Threatening complacency and self-satisfaction. Wallowing in the glory of inertia. Taking a pass on disturbing entrenched assumptions. By extension, not resisting to conformity means a negation of what is regarded as the uncannily human, meaning one ventures onto the slippery slope, slipping on the banana peel that could lead to nihilism and reinforce tendencies marking an inability to love. …
The difference between uncritical consciousness of a realistic painting done by Repin contrasted with the critical consciousness of a Picasso abstract painting. Is the uncritical when there is no discontinuity between art and life? Something meaningless that implies no necessity to accept a convention. And is only a critical consciousness one that is discontinuous with everyday consciousness which then is usually perceived to be shallow, superficial and often ingratiating resulting in a swallowing of familiar appearances at face value. These were the issues Clement Greenberg posited in his analysis of kitsch in art which he did not regard as art but as decorative product.
Greenberg doesn‘t say so, because for him Repin‘s representation is kitsch—which, like all kitsch, doesn‘t make demands on consciousness–but even Repin uses certain conventions to convince everyday consciousness—peasant consciousness, Greenberg calls it—that it is looking at a slice of life. Repin‘s representation does not discomfort consciousness, indeed, it is so comforting that one doesn‘t realize that creative work—of whatever quality—is responsible for its success as an illusion of reality. Greenberg refuses to acknowledge it, but deceptive illusionism involves aesthetic subtlety: Repin‘s picture, for all its seemingly naive realism, involves what Greenberg calls ―plastic‖ or formal values. Repin may be a conformist, in Baudelaire‘s sense, but he is not an altogether naïve conformist: he synthesizes Courbet‘s method of rendering material reality and Pissarro‘s method of rendering atmosphere (―immaterial‖ reality)–no doubt slickly reified into rules. Kitsch always involves the routinization of conventions into fixed rules mindlessly and unemotionally obeyed. This is undoubtedly why Repin‘s painting appealed to a peasant consciousness, and was not convincingly artistic for Greenberg….
Here we touch on the essence of how enlivening or deadening, electrifying or numbing, sparkling or flat, a given work it. Meaning it potential vitality or pathological effect it can have on society and the individual. To catalyze or paralyze. The gulf between love and hate, of bending to the pressure of the status-quo, becoming a defender of the faith, or taking a risk with consciousness, the perilous journey of sorting through the discrepancy between inner meaning and external appearances.
But, Greenberg’s polemic against idealized forms of common sense reeks of disempathy. His own version of the poetics of reason is not air tight. Certainly, a Repin is the corrupted classicism of a Rembrandt or Rubens, the bastard half child manipulating through sentimentality. But Picasso was collapsing form and also burning out the spiritual content in art; innovations on form but also a reinforcing of patriarchy, misogyny and calibrating the exchange value of art to the demands of the marketplace. There is a jolting of consciousness, but little follow up; like a marine who can hit the beach,but not take the battle inland. Perhaps Picasso is simply propaganda catering to another market. The other point is that people who have been traumatised severely may be cognitively unable to assimilate challenging art.
…In sharp contrast, Picasso‘s abstract painting—a Cubist ―play of lines, colors and space that represent [nominally] a woman‖—jolts consciousness. For Greenberg, Picasso‘s painting demands ―reflection upon the immediate impression left by the plastic values.― It is avant-garde not only because it is abstract, but because it forces consciousness to advance, that is, to become critical, including critical of itself. It awakes consciousness from its unreflective slumber, compelling it to cultivate itself if it wants to comprehend the Picasso—which everyday peasant consciousness may not want to do, because the Picasso is a threat to its complacency and self-satisfaction. It feels at one with the lifeworld it sees—experiences no discontinuity between itself and external reality, between its life and the lifeworld. Why would it want to disturb its assumptions about reality with the Picasso? Why would it want to become conscious of its plastic values when what matters is to feel at home in it? Why should a woman‘s body be reduced to its plastic values, making it harder to embrace, and, for that matter, not particularly attractive?…
…Why should a woman be reduced to lines, colors and spaces when the problem is how to make love to her? What makes an artistic ―anti-woman‖ and ―anti-body‖ more interesting and engaging than an actual woman and live body, or the seductive illusion of their reality? Why should art be a problem when life is enough of a problem? …Kitsch consciousness can‘t see them, but avant-garde consciousness is sensitive to them and introjects them. Reflection ―alchemically‖ extracts and purifies them, separates the formal body of the work from its superficial representational skin. In a final, critically crucial dialectical move, consciousness imaginatively projects them back into the work, giving it the numinous aura that only pure presence can have. No longer mundane—bound by representational purpose—the work becomes pure art…. Read More:http://nceca.net/static/documents/CSF/Kuspit_essay_w_intro.pdf
In short, an artist can have great knowledge of the properties of his material medium—he can be a consummate positivist–but no imaginative point of view. To put this in Baudelaire‘s terms, unless art is informed by love and hate, leading to what Winnicott called ―imaginative elaborations‖ of lifeworld experience–contradictory yet uncannily equilibrated elaborations, love involving the subject‘s adaptive dependence on the lifeworld in dialectical recognition of the fact that it is the only source, however unreliable, of material satisfaction, and hate paradoxically asserting the subject‘s independence from lifeworld, as though no part of the subject‘s identity derived from it—it has no existential and aesthetic consequence….
…It is the unholy dialectic of capitulation and resistance to the historical Zeitgeist and its objective pressure to conform that makes art uncannily human. Art can be technically brilliant but expressively shallow, or technically primitive but expressively significant. It is part of the critic‘s task to disentangle technique and creativity, and to see how they work together, if they do, in a particular art….Read More:http://nceca.net/static/documents/CSF/Kuspit_essay_w_intro.pdf