Saturday, August 21, 2010

a few more musings

Yesterday I had the privilege of being present at the final practice for a concert that my friend and cello teacher, Bonnie, is giving tonight with her sister, Marilyn, a fine pianist.  The Mangold Sisters rehearsed their program for an audience of two (and then thanked us for coming!), and I was granted the opportunity to listen to two fine musicians play challenging and beautiful music without distraction or interruption.

The experience drew me directly back into some of the observations about abstract art that I have been considering.  One is the non-verbal aspect of both abstract art and instrumental music.  Another is the quality of non-reproduced experiences.

The tide of response to the music that I felt yesterday was not verbal;  I let go of words and thoughts for entire passages of melody and harmony, and just responded viscerally and instinctively.  My response was not exactly emotional, either, at least in the sense that I didn't identify sadness, elation, or any other specific feeling at any given moment.  At intervals, I was left to wonder whether it is possible to really dwell in such non-verbal moments, and how to deal with them, without words.  I'm not trying to be cute, here -- I really wonder about being non-verbal;  I have lived a very word-oriented life.  It seems to be a very human instinct to react to something by naming it, describing it, defining it.  Otherwise...?  Of course, this related back directly to my musings about abstract art being non-verbal (you can't name an object, for example, if it is not there) and non-narrative.  The same questions apply.

The other overwhelming quality of yesterday's experience was the immediacy of the live performance, unmediated by even other audience members, much less recording equipment and reproduction processes.  Adorno and Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School (see 8/14 post) were much concerned about the mechanical reproduction of what was once left alone in a single original for individual perception.  That a live performance, be it of music, drama, or visual art, loses a certain quality when recorded and replayed, is fairly obvious.  True, the genius of a cinematographer can enhance a film experience by guiding the eye of the viewer, but it also takes away the freedom of the viewer to experience directly the live production and to decide for herself what to focus on. Adorno and Horkheimer posit that the mechanical reproduction of beauty automatically negates the very beauty itself, in that a reproduction cannot evoke the deep reactions that an original can.  If nothing else, the immediacy of confronting an original is lost.  This hit home during the rehearsal yesterday in terms of music. It is also true about an abstract painting.  Don't we all complain, for example, that the photograph of a given painting never does it justice?  And how can it, when just the three-dimensionality of texture in the original is flattened onto the photographic plane?  Not to mention color shifts, etc.  There is no replacement for the full experience of viewing the original.

It took me a week to summon the courage to post the entry of 8/14 for eyes other than mine to see.  But it helped clarify some of my thoughts about the attraction that abstract painting holds for me.  And now I am up-to-date with getting my posts online.  The image above is of a 16"x16" panel, begun at the Longmont workshop, finished yesterday.  I called it "Sans mots" -- "without words".

(For those interested in further lofty thought along these lines, the source is a text titled The Dialectic of Enlightenment by the two authors cited above.  An online source for it can be found at Frankfurt School: The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.  It's pretty highfalutin' stuff, but can be useful in sorting out how we artists approach our art.)

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