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Art and Story Proceedings 2004

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Proceeding for the School of Visual Arts Eighteenth Annual National Conference on Liberal Arts and the Education of Artists: Art and Story CONTENTS SECTION ONE: Marcel’s Studio Visit with Elstir……………………………………………………….. David Carrier SECTION TWO: Film and Video Narrative Brief Narrative on Film-The Case of John Updike……………………………………. Thomas P. Adler With a Pen of Light …………………………………………………………………… Michael Fink Media and the Message: Does Media Shape or Serve the Story: Visual Storytelling and New Media ……………………………………………………. June Bisantz Evans Visual Literacy: The Language of Cultural Signifiers…………………………………. Tammy Knipp SECTION THREE: Narrative and Fine Art Beyond Illustration: Visual Narrative Strategies in Picasso’s Celestina Prints………… Susan J. Baker and William Novak Narrative, Allegory, and Commentary in Emil Nolde’s Legend: St. Mary of Egypt…… William B. Sieger A Narrative of Belonging: The Art of Beauford Delaney and Glenn Ligon…………… Catherine St. John Art and Narrative Under the Third Reich ……………………………………………… Ashley Labrie 28 15 1







Hopper Stories in an Imaginary Museum……………………………………………. Joseph Stanton SECTION FOUR: Photography and Narrative Black & White: Two Worlds/Two Distinct Stories……………………………………….. Elaine A. King Relinquishing His Own Story: Abandonment and Appropriation in the Edward Weston Narrative………………………………………………………………………….. David Peeler Narrative Stretegies in the Worlds of Jean Le Gac and Sophe Calle…………………….. Stefanie Rentsch SECTION FIVE: Memory Does The History of Western Art Tell a Grand Story?…………………………………… Eugene E. Selk Storylines………………………………………………………………………………… Bozenna Wisniewsak SECTION SIX: Art and Identity Two Late Crisis Paintings by Van Gogh………………………………………………….. Robert Wauhkonen Personal Stories and the Intransigent Critic…………………………………………….. Charles S. Mayer The Role or Story in the Development of a Sense or Self……………………………… Kathleen Lentz Egner Performing New Memories: Performance, Texts and Acts of Resistance………………. Barbara Rose Haum SECTION SEVEN: Storytelling and Video Narrative Resonance Imaging: Re-Visioning the Short Story in Video Art……………..












Andrea Eis and Maureen Dunphy SECTION EIGHT: War Story Alexander Gardner’s Historical Manipulation…………………………………………… Anna Heineman SECTION NINE: Teaching and Students Invisible Threads or Learning to Look………………………………………………… Elissa Tatigikis Iberti Path to Content and Identity…………………………………………………………… Ann Giddings Teaching Visual Narrative in Ten (Easy) Steps………………………………………….. Mary Stewart Creating Fictional Lives…………………………………………………………………… Alison Watkins Interpretation, Narrative, and the Student’s Search for an Artist’s Intentions…………… Sherry Stone Clifton SECTION TEN: Fashion and the Whole Cloth Saving Cloth and Ecosystems: Telling the Story of Ecology Through Quilts…………… Maura C. Flannery SECTION ELEVEN: Sacred Story and Memory through Relics Jewish Narrative: Word a Non-Image…………………………………………………….. Randall Rhodes Telling Stories Through Relics: The Art of Remembrance………………………………. Peg Speirs Procreating Meaning: The Text and the Artist’s Imagination……………………………. George S. Matejka 158 152 132








SECTION TWELVE: Art History: The Story of Art History of Art Through the Ages…………………………………………………………. Matthew Rohn Pictorial Verbage………………………………………………………………………….. Gary Keown SECTION THIRTEEN: Audience and Interpretation Ethics, Audience and Point of View in the Works of Leon Golub and Sue Coe………….. Mary Slowik Fifth Skin: Comparison of Epic and Romance Narratives ………………………………. Christopher Frey SECTION FOURTEEN: The Shape of Political Story Chasing China: Lady Wenji Still Sings the Universal Story……………………………….. Faith C. Watson The Narrative Body: Tennessee Williams Writes George W. Bush……………………… Ian Watson SECTION FIFTEEN: Digital Narratives: Multimedia Experiments Word, Image and Sound: Narrative for a Media-Centric Generation…………………….. Gena R. Greher SECTION SIXTEEN: Ekphrastic Writing The Illusions of Perspective in Works by W.C. Sebald…………………………………… Barry Maine SECTION SEVENTEEN: Communicating the Intangible Didactic by Design…………………………………………………………………………. Jacqueline Belfort-Chalat SECTION EIGHTEEN: Words and Images Rilke’s Storytelling of Objects, Myth and Words…………………………………………… Silya Kiese 220 198 188 177







MARCEL’S STUDIO VISIT WITH ELSTIR David Carrier There were no aspects of modern life that alarmed Proust; he put all of them into his book . . . . --Jean-Yves Tadié, Marcel Proust

A younger artist asks you to look at her paintings. Or an older painter hires you to write a catalogue essay. When making your way to this studio, it’s good to pay attention to the neighborhood for often these surroundings influence an artist. After getting a cup of coffee you see new art, talk about aesthetic theory, discuss relevant historical examples, and look at older paintings. Viewing art in galleries frequently is a relatively impersonal experience. If you don’t like what you see, then you quickly go on to the next show. By contrast, in the studio often more is at stake. Visiting is by appointment and so it’s hard to exit gracefully if you’re not engaged by the art. There can be an element of seduction in this situation, especially if you don’t know the artist. And so many painters become understandably defensive during studio visits, for early on in a career the critic’s commentary can make a difference. How awkward it is to meet a nice person making eyesore art. There is a studio visit in the second part of the second volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Young Marcel is at the beach on a summer visit with his friend Robert Saint-Loup in pursuit of girls. At dinner the boys see Elstir, the painter whose name Marcel has learned from the connoisseur Swann. Elstir invites Marcel to his studio, an invitation that the boy lets drop until his nana presses him. In the studio, Marcel, finding the painter at work, looks at a group of his seascapes. Proust tells us that objects depicted by Elstir undergo metamorphosis, a visual equivalent to metaphor in poetry. “The moon,” this is Wallace Stevens’s metaphor, “is the mother of pathos and pity.” Good metaphors make suggestive, unexpected comparisons. So too do Elstir’s paintings, transforming our awareness of the visual world by showing its essential visual qualities, and thus giving us aesthetic pleasure. Like metaphor, metamorphosis both preserves and transforms something or someone. Ovid, for example, tells of Arachne, an arrogant weaver who challenging a rival to a weaving contest, learns only too late that this old woman is the goddess Pallas in disguise. When defeated, she attempts to hang herself, but survives as a spider. “She yet spins her thread, and as a spider is busy with her web as of old.” Her essential quality thus is preserved. Elstir’s visual metaphors transform visual experience. We normally see in intellectual ways, visual experience overruled by knowledge but he shows things as they are, allowing us to see nature poetically. We know

that the land and sea are distinct, but his paintings show their visual interpenetration.


In the studio Proust’s extended word painting describes Elstir’s Carquethuit Harbour. On the beach in the foreground the painter had contrived that the eye should discover no fixed boundary, no absolute line of demarcation between land and sea. The men who were pushing down their boats into the sea were running as much through the waves as along the sand, which, being wet, reflected the hulls as if they were already in the water. The sea itself did not come up in an even line but followed the irregularities of the shore, which the perspective of the picture increased still further, so that a ship actually at sea, half-hidden by the projecting works of the arsenal, seemed to be sailing through the middle of the town. . . . Elstir brackets his knowledge, which seems surprising, for he is highly intelligent. When we respond to his art, we too momentarily forget what we know and see the world purely aesthetically, as it appears. After photographs popularized this style of seeing, so Proust tells, Elstir’s pictures seemed less original. Once the act of bracketing no longer took skill, it was hard to recall what the world looked like before Elstir depicted it. Seascapes blur the line between land and sea, showing people or things whose place on the borderline is indeterminate. Here as often Remembrance of Things Past gets great mileage from very simple ideas. A boy who has trouble getting to sleep is comforted by his mother. And when he becomes older, dipping a snack in tea allows him to retrieve memories and so write a novel. How marvelously straightforward Proust is! A child is naïve, but for an adult to become childlike requires self-conscious reflection. Analogously establishing Proust’s distinction between showing things as they actually are and as they appear requires intellectual analysis. Proust’s account of the distinction between appearance and reality motivates much of his account of Carquethuit Harbour. For example, here I finish quoting the sentence that I started a moment ago, Elstir shows “a strip actually at sea, half-hidden by the projecting works of the arsenal, which appears to be sailing through the middle of the town; women gathering shrimps among the rocks had the appearance, because they were surrounded by water and because of the depression which, beyond the circular barriers of rocks, brought the beach (on the two sides nearest the land) down to sea-level, of being in a marine grotto overhung by ships and waves, open yet protected in the midst of miraculously parted waters. The narrative is in the present tense because Marcel is looking at Carquethuit Harbour,


When Wordsworth calls Venice “the eldest Child of Liberty,” he offers a startlingly economical condensation of the long story of that city’s history. And when Elstir tells how we really see the seashore, the simple structure generating his extended ekphrasis with its elaborate conditional phrases is given. Whether because its houses concealed a part of the harbour, a dry dock, or perhaps the sea itself plunging deep inland . . . on the other side of the promontory on which the town was built the roofs were overtopped . . . by masts which had the effect of making the vessels to which they belonged appear town-bred, built on land . . . Proust’s delicately woven prose describes the uncertainty often experienced before paintings. This fishing fleet, he goes on to explain, seemed less to belong to the water than . . . the churches of Criquebec which, in the distance, surrounded by water on every side . . . seemed to be emerging from the waters, blown in alabaster or in sea-foam, and, enclosed in the band of a variegated rainbow, to form an ethereal, mystical tableau. Of course the fleet really belongs to the water and the churches are on land. If the whole picture gave this impression of harbours in which the sea penetrated the land, in which the land was already subaqueous and the population amphibian, the strength of the marine element was everywhere apparent; and round about the rocks, at the mouth of the harbour where the sea was rough, one sensed, from the muscular efforts of the fisherman . . .that they were riding bareback on the water as though on a swift and fiery animal whose rearing, but for their skill, must have unseated them. To describe Elstir’s painterly metamorphoses, Proust needs to say a great deal about how the seascape appears. Proust shows how under prolonged viewing, a picture seems to change before our eyes. One’s reason . . . set to work to make a single element of what was in one place black beneath a gathering storm . . . and elsewhere so bleached by sunshine, haze and foam, so compact, so terrestrial, so circumscribed with houses that one thought of some white stone causeway or a field of snow . . . . To continue my quotation, if at one instant this area looked like land, a moment later, when you saw on the raised uneven surface of the solid plain boats drunkenly heaving, you understood, identical in all these aspects, (that area) to be still the sea.


How restless is this search for the aesthetic qualities of appearances. Nothing is said about the relative positions of the boats, churches, the men pushing boats, women gath tourists going out to sea. When Proust tells that parts of the sea are calm while others show the effect of a recent storm, it is clear that this imaginary picture is hard to envisage ering shrimp, and. Elstir’s painting, one commentator writes, ‘is almost as real to us as if we had seen it. . . . “ This is standard praise for word paintings. But we don’t almost see Carquethuit Harbour–we read a description of it, which is to say that it is a literary construct. An imaginative scholar envisages physical process of making this picture. The muscular efforts of fishermen and shrimp-collecting women are echoed in the transpositional labour of Elstir’s brush, which moves land-features seawards and sea-features landwards . . .. He too thinks of Proust’s description as matching a real object, but in an instructive way that focuses attention on its verbal nature. Another literary critic writes: We speak easily of Proust’s characters, but perhaps too easily. Character implies fixity, a seizable identity or essence. But the destabilizing movements of Proustian metaphor, crossing boundaries, redistributing predicates, imply the exact opposite. That is exactly right. Instead of thinking of Carquethuit Harbour as an imaginary image we cannot see, better to consider it as a character in Proust’s novel. Like Elstir and Albertine, Carquethuit Harbour functions to advance the narrative. No description of a mere object could be as suggestive as this account of a fictional picture, which is suggestive, elusive and evocative in part because it is hard or impossible to envisage. Taken out of context, Proust’s ekphrasis might be found in art historical writing. If you didn’t know that Carquethuit Harbour was imaginary, no amount of scrutiny of Proust’s words would reveal that fact. That a word painting is detailed, imaginative and revealing does not also tell whether the object it describes exists. When Proust describes the masts, the women gathering shrimp, the sailors headed out to sea and the holiday-makers, we may assume that Marcel’s eyes are moving in such a way. But he says nothing about the composition of Elstir’s picture. Nor does he say anything about the painterly qualities of his imaginary painting. In viewing a painting, it would be natural to move back and forth, watching the pigment transform itself into a representation. We don’t, by contrast, follow Marcel’s experience of Elstir’s picture as representation. This is a revealing omission in his account of Chardin, Proust is very sensitive to such effects.


Identifying the sources of Proust’s characters, like asking whether the narrator Marcel is identical with his author, ultimately is a limiting procedure. The author of Remembance of Things Past did not create his characters merely by recombining features of actual people he knew. Whatever the facts about Proust’s life, his character Marcel, so the novel definitively tells, loves only women. The novel, everywhere grounded in reality, is creative writing. And Carquethuit Harbour. is not an eclectic combination of real paintings. Proust’s description is so rich partly because that it cannot be tied to any actual picture. When dealing with real works of art, we often can match the object with the description of it. In The Captive, Proust’s fifth volume, for example, the imaginary novelist Bergotte, inspired by “the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall” in Vermeer’s View of Delft, thinks that his last books should be written differently. “I ought to have gone over them with a few layers of colour, made my language precious in itself, like this little patch of yellow light.” When matching Proust’s account to the picture, commentators observe that since Bergotte is dying, he may be an unreliable narrator. View of Delft, an actual painting, has the visual qualities created by Vermeer, but Carquethuit Harbour, a purely literary creation, has only the features given to it by Proust. When Vasari describes Piero della Francesca’s fresco cycle in Arezzo, he mentions many isolated scenes without identifying their relationship. He cites the dresses of the women with the Queen of Sheba, the Corinthian columns, the serf leading on his spade, and the foreshortened angel appearing at night. But he doesn’t tell that the larger narrative begins at the top right, moves downward and across, and ends at the top left. Making a sketch of Elstir’s with Proust’s description in hand is not easy. Had Piero’s painting been destroyed, it would be impossible just by reading Vasari to reconstruct this complicated narrative sequence. By Proust’s time the ekphrasis had become old-fashioned. Once art writing was illustrated with photographic reproductions, no longer did we need detailed verbal descriptions. Inability to visualize Elstir’s picture poses no problem for normal readers, for they don’t stop to ask what Carquethuit Harbour looks like. As I noted earlier, there is no reason to think that Proust ever considered how the details fit together. But commentators, not normal readers, obsessively seek the sources for Proust’s imaginary picture. Carquethuit Harbour has been associated with “the cathedrals and Normandy cliffs of Monet, the race course subjects of Degas, the gods and centaurs of Gustave Moreau, the firework nocturnes of Whistler, the bathing girls of Renoir.” It has been linked with John Ruskin’s drawings, Vuillard’s paintings, and Whistler’s, for if you subtract the ungallic w and h from the name “Whistler,” you get, “istler,” an anagram of Elstir. Commentators link Carquethuit Harbour to the Impressionist paintings of Manet; the seascapes of Boudin; some Carpaccios much admired by Proust; and most especially, the Turners discussed in John Ruskin’s Harbors of England (1856).


(Ramsgate). The lurid transparency of the dark sky, and wild expression of wind in the fluttering of the falling sails of the vessel running into the harbour, are as fine as anything of the kind he has done. (Plymouth) The Plymouth storm will very thoroughly wet the sails, and wash the decks, of the ships at anchor, but will send nothing to the bottom. (Scarborough) I know very few better examples of . . . calmness than the plate before us, uniting, as it does, the glittering of the morning clouds, and trembling of the sea, with an infinitude of peace in both. In fact, the most Proustian prose of Harbors of England comes not in descriptions of individual pictures but in Ruskin’s characterization of Turner’s interest in the sea: The dark flanks of the fishing-boats all aslope above, in their shining quietness, hot in the morning sun, rusty and seamed with square patches of plank nailed over their rents; just rough enough to let the little-flat-footed fisher-children haul or twist themselves up to the gunwales, and drop back again along some stray rope; just round enough to remind us, in their broad and gradual curves, of the sweet of the green surges they know so well . . . But however many paintings by Manet, Monet, and Turner are adduced, Carquethuit Harbour looks quite unlike them. And since Proust says that Elstir’s picture is highly unified, to imagine him creating an eclectic imaginary painting is deeply dissatisfying. Carquethuit Harbour, the subject of this very closely focused ekphrasis, is hard to envisage when related to these sources. Bringing it to life by recalling seascapes by Boudin, Degas, Manet, Monet, Turner and Whistler, one loses touch with Elstir’s imaginary picture. When art historians, by contrast, compare and contrast real pictures to many related images, they sharpen our visual awareness. Imagine some parallel universe, otherwise identical with ours, in which there really was an Impressionist named Elstir. And suppose that this artist’s Carquethuit Harbour is described by an art historian in an ekphrasis identical word-for-word with Proust’s. In this context, because those same words serve a quite different function, they would have a quite different meaning. Proust’s Carquethuit Harbour helps tell the story of Marcel’s erotic adventures. By contrast, my imaginary art historian sets this picture within a very different framework. Manet’s On the Beach at Boulogne, done in 1869, a couple of decades earlier than Elstir’s seascape shows


An aspect of contemporary life at the seashore, but in its organization has the stiffness of a studio painting. Only two men are shown (it is probably a weekday), a overlarge vacationer with parasol aloft, on the right, and an employee who hauls a private cabin ashore. . . Robert Herbert’s elegantly stylish Impressionism goes on to compare Manet’s View of the Paris World’s Fair (1867) and contrast Boudin’s The Beach at Trouville (1868). His vacationers are usually grouped in set places against the three horizontal stripes of beach, water, and sky. Unlike Manet’s, however, his groups are overlapped, or linked by beach furniture, scampering children and dogs, or elongated shadows. This contrast in compositional styles reflects deep differences. “Manet is still the Parisian, bringing an urban vision to the seashore to which Boudin had devoted himself all his life. Herbert sets On the Beach at Boulogne in a panoramic study of French beach culture. We learn about Manet’s pictures of ships at shore, Degas’ images of local girls and vacationers, Berthe Morisot’s feminist concerns, and Monet’s selective editing of his seacoast paintings. It would be possible to extend Herbert’s narrative in a natural way to include pre and postImpressionist examples. The art that influenced Carquethuit Harbour dates from Proust’s youth. When young he was fascinated by Gustave Moreau, and near the end of his life he had some not altogether satisfying experiences of cubism, which is mentioned in passing in his novel. Proust seems not to have known that in 1890 Georges Seurat did a number of pictures of Gravelines, a channel resort East of Balbec. “In these quiet seascapes,” Herbert writes, “his emotions are the controlled esponses of a city dweller who seeks not nature but arrangements of forms that express humankind’s ability to construct.” Just when Proust was writing about Marcel’s adventures at the beach in Northern France, a promising French painter summered at the seashore in the South. Henri Matisse was decisively influenced by his visit in 1904 to SaintTropez. After doing some naturalist views of the ocean, in 1904-05 he painted the great Luxe, calme et volupté. There is a great book to be written about French paintings showing the seashore. The pleasures of going to the beach, walking on the sands, bathing in the surf and watching the incoming waves may seem self-evident. But only between 1750 and 1840, so Alain Corbin shows in The Lure of the Sea, did people find “the means of encountering the elements and enjoying the brightness or transparency of the water.” In the late eighteenth-century, as we see in Vernet’s paintings, there was serious fascination with shipwrecks. Romantics, Corbin remarks, “made the beach into a stage on which the story of the collision of the elements unfolded.” What a different image of the sea is presented by Claude Lorrain.


In Proust’s time the seashore had become a place for leisure play. Remembrance of Things Past, an invaluable resource for the social historian, describes servants in luxury hotels and tells how the gentrification of the seashore was pioneered by artists like Elstir. The Deauville-Trouville train station was opened in 1863. And around 1880, Herbert tells, fishing ports along the Northern coast of France became resorts. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution and the railways, the annual holiday was born. And painters came with tourists. Nowadays ocean vacations are popular pleasures, but in Elstir’s time they were reserved for the wellborn. The beach, a place where visiting tourists wear fewer clothes than at work, is naturally associated with erotic desire. An early French guidebook remarked that fishing “at least makes an excuse for fine ladies to wade about and show their ankles in short skirts after the fisherwomen fashion.” But a reader who envisages Proust’s girls wearing bikinis, as I used to do, should look at photographs, which show how formally beach goers dressed. The art historical associations relevant to On the Beach at Boulogne are almost open ended, for Manet influenced many artists, and played a role in an important modernist tradition. And of course a study of his picture could set this painting in this broad social history that I have sketched. But at this point the differences between treatment of pictures in art history writing and literature become apparent. When Herbert reconstructs this history, it is appropriate and natural to discuss the tradition of seascape paintings, and set that story within a broader history. The more we know about its context, artistic and social, the better we comprehend On the Beach at Boulogne. By contrast, because the fictional Carquethuit Harbour exists only within Remembrance of Things Past, setting it within such a history easily becomes a digressive procedure. For the literary critic, tracing out the role of Elstir and his pictures within the novel, identifying Proust’s sources is valuable only insofar as they help us understand his novel. But for the art historian, who has different concerns, looking for pictures relating to Elstir’s seascape is a most suggestive procedure. Before photography, art historians wrote ekphrases. But once paintings could easily be illustrated in books, then this word painting went out of fashion. In 1399 a visiting Byzantine art writer described a tapestry in Paris: The rivers are now coming to terms with their banks and their full spate is checked; what was hidden before by flood-water now emerges and men’’ hands may grasp their fruits. One of them already has been caught by this boy there . . . he puts his bare right hand noiselessly into the water . . . Humanists sometimes did such writing as a literary exercise, without reference to actual works of art. Proust’s account of Carquethuit Harbour reads like a Renaissance commentary, but in context it functions very differently. He uses this ancient humanistic tradition to serve his literary interests. To understand his ekphrasis, you need to know what function it serves. And that requires identifying its literary context.


If thus far I have pretended that this abort passage from Proust’s novel can be isolated, now that pretense needed to be dropped. Marcel, turned on by the girls, is very receptive to Carquethuit Harbour. As he explains, the intense pleasure intellectual intercourse with Elistir did not. prevent me from being . . of the warm glazes, the sparkling penumbra of the room itself, and, through the little window framed with honey-suckle . . . the resilient dryness of the sun-arched earth. . . . This sense of well being, he adds, “came like a tributary to swell the flood of joy that had surged in me at the sight of Elstir’s Carquethuit Harbout.” Erotic expectation thus inflects his visual experience. Indeed throughout the novel, Elstir’s art is associated with physical desire. The first volume of Remembrance of Things Past introduces the young Marcel and Charles Swann and Odette, parents of Gilberte, Marcel’s early love. In volume two, Within a Budding Grove, Marcel renounces Gilberte and vacations at the Grand Hotel Balbec. In Proust’s time, as now, the beach was where many people went to get laid and, if they were lucky, to be loved. Balbec is where Marcel meets and falls in love Alberine. Eventually Marcel meets Albertine, and their love story, in which Elstir’s art plays a supporting role, begins. When in volume four, Cities of the Plain, Marcel returns to Balbec, now bored with Albertine, we hear more about Elstir’s art. When, for example, Marcel dines with the Guermantes there is a discussion about his portrait of the Duchess, which is modeled, she says, “on The Female Regents of the Hospital, by Hals.” And when Marcel returns to the beach, he sees it differently. My eyes, taught by Elstir to retain precisely those elements that once I had deliberately rejected, would now gaze for hours at what in the former year they had been incapable of seeing. Like the characters, his paintings thus play a role in the narrative. That Carquethuit Harbour shows a place inbetween dry land and sea makes it an ideal character within Proust’s narrative, which describes many other forms of inbetween-ness. Marcel initially thought the girls shady characters but in fact they are daughters of rich middle-class people. Elstir’s portrait of Odette shows her in drag, a sexually exciting form of dress. And of course the beach in Carquethuit Harbour is between city and nature. Like a symbolist poem, Elstir’s imaginary picture condenses a whole social history of art. These distinctions between male and female and sea and land, like Proust’s contrasts between Jews and gentiles, aristocrats and the bourgeoisie, and honest women and whores, involve fascination with inbetweenness. In that way, by showing the land merging with the sea, Carquethuit Harbour reveals one essential structure of the entire novel. When we compare Elstir with Proust’s characters who worry about distinguishing Jews from gentiles or honest women from prostitutes, then his concern to reproduce things not as he knows them but as they appeared takes ona real political dimension. When you don’t know


who you are seeing or where you stand, then you may easily become anxious. Marcel’s aesthetic pleasure in Carquethuit Harbour needs to be set in this context. Proust’s three great imaginary artists–Bergotte, Elstir and Vinteutil–are figures from the 1890s. Nowadays the seascape is not a vital art form, and few critics write ekphrases, and even fewer invoke Elstir’s concept of the innocent eye, borrowed from Ruskin. Nor do they talk about beauty in Proust’s terms. Literary scholars say much about metaphor and metamorphosis was a great theme of older visual art. But Proust’s particular conception of visual metaphor, with its roots in Ruskin’s early modernist conception of the innocent eye, is not a living concern for art writers. And yet, his account deals with one theme, at least, of real living interest for the critic. In the last chapter of his strange masterpiece Painting as an Art Richard Wollheim discusses metaphorical meaning in painting. He focuses on ways in which “the painting becomes a metaphor for the body, or (at any rate) for some part of the body, or for something assimilated to the body.” Wollheim’s traditional examples focus on metaphors of the body. He is interested, for example, in how the buildings of Thomas Jones are surrogate body images and in how the buildings of Thomas Jones are surrogate body images and in how the playful use of paint in late de Kooning fills the picture “with infantile experiences of sucking, touching, biting, excr3eting, retaining, smearing, sniffing, swallowing, gurgling, stoking, wetting.” Just as Elstir’s landscape plays a role in the larger novel because it, like the characters, advances the narrative, so thanks to their use of visual metaphor, above and beyond their actual subjects, these pictures suggest or imply such meanings. Wolheim’s account of visual metaphor has not yet, been discussed by art historians, but one recent artist and his commentators have taken up this concern. Proust’s concept of visual metaphors is alive here and now. The abstract painter Sean Scully paints stripes but those stripes are not merely abstract. We owe the identification of the metaphorical significance of his pictures to Armin Zweite. Scully’s paintings form the 1980s metaphorically employ the thythms of everyday urban life. The streets and office buildings are filled with repeated architectural forms and in pop music. And so, as the artist explains: The relationships that I see in the street in doorways, in windows between buildings, and the traces of structures that were once full of life, I take for my work. I use these colors and forms and put them together in a way that perhaps reminds you of something, though you’re not sure what. After seeing stripes standing for urban rhythms in Scully’s art, we return to see streets and hear the music differently. In the 1990s Scully made photographs, of urban walls that look like his paintings. And then “treating the Moroccan houses as found art, Scully transformed them into beautiful pictures.” Like Elstir, Scully teaches us how to see banal everyday things aesthetically. Seen literally, his paintings present abstract stripes. But viewed metaphorically, these images


allude to the rhythms of urban life, and so suggest how to see our cities. His abstract art thus gains its essential power from its attachment to reality. Proust’s concept of visual metaphor extends the basic nature offigurative painting in a most suggestive way. As representation, a flat pigmented surface illusionistically presents its content, transforming that paint into what is depicted, preserving and transforming that mere material. In that way, all figurative painting involves metamorphosis. To speak, then, of visual metaphor is to note the way in which, over and above its literal content, a picture may present an attitude towards its subject. Elstir shows us how to view the beach scenes, transforming our experience of these seascapes. And Scully does something similar for our visual awareness of the city. Pictures show what they depict, but as visual metaphors they can suggest much more. This concept of visual metaphor helps explain why art matters. When traveling traveling to galleries or museums, I am sometimes astonished by the amazing disproportion between the vast spaces I traverse and the relatively small objects that I see upon arrival. It is natural to become aware of the disproportion between the small pieces of the world to which we give such close attention and the distances that we traverse to see this art we care about. Insofar as we measure the power of visual art merely by its physical size, it seems relatively unimportant. And yet, that is not the whole story. You read Proust and then find that his tales of love, family life and change tell you how to understand what happens to you in your most likely very different situation. Literature matters because there is a relationship between the fictional happenings and your experience. Visual art too has a broad cultural resonance for the same reason. Scully paints stripes, making abstract works of art that metaphorically represent urban rhythms. Just as Marcel learns to see living people as figures depicted by Botticelli or Mantegna, so after viewing Scully’s pictures, you learn to apply his metaphors to everyday urban experience. Visual works of art are small physical objects that have great power, and so deserve prolonged attention by critics, because they can change how we see the entire world. Metaphor, Mark Turner correctly says, “is not just a matter of literary wordplay, not even just a matter of language- it is a pattern of thought that underlies our cognition and knowledge . . . . “ By excluding metaphor “from the domain of reason, George Lakoff and Turner write, our culture “has thereby relegated poetry and art to the periphery of intellectual life- something to give one a veneer of culture, but not something of central value in one’s everyday endeavors.” An effective verbal metaphor does not merely change how we understand just one situation but has general application. A good metaphor changes how we see many things. The same is true, so Elstir’s and Scully’s paintings show, of visual metaphors. We art world people sell ourselves short if we think that we merely create, display, sell and interpret expensive artifacts. We in face do something more important. Thanks to our activities the whole so often philistine culture finds in art a transforming mirror, a way that changes how it sees itself.


