Die Fälschung

Höhle / Cave (c) Samantha Groenestyn

Nelson Goodman (1976: 102) fragt sich, warum es einen ästhetischen Unterschied zwischen einem Gemälde und einer Fälschung gibt, ein Problem das unter den Künste spezifisch für die Malerei zu sein scheint. In der Abwesenheit eines (gegenwärtigen, aber vielleicht erreichbaren) wahrnehmbaren Unterschieds, verlangt er einen Erkenntnisgrund, vom Ursprungs des Kunstwerks, von der Herstellung von der Hand des Künstlers (Goodman, 1976: 104; 106; 116). Diese Erkenntnis soll eine grundlegende sein; sie fällt nicht ins der Augen von allen, die das Werk beobachten. Goodman will den Wert des Bildes retten, wo die Wahrnehmung scheitert und wo die Fälschung einen Anspruch auf Wert zu nehmen bedroht. Dagegen verteidige ich die Wahrnehmung: Der Beweis den wir verlangen liegt doch an der Oberfläche, in der Zugehörigkeit (oder dem Mangel davon) eines Bildes zu einem körperlich ausgedachten Gedankengang. Die Frage von Goodman ist schlecht gestellt; ich lege sie so neu dar: Worin liegt die Fälschung in der Malerei? Eine Untersuchung des umstrittenen Themas der Ähnlichkeit begleitet uns zur Antwort, dass die Fälschung in der Unterbrechung eines Vorgangs liegt, nicht bloß in der falschen Zuschreibung der Identität des Urhebers.

Die Ähnlichkeit, spottet Goodman (1972: 437), ist ein falscher Freund. Sie erklärt weder Identität noch Unterschied. Zwei ähnliche Dinge sind nicht gleich, und deren gemeinsamen Einzelheiten bieten keinen systematischen Grund an, jene Dinge zusammenzufassen. Wenn zwei Gemälde ähnlich scheinen, begegnen wir einem eigenartigen Problem, indem wir wissen, oder wir verlangen, dass sie trotzdem verschiedene Werke sind. Ein Musikstück, im Gegenteil, oder ein literarisches Werk, wird nicht bloß als ähnlich mit weiteren Instanzen von sich selbst beschrieben, sondern als gleich (Goodman, 1976: 112). Solche Werke sind daher duplizierbar: die unzählbaren Instanzen davon werden als echt gerechnet; zwar, als dasselbe Werk. Ein Gemälde erlaubt keine solche Wiederholung; die Begriffe ,Duplikat’ und ,Replikat’ sind in diesem Bereich unzulässig (Goodman, 1978: 49). Das Gemälde gehört dementsprechend zu einer Klasse von Kunstwerken, die einzeln sind: Jedes Bild ist ein selbständiges und einzigartiges Kunstwerk. Eine ,Kopie’ im Bereich der Malerei hat also einen ganz anderen—insbesondere einen negativen—Status. Obwohl unabhängig, ist die Kopie als ein degradiertes Werk betrachtet, deren Ähnlichkeit zu einem Anderen ihren minderwertigen Status sichert.

Nach Palma Vecchio

Die Künste trennen sich deshalb ins zwei Kategorien, die Goodman (1976: 113) ,allographisch’ und ,autographisch’ nennt. Ein Kunstwerk wird als autographisch betrachtet wenn und nur wenn die genaueste Duplizierung davon nicht als genuin zählt. Allographische Kunstwerke lassen sich multiplizieren; Stefan Zweig, zum Beispiel, muss nicht jedes Buch selbst drucken, um zu sichern, dass das Werk ihm gehört. Goodman (1976: 114-115) erprobt eine Erklärung, die von Einphasigkeit oder Mehrphasigkeit abhängig ist: Ob ein Werk, zum Beispiel, eine Phase des Schreibens und eine des Spiels verlangt. Die Trennung ist aber nicht ohne Komplikationen, wie er selbst erkennt (Goodman, 1976: 115). Ein Buch muss nicht notwendig vorgelesen, nicht einmal gelesen werden, wie ein Musikstück gespielt werden muss. Allographische Werke benötigen weitere Phasen hauptsächlich weil die flüchtig und nicht von einer Person hervorbringbar sind. Er trifft auf die Ausnahme der Radierung, welche nicht einzigartig erscheint, und doch mehrphasig ist. Der Unterschied lässt sich also nicht durch Ein- oder Mehrphasigkeit erklären.

Selbst Goodmans Unterschied scheint eher die Körperlichkeit eines Werks zu implizieren. Ein allographisches Werk scheint in etwas Unkörperlichem zu bestehen, das Werk selbst ist unabhängig vom flüchtigen physischen Medium, in welchem es aufgenommen ist. Ein autographisches Werk scheint genau in seiner Ausdehnung zu bestehen, in der Prägung der Hand der Künstlerin. Auch die Musik erfüllt nicht die Bedingung der Körperlichkeit. Die Töne schallen, sie stimulieren die Sinne, sind aber ungreifbar, nicht festhaltbar. Ein physisches Zeichen ist auf die Hand der Künstlerin zurückführbar; ein Wort oder eine Note (außer der Stimme der Künstlerlin selbst) nicht. Eine Radierung ebenso, würde ich behaupten. Eine Radierung ist nicht allein durch den Kupferstich vollkommen. Ein Druck den Rembrandt von seinem eigenen Kupferstich anfertigt, hat besondere Eigenschaften, die einem Druck von der Hand eines Anderen fehlen; viele technische Entscheidungen bleiben beim Auftragen von Tinte, im Aufreiben davon, in der Bewegung der Hand, die die Tinte aufträgt. Ein Druck von der Hand eines Anderen ist keine einfache Duplizierung, auch wenn es keine Fälschung ist. Der Mangel liegt woanders.

Die drei Hütten, Zustand I (von Rembrandt selbst gedruckt)

Die drei Hütten (Von Bretherton gedruckt)

 

Laut Goodman (1976: 116) ist es genau diese Verbindung zur Hand des Künstlers die wir identifizieren müssen, um den Ursprung und deshalb die Identität des Werks zu bestimmen. Mit allographischen Werken ist der Ursprung über einen anderen Weg identifizierbar: durch die entsprechende Notation. Gemeinsam mit den allographischen Werke ist das Mittel, sie zu notieren; sie zu buchstabieren (Goodman, 1976: 115). Die von der Buchstabierung zugelassene syntaktische Ersetzbarkeit sichert die Unabhängigkeit eines allographischen Werks von seinem Urheber, was für autographische Werke nicht möglich sein soll, welche Hand-abhängig bleiben (1976: 195). Obwohl die Buchstaben eine physische Form nehmen, hängt ihre Duplizierung nicht von dieser Form ab. Verschiedene Manifestierungen, in verschiedenen Schriftenarten und Handschriften, behalten eine formlose syntaktische Identität.

Dagegen erörtert Merleau-Ponty (1966 [1945]: 181), dass auch die physikalische Manifestierung eines Gedichts für das Gedicht wesentlich ist, dass auch ein Gedicht keine freischwebende, unkörperliche Form hat: ,Doch wenn es sich auch von unserer vitalen Gestikulation loslöst, so löst das Gedicht sich doch nicht von jederlei materiellem Grund, es ist unrettbar verloren, wenn sein Text nicht genau bewahrt ist; seine Bedeutung schwebt nicht frei im Himmel der Ideen: sie ist eingeschlossen in die Wörter auf irgendeinem Stück Papier.’ Das Gedicht, behauptet Merleau-Ponty, wie jedes anderen Kunstwerk, existiert als ein Ding, es ist von seinem Ausdruck untrennbar (1966: 181). Die Auffassung Merleau- Pontys zeigt allerdings nicht, dass ein Gedicht nicht duplizierbar wie ein Gemälde ist. Im Gegenteil eröffnet sie einen Weg zu argumentieren, dass ein Gemälde, wie ein Gedicht, kein geschlossenes Ding ist. Was Merleau-Ponty identifiziert und in Frage stellt, ist das platonische Vorurteil, dass alles Sichtbare auf einem perfekten Ideal abhängt, dass alle Ähnlichkeiten zu einem Urbild zusammenlaufen versuchen (Platon, Tim. 28a). Wenn alle Kunstwerke stattdessen ununterscheidbar von der Art des Ausdruck sind, und deshalb untrennbar davon, laufen sie eher zu was anderem als zu einer formlosen Idee zusammen. Laut Merleau-Ponty (1966: 181) sind alle Kunstwerke Individuen, Formen des Seins. Sie sind zugleich lebendig und auf irgendeine Weise körperlich ausgedrückt.

Nach Käthe Kollwitz

Die Identität bleibt für Goodman wesentlich, ob ein Kunstwerk autographisch oder allographisch ist. Wir benötigen zuerst, sagt er, eine Theorie, um die täuschende Ähnlichkeit zwischen Kunstwerken zu navigieren (Goodman, 1972: 439). Es steht daher ein im Kunstwerk tief verborgenes Stück von Erkenntnis hinter der äußerlichen Ähnlichkeit, nämlich die Erkenntnis des Ursprungs eines Werkes, die Bestätigung der Abstammung zwischen einem Werk und dessen Urheber, was demzufolge dessen Wert bestätigt. Die notwendige Theorie ist also für Goodman die der Identität, und eine Notation ist das sicherste Mittel, um die Identität eines Werks zu bestätigen. Diese genealogische Bedingung ist sogar die primäre Funktion einer Notation wie der Partitur (Goodman, 1976: 127-128). Seine Theorie will nur bestätigen, dass dieses in diesem Musiksaal gespielte Stück ursprünglich von Chopin konzipiert war; sie sucht nur dieses Gemälde in der Galerie mit Tizian zu verknüpfen. Nachdem wir die Verknüpfung beweisen, dürfen wir ein Urteil bezüglich des Werts des Werks fällen und die Fälschung demgemäß beiseitelegen.

Diese Betonung auf Urheberschaft wird aber nicht zurecht erfordert. Ein vollkommenes Ergebnis, ein vollständiges und regungsloses Produkt wird mit einem Autor fest verbunden, mit einem stillstehenden Informationsstück mit welchem wir den Wert des Werks gleichsetzen. Dieses Bild sieht wie ein Tizian aus; es ist aber nur wertvoll, wenn es wirklich von Tizian gemalt wurde. Wir lassen die Möglichkeit nicht zu, dass ein ähnliches Bild aufgrund seiner eigenen Vorzüge bestehen kann. Das scheint mir aber nicht ganz richtig: Rubens, zum Beispiel, konnte eine Kopie von Tizian malen, die nicht weniger wertvoll ist (die vertretbarerweise sogar eine Verbesserung ist), und nicht nur weil wir schon den Namen von Rubens und alle dazugehörigen Werke schätzen. Laut Goodman (1976: 195) kann ein Gemälde, als zu einer Notation ungeeignet, nicht von seinem Urheber befreit werden. Obwohl für Goodman jedes Gemälde einzigartig ist, ist es nicht unabhängig; es steht nicht für sich selbst, sondern für einen Maler. Allein ist es nichts; es muss Verweis auf eine Person machen.

