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Notes Towards Day 22: "The Art in Painting"

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I. 11:25-11:35: Introduction to the BMC Art and Artifact Collections,

by Brian Wallace, curator, and Joelle Collins, graduate student in Art History

II. 11:35-12:30--All of us together
displaying The Power of Patience/ reading two objects:
a Tang dynasty ceramic tomb figure, and a pastel by William Glackens.

III. 12:30-12:40 reading Albert Barnes' The Art in Painting:
explain the role, in Barnes’ essay, of
* the scientific method
* feeling and emotion
* academic tradition
* mysticism.
Return in 10 minutes to report out to the rest of us.

IV. 12:40-12:45: course-keeping
* this weekend: spend two hours @ the Barnes,
@ least 1/2 hour of that time alone with a single work of art
* by Sunday @ midnight, post your eleventh 3-pp. web-event:
a full, thoughtful response to that art work
* for Tuesday: that film several of you requested (okay so, not that film, but a film...):
The Art of the Steal [on reserve in Canaday; also available in Carpenter, in HC's Magill Library
and streaming from Netflix]; three short articles about the recent move of the Barnes Foundation
from Lower Merion into Philadelphia; and to help you make sense of all this,
an essay by a composition guru, Peter Elbow, on "The Believing Game,"
which we will use to play with these materials in class

Wed night postings...

Anne's Reading Notes from Albert Barnes, The Art in Painting
[art appreciation is not “natural,” but requires a systematically/
scientifically trained method of learning to see = the art of patience?]

The method comprises the observation of facts, reflection upon them, and the testing of the conclusions by their success in application…an understanding and appreciation of paintings is an experience that can come only from contact with the paintings themselves…It offers something basically objective to replace the sentimentalism, the antiquarianism, sheltered under the cloak of academic prestige, which make futile present [college] courses in art…(i).

…the method gives [objective] results …it reduces to a minimum the role of merely personal and arbitrary preference.…Our intention is to offer a type of analysis which should lead to the elimination of the prevailing habit of judging paintings by either academic rules or emotional irrelevancy….this is an experiment in the adaptation to plastic art of the principles of scientific method…derived from Dewey’s monumental work (ii-iii).

Chapter 1: The Problem of Appreciation
…appreciation of art is made difficult by the unconscious habits and preconceptions which come to us from contact with a society which is but little interested in art….other interests, such as those of a practical, sentimental, or moral nature…lead [to] a confusion of values….We miss the function of a painting if we look to it either for literal reproduction of subject-matter or for information of a documentary character….We ask of a work of art that it reveal to us the qualities in objects and situations which are significant, which have the power to move us esthetically. The artist must open our eyes to what unaided we could not see (3).

…a painter is often expected to tell a story and is judged by his ability to make the story edifying or entertaining….a literary or moral value is mistaken for a plastic value. Scarcely less destructive to genuine esthetic appreciation is the confusion of technical proficiency and artistic significance….the mind [of the academician] is usually closed to the existence of anything but technique….the most formidable enemy of new movement in art has always been...the hostile academician….The mere fact of novelty, to one who has systematically addressed himself to the old and familiar things, is an irritation. It challenges precious habits, it threatens to overturn judgments (4).

…the ordinary observer has never really learned to see…seeing is something which must be learned, and not something which we all do as naturally as we breathe….impressions….convey nothing to us unless we can interpret them…and interpretation is possible only to one who can bring the residue or record of past experience to bear on any particular situation….At any moment, the sum total of our actual sensations is a chaos….To be conscious of anything….we must disregard nearly all of them, fixing our attention upon those which fit into some intelligible scheme ….But the connections which…”make sense” have all been learned from past experience…It directs our attention (5).

As long as we are really alive, we continue to grow by extending the application of our funded experience, perceiving things more and more precisely and discriminatingly….We perceive only what we have learned to look for (6).

the experience of the artists…is only sharable…if one is willing to make the effort involved in acquiring a comparable set of habits and background. To see as the artist sees…requires not only the best energies of which we are capable, but a methodical direction of those energies, based upon scientific understanding of the meaning of art and its relation to human nature. The artist illuminates the objective world for us, exactly as does the scientist…without a method of learning to see, the study of art can lead only to futility (7).

Chapter 2: The Roots of Art
What distinguishes the response to works of art is that it takes the form of understanding, not merely intellectually but with our whole personality; of re-creating in ourselves…the experience which the work of art records and embodies. This is an intensely active process, and often requires a great expenditure of energy (9).