Proust was enchanted by the new technologies of his day. He loved cars, photography and the telephone. And he was fascinated by airplanes. His use of ekphrasis, an old-fashioned literary form associated with classical culture, was much inflected by this concern. We nowadays recognize that Elstir’s Ruskinian concept of the innocent eye is a fiction. Proust, already aware that how we see is always influenced by what we know, far from deploying this distinction between mere appearance and true reality in a rigid way, repeatedly deconstructs that opposition. Marcel is not interested merely in Albertine’s appearance, for example, but in the reality of her highly elusive erotic life. But here Proust’s use of ekphrasis needs to be put in historical perspective. To do that, we need to understand how he made constructive use of this fascination with novel technology in his art writing. The best account of the affects on visual art of novel technologies was provided a generation ago by Leo Steinberg’s very pregnant concept of the flatbed. In this post-modern era the traditional model of the picture, figurative or abstract, as a window on the world is replaced by a “flat documentary surface that tabulates information . . . .” In the 1960s Johns, Rauschenberg and Warhol employed flatbeds. Steinberg associated this dramatic change with the development of novel technologies for displaying information. Once we no longer gathered information by looking out windows, our concept of visual representation was drastically transformed. Now the spectator’s role has changed again. Using our powerbooks, we move very quickly between texts, look for electronic mail, get information from the web and digital pictures, all while listening to digitally recorded music. These information sources are controlled from thin television screens. Traveling to lecture or view art, on the plane and in the airport lounge we watch movies on similar screens. And when we arrive we make digital photographs and project slide lectures. We make and view images on individual screens using new technologies, preserving music, texts and visual art as digital information. Our systems of representation have changed dramatically and so Steinberg’s conception of the flat bed now requires revision. Everyone is aware of the strange poetry of contemporary everyday life when on every street people use cell phones; in every office, men and women write Emails and look at the web. What as yet is harder to comprehend is how these ubiquitous technologies connect everyone, in ways that affect how we make and understand visual art. Proust’s ekphrasis on Carquethuit Harbour anticipates our reality when it presents not just an individual painting but what a system of relations, a complex verbal artifact set in an art historical, literary and social context, the starting point for a narrative alluding, as we have seen, to many real paintings. The new digital technologies, which make it possible to show many images in quick succession, are very nicely adapted to his style of visual thinking. Good metaphors make suggestive, unexpected comparisons. Our novel systems of communication make it ever easier and natural to create such metaphors, which preserve and transform traditional ways of understanding works of art. When Proust describes the “manifold and powerful unity” of the metaphors in pictures like Carquethuit Harbour, “the cause . . . of the enthusiasm which Elstir’s work aroused in certain


collectors,” he very presciently identified the aesthetic fascination of our novel technologies. Our world has become very tightly unified in this way, though as yet we have not understood the political implications of that unity. Instead of trying to pin down his description of Carquethuit Harbour, try instead to envisage the related pictures of seascapes. Then you then can create another narrative, one that responds to Proust’s imaginary picture. The new French edition of In Search of Lost Time contains the outtakes, eight additional sketches in twenty-six pages of prose. (The original story of the studio visit covers only twenty pages.) Whether because his ideas changed, or perhaps because he was distracted or, possibly, because he didn’t have time, but maybe because he was just uncertain about the best way to realize his desire, Proust did not insert these passages into the novel. Some outtakes, the extended discussion of visual metaphor with reference to Chardin, Rembrandt and Gustave Moreau for example, legitimately add to our understanding of Carquethuit Harbour. And now View of Delft comes into the narrative, for in one episode Elstir gets Marcel to promise to go to Delft to see that Vermeer. Ut picture poesis–words and images offer two essentially opposed narrative forms. A traditional picture, the window on the world, is different in kind from written words. Proust’s novel, by contrast, presents a group of texts, the published version of Marcel’s studio visit along with the many sketches, all linked to the many real pictures that influenced his novel. And here, in ways that Proust himself does not articulate and perhaps understand in a fully explicit way, we find a further development of his conception of visual metamorphosis. The traditional one-to-one connection of words to image is replaced by relationships between groups of words and pictures. And in our digital era, the older distinction between words and pictures is blurred. Proust’s text editing is a suggestive model for the play of images made possible with our novel technologies. Allowing us to make manifest unexpected connections, these ways of manipulating words and images provide novel forms of aesthetic pleasure. Marcel’s studio visit with Elstir thus is of interest to contemporary art writers because it anticipates our present day dilemmas. But saying that is not, of course, to deny the intrinsic beauty of this scene in Proust’s novel, nor its fascination as a representation of his period style, which now appears so very distant. This essay is for Laurie Johenning and Bill Beckley. I thank Laurie Glover at the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, for patient tutoring in Powerpoint. SOURCES: I use the translation of Proust’s Within a Budding Grove by C.K.Scott Moncreiff and Terence Kilmartin; the French edition is A la recherche du temps perdu, ed. Tadié, Vol. 2. The new biography Jean-Yves Tadié, Marcel Proust deserves to be read in conjunction with George Painter, Proust: The Later Years. I have profited from: Marcel Proust: l’ecriture et les arts , ed.


Tadie; Malcolm Bowie, Proust Among the Stars; John Cocking, Proust; Philip Kolb, “The Birth of Elstir and Vinteuil,” in Marcel Proust, ed. Price; J. Theodore Johnson, “Proust and Painting” in Critical Essays on Marcel Proust , Ed. Bucknall and Christopher Prendergast, The Triangle of Representation. And also Brassai, Proust in the Power of Photography. The Ruskin quotes come from his Turner: The Harbours of England. His relationship to Proust is discussed in Tim Hilton, John Ruskin and John D. Rosenberg, The Darkening Glass. My account of humanist art writing comes from Michael Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators. My discussion of metaphor (and examples) come from Mark Turner, Death is the mother of beauty and George Lakoff and Turner, More than Cool Reason. On tourism see James Buzard, The Beaten Track and John House,”Boudin’s Modernity” in Hamilton, Boudin at Trouville. Quotations come from Robert Herbert, Impressionism and Monet on the Normandy Coast; Richard Wollheim, Painting as an Art, Leo Steinberg, Other Criteria, and my Sean Scully.



The publication last year of John Updike’s The Early Stories, 1953-1975 was greeted with adulation approaching something like rapture on both sides of the Atlantic. In The New York Times Book Review, Cynthia Ozick wrote tellingly that “the stories reveal the mind of an artist on whom nothing is lost, for whom seeing is fused with the most filigreed turns of language. Updike is a potent stylist, but of a particular kind–less psychological . . . than visual and painterly. His effects are of sheen and shadow, color and form, spine and splay, hair and haunch”; while Zachary Leader in Britain’s Times Literary Supplement attributed the writer’s “mastery” to “The true and beautiful observation to be found on almost every page of this book–about men, women, what they think, their bodies, the countryside, farms, small towns, cities, a broken truck, the packed earth–[that] can feel like expressions of love, ways of teaching love.” That these reviewers see Updike as pictorial in his formal arrangements or as sharply observant of images should come as no surprise, since between college at Harvard and his first job at The New Yorker (which still publishes much of his fiction, poetry, and criticism) in the mid-50’s, he made a detour to Oxford where he studied at the Ruskin School of Art and Design. In the playfully titled “What MoMA Done Tole Me” from his collected “Essays on Art,” published as Just Looking (1989), he reports on frequent trips “to clear [his] head, to lift [his] spirits” ten blocks north to MoMA, a place he calls “a temple where I might refresh my own sense of artistic purpose, though my medium had become words.” He continues by saying: “I was looking for a religion, as a way of hanging on to my old one, in those years, and was attracted to those artists who seemed to me as single-minded and selfless as saints,” such as Brancusi, or Cezanne. The latter is captured delightfully in one of Updike’s poems as a “grave man,/[who] pondered the scene /and saw it with passion /as orange and green, /and weighted his strokes /with days of decision, /and founded on apples /theologies of vision.” Updike’s continuing reviews of art and artists reveal his ability to capture the essence of a painting, to make us see it, through words, as in his article on Marsden Hartley from The New York Review of Books last year: “[Hartley’s] eye, as he aged and weakened and fattened, went to squared-off male flesh, which received its weirdest tribute in Christ Held by Half-Naked Men (1940-1941), an all-male Pieta whose mourners wear little lobster-men’s hats like miners’ caps. The dead Christ has a head the size of a nugget, while his legs and arms trail into nothing. In the skimpy annals of American religious art this is among the strangest but not the least moving instance: a chorus of love objects silently cherishing ‘a lone left thing.’”


In his essay “Writers and Artists”–which reproduces examples of his own art works along with others by Goethe, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Wyndham Lewis, O’Henry, Flannery O’Connor, and the inimitable James Thurber–Updike goes on to indicate what a knowledge of art can contribute specifically to a writer: “The subtleties of form and color, the distinctions of texture, the balances of volume, the principles of perspective and composition–all these are good for a future writer to explore and will help him to visualize his scenes, even to construct his personalities and to shape the invisible connections and branchings of plot.” Such transferences leap out everywhere in the 103 brief narratives reprinted in the 800-page Early Stories. Among them are three stories that have been adapted from Updike’s rich verbal idiom to the largely visual medium of the short film: “A & P,” which appeared originally in The New Yorker and was reprinted in Pigeon Feathers (1962), and “The Christian Roommates” and “The Music School,” both collected in the volume that bears the overall title of the latter, The Music School (1966). The third-person “Christian Roommates,” the longest and most traditional of these three stories from a narrative point of view, tells the tale of Orson Ziegler, a doctor’s son and the first from his small South Dakota town ever to go east to Harvard, where his narrow provincialism and Bible-reading religious zeal (to his dorm buddies he is “Orson the Parson”) will be tested in a story set in the McCarthy years that assumes renewed freshness in our own era that problematizes issues of diversity and difference. For Orson is assigned as a roommate one Henry “Hub” Palamountain, “an Anglican Christian Platonist strongly influenced by Gandhi” who, as a conscientious objector, is ignoring repeated notices from his draft board. Barefoot and wearing a Nehru cap, Hub chants and spins and does yoga and otherwise annoys the hell out of Orson, who feels freakish and eventually somehow debilitated just by associating with him. Updike, famous for his dissections of contemporary suburban marriages, employs the marriage metaphor in describing Orson’s unhappy yet not unambiguous bond in terms of “forced cohabitation” and “helpless affection.” He comes to resent, even hate, Hub as a cold-hearted fake (which proves not to be true) who somehow poisons his existence; particularly unsettling are Orson’s jealous “orgasmic surge” at the sight of the girl who will cut off her copper-colored hair so that Hub can braid it into a rope, as well as his dreams of being intertwined with Hub’s body. A star athlete and stellar student in high school, Orson had always been held up as golden; once secure in his definition of himself, he is now being challenged and even judged. Having Hub as a roommate has made him, in short, different, Other. Near the end of this mostly linear narrative, Updike jumps forward to tell his readers what will happen to Orson and Hub and a half-dozen of their dormmates. Hub’s future will be the most colorful: after becoming an Episcopal priest, he will wear his clerical collar while playing piano in a cocktail lounge before heading off to South Africa “as a ‘combination missionary, political agitator, and soccer coach.’” By contrast, Orson’s fate is the most disturbing: true, as expected he returns home, marries his high school sweetheart, takes over his father’s medical practice, has four children of his own, and becomes “respected” in his community. Yet the story ends on a


somewhat unexpected and more somber note: “In one particular only–a kind of scar he carries without pain and without any clear memory of the amputation–does the man he is differ from the man he assumed he would become. He never prays.” The closing note is one of loss, a gradual lessening of intensity until a point is reached where the religious impulse that had once been second nature to him, is totally absent–suggesting that maybe his faith had never been clearly thought through. When the story is adapted to film (1984; dir. Neil Cox), with a screenplay by Morton Neal Miller, it is re-titled simply “The Roommate.” The jettisoning of the word “Christian” suggests that it will no longer be primarily about two varieties of religious experience–one (Orson’s) essentially traditional Protestantism, the other (Hub’s) a social activist Anglicanism. True, Orson still takes the Bible from his father off to college (here, he gets only as far east as the Northwestern campus where the location and outdoor shots are filmed); yet by his first Thanksgiving dinner back home he is decidedly less stringent in observance of his faith, and will finally put the Bible away in a drawer. And, in a Godardian flash sforward to a telephone conversation 25 years later under the closing credits, we learn that Hub has discovered his somewhat nontraditional priestly vocation. But gone is any disturbing mention of any permanent loss of faith on Orson’s part. In its place, we are given a pat ending to an unseen domestic trauma: Orson’s divorce from the high school sweetheart who became his wife, and the somewhat soppy (re)assurance that the pain almost inevitably involved in any close relationship can be an occasion for growth. The change in the title to the singular “roommate,” obviously designating Hub, indicates that the focus has shifted to how being forced into close contact with this strange and to his eyes “foreign” individual serves as a catalyst for broadening Orson’s sympathy with those different from himself. Visually, the film is filled out with scenes that provide more of the backstory (Orson as talented high school athlete and inexperienced at sex); montage sequences of preparing to leave for college and, later, of college life--seen also in scenes of panty raids and shooting baskets in the snow; and, finally, by an expressionistic dream sequence that mixes religious imagery with mild sexual content. At the same time, the scriptwriter has contributed a much stronger–partly because less subtle--emotional arc. In Updike’s story, the humorous episodes about the purloined parking meter that Hub brings back to his dorm room in anarchic rebellion against the capitalistic state serve as the primary bone of contention between him and Orson; whereas in the film, an action that is little more than mentioned in an almost throwaway moment in the story is expanded into a lengthy scene that becomes the verbal and visual climax. When Cal, one of the other guys in their dorm, suffers a violent breakdown because of the pressures of college, it is Hub who comes to the rescue, calming him, literally giving the near-naked Cal the shirt off his back, and reassuring the delusional that they “will find God together in the West.” As the young men gather in the infirmary, Orson sees Hub in a new light and with newfound respect for taking charge actively and responding with compassion to someone else who is seen


as freakish, who has been “othered” by his mental and emotional condition. Unlike in the story, Orson will minimize his objections and now remain as Hub’s roommate, having seen beyond his unusual, if still annoying, practices to the unguarded humanity underneath. Interestingly enough, when “A & P”–quite probably Updike’s best known and certainly his most anthologized short story–is adapted to the screen, it too, like “Christian Roommates,” loses its strikingly resonant concluding sentence. Told retrospectively in the first person, at some unspecified time after the events occurred, “A & P’s” greatest achievement as fiction is the very distinctive voice, peppered with colloquialisms and sexual innuendos, that Updike creates for his young protagonist. Sammy, the narrator, comes across as cocky and brash, trying to appear wise and confident beyond his years, as he tells his story of working one day at the A & P in a small New England town (Ipswich, Massachusetts, where Updike himself settled and “enlisted in actual life” after leaving New York, finding–according to his memoir SelfConsciousness (1990)--the “real news” in middle class America). When three girls dressed in bathing suits come into the store to buy a can of herring snacks, it proves an unintentional challenge to what is acceptable among the staid mores of the town, represented by Lengel the manager, who forbids such “indecent” dress in his store ever again. Sammy is immediately smitten by their looks, naming the leader of the girls “Queenie” as if he is their knight in white apron heroically defending them from embarrassment, finally calling them proprietarily “my girls” as if there is no one else responsible for their well being. To the generational conflict of anarchic youth against age is added the class difference, for Sammy’s lemonade-and-beer family is not a part of these girls’ social milieu and never will be. When he abruptly quits his job because of Lengel’s insult, the girls are oblivious to the gesture; so they do not even thank him, let alone idolize him. In the face of Lengel’s warning that this foolhardy action will hurt his parents–and, indeed, they do find it “sad” when told, though Sammy doesn’t agree–our narrator remarks that it is “fatal” not to go through with “a gesture” once you begin it. Sticking to his guns, refusing to compromise, is part of the moral maturity he grows into, as is his understanding that simplistically honoring black and white prohibitions and rules may be insensitive to acting humanely. Some have suggested that Updike must be gently mocking his young protagonist, but that interpretation seems unlikely given the story’s last words: as Sammy sees the girls drive off and Lengel take his former place at the cash register, he admits “my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.” By taking the moral high road in what might seem a trivial matter he is aware of the serious challenge he has set for himself as he faces more complex ethical dilemmas in the future. In his 1999 film version of Updike’s coming-of-age tale, Bruce Schwartz handles the story’s interiority through considerable dependence, as might be expected, on voice over narration; and although many of Updike’s own words are retained, the distinctive tone is, unfortunately, largely lost when the lines are spoken. At the same time, however, the young actor’s expression captures well the sense of wonder, almost of awe, when he first sees the girls and his eyes follow


them around the store. As was true also with “Roommate,” the film is set up more slowly than the story: we see Sammy on his way to work walking through the town of Ipswich, complete with its white church, with the letters on the front of the actual grocery store serving as the title card for the film. The A & P itself, which in the story is primarily just the location, in the film takes on more of a metaphoric and symbolic role. This is the capitalistic “organization” that thwarts and controls the individual. Like it, Lengel is authoritarian, demanding and restrictive of his workers and set in his ways. And those who patronize the store, including a crabby mother and her little child, are called (as they were in the story as well) “sheep,” complacent consumers who have lost their individuality and spunk (except for the nasty “witch” of a woman who scrutinizes every wrong move Sammy makes ringing up her order). Sammy is openly rebellious and critical, more of a romantic and a dreamer. In fact, we see his fleeting daydreams about touching Queenie as he takes her money for the fancy herring snacks; and the film cuts away, too, to the vision in his mind of arriving at the fancy garden party at her home, complete with a shift in color and music as he glides toward her. As the girls drive off in their convertible, headed back to the beach, we see Sammy walk away from his job and the store. The summing up line is, however, missing from his narration, and so we lose all sense of a recognition achieved and of how the action he has chosen will decisively affect his future, and of his preparedness for that change into manhood. Although college students in general are more likely to identify with Orson and Hub and Sammy than they might be with the older protagonist of Updike’s “The Music School,” students studying the arts are likely to find the story’s content of greater interest because it concerns the creative process itself. A story, again, like “A & P,” told using the first person point of view, “The Music School” is, however, much more complicated in its narratology because of its nonlinear and non-chronological structure. Instead of being built around an incident, this portrait of the artist as a middle-aged man is designed to show a writer’s mind and imagination at work. This brief (it runs fewer than eight pages in length) story’s straightforward and direct opening line, “My name is Alfred Schweigen and I exist in time,” with its acknowledgement of mortality and change, introduces a complex, stream-of-consciousness narrative whose elements are organized by their position in time; individual sections of the story are introduced by such phrases as “last night,” “this morning,” “this afternoon”–the now or present time of the story– or “in my youth,” ending with “last evening,” followed by a brief return to the present and a summative coda articulating, appropriately, the lesson learned. In searching out the connection between these events from various times that spring into his mind in a very visual manner, the narrator is asking a question whose answer might be found by employing a filmic method. The unified vision or epiphany he seeks will only arise if he thinks metaphorically and analogically, in the same way that Eisenstein through montage discovered a new meaning from the juxtaposition of two seemingly discrete elements. Schweigen, whose marriage is disintegrating and whose writing is blocked, discovers the sought-after connection in the image of eating a meal. Last night, he had heard from a guitar-playing hippie priest that, after Vatican II,


Catholics were told to chew the Eucharistic wafer rather than just let the host dissolve on their tongue. This morning at breakfast, he had read that an acquaintance of his, a computer scientist on whom he was going to base a novel, was shot dead while at dinner with his family. This afternoon, he waits while his daughter is fed by and finds refreshment in her music lesson, so that she will need no snack on her way home, just as, in his youth, he had been “refreshed” by confession and communion. In the same way that the Eucharist is a meal, and the music lesson is a meal, so, too, should a novel potentially be a meal. Yet the plot for his novel that Schweigen outlines, and the first sentence that he quotes is so overwrought, pretentious, and flabbily romantic that it is not, so to speak, “meaty” enough to nourish anyone. For writing, like science, religion, and music, is language; and “to dissolve the word it to dilute it.” Consequently, when Schweigen realizes that his novel is failing in both conception and language, he literally begs, “Stop me,” demonstrating the necessary discipline to be self-critical of his work. When his mind returns to last night, he remembers a woman arriving at their inter-faith gathering and yet hesitating to come in. What he calls her “grace note, of the two backward steps and then again the forward movement,” reminds him of the sounds of students attempting to make music which “hint” at “a world where angels fumble, pause, and begin again.” For this blocked writer who is “neither musical nor religious” and who understands that “each moment I live, I must think where to place my fingers, and press then down with no confidence of hearing a chord,” these connected images lead to a simple if hard-won coda: “The world is the host; it must be chewed.” Active engagement and participation in life, by both the writer and–through the writer’s luminous vision--the reader, is thus celebrated. Because it actually shows the creative process, the writer struggling at work to create his story, the film version of “Music School” (1977), with a masterful screenplay and direction by John Korty, actually elucidates Updike’s difficult story–making it in some ways easier for students to comprehend, yet without any loss in structural, imagistic, or thematic density and richness. The film begins with the central character awakening to the clock in his bedroom and then going about his morning routine, before we see him type the opening words of the story that he is writing (again, as in Updike’s original, “I am Alfred Schweigen and I exist in time”). Thus the story he fitfully composes becomes, in a somewhat Proustian move, the film we are seeing. The essential interiority of Updike’s original is perfectly captured by several means: through point of view shots wherein the camera eye is the narrative “I”; through shots that reveal the images and remembrances in Schweigen’s mind; and through the virtually exclusive use of voice-over narration. The writer’s difficulty, his inability to see things clearly until he arrives at a point of epiphanic breakthrough that knits the whole process together–and that might have been less readily perceived in reading, which is a word-bound activity–is here elucidated. Once again, however, the filmmaker plays around with the end of Updike’s story, extending the image of eating to establish a new familial communion that is not suggested in the story and that seems


unwarranted by anything that has come before. Although the daughter’s not needing a snack after being nourished by her music lesson is de-emphasized, the screenplay’s coda posits a reunited family, husband with his arms around his wife in a lighted doorway, and the sounds of eating dinner under the credits. Connections, intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic, have been made; the wrinkles in the marriage have been ironed out; and the father is left with even greater admiration of the daughter for the way that she embodies learning a lesson that previously had been lost on him. What the film makes very vivid, nevertheless, is that any work of art (with the possible exception of the serendipitous spot-photo) is a made object that presents it own conceptual problems in terms of structure and harmonious composition. Updike realizes, of course, that in this process of making he has fewer creative means available at his disposal than the filmmakers who have adapted his works, for he has only the visualizing power of “printed language” through which “to approximate the complexity of envisioned phenomena” (SelfConsciousness 107). Yet in attempting (in Joseph Conrad’s terms) “’to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe,’” Updike professes that “no better school exists than graphic representation, with its striving for accuracy, vivacity, and economy. Small wonder,” he continues, “that writers, so many of them, have drawn and painted: the tools are allied, the impulse is one” (Just Looking 200).


WITH A PEN OF LIGHT Michael Fink Rhode Island School of Design

He wrote “with a pen of light.” Poet, playwright, novelist, illustrator and model, Jean Cocteau is perhaps best remembered as a film-maker. We screened a series of the movies shaped by Cocteau, the ultimate “amateur,” at Hofstra University, just a year ago. As a RISD film historian I was able to indulge in a somewhat subjective and personal account of my past with Les Enfants Terribles. I had first seen this translation from an earlier novel into a movie co-directed by Jean Pierre Melville and Cocteau in Paris, later at its Manhattan premiere, yet again when its star, Nicole Stephane, had brought it to Providence and our RISD campus and now, at a special showing sponsored by the Alliance Francaise and the French Embassy. A quick review of the story, the flick, and the star. Nicole Stephane plays a tyrannical orphaned sister who destroys her beloved brother’s life and takes her own, from monomaniacal jealousy. Cocteau had discovered her, the embodiment of his heroine, in her postwar role as Vercors’ resistance symbol in Le Silence de la Mer, the girl who maintains a mute power in the presence of a curiously correct Nazi officer who has requisitioned her small chateau. Stephane, nee Rothschild, had actually escaped Vichy over the mountain passes into Spain, Portugal and London, where she joined de Gaulle’s Free French. She marched with him at the liberation of Paris. When I caught sight of her in those small but forceful black and white movies I was struck by her strange, tough beauty, at once somehow refined and hypnotically strong-willed. I had a reason to visit her in Paris, to travel into the dog days of August, carrying an invitation to join our conference and introduce her most important film. I also carried a token gift, a pair of wampum earrings from the Narrangansett tribe in Rhode Island, wrapped with some quahaug shells in the box. She gave me in return a handsome poster advertising the 1999 recognition of her role in cultural history. Nicole Stephane also produced a documentary study of Israel. “Sometimes now I feel more Jewish than French,” she said to me. I have to report that it was not easy to gain access to Nicole Stephane. Although I had telephoned to set up a precise rendezvous at her home on the afternoon of my arrival, the number on the outer door had changed. When I used the lobby voice buzzer, she seemed to have forgotten our date. “Can you come back another time?” I waited a few hours at a nearby café, my mind blurred by jet lag and a few glasses of wine, I returned in uncertainty. “I have a headache, I have company,” she noted, reluctant to let me up. Finally she relented, and once we met in person she proved most royal, gracious and chatty. She promised that, health and


good fortune permitting, she would indeed come to New York and take part in our Cocteau festival. As for Les Enfants, “Cocteau’s voice as narrator was most important, but Melville, ne Grumbach, also made major decisions. He chose the Bach and Vivaldi music and refused to close the film the way Beauty and the Beast ends, with a divine assumption.” Fate had it, that Nicole was not able to come to New York, and I made the presentation of “Les Enfants Terribles,” oddly enough, with her cousin, Carole Weisweiller, the chronicler of the life and career of her “second father,” the guest who stayed to dinner in Santo Sospir, Jean Cocteau. “Les Enfants Terribles” was filmed in the Weisweiller home in Paris–just as “The Testament of Orpheus” was made on location at the Weisweiller house in St. Jean Baptiste near Nice. Carole Weisweiller was a central and centrifugal personality at the Cocteau conference. Here begins my account of her story. Carole was a child, the daughter of the Jewish family hiding outside the reach of Vichy, the Nazi occupation and collaboration. They lost a grandmother, hers and Nicole Stephane’s, who was arrested, deported to Auschwitz and murdered there. M. Alec Weisweiller vowed that, if the rest of the family survived the war, he would design and construct a homestead on the Mediterranean to build a new life. Cocteau, during this period, had coexisted with the German presence in Paris and thus earned the scorn of the partisans and resistants. Having lost his prewar glamour, he had fled the capital and gone to the Riviera, where he was befriended by Mme. Francine Weisweiller, recently deceased, Nicole’s cousin, Carole’s mother. She invited him to her new villa. He painted murals on the walls. He stayed for 13 years! During that time, the Weisweiller family funded and produced his major movies and private film memoirs. Carole, the child of that chapter, grew up in a world in which Picasso, Dali, Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer, Leslie Caron, Jean Marais, Jean Genet, Simone Simon, Coco Chanel, Yves St. Laurent, the beautiful people of the 1950’s, came every day to lunch and dinner at their place called Santo Sospir with the signature symbols of Cocteau in garden, parlor, stairwell. Carole attended the wedding of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier in nearby Monaco. When she grew up, she kept the flickering flame of that fabulous time. She has been publishing the postcards and messages she got from Cocteau and his clan along with the drawings and photographs. She played an important part also in the very recent celebration of Cocteau’s cinematic career in Paris at the Pompidou and nearby at the Montreal Museum of Art, which I attended in June. She tells the tale of a marvelous friend who gathered about him loyal supporters like Francois Truffaut, Yul Brynner, actor, companion and adopted son Edouard Dermithe–who volunteered to sponsor and perform in Testament of Orpheus to toast his 70th birthday, near the close of his life. In their kindly version of the vision of Cocteau, they shared the same soft focus as Carole Weisweiller: the haunted and haunting form of the poet in his loose-fitting shirt-jacket, high


forehead and unruly hair, moving about always and endlessly creating. “When he wrote, he frowned,” testified Carole. “When he drew, his face relaxed. Craft restores and composes, but thought wears us down,” she concluded. The fabulous things he said, the light but brilliant designs and figures he scribbled on doorways, corridors and paths: two refugee families finding joy and meaning during a dozen years of goodwill.” One does not generally associate Jean Cocteau with the grand issues of the occupation. Perhaps it is a fitting irony that his career was saved by Jews who suffered and triumphed and, in the bargain, befriended and inspired the poet who once declared of the true artist, “Perhaps really he barely has the right to life at all.” For youthful filmmakers, his pen of light spells out a child’s letter to us. Tell your tale in your own way with whatever comes to hand and mind.



