cut off from the past: and a long way from home

There is always much talk of the occult in art,the dark side of modern art, the falsification to no end, the artifice, the signs of horror, the negation of beauty and above all, the inability to love. We can think of the difference say between Lucian Freud and Van Gogh.And why do some people feel Duchamp and Freud as being offensive in comparison to Rembrandt or Da Vinci? Can an earnest pathlogy make great art? Or, is expressing beauty in art simply an inadequate objective in the face of the manufacturing of content in art, a predominance of non-aesthetic content; the ready-mades, the production of Warhol. Add to this the alleged in the mumbo jumbo, pseudo occult, junk science, rudimentary kaballah,  sprinkled forces either beyond one’s control or in the grip of, that more theological critics like Hamilton Reed Armstrong have argued.

Certainly, there is a regressive sense of destructive alienation, unresolved contradiction and some soft nihilism that informs avant-garde art. Ironically, this is the janus headed side to its so-called progressiveness.In theory, its a breakaway from the cult of “precious object in a gilded frame” but it merely supplants one form oft art commerce for a new mode that in terms of economics may be more insidious since there is no aesthetic content. Why should a Damien Hirst sell for more than Otto Dix? Donald Kuspit advocates the New Old Masterism: But it has become part of the larger picture of the object — of an attempt to show that it is still possible to remain intact despite the experience of the negative forces in modernity — to have ego strength despite the experience of the indifference and violence that threaten it. The whole — if flawed — figures of the New Old Masterism symbolize this new integrity.

Image: Kuspit:Hamilton's decadent, pompous, facile avant-gardism suggests that the end has arrived in full entropic regalia. Certainly Hamilton's peculiarly wimpish conceptual art, with its clichéd criticism of America -- trendy leftism -- seems anti-climactic -- a real letdown -- after the big bang Manet's paintings caused and the even bigger bang of Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism. (Each new avant-garde shock was supposed to be bigger than the last one, but one can't help wondering whether it was an increasingly weak echo of it. This seems implicit in our speaking of "Pop Surrealism," "Neo-Expressionism," "Neo-Abstraction," "Neo-Dadaism," etc. These terms suggest a falling off of power and absence of originality, as well as a repackaging of used goods. They suggest that creativity has degenerated into cleverness -- that imagination has become stale.)

Kuspit: Shock art fails because it fails to shock, fails to inform, and fails to support a consistent theory of progression. Furthermore, it fails because in order to achieve this massive failure it supplanted a much richer history of art. On the other hand, grotesqueries and other examples of the gratuitously ugly fail to provide meaningful content in that they are not relatable to any possible mythopoetics. They mimic historical forms without tying into the myths that gave life to these forms. That is, their depth is only a phantom.Some will say, this doesn’t leave us much. We have been cut off from the past.

…But it was Duchamp who futilely railed against the fact that his readymades were quickly appropriated by the market, and came to be thought of as harbingers of a new taste for “vernacular” beauty, that is, the unexpected beauty of ordinary things. Whether or not he liked it, and however ironically, they were his self-expression — emblems of his creativity. What he thought of as “anti-social” was quickly socialized….

---Kuspit:Duchamp was a terrorist, wasn't he?...I just wanted to say that I don't think it's so bizarre at all. Duchamp was a terrorist and so was Hitler, and Duchamp was a fetish object, as Hitler is. And a lot of art historians, there are a whole group of art historians who click their intellectual heels and make the Duchamp salute these days. They are both fairly disruptive figures. I think Duchamp was an extremely disruptive influence on art, despite the rationalization of it as, quote, conceptual and so forth. So I think it is a wonderful and actually rather insightful connection to put Hitler and Duchamp together." Read More:

Avant-garde art has always eschewed “staying power” in favor of the surprising moment, which makes one wonder what it leaves behind — what it looks like after the the Sturm und Drang with which it announces itself has faded away.By definition a shock is transient, and does more damage than good. Why should the avant-garde shock of the new be any different? What does it look like when it is old? Is it as much a ruin as the ruins it created, if different in kind?Avant-garde art was originally an earthquake that destroyed an old city of art — an old consciousness of art. Is the new city it built any better — better able to survive a future earthquake? Just as the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was profoundly disillusioning for true believers — how could God perpetrate such destruction? Read More:

---I suggest that our fin de siécle is witnessing -- if one looks at the total picture of art making today, not simply at the current favorites -- a longing for beauty as well as the over-intellectualization and homogenization of avant-garde innovation, symptoms of its decline, that is, of the cliché newness has become. I think the New Old Master beauty has assimilated and accommodated the old avant-garde perversity -- which is what avant-gardism looks like in retrospect -- rather than dispensed with it or transcended it. --- Read More:

Hamilton Reed Armstrong:Leaving its philosophical roots aside for the moment, the shift from the focus on art as a reflection on the beauty of a divinely created cosmos to the cult of what might best be termed, “Art for the Artist’s sake” can be traced to some of the most famous 20th century painters. Picasso and Marcel Duchamp with their distorted views of humanity and Wasilly Kandinsky, Kasimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian as founders of Abstraction set the stage and led the way. These “artists,” along with a host of others, abandoned the realm of nature and observed reality in favor of the realm of subjective creativity and picture plane reality. The artist’s canvas became a world unto itself as the work of an individual genius involved in his own causi sui project. There thus arose from this paradigm shift as many aesthetics and as many realities as there were artists….

