Friday, May 08, 2015

Where's Our Rodin?

If you push people connected to the art world about why there are no new Xs or Ys, they like to say we have moved beyond that or that the medium has been explored thoroughly. I do not buy it. I will use a counter example: Auguste Rodin. He is recent enough in history that we had art academies for him to apply to and be rejected by, yet he is of a distant enough world that we cannot duplicate him now. Rodin lived when you could comfortably live poor. I should not say comfortably, but you could choose to live a rather poor life and not fear for your life even in cities. Cities were under different management then, and filled with different people. Rodin could live cheaply and concentrate on his work. Rodin just pops up and slays the world of sculpture.

We don't really have any Rodins popping up despite all of our progress? All of our leisure time and material wealth, and we cannot produce an artist to take a medium to a new level. Strange. Some of the problem might be a smaller audience seeking engaging art. That might not be so since some of his commissions were public works. It is just that our public works would not select for something where the artist creates, but where the artist creates with proper progressive programming. Even worse, it might be a soulless corporate piece of art exhibiting abstract ideas. "Fluidity, Inclusivity and Diversity!" If you are ever in Paris, check out the Rodin museum. It is worth the walk and time.

Enough has been written about him that my little blog will not add much. I'll share a passage from Stefan Zweig's memoir, The World of Yesterday, when he spent an evening dining and engaging with Rodin, and the master decided to work a bit.

After dinner we went over into the studio... Finally the master led me to a pedestal on which, covered with wet cloths, his latest work, a portrait of a woman, was hidden. With his heavy, furrowed peasant's hand he removed the cloths, and stepped back. "Admirable" escaped from my lips, and at once I was ashamed of my banality. But with quiet objectivity in which not a trace of pride could have been found, he murmured looking at his own work, merely agreeing: "N'est-ce pas?" Then he hesitated. "Only there at the shoulder... just a moment." He threw off his coat, put on a white smock, picked up a spatula and with a masterly stroke on the shoulder smoothed the soft material so it seemed the skin of a living breathing woman. Again he stepped back. "And now here," he muttered. Again the effect was increased by a tiny detail. Then he no longer spoke. He would step forward, then retreat, look at the figure in a mirror, mutter and utter unintelligible sounds, make changes and corrections. His eyes, which at table had been amiably inattentive, now flashed with strange lights, and he seemed to have grown larger and younger. He worked, worked, worked, with the entire passion and force of his heavy body; whenever he stepped forward or back the floor creaked. But he heard nothing. He did not notice that behind him stood a young man, silent, with his heart in his throat, overjoyed that he was being permitted to watch this unique master at work. He had forgotten me entirely I did not exist for him. Only the figure, the work, concerned him, and behind it, invisible, the vision of absolute perfection.
So it went on for a quarter or a half hour, I cannot recall how long. Great moments are always outside of time. Rodin was so engrossed, so rapt in his work that not even a thunderstroke would have roused him. His movements became harder, almost angry. A sort of wildness or drunkenness had come over him; he worked faster and faster. Then his hands became hesitant. They seemed to have realized that there was nothing more for them to do. Once, twice, three times he stepped back without making any changes. Then he muttered something softly into his beard, and placed the cloths gently about the figure as one places a shawl around the shoulders of a beloved woman. He took a deep breath and relaxed. His figure seemed to grow heavier again. The fire had died out. And then the incomprehensible occurred, the great lesson: he took off his smock, again put on his house coat and turned to go. He had forgotten me completely in that hour of extreme concentration. He no longer knew that a young man whom he himself had led into the studio to show him his work had stood behind him with bated breath, as immovable as his statue.
He stepped to the door. As he started to unlock it, he discovered me and stared at me almost angrily: who was this young stranger who had slunk into his studio? But in the next moment he remembered and, almost ashamed, came towards me. "Pardon, Monsieur," he began, but I did not let him finish. I merely grasped his hand in gratitude. I would have preferred to kiss it. In that hour I had seen the Eternal secret of all great art, yes, of every mortal achievement, made manifest: concentration, the collection of all forces, of all sense, that ecstasis, that being-out-of-the-world of every artist. I had learned something for my entire lifetime.

May we find our Rodin. May there be enough art lovers out there to appreciate him. May Western civilization or humanity find someone who can reach that ecstasis, and bring us to new heights.

8 comments:

Sam said...