In recent years, new media technology has become an increasingly popular, cross-disciplinary tool for visual storytelling. A process that was once prohibitively expensive and technically overwhelming is now affordable and intuitive, allowing traditional studio artists to become moving image storytellers. Artists who are not filmmakers or video artists are now telling their stories with moving images and sound. The availability and ease of use of new media technology allows artists, whatever their primary artistic discipline, to break down the barriers between disciplines and cross boundaries, combine media, translate concept and present their stories as “real time” events. The question: “Does media shape or serve the story” is the question that most interested me when I received the brochure for this conference. I immediately thought about the ways visual storytelling has been impacted by the emergence of new technologies. I am very interested in where and how new media fits into our creative lives. It has undeniably had a great impact on the way we document and show our work (web, CD Rom instead of slides etc.), and has given rise to debate and controversy about image quality and the lack of presentation standards among other things. It’s natural to ask the question “Does this serve creative work, or simply drive it in a new direction?” The answer is probably both. New media shapes the story by offering new options for presentation and distribution, making it possible to share time based stories with the world via the internet. It serves the story by offering cross-disciplinary options for expression, allowing stories to be told with new media technology that could not have been told as effectively any other way. That being said, I’d like to show you 3 new media pieces, each of which uses time based media in a different way, and invite discussion on whether media shapes or serves the story. What I think is significant here is that these 3 pieces have been done by artists whose primary discipline is not film or video. All three of these artists have brought their “still image” sensibility to time based stories, each using new media in the way that is most intuitive for them. “New York Trilogy” Harrison Judd Digital video, hand held camera “New York Trilogy” describes the New York experience in three visual “movements.” The story is told in abstract images and captured moments, with no deliberate use of text or image. The moving abstractions tell the story in a way the written world or still image cannot. 25

Harrison Judd is a photographer and digital artist —working in animation, web and digital archiving. This movie was shot on location with a hand held digital video camera, and edited in iMovie on the Macintosh computer. “Dickathon” Sharon Butler After Effects, Flash & Video, composed in the computer In this piece, the novel Moby Dick is transformed into an animated visual experience. The flow of the information is controlled by the artist, and each line of text exhibits a distinct personality. “Dickathon” is more like music than reading—and very much like the sea. Sharon Butler is a painter and writer. This piece was created in the computer using motion graphics and animation software. It is a collaborative project using students from Eastern Connecticut State University as contributors, and has been shown in a variety of settings including outdoor projection. “Memoria” June Bisantz Evans Digitized home movies & captured sound “Memoria” uses digitized home movies to tell a story of actual and emotional memory. Hazy, slow-moving images and layered sound clips create a dreamlike autobiography of childhood experience. June Bisantz Evans is a painter, musician and digital artist who creates oversized images for public spaces. This movie was composed in the computer from digitized home movies, using sound clips captured from old radio programs, radio advertising, European street music and family celebrations.


VISUAL LITERACY: THE LANGUAGE OF CULTURAL SIGNIFIERS Tammy Knipp Florida Atlantic University A single object is a carrier of text in the visual system of meaning. A single object, as a cultural signifier, changes meaning when grouped with other objects in the constructs of a visual landscape. Visual literacy includes the study of objects and images in the context of print media--composing visual text as to bring awareness to social and cultural issues.



In 1971, not quite two years before his death, Picasso pulled sixty-six out of 347 etchings first executed in 1968, for publication in an edition of eminent Spanish writer Fernando de Rojas’ La Celestina (a tragicomedy that was originally published in its final form in 1502). Four hundred of these books were printed by l’Atelier Crommelynck, and sold through the Louise Leiris Gallery in Paris. While the complete group of prints, commonly known as the Suite 347, has been discussed in the context of Picasso’s larger pictorial interests of the late 1960s, few art historians have considered the sixty-six Celestina prints apart from the others, nor have they much explored how these images might specifically relate to Rojas’s text. The most plausible reason for this neglect is the literary origins of Picasso’s inspiration, as well as the narrative impulses behind the iconography in these etchings, which seem at first glance to challenge modernist assumptions that view Picasso’s primary pictorial concern to be formalist experimentation. In a paper given earlier this year to the 57th Foreign Language Conference at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Nowak, an expert in Spanish Renaissance literature, considered Picasso’s depictions of artist and model in relationship to Rojas’s La Celestina. He argued that Picasso’s prints were essentially Picasso’s “appropriation to the art world of the tragicomedy’s metaphoric linkage between the sexual and rhetorical arts of seduction. . . . Rhetorical prowess is the basis and the significance of Celestina’s powers of persuasion inside Rojas’s text, it is also the key to her famous ‘seductions’ of Pármeno and Melibea.” Picasso’s pictorial prowess is the corollary to Celestina’s magical words, and is what advances the themes within the narratives of his compositions. Picasso does not illustrate the famed story of Celestina, but rather, as will be shown, uses several pictorial strategies that comprise an expressive reaction to Rojas’s narrative. First, when he has his etchings bound with Rojas, he makes sure that they are intrusive physically, so as not to be read as secondary to the text pages but rather as their able partner. Then, throughout the prints he sets up motifs that correspond to but do not literally represent characters or props in the story. He repeats and suddenly varies these motifs across certain sequences of images in ways that are comic. Furthermore, he plays with line work, employing thick and angular lines for the old whore Celestina, and then fluid or graffiti-like ones for his falsely heroic musketeers. And finally he subverts his reputation as artistic genius by abandoning his past Cubist innovations, manufacturing instead an unsightly yarn sure to confuse his audience. Picasso’s technical strategies create a raucous visual comedy that parallels Rojas’s own. 28

What this paper seeks to do is to consider in some depth a specific series of Picasso’s Celestina prints in order to better understand the play between narrative and image that Picasso intended when binding his etchings with the Rojas text. When interpreted in isolation, Picasso’s Celestina prints look seemingly hurried and overtly pornographic. Considering Picasso’s images as part of a book provides a more complete context for understanding their rugged forms and illicit content, revealing them to be depictions done to rival the inverted dialogue and bawdiness of Rojas’s own story. Both Rojas (through his play with language) and Picasso (through visual play) mock conventional moral suppositions as well as expected aesthetic forms. Picasso’s Celestina etchings surprised his audiences as being uncharacteristic, even antimodern when first shown, their technical crudity seemingly as debased as their essentially lewd content. When, after his death in 1973, a group of his most recent works was put on display in Avignon, the reception was one of horror. Gert Shiff described it as a “state of panic”1 caused by what was perceived as Picasso’s retreat from his modernist innovations of the past. Instead of the polished Cubist compositions they had expected, viewers were confronted with what appeared to be an old man’s gratuitous scribblings of an erotic sort, and with subjects and style more typical of a classical Baroque past. A spectacle of comic musketeers, impassioned horsemen carrying off naked women and splayed nudes all seemed hastily rendered. “Why,” in Shiff’s words, “did the most advanced pictorial genius of the era, this embodiment of modernism, immerse himself in a past age which had served as inspiration only to the most hackneyed academicians of the past century? What brought this tireless explorer of form into that most outmoded field of pictorial creation, Romantic narrative?” These works by Picasso were “hushed up” according to Shiff, “hardly discussed in scholarly literature, poorly represented in exhibitions, [and] commercially unpopular.”2 But Rojas’s text provides another layer of context for considering Picasso’s Celestina prints that places them in a more favorable light and justifies Picasso’s supposedly hasty technique as a pictorial meditation on the comedic play of words found in Rojas’s story. By placing his prints alongside the Celestina tragicomedy, Picasso invites us to interpret his images as farce. How Picasso goes about placing his etchings in the 1971 book is one thing that we can trace directly to Picasso that seems actually to encourage our comparison of his prints to Rojas’s comedic literary vision. Sources state that, “Picasso did not want the text to be printed on the verso of the leaves with etchings,” causing the arrangements of the pages to be unusual, with occasional “uncut double leaves with one etching and one page of text alternat[ing] with single leaves with two text pages.”3 The images thereby assert a separate presence within the book. The prints are not read as illustrative to the text, but as maintaining their own corporeal reality as art image apart from but parallel to the text. The obtrusive placement of the prints turns illustrated book into “art” book, and forces the words of Rojas’s text to bend according to the needs of Picasso’s visual artistry. One might immediately think of Picasso’s Synthetic Cubist works, in which


scraps of newspaper containing words are juxtaposed next to visual imagery. Neither serves the other, but the visual and verbal combine in constructive play.4 In asserting the physical presence of his prints within the bound text, Picasso thereby equates his mastery as visual storyteller to that of the famed Rojas. It seems certain that late in his life Picasso was engaging the work of Rojas, an important Spanish literary master, in much the same way that he was dialoguing with the greats of art history, transforming their work according to his own interests, and in doing so considering his own artistic vision in relationship to theirs. Picasso discussed the possibility of creating a painting of Velazquez’s Las Meninas, for example, “sure to horrify the specialist in the copying of old masters. It would not be,” he said, “The Maids of Honor he saw when he looked at Velazquez’s picture; it would be ‘my’ Maids of Honor.”5 Likewise, Picasso turns the story of La Celestina into ‘his’ Celestina. But why Rojas? Why not some other Spanish master of more certain reputation, such as Cervantes? What is it about Rojas and the story of La Celestina that motivated Picasso to have his prints bound with the actual text? Picasso likely appreciated Rojas’s earthy sense of humor, especially his subversive puns. Rojas’s wit often stems from a play on misunderstandings, based on conflicting ways of speaking about the same things. This double-voiced humor allows Rojas to debunk the idealistic discourses of upper-class society, exposing the base motivations that lie just below the surface of even the most authoritative commonplaces. Thus, in Celestina’s mouth, a seemingly moral dictum like ‘show piety/pity for the sick’ (“piedad” has both meanings in Castilian) will be twisted to mean that a young girl serves God’s will when she assuages the pain (of lust) felt by a young man. Other kinds of humor do not depend on subversive puns like this, but rely instead on a gusto for the grotesque and the ridiculous. For example, Celestina is famous for her plain speaking about sexual matters. In the scene in which she procures Areúsa for Pármeno, Celestina takes advantage of the fact that Areúsa is experiencing menstrual cramps, by suggesting the best cure is sexual intercourse with Pármeno. When Areúsa protests, Celestina begins pooh-poohing her excuses, saying “Look at Pármeno, the little stud, like a young rooster, a cockerel whose crest will not get limp for a full three nights, no matter how much work he has to do. These are the kinds of goodies,” she says, “that the physicians of my land used to tell me to eat, when I used to have better teeth for such dining.” (“Mas como es un putillo, gallillo, barbiponiente, entiendo que en tres noches no se le demude la cresta. De éstos me mandaban a mí comer en mi tiempo los médicos de mi tierra, cuando tenia mejores dientes.”) As Pármeno begins to have his way with Areúsa, Celestina begs pardon to leave them with her polite phrase, “Stay you here in God’s good graces,” only to say next, “I must be going only because you two are making my mouth water with all your kissing and fooling around. I still have a taste for that stuff left on these toothless gums–I didn’t lose that when my molars fell out!” (“Quedaos a Dios, que voyme solo porque me hacéis dentera con vuestro besar y retozar. Que aun el sabor en las encías me quedó; no le perdí con las muelas.”) The crude situation, the ribald pun (toothless mouth30

watering mouth–encías sin muelas/dentera) and of course the irreverent use of a religious salutation are all evident in this scene’s humor. Picasso’s prints play off Rojas with their frank sexual jokes. By turning now to one key series of prints among the Celestina etchings and considering their placement in the bound Rojas book, we will see that Picasso’s pictorial strategies mirror Rojas’s play with forms of discourse. We must first understand that the prints at hand were produced three years before they were bound with the book. A careful documenter, Picasso etched in the plate the date and order of the prints that he made for the Suite 347. This makes it possible for us to know that the Celestina portion was done between April and August of 1968. Furthermore, because each print is dated according to the day the plate was etched, we can compare the order of production to their placement sequence in the bound 1971 book. In general, the chronology of the original designs differs from their final layout in the 1971 production. However, there do exist several smaller groups of 3 to 6 prints each whose 1968 production order are preserved when later bound with the book. We will be looking at just one of these groups to see what they reveal about the relationship between Rojas’s text and Picasso’s imagery and technique. That Picasso used the same order in the bound text as he did when he actually made them (at least for these particular groups of prints), suggests that Picasso likely had specific Acts from the tragicomedy in mind when originally producing them and may have assumed back in 1968 a future publication of these prints with those very Acts. In other words, Picasso did not just suddenly in 1971 decide to randomly pick 66 prints from the 347 Suite series and have them arbitrarily bound with the Rojas text. They contain an internal progression that was intentional. The prints in the series that we will consider today were all made on the 16th of May 1968. They are the 18th, 19th, and 20th prints appearing in Picasso’s book and are placed in Act IV of Rojas’s narrative. The three prints are placed near that moment in the text in which the old whore Celestina is speaking in monologue, questioning her safety should she go forward with her plans to unite Calisto with Melibea. She fears what could happen if Melibea’s father discovers what she is doing, but is also afraid what Calisto’s servants might do if she does not fulfill her part of the bargain for which she is being paid handsomely. Celestina trusts in her professional abilities as procuress but longs for the days when she was young and could participate in the sexual liaisons she arranges. Her professionalism compels her to continue, for as she says, “Where will the ox go, who no longer plows?” As is immediately obvious, Picasso’s prints are in no way a direct illustration of Celestina’s in her quandary. Instead Picasso renders parallel characters who comment on Celestina’s solitary consideration of her professional status as she ages. At the center of Picasso’s visual counterpart to Rojas’s Act is a female nude in changing mantilla. She is a central motif that Picasso establishes throughout this series (but also throughout the Celestina prints) and is emblematic of the ripe youthfulness for which Celestina reminisces. Across the series of prints, Picasso subtly changes the nude’s attire to further his visual narrative. She appears in various stages of 31

undress, in each case looking straight out at the viewer as more and more of her naked body is revealed. Counterpoint to her is a second motif, which is the musketeer, the nude woman’s static posture along with his triangular shaped cape visually linking the three prints. The subtle visual changes Picasso makes to each character across the series carries the comedy forward. No musketeers actually appear in Rojas’s story. The ease with which Picasso transposes them into the Rojas story is likely an extension of his reading of such devices in Surrealist theory. Picasso states, “The Surrealists in a way were right. Reality is more than the thing itself. Reality lies in how you see things … Don Quixote can come into Las Meninas.”6 The lack of any literal connection allows Picasso to imagine text and image as functioning separately, two expressive approaches stimulated by contemplation of a generative idea, which influence but are not dependent on each other. It frees Picasso to bring via the visual form nuances that embellish upon the Rojas dialogue. I should reiterate that Rojas’s actual players and Picasso’s characters are only loosely correlated. At one level, the nude could be identified with Melibea, the object of Calisto’s desire, or at another with one of two prostitutes who appear in Rojas’s story, Areúsa or Elicia. The musketeer is likely Picasso’s guise for Calisto, and the musketeer’s companion one of Calisto’s servants, perhaps Sempronio or Pármeno. But at another level the musketeer is Picasso himself, as Dr. Nowak and others have argued. In later prints in the book, Picasso’s musketeer becomes an artist, his cane transformed into stylus or brush that captures the prostitute’s image onto his easel, or that literally conjures the model’s body with a sexually suggestive prod. Interestingly enough, Picasso even depicts his own printer Piero Crommelynck as a musketeer, further securing the musketeer-artist metaphor. Once again we see that Picasso is not interested in illustrating Roja’s text, but offering a visual meditation on its characters. At the center of Picasso’s second print, the musketeer holds a distinctively phallic cane. The musketeer’s “erection” is so blatantly on display as to be droll. Indeed, there is a comic quality to all the musketeers in Picasso’s prints. One even sports a big nose like a clown. The quick gestures that Picasso often uses to describe their forms seem to physically make light of their characters. When one has viewed enough of these musketeers throughout the Celestina series, one can only conclude that their representations are some kind of satirical jab. Shiff found Picasso’s musketeers to be more like ‘picarized’ noblemen rather than respected “soldiers of Their Most Catholic Majesties” in truth “leading the life of beggars and robbers and hiding under an ample cape clothes made of filthy rags.”7 The supposedly heroic protector, in the end, is nothing but a john seeking gratuitous physical pleasure, much like Calisto and Melibea in Rojas’ story. And the manner in which Picasso traces their form is no more serious in tone. Yet, if Picasso sees himself in the guise of the musketeer, then he is mocking himself too, perhaps as the ever lusty, yet aging artist still seeking gratification from drawing (and seducing) his model. If we are to read Picasso’s persona in the lead musketeer, then it is a second


musketeer who comes between him and his model in the second print, and who magically replaces the first’s “erection.” Is this second musketeer Crommelynck, his printmaker who in the end is the one who consummates the print by completing the artistic process for Picasso? Does Crommelynck become a sexual surrogate who, unlike the artist himself, is still able to perform? Picasso seems to suggest as much through his visual magic of replacing one image with another across the two plates. The manner in which phallic cane suddenly becomes Crommelynck is pictorial magic, a clever slight of hand on Picasso’s part that is like a Rojas ribald joke. Picasso also sees himself in the character of Celestina, old yet still interested in sex, and ever more a curiosity. Karen Kleinfelder has interpreted the figure of Celestina as a double for the aged version of Picasso himself, the voyeur and enabler of the antics of a younger generation of artistic fornicators. "The aged procuress," writes Kleinfelder, is both a voyeur, an indirect participant, and the mastermind behind the scenes who directly determines all that ensues. In this sense, she becomes Picasso's counterpart, the artist who is both a voyeur of his own creations, watching the antics of his characters from a remove, but who also functions as a kind of 'procuress', manipulating his characters, setting up the scenery, staging his own fantasies for his amusement."8 The inspiration that Picasso takes from Rojas goes far beyond the convenient similarities between himself as engraver and the procuress's voyeuristic delight in arranging the sexual antics of her younger companions. By portraying himself as a double for Celestina, Picasso clings to his role as mediator between the post-mimetic modern artists and a humanistic tradition of art that reaches back to Spain's Golden Age and beyond. He also recognizes his own status as living myth: the Great Artist who has lived past his glory days, when his creations had marked the cutting edge of modern art. In his old age, he is like Celestina with her younger disciples in the artistic misuse of authoritative discourse, for like her, Picasso had led the way for much of modern art and now was watching an art world that had marginalized him. He had given the post-Cubist vanguard a freedom from the distractions of mimesis and all that implied, allowing them to concentrate like the musketeer on that which most gratifies the modern visual artist–effective form freed from any extraneous concerns about art's previous didactic or propagandistic societal duties. Also like Celestina, he may have felt betrayed by these younger artists who had learned from him and moved beyond him into styles that Picasso could not or would not imitate. It seems likely that Picasso was actually indifferent to those critics. Despite their variance from what Picasso had been doing up to that point in his career, the Celestina prints are far from conventional. Looking past their rough and hurried appearance to a closer look at the surface reveals an astonishing mastery of a variety of print techniques on the same plate, enough to 33

rival Goya. They are partly sugar-lift aquatints, a process that can create deep, opaque blacks. The technique allows the fluid quality of the drawing to be maintained, as opposed to thin line work being available alone. Picasso often combines this technique with others. According to Brigitte Baer, this included using “a varnish stick (a sort of lithographic crayon) for stopping portions of the copper plate,” or a “system of creating a whole range of whites, greys, and blacks by biting his aquatints directly by hand.”9 Sometimes he dissolved “away the varnish on the stopped out areas with turpentine” to create a “grafitti effect.”10 The complexity and overlay of techniques makes it difficult to figure out what technique he is using where. The sophistication of method is, however, out of sync with the crudeness of the resulting forms, as if such sophistication is a sham, evoking Rojas’s double-voiced discourses. Edges are raw and uneasy when compared to prints made earlier in his career. They are in stark contrast, for example, to the forms found among the prints of the Vollard Suite whose elegant lines and carefully resolved compositions were what audiences came to expect of Picasso. In fact, in keeping with the story they complement, Picasso’s forms are an in-your-face sort of a joke aimed at subverting audience expectations. Picasso’s printmaking is sophisticated with the result being deceivingly crude. In the Celestina prints Picasso is perhaps doing what Manet did, for example, in the Olympia, challenging established rules of art by referencing them (like the correct proportions and appropriate display of contrapposto for a reclining Venus/nude), then deliberately mocking tradition by executing the work “badly” albeit strategically. The presentation recalls Rojas’s literary technique of referencing classical literary discourse only to subvert it into a bawdy joke by a slick turn of phrase or an ironic context. Picasso’s “hidden” technical mastery contrasted with his overt “messiness’”of form seems to be a conscious play with expectations that mirrors very closely Rojas’s overt play with intertextuality. The companionship of form and word, along with an awareness of language’s own abstract qualities, had long interested Picasso since his play with words as image early in his career as a Cubist. And as Les Demoiselles has long proved, despite everything, even age, Picasso also liked sex. In his partnering with Rojas, Picasso releases layers of meanings that speak to his reputation as aging artistic genius, still lusty for his model, and who works his magic to remain in the action. NOTES
1. 2. 3. Gert Shiff, Picasso:The Last Years, 1963-1973, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1983, p. 11. Shiff, p. 11. Robert Flynn Johnson and Donna Stein, Artist’s Books In The Modern Era 1870-2000: The Reva And David Logan Collection Of Illustrated Books, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, February 2002, 164.


4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

Thank you to Mark Cervenka for his insights regarding similarities between Picasso’s art books and synthetic cubist paintings. Quoted in, Susan Grace Galassi, Picasso’s Variations On The Masters: Confrontations With The Past, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1996, 154. Quoted in Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life And Work, New York: Harper, 1959, 374 and reprinted in Galassi, 178. Shiff 42. Karen Kleinfelder, The Artist, His Model, Her Image, His Gaze: Picasso’s Pursuit Of The Model, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, 200. Brigitte Baer, “Seven Years of Printmaking: The Theatre and its Limits,” in Tate Gallery, Late Picasso: Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Print, 1953-1972, London: Tate Gallery, 1988, 95. Baer, 96.



During the summer of 1912, Emil Nolde completed four paintings with religious subjects–all on an obscure Christian saint, Mary of Egypt, who worked the port of Alexandria as a prostitute, experienced a conversion to Christianity at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and died a hermit in the wilderness beyond the river Jordan. Three years earlier, in the summer of 1909, with just such Christian subjects, he had made his first significant move away from an earlier impressionistic style towards a novel, abstract, painterly, and coloristic style eventually known as German expressionism. And each summer since then, always in rural northern Germany, he had produced a handful of religious paintings.1 The last three canvases of this series of four have always been hung as a unit–approximating a triptych–and they remain together today in the galleries of the Hamburg Kunsthalle. Collectively Nolde called them Legend: St. Mary of Egypt; individually he titled them In the Port of Alexandria (left), The Conversion (center), and Death in the Desert (right).2 Of all of Nolde's work, his religious pictures best represent a contest of the conservative and progressive that informed the painter’s art, personality, and politics. For a contradiction lies at their core: conventional literary subjects were employed in the creation of a vanguard Modernist style–when, nearly everywhere else, such subject matter was considered retardataire at best, or, at worst, antithetical to the Modernist enterprise. For the most part, expressionist painters favored simple, direct, powerful imagery–mainly without even anecdotal elements. Legend: St. Mary of Egypt shares some of these stylistic qualities, but, by virtue of its complex literary subject, it requires additional elements if it is to be meaningful in more than an expressionistic fashion. This type of subject matter has been characterized as discursive–that is, it draws near to language. This conjunction of a Modernist style and narrative subjects was not necessarily a natural fit, and, no doubt sensing a potential contradiction at the heart of his enterprise, Nolde spent three years–from his first religious paintings to this triptych–devising means to finesse this fissure. It must be noted that Nolde clearly had a literary text in mind when he created this series. First, the saint, although not entirely unknown, did not enjoy great popularity in Germany--or, for that matter, in most of Europe. Thus, he could not have relied on a visual source for his imagery. Second, in a letter to the triptych’s eventual owner, dated June 23, 1917, he wrote: “I have the text of the legend of St. Mary right here; these are the concise words that suggested the arrangement: ‘Take my body as your payment.’ ‘I prayed to you with great solemnity.’ ‘The


lion dug the grave there with its paws.’”3 Writers on Nolde tend to ignore these lines–and thus the matter of their origin. However, a small book published in 1910, with a brief selection of the legends of the saints edited by Richard Benz and titled Alte deutsche Legenden, contains each of them verbatim. It is obviously Nolde’s source.4 Like the triptych, the legend has three sections. The first involves the abbot Zosimus, his search for a holy hermit in the wilderness beyond the river Jordan, and his discovery of Mary. Urged by him, she tells her story, thus opening the second portion of the legend. This consists of three episodes as well. Born in Egypt, and possessing great beauty, she came to Alexandria at twelve and lived for seventeen years as a public woman, not out of material desire, but insatiable lust. Seeing local citizens embarking by sea to venerate the holy cross in Jerusalem, she boarded with them, offering the seamen her body as payment. In Jerusalem, Mary approached the door of the church with the pilgrims three times, only to have an unseen force hold her back. Recognizing this as the effect of a sinful life, she turned in despair to a painting of the Virgin Mary, begged pardon for her sins, and vowed to change her ways. Finally entering the church unhindered, she was given three gold pieces by a stranger and advised by a voice to seek salvation beyond the Jordan. She dwelled there for forty-six years, miraculously sustained by three loaves of bread, but enduring daily temptation by the devil. In the third part of the legend, Mary asks Zosimus to return on Easter with a consecrated host. On that day she crosses over the flooded waters of the Jordan to join him, receives the sacrament, asks him to return the following Easter, and departs again across the water. One year later, failing to find her in the appointed spot, he returns to the site of their original encounter, only to see her lying dead. Beside her is an inscription in the sand requesting that he bury her and giving her death date–just days after her communion. After exhausting himself digging, Zosimus enlists a lion for aid with the interment, then returns to his monastery. Nolde’s first–and most obvious–strategy for reconciling expressionistic style with discursive imagery in Legend: St. Mary of Egypt is the format: a triptych has the potential to be chronological and episodic. Within this format, the left picture, In the Port of Alexandria–with the prostitute enticing the sailors–shows Nolde at his most expressionistic. Bright colors dominate and fit into a riot of twisting, interlocking shapes, ambiguous space, and roughly painted forms. These, plus the tangle of limbs and bodies, lend the work an unbalanced, precarious quality–expressing the intemperate passions of the quartet. However, the sailors and the nude themselves represent a second strategy for advancing the narrative. They both have meaning as types–of a kind prominent in Nolde’s earlier works. The former–of the “soulless brute” type–have the same coarse features and hulking limbs of the brothers in Joseph Recounts his Dream of 1910 (U352). These vulgar antagonists encircle and gape at a pious protagonist. The female or “carnal” nude type can be traced back to the foolish virgins (on the right) in The Wise and the Foolish Virgins of 1910 (U347). Characteristically, they have broad,


curving contours and a pronounced sense of corporeality–born of active surfaces and vibrant colors. In this episode, during her career as a harlot, Mary resembles those in Nudes and Eunuch of 1912 (U514), with black hair, dark eyes, and red lips–but now she has an overripeness redolent of decay. For the sailor’s facial features, Nolde employed yet a third strategy to create meaning: caricature. He had already incorporated this device into religious paintings such as Derision of 1909 (U317) and Joseph Recounts his Dreams. He gave the tormenters in each picture similar facial features, including gaping mouths and snaggled teeth. In both, he essentially reversed the Platonic formula of renaissance art: the outward disfigurements signify an inner moral corruption. However, he reserved some of his most exaggerated distortions for this debauched lot. But Nolde actually appropriated his motif and use of caricature from northern late medieval and early renaissance painting. In fact, in a letter from 1908, he made an explicit connection between his work, northern art, and the issue of national identity: “In Germany we have a great up-hill battle before us, if we are to truly succeed in creating a great German art, a second period–the first falls within the time of Grünewald, Holbein, and Dürer.”5 Caricature of a blunt sort was a well developed–and well known–tradition in northern European art. Artists as diverse as Matthias Grünewald, in his Mocking of Christ (1503); Dieric Bouts, in his Betrayal of Christ (1450); and Jan Sandors van Hemessen, in his Christ Scorned (1544) had employed it in a dramatic fashion. They pioneered its use as an outward signifier of the evil in the soul of sinners. In fact, all three of these panels were in the Bavarian national collection when Nolde is known to have visited it just before 1900.6 But Nolde also used caricature to establish one part of a dualism–of a type common in his religious paintings. In fact, in my opinion, his religious paintings live on dichotomy. This is one of the most significant mechanisms of meaning in his work, after his expressionistic style, which the use of dichotomy is mean to complement. These oppositions take the form of broad contrasts: of themes, of types, of colors, of modes.7 And here Grünewald and the other northerners guided him as well. Note that Hieronymus Bosch, in his Carrying of the Cross (1515), presented the protagonist of his scene–Christ--in a manner opposite of his antagonists. He has a calm, self-possessed manner and an inward directed visage–the same features, in fact, as those of Joseph in Joseph Recounts his Dream. Here we have a third type–the “pious soul.” But with three canvases at his disposal, Nolde had no need to present the protagonist/ antagonist or pious/faithless dualism in a single painting. Mary, as yet, shares the ignoble character of the sailors. With the sinner in In the Port of Alexandria, the first half of the dichotomy is established as an allegory of the flesh; the second appears only with the saint, opposite, in the third canvas of the triptych, who symbolizes the spirit.