Nach Van Dyck

In diesem Sinne ist die Auffassung Goodmans strikt platonisch. Für Platon (Tim. 28a) macht jede Kopie einen Verweis auf etwas Unendliches, auf ein Ideal. Ein Bild umkreist ein Urbild. Weitere Instanzen—wohl alles Sichtbare—können keine Selbständigkeit haben; sie greifen schwach nach dem sie definierenden Modell (Platon, Tim. 28a-c). Ebenso greift jedes Kunstwerk nach seiner Identität, nach seinem Urheber, ob durch eine Notation oder unmittelbar. Das von Goodman verlangte Verhältnis setzt eine innerliche, geistliche Ähnlichkeit voraus—gewiss die stärkste Ähnlichkeit: Identität. Identität ist nicht an der Oberfläche bemerkbar und nicht der Wahrnehmung zugänglich, sie muss gesucht, entdeckt, enthüllt werden. Sie ist die Entsprechung eines Dinges mit einer Idee. Goodman, wie Platon, verlangt das Zusammenlaufen auf einen feststehenden und bewegungslosen Punkt: Auf ein ewig Seiendes (Platon, Tim. 29b; 57e).

Die Anklage Goodmans gegen die Ähnlichkeit spiegelt die uralte Klage Platons (Soph. 259d-e) wider, dass die Trennung überhaupt eine Grausamkeit ist, dass sie nicht dem philosophischen Geist würdig ist. Die Ähnlichkeit breitet sich stark aus, unendlich, ohne System und ohne Regel. Gemeinsame Einzelheiten bestimmen eine Klasse nicht: Ähnlichkeit zwischen zwei Einzelheiten sichert keine gemeinsame Eigenschaft durch die ganze Gruppe. Jedes Mitglied in der Gruppe [rb by yr] teilt etwas mit den anderen, ohne dass alle drei einen Eigenschaft teilen (Goodman, 1972: 442-3). Überdies, schreibt Goodman (1972: 443), haben irgendwelche zwei Dinge genau so viele Eigenschaften als irgendwelche andere zwei gemeinsam, also entscheidet die Summe von gemeinsamen Eigenschaften nichts. Die Ähnlichkeit suggeriert kein System, ein Faden kann immer unterschiedlich durchgewebt werden, und die Ähnlichkeiten die wir merken, hängen vom Kontext ab, der immer wechselnd und eigentlich von uns hervorgebracht ist (Goodman, 1972: 444-6). In einem Fall verknüpfen wir nach Geschlecht; in einem anderen verknüpfen wir nach Klasse. Vergeblich suchen wir nach einem definierenden Muster in diesem ständig sich erweiternden Chaos. Vernunft fordert Ordnung, und Ordnung ist (laut Platon, Soph. 259e) nur durch die Vereinigung von klaren Begriffen möglich. Und weil diese Vereinigung nicht Ähnlichkeit sein kann, muss sie im Voraus bestimmt werden, auf einem immobilen Kern.

Nach Rubens

Was, wenn wir auf so einen Kern verzichten? Wenn wir die Behauptung von Merleau-Ponty aufgreifen, dass ein Kunstwerk—ob Gedicht, Gemälde, Musikstück, oder was anders—kein statisches Produkt ist, sondern ein lebendiges Dasein? Anstatt des finalen Resultats der Tätigkeit einer bestimmten Hand gestehen wir zu, dass der Sinn dieses Werks aus einem breiteren Sinn entnommen ist (Merleau-Ponty, 1966: 181). Das Werk nimmt an einer Seinsweise teil, es schenkt einem kleinen Stück von der Begegnung der Künstlerin mit der Welt Form, es verewigt eine kleine Ecke von Erfahrung (Merleau-Ponty, 1966: 181). Als solch ein belebendes und multiplizierendes Lebewesen weigert es sich, sich dem platonischen Seienden zu beugen. Es bestätigt seine unbestimmte Natur, seinen unvollkommenen Zustand, die Grobheit seiner Kanten, welche zur Möglichkeiten offen erbleiben, es bestätigt die unaufhörliche Bewegung, die das Verhältnis zwischen irgendwelchen zwei Punkten ist—kurz gesagt: ein Kunstwerk gehört zum Werdenden (Platon, Tim. 29b; 52a; Pol. 597a-c; 605a). Platons (Soph. 234b-c; 235d-e; 236a-c; Tim. 27c; 28b-c; 57d; 70d;) Kategorie von Verlagerung und Veränderung, von allem, das uns und unsere Seele bewegt, was unsere Gefühle rührt und unsere innige Stille zerstört, ist seit langem für die Künste und für Bilder, wohl, für alles Sichtbares reserviert, sogar für die schöne Welt selbst, die bleibt, bei der Auffassung Platons, ein unvollkommenes Bild von einer vollständig abstrakten Welt des Absoluten.

Solch ein unbestimmtes Dasein verneint eine gleichbleibende Identität; es strebt nach keiner Erkenntnis, sondern nach der Offenheit der Welt selbst. Die Verhältnisse die wir suchen, sind keine Verweise vom Bild zum Urbild, sondern wechselnde Beziehungen zwischen Dingen an der Oberfläche der Welt. Diese Einstellung ist jene von Deleuze (1993 [1969]: 311) verlangte, wann er uns ermahnt, ,den Platonismus umzukehren.’ Indem wir das Werdende als etwas Positives bestätigen, stellen wir die platonische Welt auf den Kopf und fliehen vor der Tyrannei der abstrakten Idee. Wir verschmähen die geistige Tiefe und ergreifen die Oberfläche. Der Künstler, seit langem als Heuchler wegen ihrer degradierten Kopien—dreifach vom Urbild entfernt—dargestellt, und deshalb mit dem Sophisten als ein Hersteller von Falschheit beurteilt, muss das Simulakrum verteidigen (Platon, Soph. 234b- c; Pol. 597e; Deleuze, 1993: 317).

Nach Veronese

Und das kann sie tun, indem sie erkennt, dass Platon das Simulakrum fehlgedeutet hat. Auch Platon (Pol. 597b; 601d) unterscheidet zwischen Ebenbilder und Trugbilder: ein Ebenbild, auch wenn es eine verarmte Kopie von der Idee bleibt, sieht er trotzdem als einen ,wohlbegründete Bewerber,’ der die ,konstitutiven Beziehungen und Proportionen des inneren Wesens’ zu bewahren versucht, nämlich die innerliche und geistliche Ähnlichkeit (Deleuze, 1993: 314). Platon will den Sieg vom Ebenbild über Trugbild sichern (Deleuze, 1993: 314). Aber genau in diesem falsch charakterisierten Unterschied findet die Malerin ihren Spalt. Behauptet Deleuze (1993: 314): Platon selbst zeigt uns die Richtung, Platonismus umzukehren, weil das Simulakrum kein Trugbild ist. Es stellt in Frage eher das Model-Kopie Verhältnis überhaupt.

Das Simulakrum ist keine immer vom Model entferntere Kopie, wie Platon (Pol. 597a-c) versucht durch das Beispiel des Tisches aufzuzeigen (Deleuze, 1993: 315). Ein gemalter Tisch, laut Platon, ist höchst täuschend, und deshalb notwendig fragwürdig motiviert; er ist eine bloße Erscheinung, die nichts dient. In der Tätigkeit der Herstellung eines gemalten Tisches, stellt sich die Malerin als Sophist—Hersteller von falschen Erkenntnis—hin, der ebenso alles abbilden kann, der nur die Erscheinung alles zu wissen kultiviert (Pol. 511d-e; 598a; 602a). Laut Platon bezeichnet die Malerin Objekte, von deren Mechanik sie überhaupt nichts versteht, genau wie der Sophist Argumente zusammenkettet, um überzeugend zu scheinen, ohne echtes Verständnis zu besitzen. In beiden Fällen ist die Wahrheit nebensächlich; die tiefliegende Erkenntnis bleibt noch verborgen. Die Ähnlichkeit von Bildern und von Argumenten mit ihren ursprünglichen Ideen ist trügerisch, weil sie bloß äußerlich ist. In der Abwesenheit von innerlicher Ähnlichkeit nimmt das Bild naturgemäß einen Mantel von äußerlicher Ähnlichkeit an, um seine Lüge zu verbergen.

Nach Sowjetischen Bildhauerei

Das mag wohl für eine Kopie stimmen, die einen Verweis auf etwas zu machen versucht, so Deleuze (1993: 315). Ein Ebenbild versucht diese innere Identität, dieses unsichtbares Stück Erkenntnis, körperlich darzustellen. Die Versuche der Kubisten, Dinge zu malen, ,wie sie sind, das heißt: anders als wir sie sehen,’ eine tiefliegende und gedankliche Wirklichkeit vom Sichtbaren zu abstrahieren, könnten dementsprechend als Ebenbilder verstanden werden (Rivière, 1966 [1912]: 82; Gleizes und Metzinger, 1988 [1912]: 37-38; Platon, Pol. 598a). Die Kubisten kleben an der reinen Idee von einem Ding, und erproben, diese Idee unvollkommen durch ein inadäquates Mittel nachzubilden. Sie bleiben daher von Platon bezaubert. Ein Trugbild erweckt den Anschein, dass es ebenso dieses Verhältnis bewahrt. Deleuze aber greift die Verfeinerung Platons vom Bild auf und hebt eher das Simulakrum an: Für das Simulakrum ist das Ziel etwas völlig anderes. Das Simulakrum ahmt ungeniert nur an der Oberfläche nach, und zwar ganz zufällig: Es ist eigentlich auf einer Disparität gebaut (Deleuze, 1993: 319). Kein Verhältnis bindet das Simulakrum an das Modell, es macht keinen Verweis darauf; es existiert nur in der Verhältnissen, die sich auf der Oberfläche der Welt ausbreiten. Das Werdende wächst unendlich und Reihenweise, und stellt Modell und Kopie zugleich infrage (Deleuze, 1993: 2; 314). ,Alles kehrt jetzt zur Oberfläche zurück’ (Deleuze, 1993: 7).

Das heißt, wir berufen uns absichtlich auf Ähnlichkeit, wir betonen keinen Versuch nach Gleichheit, keine tiefe Identität die äußerlich misslungen ist, sondern eine ausdrückliche Variation, ein Abrücken. Jede Ähnlichkeit spricht für sich selbst und verkündet seine eigene Stellung. Ähnlichkeit sucht nicht nach Gleichheit und Ruhe, sondern nach Verschiedenheit und Bewegung. Foucault schreibt (1974 [1973]: 25): ,Mittels der Gleichheit wird sichtbar gemacht, durch den Unterschied hindurch wird gesprochen.’ Darunter steht nichts: Goodman hat recht, dass die Suche nach reihenweiser Synthese künstlich und vergeblich ist. Er findet in der Ähnlichkeit einen falschen Freund weil er nicht erkennt, dass die Freundschaft sich in einer offenen Ankündigung von Disparität zeigt. ,Nur was sich ähnelt, differiert,’ erklärt Deleuze (1993: 320)—sonst stellen wir uns der Identität. Ohne irgendeine tiefliegende Verbindung zwischen zwei ähnlichen Dingen sind wir gezwungen, an der Oberfläche zu verweilen, und genau diese Abwesenheit zu beobachten. ,Diese Abwesenheit steigt sogar an ihrer Oberfläche empor und kommt im Gemälde ans Tageslicht’ (Foucault, 1974: 36).