Rodin was a badass. When at Walter Reed, I'd sometimes go to the museum in DC, and his stuff always commanded attention in a way a lot of the other exhibits didn't. I found it interesting that he was an assistant to Carrier-Belleuse when he was coming up. Those guys didn't give a damn about "problematic."

http://hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu/collections/overview/europe/sculpture/S99951.html

Portlander said...

So the Cheesecake's gone high-brow this week? Fair enough. :)

On the topic of the philistine take-over, I myself have privately lamented the lack of imagination among today's billionaires and their scions. Perhaps it's reporting bias -- it will take some time for the interesting stuff to filter out to the mainstream -- but the Victorians knew how to do amateur science. Today it feels like... not so much. There's the space race, which ain't nothin' to be sure, but it's what 3 or 6 dudes? Meh.

In addition to my Chinese orphanage whole blood & breast-milk CSA, my other business plan was for a 90' sailing yacht where Brown undergrads can spend their summer break in the southern pacific measuring plastic flotsam, at a modest fee to cover expenses of course. Yeah, it's BS from a scientific value stand-point, but nice work if you can get it. Beats the hell out of wage-slavery down at the cube-farm. :)

Suburban_elk said...

Did somebody ask, where is our Rodin?

Well, put it this way. Not only can we not come up with a Rodin, we cannot even to begin to discuss the reasons why.

We have no idea who we are. Someone like Rodin was working to figure out who they people around him were. That is what he was doing, working on their faces.

*********

Perhaps he was interested, in who they were.

Look, i am not immune to the chill that has come into the air, here. What is the deal? I have to wonder, what my role in that is. I have been doing some of my best posting - and with the exception of the host, the place is suddenly shutting down. Whatever, enough on the process already.

There must be some convergence, among the minds who are reading this, and who have participated. Then again maybe not. I would like to talk about myself but no one is interested.

But as far as artists. Look, there is no scene to be a part of. Now granted, there are exceptions to that, there are some scenes here and there, but for the most part it is "the wasteland". I studied that poem in college and it was obscure, but i know what he meant that April was the cruelest month. It is that the joy has gone out of life, because April is when spring returns and life is to begin anew … but it's not going to. Instead it will be another year of disappointment. Get used to it but you can't.

Those people who have families and children and sons, and strong sons, they are the only ones who (i would imagine), do not feel this way. I saw a picture of myself on my parents' bookshelf and want to cry i am so disappointed.

By the way this is performance art, a "written word" i don't mean any of it.

Suburban_elk said...

Portlander, are you serious about that 90' yacht plan? Amateur science sounds brilliant.

I should have gotten a masters degree in something ecology-related and gotten a job at the zoo. Meaningful and respectable. But i got a liberal arts degree instead. I was under the misimpression that, because i was not Edmund Wilson i was not suited for a career in science. (Does that triple negative compute? it is a point worth hashing out, i know many of my peers who made the same mistake. Smart people who didn't realize the competitive world they were entering and somehow thought that they weren't suited for science because it wasn't a natural gift or inclination.)

We are all patterns who express our life force within the context of the history and culture we are at. There is no support structure for anyone carving aspiring human forms into marble. Back then, anyone could go down to the quarry and if he was willing to work, could work with marble. Where can you do that now? Tom Wolfe has a famous essay on that American sculptor who made a go of it, and was successful, but was not recognized and i cannot even remember his name - but he carved ex nihilo - out of nothing. (His name was Hart.)

Glanton said...

I am a straight white able-bodied cis-male but I find your insensitive omission of discourse on sculpture by People of Color highly problematic. I feel sorry for any black bodies that have to read this.

Glanton said...

May we find our Rodin. May there be enough art lovers out there to appreciate him. May Western civilization or humanity find someone who can reach that ecstasis, and bring us to new heights.