But, in addition, we have the initial portion of a second dichotomy here, also in the form of an allegory--one for which the textual source is crucial. It contains an inherent contrast: the popular medieval Christian theme of the vita activa verses the vita contemplativa. In fact, Nolde had painted it earlier, within a different context, in Christ in Bethany of 1910 (U353), on the subject of Jesus in the house of Mary and Martha. In the gospel, and the painting, Martha scurries about performing a series of domestic tasks, while Mary quietly contemplates the words of Jesus–she chooses, in the words of scripture, the “better half.”8 In medieval legendaries, hermits withdraw to the wilderness, eschewing the active in favor of the contemplative life. This theme informs the legends of St. Mary of Egypt, St. Paul of Thebes, and St. Anthony–the latter two hermits in the Egyptian wilderness. The book by Benz that was Nolde’s literary source includes two stories from the life of Anthony. The tale has particular relevance for Nolde’s series, since it presents Anthony as the model of the contemplative life. It also describes explicitly one of the chief temptations of the active life: the flesh, in the form of the beautiful “Devil-Queen of the Nile” who lures him from the wilderness to the city and attempts to seduce him into a more “active life.”9 Nolde’s triptych presents the same dichotomy as the medieval saga: the active, urban life to the left; the contemplative, rural life to the right. In Death in the Desert, on the right of Legend: St. Mary of Egypt, Nolde set all three figures in a lush tropical landscape. As on the left canvas, Mary has a full, round body–alluding to her stint as a prostitute–but not the opulent color or handling–befitting a hermit who foreswore fleshy indulgences.10 She clasps her hands in prayer, while the primitive state of her hermitage is signified by a coat of fur. The attraction to Nolde of expanding upon the life of Mary no doubt lay in the opportunity to juxtapose its first and final phases. In the Port of Alexandria and Death in the Desert create the starkest dichotomies of style, imagery, and theme of any of his religious paintings. The latter presents the ascetic life, stressing isolation in nature, hardship and ordeal, and the denial of the flesh. The former presents life within society, emphasizing urban corruption, sinful selfindulgence, and fleshy appetites. The grotesque lecherousness of the sailor and the perverse glee of the prostitute, in the former, give way to the dignified, pious saints of the latter. The over-ripe corpulence of the harlot becomes the matted hair and fur of the hermit. In The Conversion, the central image, pilgrims from Alexandria enter an archway to the right, presumably leading to the shrine of the true cross. Mary, now in a more modest garment, prays at the center before an icon of the Madonna and Child set to the left. In the tripartite format of Legend: St. Mary of Egypt, The Conversion represents the crucial moment in the life of Mary and the mediation point between the dichotomies established in In the Port of Alexandria and Death in the Desert. It marks the transition between urban and rural life, the states of sin and


grace, and the active and contemplative lives. Nolde emphasized the pivotal nature of the episode by placing Mary directly at the center of the canvas on a vertical axis of outstretched arms and body that reaches from its top to bottom. The entire triptych turns on this image, as Mary’s life turns on this moment. The riotous physical action of In the Port of Alexandria disappears in favor of an inner fervor. To emphasize the transformation, Nolde presented Mary in a very different fashion, replacing her colorful, corpulent, overripe body with a broad, flat, red dress, a rosy complexion, and firmly outlined forms. He covered her from neck to knees– stitching the dress right up into her armpits. All of her energy–physical, emotional, spiritual– points heavenward. Characteristically, Nolde emphasized the experience of the divine and the intensity of Mary’s spiritual state partially through color. She wears a deep, radiant red garment of the type elsewhere reserved for Christ and individuals of the “pious soul” type.11 Nolde’s textual source allows for a variety of levels of meaning in Legend: St. Mary of Egypt. However, other aspects of it are accessible not via the medieval legend, but from a subsequent text–Nolde’s memoirs. Here he inserted three narratives–ex post facto commentaries, or covert glosses, of sorts–each correlating with a particular canvas, each constructing a more personal frame of reference for the series. The first, corresponding to In the Port of Alexandria, appears as an account of Nolde’s own experiences in a port city–not Alexandria, but Hamburg. He wrote: “For some years I had the belief that [Legend: St. Mary of Egypt] should find a place in the Hamburg Kunsthalle, in the city where I felt a bit at home.”12 Here he referred to his brief residence in Hamburg, on the harbor in a small seamen’s hotel in 1910. In his memoirs he wrote of several experiences: of the bustle and din of the harbor from traffic, ships, and gramophones; and of the exotic environment of foreign seamen. But a third is more telling, and involves the taste of these sailors for foreign women and illicit sex. He referred to a seaman telling of procuring Chinese women so that his mates might enjoy a day of leisure after a voyage from Shanghai, then to an innkeeper informing him that a certain captain kept a prostitute from Amsterdam at the inn during his travels.13 Nolde reported his response to such matters in a moralizing tone entirely consistent with the triptych. In fact, he wrote that he “moraliz[ed] over these events” and pondered two potential fates of a newborn child–a life in “filth or … the purest human happiness!”14 A second reference, to Death in the Desert, requires the context of other statements in his memoirs. In them, Nolde presented himself as both an ascetic and a habitué of nature-emphasizing that he painted nearly all of his early religious paintings in remote northern Germany. He described the simplicity of his fisherman’s cottage there, and the crudeness of the timber shack that served as his studio. In this manner, his second reference to the St. Mary series tells a slightly sentimental tale of contemplating the completed Legend: St. Mary of Egypt


hung on the outside wall of his shed, while surrounded by flora and fauna. The implication is unmistakable: he painted the pictures as the saint lived, isolated in the wilderness.15 For the central canvas, Nolde contrived a portion of his memoirs to amplify the entire series’ theme of personal transformation. The text both references the painting and, appropriately enough, mirrors its narrative–consisting as it does of three episodes. At an exhibition of Legend: St. Mary of Egypt in Wiesbaden, the dealer Heinrich Kirchhoff first “stood paralyzed before it for a moment and then left again immediately, irritated and angry that anyone would have the insolence to offer something like that to people.”16 Then, returning an hour later, he faced it again “until his opinion changed, and hardly knowing how, he looked and understood all.” Finally, he “stood there in front of the work captivated and inspired, defending it to all the people, who still held the same opinion that he previously held.”17 Eventually he purchased it. With this Nolde conflated the spiritual and the artistic: the dealer experienced a conversion of sorts, an aesthetic epiphany, before the three canvases, just as the harlot had undergone a spiritual conversion before the icon of the Virgin at the Holy Sepulcher. Afterwards, he became a witness to the power of art to the philistines of Wiesbaden–a prophet calling out in the wilderness, so to speak. This last, personal, strata of meaning likely accounts for Nolde’s selection of the legend of Mary of Egypt as his subject. Crucial to the meaning of the triptych is the urban/rural dichotomy of the first and third canvases, which mirrors precisely the artist’s own habits: winters in worldly Berlin, when nature is at its most sterile; and spring and summer in the rural north, when it is most fecund, rapt in creative isolation. However, his Lutheran heritage might have made him less interested in a tale in which the Virgin figures as the vehicle of transformation. There are other Christian legends of conversion without the agency of the Madonna--some involving this same repudiation of worldliness. The crucial point of interest for Nolde in this story may have been the icon before which Mary experienced her conversion, for this allowed him to incorporate a more contemporary theme: the twofold power of art. Only by spurning society and embracing nature might the artist tap the transforming power of creativity; and only through the medium of progressive art might ordinary individuals likewise remake themselves. In this sense, Kirchhoff is Zosimus to Nolde’s Mary–a witness to the power of art.

1. 2. 3. For Nolde’s paintings see M. Urban, Emil Nolde, a Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, 2 vols. (London: Sotheby's Publications, 1987). See also the biographical notes in vol. 1, pp. 13-31. The canvases of this triptych are U523, U524, and U525 in Urban's catalogue raisonné. 3For Nolde’s memoirs see: Das eigene Leben (Berlin: Rembrandt, 1931); Jahre der Kämpfe (Berlin: Rembrandt, 1934); Welt und Heimat. Die Südseereise (Flensburg: Christian Wolf, 1965); Reisen, Ächtung, Befreiung (Cologne: DuMont, 1976). Letters are in Briefe aus den Jahren 18941926, ed. M. Sauerlandt (Berlin: Furche-Kunstverlag, 1927). Hereafter NI, NII, NIII, NIV, and Briefe. This quotation is from Briefe, p. 127. All translations are my own.


4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.


11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

Alte deutsche Legenden, ed. R. Benz (Jena: Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1909), pp. 13-16. Briefe, pp. 73-74. Note similar, comments in NII, p. 234. All three works are in E. Steingräber, The Alte Pinakothek Munich (London: Scala/Philip Wilson, 1985), pp. 40, 46, 118. Note his comments on dualities in NII, p. 181. He had expressed similar ideas in 1901: see Briefe, p. 35. See Luke 10: 38-42. Nolde probably knew a version attributed to Bosch–either the Altarpiece of the Hermits, once in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, or The Temptation of St. Anthony, in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin-Dahlem. He visited museums in Vienna in the 1890s and spent most of his winters in Berlin in the early 20th century. For Death in the Desert, Nolde created a second version of the first of his four paintings on the subject (U522). The composition remains the same, but with markedly bolder forms set closer to the picture surface. The pose of Zosimus changes: he prays intently, rather than grieving before the corpse–a difference in psychology central to the meaning of the triptych. E.g., The Last Supper (U316), Christ in Bethany (U353), and Joseph Recounts his Dream (U352). NII, p. 230. Ibid., pp. 98-99. Ibid., p. 99. Ibid., p. 186. Ibid., pp. 229-230. Ibid., pp. 230.



This paper is a meditation on three artists whose work provides insights into the visions that people have of others and otherness. They bond in ways that approach the narrative, yet such a refined genre does not entirely reflect their collective artistic sensibility. Their personal artistic languages create a context that helps us understand the complex ties of American culture and explore issues of representation by which the self is constructed and made visible. The lives of Beauford Delaney, James Baldwin and Glenn Ligon are lives lived black. Their narratives are our collective stories but the act of storytelling should not be taken too literally. Rather each participates in a dialogue as a means of defining a sense of belonging. Their art is a validation of historical consciousness and orientation, of self, and the complex enterprise that is modernism. As mirrors of how each sees the world, they have constructed simultaneous identities that have enabled them to participate in more than one code of belonging. “From all available evidence no black man had ever set foot in this tiny Swiss village before I came….” So begins James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village,” published the very same year that Beauford Delaney expatriated to Paris. It inspired the text-based works titled Stranger by Glenn Ligon that were exhibited three years ago at the Studio Museum in Harlem who views the same issues that Baldwin dealt with to be at the core of his own art. Representation profoundly affects and shapes our lives. We want to be heard. Everything we know about ourselves and the world is shaped by our histories, those continuously changing texts, subject to correction and verification. Baldwin’s experience as a black man in Switzerland is translated in Ligon’s art as the visual expression of an idea in words. His 10 luminous black canvases and works on paper involve stenciling words onto the surface then covering it with translucent layers of coal dust. From a distance, the paintings appear as random patterns or dense masses of grey or black. Close-up the tactile, dense surfaces come alive. Baldwin’s words reflect light like a beacon. (Museums New York) Language informs perception and the works invite looking, thinking, and reading. They evoke, as well, the traditions of masking and minstrelsy. Baldwin uses clearly traceable events from his own life as a basis for fictional exploration. His experiments in form and language are almost always allegorical renditions of his philosophy of life. He called for Americans, black and white, to confront what he considered our shared racial


tragedy, “…to pry open the trap of color,” to use the words of Baldwin’s biographer James Campbell in his Exiled in Paris. (Campbell, 118) Baldwin’s politics were personal: the politics of identity. (Campbell, 118) I writing about the African American quest for freedom and justice, Baldwin understood that prejudice drains both whites and blacks of their humanity. In Shay Youngblood’s novel Black Girl in Paris, her heroine describes words scrawled across a map, like directions almost, that James Baldwin left behind in a café on the Boulevard St. Germaine: One word at a time Story by story Mile by mile Let the soul of the voices Carry you the distance. For black Americans on a cultural and racial pilgrimage, Paris was the site of memory. Baldwin was to say that he did not go to Paris, but, rather, left New York. Perhaps no one knew James Baldwin better than the painter Beauford Delaney. Baldwin’s life-spanning friendship with Delaney is well known. The most radical of Baldwin’s work, “Going to Meet the Man,” is dedicated to Delaney. At the time of his death in 1979, Beauford Delaney was the best known painter in the group of African American artist expatriates. In Paris, Delaney had a whole range of black expressive culture. They both loved Paris because it was the city that allowed them to find out who they were. To invoke the title of Baldwin’s 1950 essay, they were “Equal in Paris.” When asked if he were an expatriate, Delaney replied: Expatriate? It appears that to me in order to be an expatriate one Has to be, in some manner, driven from one’s fatherland, from One’s native land. When I left the United States during the 1950s No such condition was left behind. One must belong before one May then not belong. I belong here in Paris. I am able to realize Myself here. I am no expatriate. (Stokes-Sims, Challenge of the Modern: African-American Artists 1925-1945, 77.) Although it has been suggested that as an expatriate, he did not bother much with worldly affairs, Delaney did not ignore the Civil Rights movement. Galvanized by personalities and events of the times, Delaney and numerous artists responded with complex narratives and symbolic images to the issues of the 1960s and 1970s with an emphasis on black consciousness, equality, solidarity, and racial pride. Delaney became more and more concerned with racial questions and the assassination of Martin Luther King had a disasterous effect on his mental state.


Baldwin’s goal as a writer was to tell the tale of how “…we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph…” and although it is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” (“Sonny’s Blues” in Going to Meet the Man) The fight for racial equality dominated the black periodicals and many exiles received news from America. Delaney urged Baldwin on his activist role. Baldwin was his connection with the “great world.” Conversations with Baldwin led to his Rosa Parks series. He was anxious to bring the issue of race into his work. In 1967, he wrote to Henry Miller that he was particularly interested in painting “. . . some portraits of Negroes in my fashion . . .” and those included Richard Long, Baldwin, Marian Anderson, and, from memory, his mother. It is the expressive single-figure realist portrait that first brought Beauford Delaney critical notice and a measure of success. He loved people. He continued the art of portraiture without interruption throughout his career. His portraits tell a story that is human and real, saying as much about him as those he painted. It is the photographer Richard Avedon, Baldwin’s childhood friend, who captures this idea when he speaks of expressing himself through other people’s faces. (Carol Vogel, The New York Times, November 17, 2000) Delaney painted life-like portraits, not likenesses, portraits as a means of recollection and revelations of a larger frame of collective history and creative drive. By no means do I want to suggest that the portrait largely defines Beauford Delaney as an artist, as does Richard J. Powell in his book, The Color Yellow. Delaney’s work presents various narrative strands, not in the sense that there is a story meant simply to be illustrated in a sequential, causal order, but as a record of humanity and intelligence. At best, his work equals a visual archive to be completed by the viewer who makes his or her own associations and weaves his or her own narrative. The interaction of his subjects with each other and Delaney, himself, reflect a history of human experience from which emerges a more coherent whole, a critical consciousness as a black artist, a personal journey pieced together to form a collective field of memory. Delaney’s semi-abstract 1944 self-portrait at the Chicago Art Institute stands out for its expressionistic brush work. David Leeming in his biography Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney suggests that the self-portrait is a revelation of the inner struggles that increasingly troubled and overwhelmed him and led to his final mental breakdown in a Paris psychiatric hospital. Leeming believes that the image hides his fears of racism, loss of patronage, and exposure of his homosexuality. Like a mask, it served as a defense against “the inner demons.” (Leeming, 54) Reflecting his profound self doubts and inner turmoil, the mask-like visage is a complex mixture of revelation and concealment. What I find fascinating in the self-portrait is the vacant white eye. In Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins, Jacques Derrida analyses what the artist sees looking back at him


and refers to the “monocular stare,” a single eye open and fixed firmly on its own image, seeing nothing, nothing but an eye which prevents it from seeing anything at all. Are Delaney’s selfportraits attempts to find his own identity in his own image? In Derrida’s explanation of the “metamorphosis of blindness and the use of the mirror in the creation of self-portraits, he speaks of the physical impossibility of seeing the seeing. A most interesting photograph from 1967 in Leeming’s book is titled Through a Glass Darkly, the lines ending Chapter 13 of “St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians,” Beauford Delaney’s favorite Biblical passage. In a round mirror framed in white, we see the reflection of Delaney in ¾ view, half in sunlight and the other in shadow, surrounded by furniture and objects in what appears to be an antiques shop. He seems to be gazing into space, observing the without but also within. The photographic image is like the works of art he created which achieve an illumination of his world and one immeasurably beyond it. Reminiscent of another Delaney self-portrait, this one from 1950, facing left, we encounter once again the vacant white eye. The monocular eye can also be seen in Beauford Delaney’s “Earth Mother,”1950, a stylized neo-primitive nude, a kneeling African woman . My explanation of the narrative elements of Beauford Delaney’s art is surely speculative but his paintings seem spun out of his life. Deeply connected to his life, they are painterly aggregates of his own sensibilities. His references are multiple in an endless process of signification, more associative, less referential and less linear. His was a life of intention and the recollections and experiences that we, as viewers, overlay on his art are the material of narration. “Rehearsal” portrays a black organist in a white robe, hands poised on the keys, a preacher in a red robe, a choir member in a robe of yellow, and a parishioner in green. Black halo lines interweave the figures like the tracery of the Gothic windows asymmetrically arranged behind them. The African-American sermon depicted here makes use of specifically identifiable secular references coupled with generalized sacred references from the scriptures. As the institutional center of the modern civil rights movement, the preacher’s principal mission is to speak to the community’s needs in the language of the congregation. Delaney’s father was a preacher, so too, Baldwin and his step-father. The genre of the African-American performed sermon was in the vanguard of political liberation and focuses on the need to live a political and social existence. Jazz, by many considered to be the first truly avant-garde American art form, is the subject of Delaney’s 1950 painting that suggests the excitement of “stompin’ at the Savoy” as couples jitterbug to the tune of the trumpeter, harpist, drummer, pianist, saxophonist, and bassist while others sit at the bar or soda fountain. His uninhibited fragmented colors capture the days when the Rainbow Orchestra, Satchmo, or the Royal Flushers came to town.


Whether created in Knoxville or Boston, New York or Paris, Delaney’s art demonstrates the role of the narrative as a background for certain historical themes and, more importantly, perhaps, gives rise to important methodological questions in the study of art in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. It is to Delaney’s abstractions that we turn for his greatest achievements. While some suggest that he may have taken up ethnically neutral abstractions when he reached Paris because abstractions were a means of cultural assimilation, his greatest works are the all-over paintings with their fields of color, fluid swirls of closely valued tonal gradations at the service of the effects of light on form. Beauford Delaney’s improvisatory use of color and light are projections of pure invention and discovery. Put together by the artist, not as expressions of himself, but rather radiations of an inner light. The turbulent energy of his brushstrokes and his preference for the color yellow seem to reflect the sheer optimism with which he lived his life despite the difficulties of navigating separate worlds: black artists and intellectuals, white, gay bohemians, homeless stragglers invited home day and night, and the cultural elite of Boston, New York, and Paris from the 1920s through the 1970s. (Publishers Weekly, January 5, 1998) Leeming suggests that the various compartments of his life gradually became voices that argued with each other: sex with whites but not with blacks; sex with temporary acquaintances, not with friends; safe politics with most whites, and strong race identification with blacks. These voices taunted the artist, prompting his breakdown. Although their styles are different from each other’s, Glenn Ligon shares with Beauford Delaney a common element insofar as they are accomplished narrators of a collective story. They have similar preoccupations but with different artistic solutions in presenting archival evidence of black American heroes and heroines. As bell hooks wrote in Black Looks: Race and Representation it is in the process of changing the way that African-Americans look at themselves and how they are seen that a new world is created “where everyone can look at blackness and black people with new eyes.” (bell hooks, 202) In questioning assumptions about black identity, says bell hooks in Art on My Mind, blacks become objects of representation rather than subjects. Art builds a language and is a means of articulating themes and issues of race, desire, history, culture, sexuality, power, and gender. These artists locate the personal within the larger frame of inequality, oppression, and fear. In his conceptually and formally assured works, Glenn Ligon, unlike Baldwin or Delaney, specifically directs our attention to the imagery of the gay black male as an indicator of the conditions of society at large. More cautious about revealing risks derived from homosexuality, Baldwin and Delaney acknowledged the dangers of racism while masking the private self.


In reviewing the 1998 survey show “Glenn Ligon: Unbecoming,” Holland Cotter shifts the emphasis away from his reputation as a ‘political’ artist and states that, first and foremost, he is a versatile storyteller. While his narratives are non-linear, he deconstructs and reconstructs codes that support clichés of gender, race, and sexuality. In “Self-Portrait Exaggerating My Black Features/My White Features,” Ligon refutes the concept of an authentic subject, suggesting that the body can be incessantly replicated and renamed. By repeating his identical image, much like Warhol might, he “. . . relocates the body linguistically exposing the elusiveness of identity.” (Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis, Writing on the Wall: Word and Image in Modern Art, New York: Harry Abrams, 2003, p.316) Ligon deals with confusions in fixed as opposed to chosen distinctions, skin color, a biological fact, as opposed to racial identity determined by context, a social concept, for example. History, fiction, and personal narrative are concentrated in phrases and images. Among Ligon’s photography-based works are mural-size silkscreens based on family vignettes in photo albums filled with snapshots of weddings and graduations documenting events such as the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. Text-based paintings reinscript Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man and Zora Neale Hurston’s How It Feels to Be Colored Me. His identity conscious art Untitled: I Feel Most Colored When I Am Thrown Against A Sharp White Background and his recasting of slave narratives must be read as well as seen. Influenced by Jasper John’s stenciled letters, he turns words into abstractions, shaping our ways of seeing one another and perceiving racial difference. His works also invite comparison to Twombly, Warhol, and Basquiat as he remaps black subjectivity through the written and visual discourses of contemporary culture. Ligon’s Coloring exhibition at the Walker Art Institute in 2000-20001 consisted of large blowups of pictures of children with “Afro” haircuts and images appropriated from black-themed coloring books used in elementary school classrooms in the 1970s. Ligon recontextualized offset images of iconic figures Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, and George Washington Carver. Screened on larger canvases, the signifying function of the outlined black and white images is somewhat diverted by the scribbled-in faces colored by chi;dren in the art project. Ligon stated that his goal was “… to make the dumbest painting I can make. How can I do that? What might these be? I’ll make coloring book paintings. How is American history being taught to black kids?” His 55 minute two screen 2003 installation “The Orange and Blue Feelings” features several sessions shot in real time with his white therapist Barbara. In this piece, he transforms video into a dialogue lending a second voice to the verbal re-presentation of artistic identity. In his re-telling of the story of a missing painting, “Malcolm X (Version 1)#0,” his favorite, we glimpse the artist’s persona, his personality in a search for identity and self-determination. Over several sessions, time takes on a physical presence, visual and aural, with all the content and form of a narrative, its temporal course, images, subplots, its silences, and starts and stops. We


eavesdrop on Ligon’s self-absorbed conversation on the literary and the commonplace but we do not see him. The image of his therapist is cropped at the top of the screen. She is headless and the patient, Glenn Ligon, is bodiless. His absence is his presence, in the manner of the disappearance of the text in his best known densely patterned black-on-black and occasional black-on-white paintings. As a child coming of age in the 1970s, he had always felt that there was a space in black culture for openly gay men. “It was a limited space but it was there. After all, where else could we go? The white community wasn’t that accepting of us and the black community had to protect its own.” (Denizet-Lewis, Benoit, “Living (and Dying) on the Down Low,” The New York Times Magazine, Section 6, August 3, 2003, p. 32) What kind of story does Glenn Ligon Tell? It is the story of the African-American subculture, a subject the art world has more or less overlooked, with its own name, the “down low” where black men have constructed a new identity with its own vocabulary and customs. In the close of his review of Glen Ligon’s recent Philadelphia show, Denizet-Lewis makes the following observation that could be said as well of Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: The point is both simple and unfathomable: to create a New family and a new story, in which differences and desires Are acknowledged and the past is brought into the present– Accepted, even embraced where possible, but also reshaped And revised. It is this restless narrative . . . that comes across Quiet passion. (Denizet-Lewis, 48) Beauford Delaney, James Baldwin, and Glenn Ligon have focused on artistic activity through the lenses of race, gender, and sexuality. Their artistic languages contain personal stories, new stories to be appreciated within a larger and longer history. They help us to clarify and reexamine notions of identity. In rethinking history as experienced by people of color, we comprehend that while identity is individually experienced, it is socially constructed. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bearden, Romare and Henry Henderson (eds.) 1993. A History of African-American Artists from 1792 to the Present. New York: Pantheon Books Cotter, Holland, “Stories About Race.” The New York Times. December 2, 1998, 48-49 Doy, Gen. 2000. Black Visual Culture: Modernity and Postmodernity. London: I. B. Tauris Publishers. Gibson, Ann. 1991.”Two World: African-American Abstraction in New York at Mid-Century, “in The Search for Freedom. New York: Kenkeleba House, Inc.


Heartney, Eleanor. 1994. “Whatever Happened to Beauford Delaney?” in Art in America (November 1994) 116-9 Honigman, Ana. “Glen n Ligon.” Flash Art. July-September 2001: 121. Leeming, David.1998. Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney. New York: Oxford University Press. Ligon, Glenn. “Black Light:David Hammons and the Poetics of Emptiness.” Artforum September 2004: 242-249. Powell, Richard J. 1997. Black Arts and Culture in the 20th Century. New York: Thames and Hudson. Youngblood, Shay. 2000. Black Girl in Paris. New York: Riverhead Books.


ART AND NARRATIVE UNDER THE THIRD REICH Ashley Labrie Frostburg State University

At the turn of the twentieth century, German artists were leaders in the avant-garde. Yet in 1911, the painter Carl Vinnen published a manifesto signed by 134 artists protesting against the “modernists”. Modern painters epitomized the otherness and interests of cosmopolitans and Jews. Supported by the intellectual elite, in love with machines, misled by foreign ideas, and obsessed with money, modernism was decadent, internationalist, Jewish, homosexual, Bolshevik, and big-city capitalist. It was at this time that Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. As a young man, he had vowed to dedicate his life “wholly to art”. He had a talent for painting and drawing, but never progressed beyond being a good draftsman. It is interesting to note that while Hitler was a student, he frequently sold work on the street and through a dealer. Traditional in narrative and neat in execution, works such as “Church entrance—Vienna” and “Odeonsplatz with Feldherrenhalle and Theatiner Church in Munich” appealed to tourists and locals as they depicted the local Germanic flavor. Failing his entrance examination to the Vienna Academy in 1907, as well as attempts to enter the field of architecture, he would obsess over the arts and reconstruct contemporary German aesthetic standards. Hitler admired 19th century art, particularly the conservative and patriotic work of the traditionalists Makart, Feuerbach, and Waldmuller. Perhaps his failure as an artist was directly related to his desire to ignore the unconventional. In respect to the avant-garde, he believed that in the early 1920s, modernism was clearly the product of diseased minds, themselves the products of degenerate races. Modernism was additionally a threat to a healthy German Volk; volk meaning “folk and folkdom”, the totality of the Germanic people and the German race.” In 1918, the German Workers’ Party was founded. Hitler joined in 1919, and worked diligently to increase the membership and even took over the organization’s publications. Hitler used his position and applied his aesthetic interests to create the National Socialist flag, the SA standard, and the masthead for the Volkischer Beobachter. By 1931, the National Socialist Party would be the largest and most powerful political party with Adolf Hitler as its foremost figure. Hitler would become chancellor on January 31, 1933. With patriotic zeal, he claimed: What we see before us of human culture today, the results of art, science and techniques, is almost exclusively the product of the Aryan. The struggle that rages today involves very great aims: a culture fights for its existence, which combines millenniums and embraces Hellenism and Germanity together.


Thus, Hitler’s vision was just as much cultural as it was political. The NSP immediately began systematic eliminations, or cultural cleansings, of anything considered un-Germanic. On May 10, 1933, 2000 books were burned by the National Socialist Student Organization. All foreign and modern influences would be removed from museums; all curators and gallery owners who supported the avant-garde would be replaced by Partymen. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, declared, “From the ashes, a new spirit will arise!” The goal was for National Socialist doctrine to be reflected in almost every painting, stamp, film, song, poem, public building, children’s toy, household good, and even the very layout of villages and homes—a fascist equalization, a Germanic worldview, an answer to the contemporary existential despair heralded by the avant-garde. Carrying the banner of man’s dynamic urge to fight evil, this “nationalization of the masses” would win peoples’ hearts and lead the volk back to the ‘consciousness’ of their race. According to the occupational census of 1933, there were over 14,000 visual artists, 2% of the German workforce. Membership in one of the seven Reich Chambers of Culture was required of all “who participated in the ‘creation, reproduction, intellectual or technical processing, dissemination, preservation, and sale of cultural goods.’” The First Decree for the implementation included a crucial provision according to which “admission into a chamber may be refused or a member may be expelled when there exists facts from which it is evident that the person in question does not possess the necessary reliability and aptitude for the practice of this activity,” thereby establishing the chamber as the decisive body regulating the lives and work of artists. Although the organization of the arts was carried on without much protest, there were heated debates about what “new art” would emerge and which artists would be commissioned. Goebbels had wished to keep the German Expressionists within the National Socialist Party. Less inclusive, Alfred Rosenberg (an officer in charge of spiritual and philosophical education of the NSP) reminded Hitler, “Men like Nolde and Barlach provoke violent discussions.” Rosenberg condemned all modern art, stating “in all centuries…the Nordic artist has always been marked by a special ideal of beauty. This is no more evident than in Hellas where we see a powerful natural ideal of beauty.” In 1933, the Prussian Academy in Berlin was to be reorganized. Lieberman stepped down almost immediately after Hitler came to power. Kollwitz, Ernst, Barlach, Nolde, and Schmidt-Rottluff were asked to resign only to later have their work banned. When Kirchner’s work was attacked by the NSP, he believed it was a mistake because he had supported the revolution since its beginning; the same fate struck Kandinsky and Schlemmer. Dix lost his position at the Dresden Academy and went into isolation in 1936. Goebbels, the only supporter of the modern, eventually relented and signed a decree stating that all modern art was to be removed from German museums. By 1936, modern art would be totally banned.