Laut Foucault (1974: 40) zeigt Magritte genau diese Unterschied zwischen similitude und Ähnlichkeit mit seiner Pfeife. Sein kalligraphisches Spiel zwischen Bild und widersprüchlichen Wörtern—,dies ist keine Pfeife,’ wo das Bild sicherlich eine Pfeife darstellt, auch wenn es keine rauchbare Pfeife ist—zieht unsere Aufmerksamkeit auf das ,Ist’. ,Ist’ bezeichnet eine Verhältnis, und Magritte spielt mit der Zweideutigkeit dieses Verhältnisses, und auf zwei Ebenen. Erst ist es nicht klar, ob ,dies’ auf den Text oder das Bild hinweist (Foucault, 1974: 19-20). Text und Bild scheinen austauschbar, beide scheinen in einer eigenen Weise eine Pfeife darzustellen; sie scheinen nämlich entweder wörtliche oder visuelle Äquivalenzen von Pfeifen zu sein, bis wir den beiden zusammen begegnen und deren unlösbaren Konflikt betrachten. ,Das Bild und der Text fallen je auf ihre Seite, gemäß der ihnen eigenen Schwerkraft,’ beobachtet Foucault (1974: 20). Sie teilen keinen gemeinsamen Ort, überlappen sich nicht, weder auf dem Blatt mit seinem unüberbrückbaren weißen Raum noch in ihrer Funktion.

 

Und dies ist die zweite Ebene: Das Wort macht einen Verweis, es übernimmt den Platz des Dings selbst, es reicht als eine Substitution dafür. Das Wort nimmt eine funktionierende Äquivalenz oder Identität an. Dieses Verhältnis, diese buchstäbliche ,ist’, benennt Foucault (1974: 42) ,Ähnlichkeit’, welche verkündigt: ,Dies und das und das auch noch—das ist jene Sache.’ Das Bild, im Gegenteil, steht in einem völlig andere Verhältnis zur Pfeife. Es muss auf keine echte Pfeife verweisen, auch nicht auf die Idee einer Pfeife überhaupt. Es hängt sich von keiner unkörperlichen Modell von Pfeifen überhaupt. Wenn wir nichts von Pfeifen wüssten, würde das Bild unabhängig davon bestehen. Das Bild ist keine Pfeife, sondern es ist eine weitere Bestätigung von Pfeifen, körperlich anders als alle ähnlichen Pfeifen und Pfeifenbilder, die reihenweise und horizontal und wildwachsend sich ausbreiten, jede eine neue und selbständige und körperliche Bejahung in der Welt. Diese similitude bestätigt sich und jubelt in der von Deleuze beschriebene Disparität; sie ,entfaltet sich in Serien, die weder Anfang noch Ende haben,’ sie besteht in einem unbestimmten und umkehrbaren Verhältnis (Foucault, 1974: 40). Alice, schreibt Deleuze (1993: 1-2), wächst und schrumpft zugleich: Das Werdende, seiner Natur nach, ist ständig bewegt und erreicht nie das Ziel. Es tanzt horizontal über die Oberfläche der Welt, in alle Richtungen gleichzeitig (Foucault, 1974: 42). Was Foucault ,die Ähnlichkeit’ nennt, entspricht eher dem platonischen Impuls, nach einer festen Identität zu suchen: Sie ,ordnet sich dem Vorbild unter, das sie vergegenwärtigen und wiedererkennen lassen soll’ (Foucault, 1974: 40). Ein Bild macht keinen solchen wörtlichen—propositionalen—Verweis auf irgendeinem Modell. Deshalb ist ein Bild nicht in demselben Sinn wie ein Wort ,abbildlich.’ Es lehnt das ,Ist’—die Äquivalenz—ab.

Die Ähnlichkeit zeigt dennoch eine Verbindung an, oder, besser gesagt, die Variationen der Ähnlichkeit sind die Resultate einer Form von Kontinuität. Die von Goodman vorgeschlagene Stammlinie zwischen Kunstwerk und Urheber ist aber zu einfach für diese Verbindung. Gewiss bleibt der Urheber wichtig, nicht aber als statischer Identifikationspunkt, nicht als ein bloßer Name oder vertrautes Etikett. Der Urheber ist viel mehr: Im Hervorbringen eines Kunstwerks ist der Locus eines Vorgangs. Die Verbindung, die wir suchen ist genau den Denkprozess eines Künstlers, der ein Kunstwerk ausdrücklich zu ,ein[em] Knotenpunkt lebendiger Bedeutungen’ macht (Merleau-Ponty, 1966: 182).

Und noch weiter: obwohl jedes Bild seine Verschiedenheit und in diesem Sinn seine Eigenständigkeit versichert, als Teile eines zusammenhängenden Denkprozesses können wir behaupten, dass mehrere Bilder zu einem Kunstwerk gehören. Gemälde sind nicht in demselben Sinn wie Musikstücke duplizierbar; die sind aber nicht so einzigartig wie üblicherweise angenommen. Die Malerin macht keine so starke Trennung zwischen jeden Skizze, während sie durch einen einzigen Cluster von Ideen arbeitet. Mit ihrer Hand untersucht sie mehrmals dieselbe Idee, erst von dieser Seite und dann von einer anderen Seite; sie erforscht diese Idee in einer kontinuierlichen Gedankenlinie, auf der Suche nach einer adäquateren körperlichen Instanziierung davon.

So einen Gedankenprozess können wir in einer Reihe von Skizzen von, zum Beispiel, Édouard Vallet beobachten. Im Katalog ist jede Skizze individuell nummeriert und benannt: ,80. Paysannes se reposant’, ,81. Jeune Valaisannes se reposant’, ,82. Jeunes femmes se reposant’, ‘88. Femmes couchées’, bis zum endgültigen Gemälde, ‘92. Femmes endormies’ (De Wyder, 1976: 66-75). Für den Kataloghersteller steht jedes Bild ewig in seiner Vollkommenheit als ein Werk; für Vallet dagegen ist jedes Bild ein Schritt, eine Bewegung, eine flüchtige Begegnung mit der Welt. Er reist, wie Alice, hin und her, er überdenkt diese Skizzen in keiner festen Folge (Deleuze, 1993: 1). Seine Gedanken sind weder fest noch linear; die umkreisen einander und verweben sich miteinander, wirken aufeinander. Einer isoliert beobachteten Gestalt begegnet man anders, wenn sie mit einer zweiten Form zusammenhängt. Die Farbtöne betonen einige Linien mehr als andere; anatomische Einzelheiten gehen verloren und werden wieder miteinander verflochten. Am Ende haben wir ein einzelnes Gemälde, die Kulmination aller Untersuchungen. Und für die Künstlerin ist sogar dieses Bild vielleicht unvollkommen, bleibt noch eine offene Frage, und zumindest auch nur ein Schritt zur nächsten Frage. Jedes Bild ist eigenartig und doch nicht: Jedes Bild entwickelt sich aus und inmitten anderer Bilder. Es ist der Kunsthistoriker, der nachträglich, in seinem Kategorisierungseifer, eine Trennung aufdrängt. Unsere Kategorien wählen willkürlich Gemälde als autographisch aus, wenn es nicht zu befremdlich ist, sie als veränderliche und lebendige Vorgänge zu konzipieren.

Édouard Vallet, Femmes endormies

Eine Kopie eines Gemäldes strebt nach einer äußerlichen Ähnlichkeit und mag sogar erfolgreich sein. Wir sind aber nicht damit zufrieden: Wir spüren ein Trennen, das die Oberfläche nicht verriet. Wir kehren zu unserer neu geformten Frage wieder zurück— worin liegt die Fälschung? Es liegt in keiner tief verborgenen Erkenntnis, sondern in der abrupten Unterbrechung des Gedankenprozesses der Künstlerin. Wir schätzen eine Fälschung nicht, weil sie ungestützt vom Gedanken steht. Und zwar würde ich behaupten, dass dies an der Oberfläche doch sichtbar ist, wenn man mit den Bewegungen einer Künstlerin vertraut ist. Die Künstlerin zieht ihre Hand über die Oberfläche in einer eigenartigen Linie; jede Erforschung weicht von den anderen sanft ab, ohne diesen Charakter abzuschaffen. Jede neuentdeckte Harmonie ist eine Ausbreitung oder vielleicht eine Verfeinerung von einer Konstellation von Farben, die langfristig vor den Augen der Künstlerin geschwebt hat. Der Fälscher nimmt nicht an diesem lebenslangen Ineinandergreifen von Künstlerin und Welt teil. Der Fälscher offenbart eher seinen eigenen Denkprozess (vergl. Slaby, 2014, über Empathie und Handlungsfähigkeit). Er zeigt seine Ungeschicktheit indem er das Gelb des Firnisses oder die Schäden sklavisch und gedankenlos reproduziert. Er betrachtet das Gemälde als ein vollkommenes Erzeugnis, was seine einfältigen Entscheidungen höchst klar machen. Die Fälschung ist von einer echten Begegnung mit der Welt getrennt. Der Fälscher übte seine eigene Handlungsfähigkeit nicht aus.

Der Nachahmer hingegen produziert keine Fälschung, genau weil er erstens die Gedanken der Künstlerin einzutreten versucht, und zweitens diese Gedanken in seinen eigenen Gedankenprozess integriert. Er erweitert seine Gedanken, indem er mit der Künstlerin zu denken versucht. Rubens kopiert Tizian, nicht um ein Tizianerzeugnis zu besitzen, sondern um die Gedanken von Tizian in Besitz zu nehmen. Rubens bleibt aber zuversichtlich in seinen eigenen Gedanken. Seine Kopien zeigen die Verschmelzung von Gedanken—die unverwechselbaren Lippen und Augen seiner flämischen Frauen vermischen sich nahtlos mit der leuchtenden Haut in ihrer schönen Tizian’schen linearen Vereinfachung.