Vincent Desiderio.---The New Old Masterism involves a renewal of creative power, inspired by the creative power of the Old Masters -- a renewal that leaves theory in the dust, and reminds us that to define art only in conceptual or philosophical terms is to castrate it, or, to put this another way, with equally disastrous effect, to actually cut in half the baby that Solomon's wisdom never did divide. To split off the conceptual and philosophical in art from its material and craft is a pathological intellectualization of art at the expense of its potential for beauty -- a pseudo-austere puritanism (really a failure and inhibition of the imagination), eschewing the pleasure and delight it gives...Read More:

…By the 1940s New York critic Clement Greenberg was speaking of:”purities,” “essences,” “formal factors,” and “logics of readjustment.” He lamented that the future of American art lay in the hands of fifty brave souls who lived in bohemian squalor, misunderstood and rejected by the boorish American middle class…. In the 1950s Greenberg espoused Jackson Pollack while his rival critic Harold Rosenberg picked up Willem de Kooning. Action Painting was born and the accepted emphasis changed from the “picture plane reality” of each canvas to: “It’s not what you paint it’s how involved you are that counts.” In the words of Harold Rosenberg, “The big moment came when it was decided to paint…just to paint. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation, from value – political, aesthetic, moral.”  By the following decade the whole concept of Abstrac

t had abstracted itself right out of existence with Minimalism. Ad Reinhardt’s paintings of Black on Black, which, being nothing, is as far as you can abstract anything, took the movement to its logical conclusion in a negation of nothing. In the prophetic words of founding father, Malevich, ” Now with pride we spit on you.”…

paula rego. ---The greatness of avant-garde art has to with its subjective implications -- it was a heroic visionary attempt to articulate the new sense and difficulties of being a subject and self that modernity brought with it -- the new suffering, as it were. The New Old Masterism does not deny avant-garde art's insights into the human condition as it is experienced in and defined by modernity, but suggests that there is more to human existence than fragmentation and anxiety. It insists that one can get beyond the perverse effects of perverse modern life. --- Read More:

…According to the authors of The Spiritual in Art, Abstract Painting 1890-1985, a voluminous catalogue prepared for a show of Modern Art at the Los Angeles County Museum, the common denominator of the Modern Art hanging in prestigious galleries and museums today is the preoccupation of its producers with occult spirituality. The catalogue’s list of artists who have dabbled in the occult is a “who’s who” of Modern Art: Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Augusto Giacometti, Adolf Gotlieb, Jasper Johns, Wassily Kandinsky, Ellsworth Kelly, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Eduard Munch, Barnett Newman, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollack, Ad Reinhart, Mark Rothko, and Albert Pinkham Ryder, among a host of others. Only Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, considered sell-outs and successful materialists by the self appointed establishment, are missing….

Read More: ---For some years, Kuspit has gone out of his way to attack the work of Marcel Duchamp. In an article published in 1993 in the New Art Examiner, he begins by describing Duchamp as representing "the beginning of the end." The way he sees it, Duchamp's decision to stop painting was brought on by a conscious and deliberate repudiation of the physical and sensuous (esthetic) aspects of painting, the result, as he summarizes it, "of his spiteful admission that he could not keep up with Matisse"

…The catalogue also contains an appendix of the “occult” sources of these artists: Alchemy, Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, Paracelcus, Jacob Boehm, Rosicrucianism, Spiritualism, Swedenborg, Shamanism, and Theosophy, among others. Of traditional Christianity or Judaism there is no mention. The common denominator of all of these systems according to Maurice Tuchman, organizer of this exhibition and its catalogue, is that they all share the following world view:

“The universe is a single, living substance; mind and matter also are one; all things evolve in dialectical opposition; thus the universe comprises paired opposites (male-female, light-dark, vertical-horizontal, positive-negative), [sic] everything corresponds in a universal analogy, with things above as they are below; imagination is real; and self realization can come by illumination, accident, or an induced state.” ….