Once the “enemy” aesthetic had been exterminated, the Nazi party launched a re-education program to fill the void and cater to the Volk. The German Workers’ Front created a special battalion “Strength Through Joy” to spread art and culture throughout Germany. Orchestras played Beethoven and Brahms in the factories. Writers went on tour; books were sent to villages so that they could establish “proper” libraries. Actors built stages and publicly performed for the people. Hitler was offering the Volk a world of festivals, events, and folklore. In 1934,”Strength Through Joy” founded a committee dedicated to the visual arts. In its first year, approximately 120 art exhibitions were held in factories. Three years later, there were 743 exhibitions featuring demonstrations on aesthetic topics from the woodcut to the construction of buildings. Workers were encouraged to write their impressions in essay format, with the best winning works of art. Sponsored by the Reich, the House of German Art opened on July 18, 1937 in Munich featuring the Great German Art Exhibition. According to Hitler, the Exhibition had two aims: 1. to give the honest Germanic artist a platform with which to exhibit, and 2. to give the Germanic people a chance to see and purchase art. There were 16,000 submissions of which approximately 600 were chosen for the opening. As the client and promoter of the arts, the government set the standards that determined form and content. Ability was qualification necessary for the artist who wished his work to be exhibited. There were no formal criteria; the selection was based on Hitler’s agenda and that of the judges. It was said that the exhibition’s works were “ . . . .visual expressions of the eternal values of our Volk,” the “epitome of noble simplicity, calm grandeur, and rational serenity,” echoing Nietzsche’s belief in the release of energies that are associated with creativity, joy in existence, and ultimate truth as a means of cultural rebirth. “The Germanic artist was to leave his solitude and speak to the people, beginning with the choice of subject. It had to be popular and comprehensible. It had to be heroic in line with the ideals of National Socialism. It had to declare its faith in the ideal beauty of the Nordic and racially pure human being.” A Cologne critic described the basic thematic structure of the show: A walk through the exhibition proved that the principles of clarity, truth, and professionalism determined the selection. . . . The heroic element stands out, the life of the state with its personalities and developments. These are the new subjects, they demand new expression and styles . . . Public enlightenment was also programmed into the exhibition:


Just as our philosophy gives each individual strength to bind himself to race and people, so does art return from solitude into the fold of the community....; Artistic change is the symbol of political change. For the first time in 150 years, culture no longer takes its orders from Paris. Titles attributed to paintings guided interpretations. For example, landscapes were titled “Liberated Land” or “Fruitful Land” while figural compositions were titled “Ready to Work”. It is natural that the German figure is a highly favored theme in our modern art...our artists find their closeness to the native soil, the restorative powers of the landscapes . . . . Artists stress above all else the role of mothers as the guardian of life . . . . The portrayal of the female nude will always be the artist’s most ambitious undertaking...the body as nature wanted it...a welcome contribution to our program of promoting national zest. There were many contradictions in the arts policies of the National Socialists. Rubrics never delineated what was to be allowed and what was not. Nonetheless, leaders of the National Socialist Party did not hide their affinity for the historical and German masters, such as: Durer, Altdorfer, Cranach the Elder, Feuerbach, Makart, and Runge. The ‘moderns’ were proclaimed as ‘degenerates’. Indexical of their creators; if the works were violent in tone, then so were their artists. If the works were ugly, then so were their artists. Darwin’s book The Descent of Man was used to justify the need for cultural cleansing from such anti-social artist-mutants. Even the term “degenerate”, or “entarte”, was a scientific term describing a being that has mutated to the point where it is no longer part of its species. Degenerate art “offends the Germanic sentiment, destroys and distorts the natural form, and displays an obvious evidence of inadequate craftsmanship and artistry on the part of the producer.” Extending the issue of cultural pollution further, a pamphlet published in 1937 by the Ministry of Education and Science claimed, “Dadaism, Futurism, Cubism, and other isms are the poisonous flowers of a Jewish parasitical plant, grown on German soil.” A five point Manifesto outlined the agenda: 1. All works of a cosmopolitan or Bolshevist nature should be removed from the German museums and collections, but first they should be exhibited to the public, who should be informed of the details of their acquisition, and then burned. All museum directors who wasted public monies by purchasing un-Germanic art should be fired immediately. No artist with Marxist or Bolshevist connections should be mentioned henceforth. No boxlike buildings should be built. All public sculptures not approved by the German public should be immediately removed.

2. 3. 4. 5.


As an extension of Hitler’s program, the Degenerate Art Exhibit was held directly across the street from the Great German Art Exhibition, opening on July 19, 1937. Introducing the enemy other, Hitler claimed: “We now stand in an exhibition that contains only a fraction of what was bought with the hard-earned savings of the German people and exhibited all over Germany. All around us you see the monstrous offspring of insanity, impudence, ineptitude, and sheer degeneracy. What this exhibition offers inspires horror and disgust in us all”. The Degenerate Art Exhibit attracted over two million viewers in a four month period. The catalog used descriptions such as: “sheer insanity,” “lacking in dignity,” “spontaneous children’s drawings,” “racial and mental degeneration,” “fantasies of mental patients,” “relapses into barbarism,” and “class struggle propaganda.” Paul Rave, a contemporary viewer, wrote: “Day after day, people would come in droves to visit the exhibition, and it is no use trying to console oneself with the thought that a few of them may have come to take their final leave of works they loved. There can be no doubt that at the time the aim of propaganda, which was to deal a death blow to genuine modern art, was in large measure achieved.” Approximately 730 works were selected for the exhibit; they were hung extremely close together with no frames in a Dadaist manner. Some were displayed in narrow rooms, while others were merely propped against the wall. The contrived chaos undermined the aesthetic experience and credibility of the works displayed. Headings included “Mockery of German Womanhood”, “Vilification of German Heroes of War”, “Destruction of Last Vestige of Race Consciousness”, and “Complete Madness”. Artists’ manifestos, quotes by Hitler, and pictures drawn by mental patients were displayed alongside the masterworks to mock modernism’s goals. As a result, the viewers would feel satisfaction at the demise of modernism, and support the programmed Germanic alternative. It was suggested that at the end of the exhibition the paintings be exterminated, and on March 20, 1939 over 5000 were burned in the courtyard of the Berlin fire station. Hitler demanded from artists an ideal model, an Aryan beauty that would heal and regenerate the Germanic body and soul while mirroring the philosophies of Nietzsche. The function of art was “to represent God’s vision for humanity—the ubermensch”; it should function at the highest intellectual and creative capacity, constantly evolving in a state of rebirth and growth as a means of coping with an ever-changing society. Art should find resolution in set values that utilize reason to champion good over evil. “True Germanic art” is therefore eternal; paralleling Schopenhauer’s Platonic ideal with the art of the Greeks serving as the model, the glimpse of the ideal world that the degenerates and avant-garde did not have the aptitude to perceive. All artistic controversies in respect to style, subject, and composition were metaphysically justified. The Aryan aesthetic was constructed upon the narratives of nature, country life, the family, the ideal woman and man, and nationalist spirit.


NATURE “German art represents homeland and longing for the home. In landscape paintings the soul is expressed. It is the language of the homeland.” Landscape painting dominated the “German Art Exhibitions”; it was seen as the genre in which the Germanic soul could best be expressed. The concept of the Volk was closely linked with the land, with man, nature, and nation united as one, basking in the life-giving force. Karl Alexander Flugel’s Harvest (1938) clearly illustrates the harmonious relationship between man and nature in an idealized portrayal of blue sky, white puffy clouds, rolling green hills, and plentiful, fertile land; nature’s abundance provides for the volk. COUNTRY LIFE With the longing for a deeper understanding of nature came the appreciation of peasant life. “Peasant art” was considered the expression of the divine through the common man’s blood. Hitler claimed, “Traveling through the German countryside today, one still finds among our peasants customs which have survived for a thousand years. . . .Everywhere there is evidence that the German peasantry . . . knew how to preserve its unique character and its customs against every attempt to wipe them out....the common sense and the deep blood-feeling of the German peasant knew how to preserve his German breed...” Many artists celebrated the ideal of “blood and soil” with its simple virtuous people and clean way of the earth. Julius Paul Junghanns’ Plowing depicts the German farmer working without benefit of any mechanization; he works with the strength of his own hands and simple tools sowing, plowing, and mowing. Strong morals and eternal values are documented in the peasant’s life as a source of strength. Nature, man, and animal work as one. THE FAMILY Country life was also embodied in the virtuous family. Goebbels spoke, “Those to whom Germandom is an essential entity see in the family the health, salvation, and future of the state. Paintings of this theme feature restful compositions, with symmetrical designs, and frozen moments reinforcing the universal and eternal values of the family”. Rather than a portrait-like individualization of the members of the family, the figures are racially pure role ideals in harmony with the political agenda. Adolf Wissel’s Farm Family from Kahlenberg (1939) is an example of the narrative of the family. Framing the family table are the sheltering and protecting qualities of the soul: the homeland, the landscape, the language of the community...” The ideal father, mother, and children are happy and healthy.


THE GERMAN WOMAN Goebbels claimed: The first, best, and most suitable place for the woman is in the family, and her most glorious duty is to give children to her people and nation, children who can continue the line of generations and who guarantee the immortality of the nation. The ideal woman was tall with blue eyes and blonde hair, the exemplar of the Aryan race, the perfect “affirmation of the body and the ultimate celebration of Hellenic attitudes and virtues”. Images of mother and child were popular, in the style of the iconic Madonna and Child. Representations of the nude German woman emphasized her vitality, sensuality, and her Hellenic fashionability. Her skin is always smooth with no imperfections or wrinkles, her body soft and hairless with delicate contours. Devoted, cooperative, and subservient, she is the woman to be looked at. Ivo Saliger’s Diana’s Rest feature women posed in expectation; they are the evocation of the healthy body’s naturalness and beauty. Their bodies are in a state of desirable ripeness and adored as the fertile bearers of German genetics. THE GERMAN MAN The German man was the iconic hero, the strong symbol of his race. Most often, the narrative alluded to the glory of military sacrifice. Arno Breker’s sculpture, The Guard, is a portrayal of the classic soldier-athlete. An idealized male nude, tall and broad shouldered with narrow hips, the soldier is the embodiment of the virtues of the Reich: comradeship, discipline, obedience, strength, and courage. Goebbels remarked, “War is a great destroyer, but it also contains constructive elements that suddenly appear in the midst of its destructive work… “Each man must start with himself, banishing all weakness and lethargy. He must stand firm and give an example to others, he must be on guard when he hears defeatism. He must be a man and act, work and fight until we have overcome the gravest crisis of this war…We can no longer pay any heed to weariness, weakness and delicacy.” PORTRAITS OF HITLER AND HIS CIRCLE Commissions to portray top Nazi personalities and events were given to only the most acclaimed artists. Hitler was often depicted three-quarter or full-length and alone to highlight his majesty. Conrad Hommel’s The Fuhrer and Commander-in-Chief of the Army (1940) depicts the nationalist hero posed against a radiant, golden backdrop - a theatrical, dramatic presentation for public consumption. 57

In truth, the “new art” was modeled almost entirely on the styles and narratives of the past. Technical matters of art, such as craftsmanship and materials were valued. Although the “new German art” had very little to offer in terms of innovation or creativity when compared to the works which had been exterminated, their emphasis on the meticulous attention to detail demonstrated a Germanic superiority. Jost Hermand wrote, “National Socialist art is thus not unproblematically ‘beautiful’, not merely devoted to perfect forms and empty content; it is also eminently brutal, an art based on convictions which, when realized, literally left corpses in their wake.” On June 26, 1943 at one of the last of the Great German Art Exhibitions, Goebbels proclaimed: Despite all our rich and glorious past, we are a people at {the} beginning. Everything is open before us. We need only to reach out. This cultural monument, the building and the exhibition, is {the Fuhrer’s} work. It was built in peace, maintained and expanded in war, and points to a happy and blessed peace. Its splendor today gives us a sigh of what will come when the victory comes, in which we believe more today than ever before…we can all believe in it. We do that with all the strength of our hearts. And so went the Nazi narrative.


HOPPER STORIES IN AN IMAGINARY MUSEUM Joseph Stanton University of Hawaii at Manoa Although I will not have the opportunity to finish my full paper in time for inclusion in the proceedings, I would like to offer a brief version of it in the form of a few comments and quotes from the remarks I made at the Algonquin. My paper for the conference involved a comparison and contrast of my two sorts of writings on Edward Hopper—my art historical writings about his paintings on the one hand and my sequence of Hopper-inspired ekphrastic poems on the other. At my session I shared quotes from an essay of mine on the narrative dimensions of Hopper’s paintings. Here is one of the statements I made at the beginning of my talk. No doubt Hopper was of more than one mind concerning the narrative prospects of his scenes. It is no doubt true that he desired to focus his art upon the “light on the side of a house,” but despite that stated preference, it is undeniable that there are human dramas—albeit unspecified and unspecifiable—implicit in the figures that appear in the windows or at the doors of the sunillumined houses. It is, in fact, necessary to take into account the literary aspects of Hopper’s work, which are as intrinsic to this major paintings as they are to his commercial illustrations, in order to give a full account of his pictures. To further consider my art historical discussion of Hopper’s paintings please consult my essay “On Edge: Edward Hopper’s Narrative Stillness,” which appeared on pages 21 through 40 of Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. LXXVII, No. 1-2, Spring/Summer 1994. The other quote I would like to share is one of my Hopper-inspired ekphrastic poems. In my Hopper poems I endeavor to satisfy both my desire to find stories in Hopper paintings and my need to adequately interpret the paintings. My poems on paintings are attempts to pursue art historical inquiries as literary performances. With my double identity as an ekphrastic poet and an art historian, I feel obligated to strive to write poems that are viable as statements about my personal experience of the world, and, at the same time, true to my understanding of the works of art. In other words, for my ekphrastic poems to succeed I must discover both myself and Hopper, and I must find both of us in the literary forms that are my poetic performances. My goal may be unattainable. It seems unlikely that my reach toward these two forms of truth can ever lead to my entirely grasping any definitive interpretations, but poems are forms of seeking after knowledge that can be satisfactory as poems without ever achieving entirely unambiguous resolutions; at least, that is my hope.


The poem that follows can serve as an example of my ongoing efforts to discover Hopper stories within the museum of my imagination. Edward Hopper’s New York Movie We can have our pick of seats. Though the movie’s already moving, the theater’s almost an empty shell. All we can see on our side of the room is one man and one woman— as neat, respectable, and distinct as the empty chairs that come between them. But distinctions do not surprise, fresh as we are from sullen street and subway where lonelinesses crowded about us like unquiet memories that may have loved us once or known our love. Here we are an accidental fellowship, sheltering from the city’s obscure bereavements to face a screened, imaginary living, as if it were a destination we were moving toward. Leaning to our right and suspended before us is a bored, smartly uniformed usherette. Staring beyond her lighted corner, she finds a reverie that moves through and beyond the shine of the silver screening. But we can see what she will never see— that she’s the star of Hopper’s scene. For the artist she’s a play of light, and a play of light is all about her. Whether the future she is dreaming is the future she will have we have no way of knowing. Whatever it will prove to be it has already been. The usherette Hopper saw might now be seventy, hunched before a Hitachi in an old home or a home for the old.


She might be dreaming now a New York movie, Fred Astaire dancing and kissing Ginger Rogers, who high kicks across New York City skylines, raising possibilities that time has served to lower. We are watching the usherette, and the subtle shadows her boredom makes across her not-quiteimpassive face beneath the three red-shaded lamps and beside the stairs that lead, somehow, to dark streets that go on and on and on. But we are no safer here than she. Despite the semblance of luxury— gilt edges, red plush, and patterned carpet—this is no palace, and we do not reign here, except in dreams. This picture tells us much about various textures of lighted air, but at the center Hopper has placed a slab of darkness and an empty chair. To consider further my poems on the paintings of Edward Hopper please consult my 1999 book Imaginary Museum: Poems on Art, which is available from Time Being Books ( “Edward Hopper’s New York Movie” also appeared in Poetry (July, 1989).


BLACK & WHITE: TWO WORLDS/TWO DISTINCT STORIES Elaine A. King Carnegie Mellon University

Folklore and oral storytelling has been an essential expression revealing distinct details about the human condition. For centuries the spoken word was the primary source of dissemination for individuals from one generation to the next to pass on information about life and individuals in their era. This changed with the emergence of paintings on caves, canvas, and eventually the camera image in the 19th century. Portraiture represents a consequential story category. Portraits manifest conventions of behavior and appearance appropriate to the members of a society in a given era–age, gender, race, physical beauty, occupation, class often can be inferred from the signifiers depicted within the frame. Hence portraiture has occupied a central position in the history of Western art despite the diminished status of formal portraiture today. As photographic portraiture became widely available to a wide spectrum of the middle class, the demand for formal painted portraits began to fade as the camera to eroded the elite status of portraits in the nineteenth century. As an informal life style gave way across classes both in Europe and in the United State after World War II, formal portraiture experienced a major demise. Today portraiture is again alive among artists however its appearance and function reveals transformation. The aim of this inquiry is to create a framework of interpretation about the photographic representation of individuals in story-like portraiture by Nicholas Nixon a white male, begun in the mid-1970s and an African-American female, Carrie Mae Weems, in the 1990s. However diverse social and aesthetic attitudes contributed to the shaping of each photographer’s approach toward the their subjects. Therefore it is consequential to consider the era in which each photographic narrative was begun. Today I will explore the exposés by two photographers who picture loved ones in specialized series. No judgment will be past on the work as being good or bad, original or derivative. Instead the central point is on the story made public through the dissimilar explorations. Focus will be on understanding the contents within each frame and how the portrayed subjects are recognized as a social construction. In photography time and its passage has been an essential ingredient, especially in its earliest years when the photographer stood behind the camera counting the seconds (and minutes) while the sitter facing the camera's unblinking eye, controlled every muscle and twitch in painful discomfort. Because of the duration of time required to produce a Daguerreotype or large format camera portrait, the portraits frequently are characterized with the sitter revealing a ubiquitous sternness in a frozen stare.


In this talk two distinct bodies of work are examined. One, is the famed sequence of portraits by Nicholas Nixon of his wife Bebe and her three sisters titled “The Brown Sisters”—it was begun in the summer of 1975 and is ongoing. The other collection of images, Untitled, Kitchen Table Series, 1990 is by Carrie Mae Weems. In this portrait tableaux she expanded the scope of her art from the very personal (family's experiences) and the political (racism), to exploring into issues of gender, sexual intimacy, distinct identity, and parenting. Both photographers however exploit the full potential of the large-format camera–this technology yields exacting details yet in order to record the narrative a careful setting must be adhired to, consequently requiring a fixed immobile position of the camera and the careful placement of the central actors. Nixon’s portraits evince a especial account of the traditional view camera style of photography while the Weems’ images depict a spontaneous likeness. “These pictures grew out of my curiosity about and admiration for this band of beautiful, strong women, who first let me into their lives, then allowed me to try making one picture, then joned me in a tradition, annual rite of passage.”1 The Brown Sisters, a specific picture-history is kindred to conventional portraiture, however a study one that spans over a quarter of a century [1975-2002]. Here we are witnesses to the passage of time in the life of four siblings and its power and modification of the human face Despite a century separating Nixon ‘s portraits and the availability of new technology, his story evinces a semblance oft seen in historical portraits. Nicholas Nixon came of age in the 1970s when many artists begun to move away from the documentary tradition so to work in a more conceptual manner–35mm cameras became more available and affordable, Polaroid was introduced, and video came into vogue. John Szarkowski’s noted exhibition “Mirrors & Windows,” at the Museum of Modern Art in 1978 confirmed this rupture among photographers by their image making. In spite of a growing trend toward fictional camera narrative, Nixon opted to work in the documentary tradition. Notwithstanding his formal education at the University of New Mexico, as an artist he precedes the tidal wave of Post-Modern theory and the scrutiny of mainstream culture. Subjects of multiculturalism and issues of identity do not inform his work. Critical theory is never an influence whereas it plays a paramount role all throughout Carrie Mae Weems’s investigations. Except for limited writings by critics and curators about the Brown Sisters, this collective portrait series provides no understanding about Nixon’s inner psychological framework nor do they reveal insights into the personal lives of the four female subjects. Nixon approaches the sisters as subject matter. A similar style is perceived in the portraits of such photographers as Paul Strand, Diane Arbus, Tiny Barney, or Thomas Struth. Nicholas Nixon being an only child coming from only children parents became fascinated with his wife Bebe’s large family and their ritualistic gatherings. After one failed portrait attempt of the sisters in 1974, Nixon tried another portrait in 1975 and this time he was pleased with the outcome. He took another portrait in 1976 that also was successful and asked the women if


they would annually pose for a group portrait. It was agreed that there would be two constants in the unfolding photographic story: One, was that they would always stand in the same posed order: Heather, Mimi, Bebe, and Laurie; and, two, no matter how many negatives were produced, a single picture would only become the permanent record from that year’s session. Beyond these established constraints, there exist other variables that add to the developing drama of this portrait chronicle. They include the camera’s distance to the subjects, the existing lighting, the setting itself, and the physical gestures and proximity among the sisters from year to year. This succession of photographs was taken with a large format, 8x10” camera, mounted on an eye level tripod, and photographed mostly in an outdoor setting. Black and white film is exclusively used and the four women invariably look directly at the camera. The visual record comes from a negative printed as a contact print therefore the final representation is never diluted or modified by enlargement. For over the span of a quarter of century Nixon created a compelling time-based story documenting his wife Bebe, who at the time of the first official portrait in 1975, was 25, and her sisters Heather 23, Laurie, 21 and Mimi 15. Ten years separate the youngest sibling from the eldest. In the first session their ages range from 15 to 25–in all they are young, attractive women from a comfortable family. In the last portrait we see them [42 to 52]–women of middle age where distinct physical transformation is apparent. Nixon’s documentary is a subtle yet dramatic pageant about four women who gradually are growing older and who incrementally transition from youth to middle age. Individually each portrait discloses a single image of four handsome white women. However collectively this picture-history however takes on a new significance beyond being a portrait taken in a single moment of time. This rigorous annual ritual chronicles the sisters’ undeniable aging process as well as depicts private alternating allegiances within the group of the siblings. In spite of Nixon’s close relationship with his wife Bebe, he does not attempt to favor her in any of the pictures–she remains only one woman among the four. As each year passes the viewer observes definite changes in the sisters clothes; posing formally or informally; changing hairstyles; and subtle alterations in facial expressions and body posturing. Collectively the variables add to the tone of each portrait. The siblings’ demeanor gradually changes from portrait to portrait--the women at times seem confident, solemn, coy, or even stressed. Still and all a type of enigmatic veil infiltrates this story since the photographer provides no text or roadmap into the lives of the four sisters outside the depiction of body and face. Despite the obvious metamorphosing facial signs and body language no other consequential signifiers provide clues into the hidden dramas and emotions within this group. Still in all untold stories abound in this mysterious portrait-story even though nuances about teenage rebellion, pregnancy, changes in health, and tension can be perceived. Notwithstanding the absence of a


text accompanying this document illustrates a familiarity and intimacy among the sisters–yes, they continue to change physically nevertheless they appear to be always there for us to look at, as well as for one another. Despite each portrait being a self-contained, intriguing pageant each image raises unanswerable questions for the spectator. Peter Galassi writes, “Rarely has so absorbing work of art been so little in need of commentary. The Brown sisters face the camera just as our siblings and parents and grandparents and children and in-laws do in our family pictures.2 I am not all certain about the total absence of an accompanying text. Throughout this sequence one cannot but wonder: Why do the sisters almost never smile? Why do they always pose in such a sternly controlled manner? Is it the large camera and its formality that contributes to this manifestation or do they purposely opt to keep outsiders out of their close-knit clan? At times we sense tension and stress among some of the siblings from their posturing. We may ask what has occurred over the past 365 days within each sister’s private life and within the members of this group? Why do some sisters age more rapidly then others? One might conclude perhaps that something awful has taken place in the life of BeBe after 1996 because of the pronounced lines and decline of her face. She begins to look as if she were the mother of this group. In the future what will we see when there are only three, two, or one? Or perhaps will the story end when there are no longer four sisters? Howbeit we are beholders to both a public representation and a secret story. These handsome portraits do not divulge anything beyond visual data. Yet despite the passage of time and its physical toll on the women, an inexplicable feeling of stability permeates this especial tableaux. One might assume unequivocal things about the entire grouping or try to interpret each individual portrait, however as a quarter of a century document it portrays a cohesive construction. Still and all what is pronouncedly evident throughout this portrait sequence are an emphasis on the cycle of life and one’s eventual decline into death. The exact dating of this chronological family portrait is an essential element of the drama. In order to observe the physical and psychological changes among the Brown sisters in these especial tableaux as viewers we are dependent on knowing the year of the specific image. Nixon remains a constant detached recorder–his approach enforces Roland Barthes thesis of the death of the author– information about Nixon is irrelevant–the visual document holds together. In the work of Carrie Mae Weems, we find an alternative story. In the course of a twenty-year artistic career, Weems has created a rich array of documentary series, still lives, narrative tableaux, and installation works. Having studied folklore at the University of California, Berkeley, her pursuit in storytelling and the oral tradition is natural. Her art touches on themes with the specifics of personal, cultural, national, and world histories. She frequently mixes hard realities with a personal vision. Much of her work tends towards being a compressed form of


narrative vignette that condenses multi-faceted issues, and, as Mary Jane Jacobs points out, “Weems’s art presents and involves us with a drama of society, not only of individuals.”3 The imagery discussed here is from her Untitled, [Kitchen Table Series], 1990 was created during a prolific period among. Among 1987 and 1992 Weems expanded the outlook of her work from the personal and the political (racism). This sequence intertwines broader issues of gender relations, individual and cultural identity, parenting as well as loss, humor, and redemption. In the making of this work, Weems became empowered as author, actor, director, producer, and photographer. She is strong and she is vulnerable. It has been cited that one of the primary influences on Weems’s narrative story strategy is Zora Neale Hurston’s collection of African-American tales Mules and Men (1935), in which Hurston adopts the participantobserver methodology of her mentor, anthropologist Franz Boas. Weems has created her own first person, culturally engaged accounts inspired from the novelist’s models. Moreover, Laura Mulvey’s landmark-essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975) directly challenged Weems as an individual interested in stories and storytelling. Andrea Kirsh in her essay wrote, “Weems has discussed the fact that Mulvey’s analysis of female representation in film entirely elides the issue of women in color . . . . Weems takes control of her own space, refusing to be a compliant object of the gaze.”4 Furthermore, she is the not subject of the male gaze–in this sequence the female character is confident and stares directly back at the viewer in a selfassured posture exhibiting a strong sense of self. Carrie Mae Weems’s approach to her Untitled, Kitchen Table Series is akin to the conceptual photographic imagery of artists such as Janine Antoni, Duane Michaels, and Eleanor Antin. The omnipresence of mass culture’s fictional romantic stories, pervasive, television sit-com series, and films and its constant narration of human relations informs this self-conscious work that evokes cliches and situations viewers might identify with. Weems’s less formal selfconscious dramas unfold in an austere kitchen and at a plain table–it is the main stage for the series to unfold. Unlike Weems’s earlier allegories that dealt with issues of black/white relationships, Weems now confronts broader psychological issues. In this picture story she focuses primarily on the intimacy of events taking place around the kitchen table. It is the locus of fundamental private desires and circumstances in a woman’s life. Again, Jacobs summarizes Weems’s work: “Her art is enriched with a “communal voice” that is deeper, stronger, wider than that of one person, one place, and one time.”5 Because she has experienced a range of deeply felt emotions in varied relationships, Weems believes viewers will identify with what she assumes is perhaps a common knowledge that transcends race, class, and place. Carrie MaeWeems does not use an outside model as the protagonist—instead she is the model, the leading character, and the inquirer who delves into personal and often complex topics. As did Nixon, she also sets up certain uniformity—a specific setting, a butcher-block type of table,


simple overhead lighting, and subdued gray tonal range. The lighting in the Untitled series simulates a type of illumination oft used in integration rooms of police stations. Nevertheless, Weems’s use of light is metaphoric–it highlights the domestic setting where the female heroine interacts with select people important to her life–her lover, daughter, friends, and personal private moments. The setting in this sequence evoke a sensibility alike to 1940s film noir. Weems purposely controls the area in which an aforethought fable is enacted at the kitchen table. Each drama evolves in this minimalist setting so not to distract from the rhythmic flow of the social inter-play among the protagonist and her other characters. As in a novel, Weems’s Kitchen narratives are presented in four distinct visual chapters that address particular actions and issues. Despite the continuous presence of the female protagonist, each sequence is a unique allegory. Overall the central female character engages in a controlled tableaux–she shares with her viewers what she must endure in particular relationships. Several of her themes include relationships with a lover, family and friends, motherhood and a woman alone. Her intriguing fictional staged encounters touch on real life subjects, emotions, and states of being in a woman’s life. Despite the often cliché nature of some of the pictures and song-lyric texts observers become seduced by the communal familiarity experienced within the setting of domestic ordinariness--have we not partaken in such experiences and relationships despite their fictitious creation? As in Nixon’s portraits, a sense of familiarity is conveyed in Weems’s work because of the repetition of the staging and the soft lighting. In spite of the controlled setting, the contents within the frame shift–sometimes the characters sit, stand, or are engaged in assorted activities as brushing one’s hair, sharing time with a child, reading, or being with women friends. At other moments the female is alone far away in her own thoughts, and still at other times she interacts with her lover in both tender and tense moments. In these silent performances a range of emotions are perceived because of the gesturess of the actors and the careful placement of domestic props and simple costumes. Weems is the essential constant figure and her interactions with the others are critical. Let us take a moment and look at the Man and Woman and the Mother and Child triptych. Overall, the characters in each frame do not speak directly to one another. Even though the texts reveals information about their likes, dislikes, and desires, Weems always controls them– they talk across one another or through each other. This enforces the artist’s perception about the invisible distances that exist among people in intimate relationships–Weems is aware of how alone one can be in spite of seemingly being together with someone. Unlike Nicholas Nixon who presents a single image annually, devoid of language, Weems’s narratives comprise both a visual signification and a verbal one intent on providing acute details about the struggles of the heroine in multiple social roles. The juxtaposition of the


presumably disjointed texts with the image functions not only as a script enhancing a film narrative but also somewhat as a ‘Joycian’ stream of consciousness that extends the emotional pageant as well as the pictorial story line. Because of the text panels that accompany each pictorial narrative viewers share in the essences of the implied intimate conversations among the protagonist and specific characters. The text is written in the third person and is firmly affixed in the female voice, even when she allows a lover to speak. The words are metaphorical–they do not hope to describe but instead provide insights into a set of complex issues ranging from money, politics, self-worth, and faithfulness. This complex yet simply stories presents viewers with vulnerable essences about a day a life of a contemporary woman who is in the process of becoming a self-possessed person and takes possession of herself in spite of social scripting. Weems has read and analyzed the cries of feminists and cross-cultural Diaspora. Her stories do not limit themselves to subjects about an essentialist Diaspora but are intended to expand topics of shared humanity. Nicholas Nixon and Carrie Mae Weems share two diverse visual narratives. As with all stories, they are notably important to the person disclosing it. What is shared is the choice of storyteller. However what connects each visual story, despite its content is the allusion to remembering. Each author depicts specific moments and that represent the past–we observe something that has occurred. Memory becomes a powerful ingredient in both bodies of work–it plays a significant role in the reading of visual information. One’s interpretation of any story is affected by their own history and complex life experiences–Nothing is black and white! NOTES


3 4


Nicholas Nixon, statement appears in The Brown Sisters, The Museum of Modern Art, exhibition catalogue, New York: Harry Abrams, 1999. Peter Galassi, The Brown Sisters, The Museum of Modern Art, exhibition catalogue, New York: Harry Abrams, 1999. Mary Jane Jacobs, "Carrie Mae Weems," The Fabric Workshop/Museum, Philadelphia, 1996, p.10 Andrea Kirsh, "Carrie Mae Weems, Issues”, in Black, White, and Color, in Carrie Mae Weems, exhibition catalogue, Washington: DC, 1993, National Museum of women in the Arts, p. 15. Op. Cit., p.11 [Andrea Kitsch quotes Mary Jane Jacobs in her essay on Carrie Mae Weems.]