Tizian, Mädchen im Pelz, Wien

Rubens, Mädchen im Pelz, Brisbane

Eine Fälschung, wie Goodman sie versteht, stützt sich auf das platonische Verhältnis zwischen Urbild und umkreisenden Bild. Eine Fälschung ahmt dementsprechend ein Original nach, und dazu unvollkommen. Wenn die Gedankenreihe anstatt der Person betont wird, der lebendige Vorgang zwischen Künstlerin und Kunstwerk und Welt (das Werdende) anstatt des Erzeugnisses (das Seiende), verlagert sich der Sinn von Fälschung. Sie ist nicht mehr eine bloß misslungene oder täuschende Kopie, die nicht mit dem angeblichen Ursprung verbunden werden kann. Eine Fälschung ist vielmehr eine Kopie die den entscheidenden Vorgang umfährt, um ein bloßes Ende zu reproduzieren. Der Fälscher nimmt nicht am Vorgang teil und er gliedert die Gedanken des Anderen nicht ein. Er unterbricht die Serie und löst einen Teil davon ab. Als Gemälde mag das Resultat noch technisch und ästhetisch schön sein, aber es fehlt die suchende Qualität der Striche, die eingeübte Zuversicht, der unverkennbare Schwung einer Linie, der es nicht nur zu dieser Hand aber auch zu dieser lebenslangen Untersuchung verbindet. Genau der Mangel dieser Erfahrungen schwillt zur Oberfläche. Die Fälschung zeigt sich als minderwertig, weil sie sich auf keine fortlaufende Untersuchung baut, weil sie kein ,Knotenpunkt lebendiger Bedeutungen’ ist (Merleau-Ponty, 1966: 182). Sie ergreift keine lebendige Idee, sie greift die Welt nicht an. Sie ist eine totgeborene Idee, die nach dem Unmöglichen sucht: Identität.

Nach Veronese

 

Deleuze, Gilles. (1993 [1969]). Logik des Sinns. Übersetzung von Bernhard Dieckmann. Frankfurt (Main): Suhrkamp.

Foucault, Michel. (1974 [1973]). Dies ist keine Pfeife: Mit zwei Briefen und vier Zeichnungen von René Magritte. Übersetzung von Walter Seitter. München: Carl Hanser.

Gleizes, Albert, und Jean Metzinger. (1988 [1912]). Über den ,Kubismus.’ Übersetzung von Fritz Metzinger. Frankfurt (Main): Fischer.

Goodman, Nelson. 1972. Problems and Projects. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Goodman, Nelson. 1976. Languages of Art: An approach to a theory of symbols. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Goodman, Nelson. 1978. Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1966 [1945]. Phänomenologie der Wahrnehmung. Übersetzung von Rudolf Boehm. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Plato. (1988). The Republic, 2nd edition. Translated by Desmond Lee. London: Penguin.

Plato. (1984). The being of the beautiful : Plato’s Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Plato. (1976). Timaeus and Critias. Translated by Desmond Lee. Hammondsworth, England: Penguin.

Slaby, J. (2014). Empathy’s Blind Spot. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 17, 249-258.

Rivière, Jacques. (1966 [1912]). ,Gegenwärtige Strömungen in der Malerei,’ in Der Kubismus, Ed. Edward Fry. Köln: DuMont Schauberg.

De Wyder, Bernard. 1976. Vallet, Édouard: Exposition et catalogue, sous les auspices du Musée d’art et d’histoire de Genève. Genève: Musée Rath.

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Common ground

Ode to the rooftops (c) Samantha Groenestyn (oil on linen)

I

Pursuing a link between moods and art, Schmetkamp (2017: 1683) claims that ‘moods are the expressive equivalent of perspectives, of how we perceive and are in the world.’ Schmetkamp (2017: 1683; 1693) argues that films, in invoking particular moods, invite a shift in perspective. This is an initially attractive suggestion, because it seems to lead us away from the impulse to understand a work of art, a cognitive act, and to permit us to encounter the work of art in a pre-reflective way. In the case of painting, we might correspondingly argue that rather than confronting symbols in need of interpretation, we confront the perspective of another person–the painter–and are invited to try on that perspective, inhabit it, and perhaps adjust our own perspective accordingly.

But the idea of perspective-shifting is still chained to the impulse to understand another, as if the head of another is a ‘container of objects’ to which we somehow seek to gain access (Slaby 2014: 253; 255). Perspective-shifting is one way of describing empathy: as an ability to inhabit another’s perspective and thereby predict and share in their emotions (Goldie, 2011: 303; Slaby, 2014: 249). Slaby’s (2014: 252) compelling critique of empathy will thus help us grasp why perspective-shifting is equally unsatisfying in the realm of aesthetics, because of the parallel importance of agency. Beyond mere perspective-shifting, I propose that a painting, as an affective encounter between painter and viewer, offers a fertile, physical ‘we-space’ in which, rather than attempting to understand a painter, we may to some extent co-author our positions in the world: a shared and ongoing project (Krueger, 2011: 644).

 

II Three broad categories: Perception, knowledge and agency

Empathy can be very broadly conceived in two ways. The first captures the directness with which we sometimes relate to others. Sometimes our emotional response to another person is automatic, involuntary and passive (Slaby, 2014: 255). Their emotions are not buried or locked away, but visible at the surface, directly available to perception (Slaby, 2014: 255; Zahavi, 2001: 153). Such direct responses are sometimes classed as ‘lower level’ empathy, for not being cognitively demanding (Slaby, 2014: 251). They encompass the kind of matching that goes on when a group spreads its contagious solemnity or rage or excitement, or the simulation explained by mirror neurons (Goldman, 2011: 33-36). Parallels with art may be traced in Tolstoy’s (1896) memorable but largely rejected contagion theory (Wollheim, 1980: 119), in which an artwork directly infects us with its emotional content. Any such superficial matching is problematic because it can be completely detached from the context of the original emotions–Coplan (2011: 7; 8) expresses this concern in terms of insufficient accuracy, and argues that empathy demands, in addition to some kind of matching, a more active and imaginative engagement with the emotions of others. Simply feeling along with someone without appreciating why they feel as they do seems too primitive a response to be considered empathy.

The second broad way is to prioritise the cognitive or reflective aspect of our encounter with others, and it treats emotions as a kind of knowledge to be obtained. This is where the urge to understand becomes particularly prominent. Another person’s emotions become pieces of information to be accessed and interpreted, they demand some active consideration, not unthinking mimicry, and once we have organised this information we are in a better position to say that we understand the other person as a whole. These responses are grouped as ‘higher level processes’, emphasising ‘the information-processing sense of that term’ (Coplan, 2011: 5; Goldman, 2006: 39; Goldie, 2011: 304). Goldman (2011: 36-38) calls it the ‘reconstructive route’ to empathy. The idea of a privileged first-person position, in which I have special access to my own emotions, fuels this attitude. While we might simply distinguish between our own experience of an emotion and another person’s experience of us having that emotion, emphasising a phenomenological difference, there is often rather the implication that we hold ‘an epistemically privileged position’ towards our own emotions–that we can know them more accurately than another (Slaby, 2014: 254). It becomes questionable here how far one can call such understanding of another person ‘empathy,’ since a psychopath could ably perform such intellectual puzzle-solving but would seem to lack a necessary element of feeling. Analogously, intellectually decoding a painting seems to miss the affective richness of a painting, which we would rather hope would move us.

Both of these broad categories, though they prioritise very different things, are united by a common underlying assumption. Whether perceptually accessed and mirrored, or reflectively computed and understood, emotions are on both accounts reified (Slaby, 2014: 257). From either position, emotions are treated as fixed objects, whether reproducible, observable, discoverable or knowable (Slaby, 2014: 253), whether by oneself or by another. It is this unsatisfying ‘common pattern’ of treating our experiences as bytes of information locked away in storage or transmitted as complete units that leads Slaby (2014: 253; 255) to defend a third broad conception of relatedness, one rooted in the phenomenological tradition, that shatters the very concept of empathy.

This third broad category, to which interaction theory belongs, moves away from these pre-packaged inner states and towards an active, embodied agency that is bound up with the world itself (Krueger, 2010: 644). It stresses the ongoing, future-oriented authorship of our perspectives. And, as beings wrapped up in the world, it emphasises the shared aspects of that agency (Slaby, 2014: 255). Abandoning the attitude that a painter embeds little packets of emotional information into a painting, which either directly arrest us or which we systematically interpret, we might instead approach the painting as a physical setting for the active construction of perspectives. The painter wrestles with her perspective in laying down paint; the viewer wrestles with his in mingling the two perspectives–not, as Schmetkamp (2017: 1683) claims, merely trying the painter’s perspective on. Agency changes the interaction between these perspectives, opening up a more sophisticated exchange than perspective-shifting. First we must consider what a perspective is.

 

III Perspective

Drawing heavily on Merleau-Ponty, I frame perspective in terms of an ongoing project of positioning oneself in an ever-shifting world. Merleau-Ponty (2012 [1945]: 77-80) challenges the scientifically-driven assumption that the world is static and objectively knowable, that is, able to be described as if ‘from nowhere,’ stressing two crucial points. The world, in which we are inextricably immersed, can only be described in terms of relations. This is a familiar enough concept for a painter, who does not (usually) attempt to transcribe blue or yellow, as though these hues possessed fixed frequencies, but who rather sees that a mixture of grey next to a vivid yellow can appear blue: it is the relation between these hues that gives a certain effect. Likewise, the hills that shimmer a soft blue in the distance do so precisely because of the yawning gulf between us and them. The painted blue describes no objective feature of the hills, but rather the relation between us and the hills. (It is no accident that Leonardo da Vinci (2008: 113) adds this hue-shift to his list of types of perspective, calling it ‘perspective of colour.’) A perspective must be made sense of in terms of our relations with other constituents of the world.

Secondly, and drawing on Husserl (1973 [1948]: 87), Merleau-Ponty (2012: 196) emphasises the indeterminacy of the the world. It ‘shimmers’ at its edges, open-ended, unresolved and brimming with unactualised possibility. Part of our being in the world involves acting on our possibilities, realising some and abandoning others, a process that reconfigures the world such that it offers a fresh spread of possibilities with every act. Our actions influence and alter how the world unfolds–we are participatory agents, and, what is more, we are directed towards an unfixed future. Our actions seize some possibilities and concretise our position in the world: I stand here in relation to the bluish haze of Kahlenberg; I stand here in relation to the restless rumblings of nationalism. And our perspective is never complete, we are continually authoring it as we move through the world.

Our perspective, then, may be considered quite literally as a view from where we stand in relation to others and the world, as a worldview, but importantly as an actively constructed and future-looking worldview that constantly incorporates new input even as it influences that world. Agency emerges as an integral part of perspective thus considered. Perspective proves to be not a passive apprehension of a predictable and rigid world, but a ‘practical point of view’ (Slaby, 2014: 252). In taking up our positions, we ‘enact a world’ (De Jaegher and Di Paolo, 2007: 488). As agents, argues Slaby (2014: 253), we are precisely not a hold for discrete entities and replicable states; rather, each of us has ‘a say in specifying, in ultimately deciding and committing to what one will have on one’s mind,’ and we partake in an ‘active, prospective engagement with the world: a future-directed positioning towards what goes on.’

This positioning is far more than descriptive; it suffuses the world with significance. Heidegger (1993 [1927]: 185-187) argues for a practical significance, or ‘mattering,’ generated by our immersion in our projects and our seamless fusion with our tools; Sartre (1998 [1943]: 36-38) argues that acts as small as lighting cigarettes, or even failures to act, are the very things that affirm who we are and both indicate and bestow significance. The failure to quit one’s comfortable job and become a painter demonstrates that one wants a life of security and stability more than one wants to paint, however much one apparently regrets this inaction.

