Thursday, May 25, 2017

Form as Meaning

Lucien Henry
oil on panel
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Francisco Goya
Ways of Flying
Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid

Juan Gris
oil on canvas
Phillips Collection, Washington DC

"Visual art offers many different kinds of interest.  Any attempt to argue that one kind is superior to all the rest regularly ends up as not much more than apology for one's own narrowmindedness.  But what is possible, I think, and maybe necessary to criticism, is to identify a kind of interest that certain works of art have which marks them off from the forms of image-making all around them.  (It is not the only kind of interest that even these works of art have to offer.  It is just the kind that is peculiar to them.)  Certain works of art, I should say, show us what it is to "represent" at a particular historical moment  they show us the powers and limits of a practice of knowledge.  That is hard to do.  It involves the artist in feeling for structures of assumption and patterns of syntax that are usually (mercifully) deeply hidden, implicit, and embedded in our very use of signs; it is a matter of coming to understand, or at least to articulate, what our ways of world-making most obviously (but also most unrecognizably) amount to.  I think that such work is done with real effectiveness  and maybe can only be done  at the level of form.  It is the form of our statements, and the structure of our visualizations, that truly are our ways of world-making  at any rate the ways that hold us deepest in thrall.  That means there is a necessary (though of course not sufficient) relation between the intensity and complexity of a work of art's formal ordering and its success in pursuing the questions:  What is it we do, now, when we try to make an equivalent of the world?  And what does the form that such equivalence now takes tell us about the constraints and possibilities built into our dealings with Nature and one another?"

 T.J. Clark, from his classic book on the name and nature of pictorial Modernism, Farewell to an Idea (Yale University Press, 1999)

Johan Christian Dahl
Smoke from Cannon-Shots
oil on paper, mounted on cardboard
National Gallery of Norway, Oslo

Thomas Wilmer Dewing
The White Dress
oil on canvas
Berkshire Museum, Massachusetts

John Singer Sargent
Corfu Cypresses
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Henri-Edmond Cross
color lithograph
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg
Colosseum, Rome
View through three arches of the third story

oil on canvas
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Ludvig Karsten
Blue Kitchen
 oil on canvas
National Gallery of Norway, Oslo

Oscar Bluemner
before 1938
Phillips Collection, Washington DC

Lovis Corinth
Flower-vase on table
Albertina, Vienna

Ernest Ludwig Kirchner
Portrait of Otto Mueller
color woodcut
Art Institute of Chicago

Paul Klee
Hardy Plants
oil on panel
Minneapolis Institute of Art

William Glackens
East River Park
ca. 1902
oil on canvas
Brooklyn Museum