Read More: ---He went on to describe Duchamp's invention of the readymade as "the residue of self-castration," his signature on the objects as nothing short of "a confidence game," causing Kuspit to question their status as bona fide artistic artifacts. Utilizing techniques borrowed from Freudian analysis, he then posits the farfetched theory that what motivated Duchamp was his "profound hatred of the body (especially the female body), and ultimately of the human." ---

In Man and His Symbols a book edited by Carl Jung, and one fundamental to the understanding of Modern Art, psychologist Aniela Jaffe points out a reason for this interest in the occult:

“It must be realized that what these artists, Jean Arp, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian etc.] were concerned with was something far greater than a problem of form and distinction between “concrete” and abstract,” figurative and non-figurative. Their goal was the center of life and things, their changeless background and an inward certitude. Art had become mysticism… Their mysticism was alien to Christianity, for that “Mercurial Spirit” is alien to the heavenly spirit. Indeed it was Christianity’s dark adversary that was forging its way in art. Here we begin to see the real historical and symbolic significance of “modern art.” Like the hermetic movements in the Middle Ages, it must be understood as a mysticism of the spirit of the earth and therefore as an expression of our time compensatory to Christianity….As has already been pointed out, the alchemists personified this spirit as “the spirit Mercurius” and called it with good reason “Mercurius Duplex” [ the two-faced, dual Mercurius ]. In the religious language of Christianity, it is called the devil. But, however improbable it may seem, the devil too has a dual aspect. In the positive sense he appears as Lucifer–literally, the light bringer.. …Looked at in the light of these difficult and paradoxical ideas, modern art [ which we have recognized as symbolic of the chthonic (earthly) spirit ] has a dual aspect. In the positive sense it is the expression of a mysteriously profound nature-mysticism; in the negative, it can only be interpreted as the expression of an evil destructive spirit. The two sides belong together, for the paradox is one of the basic qualities of the unconscious and its contents.” 6. Jaffe goes on to quote one of the patriarchal figures of modern art, Paul Klee: “Even evil must not be a triumphant or degrading enemy, but a power collaborating in the whole.”

Dr. Jung, himself, was perhaps the world’s greatest theoretician of the occult. His attempts to resolve the internal dialectics of nature in terms of universal male and female principles were thoroughly promethean. Transforming the sexual theories his teacher, Sigmund Freud, he delved into the shadowy world of the medieval alchemists, the oriental Tao, and the Jewish Kabbalah to produce a vision of the individual human being and the cosmos as a dialectical union of two princples—the male (conscious, rational, heavenly) and the female (unconscious, intuitive, earthly). Jung ultimately embraced an amalgamation of Manechean dualism and the ancient Kabbalistic view of seeing material reality -yesh as an emanation of the unknowable first principle Ayn Sof thus rendering “God” the source of evil (restrictive matter -kelipot) as well as good (emancipating light-orot — spirit -ruah). In his book, The Psychological Approach to the Trinity, Jung proposed that God (like man) in order to realize his ultimate “wholeness” ought to recognize his “dark side” and “reincorporate” within himself creation in its entirety. The devil, as prince of this world, Jung finds to be a “Son of God” just as Jesus; and this son is to be incorporated into the Trinity so as to establish the more symmetrical “Quartinary.” 8 The influence of Jung on 20th century art and culture cannot be overstated.

Cult and culture go hand in hand, for today as throughout history art is intimately tied to religion. In the words of the late curator of Oriental art at the Boston Museum of Fine arts, Ananda Coomarswamy, “We must stop telling people about art, and start telling them what art is about. It is about God, whom we rarely mention in polite society.”…Read More:
“While over 60% of the Americans claim to believe in the fundamental truths of Christianity; the Virgin Birth, Physical Resurrection, and Divinity of Jesus (Washington Times, Dec. 21, 2003), Dan Brown’s blasphemous novel, The Da Vinci Code with 4 million copies in print, is a runaway best seller. It has been #1 on the New York Times list for months. The theme is simple. It is about an alleged sexual relationship between Jesus of Nazarteth and Mary Magdalen, the perfidy of the Catholic Church in covering up this relationship, Sacred Sex and the Eternal Feminine. For the educated Christian reader this sort of writing is simply ludicrous, but the book has obviously struck a chord in the collective imagination of a large segment of the population. Its appeal, in fact, does not, however, stop at our shores. The Da Vinci Code has, to date, been translated into 35 languages. What is the appeal of this book?” Hamilton Reed Armstrong, from “The Da Vinci Code Decoded” …

…”In his 1782 treatise Die Natur, Goethe wrote “Nature! We are surrounded and enveloped by her – unable to step outside her, unable to get into her more deeply. Un-asked and unwarned, she takes us up into the circle of her dance and carries us along till we are wearied and fall from her arms…Men are all in her and she in all…Even the most unnatural is Nature , even the crudest pedantry still has at touch of her genius…Life is her fairest invention, death but her artifice whereby to have much life… All is there in her always. She knows not past or future. Present is her eternity. And she is good and I praise her in all her works.” Hamilton Reed Armstrong, from “The Da Vinci Code Decoded” Read More: ( Armstrong )

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