mondrian : boogie woogie underneath

Is looking at a reproduction of art an adequate substitute for the original? According to the theory of Arthur Koestler it is, but there is an apposing theory that art is not merely graphic design or easily transferable through mechanical reproduction or the skilled hands of a copyist. The work of Piet Mondrian has always exposed the theory to a test not easily resolved due to a powerful presence that contradicts the typical view of his work as stark simplicity which would appear to be undermined by complex overlays underneath the work giving it a dynamism and charge of “boogie-woogie” that send Koestler to the scrap heap of ingenious but vacuous intellectual argument, given the intense movement and narrative drama in layers underneath the visible surface of Mondrian’s work. The old saying, still waters run deep….

—When an artist creates he has a problem to which he works out a solution that at least is his aim. The forgery, as Sagoff says, “lacks cognitive importance: it simply repeats a solution to a problem which has already been solved.” By copying, an artist might learn the solution to a problem that has already been solved but will not necessarily learn how to recognize other problems or resolve them when they meet them. Sagoff claims that a forgery has the relation of similarity to the original which represents something but the original bears the relationship of denotation to what it represents. I can however appreciate a forgery for its purely intrinsic aesthetic qualities even though I know it to be a forgery.—Read More:

(see link at end)….What the research makes clear is that Mondrian’s method for reworking the paintings was intuitive and exploratory. He did not follow any preconceived mathematical principles but rather composed by eye, trying one change and then another.

If his only concern had been abstract design, then painting over his earlier work would have been an acceptable way of presenting new ideas, but this was not how Mondrian proceeded. Before adding a new area of color, he detached the canvas from the stretcher and laboriously scraped away the old paint in that spot, then built up the surface again.

“It was a quite physical, almost violent process of revision,” Cooper said.

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Close-up photos of the paintings show not the smooth, featureless surface one might expect if Mondrian’s chief concern had been to convey a disembodied world of shapes, but a highly textured field of brushstrokes, some short, some long, angled in different directions as well as cross-hatched. …

… A raucous blues form originating in roadhouses and rent parties, boogie-woogie would not seem to be the kind of music a worshiper of ideal forms would be attracted to. Nor does Mondrian, a severe, angular figure wearing round, thick glasses and a three-piece suit (photos of the artist can be seen in the exhibition), conform to most people’s idea of a jazz fan. But in actuality, Mondrian maintained an intense interest in American jazz throughout most of his life. According to Cooper, he even took dancing lessons and kept up with all the latest steps.

But Cooper and Spronk’s strongest argument for supplanting the idealist view of Mondrian with a materialist view comes not from the artist’s musical tastes but from the laboratory.

Their examination of the paintings went far beyond the capacity of the naked eye, encompassing X-ray, ultraviolet, infrared, and microscopic photography. These techniques allowed them to penetrate beyond the surface of the paintings and to make deductions not only about Mondrian’s changes but also the order in which he made them. In many cases, the curators were able to compare their findings with photographs of the paintings in Mondrian’s Paris studio, thus adding a further dimension to the study….Read More:

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(see link at end)…If aesthetic properties are always emergent then they cannot be said to be said to be either internal or external to the art work. It looks as though the distinction between internal and external properties as made by Koestler and Lessing for the purposes of this argument is an unnecessary one.

Let us summarize a little before going on. It is not the case then, as some writers, think that aesthetic qualities are only internal to the work of art and anything outside the work of art must be by definition non-aesthetic. Lessing and Koestler think that because there are no distinguishable visual properties in an exact copy and an original and aesthetic properties are internal visual propeties, then there will be no distinction in the aesthetic value of a copy and an original.

We do not see things in isolation from everything else. That is we do not passively receive information and then interpret what we see by assigning a meaning to it. When we see a tree in the distance through the window we do not think for a minute that it is only two inches high, though that is what we see. Our perception is governed by it’s context.

When Manet and Cezanne produced their first works they were criticised for overthrowing all the hard won artistic values developed since the Renaissance. They were thought to be incompetent because their pictures did not live up to the standards of conventional pictorial representation. Because their critics were seeing their paintings in the light of traditional figure paintings, they were unable to see them in their contemporary setting. They failed to see what it was the artists were trying to say. This was an attempt to change people’s views of traditional aesthetic values, that is, to do something different from David and Ingres. Thus the achievement of the artist in doing successfully what he set out to do when he creates is not incidental to our judgement of the aesthetic value of his work but a necessary constituent of it. We judge the work by the artist’s own tenets of success or failure. This sense of achievement is necessarily missing in a forgery. Read More:

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