Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Chromophobia, the Book

Reaktion published David Batchelor's Chromophobia in 2000 (and it remains in print). This post is partly a reminder-to-self that I must order it for the library where I work. The book is discussed with reverence by Maggie Nelson, an unusually credible witness.

"In his slim and lovely book, Chromophobia, David Batchelor meditates on precisely this problem. First he charts how Western art has an "intimidating and ancient tradition of disegno versus colore line versus color  in which line is figured as masculine and color as feminine. (The nineteenth century French color theorist Charles Blanc articulated the hierarchy in this idea with the utmost of clarity: "The union of design and color is necessary to beget painting just as is the union of man and woman to beget mankind, but design must maintain its preponderance over color. Otherwise painting speeds to its ruin:  it will fall through color just as mankind fell through Eve".)  Batchelor then explores how for centuries various Western artists and art theorists have linked color – specifically color-as-corruption  with the feminine, the "Orient," the infantile, and the homosexual." 

I found this miniature review in Maggie Nelson's 2007 book from University of Iowa Press, Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions. Am reading that title now because of admiration for the author's 2012 book, The Art of Cruelty (which I read and promoted here).

Beyond the clarity of Maggie Nelson's style, what attracts me to her work is a righteous interest in so-called "minor" artists and writers whose reputations remain hanging off the fringes of movements or periods. The opening chapter of Women, the New York School and Other True Abstractions is a conversation about abstract painter Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) and abstract poet Barbara Guest (1920-2006) in relation to the far more famous male painters and poets who surrounded them in the mid-century art world.

Even though I would have claimed familiarity with the work of Mitchell and Guest, Nelson convinces me that I have never looked properly, never listened properly, with full attention. And this is what good critics ought to do, this ought to be their main job  persuading the reader, the viewer to bestow better attention on the poet or painter at hand.