Art and the Network

| May 10, 2012

“Because depth, color, form, line, movement, contour, physiognomy are all branches of Being and because each entwines the tufts of all the rest, there are no separated, distinct ‘problems’ in painting, no really opposed paths, no partial ‘solutions’, no cumulative progress, no irretrievable options.  There is nothing to prevent the painter from going back to one of the emblems he has shied away from -making it, of course, speak differently.…

For the same reason nothing is ever finally acquired and possessed for good.  In ‘working over’ a favorite problem, even if it is just the problem of velvet or wool, the true painter unknowingly upsets the givens of all the other problems.  His quest is total even where it looks partial.  Just when he has reached proficiency in some area, he finds that he has reopened another one where everything he said before must be said again in a different way.  Thus what he has found he does not yet have.  It remains to be sought out; the discovery itself calls forth still further quests.  The idea of universal painting, of a totalization of painting, of painting’s being fully and definitively accomplished is an idea bereft of sense.  For painters, if any remain, the world will always be yet to be painted; even if it lasts millions of years … it will all end without having been completed.

Panofsky shows that the ‘problems’ of painting that structure its history are often solved obliquely, not in the course of inquiries instigated to solve them but, on the contrary, at some point when painters, having reached an impasse, apparently forget those problems and allow themselves to be attracted by other things.  Then suddenly,  their attention elsewhere, they happen upon the old problems and surmount the obstacle.  This hidden historicity, advancing through the labyrinth by detours, transgression, slow encroachments and sudden drives, does not imply that the painter does not know what he wants, but that what he wants is on the hither side of means and goals, commanding and overseeing all our useful activity.”

-Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind” in Galen A. Johnson (ed.), The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1993, p.148-9.