The “emotionalist” is the sentimentalist, “whose physiological complexion…involves more poignant emotion than his ideas can absorb.” In a well-coordinated personality, feelings…are fully absorbed by objective things….
Rationality consists…in control of emotion by identification of the self with the situation as it objectively exists….a much less ambiguous word…is “interest.” “Interest” implies [permanent] concern with objective things…an identification of ourselves with something that is real independently of us (10).

...instincts become effective realities only as they become organized interests….the artist…selects aspects for emphasis and gives significant order….But it is appeal to feeling that confers significance….Things are important not in themselves but by virtue of their relation to feeling or interest (11).

Chapter 3: Expression and Decoration
The artist differs from the ordinary person partly by his ability to make what he sees a public object, but chiefly in the range and depth of his vision (13).

The revelation of significance is what constitutes the expression of the artist…Expressive form…always involves the perception of something real (14).

In painting…the direct impact of colors and shapes on the senses is very important…qualities as are immediately apprehended….(16).

…to see at all requires a background of funded experience….We see only by utilizing the vision of others…embodied in the traditions of art. Each of these…represents a systematic way of envisaging the world; taken together, they record…a continuous and cumulative growth….Tradition, however, may be used either as a storehouse of instruments for the resourceful, or as a crutch for the crippled. The moment it ceases to suggest and begins to legislate, academicism sets in. A painter is an artist…only if he is able to select from the work of his predecessors the forms which are adapted to his own designs, modifying them as his individual needs require, and recombining them in a new form  (19).

Chapter 4: The Esthetic Values of Painting
Confusion of values arises only when the spectator is moved, not by what the artist shows him, but by what he does not show him—the historical event. The interest in that is wholly adventitious and…can produce nothing but distraction (25).

…the depth and power of a mind or personality is measured by the variety and subtlety of the forms accessible to it, and by its power to illuminate the whole….Form…is the plan of organization by which…details …are brought into relation…the greater the formal unification of all the constituent matter, the better the painting (27).

In condemning an artist whose form is personal, distinctive, and original, the critic is asserting that art must conform to standards which are basically mechanized or stereotyped, a conception which would empty it of all savor of life. Imitation defines academicism, and conjoined with mere technical skill it sets the standard for whatever type of painting happens to be popular….from constitutes the essence of an object (28).

Academic criticism necessarily fails to estimate justly the work of any artist, because its fixed standards are inapplicable to a world which is in a state of flux (30).

…what an artist places before us is a series of forms, which appear to him as significant, and which were productive of the emotion which he seeks to embody (31).

…no two men have the same fund of experience, and consequently no two men are precisely on a par in their ability to follow the lead given by a painter….appreciation is always in part the creative appreciation of one who is acutely sensitive to forms or who has a large mass of funded experience (37).

There are people who constantly desire experiences as different as possible from those with which they are familiar, who are chiefly concerned to add to the sum their sensations….

There are, in contrast, people who prefer to discriminate between those experiences they already have had and thus to classify, order, and penetrate deeply into a relatively small segment of life. Both interests are legitimate; extensive experience has a value as well as intensive …(37).

…the distinction between form and matter is only relative…we cannot think of form and matter as two independent variables…what is matter in relation to more generalized form, is form with relation to other matter…a state…is matter in relation to the United States......form in its relation to the counties (38).

…there is in every work of great art a pervasive and subtle quality which defies analysis and for the recognition of which no rules are adequate (42).

This ultimate dependence of esthetic appreciation upon something which must be felt, and cannot simply be abstractly formulated, is the final proof of the affinity between art and instinct (43).

Chapter 5: Art and Mysticism
…esthetic value is something which is moving, which must be experienced…the esthetic experience is of a mystical character. Mysticism is a sense of union with something not ourselves….The sense of union with our environment depends directly upon the degree with which such an environment encourages and reinforces our wishes. We can do nothing without some degree of cooperation on the part of things about us….however, the sense of an alien world is rarely banished…Those great agents of isolation—frustration and grief—are the most powerful deterrents to the mystical outgoing of ourselves in the world (45).

When everything conspires to give us what we want, everything appears to be a part of ourselves and the sense of isolation falls away. We are conscious of an immediate expansion of our individuality, and this expansion when vividly and profoundly felt, is the same thing as mysticism….The world of art is a world which has been made by human beings for the direct satisfaction of their wishes. It is the real world stripped of what is meaningless and alien, and remodeled nearer to the heart’s desire. Whatever man does of his own free will and for pleasure, is art….It is deeper harmonies, frustrated by our life in a world so indifferent to our feelings, that art sets in vibration. Through the expressive form…the imperfect expressiveness or responsiveness of material objects is supplemented and heightened (46).