take what liberties he likes. . . . Chagall may be considered as the pre-eminent representative of this element in Slavonic art, though it is is keenly present in the work of Gontcharova and Larianoff, as well as in that of the extremely versatile Madame Vssilieff (ibid.).

Cézanne ends logically in Gleizes or Picasso. Van Gogh ends logically in Dufy and the Polish painter, Kandinsky. But logical conclusions may be a little difficult for humanity to swallow; nor, indeed, it it necessary that logical conclusions be right. After all, the logical conclusion is only the logical conclusion of one aspect, it must neglect a host of other points of view. Human existence is possible because we are not receptive to logical but prefer harmonized or balanced conclusions (“Conclusion”).

One can assert almost with confidence that the public may expect no new shocks for a very long while. New genius will arise of course, but it will be within the limits of the new tradition. If the public can assimilate all that it has recently received, it will be able to assimilate all that it will receive for a century or so (ibid.).


Thursday, August 11, 2005 +

Beuron 2

Beuron 1 2 3 4 5

Jan Gordon

A work of art which has the power of operating only upon two or three persons, if it operates strongly enough, is a great work; for the value of art cannot be measured by the extent of its audience, but by the quality of emotion which it produces in its most responsive spectator.
Jan Gordon, Modern French Painters (1923),


Beuron 1

Beuron 1 2 3 4 5

Rising Crosses

Notes 135

I am saying things which will some day be thought of, rather than trying to get the attention of anyone.
—John Jay Chapman

Few read Chapman today, but for now the long view is still the right one. Our complaints are true, but the future will not find them very interesting.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 +

Notes 134

Anything I say to draw attention to me is wrong. Anything I say that draws attention to me is wrong.

To say “we need to” is already to admit defeat. Just say: Go, Come, Do this.

What if Rome had fallen without Christianity?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005 +

Notes 133

Do not love God too quickly.

2005 08 09 +

I believe that if I live long enough, I shall say something worth remembering.

Notes 132

Sex cannot be all that important, or men and women would be more attractive.

Democrats don’t believe in their own candidates. Republicans believe too much in theirs.

Why don’t your priests see that most Catholics won’t visit you in a Blessed Sacrament Chapel but will visit you in the main part of the church?

Political parties fight over the same bone.

A lie: sex without consequences.

It is not my body until I take responsibility for it; even then, it is not my body.

Admittedly, my reasons are rationalizations. But if my rationalizations are false, so may my motives be.

Monday, August 08, 2005 +

Notes 131

A surfeit of art: it is art that is the problem, for we do not suffer from a surfeit of beauty.

Religion vs. morality: the conflict cannot be ultimate, otherwise Jesus would be divided. A rogue tamed is useful to society, while a dull clod resisting temptation is heroic even if, pace Trilling, he does not look like one. To forgive those who trespass against us: is this religion or morality? Few artists are artistic, fewer philosophers philosophical. Neither the Prodigal Son nor his brother was good. There is none good but one, that is, God.

On sola scriptura: Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, . . . But I say unto you, . . .

Independent thinkers mainly want people to agree with them.

Faith is fulfilled by works. Works are the testimony of faith.

God speaks. The Bible is a book.

Goodness does not require choosing. A good person who acts without deliberating may still be doing good as a person and not as a robot, because no person is a robot. Natural grace is still grace, and still supernatural. When Jesus said to the leper, I will; be thou clean, he did not first think, I don’t have to do this. Not to deny that choosing good is also good, and also supernatural. Not my will, but thine, be done.

Bible reading should not be all that important when the population is illiterate.


Photographs taken by my friend and colleague Jay Holcomb:

Today I spent 45 minutes sitting and standing near our hummingbird feeder, and was richly rewarded. The exterior walls of our kitchen and back entryway form an L. The feeder is straight out from that L. I stood in the L, just 12 feet or so from the feeder, and the birds seemed to ignore me. I was shooting at from 1/1,000 to 1/1,600 second.

I think that [the first] pic shows a male. Usually the males have bright red throats, but in this image it's not very vivid. The others are of a female(s). They're a lot of fun to watch. Enjoy.