These embodied ways of conceiving of significance contrast starkly with the search for meaning and its linguistic overtones. Meaning or sense prompts us to make a propositional substitution, to uncover an objectified packet of knowledge which the thing directly encountered stands for. In replacing something with its ‘meaning,’ we claim we finally understand it and its import. This attitude puts us in a troubling position when relating to others: we presume we ‘have to work out each other’s minds much like [we] do with scientific problems’ (De Jaegher and Di Paolo, 2007: 486). De Jaegher and Di Paolo (2007: 486; 487) thus begin to flesh out an embodied, active and shared approach to introducing (rather than uncovering ready-made) significance into the world: ‘the enactive notion of sense-making.

De Jaegher and Di Paolo’s (2007: 497) account of participatory sense-making gives another slant to perspective, emphasising that agents may cooperatively and expressively position themselves. This begins to look a lot like Slaby’s (2014: 255) alternative to empathy, a ‘co-presence’ that echoes Heidegger’s (1962 [1927]: 118) Mitwelt. Far from trying to get inside one another’s heads, or to bridge some unfathomable abyss, agents accept what they perceive at the surface–the cheerful smile of their cycling companion as they surge up Kahlenberg–and construct a shared perspective (Slaby, 2014: 255-6). Two happy parties navigate vineyards and Heuriger vitrines and jointly author a golden afternoon in the Viennese hills, an experience different from that which each would author alone, and without needing to imagine themselves inside the head of the other to forge an honest and valid connection. ‘We thus drop the assumption,’ declares Slaby (2014: 256) ‘that the goal of interpersonal relatedness would inevitably have to be an encompassing understanding of the other person.’

 

IV Painting

Painting could arguably occupy a special place in such embodied discussions of affective relatedness. A painter goes a step further when positioning herself in the world: she gives her perspective physical form. Painting is another kind of act; the painter not only takes up a position in the world, considering and selecting and rejecting certain possibilities as she applies paint, but she also openly lays out that position in that same act. The painting is like a smile. But instead of saying that a painting opens up the painter’s mind to us (as though it were some closed-off realm), we ought to say that a painting lets us see through the painter’s eyes. ‘The view from here,’ she declares, laying it out before us, actualising those fleeting moments in a carefully arranged and subtly related way, ‘looks like this.’

But how can we say, ‘The view from here looks like this’ when paintings invariably lie? The soul of painting seems to be precisely the way it deviates from our ordinary perceptual experience, whether very subtly, as in very naturalistic paintings, which nevertheless involve choices about contrast and atmosphere and how fine-grained the modelling should be, or whether quite dramatically, as when edges dissolve into one another, or crude chunks of colour merely suggest masses, or when the world is fragmented into flat and interlocking geometric forms. Rather than saying abstractly that the painter gives her perspective physical form, we ought to investigate what this actually consists in.

In the paintings of Ruprecht von Kaufmann, for example, people fly through the air, or grow fish heads, often have no head at all, or their toes melt together into a single sturdy foot mass. This is certainly not how the world literally looks; we are not dealing with mere perception. If we are to cast these paintings as von Kaufmann’s perspective, we need to admit other modes of intentionality into perspective. Imagination is very relevant here: von Kaufmann invents things that could not exist. But there is also a sense of anticipation, of imagining how things might unfold: a leaping person or a diving person on a certain trajectory, headed towards a partly visible and partly foggy future. Remembering is equally important. Von Kaufmann’s deeply emotional experiences with family, loss and doubt haunt the paintings.

Remembering even plays a much more pedestrian, technical role in his work (von Kaufmann, 2014). Von Kaufmann actively observes the world about him and commits things to memory before reprising them in his paintings. The construction of a chair, the bone structure of a particular face, the character of a foot, the pattern of a fabric all resurface in his paintings after long gestation periods. Here I want to be careful not to say that he stores them up, fully-formed images catalogued in Augustinian caverns of memory, ready to be summoned (St Augustine, 2009: 152; 172). I want to emphasise that our memories are permeated and transformed by other emotions, other encounters and other expectations. When von Kaufmann paints a remembered sofa, it is a sofa embedded in a fabric of experiences, and it emerges from his brush stained by those experiences–it sags mournfully, it fades with resignation. How the world ‘looks’ is shorthand for: ‘this is a visual approximation of many interrelated and nuanced modes of intentionality towards the world.’ Von Kaufmann’s mellow and faded purples, the dampness that permeates his world through sludgy textures and glistening highlights and trickles of paint all combine to work up an uneasy mood.

 

V Moods and emotions

Moods are not emotions, except perhaps for Heidegger (1962 [1927]: 136), who uses the terms more freely and interchangeably. There are very precise ways of teasing the two apart (see for example Gallegos, 2017: 1500), but a simple distinction on the grounds of intentionality will do here (Schmetkamp, 2017: 1684-5). Emotions are usually considered to be directed at some particular object: I am sad about the cancelled Kahlenberg outing. But von Kaufmann’s paintings, though they might leak a sort of sadness, cannot really be said to express sadness about any particular thing. Rather, they build up a diffuse kind of tone or atmosphere, which might be better described as a feeling directed toward the whole world or even toward existence itself: a mood. Heidegger (1962: 179; 228-235; 1978: 99) goes so far as to say that such undirected moods are the precondition for finding ourselves in a world at all, that our every encounter with the world happens through some pervading sense of menace or serenity or boredom or some other mood. Ratcliffe (2005: 49; 52) describes a similar affective background of bodily ‘existential feelings,’ which are similarly non-intentional but set the scene for the way we open up onto the world. Although there are fearful objects in von Kaufmann’s paintings, such as fish-headed men, we are not really invited to fear them or direct some emotion at them. Still, they draw some affective response from us, especially situated as they are in a murky and oppressive old room with their damp skin, casually violating one another. Thus, it would be more philosophically precise to say that von Kaufmann’s paintings are mooded.

Schmetkamp (2017: 1682-3) suggests that this more careful affective distinction dramatically changes the aesthetic terrain. While emotions and art have an enduring philosophical relationship (reaching right back to Plato’s (Rep. 595a-b) admonitions against the arts for their propensity to move and thus destabilise us), moods open up fundamentally different questions about how we relate to art, while holding fast to their affective core. Having elaborated what we mean by perspective, particularly in terms of painting, we are in a better position to look at Schmetkamp’s (2017: 1683) main claim that ‘moods are the expressive equivalent of perspectives.’ Moods, by her account, add an affective layer to perspective, a layer quite distinct from directed emotions. This has a very Heideggerian flavour, especially insofar as she invokes their pre-reflective, ‘world-disclosing capacity’ (Schmetkamp, 2017: 1684-5). The moods of others, expressed in artworks, she asserts, ‘assail human beings holistically,’ enabling them to ‘comprehend a perspective in an encompassing manner’ (Schmetkamp, 2017: 1683). Moods are not perspectives, she clarifies; rather they give us access to perspectives: they are the precondition for having a perspective at all, and the gateway to trespassing into another’s perspective (Schmetkamp, 2017: 1690).

 

VI The problem with perspective-shifting

Moods really come into play in art, according to Schmetkamp (2017: 1692), in two respects. The first, interestingly, is that they ought to help us to understand a work of art. Concentrating on film, Schmetkamp (2017: 1692) argues that since a film thematises a mood, correctly apprehending that mood is central to understanding the film. This strikes me as immediately problematic, for the same reason Slaby (2014: 256) is uneasy about trying to understand other people empathetically. Schmetkamp has snuck in the idea that moods are objects, pre-packaged and ready to be delivered up to our cognitive faculties.

Secondly, Schmetkamp (2017: 1685; 1692) argues that moods are important in art because they acquaint us with the perspective of another. Specifically, they enclose us in that perspective, inviting a confrontation between that perspective and our own. A film allows us to temporarily shift our perspective–‘without being totally absorbed’–and to potentially change our own perspective accordingly (Schmetkamp, 2017: 1691; 1693-4). It would not be much of a stretch to say this sounds like another form of empathy in which we try to inhabit the mood rather than the emotions of another person.

A non-trivial problem with this proposed shift in perspectives is that, as Goldie (2011: 302) makes clear, there are two ways we might try to do it. We might imagine ourselves in the other’s position–Goldie (2011: 302) calls this ‘in-his-shoes perspective-shifting,’ in which we draw a firm boundary between the self and the other (Coplan, 2011: 5)–or we might imagine ourselves as the other. The former would seem to miss the point of empathy, of Einfühlung or ‘feeling-into’ another, ignoring the situation as it applies to them (Slaby, 2014: 250). If you hate cycling up cobbled hills in the height of summer, imagining yourself in my position will not result in the same jubilant glee at the prospect of doing so. But imagining that you are me and all my confounding perplexities is no mean feat, and not only because you lack my background experiences, quirks of character, inexplicable love for the hills and other irrationalities (Goldie, 2011: 309; Slaby, 2014: 252-3). And not only because you would have to artificially objectify these background influences and bring them into the foreground to perform such a feat of empathy (Slaby, 2014: 252). Worse: you would deny my moment-by-moment authorship of my perspective–you would usurp my agency (Goldie, 2011: 315; Slaby, 2014: 252). My perspective is not a thing to be entered into, because as soon as you trespass upon it, you begin to author it.

 

VII Co-authorship

When we confront a painting by von Kaufmann, then, taking it to be an extension of his perspective, there is always an element of authorship from our side. Granted, it is not the same kind of authorship as he performs when he physically wrestles with the surface of the picture. Von Kaufmann posits himself in the world as he lays down paint, and the moods that swell up in his paintings originate in his own mooded opening onto the world itself. He repeatedly encounters the world as ominous, treacherous, doubt-riddled, dizzying, but also irresistibly beautiful in its relentless and indifferent onward surge. The curve of a shark’s nose slices onwards with the same elegant and ruthless force of life itself. As a well-dressed headless man leaps from a building, von Kaufmann’s undirected mood materialises in a precarious viewpoint, in the contrast between the clean angle of the building and the trembling texture of the fragile figure, in the unresolved edges and muted purples.

But von Kaufmann is not claiming authorship from our side, nor trying to persuade us to adopt his doubt, nor to revise our own perspective in the wake of a perspectival showdown. Rather sagaciously, von Kaufmann (via personal communication, December 2017) explicitly explains that he wants to give us just enough narrative substance that we feel we have a stake in each painting, that we are compelled to pick up and continue the story, for those stories are another way of making sense of the world (a sentiment echoed by Krueger (2011: 645), and a topic for another time). The magic happens when we find that something in this plainly laid out perspective already aligns with something of our own. It resonates with us precisely because of its familiarity, as though it were an expression of our own doubts. That is to say: we are not confronting some alternative view, but meeting with von Kaufmann on some common ground.

The painting reflects a shared space: the plane of the picture opens into an active field. As viewers, we are invited to author something else. We are prompted, at a common affective juncture, to continue to build our own perspective around this powerful embodied expression bestowed upon us Iike a gift. Our own background and idiosyncrasies and variable moods latch onto the ponderous mood, the anxiety, the bewilderment, but the stories that we weave are our own.

