Tuesday 26 April 2011

A place that is not me

This one reminded me of a drawing in ink and watercolour.
.. always moving, blown by wind, dissolving into the moisture in the air evoked by the mixture of ink and water on the paper. They are always out there in a place that is not me.
From Paul Kahn's review of drawings by Gao Xingjian in the latest issue of Cerise Press
A place that is not me: what a wonderful evocation of looking at art!  And it struck me in particular because T J Clark, in a recent talk at the London Review Bookshop, said something related, in less poetic but not less shockingly resonant words. 

I'd encountered T J Clark through his recent writing in the LRB. These few articles were not enough for me to form a view of his approach to art history, but I was quickly engaged by writing as exhilaratingly personal as it was knowledgeable. I especially liked his piece on the Cezanne exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery a few months ago  - both the paintings and the review spoke so much to the thoughts stirred up by the blogpost Parmanu had written around the same time on Edward Hopper and the eternal moment.    

Tim Clark and Wendy Lesser, talking at the LRBookshop about their books*, which share the impossible project of putting into words that which defies words, but is conveyed by painting or music, were exciting if frustrating, as such brief discussions perhaps always are. The ultimate appeal of a work of art, he said - and Paul Kahn's words reminded me of this - is all about escape from self, escape from here. [Another kind of moment - the 'yes!' moment when someone articulates the thing you've always known.]

Painting, Clark went on to say, offers the non-textual, non-grammatical; it exceeds or eludes verbal language. So is there a contradiction, a violence even, in approaching the non verbal through words?, Wendy Lesser asked (she was fascinating too - I have to read one of her books). Not violence, he responded; it's a contradiction, yes, but it's what people do, what language does. Language must struggle, he said, with what it is in a fine painting that most compels - the momentary, the uncontrollable that materialises, confirming or undermining the structure, the form of the work.   

These notions dance in my mind: 'the momentary', 'escape', 'a place that is not me'.

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Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think it's a responsibility, not to give up on putting things into words, not to just shrug and say it's too hard. The photo is gorgeous.

Lucy said...

'There's a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear'

Restraint and containment is not necessarily violence, but it csan do violence to the spirit. Yet sometimes language and words release things, liberate and give form to the joy and fear. Some poetry can express an intensity of experience which can take one to 'a place that is not me' too, giving a glimpse of a vision of things which for my part I can't perceive for myself. And it can attempt a kind of pure visuality of its own.

With describing and interpreting visual art in words, it can reduce things but needn't. I never forget when I was quite young reading Gombrich on Rubens, and how the way he described what he saw enabled me to change perspective, away from my immediate visceral reaction of distaste to feel a much deeper joy that I'd not seen the potential for before.

Beth said...

Yes. The frustration of trying to express the visual, and the act of looking, with words is balanced by my gratitude to writers (yourself included) who do it well and enlarge my own ability to see.