Edward Weston (1886-1958) was one of the great pioneers of American modernist photography. He labored at the craft for nearly half a century, and his accomplishments helped secure photography’s recognition as a fine art. Weston was a thoughtful individual, and his classic work of the 1920s and early 1930s was accomplished in a context of continual personal narration. But when Weston turned to the weaker work of his later years, he left the story telling to others. Around 1918 Weston began his Daybooks, a series of daily journals that he kept with considerable regularity until 1934. Habitually writing in the predawn hours, coffee and cigarettes at hand, Weston used this journal to record daily events, vent pent-up emotions, and conduct an incessant self-inventory. Weston placed great importance upon these journals. They were a crucial brooding ground in which he nurtured his evolving thoughts and maturing art, and where he gauged that growth as he repeatedly reconsidered earlier entries. There were several major characteristics to the thought and imagery of Weston’s classic period. Among those characteristics was a strong preference for close-up framing. In 1929 Weston began photographing on the beaches and headlands of California’s Point Lobos, working with an enthusiasm that virtually explodes in his Daybook descriptions. “The cypress! –amazing trees”– were his favorite subjects,1 yet rather than photograph whole trees silhouetted against the sky, Weston focused closely in the belief that “an area of a few square feet or even a few square inches would provide a whole universe of exquisite form and movement.”2 Results such as Cypress, Point Lobos (1930 fig. 1) are magnificent, with weathered wood grain giving the image a writhing texture. The image is also superbly decontextualized, referencing wood shapes that have no demonstrable connection to the particular place of Point Lobos. This tendency toward detail emerged elsewhere, and Weston’s nude studies became similarly fragmented by the early 1930s. He photographed one model’s legs, and when the results satisfied him, he envisioned “a whole series in a new vein. Maybe I’ll travel legwise up to other fragments.”3 There was a lot of artistry to this cropping and posing. But Weston believed that the final images remained true to the subject itself. His goal was to take a found form–here a part of a tree, there a portion of a nude–and then, by his own contribution, highlight some inherent qualities of that form without betraying or compromising it. This seemed to him a departure from his earliest photography, and as he wrote in the Daybooks, “once my aim was interpretation, [but] now it is presentation.”4 Weston fashioned this into something of a creed, 69

proclaiming that his photography “recorded the quintessence of the object or the element in front of the lens,” and that he did this without “offering an interpretation or a superficial or passing impression” of the object before the camera.5 Language was of course a common form of interpretation. Weston believed that ordinary words could profane the world’s objects, and he sought to keep his art free from the trappings of language. He maintained that photography should not be a metaphorical craft in which one cunningly drew implications like “the woman is like a tree trunk,” for this would substitute some sort of verbal construction for what should be photography’s mute reverence. Even titles proved too much for Weston. Many of his images originally had no title at all, in a conscious effort to lose what was, in the words of poet Kenneth Rexroth, “father Adam’s name for the objects of Weston’s prints.”6 In his logbook for these years, Weston chose not to keep track of negatives by name, date, or location, and instead he grouped them under broad categories: rocks, shells, vegetables, nudes, and the like. The first rock on the list became rock number one, the second number two, and so on. Over the years some of these notations, like Pepper No. 35, began to function as titles, but this was more by default than by design, for the original designations had no meaning other than that this particular negative happened to be filed between pepper negatives 34 and 36. Thus language was downplayed if not dismissed, for Weston believed that “art begins where words end.”7 The obvious irony is that Weston was a furious scribbler, but he contended that the Daybooks and other exercises helped to expunge the words from his system and purify him for photography. In a final aspect of his classic work, Weston believed nature to be uniform rather than discrete, timeless rather than changing.8 His images of different categories of subjects, and then separate subjects within each category, were not to be understood as an immense catalogue of nature’s individualized peculiarities. Instead, he explained in a 1930 exhibition statement, his various subjects “are but interdependent, interrelated parts of a whole, which is Life.”9 The artistic mind might focus on particulars, say a cabbage such as that in Figure 4, but its highest achievement was to perceive universals. In such a subject the uninteresting photographer merely “sees a cabbage as an unrelated fact, devoid of interest except as a means to sauerkraut”; but Weston wanted art reaching beyond the facts and to the pattern, a photography that would show “the reason for the cabbage form, its significance in relation to all forms.”10 The conclusion of Weston’s classic period corresponded with the entry of Charis Wilson into his life. She was twenty when she met the forty-eight-year-old Weston. A graduate of Hollywood High, she had briefly been an actress in San Francisco before moving to Weston’s Carmel where her family lived. Her mother ran a dress shop and her brother was one of Weston’s friends; her father was Harry Leon Wilson, author of children’s novels, collaborator with Booth Tarkington, and one-time editor of Puck magazine. The two became lovers during Charis’s second modeling session, initiating a passionate relationship that lasted a decade. As 70

Weston noted, “A new and important chapter in my life opened on Sunday afternoon, April 22, 1934.”11 He also closed his Daybook. Forever. The published version contains only two more entries after that fateful April Sunday. Weston left few quite a few clues to help us explain this abandonment. Certainly he was more compatible with Charis than he had been with other women, and it is possible that their conversations met the needs once fulfilled by the diary-keeping, or that his new daily life with her somehow precluded the quiet moments necessary for reflection.12 More significantly, though, there is the sense that Weston had concluded the projects that the Daybooks had supported. After 1934, the younger man’s unsteadiness over his art and masculinity give way to the sureties of middle age. Moreover, this was a man for whom art and life were always intermixed, and much of his photography of the 1920s and early 1930s resembled the work carried out in the Daybooks. The absorption and close focus of his images parallel the intensity and self-examination of the Daybooks, constituting what may be thought of as one large scrutinizing project. As the relationship with Charis flourished, Weston abandoned his carefully arranged nudes and vegetables, ventured beyond the studio, and developed a much more expansive photography. This new work involved extensive travel, funded in large part by the Guggenheim foundation. As the first photographer to receive the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship, Weston traveled some 24,000 miles and made some 1500 negatives between April 1937 and April 1939, almost always with Charis by his side. The expansiveness continued into 1941, when he secured a commission to travel while photographing for a special edition of Leaves of Grass. Once more traveling with Charis, Weston again photographed at a furious pace, this time in a nine-month expedition across America and back. The new project was vast, envisioned as a photography of epic dimensions. The work was also a reach for Weston as he sought to convey in the sprawling American landscape some of the visual grandness he had earlier depicted in objects more closely at hand. At times these efforts succeeded, and particularly in his work with landforms there is a continuation of both the strengths and executions of his vegetables and nudes. But as Weston moved ahead in his work of the late 1930s and early 1940s, he left behind many of the orientations and habits that had been vital to his earlier work. When he no longer felt the need to situate subjects neatly within his frame, Weston’s images acquired a certain disarrayed (granted, more life-like) look; the carefully sculpted forms of a Constantin Brancusi gave way to the messy lines of a Franz Kline. As a stranger to photographic satire, he had not developed skills of subtlety and containment, and a humor that had once been largely confined to costume parties was now unleashed in increasingly bizarre visual explorations of American eccentricities. For much of his earlier


photography, Weston had been the solitary worker, sweating away in isolation with his subjects; now, though, he had lots of advice as he traveled the countryside. Finally, Weston abandoned the discipline that had once gone into his Daybooks and other writing. He had left those exercises with a sense of release, but freedom from the chores of writing did not mean a freedom from writing. Into the vacuum once occupied by his Daybooks and essays, now came the influence of other writers, first Charis and then Walt Whitman. Although their words did not have quite the sullying effect Weston had earlier predicted, there were consequences for his originality. Once Weston surrendered the self-construction and self-direction arising from those Daybook sessions, his imagery began to reflect the direction and narratives of the writers joined to his projects. Weston’s new, expansive photographic vision was well along by 1936. He became interested in subjects that were more open and fluid than his earlier ones, photographed them from a greater distance than before, and often created images dealing more with lines than with the solid forms of his nudes and peppers. Some of this was accomplished among the sands of Oceano beach, up the coast from Los Angeles. Working in the open air, he photographed the dunes as abstract flowing shapes, depicting the sinuous lines of illuminated crest and shadowed valley, the wind-traced rills and gills upon the sandy slopes, and the multiple planes created by the dunes as they marched, wave-like, toward the distant horizon. There was a sense of liberation and openness in this new work, a quality conveyed in a series of nude images of Charis, also made at Oceano. The quiet, warm beauty of the rolling sand gave Charis what she described as “an exhilarating sense of freedom,” and which Weston managed to convey in images such as Nude (1936)13 His most recent nudes had been tightly wrapped affairs, the arms and legs wound in upon each other like the innards of a cabbage, but these Oceano nudes are markedly more expansive, the entire torso brought into the composition, with arms and legs trailing out in all sorts of different directions. Finally, there is a sense of context in these images. Working at a distance, Weston situated Charis in a broad and seemingly boundless expanse of sand, rather than confining her, as he had with the more recent nudes, in a narrow slice of studio light. Place, location, and context became more significant elements of Weston’s subjects as well. His 1925 Toilet been photographed close up, floating clean and pure in isolation, but his 1939 photograph of another toilet, this one at the Golden Circle Mine in Death Valley, portrayed the toilet and its environment, begrimed in its closet and located beneath a shattered window.14 A similar transformation occurred in his treatment of trees such as those at Point Lobos. When he made his earlier images, Weston felt that he had said all there was to say about the coastal cypress. But after a round of Guggenheim work, Weston “saw the cypress with new eyes,” and he said that “for the first time, I treated [the trees] as elements of the larger landscape,” backing away to photograph them against their cliffs or with a backdrop of the ocean.15 72

Although it is legitimate to consider Weston the principal author of the Guggenheim images, his work assumed a larger collaborative dimension. For one thing, Charis took charge of Weston’s record keeping, devising a new negative filing system in which each image was assigned a title, and the location of its making was noted. Moreover, she was on hand when most the images were made, so that Weston no longer spent hours alone with his still life arrangements, the door barricaded against visitors. Charis did not compose Weston’s images or release the shutter, but she played a very active role in selecting the scenes that he photographed. In a snow-bound Yosemite, for instance, she tramped ahead through the drifts, beating down paths to subjects that seemed worthy of Weston’s consideration. In the Mojave, she was more like Weston’s shepherd than his scout, finding “a beauty of an upright rock,” and then proceeding to “chase Edward toward it.” Charis was not a photographer, but she had another art in her bones: she was an aspiring writer, and she initially planned to write a novel of her own during the Guggenheim trips. But as her enthusiasm for Weston’s photography grew, her energies were absorbed into the camera work, and her own project remained uncompleted as his marched along. Yet the absorption also functioned in reverse, for although Charis’s book was lost along the way, she became the writer for the Guggenheim project, and in so doing gave the project a voice and texture more characteristically hers than his. She was the author of their “Journal of the Guggenheim Years,” and her treatment was exhaustive, eventually comprising 413 typescript pages about their journeys, the photographs, and the thinking that went into those images. In 1940 a version of her text was published together with Weston’s images as the single book about the Guggenheim work, California and the West. Soon Charis also became Weston’s designated ghostwriter, and well into the 1940s she penned articles that appeared over his name. Weston’s ideas could still be seined out of these pieces–Charis interviewed him and borrowed from his earlier writing–but as he said with regard to one 1939 article, “Charis does all the writing.”16 But Weston still worked in a world of words, even if they were not his own. The Guggenheim photography occurred against a background of constant narration. As Charis and Weston drove during the day or camped for the evening, they read aloud to each other, sometimes from lurid detective magazines, or sometimes from books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Wrecker (1892). This was a charming domestic ritual, and an entertainment suited to an artist’s pocketbook. But the practice meant that the Guggenheim experiences took place within the context of stories. A good deal of that narration was the story of the trips themselves, for, in one of the oddest features of these journeys, the couple passed many an evening reading from earlier portions of Charis’s log. Some of this may have been simply editorial convenience, a way to make running corrections to the manuscript. Yet it also continued one of Weston’s own, earlier habits, for he had continually returned to his earlier Daybook entries when considering his work of the 73

moment. In this way, Charis’s words doubly influenced the Guggenheim photography. First she explained in writing what had happened as Weston encountered a scene or made a photograph. Secondly, the spoken rendition of that account continually echoed about Weston as he made himself ready for the next day’s work. Charis’s influence is clearest in the odd humor that characterizes Weston’s Guggenheim imagery. There had been a sardonic quality to some of his earlier photographs, but now Weston more often expressed a winking appreciation for the ironies, intentional and otherwise, to be found along the American roadside. This same brand of ironic commentary characterized Charis’s Journal and her text in California and the West. Hers was a voice that could have some bite, but was still more jocular than mordant. One of Weston’s humorous images depicts an enormous mock cup advertising “Hot Coffee” in the midst of the barren Mojave sands–and at a place known as Siberia, California. Another photograph was made at the Oregon town of Bandon, which had been virtually obliterated by a disastrous 1937 fire. Weston photographed a ruined building, its one still-standing wall bearing an advertisement for fire insurance amidst the wreckage of charred business machines and melted glass. In another abandoned community, the mining town of Leadfield, California, someone sharing Weston’s sense of humor had placed a sign warning about high explosives on the front of a large outhouse. Other jokes were purely visual, as in the case of the “Yuma Nymph,” a life-size, silver-painted statue of a nude native American woman, designed to lure by-passers to a roadside tourist trap. Weston’s earlier photographs had been timeless and without narrative, but his newer ones often spoke of time’s passage and they held stories within their frames. His images continually convey scenes thrumming with some just-below-the-surface narrative. Once he photographed the odd juxtaposition of a pink girdle thrown over a barbed wire fence, another time there was a pair of black women’s gloves draped on the bail of a battered metal bucket, time and again he recorded ghost towns, and in location upon location he photographed discarded shoes–worn, curled, and cracked testaments to former owners. The Colorado Desert offered up one of the best stories. There Weston and Charis found a man lying dead beside a stunted tree, his lifeless eyes staring into the sky. There are any number of understandable reactions (take flight, dig a grave) upon finding such a corpse, and simple good citizenship would seem to compel one to contact the authorities immediately. But Weston and Charis were more interested in puzzling out the man’s story than in registering his death, and in an amazing display of callousness, their energies went into inventorying the man’s belongings and his surroundings. As he photographed the man, Weston’s excitement was so high that he made one of his rare double exposures. Eventually Weston and Charis did report the corpse to authorities, but they continued for days to speculate about how and when the man had died.17 74

Such odd concerns continued when Weston took on the Whitman project. In 1941 an editor approached Weston with the idea of adding fine photographs to a deluxe edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Weston jumped at this chance to get back on the road. For this work he continued to photograph oddly twisted plants and strange trash heaps, as well as his fellow connoisseurs of the strange. The champion of them all was Winter Zero Swartzel, whose Ohio “bottle farm” displayed black-painted, life-size silhouettes of people and animals, groupings of hundreds of bottles affixed to wire trees or old bedsteads, and, perhaps most attractive of all to Weston, a clothes line draped with cow bells and old shoes. Decay and decomposition were additional continuing themes. Weston discovered that America’s photogenic ruins were not restricted to Western ghost towns, and he began to portray something like a nation of them, all with their secret histories to be told: deserted farm houses in New Jersey, fire-damaged structures in Pennsylvania, and crumbling plantation homes in Louisiana.18 Additionally, the Leaves project contains more gravestones and graves than any earlier portion of Weston’s oeuvre. In ways that the West had still not managed, New England offered gravestones and cemeteries as local attractions, only to be out done by the cemeteries of New Orleans, which he photographed with relish.19 From the very outset of this trip, Weston was keenly aware of, as he put it, the issue of “Whitman versus Weston vision.” Although his contract called for the joint publication of his images and Whitman’s words, Weston hoped for an independence in his work and sought a photography of “my America,” images made with “no attempt to ‘illustrate’ . . . no effort to recapture Whitman’s day.”20 Certainly this was on Weston’s mind when he photographed New York City, for where Whitman had described surging masses leaving the Brooklyn ferry, Weston chose instead the more visually compelling Brooklyn Bridge—not yet completed when Whitman last revised Leaves. Yet for all of Weston’s assertiveness, his photography tended to be overcome by Whitman’s poetry. Leaves of Grass was part of Weston’s reading as he crossed the country, much as Charis’s journal had been in the Western trips, and Weston paid close attention to the poet’s words.21 But despite Weston’s attention, the project acquired a sort of work-to-order aspect, for Weston trained his camera upon some quite un-Weston-like subjects. Whitman of course sang many songs of urban America, but Weston had earlier disparaged “the excrescences called cities.”22 Now, though, Weston photographed Whitman’s brawny, eastern industrial landscape in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and New York. He also brought into his images Whitmanesque human beings who had been mostly absent from the Guggenheim work, photographing a set of plain folk seldom to be seen among Weston’s earlier subjects. In these ways it seems that the text of Leaves became something of a shooting script for Weston as he crisscrossed the country.


Finally, Whitman’s words were stronger than Weston’s images. One pairing is illustrative. In Weston’s photograph, there is a low horizon of dark hills in the foreground, topped in the remaining seven-eighths of the frame by a sky populated with cottony clouds. Below the photograph appear Whitman’s words: “Smile O voluptuous cool-breath’d earth!/Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!” Weston’s photograph manages detail and specificity (these clouds, this place) much better than any of Whitman’s lists, but Whitman’s poetry, with its cadences, its exclamations, and its chunky apostrophes accomplished an associational mystery and enthusiasm that were well beyond anything Weston’s photography accomplished. In the Guggenheim and Whitman projects, Weston aspired to vastness, but the epic was simply not Weston’s metier. He had hoped to build upon an early photography that depicted universals in the commonplace, basic forms illuminated in some of the most ordinary subjects. But as Weston set out to photograph the pervasiveness of those forms, first in the West and then throughout the country, particularity won out over universality, and he returned not with an epic but with a collection of small narratives about the likes of coffee cups or dead men in the desert. He had also been obviously mistaken in his thinking that it was possible to have a photography without words; there is something to the truism that our lives and work must necessarily have shaping stories to them. When Weston wrote in his Daybooks, and when his photography was at its strongest, the words were his own. Later, he left the writing to others, and the work was the weaker for it. NOTES
1. Edward Weston, The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Volume II: California, Nancy Newhall, ed. (Rochester, NY: George Eastman House, 1961; Millerton, NY: Aperture 1973), DBII, March 21, 1929, 114. Edward Weston, “I Photograph Trees,” Popular Photography 6 (June 1940), 20-21, 120-123; here from Peter C. Bunnell, ed., Gibbs M. Smith, Salt Lake City, 1983, Edward Weston on Photography, 116. DBII, June 28, 1930, 172. Edward Weston, The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Volume I: Mexico, Nancy Newhall, ed. (Rochester, NY: George Eastman House, 1961; Millerton, NY: Aperture 1973), DBI, February 8, 1926, 150. DBI, April 14, 1926, 156. Edward Weston, “Conceptos del Artista” [“Concepts of the Artist”], Forma 2 (1928), 15-18; here from Amy Conger, Edward Weston: Photographs from the Collection of the Center for Creative Photography, (Tucson: Center for Creative Photography, 1992) “Biography,” 17. Kenneth Rexroth, “The Objectivism of Edward Weston: An Attempt at Functional Definition of the Art of the Camera,” ca. 1932, Edward Weston Archive, Center For Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, EWA/CCP. EW to Seymour Stern, May 3, 1931. EWA/CCP. Indeed, it is not surprising that at least one of Weston’s contemporaries associated his photography with the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Anne Hammond, “Ansel Adams and Objectivism: Making a Photograph with Group f/64,” History of Photography 22 (Summer 1998), 171-72. DBII, April 24, 1930, 154. Ibid., August 14, 1931, 222.


3. 4.


6. 7.



11 12

13. 14. 15.

16. 17. 18.

19. 20. 21. 22.

DBII, December 9, 1934, 283. Charis thought it was merely a habit that Weston lost. When they first became lovers, they could meet only in the early-morning hours when Weston had habitually written; she believed that he abandoned the Daybooks for the trysts. Charis Wilson and Wendy Madar, Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998), 89. Edward Weston, Edward Weston Nudes: His Photographs Accompanied by Excerpts from the Daybooks & Letters, remembrance by Charis Wilson (New York: Aperture, 1977), 12. Shelley Rice, “The Daybooks of Edward Weston: Art, Experience and Photographic Vision,” Art Journal 36 (Winter 1976/77), 128. Edward Weston, “I Photograph Trees,” Popular Photography, 6 (June 1940), 20-21, 120-23; here from Peter Bunnell, ed., Edward Weston On Photography (Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, 1983), 117. EW to Neil Weston, June 10, 1939, EWA/CCP. Ibid., May 17, 1937, 68-70. The new qualities of subject and execution in these images might be explained, as Alan Trachtenberg does, by saying that Weston had become melancholic and his photographs more elegiac. (Alan Trachtenberg, “The Final Years,” in Mora, Edward Weston: Forms of Passion, 289. But these images also represent the reworking of existing themes according to local circumstances. The Leaves of Grass images on the whole tend to be darker than the Guggenheim photographs, perhaps indicative of a growing somberness, but also certainly an indication that Weston had left his sun-drenched deserts as he headed northward during the ever-shortening days of late summer and fall. Weston’s subjects are older than those of California and the West, perhaps reflecting the fifty-one-year-old artist’s preoccupation with aging, but also certainly the product of America’s cultural geography, a difference between the East’s older and more civilized vistas as opposed to those of a younger and more raw-boned West: Death Valley provided a fresh corpse for speculation and photography, but Old Deerfield, Massachusetts, only yielded an eighteenth-century tombstone, etched with the lines of a mother and her nesting new baby, both tucked into the same coffin. B. Ullrich-Suckerman, “With Edward Weston,” Photo Metro 5:43 (October 1986), 3. EW to BN and NN, April 28, 1941, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Collection, CCP. EW to George Macy, August 15, 1941. EWW to Willard Van Dyke, April 18, 1938, in Leslie Squyres Calmes, The Letters between Edward Weston and Willard Van Dyke (Tucson: Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, 1992), 35.



It has become quite commonplace in modern art, at least since the 1990s, to integrate letters, words or language into works of art. Yet in spite of the heavy interest that artists have recently shown for narration, it has often been overlooked that, more than thirty years ago, there were already a number of artists deeply involved in working with the narrative potential of hybrid forms composed of text and image. From about the mid-seventies onwards, this kind of art has been labeled Narrative or Story Art.1 I want to introduce you, in the next few minutes, to two works of art that are part of this art movement called Story Art. Both works make use of the narrative potential that lies in the combination of text and photography. I will begin by talking about the narrative strategies that characterize a typical piece named “Le peintre (The painter)”. It was created by Jean Le Gac, a French artist born in 1936 in Southern France. The second part of my presentation will be devoted to comparing “The painter” with another work: the 1979 piece “La filature (The shadow)”, a work from the artist Sophie Calle (born 1953 in Paris). In my analysis I will concentrate on the point of view in the text-and-image-narration. In this approach I will ask (especially) who regards the actions of the plot (who is the focalizer) and who tells the story presented in theses pieces (so who is the voice narrating the story). 1. GENERAL REMARKS ABOUT JEAN LE GAC First some introductory remarks concerning the oeuvre and the working method of Jean Le Gac in general. He began using combinations of long, narrative passages of text with photographs in the late 1960s. Almost his entire work until today centers on a fictitious figure called “the painter” that Jean Le Gac invented. The camera observes the painter, his activities are reported in the texts. However, although they are supposed to show “the painter”, we always see Jean Le Gac himself in the photographs; the activities the texts report on have much in common with events from his biography. Jean Le Gac thus creates something like a fictionalized autoportrait or an autofiction i of himself from texts and photographs. We do, however, never learn what the painter is actually painting: images and words document only art is being made and how art is being made, but not the actual completed work itself. So it is searching for the finished work that is Jean Le Gac’s work. These general observations concerning his oeuvre also apply to the work I want to look at a bit more closely today, “The painter.”2 It consists of ten photographs and one text and is generally


regarded as the starting point for Jean Le Gac’s entire cycle on “the painter”. 2. THE PAINTER


As the title suggests, most of the ten photographs show Jean Le Gac posing as a painter; he is wearing a light summer-suit and sits in front of a portable easel. None of the photographs show him in his studio but rather in the countryside–in a meadow near a lake or in the woods. As in all of Jean Le Gac’s works, also in this piece the spectator can not identify what the painter is painting. And even when the view approaches the scene, you can not see anything of the painting, because the canvas is almost completely hidden by the painter’s back. The organization of pictures and text–and this is valid for both Jean Le Gac’s books and his exhibitions–suggests a certain order and succession. But even if this presentation is able to create the sense of a certain chronological order, the situation we are looking at–the painter sitting in front of his easel–is almost always identical. It is impossible to make out any real development or a specific order of events: the spectator watches the painter paint; we watch the artist work. The situation is different once we look at the textual passages: There is a plot, a development of actions which provide that which images can not show: flashbacks, speculations and something like a background story. First, the text clarifies that the man is not a real, a professional painter: He is an amateur, a painter in his spare time who is in fact an art teacher in a school. This is illustrated by the series’ first photograph. It is different from the other photographs in that it shows the same man as in the other photographs, but here he is standing in a classroom, facing a plaster bust that serves perhaps as an object of study for his pupils. The reader also finds out that, although the man regards himself as a great painter, his activities do not go beyond this illusion: “During all those years he lived–as ridiculous as it may seem–with the feeling that he was meant to be a great artist […] He had been living beside this conviction without calling it into question, it was a settled matter and he did not feel obliged to do anything for its realization…” (p. 77). In the following passage, the narrator disrupts the chronological order. In a relatively long flashback, he reports how the painter covertly observed other painters during his childhood. The boy was puzzled by the slow progress their work made as well as their results, their paintings: “He did not understand why [the painters] were interested in this or that part of the landscape […] Moreover, obvious errors crept into that patient replication of scenery […] errors the painter clearly did not want to notice as if his thoughts tarried somewhere else.” (p. 81f.) Concerning the point of view in the text and the photographs in Jean Le Gac’s fiction, I want to


point out two noteworthy aspects: First, the story’s narrator is a first-person narrator, who is not the painter but reports as an observer from an outside perspective. Yet at the same time, this first-person narrator has a surprisingly clear insight into the thoughts of the observed man and does not refrain from commenting on the so-called painter’s activities: e.g. “as ridiculous as it may seem”. This point of view tries to establish a certain distance from the painter even despite the commentaries. It goes very well with the perspective of the photographs: they seem to follow the painter from a safe distance and reveal only a little about his person and character. By the way: At the end of the narration, it becomes clear that the first-person narrator is in fact part of a television crew asking the artist to reproduce “from memory the scene of the painter working” (p. 82). The crew films the artist who imitates a painter painting. As a result, the perspective that dominates the story in the text as well as in the images is finally explained and becomes plausible for the reading spectator. The explanation is, however, introduced so far into the story that for most of the text it remains completely unclear who exactly the first-personnarrator is. This precariousness of the narrator’s identity leads me to the second aspect I would like to underline. It concerns the passages dealing describing the protagonist’s childhood memories. At first glance, after reading the title, “The painter”, and the first couple of paragraphs, it seems self-evident that the man portrayed in the photographs should be the painter mentioned in the text. This assumption is, however, undermined by the play between text and image that follows: Who is the man posing as a painter in the following series of photographs? Could it be the painter, about whom we read, the one who does not do anything to make his dream come true to actually become a painter? The narrator also tells us that the protagonist watched other painters when he was a child; shouldn’t the photographs rather show these painters? As reading spectator, we realize that the focalizer’s point of view in the text, i.e. the young boy’s point of view, does not at all correspond to what we see in the photographs. Although we do in fact see a painter, we know that the person shown in the image has been presented to us at the beginning of the text as identical to the boy. From the narrative in both the text and images, we observe so the paradoxical situation that the narrative’s protagonist is looking at himself. 3. GENERAL REMARKS ABOUT SOPHIE CALLE Just like Jean Le Gac, Sophie Calle uses the unique narrative potential inherent in combinations of words and images in her work. And just like him, she creates an artificial character using this hybrid form, a character that her narrative art revolves around and that is being watched and assessed continually. In contrast to Jean Le Gac’s work, however, Sophie Calle associates the protagonist of her works quite strongly with herself. The narrator always speaks in the first person and thus minimizes the distance between the observing


reader/spectator and the observed character called Sophie Calle. 4. THE SHADOW I will talk here about one of Sophie Calle’s works called “La filature (The shadow)” iii , and will focus once again on questions regarding the point of view of the narrative both in the text and the images. Sophie Calle preludes the main text and the photographs, as she always does, with a short description of the project. She calls this description the “rules of the game”. In “The shadow”, the short text reads: “In April 1981, at my request, my mother went to a detective agency. She hired them to follow me, to report my daily activities and to provide photographic evidence of my existence.” (p. 101) Already at this point, an interesting difference between Sophie Calle’s and Jean Le Gac’s works becomes obvious–apart, of course, from the different subjects of their works. Jean Le Gac integrates the change of the observer’s perspective into the narrative, so that only in the process of reading does the reader/spectator realize the discrepancy between the text and the image. Sophie Calle, however, introduces the duplication of the point of view into her work early on, in the “rules of the game”. The main part of the text then develops the two perspectives, that of Sophie Calle and that of the detective. The two points of view are clearly distinct in print: on one side, you can read Sophie Calle’s observations about herself while walking through Paris knowing that she is being followed; they are set in normal typeface. The reports of the hired private detective on the other side, however appear to have been typed on a typewriter, which gives the text a very official and sober impression. Furthermore this part of the text is full, unlike the one attributed to Sophie Calle, full of photographs. The different points of view are also underscored by the texts’ contents. Sophie Calle, on the one hand, can and does explain many things in her report that an uninitiated observer could not know– such as: whom she calls on the phone, what kind of relationship she has to that person, etc. She is also able to reflect on her own position as an observed person and can and did try to observe the detective following her herself without attracting attention. It might be noted that Sophie Calle added yet another player to the game and multiplied the different possible perspectives. She asked a friend to observe the observation she herself had set into motion. This friend’s report and some photographs showing a young man with a camera close Sophie Calle’s work. The different points of view in Sophie Calle’s work also become obvious through the fact that the detective’s report differs from Sophie Calle’s text in some important details. For example,