The shared space of a painting evidently lacks the reciprocation of a face-to-face encounter, and only loosely takes inspiration from Krueger’s (2011: 643-4) ‘we-space.’ The interaction cannot possibly happen in the same dynamic way that he argues for, for indeed there is no interaction between agents (Krueger, 2011: 646). Instead, each agent interacts with the painting. But what is crucial is that both painter and viewer remain agents; each understands that the other affectively engages with the painting and finds compelling common ground in that thin layer of paint because of the background-driven, future-oriented authorship of each party, however differently their actions might manifest.

 

VIII

A painting invites not a shift in perspective, but active authorship in an affective space that is live for both painter and viewer. The perspectives of the two necessarily differ, but sometimes there is enough overlap to forge a strong connection between the two, allowing each agent to author a different perspective from this common ground. Rather than trying to inhabit the painter’s perspective or to cognitively understand a painting as if its affective power lay merely in the uncovering of discrete packets of affective information, stressing the future-oriented agency of active parties physically immersed in an ever-unfolding world gives us a richer way forward in binding moods and art.

 

St Augustine. (2009). The Confessions. Oxford: Oxford University.

Coplan, A. (2011). Empathy: Features and effects. In A. Coplan, & P. Goldie, (Eds.), Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University.

Gallegos, F. (2017). Moods Are Not Coloured Lenses: Perceptualism and the Phenomenology of Moods. Philosophia, 45, 1497-1513.

Goldie, P. (2011). Anti-Empathy. In A. Coplan, & P. Goldie, (Eds.), Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University.

Goldman, A. I. (2006). Simulating minds : the philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience of mindreading. Oxford: Oxford University.

Goldman, A. I. (2011) Two Routes to Empathy. In A. Coplan, & P. Goldie, (Eds.), Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University.

Heidegger, M. (1962 [1927]). Being and Time. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson, (Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell.

Heidegger, M. (1978 [1929]). ‘What is Metaphysics?’ in his Basic Writings. D. F. Krell (Ed. and trans.). London: Routledge.

Heidegger, M. (1993 [1927]). Sein und Zeit. 19. Edition. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.

Husserl, E. (1973 [1948]). Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

De Jaegher, H., & E. Di Paolo. (2007). Participatory Sense-Making: An enactive approach to social cognition. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 6, 485-507.

Von Kaufmann, R. (2014). Slideshow Lecture. Presented at the Laguna College of Art and Design. Laguna Beach, California. [Online] Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odb_j855EUY [Accessed 12 January 2015].

Krueger, J. (2011). Extended Cognition and the Space of Social Interaction. Consciousness and Cognition, 20, 643-657.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2012 [1945]). Phenomenology of Perception. Hoboken: Routledge.

Plato. (1988). The Republic, 2nd edition. Desmond Lee (Trans.). London: Penguin.

Ratcliffe, M. (2005). The Feeling of Being. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12(8-10), 43-60.

Sartre, J. P. (1998 [1943]). Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. Hazel E. Barnes (Trans.). London: Routledge.

Slaby, J. (2014). Empathy’s Blind Spot. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 17, 249-258.

Tolstoy, L. (1996 [1896]). What is Art? Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky (Trans.). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Da Vinci, L. (2008). Notebooks. Selected by Irma A. Richter. Thereza Wells (Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University.

Wollheim, R. (1980). Art and Its Objects: With Six Supplementary Essays. Reprinted 2. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Zahavi, D. (2001). Beyond Empathy: Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity. Journal of Consciousness Studies 8(5-7), 151-67.

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The texture of life

Pitin

The paintings of Czech painter Daniel Pitín brim with hazy and interwoven memories: disconnected fragments of things seen, pierced by abstract and timeless thoughts. So many moments are so avidly collected and haphazardly recalled. Yet life somehow coheres even when we cannot tell whether it is bursting apart or falling into place. St Augustine, cavernous halls of memory, vacant depths, living life at the surface–read my piece on Pitín in Chilean art magazine Arte al Limite, in print or online (p. 31-41).

Bonus link: Listen to him speak with infinite calm and acceptance about painting and life in a wonderful interview filmed by Christian Bazant-Hegemark.

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Liebe Grüße

The letter (c) Samantha Groenestyn

 

 

An oldie but a goodie! Survived the high seas to resurface as a finalist in the Lethbridge 10 000 Small Scale Art Award in Brisbane, which opens this Saturday to the tune of live music and food trucks! x

SATURDAY 14 JULY from 6PM

Lethbridge Gallery
136 Latrobe Terrace, Paddington, Qld

EXHIBITION RUNS 12 – 22 JULY

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The image

Divided (c) Samantha Groenestyn

The painter practices a shadowy art: one of flimsy surfaces imbued with illusory depth, one of treacherous likenesses, one of unbounded profusion that disrupts the rigorous order imposed by the rational mind, one of quivering movement that breaks the quietude of the soul. But this is only within the carefully demarcated world of representation, built upon the long-entrenched prejudices of Platonism. The world of representation infers models for every copy; it assumes every image to be in a degraded relation of dependency upon some unwavering truth (Deleuze, 1990 [1969]: 259). Being visible, painting may only approximate truth. It must imperfectly mimic truth, offering us merely a plausible rendition (Plato, Tim., 28a; 29b). Painting proliferates wildly, disgorging as many iterations of truth as there are viewpoints at every conceivable time. Painting boils over with the feverish richness of experience, actualising every basic human truth–love, longing, loss, contentedness–in every different shade and hue. Painting challenges the impulse to declare truth abstract and constant. Each life might be reduced to the same few categories, but the art is in the living, in the particular threads we weave. The painter who escapes the arena of representation makes a claim for the positive power of the image, shedding the conception of the image as imitation. She attempts to ‘reverse Platonism’ (Deleuze, 1990: 253; 262).

 

I

Representation is founded on a false relation. It draws a connection between a painting and the world, suggesting that the painting, like a word, stands in for something in the world–something which thus must be more real. The relation is unequal, for the world does not refer to the painting. Better yet, says representation, the painting–like a word–might stand in for something far more abstract, something not even visible in the world. By an elaborate chain of substitution, a painting is first divided into colour and drawing, and by means of drawing it is dismembered into figures and ground: a figure is selected and cut out by line, peeled out of its context and raised up as a sign; that sign, now sharply recognisable, can shed its visual form for a word, a word which refers to an object in the world which in turn is but a metaphor for a deeper idea. This is to say: representation denies a painting its own status. It places it at the end of a long series of imperfect replacements for verbal thought. The original assumption behind representation is that thought is necessarily abstract and invisible, but that to trade thoughts with one another we must dress them up in inadequate clothing.

To challenge this assumption is to assert other modes of thought. It is to suggest that the painting, as it is, in its entirety, is complete; that it may be confronted on its own terms, not greeted as a carrier of other messages. This would break down Art as we have come to know it: tour guides, artist statements and historical notes would prove incidental. Painters would not calculate their strokes according to verbal ideas, nor would they translate their technically weak paintings back into words that explain them. It is only representation that demands explanation, that drives the impulse to understand. Explanation and understanding pursue the referents at the expense of their disposable carriers. Once the truths buried in the painting are uncovered, the skin that is the painting may be cast aside.

But the painting may not be cast aside as a skin. If this were the case, any skin would do: any covering would only imperfectly approximate that buried truth, and many coverings could be reduced to that single truth. Wittgenstein (1966: 36) holds up the stubbornness of the particular and the mad repetition it induces–not just any minuet will do; not just any Mary, not just any Nordic sea. It is this one that resonates with me in this moment, it is this one I return to again and again. The idea is not enough; what moves me is precisely this manifestation in all its particularity.

 

II

We begin, with Deleuze (1990: 7), to return to the surface, accepting its limitless possibility. We confront the flatness of the painting and we do not demand depth of it, layered meanings, or buried truths. We do not dissect it, because such holes would deflate this thing that hovers before us as a unity, carefully interwoven, every stroke balanced against every other. We turn from our analysis and begin to affirm, with Lucretius (DRN IV), the multiple, the positivity of the infinite, the world itself (Deleuze, 1990: 279). The world mirrors the abundance of the picture plane, and its surface–across which the particularities of experience spread–offers us its most profound truths. Where we search for patterns, we find exceptions; where we impose laws, we must amend them to cope with variables. The world’s movements are subtle and fluid, and our explanations are clunky. But where our minds struggle to describe with precision, our bodies adapt to the rhythms of the world with remarkable dexterity (Merleau-Ponty, 2012 [1945]: 171-172). The search for depth confounds us; the direct contact reassures us.

 

III

Plato’s (Tim., 27c; 29b) old dichotomy haunts philosophy of art; we still divide the world into being and becoming and we trust the one more than the other. We set them as our standards for knowledge, and we condemn the painter along with the Sophist. For the ‘image’ is not simply a picture; in our tradition it has an enduring status as an imitation, as a copy of a model (Plato, Tim., 29b). It stands as the original mould of representation, since it necessarily clings to its referent. An image might be a picture, but it might be anything sensory–as Augustine’s (2009: 152; 172) vast palaces of the memory, catalogues of images gathered through all sensory channels, make clear. Whatever sensory mode it takes, ‘the image … is an ever-moving apparition of something else’ (Plato, Tim., 52c).

Plato (Tim., 29b) casts the image under the banner of becoming, which he considers an imperfect copy of eternal being. And the nature of becoming is that it is restless. It is always in transit, and never arriving. It is not height, but shrinking or growing, and each implies the other, because becoming is the possibility of all movement, it is the pull of opposing possibilities at once. ‘Alice does not grow without shrinking’ because becoming is the relation between what has been and what will be (Deleuze, 1990: 1). Becoming admits that the world consists in these comparisons; it admits how readily we slide between them as we shift our position or traverse time. Becoming encapsulates the surge towards but never the goal. Time itself, the very condition of movement and change, is the image of eternity (Plato, Tim., 37d). The instability it introduces into the world is the direct result of its status as a flawed copy of a perfect model. Indeed, the world itself, being visible, being encountered via the senses, is on Plato’s (Tim., 28b-29b) terms merely an image.

 

IV

It is not, then, that Plato urges us to distrust our senses, only that the world in all its loveliness is pitched as inferior to the divine. What is mental and spiritual cannot be grasped through the senses; it is the special privilege of intellect to think abstract thoughts (Plato, Tim., 34c, 37c, 45a). As abstractions, such thoughts distill the multiplicity of the world into immovable and universal concepts, revealing the simplicity and order of the structure of the world. Rather than ‘embracements of flesh,’ abstract thought permits the ‘embracement of my inner man: where there shineth into my soul what space cannot contain, and there soundeth what time beareth not away’ (Augustine, 2009, p. 150). While Augustine’s (2009: 152-153) palaces of memory are conceived spatially, as interlocking caverns where images (and not the things themselves) are stored up inside of us, abstract thoughts escape this spatial constraint. These purely intellectual products of reason and number–‘the things themselves’ and not images of them–take up ghostly residence in us, in no place (Augustine, 2009: 154-155).