Do you really think the West lost the ability to make great art? To continue from the previous thread, Paglia has claimed that since the 60's fine art has declined because of it's obsession with subversion and shock values. Eventually they ran out of things to rebel against and it all became just banal and incoherent.. The turning point was "Piss Christ" she says... simply a crucifix in a jar of urine, bankrolled by taxpayers no less. (Side note: will someone ever be able to convince me that Jackson Pollack deserved the acclaim he received for drunkenly dribbling paint all over the place? )

I believe our current genius lies not in the fine art real but rather in the realm of pop culture or commercial art. Just look at all the incredible movies and TV series made possible by CGI for instance. We have a whole new generation of artists and animators in silicon valley creating these massive works of art in movie or video game studios... and they are actually getting paid big bucks for it! Or consider the industrial design of many of the gadgets we use like the iPhone. You may turn up your nose because its not "high art," but art should reflect culture, and our culture is highly mediated and consumerist... make of that what you will but perhaps you may find yourself agreeing with good ole' Larry Auster (whom I will quote at length because I believe it is quite germane to this thread:

"What are the practical results of this pervasive nihilism on white, middle-class Americans? What does the human product of a nihilist culture look like? As white America has progressively lost its belief in God, in objective truth and morality, in law, in nationhood and in race, whites have acquired an increasingly bland, complacent, pacific aspect. This seems to be true not only in the United States but in the white West as a whole. One is especially struck by this enervated quality in contemporary whites when observing them at their leisure, on Sundays, or on their innumerable vacations, or when they are shopping. In the all-white or predominantly white pockets of society, the environment is orderly and peaceful and aesthetically attractive, but something vital is missing. I have noticed it when strolling in downtown Chicago, or on Manhattan’s Upper East Side on a Sunday afternoon, or watching on tv the audience of a July 4th concert of Broadway show tunes (not traditional patriotic songs) held on Capital Hill in 1996. Even the relatively refined whites (i.e. those who avoid the aggressively nihilistic “grunge” look of today’s pop culture) have their own, passively nihilistic style—dressed down, neat but nondescript. There is the predominance of t-shirts and shorts, the absence of clothing that conveys dignity or a large sense of self, the vaguely unisex fashions that deny the true scale of man and woman. Whites seem have lost the energy, confidence and leadership qualities that once created a civilization. Absent is any sense of the long views and great plans, the intensity and faith that once bestrode a continent. There is no look of destiny, or even of character, in the faces of contemporary whites. Even the “WASPy” upper-class types on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, for all their supposed elitism, do not have the aspect of leaders of society, but of an enervated clique maintaining a residue of manners. It might be said that they have declined into a mere ethnic group; but even that would be an overstatement. What they are is simply consumers."

Suburban_elk said...

the absence of clothing that conveys dignity or a large sense of self

Great quote. In middle America in the suburbs, it is challenging to look good, you will really stand out.

At the coffee shop recently a funny little scene transpired. It is crowded because the suburbs have no common space to go and sit with other people, so no free tables. This guy who is middle-aged and dressed up like a prep and slim and chiseled with lines on his face - in other words gay - gets his drink and asks to sit down in one of the few available chairs, which is at a table with two somewhat classy high school girls. There was nowhere else to sit so but still. The looks on their faces was very funny, like omg! this guy is going to sit with us! It was funny because the only way that guy could do that was that he was nonplussed by their smelly vaginas.

People who hang out in coffee shops in the suburbs, they are lost souls, and a lot of them have problems (but there is nowhere else to go). The females there who are single and conventionaly age-appropriate to a lonely man like me, say 20 to 30, are a mess. That is their style, not classy but not trash. For instance a sweatshirt that is frumpy and with a logo (get out of high school already). But the leggings is where they really go wrong, like omg i can't even.

Clearly they are uncomfortable, physically and psychologically, wearing those form-fitting cheap-ollas that press up into the contours, but they do. And then for the kicker, whenever possible, acting like they've been raped if your eyes go there. This conspicuous display of theirs, is the theme of my life. I am amazed that there is not a standardized phrase for this gesture (of theirs), which gesture is the symbol of sex relations in this here our age of greatness and decline. It is the vag-denial symbol move, where they grasp their blouse or top or whatever and pull it down as much as they can with over-eager nervous energy, so as to say in gasping tones "not for you".

They make this move over and over like a silly antelope; you know of whom i speak. It kills me but there is some solace in imagining the psycho-drama on its end; she holds to that keystone of her psychodrama like it is the last thing on earth: "Oh he wants me!"

Portlander said...

Portlander, are you serious about that 90' yacht plan? Amateur science sounds brilliant.

What's your definition of serious? I think it's a great idea, but I don't have the experience, personal charisma, or network of rich benefactors to get something like it off the ground; which is to say nothing of my current demographic standing.

Though, I certainly don't believe one needs all three to be successful with it. One out of three would warrant taking a gamble, and two out of three, I think, would be sufficient for success if one were really dedicated and hard-working enough to see it through a lean bootstrap phase. Good luck to you!