Sophie Calle enters, as she claims in her text, the Café “La Coupole”, which is situated at the Boulevard Montparnasse, No. 102. The detective’s text, however, surprisingly does not even mention the Café and instead says: “At 10:40 she enters 100 boulevard Montparnasse.” (p. 106). These inconsistencies and deviations cast doubt on the validity of either text. Does the observed woman try to disguise that she went into a private building, and therefore claims to have been sitting in a café? If, however, a confused reader seeks to clarify the situation using the photographs accompanying the text, these images ostensibly taken by the detective do not offer any real help. They do, certainly, always show a woman in a black coat, often quite evidently Sophie Calle herself. Yet the photographs remain silent about disputed details; sometimes they are just too fuzzy to contain anything identifiable, sometimes they show uninteresting things (e.g. some pigeons in the park). 5. CONCLUSION Finally, I would like to briefly summerize the main aspects concerning the different points of view in the works of Jean Le Gac and Sophie Calle. First, both artists use an explicitly introduced outsider’s perspective for their observations. In Jean Le Gac’s “The painter”, it is the first-person narrator, apparently a member of a television crew observing the painter. But whereas in this case, the situation becomes clear only at the end of the text, in Sophie Calle’s “The shadow” the duplication of perspectives defines the work right from the outset and is made explicit in the “rules of the game” that introduce the second point of view: that of the detective. Secondly, both Sophie Calle and Jean Le Gac use this doubled point of view to add pieces of information to the texts that the photographs alone do not and are not able to show. The narrator in Jean Le Gac’s “ The painter”, for example, uses a flashback to write about the protagonist’s fascination with painting during his youth. Sophie Calle, on the other hand, is able to include paragraphs in which, for example, she contemplates her role as an observed person into the neatly staged narrative of observation. Thirdly, both works create a high degree of complexity because of the fact that the perspectives in texts and photographs differ. You will remember the irritation that arises out of Jean Le Gac’s work when the text starts talking about the young painter’s observation of other painters while the photographs keep on showing us only Jean Le Gac himself sitting in front of an easel. In Sophie Calle’s “The shadow”, it is specifically the photographs, added to the work as alleged proofs that underline the tension between the reports written by the detective on the one hand and Sophie Calle on the other side. The vague images would fit in with both versions of the 82

story–or do the photos maybe offer a third, perhaps even the “correct” version of events? Just like Sophie Calle, who turns into an elaborate shadow of herself through the interaction of text and image, Jean Le Gac, or rather his alter ego, the painter, makes it quite explicit that he utilizes all of these narrative tricks to finally observe himself. The last sentence of “The painter” reveals this clearly: “he watches himself working” (p. 86). As a consequence, in both cases, the question can and should remain open–or maybe should be asked again and again, who the person really is that is looking and watching, and that is being observed from different points of view. In his novel Leviathan, Paul Auster introduces a literary double of Sophie Calle, a character named Maria. Auster tries to interpret the difficult situation of watching, being watched, and identity, with these words: “Her subject was the eye, the drama of watching and being watched […] she felt as if she had become a stranger, as if she had been turned into an imaginary being.”5 NOTES
1 In 1973, the New York art dealer John Gibson hosted an exhibition he called Story Art, and another show called Narrative Art opened in Brussels in 1974. For general information: Rosenthal, Stephanie. “‘Der Faden ist gerissen’.” Stories. Erzählstrukturen in der zeitgenössischen Kunst-8. Ed. Stephanie Rosenthal. Köln: DuMont, 2002. 23; Macel, Christine. “The Author Issue in the Work of Sophie Calle. Unfinished.”, Sophie Calle. M’as-tu vue? Ed. Christine Macel. München/Berlin/London/New York: Prestel, 2003. 17-28, and von Graevenitz, Antje. “The Labyrinths of Narrative Art.” Narrative Art. Ed. Antje von Graevenitz. Groningen 1979. 3-14. For the terminology: Genette, Gérard. Fiction and Diction. Paris: Seuil, 1991. Le Gac, Jean. “Der Maler.” Jean Le Gac. Der Maler. Ed. Günter Metken. Hamburg/Brussels: Edition Lebeer Hossmann, 1977. 77-87. The following citations are translated by me. Calle, Sophie. “La filature.” Doubles-Jeux (Vol. 4. A Suivre…). Aix-en-Provence: Actes Sud, 1998. 110-149. The text can be found translated in English in the catalog Sophie Calle. M’as-tu vue? Ed. Christine Macel. München/Berlin/London/New York: Prestel, 2003. 101-110. Auster, Paul. Leviathan. London: Faber and Faber, 2001. 63.

2 3 4



In an age of epistemological skepticism, any claim that there is a grand pattern to history, or to the history of a specific area of human ideas and actions, will likely be met with incredulity. Perhaps one of the reasons why most attempts at such grand patterns are not taken seriously is because they claim too much. Toward the end of this paper I will make a very modest proposal for a pattern in the story of western art, one that combines a large amount of after-the-fact construction with a basis in the actual history of western art. But first, let’s look at two grand theories about a pattern in Western art. Finally, one caveat. This discussion is restricted to Western art, and it focuses on the traditional visual arts of painting and sculpture. 1. HEGEL’S GRAND STORY OF WESTERN ART The grandest of the grand stories of art is that of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). His treatment of the history of art is only one refraction of his grand view of all history. In his general scheme, history is the unfolding and return of Absolute Spirit.1 This externalization and return constitutes the full realization of Spirit. For Hegel, the history of art, like all human history, is an articulation of the rational activity of God. Like all events in time, it goes through a process of development which is moving toward a goal. This process is not random or haphazard; it is rational, and that is why there is a discoverable pattern to the process of history. Hegel sketches several stages of the history of art.2 The basic principle which Hegel uses for differentiating between these three stages is the relationship between sensuousness and the idea (complete self-consciousness and self-reflection). The first stage is symbolic.3 Hegel’s paradigm for this type of art is the art of the pre-classical East, especially of ancient Egypt and India. Like all art for Hegel, the art of ancient Egypt and India sought to express Geist, but its conception of the Divine was too vague and indeterminate, and as a consequence expressed it by means of symbolism. Ancient Egyptian and Indian art searched for ways to express Geist, but fell back on multiple sensuous forms, none of which adequately reflect Geist. These forms only crudely and vaguely through guesses point to Spirit.4 Hegel labels the second stage Classical. This form of art was captured most fully by the Greeks. The focus of Greek art on the human figure (often presented as gods) is for Hegel a profound insight because only humans contain Spirit in sensuous form. Greek art was an art-religion in the sense that much of Greek art attempts to put in sensuous form the Greek gods.


Nonetheless, for Hegel, this art is also too lodged in the sensuous to be adequate to capture Geist. The third form of art is Romantic, a very misleading use of this term, since for Hegel this includes the art from roughly the beginnings of the Christian era to his own day (early 19th century). This is a higher form than the Classical and Symbolic because of its emphasis on subjectivity. For example, depictions of Christ’s passion are concerned with the spirit of the figure portrayed. Romantic art is more inward; it is about spirit and mind. It is not bound by three-dimensionality.5 But even this last stage of art is is not adequate to express the Divine to humanity or to fulfill Absolute Spirit. All forms and stages of art are too bound to the sensuous, too external to fulfill these goals. The purpose and goal of art is to contribute to the complete self-realization of Geist. Thus art is all about grasping the Divine. But art can only go so far in doing this. “With the advance of culture, there generally comes a time for every people when art points beyond itself.”6 The discipline which, for Hegel, can reach the highest achievement in the pursuit of Geist and toward the fulfillment of Geist is philosophy. Why? Because of the pervasive selfreflection of philosophy. Only philosophy reaches the highest level of subjectivity and selfreflexivity. This certainly is a grand story of art. It brings to mind Darwin’s elegant words at the end of the Origin, “there is a grandeur to this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone on cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”7 2. DANTO AND THE DEATH OF ART In a paper published 1984 and revisited in 1997, Arthur Danto, acknowledging his debt to Hegel, developed a new theory about the end of art.8 Danto follows Hegel’s preference for trinities and proposes that there are three stages in the history of western art.9 The progressive stage is the claim that art is the progressive conquest of natural appearances. More traditionally this may be called the mimetic theory of art, that art is the imitation of nature and artists became progressively better at this task. Danto states that progress here is essentially “optical duplication–the painter commanded increasingly refined technologies for making paintings roughly equivalent to actual objects and scenes, decreasing distance between the actual and pictorial optical simulation.”10 This stage in western art came to an end around 1905 with motion pictures. Movies directly reach the perceptual involved in seeing; the viewer does not have to infer what is going on from cues.11 With the rise of motion pictures, the conquest of appearances was attained. This marks the end of Danto’s first stage of art. But


much remained for art to explore–the inner life of humans. The second stage (or model) occurred from circa 1905 to 1964. With considerable historical brashness, Danto chooses a specific year for its end, 1964, because that was the year that Andy Warhol held one of his first major exhibitions at the Stable Gallery in NYC.12 After the rise of cinematography, painters and sculptors began asking what was left for them to do. A new theory of art was required, and indeed a new theory emerged in the form of the expressionist theory of Benedetto Croce and later R.G. Collingwood.13 Art is about expressing the inner life of humans, especially feelings. The theorists of expressionism granted that feelings are always about or towards some external object; but the expression of these feelings greatly affects the representation of objects. By the time this move toward expression reached its pinnacle with Abstract Expressionism, artists claimed that their works were about objectless feelings–pure joy, or depression, or excitement. And at this point, The history of art acquires a totally different structure. . . . There is no longer any reason to think of art as having a progressive history: there is simply not the possibility of a developmental sequence with the concept of expression as there is with the concept of mimetic representation.14 Thus the history of art “sunders into a sequence of individual acts, one after another.”15 “The history of art is just the lives of the artists, one after another.”16 This brings Danto to his the third phase in the history of art, the end of art. And here he appeals to Hegel’s notion that the goal of history is the complete self-consciousness, the selfreflexivity of Spirit. Danto’s secularization and demythologizing of this Hegelian theme is that art, in this last phase, has become completely absorbed with reflection on its own nature. The [art] objects approach zero as their theory approaches infinity, so that virtually all there is at the end is theory, art having finally become vaporized in a dazzle of pure thought upon itself, and remaining, as it were, solely as the object of its own theoretical consciousness.17 When this happens, art has come to an end, and what we now have, again taking a cue from Hegel, is philosophy in the sense that art has become entirely self-reflexive, concerned with its own nature. It has become “thinking about art” rather than art. But Danto hastily adds: “Of course, there will go on being art-making. But art-makers, living in what I like to call the posthistorical period of art, will bring into existence works which lack the historical importance or meaning we have for a very long time come to expect.”18 In 1997, Danto revisited his 1984 essay, and observes that after the “end of art” thesis, all arthistorical narratives are false. “The great master narratives . . . have not only come to an end . .


. contemporary art no longer allows itself to be represented by master narratives at all.”19 What he means by this, I suggest, is that all historical narratives of the past assumed that art has a specific goal (optical duplication, pure abstraction, pure form), a specific direction, and this is false. It is false because there are no longer any narratives which are generally accepted as providing the clue as to where art is going.20 And they are false because they lead to gross distortions in the reading of art-history. For example, if one accepts Clement Greenberg’s historical narrative that all art moves toward pure abstraction, then one is forced to read realistic works as if they are really disguised abstract works. And to read all Western art this way is thoroughly unhistorical.21 3. SALVAGING THE STORY OF ART So does art tell a grand story? A story is a sequence of events, and the events flow from earlier and move to later events. And usually stories have an ending, although this is not critical. Both Hegel and Danto propose endings to the story of art–for Hegel, the full self-reflection of Absolute Spirit and for Danto the transmutation of art into philosophy (similar to Hegel). Thus for both Hegel and Danto, the end of the story is curious. It marks the conclusion of a story by ending storytelling about art. Most stories do not end by declaring an end to storytelling! And we know that the story of art continued after Hegel and continues to this day, even though grand stories in the tradition of Vasari and Hegel do not any longer appear to be defensible. How can we explain this continuation of art? Hegel provides a clue. For Hegel, human creativity is really the hidden work of Geist. History is the unfolding of Geist, and Geist uses humans for its goals. Thus creativity in art, like all creativity, is not the creativity of the individual artist, but really the creativity of Geist. But even this is not radical creativity because it follows the restraints of rationality. All of the activity of Geist in the world is rational, including art. While most of us do not find the Hegelian grand working of Geist in the universe acceptable, there is, nonetheless, an element of his theory which I find useful and true. Although individual artists may not see how their work fits into the history of art, art historians later can look back and see that there is a rationality to the work of artists. I will argue that there is a sense, admittedly much less grand than Hegel, in which the history of art can be said to show a pattern, to tell a story. I will defend a view of history which has its roots in R. G. Collingwood’s The Idea of History (1936). The scientist in studying nature is always studying a phenomenon, “in the sense of being a spectacle presented to his intelligent observation.”22 By contrast, the events of history are never mere phenomena, never mere spectacles, “but things the historian looks, not at, but through, to discern the thought within them.”23 Thus for Collingwood, history is concerned with ideas, with thought, and when Collingwood says that all history is the history of thought, he means that history is concerned with intellectual operations. Thought, of course, expresses itself in external behavior. What the historian is doing in constructing a narrative of history is to 87

begin with the merely physical and descriptive (artifacts, accounts of what happened), but then she seeks to penetrate behind these to the thought which underlay them.24 In Collingwood’s language, the historian seeks to pass from the outside to the inside of events. For history, the object to be discovered is not the mere event, but the thought expressed in it. To discover that thought is already to understand it. After the historian has ascertained that facts, there is no further process of inquiring into the causes. When he knows what happened, he already knows why it happened.25 W.H. Walsh refined Collingwood’s theory by introducing the notion of “colligation.”26 This expresses the idea that “facts are bound together by the aid of suitable Conceptions. . . . The historian conceives it as has task “to look for certain dominant concepts or leading ideas by which to illuminate his facts, to trace connections between those ideas themselves, and then to show how the detailed facts become intelligible in the light of them by constructing a ‘significant narrative’ of the events of the period in question.”27 By an act of the intellect, the historian “establishes a precise connexion [sic] among the phenomena which are presented to our senses.”28 Historical explanations are a matter of tracing connections between events by appealing to inner relations (this simply refers to the thoughts & intentions of historical actors). For Walsh, this is the way historians transform their data into “significant narratives. The historian aims to see events as part of a process, to locate it in a context by mentioning other events with which it is bound up.29 And this is done by introducing “dominant concepts” and “leading ideas.”30 In this way, Walsh argues, the historian moves from a merely “plain narrative,” by which he means a mere diary of events, to a “significant narrative” in which he is able to see why the event happened, to see it as part of a larger whole. What are these “dominant concepts and leading ideas”? Walsh gives the examples of “the Industrial Revolution” and “the Enlightenment.” He readily admits that these are arbitrary and not natural units.31 In the history of art, these “dominant concepts” are the labels given to periods or styles such as the Renaissance, Romanticism, Surrealism, and Pop art. Notice that many, if not most of the “leading ideas” in the history of art are about periodization. The historian periodizes the past in terms of events he regards as marking the beginning and the end of a significant development and the dominant concepts which hold the period together.32 In the history of art, the art historian may mark off a period in terms of a style, or the goals of artists, or subject matter, or intellectual movements. Note that the art historian, or any special or general history, is here choosing the criterion of periodization and this in turn will affect what works of art are chosen. Thus to choose Abstract Expressionism as a period in the mid-20th century excludes the works of Norman Rockwell. Judgments are made about what the art historian considers as representative of the age, and perhaps what the art historian regards as significant art. Are these judgments arbitrary? Well to some extent, but not entirely. The art historian takes into 88

account affects on future developments in art, and links to past developments. Rockwell had virtually no affect on future developments in art, and links to past were largely parasitic of other styles. But to return to the argument of this section, it is these large-scale concepts which provide the key to connecting and unifying concepts and thereby introduce intelligibility into historical material.33 Art historians are sometimes criticized for cramming all artists and styles under labels. But I recall how frustrating Robert Rosenblum and H.W. Janson’s book, Nineteenth Century Art, which largely attempts to eschew periodization and large-scale labels, was for me.34 Large-scale periods and ideas serve a purpose; they allow one to see art history as a process, in short, as a story. Are they arbitrary to some extent, and are the boundaries from one movement or style period to another fuzzy? Certainly. But, this is the only way that art history or any specialized history can be constructed into a “significant narrative.” Let’s examine a brief chapter in the history of art to illustrate these points. I will use two 20th century movements, Abstract Expressionism and Pop art, to illustrate the rationality through colligation of the history of art. These two movements, on the surface, seem to be dramatically different; yet art historians point out many continuities. The first generation of Pop painters in the 1960s, Allen Jones (b. 1937), David Hockney (b. 1937), Derek Boshier (b. 1961), carried over from the later phases of the abstract movement the delight in color, the use of large fields of color, flatness, and the lack of any central focus. But Pop art, like many movements in the twentieth century, was also a reaction to–but as such a strong connection–the extreme simplicity and monochromism of some schools of abstract art.35 Jasper Johns nicely illustrates the continuity between post-painterly abstraction and Pop. He deliberately uses everyday, banal objects–numbers, targets, American flags, and maps–in order to focus his and the spectators’s attention on the surface–paint, color, and texture. This preoccupation with form is still part of the early abstract movement and his attention to the painterly aspects of his creations is part of the late phase of the abstract movement, postpainterly abstraction. In addition, Johns choice of everyday, often banal objects, deliberately pokes fun at the high seriousness of the Abstract Expressionist painters. Although subject matter returns, it is for some Pop artists, especially Jasper Johns, often a vehicle for focusing on the concerns of abstract art–drawing the viewers attention to paint, color, texture, and space. These are all formal properties, and were the principal focus of the Abstract Expressionist painters. Most of the above is taken from Edward Lucie-Smith’s account of these movements. Whether or not one agrees with his story, the point is that the art historian sees connections of this sort and in this way constructs a rational account of the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop. And Lucie-Smith does this by appealing to “dominant ideas”–Abstract Expressionism, Pop, form, realism. 89

CONCLUSION In all of this, I have defended the idea that the story of art told by art historians is about dominant ideas and intentions, and that without these, one cannot construct a story, a significant narrative, of art. Without the grand ideas of labels for periods and connections between periods, the history of art becomes, in the words of Danto, simply “a sequence of individual acts.”36 The history of art may not tell a grand story in the tradition of Hegel, but it does tell small stories which remains exciting and unpredictable. NOTES
1. For Hegel, the Absolut is the philosophical concept of God shorn of all anthropomorphic presuppositions. The conception of God which appears in religions is filled with sensuous and anthropomorphic colorings. Knox states straightforwardly that Absolut is, for Hegel, a synonym for God. G.W.F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, trans. T.M. Knox, vol. I. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), p. xiv. There is some ambiguity, noted by all Hegel commentators, on whether these three are different styles of art which are ahistorical, or whether, in addition to styles, they are also different stages in the development of art. Taylor suggests they are both: art has “different art forms, which have an affinity to different stages.” Charles Taylor, Hegel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 478. I will follow Taylor and interpret them as both styles and stages. Hegel’s discussion of the stages is in Lectures on Aesthetics (Vorlesungen über die Aesthetik) which were delivered four times at the University of Berlin between 1820 and 1830. They were reconstructed by one of Hegel’s disciples, Hotho. Continuing on the styles-stages debate, Charles Karelis comments that it is not so clear “whether his terms ‘symbolic,’ ‘classical,’ and ‘romantic’ are meant to express ahistorical, sytlistic concepts or to be proper names for the art of particular, albeit vague, historical cultural milieux.” “Hegel’s Conception of Art: An Interpretive Essay,” in Hegel’s Introduction to Aesthetics, p. l. Moshe Barasch combines the two: Hegel’s “three major art forms . . . correspond to the three stages of the historical unfolding of the arts” (Barasch, Modern Theories of Art, vol. 1 (NY: New York University Press, 1990), p. 182). Hegel, unlike most contemporaries, uses symbolic in a negative sense because for him expressing something symbolically means that the reference of the symbolism is grasped only indirectly and vaguely. Symbolic art, for Hegel, lacks beauty because it expresses “the early artistic pantheism of the East” (Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, Vol. I, i.77/i83-4), that is, it tries to envision God in subhuman animal forms. Indian art attempts to inflate and exaggerate the characteristics of natural objects and animals, trying therefore to “elevate their phenomenal appearance to the Idea by the diffuseness, immensity, and splendor of the formations employed” (i.76/i.83). Although Hegel had no inkling of abstract art, his characterization of the highest form of Romantic art fits it quite well. Painting, the highest form of Romantic art, deals in the “abstract visible” (G.W. F. Hegel, Die Idee und das Ideal, ed. G. Lasson (Leipzig, 1931), p. 131. G.W.F. Hegel, Werke in Zwanzig Bänden (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970), XIII, 142/103. The second page reference is to the T.M. Knox translation of Hegel’s lectures on aesthetics. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life (New York: Modern Library, 1998), p. 649. Arthur Danto, “The End of Art,” in The Death of Art, ed. Berel Lang (NY: Haven, 1984), p. 6-7. Danto refers to Hegel but gives no specific reference. And Danto, “Three Decades after the End of Art.” After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1997.





6. 7. 8.



10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16.

17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26.

27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33.

34. 35.


Or is Danto proposing three models of art history? Like Hegel’s Symbolic, Classical, and Romantic, Danto is, deliberately I believe, ambiguous about whether these are stages or models or both. If they are stages they are also models; but they could be models without being stages. I will treat them as stages. The three stages-models are progressive, expressionist, and the end of art. Danto, “The End of Art,” p. 9. Danto, “The End of Art,” p. 11. Danto’s choice of this date appears in his 1997 essay, “After the End of Art,” not in his original 1984 essay. Croce’s Estetica come scienza dell’expressione was published in 1902; Collingwood’s The Idea of History in 1936. Danto, “The End of Art,” p. 24. Danto, “The End of Art,” p. 24. Danto, “The End of Art,” p. 25. Note close connection here, which Danto observes, between the way we define or theorize about the nature of art and the way we think of the history of art. For Danto, this explains, in part at least, why the history of art in the 20th century has been a “dazzling succession of art-movements” (29). The imperative of art in the 20th century was that each artist must make an art-historical period. Danto, “The End of Art, p. 31. Danto, “The End of Art, p. 31. Danto, “After the End of Art,” p. 14. Danto, “After the End of Art,” p. 5. Danto, “Introduction: Modern, Post-Modern, and Contemporary,” in After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1997), pp. 28-29. R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), p. 214. Collingwood, Idea, p. 214. W.H. Walsh, Philosophy of History: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper & Row), p. 52. Collingwood, Idea, p. 214. W. H. Walsh, Introduction to the Philosophy of History, 2nd ed. rev. (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), p. 62. The term “colligation” was first used by William Whewell in discussions of method in the natural sciences. I believe that W.H. Walsh was the first to introduce it into discussions of historiography. Walsh, p. 62. Walsh, p. 23. Walsh, p. 23. Walsh, p. 62. Walsh, p. 62. Maurice Mandelbaum, The Anatomy of Historical Knowledge (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), p. 165. William Dray, another student of Collingwood, calls this “explanation-by-concept.” William Dray, “‘Explaining What’ in History,” in Patrick Gardiner, ed., Theories of History (New York: Free Press, 1959), p. 406. Robert Rosenblum & H.W. Janson’s book Nineteenth Century Art (Prentice-Hall & Harry Abrams, 1984). Edward Lucie-Smith, Movements in Art Since 1945 (New York: Harper & Row, 2001), p. 102. Lucie-Smith, together with many art historicans, cites Richard Hamilton’s 1956 Just What is it that Makes Today’s Homes so Different, so Appealing? with introducing Pop art. The painting contains a collage of images borrowed from magazines. A muscle-man and a stripper occupy a room filled with everyday objects–tape recorder, coffee cup, vacuum cleaner, newspaper. The muscle-man holds a large lollipop with the word pop on it in large letters. See Lucie-Smith, p. 109. Danto, “The End of Art,” p. 24.


STORYLINES Bozenna Wisniewska Alberta College of Art and Design

With the title of my paper I would like to acknowledge the “dreamtime” and “storylines” of the Australian Indigenous people. They move through the land purposely and almost effortlessly ignoring any obstacle that is Cartesian in nature. Architecture and urban design do not have to be obstacles but, rather territories connected to the immediate and ultimate realities of our lives. Victor Hugo wrote, “. . . reach to the root of vocables, image and idea are the same word.” My paper’s intention is to address interconnections between the visual arts, literature, architecture and urban design as well as to address the experience with which built-public space can resonate with.. . . . The desire to discover the unexpected and non-familiar allows us to “outgrow a purified identity” in the words of Richard Sennett, in The Uses of Disorder. I will look at the writings of Franz Kafka, Eva Hoffman and Walter Benjamin, whose sensitivity maintained the vivacity of their perceptions and experiences in Prague, Cracow and Berlin. A series of paintings by Paul Klee portraying cities will also help to establish connections between the colourfulness of his imagination and visions of the urban environment. Creative people perceive without preconceived notions, their responses to the environment flow fearlessly and are not restrictive. Paul Klee, was quite intimately involved in studying links between the image and the word. He has established important connections between honest, direct, poignant perceptions and a free form of expression. This refreshing quality is revealed in colour, compositional relations and the intimate size of his works. He courageously rejected oppressive monumentality and in the age of monstrous measures he provided the viewer with something familiar and touchable. The pulse of reality is filtered through a kaleidoscopic prism. There is an evocative intensity and fun, coloured by the innocence of his sense of sight. The ambiguity of presence and absence augment the mystery and the aura of secrets yet to be discovered. Klee’s Hammamet with the Mosque (1914) is a work where the playful translation of temporal elements creates a magical balance embracing myriadic and polyphonic movement. The gridsystem of the composition also recalls musical notes. The texture of the watercolor paper, fused together with the pastel tonalities of the paint, enriches the sense of the temporal. Cities, too, can be characterized by temporality, there is usually nothing static, fixed or monotonous in the spiral of urban life. Life on streets and squares vibrates. There are people and magical passages, there are colours and textures, smells and sounds. . . . Everything to be discovered! One does not need to see it all, one needs to feel what is revealed. As Paul Klee said in Creative Credo “The goal of art is not to reveal the visible, but to reveal the invisible.”


