I am finally free to post some thoughts about mimesis.
I purchased a framed poster of this painting by Kazimir Malevich from a rundown op shop in Yamba, a sleepy coastal village a few years ago, for only two dollars. I repainted the frame and now the picture hangs in my home.
Robert Hughes introduced me to Malevich, as a pre-teen, in the 1970’s with his book and then television program “The Shock of the New”. I was genuinely shocked indeed, that his painting Black Square could be considered Art. It seemed to be a joke; it appeared to be made without artistic skill, it was not attractive, it did not represent the corporeal world. Hughes claimed it was an intellectual or philosophical statement.
Fast forward 30 years. We are in Paris’ Pompidou Centre with our three children, the youngest of whom was staring intently at Suprematist Composition: White On White, 1918, by Malevich. She was very excited, as she had then and there decided which painting to reproduce in her year 7 art class. The assignment asked the students to reproduce a famous art work and write about it.
All three children thought the painting was a joke, without artistic merit. I mentioned what I remembered about Malevich. They were unconvinced.
( My daughter decided on this Mondrian. She didn’t quite nail the crisp lines.)
I bought this cup from the Gallery Shop after visiting the Warhol Ai WeiWei exhibition in Melbourne recently. It reads “MODERN ART = I COULD DO THAT+ YEAH, BUT YOU DIDNT”
I see the artistic impulse, as expressed in drawing, to be part of the human condition. To be able to faithfully reproduce a good likeness of the object being drawn is a skill, a “technical proficiency” says Petherbridge, but as she explains ,
“The belief that to draw an object in the world – take a likeness, as it used to be phrased – is an act of appropriation that goes beyond words in Western art strengthens this materialist understanding of drawing-as-mimetic-skill.” (Petherbridge, 2010, p. 12)
I am grateful to Petherbridge for her clear writing style. It is comforting for someone who lacks this mimetic skill to read about the concept of “the thoughtful hand”, borrowed by Petherbridge from Heidegger. Petherbridge discusses the distinction between mechanical skills and the thoughtful process of “praxis” which seems to include an element of empathy.
I read a book called “Empathy and the Novel” by Suzanne Keen, some time ago. Her thesis is that novel reading makes the reader more empathetic and more likely to do good deeds. Novel reading increased among the Western populace around the time of the enlightenment and the surge of secular thought, individualism and the rise of democracy.
Maybe modern art, with its de-emphasis on mimetic skill and the privileging of dysgraphia as a valued means of democratisation of art making, also relies on altruism and empathy. Petherbridge claims it. I think its more a response to the increased value society places on individualism.
Petherbridge quotes Norma Broude at length (I’m still on page 12), who says that its possible and essential to “identify an artist’s original intention”.
I agree to a point, but it means a huge leap off the plinth of Plato’s ideal beautiful object and ends up at he 2015 Churchie Art Prize, where the curators notes were lengthy and self reverential, overwhelming the art. At least David Walsh’s MONA “art wank” notes are funny.
I purchased a painting from an artist friend some years ago and praised her for its beautiful abstract lines. I found it very attractive. She said in a deadpan voice that she had painted it in response to her father’s death.
I could see then how important it was to know this to understand the painting. As Norma Broude says ” …we will never fully comprehend the fragility of artistic intention…if we deny ourselves this historical starting point: the artist’s conception of his or her own unique intention…” (p. 12).
My question is:
Does knowing my friend’s impetus for making the painting, increase my enjoyment of the piece? In my case; no. It makes it a bit creepy. I just liked it look of it, the sweeping gestures and the colours. I like high contrast.
I cant help thinking though that I’m asking the wrong question.
Petherbridge, D. (2010). The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice. London and New Haven,: Yale University Press.