Tuesday, January 10, 2017

the lady had felt hot and had stopped dancing

The river, the women's dresses, the sails of the boats, the innumerable reflexions of one thing and another came crowding into this little square panel of beauty which Elstir had cut out of a marvellous afternoon. What delighted one in the dress of a woman who had stopped for a moment in the dance because it was hot and she was out of breath was irresistible also in the same way in the canvas of a motionless sail, in the water of the little harbour, in the wooden bridge, in the leaves of the trees and in the sky. As in one of the pictures that I had seen at Balbec, the hospital, as beautiful beneath its sky of lapis lazuli as the cathedral itself, seemed (more bold than Elstir the theorician, then Elstir the man of taste, the lover of things mediaeval) to be intoning: "There is no such thing as gothic, there is no such thing as a masterpiece; this tasteless hospital is just as good as the glorious porch," so I now heard: "The slightly vulgar lady at whom a man of discernment would refrain from glancing as he passed her by, would except from the poetical composition which nature has set before him-—her dress is receiving the same light as the sail of that boat, and there are no degrees of value and beauty; the commonplace dress and the sail, beautiful in itself, are two mirrors reflecting the same gleam; the value is all in the painter's eye." This eye had had the skill to arrest for all time the motion of the hours at this luminous instant, when the lady had felt hot and had stopped dancing, when the tree was fringed with a belt of shadow, when the sails seemed to be slipping over a golden glaze. But just because the depicted moment pressed on one with so much force, this so permanent canvas gave one the most fleeting impression, one felt that the lady would presently move out of it, the boats drift away, the night draw on, that pleasure comes to an end, that life passes and that the moments illuminated by the convergence, at once, of so many lights do not recur.
from Le Côté de Guermantes by Marcel Proust, Translated from the French by C. K. Scott Moncrieff

I read this and I thought about the abstract landscapes of Turner and I thought, yes, that's it, the world does in fact look like a Turner even at his most abstract, if you think about it the right way; the vision of the artist is the value of an artwork, yes, which is what places art outside of history and separates the true value of art from it's price at auction. All of which made me think that I could buy an easel and some paints and some canvas and set up as a painter again. Which I won't do, but I had that happy thought for a minute or less.

11 comments:

  1. I for one would be interested to see the results. Who knows, it might affect your writing in interesting ways.

    My winter treadmill listening (when I listen, that is) is Swann's Way. Your fault, I am sure. But I am liking it. Had never managed Proust, but perhaps I shall walk through the books.

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  2. I was a competent but boring painter! But maybe...

    I'm listening to a lot of Beethoven when I'm treadmilling. Beethoven and the Stones; a wide variety of chamber music, that is.

    Swann's Way is the least interesting of the books (at least the first three anyway), though it sets up the pattern the rest of the story keeps looping through. Who's reading it?

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  3. I'm always intrigued by your postings, Scott.
    You and Marly have forced to me acknowledge a crime: my abandoned treadmill sits like a broken down hunk-of-junk midway between bookshelves and doorway in the rarely visited room that had once upon a time been my office. Well, perhaps I will listen to some clarinet music by Mozart. That might salve my treadmill guilt.

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  4. I absolutely hate using my treadmill, but I am always happy to have used it. I can't wait for warm weather when I can run outside again. Running in the neighborhood is excellent for clearing the head. Running on a machine in the basement is plain old boring. All I do is watch the little timer/mph meter.

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    1. Treadmills are abominable. Ours is in the playroom with other things I don't like, so I sometimes watch a movie. Last time I listened to part of a Shakespeare play. But winter this year is so icy that I don't even try to go for a walk. My bones are frightened! And now I shall go hit the treadmill to prove my first statement. Perhaps more Proust this time? I'm glad you say that Swann's Way is the least interesting... I would have been said if you said it declines from there. I am interested in the characters and language so far, but listening is very different from reading on the page. Proust-by-ear seems a good counter-act to the blistering pace of much contemporary fiction.

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  5. 1. If the measure of the vision is the value of the art then how do you measure the vision?

    2. If the value of an artist's manifested vision lies in its resemblance to the world as it is (or as it can be seen to be) then why aren't photographs the most valuable artworks?

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    1. Because:

      a) the measure of the vision is not the value, the vision itself is, and
      b) who says the value of the artist's vision lies in its resemblance to the world? I think Proust's claim is that Elstir's canvas allows the viewer to experience something of Elstir's mental state and the network of associations he imagined, but not necessarily to see an exact reproduction of the physical objects that lay before his eyes.

      So it's a transmission of how things are seen ("seen" not necessarily meaning "captured by the visual sense") that is valuable. Maybe I'm just turning Proust into a commonplace, but I hope not.

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    2. And a late Turner is a view of the real world you can't get from a photograph, I would say. A vision not allowed by photography.

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  6. I'm not sure what you're getting at with that last point unless you're suggesting that a photograph of the real world somehow disallows the kind of hyper- or super-reality of a late Turner, and I don't believe that's the case. Edward Burtynsky's photograph of the Thjorsá River in Iceland is phenomenally disorienting (especially at the huge scale Burtynsky likes to print things) without being anything other than a shot of real water; and if you compare his oil rigs to the winding machines of Hilla and Bernd Becher then you can see similarly-shaped pieces of industrial machinery being fed through two different "visions" - if you want to call them that -- (but this word, "vision," is massively problematic, loaded, troubled, along with "true" (what is the meaning of "true" here? True in the way that a square being said to have four sides is true?) and the sight of "true" being coupled with "value" - which is the outcome of a measuring and evaluative process and doesn't really belong in the same field of language as "vision" if "vision' is being used to mean roughly what it seems to mean in this instance - should be setting off alarm bells ...).

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  7. The answer to your query in b) - "who says the value of the artist's vision lies in its resemblance to the world?" - is that I noticed you were expressing your positive reaction to Turner solely by observing that "the world does in fact look like a Turner" without adding any qualifiers - no appreciative remarks about his paint, his composition, his canvas, or anything other than correlation to a resemblance.

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  8. I confess I'm having trouble following this conversation. I'm not sure I'd interpret "the world does in fact look like a Turner even at his most abstract" as a privileging of direct resemblance; I guess I thought "even at his most abstract" put a clear distance from representation into my appreciation! How about if I say, "Yes, real life is just like Finnegans Wake," which I also think is true?

    I don't know much about photography, I admit.

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