Sunday, May 6, 2012

sublime abuse = sublimity

this diebenkorn fits rosenberg's "sublime," which "wouldn't exactly screw up your maid's room"

aLfrEdo tRiFf

Web-browsing through the art bubble I find the following excerpt, written by a Meredith Rosenberg,* who appears as "gallery director at BravinLee programs (...) a partner in BravinLee editions –hand knotted rugs, tapestries and installations by contemporary artists":
Prints are often placed at the bottom of the caste system, behind paintings and drawings, but Diebenkorn’s sublime etchings disrupt this order. I’m not saying, if I had my choice, I wouldn’t rather have a big Ocean Park painting hanging in my stupidly oversized après-ski mansion in Aspen, but this absolutely sublime softground etching from the 1980s wouldn’t exactly screw up the maid’s room either.
Rosenberg drops "sublime" twice, plus her adverbial use of "absolutely" in the last sentence, a sort of steroidal trope to emphasize her own preferences. Without doubt, she means the prints are more than beautiful (the more tired buzzword of the art lexicon).

But her panegyric makes you wonder.

Oddly, Rosenberg's real choice is not the Diebenkorn print, so obviously praised, but a painting she already owns (entitled Ocean Park which hangs in her "stupidly oversized mansion" after skiing expeditions in aspen). Division of labor aside here, the "absolutely sublime" ends up relegated to a maid's room. isn't this admission queer? Unless Rosenberg's hyperbole reflects a deeper valuation problem, which has become second nature amongst pseudo critics and art connoisseurs alike. We need to go back in time to find out.

In his philosophical inquiry into the sublime, Edmund Burke describes the feeling associated with the sublime as negative, antithetical to beauty. When it happens, our imagination is moved to awe, even horror. Later, Immanuel Kant shifts the emphasis to make it less psychological and more analytic, but he keeps a bit of Burke:
The sublime may be described this way: It is an object (of nature) the representation of which determines the mind to regard the elevation of nature beyond our reach as equivalent to a presentation of ideas. (CJ, 119)     
this turner painting fits the burkean sublime
The sublime for Kant represents a failure of imagination before the brutal forces of nature, which are compensated for by reason's self-reflection. The sublime is a kind of balance between nature's raw power and reason's feat at self-admiration.

this representation of planetary cataclysm fits the kantian sublime
Fast forward to late-20th century: The sublime surfaces again. jean francois lyotard retakes the kantian sublime, defining it as an aesthetic manifestation of the unrepresentable:** 
(...) the event of a passion, of a possibility for which the mind will not have been prepared, which will have unsettled it and of which it conserves only the feeling -anguish and jubilation of- an obscure debt. (ti, 141)
What is this "obscure debt"? For Lyotard, the political & ethical of 20th century horrors. ***

thousands of victims of pol pot's kmer rouge fit the lyotardian sublime
I'm not implying that Rosenberg needs to be updated with these particular aesthetic developments to inform her opinions, which no doubt percolate into her writing. Only that "sublime" now becomes a buzzword to refer to something better than, a sort of je ne sais quois which -incidentally- deserves praise.

In a perverse sense Rosenberg's abuse of "sublime" proves that Lyotard is right: the term has fulfilled its role of representing the unrepresentable, only now as cipher for the inadequacy of any representation. How come?

When normative differences disappear between beautiful and non-beautiful, high and low, good and bad, art has to be expressed as a sort of impossibility of representation. That is to say, now that  anything is representable, we have superfluously turned "sublime" into a sublime "abuse," which has become for some time now the very essence of art.

______________
* Here one finds several articles Rosenberg has written. **Lyotard wrote these essays on the sublime through the 1980's. As this and this proves, his ideas were influential in art circles throughout the early 2000's. *** In particular, the holocaust. Lyotard is influenced by  Adorno's negative dialectics. Readers of Lyotard extend this "differend" to the representation of late-20th century horrors. Books cited for this post: Kant's Critique of Judgment and J. François Lyotard's The Inhuman.

15 comments:

Daniella said...

Rosenberg's writing more than anything else reflects her needs and wants. What I get is a strong need for exhibitionism. The sublime gets sandwiched in between.

Anonymous said...

This woman is so vapid. All I have to say.
M. Allaster

Anonymous said...

Your perspective from theory is interesting, I've ioften thought that beauty is not enough but use it for lack of a better word. Not sublime though I find it a heavy word filled with religious meaning.
Soledad

Meredith Helen said...

When I wrote this short appreciation of Diebenkorn’s prints I used the word sublime in terms of a beautiful appearance mixed up with my sense of connection to them. But I agree with the commenter that the word sounds religious and if there is one thing I am suspicious of it’s religiousness. If I had a do over I wouldn’t have used the word sublime and certainly would not have used it twice. I may never use the word sublime again! All in all, I am thrilled to be bashed by Mr. Triff, he seems pretty brilliant. I think I’ll just go back to the mall….

Meredith Rosenberg

Alfredo Triff said...

Meredith, thanks for visiting. No bashing intended. Just critique.

Thanks, Daniella, Soledad & M. Allaster.

Anonymous said...

Triff, as always. Nice discussion. See you soon in Wynwood?

Soledad

Anonymous said...

From the between to the sublime and ridiculous there is only one step"

That is exactly what happened when writers try to understand and interpret visual arts. At the end and behind the doors the artists end up laughing about you.

The funniest things is that you think you know what your talking about , but you don't.

There is a kind of frustration hidden there that says: well if can't do at least I can talk ! right?

keep playing the game!!

Anonymous said...

From the between to the sublime and ridiculous there is only one step"

That is exactly what happened when writers try to understand and interpret visual arts. At the end and behind the doors the artists end up laughing about you.

The funniest things is that you think you know what your talking about , but you don't.

There is a kind of frustration hidden there that says: well if can't do at least I can talk ! right?

keep playing the game!!

Alfredo Triff said...

My dear anon artist: You say that artists are in a better position to "interpret" visual arts, but you don't support your point at all. Your ad hominem argument ends thus: "you think you know what your talking about , but you don't."

Isn't this a bit redundant for a conclusion? :)

Amida Frey said...

Always a pleasure to be forced into introspection. Namely, thoughts of my own ideas and interpretations of "the sublime". Thank you Professor. I certainly feel that sublime is a heavily weighted word (if you can forgive the pun) and am always cautious throwing it around.

What a treat also to have the very author herself of the subject of your critique join the conversation. Your critique seems to have been well received.

Please allow me to posit (selfishly) that the next discussion should have you interpret the word "stupefy" for me as it is used in art criticisms. I hear it often, and misused it often in my younger years, only to now feel as though the common definition, "to dull the senses" represents the antithesis of its common usage.

Hope to see you running around critiquing in Wynwood this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Good thread. The problem with sublime is the same problem we have w the word beauty. Beauty this beauty that.. and the word doesnt mean anything anymore. I try to talk about art avoiding these words & I don't miss them.
Johnanna

atRifF said...

Thanks, Amida. Agree with you on "stupify." With words it happens that with prolonged usage they get ready for the cleaners.

Thanks Johanna. Keep visiting.

Amida said...

My Senior thesis in Undergrad dealt with an ontological proof for the existence of beauty, independent of our perception of it, utilizing biological and botanical evidence, as well as observations by John Muir and Charles Darwin. A fascinating question.

Alfredo Triff said...

Let's descant it!

Anonymous said...

http://www.montevidayo.com/?p=1646