Movement is characteristic of the surface, while the rational stillness of being can only lie at some deep core (Plato, Tim., 57d-58a). Plato shuns movement not only because it is disruptive and uncontainable, but also because it is superficial. It corresponds to passive perception rather than deep reflection; it blithely concerns itself with unassuming exteriors rather than troubling to dig for truth. The body gives us no access to the depths and its palpitations distract us from such sober and bodiless thoughts.

And when the painter coats a swathe of linen with a thin film of pigment bound with oil, promising nothing of depth, but only a reflection of our own turbulent emotions, she seems to leer as the charming Sophist, winning our trust with superficially appealing approximations rather than honest and probing arguments. Her art is a rhetorical one: she carefully appraises the situation and adapts her picture accordingly, responding to its effect rather than holding fast to truth (Lichtenstein, 1993 [1989]: 180). Truth becomes subordinate to the effectiveness of her picture, and a picture is not effective when it accurately conveys a message to us but when it moves us. The imitative art of painting mirrors, in all its shifty superficiality, the ‘imitative art of reasoning’ (Plato, Soph., 234b-c). Aligned with becoming rather than being, the painter and the Sophist at best make plausible claims; at worst they deliberately deceive. In any case, they lay no claim on knowledge, since they refuse to excavate the truth (Plato, Tim., 29b; Rep., 510a). The imitative art of painting and the imitative art of reasoning are arts of the surface.

 

V

Yet the imitative art consists in two distinct breeds, even by Plato’s (Soph., 235d-236c) account. He considers the art of likeness-making less reproachable than the art of making appearances. The likeness strives after the inner being of the object, attempting to remain faithful to its objective proportions, while the appearance fixes on its surface and, like the painter, preserves the relations between object and observer. The maker of appearances affirms with Merleau-Ponty (2012: 77-80; 196) that there is no view from nowhere, but only perspectives: views from here or there, a shifting web of relations across a rippling and indeterminate world. The maker of appearances is the agent of becoming (Deleuze, 1990, p. 256). The painter and the Sophist don the same guise, accused by Plato (Rep., 597b-e) of standing at the third remove from reality. Their copies are not honest copies of nature, such as the carpenter might construct. With utter disregard for things ‘as they are,’ the agents of becoming dazzle us with a false knowledge which only skims the surface. Their cheap imitation is only concerned with how things appear (Plato, Rep., 598a-600e).

The echoes of this accusation of sophistry ring well into the twentieth century. The Cubist painters fret over how to paint things as they are, and renounce the ‘surface effects’ of light and perspective, the painter’s traditional tools of depth (Rivière, 1966 [1912]: 82-83; Gleizes and Metzinger, 1988 [1912]: 37-38). In a fit of irony, the Cubists scramble to portray their inner selves by trying to depict the insides of mundane objects, and this they attempt by multiplying the surfaces of those objects and consciously depriving them of depth (Rivière, 1966: 88; Gleizes and Metzinger, 1988: 46; 52). Painting approaches higher peaks of absurdity the deeper it descends. Its intellectualism retreats from the sensory, seeking the bodiless abstractions that occupy no space in Augustine’s palaces of the memory. But its method remains stubbornly physical. Painting, after all, takes up space, it gives presence to thoughts. The Cubists encounter the limits of representation: if truth is deep, and painting remains at the surface, painting and truth are incompatible. And this is the very philosophical landscape Plato has herded us into: painting is in bondage to representation, inescapably subject to its hierarchy, by definition subordinate to it (Deleuze, 1990: 259-260).

 

VI

By insisting on what we have called the false relation of image to world, Plato has obscured the crucial division. Distracted with distinguishing copies from models, we failed to notice that we confront two types of images (Deleuze, 1990: 256). And these are not simply the true likeness (as of the craftsman) and the deceptive appearance of the painter-Sophist. Deleuze (1990: 257) makes very plain that ‘if we say it is a copy of a copy, an infinitely degraded icon, loose resemblance, we miss the difference in nature between simulacrum and copy.’

This difference in nature lies in a fundamental difference in conception of resemblance. Resemblance may stem from an original similitude or even identity, from which it decays the further it strays from the model, as in Plato’s position. Or it may stem from a fundamental disparity (Deleuze, 1990: 261). In the case of the former, the traditional copy, an inner, spiritual, mental resemblance is imperfectly preserved. The copy makes feeble reference to the model. But in the latter, no such inner structure binds the two; they converge precisely because they are different. Plato bears down on us with the insistence that this outward similarity is a trick, trying to mimic an inner bond. But Deleuze (1990: 253) stands firm, defiant in his effort to ‘reverse Platonism.’ The simulacrum, he insists, ‘internalises a dissimilarity’ (Deleuze, 1990: 258). The way out of the trap of representation is to seize upon this inner unrest.

The inner disparity revels in the outward profusion of similitude in the world. The world is a jubilant profusion of diversity, of reckless variation and rampant growth, spawning rainforests of unimaginable beasts and vegetation whose individuals yet present their own personal traits (Deleuze, 1990: 266). Amplifying on Lucretius (DRN IV), Deleuze (1990: 266; 268) argues that this abundance presents no threat; rather, ‘nature must be thought of as the principle of the diverse and its production,’ and that principle is a limiting one. Increase and multiplication do not run along every axis. The number of kinds is not infinite, but among each kind, infinite instances may occur. Growth is not entirely unrestricted–there is method in its madness. Permitting the wild permutations of the world affirms truth of an entirely different flavour: one that aligns with our experience at the surface of the world, daily confirmed by our bodily immersion in the world.

 

VII

The proliferation at the surface of the world cannot be described in representational terms. Each manifestation is not a deviation from a model, but it ‘speak[s] across difference’ (Foucault, 1983 [1973]: 32). The world multiplies in series, a level field of different objects without hierarchy, sitting by one another in all their distinctness. Where they resemble one another, we must understand this as the outward convergence of inwardly disparate things. Foucault (1983: 44) further refines the concept of resemblance, teasing out the inward disparity and calling it ‘similitude,’ abandoning ‘resemblance’ to representation. The visual likeness that a painting may offer appeals to similitude, to the proliferation in series like that at the surface of the world. It can move in any direction, as Alice shrinks and grows at once–for it is always becoming. It posits the ‘indefinite and reversible’ relations between cohabitant things, not the firm reference to a model (Foucault, 1983: 44). It is in this sense that it ‘refer[s] to nothing;’ it refers not to things but to fluid relations between things (Foucault, 1983: 48).

This likeness is of an entirely other kind than that for which Foucault reserves the term ‘resemblance,’ which is inescapably grounded on a model, clinging to that inner likeness (if not identity). Resemblance always returns to the model, its purpose is ever to sacrifice itself in order to reveal the model (Foucault, 1983: 44). It is the skin that sheds itself, the superficial layer that conceals, only to finally reveal, the depths. Resemblance proves to be in servitude to representation because it treats likeness as a sign. The sign is the gateway to penetrating the surface, and it ruthlessly requires substitution: ‘This thing,’ the sign proudly declares as it annihilates itself, ‘is something else’ (Foucault, 1983: 44).

And this is how, according to Foucault (1983: 53), resemblance reintroduces words into the world of shape, which actively resisted it. While painters worked wordlessly in their studios, marvelling at their own physical encounter with the surface of the world, at the golden sunlight that melted over a late afternoon in early Summer, at the shocking discord they discovered between themselves and close companions, at the dreary fog of futility that seemed to descend on a Sunday, noting all these things in their particularity and setting them down in paint from their own perspective, words were ever stalking the boundaries of likeness and waiting to seize it for deeper purposes (Foucault, 1983: 41). The painter may defer to either side, either embracing the sign or denying it. When she denies it, she reveals the depths to be empty. There was never anything to uncover, to understand or to interpret. ‘Absence reäscends to the surface’ (Foucault, 1983: 41).

 

VIII

Having cleared the depths, we must now face this absence. The painting looms before us, flat and silent. Disarmed of our representational tools, we must simply confront the surface, accepting that painters do not bury treasures but simply reflect an experience of the world. That world is lavish and indeterminate, shimmering at its edges (Husserl, 1973 [1948]: 87). It offers an ever-changing array of possibilities upon which we may seize, with each act opening out into a new branch of possibilities. This openness affirms the movement of the world, the agitation of a world that is always surging towards and never arriving, a world premised only upon becoming without any deeper and constant being. The movement ripples back and forth across a surface of reversible relations, of which the painter is one small thread in a complex weave. Though her position is arbitrary, it is nevertheless her own, and she wields her brush with conviction, actualising a little corner of that world from her perspective, emphasising the relations that resonate with her, imposing the order of perspective, not of internal resemblance. Things make sense from her angle, or rather, she makes sense of them, by setting these relations into a holistic harmony with one another, a harmony of colours, tones, shapes, lines and textures. She demonstrates not what the world means, but why it matters, praising each particular.

The painter thinks in terms of Augustine’s stored up images and not in the hovering truths of number. She returns to her easel with the same recurring impressions circling in her head, reconfiguring them and reformulating them until they touch a nerve, bypassing the intellect altogether (Sylvester and Bacon, 1975: 18). What she puts forward is not a statement, but something that, when effective, also resonates with us as viewers when we linger at the surface.

 

IX

The image is a tarnished concept, inextricably bound up in imitation: in the reference that copy makes to model. It binds us to the world of representation, a world in which painters are either deceitful Sophists with seductive rhetorical tricks, or in which they must disavow the surface and proclaim themselves messengers of deep truths, and try to resolve the paradox of giving spatial form to what is purely abstract. Where the image cannot be rescued, it must be replaced. We must appeal instead to the simulacrum, to similitude, to series and to surface. Painters side with the Sophist only to turn his question upon Plato (Soph. 239d): ‘Pray, what do you mean at all by an image?’ It is Plato (Soph. 239e-240a) who, ‘when you address him as though he had eyes,’ laughs in response, who ‘pretend[s] that he knows nothing of mirrors and streams, or of sight at all; [who] will say that he is talking about an idea.’ The painter wordlessly wipes back her thin film of wet paint and exposes nothing but the blank expectation of experience, of life ready to be lived.

 

Augustine. (2009). The Confessions. Oxford: Oxford University.

Deleuze, Gilles. (1990 [1969]). The Logic of Sense. Edited by Constantin V. Boundas. Translated by Mark Lester. London: Athlone.

Foucault, Michel. (1983 [1973]). This Is Not a Pipe. Translated by James Harkness. Berkeley: University of California.

Gleizes, Albert, und Jean Metzinger. (1988 [1912]). Über den ,Kubismus.’ Übertragung von Fritz Metzinger. Frankfurt (Main): Fischer.

Husserl, Edmund. (1973 [1948]). Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Lichtenstein, Jacqueline. (1993 [1989]). The Eloquence of Colour: Rhetoric and Painting in the French Classical Age. Translated by Emily McVarish. Berkeley: University of California.

Lucretius, C. T., & Bailey, C. (1948). Lucretius on the nature of things. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (2012 [1945]). Phenomenology of Perception. Hoboken: Routledge.

Plato. (1988). The Republic, 2nd edition. Translated by Desmond Lee. London: Penguin.

Plato. (1984). The being of the beautiful : Plato’s Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Plato. (1976). Timaeus and Critias. Translated by Desmond Lee. Hammondsworth, England: Penguin.

Rivière, Jacques. (1966 [1912]). ‘Gegenwärtige Strömungen in der Malerei,’ in Der Kubismus, Ed. Edward Fry. Köln: DuMont Schauberg.

Sylvester, David, and Francis Bacon. (1975). Francis Bacon. 1st American ed. New York: Pantheon.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. (1966). Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief. Ed. by Cyril Barrett. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

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Organisms of paint

State of the Art (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

‘It is impossible,’ says Merleau-Ponty (2012 [1945]: 221), ‘to paint about painting.’ He contrasts painting with the self-reflexivity of speech which can turn in on itself infinitely. And yet Ruprecht von Kaufmann, in his impressive retrospective exhibition in Erfurt, Germany, boldly offers us a kind of modern altarpiece, ‘State of the Art,’ which seems to be precisely a painterly contemplation on what painting is and where it is going. The panels seem to unfold like an altarpiece in an old German church, but in fact they are flat against the wall: the perspective is built into their skewed frames and continues in the lines of the pictures. From the outset the painting toys with our perception and toys with our smug art historical expectations. It raises a physical challenge to our interminable discussions about painting; for language proves, after all, ‘equally uncommunicative of anything other than itself’ (Merleau-Ponty, 2012: 219).

The left wing houses a blazing piano whose narrow side is painted in rough, grainy, horizontal slashes that are cut sharply into a perfect vertical line–a painterly impossibility, unless one makes use of some non-traditional tool, like a stencil. Where the paint meets this stencil it rises to a proud precipice, defiantly thick. The piano seems wedged behind a smoky bar, but the long, thin counter proves to be a hovering canoe, whose subtle modulations of colour would also be impossible to paint save for the long and carefully prepared hooked curve of a stencil that determines its border. Its edges are licked pink, flaming between the sedate purple and indifferent white, giving them a diffuse glow even while they wrap around sharp edges.

State of the art (detail) (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

In the boat is a sorry looking figure. His painting-arms–for they end in brushes–hang limp and useless. Beyond him, in the final panel, flat and hasty modernist scribbles recede impatiently around a corner. Von Kaufmann seems to be in a devastating limbo. His works lack the shrewd indifference or even scorn towards narrative expected of the contemporary painter. But perhaps his painting is, in a sense, ‘accidentally narrative,’ in the way Merleau-Ponty (2012: 174) argues that a poem is. Beneath the images conjured up by the words of a poem lies the poem’s real power: its pulsing, rhythmic incantation loosely caresses its story but it leads, he insists, ‘in the reader’s mind, a further existence which makes it a poem’ (2012: 174). The force of its delivery lingers in our minds, not the synopsis, and our memory of that electrifying encounter stays with us long after the plot is lost to us. ‘A novel, poem, picture or musical work,’ ventures Merleau-Ponty (2012: 175) ‘are individuals, that is, beings in which the expression is indistinguishable from the thing expressed.’

Etude (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

Floating in this uncertainty, von Kaufmann puts on his painting-arms anyway. He brandishes them with the fury of the piano player in the small gouache study ‘Etude,’ who plays on relentlessly with quivering, bendy arms while the whole thing goes up in smoke. Behind the hovering, inert painter (who is about to be hit with a bucket of paint) hangs other equipment ready to be assumed: his ordinary hands, more brushes, and a cluster of gracefully hooked shapes. It takes me a minute, but then I recognise them: some stencils hang from the wall with a languid drape, curling with the glamour of Nouvelle Vague cigarettes, seductive as a Jugendstil arc across any reputable Viennese Kaffeehaus door. The painter might wearily pull on his brushes, but he might also adapt–

Flucht (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

Suddenly the stencils are everywhere. What would be discarded is offered triumphantly to our view, laid at the altar of painting. I see their crisp, cool results in the slick noses of sharks and I see their untiring reiteration of geometric patterns. But I also see them painfully and meticulously describing complex floor tiles in exaggerated perspectives, and I see them as sensually abstracted flat shapes. Von Kaufmann knows their rhythms intimately, he sees them scattered about the landscape of his studio, he eyes them as he dutifully attends to emails and escapes, momentarily, into their undulating forms, flattening them, in his mind, into lusciously rolling shapes, before abandoning his emails to paint them so: abstractions of abstractions, main protagonists formed of discarded remnants, paintings devised out of the very tools of painting, and out of unconventional and disposable tools at that. Von Kaufmann slips into his painting-arms and paints–defiantly, belligerently, compellingly–about painting.

Perfektion (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

The inevitable final step is that the stencils break away from the pictures, wearing the residue of the paintings on their smooth skins as they stalk the gallery, looming as embodied thought. I stand, at last, face to face with the unearthly human forms of strangely graceful sculptures that von Kaufmann has fashioned from these remnants, breathing the same air that flows between their fanned rib cages. I cast a quick look about the gallery, shocked at being entrusted with this vivifying secret. But no one else seems to notice. They approach the sculptures–thoughtfully pieced together with astounding anatomical care, with graceful kinks offsetting ribs and pelvis, and swollen calves, with a sturdy turn of the knee and the sure fastening of hamstrings to fibula–with predictable detachment, accustomed to greeting clusters of garbage in galleries. They fail to grasp that all are one: that, intoxicated with the act of creation, possessed by the same sick obsession with galvanism as Mary Shelley, von Kaufmann has animated the very tools of expression, granting them their existence as beings, as individuals.

Tumble (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

But the studio remains haunted with doubts and other tiny evils. ‘The Atelier’ towers as a false diptych. It is light and grand and littered with deceptions: benign decapitations, casual self-cannibalism, banal skulls that make up the satin ripple of the wallpaper. But most arresting is the break between the panels. It is not at the dramatic pictorial division, where the studio is propped up like a film-set. This rift between red and white trails off into a wash of strokes that reveal the painterly artifice that it is, while the real division shatters the glass of the mirror. Von Kaufmann, with the head of a rabbit, sits stiff and paralysed. His wife is sturdy and solid and human, uncovered and unshakable, sensible in her house shoes, a woman really seen, something sure among the sham. Her earthiness is grounding. She is a delicate balance between flesh and drapery, like the melting woman of ‘Take off your skin,’ whose legs, painted with ribbon-like delicacy, seem to curl endlessly in on themselves like Möbius strips.

The studio, 8 years of my life as Mr Lampe (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

Sometimes this firm but fluid drawing softens into something more loose and flat, like the legs in ‘In the house,’ a five-panel painting that traverses some intensely emotional territory across its breadth. These legs revert to gentle outlines with the loving wobble of a Klimt leg, rounded out by two or three subtle tones laid crudely next to one another. A slumped figure is composed entirely of looping outlines filled in banana-yellow, garish against the subdued purples, as if a caricature of himself, of his own maddening powerlessness, shut off from the turmoil behind the door. These softened human imprints constantly vie with the sharpness of stencils and with the exacting slopes of edges of rooms and stairways, whose disconcerting perspective refracts across breaks in the panels. The low-slung moon, thick and pocked with holes through horizontal waves, gleams artificially against a scraped violet-blue sky, cut out by a perfectly circular stencil. The bed escapes this technical tension; its soft ripples wrap expertly around a solid form with a pleasing virtuosity, its pearlescent tones are hushed and close and its strokes are swift and free.

In the House (detail) (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

Perhaps the clash between human and tool is most violent in the long series of remembered heads, the ‘Zuschauer’ (‘spectators’). Von Kaufmann seems intent on finding an elegant summary of each person, an understated string of loving lines to cup a face and distill its delightful individuality. But the painting bites back. Von Kaufmann goads it out of submission, gouging its lino surface instead of gently smoothing paint across it, slicing it and swapping its parts around, or overloading it with chunks of paint. Each eruption of paint latches onto something of the painted spectator, who willingly parades themself as they desire to be seen. But each presentation is met with a judgement, and the paint betrays that judgement. Full and dewy lips are rendered in bleeding, streaky paint. Large glasses alluding to intellect perch upon an aloof face, and von Kaufmann carves them in deep, hollow circles. A proud girl with a lovely tilt of chin and charming cheekbones is all but erased by a flat slab of gold paint, and von Kaufmann seems to sneer at her bland anonymity behind her polish, before piling a rough blob of the glitzy substance in the middle of her vacant face. Whether they seem to gaze dreamily at a starry sky, or stew knowingly in their sagging skin, or wear their bright lapels proudly, or leer from gaudy Hawaiian shirts, von Kaufmann teases them with the cruel painterly pleasure he takes in their lopsided ears, their bulbous noses, the undersides of their copious chins as they raise their heads and prattle on endlessly. And he never lets them stare him down: their evasive eyes softly dissolve like sugar sunken into coffee, nothing more than smoky circles in their sockets.

Zuschauer (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

The spectators seem to suffer a painterly fate akin to Deleuze’s (2003: 98; 99) ‘diagram’–the controlled chaos that he attributes to the smeared faces painted by Francis Bacon, the part of the painting freed from intention and left to the harsh irreverence of the hand. Indeed, the stencils permit exactly that–they define a limit within which von Kaufmann can enact a mindless physical fury at odds with the rest of the painting process, that would otherwise spill destructively into other regions and swallow up the picture. But von Kaufmann has found more than a clever tool in his stencils, for his rough patches, rather than wreaking disaster on a painting, seem rough in a directly human response to innovations and developments in painting. A stencil could, in the hands of another, be a crutch, an assistant to a lazy painter. Von Kaufmann defies the stencil and pushes its possibilities, he uses it not for ease and perfection but rather to reveal what paint is, its viscosity and willfulness, and to show us how inescapably human painting is. Every frenzied texture that wrestles through a stencil is a declaration about painting. Von Kaufmann does not carelessly disrupt his paintings. Rather, he thrashes painting to life, extracting every last drop of expression from every last part of it–even from the tools and the substrate–awakening it into a being, into an organism of paint.

Whatever von Kaufmann’s private doubts about painting may be, he keeps probing perception, probing existence itself, until the paintings assume their own existence, silently stewing and imposing their alternatives on us. His work always clings to a story, certainly, and prods us to discover one. But in so many ways they are paintings about painting, thought through the act of painting itself; the presence they give to these thoughts is far more deep and honest than this inadequate tribute of words. Every time von Kaufmann puts on his painting arms, he inhabits painting even as it inhabits him, he fuses seamlessly with his tools like bike and rider and surges on relentlessly, and we can no longer say where the brush ends and he begins.

Prometheus (c) Ruprecht von Kaufmann

Deleuze, Gilles. 2003 [1981]. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation by Gilles Deleuze. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. 1 edition. London: Continuum.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2012 [1945]. Phenomenology of Perception. Hoboken: Routledge.

Die Evakuierung des Himmels‘ runs until 02 April 2018 at Kunsthalle Erfurt, Germany. Do it!

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