The scale of most of Klee’s works, which are renderings of cities, is small, immediately capturing attention and creating a charming and intimate ambience of inclusion. The size of The Hammamet–20x15cm–reinforces inward vision and allows the beholder to wander through streets capturing the mysteries and magic behind each soft edged corner. The brilliant translation of a vast city into the intimacy of a minute work challenges predictable views of reality. Klee abandons hierarchical relations in his works; foreground and background are blurred consciously to introduce the desire for a search beyond the visible. To be on the edge of appearances and telling the moment becomes Klee’s credo. There are quite a few works by Klee whose origins go back to his childhood and the enchanting moments when he and his grandmother illustrated some of the fairy-tales she used to tell him and to which he listened with delight. His playfully nostalgic Tree House (1918) has the ability to transport the viewer into a garden and a tree house. They are a refuge and an oasis within the city. Goblins and fairies seemed to inhabit this tiny work that encloses us within its brightness of being. Dream City, possesses the tense and luminous qualities of a dream. It is the twice a size of The Hammamet with the Mosque, but its scale is amazingly touchable and it becomes extremely invigorating. The multitude of layers of watercolour washes creates the unforgettable pulse of the secret city, simultaneously emerging and disappearing. It is as if, out of his dreams, Klee constructed an alternative, ultimate world of and for his imagination. In the View of G. (1927), the space is as vast as if the city’s labyrinths had opened their gates. The journey seems to be less obstructed than the Dream City with its ambiguous veils and light canyons of streets. One travels differently here, but the charm of discovery is not abandoned. The houses have individual personalities. They look with their window-like-eyes inviting and laughing. The red, slightly crooked clock-tower provides momentum here it is a reminder of the passages of time. In 1918 Paul Klee wrote a poem and in the same year the poem became a painting. Once They Emerged from the Gray of Night appears as a sequence of musical notes, as a moment that immerses itself in music. Lines here become what Klee referred to as “absolute spontaneity” and “without analytical accessories” because they have so much dynamism, so much rhythmic energy. It is fascinating to discover so many temporal qualities in Klee’s oeuvre. Is it possible that it is because of the artist’s reduction of formal devices? Or is it because of the immense influence of music on Klee’s art? Probably both. Klee played music, knew how to listen to it and sometimes even danced . . . Georg Muche who worked with Klee and whose studio was next to Klee’s at the Bauhaus wrote: One day, I heard a strange, rhythmical stamping of feet. When I met Klee in the hallway, I asked him “Did you hear that odd noise just now?” He laughed and said: “Ah–did you notice? That was not supposed to happen! I was painting


and painting and suddenly, I do not know why–I had to dance. You heard it! That is a shame. I never usually dance”3 Kafka’s Notebooks and Loose Pages recall his experience of Prague; a mesh of mysterious literary architecture fuses with the tangible: the transformed city emerges. The city that becomes both the cage and the refuge. Kafka writes with absolutely dramatic intensity about his everyday walk to school from Minuta House, where the Kafkas lived, to the old square, under the shadows of the castle and back again. This circle contained and embraced his life. Kafka’s walks were coloured by his expectations of meeting an anarchist! Prague, like many other European cities in the nineteenth-century, witnessed anarchist acts. Anarchists became almost mythical figures, subjects of stories and dinner conversations. The most famous anarchist in Bohemia was Rapachol. Kafka writes with delightful excitement at the possibility of meeting Rapachol on his walk to school. To his distress, Kafka never met Rapachol, but the singular possibility of seeing him behind a street corner made his everyday walk far from trivial. For Eva Hoffman the circle containing her whole life was in Cracow. Her book Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language is united by three chapters: Paradise, Exile and The New World. Hoffman’s parents left Cracow and Poland in the 1950’s. She was eleven when her paradise, the heart-beat of her city, her universe, were left behind in Cracow. She writes: Cracow to me is a city of shimmering light and shadow, with the shadow only adding more brilliance to the patches of wind and sun. I walk its streets in a state of musing, anticipatory pleasure. Its narrow byways, its echoing courtyards, its jewel-like interiors are there for my delectation: they are there for me to get know.4 She felt safe in this enclosed circle of her city-paradise: Age is one of the things that encloses me with safety; Cracow has always existed, it is a given, it does not change much. It has layers and layers of reality. The main square is like a magnetic field pulling all parts of the city together. It is heavy with all those lines of force . . . ”5 There is no explanation when it comes to definitions of paradise. Paradise seems to escape logic and its receipts. Paradise like dreams and storylines, exists beyond prescribed reality. Cracow of the 1950’s became Eva Hoffman’s eutopia. While in Vancouver she revisits Cracow of her memories: The Planty are another space of happiness, and one day something strange and wonderful happens there. It is a sunny fall afternoon and I am engaged in one of my favorite pastimes-picking chestnuts. . . . The city, beyond the lacy wall of


trees, is humming with gentle noises. The sun has just passed its highest point and is warming me with intense, oblique rays. I pick up a reddish brown chestnut, and suddenly, through its warm skin, I feel the beat as if of a heart.6 Nothing will replace the intense warmth of chestnuts found in Cracow. Hoffman’s book is even more intriguing if one acknowledges the fact that it was written in English, the author’s second language. Hoffman’s fluency in capturing the nuances of her life in the city of her childhood transcends communication barriers and proves her insightful imagination. The verses are not lost in translation, they break through and shine. In Lost Childhood Walter Benjamin remembers his life in Berlin. Most of Benjamin’s memories contemplate his walks in the city. His favorite strolls are along Lutzkanal and on one of the islands on the river. In the island’s park one was only allowed to move along the pathways, except if one was a peacock. Peacocks could move freely on the island. Benjamin’s dream was to become a peacock or at least to find a peacock feather. He never found one. Some of the images recording his moves are “rendered” in blue, a truly appropriate colour for mnemonic writing. Blue appears as a dream-like screen that simultaneously unites and separates the past from the present. Hans Christian Andersen made the children of his tales dream in azure seraphin. Blue is a colour that moves effortlessly from reality to dream and back. And., one day, the chief gardener of Paris decided to breed a blue rose. The rose has been named after Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of the enchanting The Little Prince. Antoine de SaintExupery, Walter Benjamin, Eva Hoffman, Franz Kafka and Paul Klee have perceived their environment with similar non-limiting freshness through which one can rediscover the city of one’s memories. Paul Klee’s Red Baloon is a small work that allows the imagination to flow above the city, it denies gravity and adds wings to one’s dreams. Fantasy without borders–the invisible city becomes visible to the little prince within us. NOTES
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Wassily Kandinsky, “The Problem of Form.” Voices of German Expressionism (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970), p. 59. Ibid., p. 59. Hajo Duchtig, Paul Klee Painting Music (New York: Prestel, 1997), p. 56. Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation A Life in a New Language (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), p.38. Ibid., p. 39. Ibid., p. 41.


TWO LATE CRISIS PAINTINGS BY VAN GOGH Robert Wauhkonen Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University

Vincent Van Gogh, as is widely known, committed suicide, dying on July 29, 1890, two days after he had shot himself. Many views have been advanced for why he took his life: his depression over the failure of physicians to cure the illness which lay behind his cutting off part of his ear on the evening of December 23, 1888, and which plagued him until his death; the illness itself, although what it was that he suffered from–temporal lobe epilepsy; schizophrenia; poisoning from exposure to toxic materials–remains a matter of dispute; his belief that, after ten years of devoting himself with single-minded purpose to his painting, his work had come to nothing. What is clear, based upon his letters to his brother Theo and others, is that for at least a year before the day of his suicide, and, at troubled periods during his earlier life, he had considered taking his life. Even without his letters to his brother Theo and others, which make clear how much of his life he put into his paintings, Van Gogh’s work would be regarded as autobiographical. Van Gogh did numerous self-portraits, as well as other works, which clearly allude to his personal life. With the letters, however, we get an amplified, as it were, view of his work, in that he discusses so much of his work in these letters. In this paper, I consider two lesser known paintings which Van Gogh did just months before his death in the context of his letters. The letters confirm what anyone even the least bit familiar with Van Gogh’s life might suspect in looking at these works: that each suggests a desperate hope for salvation from a life on the verge of collapse. The first of the two paintings, “The Raising of Lazarus,” was completed in early May, 1890, just before Van Gogh left the asylum at Saint Remy. From April, 1889, to May, 1890, Van Gogh was hospitalized at St. Remy, desperately seeking relief from the illness that had taken over his life with his cutting of his ear in December, 1888. During the period between December 23, 1888, and April, 1889, when Van Gogh entered St. Remy, he had come to accept that what he first dismissed as something that Theo and others were making too much of was, indeed, a problem. Once he entered St. Remy, Van Gogh continued to experience what he called his attacks, between intermittent periods of clarity during which he painted some of his greatest works, including “Starry Night.” By the spring of 1890, however, despairing over the failure of the doctors at St. Remy to control his attacks, and struck with a strong desire to return north–to Paris, where Theo lived–Van Gogh had become severely depressed again. In a letter to Theo from May, 1890, he wrote, “My surrounding here begin to weigh on me more than I can say my word, I have been patient for more than a year–I need air, I feel overwhelmed with boredom and grief. . . . .As for me, I can’t go on, I am at the end of my patience, my dear brother, I can’t stand any more–I must make a change, even a desperate one” (LT631).


“The Raising of Lazarus” was one of many paintings that Van Gogh did in the last year of his life based on Biblical themes. As Kathleen Erickson has noted in her book on Van Gogh At Eternity’s Gate, Van Gogh had eschewed Biblical themes for most of his life, largely because of his bitter rejection of orthodox Christianity in the period after 1880. Years after Van Gogh had broken with orthodox Christianity, he found the prospect of doing a painting based on the Bible appalling. “Of course with me there is no question of doing anything from the Bible” (LT615), he wrote Theo in November or December 1889. His break with orthodox Christianity notwithstanding, however, Van Gogh had always had the highest regard for Jesus, as is evident in this letter to his painter friend Bernard in 1888: Christ alone–of all the philosophers, Magi, etc.–has affirmed, as a principal certainty, eternal life, the infinity of time, the nothingness of death, the necessity and the raison d’etre of serenity and devotion. He lived serenely, as a greater artist than all other artists, despising marble and clay as well as color, working in living flesh. That is to say, the matchless artist, hardly to be conceived of by the obtuse instrument of our modern, nervous, stupefied brains, made neither statues nor pictures nor books, he loudly proclaimed that he made…living men, immortals” (LB 8[11]). During the last year of so of his life, still keeping at an arm’s length from institutionalized Christianity, and wary of a relapse into what he regarded as his own pathological propensity for morbid religiosity, Van Gogh nonetheless re-connected with his earlier Christian identity. This re-connection, Erickson argues, helps to explain his turning to Biblical themes in his painting during this time. “The Raising of Lazarus” was based upon an etching of the same name by Rembrandt which Van Gogh admired, and which Theo sent him a copy of during his stay at St. Remy. As with other religious copies Van Gogh did during this time, he found solace in doing them, and regarded them not as copies, but “interpretations.” “Because I am ill at present,” he wrote in the fall of 1889, I am trying to do something to console myself, for my own pleasure. I let the black and white by Delacroix or Millet, or something made after their work, pose as a subject. And then I improvise color in it, not, you understand all together myself, but searching for memories of their pictures–but the memory, “the vague consonance of colors that are at least right in feeling”–that is my own interpretation.


Many people do not copy, many others do–I started on it accidentally, and I find that it teaches me things, and above all, it sometimes gives consolation (LT 607). In Rembrandt’s etching, Jesus stands over Lazarus with hand raised, signaling his power to bring Lazarus back from the dead. A crowd of people looks on. Van Gogh, in his painting, altered the composition significantly. All of the figures, except for Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, have been eliminated. In place of Jesus, Van Gogh painted a radiant sun. Perhaps most intriguing of all the changes, Lazarus is depicted as Van Gogh himself, with his nose and red beard. All of the figures, indeed the entire painting, is bathed in what Erickson describes as a “holy, mystical light, typical of Rembrandt’s religious paintings “ (p. 155). Van Gogh explained to Theo how he had attempted to capture the effects of Rembrandt’s use of black and white shading through his own interpretive use of color: The cave and the corpse are violet, yellow and white. The woman who takes the handkerchief off the face of the resurrected man has a green dress and orange hair; the other has black hair and a garment striped green and pink–at the back, a country side of blue hills, a rising yellow sun. The combination of the colors would thus speak by itself of the same things which the light and shade of the etching express (LT 632). Given what we know about Van Gogh’s personal crisis at the time he completed the painting, it is impossible not to see in his personalizing of the Lazarus narrative a statement about his own need, as it were, to be “brought back from the dead,” for some powerful, transcendent force to save him from his deep depression. Having read the Bible all of his life, Van Gogh knew the Lazarus story well. The reason for that part of the change from the Rembrandt etching seems clear. His intent in transposing Jesus with the sun is more ambiguous, however. Kodera, in his book Christianity versus Nature, sees in the substitution an indication of Van Gogh’s reverence for nature. In many of his letters, Van Gogh writes about nature possessing a pantheistic power for him. Numerous Van Gogh scholars have commented on the pantheistic element in many of Van Gogh’s expressionist landscapes, including “Starry Night.” While Kodera notes that the sun is a traditional symbol of God or Christ, he argues that Van Gogh had so thoroughly rejected Christian theology and embraced a belief in the Midi sun as something tangible to believe in that he must have meant the naturalized sun itself. “The sun of the Midi was for Van Gogh something to be ‘believed in,’ the ‘good god sun’ and something to be loved by painters,” Kodera writes (p. 35). He points to a line from a letter Van Gogh wrote at the time in support of this view: “Oh! Those who don’t believe in this sun here are real infidels. Unfortunately, along with the good god sun three quarters of the time there is the devil mistral” (LT 520). Erickson, however, interprets the sun as a traditional symbol of Christ, and more broadly the transcendent. Reading the sun as a traditional image of Christ is, she argues, “much more consistent with Van Gogh’s oeuvre and life” (p. 156). She notes that the story of Lazarus was “fundamentally important” to Van Gogh, “from his early reading of the Bible as well as


Stricker’s Jezus van Nazareth and Ernst Renan’s Life of Jesus [two books that strongly influenced Van Gogh’s spiritual beliefs] (pp. 156-157). Moreover, she notes that Van Gogh’s use of the sun parallels his use of the sunflower as a traditional symbol of piety and devotion. “The painting does not suggest a supplanting of Christ with the sun, then, but a tribute to Christ and the healing powers of faith” (p. 157). Both views seem plausible. Regardless of how we see Van Gogh’s transposition of Jesus with the sun, however, one thing is clear, something which, in a larger sense, makes the exact symbolism of the sun a secondary point: Van Gogh, like the Lazarus in the story he knew so well, needed something to bring him back to life, to rescue him from the anguish and depression which would claim his life three months later. The second painting I want to consider is “At Eternity’s Gate.” Done in May, 1890, it is a reworking of an etching Van Gogh had done in 1882. Like “The Raising of Lazarus,” it too reveals the anguish of Van Gogh’s final months. But if it, like “The Raising of Lazarus,” suggests Van Gogh’s need for something to release him from his anguish, it is a far more poignant work in that the release that it intimates lies not in life, but death. The painting is of an elderly man sitting in front of a dying fire, his clenched fists covering his eyes. Following Van Gogh’s own aesthetic injunction to “exaggerate the essential” (LT 490), he depicts the suffering man, who dominates the picture, dressed entirely in blue. His balding head and clenched hands are tinted blue. The entire painting, in fact–the walls, the floor boards, even the interior of the fireplace–is rendered in a blue wash. The simplified human form, the austere, linear background, the man’s age and posture, as well as the dying fire, suggest what the title tells us–that the man, weary of life, waits on the verge of death. Van Gogh’s comments on the etching on which the painting is based suggest his intentions for the painting as well: In this print I have tried to express…what seems to me to be one of the strongest proofs of the existence of ‘quelque chose la-hout’ [something on high]…namely the existence of God and eternity–certainly in the infinitely touching expression of such a little old man, which he himself is perhaps unconscious of, when he is sitting quietly in his corner by the fire…. This is far from theology, simply the fact that the poorest little woodcutter or peasant on the heath or miner can have moments of emotion and inspiration which give him a feeling of an eternal home, and of being close to it (LT 248). As Erickson observes, the fact that Van Gogh chose, almost ten years later, and during a time of great crisis, to re-work the etching demonstrates the relevance of its theme to Van Gogh’s life. “Van Gogh’s reworking of his earlier print in an oil painting shows his continued preoccupation with the issues of suffering, sickness, and death, with the ultimate hope of deliverance in a ‘life


beyond the grave,’” she writes. While the painting’s impression is one of great melancholy, of the total insufficiency of human life, it is deeply moving in its portrayal of grief and the existential need for hope. As these letters make clear, both “The Raising of Lazarus” and “At Eternity’s Gate” reflect Van Gogh’s personal anguish during the last months of his life. In their archetypal resonance–the Lazarus theme of rebirth, the haunting image of the old man facing death–they engage us, as is true of so much of Van Gogh’s work, not only on the level of Van Gogh’s personal crisis, but on the level of the universal themes of hope and salvation which they embody. Furthermore, it is a testimony to Van Gogh’s greatness that they engage us on yet another mythic level as well–the mythic level of Van Gogh’s life and work which, since he died just over 100 years ago, have become synonymous with the life of the spiritual artist and seeker. BIBLIOGRAPHY Erickson, Kathleen Powers. At Eternity’s Gate. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1998. Kodera, Tsukasa. Christianity versus Nature. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1990. Van Gogh, Vincent. The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. New York: Bulfinch Press, 1958.


PERSONAL STORIES AND THE INTRANSIGENT CRITIC Charles S. Mayer, Professor of Art History Indiana State University

The 1990s was a time when many artists came to approach difficult subjects through the lens of their personal experience so that their art became, in effect, the product of a self-revelatory investigation into the construction of their individual identity. Performance artists, in particular, created compelling personal narratives woven with the threads of the challenges they faced daily. However, because of the intimate and often troubling nature of the subjects they presented, viewers and critics alike often found themselves placed in a precarious position when it came to evaluating the work. Not only did this kind of art raise questions about what was appropriate subject matter for art but it also caused people to reflect upon how one was supposed to react to and interpret such modes of expression, particularly when they challenged both existing social and aesthetic norms. One critic chose to respond by not responding. In December of 1994, Arlene Croce, the dance critic for The New Yorker, refused to critique the dance work Still/Here, by the choreographer Bill T. Jones who used HIV-positive dancers as performers in his new opus.1 Croce did not simply ignore the production by choosing to remain silent about its relative merits. Rather, she quite publicly voiced her objections in a lengthy essay, which, in turn, unleashed a critical maelstrom.2 Although she had not seen a performance of the work in question, Ms. Croce, nevertheless, used it as a frame of reference with which to castigate what she termed “victim art.” Curiously, Ms. Croce presented herself as the victim, because she considered her professional role as a dance critic to be threatened by an art that used the social oppression or precarious state of health of its creator as a condition of its conception. In effect, Ms. Croce was decrying the use of art to make a particular political statement, denying, of course, that she was doing just that sort of thing in her essay. Using Arlene Croce’s abnegation of her responsibility as a critic as a point of departure, this paper will investigate the problems that critics and criticism face when evaluating the artistic expression of the so-called artist victim. Bill T. Jones has been a leader of modern dance ever since he teamed up with Arnie Zane to form their own company in the late 1970s.3 Until his partner’s death in 1988, the duo explored new dynamics of movement, while they developed pieces which involved sexual and racial politics.4 Still/Here, was a one hour and forty minute performance which combined choreography, vocal music and video imagery, derived in part from workshops Jones conducted with sick and dying people. Jones, who is HIV Positive, conducted these “survival workshops” around the country.5 The participants were videotaped talking about their pain, their anxieties and their hopes in the face of extreme physical and mental difficulties. Tapes of those conversations were played on screens while Jones’s company danced in front of them.6 101

Still/Here was presented in two segments.7 The “Still” section frequently featured elements of stillness, while the “Here” section was more dynamic.8 Arlene Croce’s refusal to critique Bill T. Jones’s choreographic rumination on terminal illness and levels of survival became a metaphorical bludgeon, which she used to make a wider attack on what Croce called “victim dance.” Croce considered the performance of the dance she never saw as a kind of messianic traveling medicine show and she argued that the intentions of the dance were unintelligible as theater. As a critic Croce was entitled to her opinion, of course. What angered so many was the announcement she made early in her essay that this modern dance work, which she had not even seen, was beyond the reach of criticism. In taking this position, Croce skirted one of the key tasks of the critic. She refused to engage the work. Instead she blamed Jones for breaking what she considered to be a fundamental commandment of modern theater and dance: the artist should create an illusion and not just put real life onstage. If the performers were truly real—a real gay man dying of aids, a real woman with breast cancer, a real patient with cystic fibrosis—and the work was about the reality of the performer’s condition, then the performance was not, in effect, a performance. For Croce, Jones crossed the line between theatre and reality by showing these sick people, who had no choice other than to be sick. Croce argued that the performance artist was using his or her condition to manipulate the audience. For her, Jones’s dancers were not interpreting illness because they were people with terminal illnesses. For Croce, the work violated her sense of what theater was supposed to be. She claimed she could not review performers for whom she felt sorry and hopeless. Within the context of the mid 1990s, a decade that began and ended with skirmishes about the nature and function of art in modern American culture, Arlene Croce’s discussion of what she termed “the undiscussable” represented a particularly emblematic moment in the ideological battles of the culture wars. At the time it was performed, Bill T. Jones’s “death house dance,” as one critic described it,10 could be connected to two correlated works, which also forced critics and viewers alike to reevaluate the criteria by which a work of art is judged. About one month before Jones presented his rumination on AIDS, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Ron Athey, an HIV positive performance artist, presented his Four Scenes in a Harsh Life at the alternative space P.S. 122, in New York.11 Athey had made his initial appearance in gay and underground clubs where his performances, full of bloodletting, sadomasochism and body piercing, represented an extreme transformation of aspects of body art.12 The content of his work was developed from material based on his boyhood training as a Pentecostal minister, a 10-year stint as a heroin junkie, his grief and rage about being HIV positive, and sadomasochistic acts.13 It was the production of his autobiographical Four Scenes in a Harsh Life that brought Athey national attention.14 When he presented a variation of it in Minneapolis in March of 1994, a scandal erupted.15 A reflection on suffering, healing and redemption, this 102

unusual coup de theâtre was presented in Minneapolis at a small alternative performance space called Patrick’s Cabaret, as part of the Fifth Annual Minneapolis-St. Paul Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film Festival, sponsored by the Walker Art Center.16 Although Athey had modified the structure of the work to accommodate the limitations of the performing space, its basic components were consistent with what he had presented previously.17 It is comprised of a prologue, followed by the 4 scenes referred to in the title.18 The part of Athey’s performance that caused the furor, is called “The Human Printing Press.”19 It took place at the end of the first scene, when Athey cut abstract patterns into the back of a black drag performer.20 Next, impressions of the bloody designs were made on thick, absorbent paper towels, which completely soaked up the blood. The towels were then hung on clotheslines and reeled out over the audience.21 Despite newspaper descriptions to the contrary, the blood did not drip, although some press coverage made it sound like a terrified audience was being soaked with HIV infected blood.22 Shortly after the production a small number of complaints were registered with the health department of Minneapolis. However, official reassurances that no one was put in any danger quickly quelled what had the makings of a potential political frenzy over the performance, in part because it had received partial funding from the NEA. That changed, however, in June of 1994 when Athey became the new whipping boy in another campaign against the National Endowment for the Arts, mounted by the radical right, Christian Conservatives and sanctimonious congressmen, one of whom called Athey a “porno slime freak.”23 Perhaps $150 of NEA money had gone into Athey’s show but, for that, its budget was cut 2 percent (nearly $8 million) the following year.24 The congressmen and Christian moralists can hardly be thought of as critics in the same way in which Croce can. But, like her, they based their evaluations on a performance they did not see. And like Croce’s response to Bill T. Jones, their reaction to Athey’s work reflects a comparable myopia and refusal to engage with new and difficult art. Like Croce, they had their own agenda through which they wanted to define acceptable art practice. For them, Athey’s art was a form of aesthetic nihilism, an art uprooted from moral and aesthetic standards, which, for these stalwarts of American moral values, meant a respect for beauty and aesthetic excellence, standards with which Croce would have concurred.25 It could be argued that what exorcised many of the conservative congressmen and the critic Arlene Croce so much was the increasing politicization of art, a characteristic of much art made in the 1990s, a time when many artists came to rely on the body, literally or metaphorically, as a weapon for redirecting the viewer’s thoughts towards a preponderance of social ills.26 Croce, in fact, deplored what she considered the politicization of the National Endowment for the Arts and lamented the effects of political correctness on the artists. She emerged as a traditionalist who believed a work of art should be judged by its realization of truth and beauty, not its adaptability to an agenda.27 Certainly Croce felt that her critical prerogatives and power were being hobbled by an art that prompted pity for the artists because of social oppression or the


precarious state of their health.28 While we must admit reviewing politicized art that is grounded in special communities and reflective of specific vested interests can be highly problematic, we need to recognize that injustice and physical pain, social oppression, and sexual repression had by the mid 1990s become acceptable, almost normative topics regularly tackled by artists. The question then, and now, is not how to prevent these areas from being explored artistically but how to construct a mechanism by which the success or lack thereof of that expression can be evaluated. It is easy to confuse the issue and think that Croce is merely objecting to the presentation of material that might be hard for some people to take. However, although she is, to be sure, objecting to difficult content, she also seems to be addressing the question of whether something is art or not, because embedded in her response is a consideration of what constitutes an acceptable work of art. At the same time, Croce’s comments hint at the desire to have some sort of criteria with which such problematic art as that created by Bill T. Jones’s can be evaluated. That observation, however, makes Croce sound more accepting that she really was. What Croce wanted was the ability to exercise that critical aesthetic disinterest that was a sacred principle of High Modernism. For Croce, as for others, disinterestedness means that the artist must transcend the self, which is something Croce believed Jones’s production could not do. Croce’s lamentations, then, can be interpreted as an act of mourning and as a critique for what, by the time Bill T. Jones and Athey presented their work, had become a key element of a post-modernism, which had called into question the very premise of disinterestedness. Hers was that old Greenbergian lament—a call for an art reflective of disinterestedness, which would have allow Croce the critic to have been able to apply her trade disinterestedly.29 Yet, despite her desire for artistic purity and an art devoid of social politics, Croce’s essay itself is hardly pure. Rather, it clearly reflects her own politics.30 She calls for aesthetic transcendence, which is a way for her to live within the purity of the ivory tower she wants to inhabit but which the contagion of reality prevents her from occupying. Her reaction points out how criticism needs to adapt to the continual changes art undergoes. It cannot continue to apply outmoded criteria. Instead of lamenting the loss of disinterestednes or bemoaning the politicization of dance and art, had Ms. Croce really been engaged as a critic, she could have explored how Jones’s use of terminally ill “real” persons affected the viewers’ perception of the piece. Clearly this is not an art that can be dispassionately—disinterestedly—experienced. To be sure Croce did argue that this kind of “victim art” defied criticism but for her that meant it defied traditional critical approaches and Croce was not willing to investigate new avenues of critical evaluation. Like so much of the politicized victim oriented art of the 1980s and 1990s, Jones’s work, along with that of Athey, calls into question the very possibility of disinterested perception. But, Ms. Croce chose not to explore how such works challenged traditional perceptual habits.31


Instead of investigating how Jones’s use of performers suffering from the ravages of disease might have affected a viewer’s perception, Croce maintained that this presentation of reality on the stage, transferring without transforming it, rendered the dance beyond criticism. For her, it represented a larger “pathology in art” that sought to manipulate an audience’s feelings of sympathy or pity.32 Imagine, then how Croce would have responded to another performance artist whose work made even more blatant use of his daily battle with a debilitating illness. At the same time that Athey and Jones were mounting their productions, the Los Angeles based poet and performance artist Bob Flannagan offered his challenge to the idea of critical disinterest when he invited viewers to become literal hospital visitors in his installation Visiting Hours, constructed at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, in New York City, where the artist created a simulation of a hospital suite.33 There, the artist, at the time one of the oldest living survivors of cystic fibrosis, lived as a “performing” patient for the period of the exhibition, thoroughly dissolving the boundaries between art and life.34 Given Croce’s objections to the lack of differentiation between art and life in Bill T. Jones’s production, it is not difficult to guess what her reaction would have been to an installation piece in which the artist played himself sitting in a hospital bed while receiving viewers as if they were visitors in a real hospital.35 When one sat along side the regulation hospital bed in the small, simulated hospital room in the middle of the exhibition space and conversed with the artist, who responded to whatever questions the visitor chose to pose, it was virtually impossible to maintain any sense of the disinterested objectivity Croce so prized. Given that the artist Bob Flanagan was really suffering from cystic fibrosis and, in fact, was undergoing treatment in his hospital room installation, it was extremely difficult to distinguish what was an actual hospital visit from what might otherwise be considered a work of art. Does the real-life pathos of the patient overwhelm any possible aesthetic response by the viewer? To a great extent, this quandary was the basis of Croce’s refusal to engage. Was Croce’s controversial decision to review Bill T. Jones performance of Still/Here by not seeing it an abnegation of critical responsibility? That, of course, is debatable given that any answer will be contingent on what one considers to be the responsibility of the critic. Still, if one incontrovertible component of criticism is to engage with the art to be critiqued, Croce could be said to have done this, but only in her refusal to play the voyeur or to become complicitous in the fascination with disease and pain that was a basis for Jones’s work, just as it was the basis for the work of Flanagan and Athey.36 At the same time, Croce seems to have been afraid of engagement or, at least, of engaging with an art that is a by-product of the marginalized existence of its creator, whether that marginalization be caused by disease, poverty, or normative gender dislocations. Yet, Croce transformed that which made the artist a victim and deflected it to herself so that she as a critic could accuse artists of making her a victim of their engagement.


Croce’s unwillingness to directly encounter the work of Bill T. Jones may, in part, have reflected her reluctance to deal with her own mortality, as much as it was a reflection of her recognition of the difficulty of responding to the work created by diseased artists. Or, perhaps her critical disengagement was really an admission that she could not critique the work because she knew that do so would obligate her to give up her favored position as the objective observer, who is the voice of reason when confronted with form and beauty. But, if this was the case then it would seem that Croce really did forfeit some of her responsibility as a critic, which, it seems to me, includes the ability to grapple with new, even controversial forms of artistic expression. Confronted with an art form that did not coincide with her notion of art, she simply threw up her hands in disgust. Yet, we have to ask, why, if she believes so strongly in a particular definition of art, did she not use her critical platform as a means for questioning the ontological nature of art, using Jones’s haunting production as a basis for her discussion? The works of Jones, Athey and Flannagan are, without question, troubling. They reflect a radical transformation in the nature of art production, from the creation of objects to be appreciated for their formalist elements to an art that reflects a self-revelatory investigation of individual identity. This kind of art requires very different roles of engagement for a viewer than that of the disinterested observer associated with modernist aesthetics. Not only does such art force us to question what is appropriate subject matter for art but it also causes us to reflect on how one is supposed to react to and interpret such modes of expression, particularly when they challenge both social and aesthetic norms. Additionally, as we attempt to come to grips with such work, we cannot help but reflect on the nature and the function of the critic when faced with such difficult, highly charged and problematic forms of expression. Clearly, to respond to these kinds of creative endeavors requires an altogether different, if not entirely new, approach to evaluation. Identifying what that new approach should be is not easy. Nevertheless, given the radical changes art has undergone within the last decade, it behooves us to investigate new possibilities for critical reflection. NOTES
1 2 Arlene Croce,” Discussing the Undiscussable,” The New Yorker, 26 December 1994, pp. 54-60. For some of the responses to Croce’s essay and theoreticized abnegation of her critical responsibility, see Deborah Jewitt. “Critic as Victim.” The Village Voice, 10 January 1995, p. 67. Richard Goldstein, “The Croce Criterion.” The Village Voice, 3 January 1995. Leo, John. “On Society: The backlash against victim art.” U.S. News & World Report, 16 January 1995, p. 22; Laura Shapiro, with Abigail Kuflik, “The Art of Victimization,” Newsweek, 6 February 1995, pp. 63-70; Joyce Carol Oates, “Confronting Head On the Face of the Afflicted,” The New York Times, 19 February 1995, H-1; “Whose the Victim? Dissenting voices answer Arlene Croce’s critique of victim art,” The New Yorker, 30 January 1995, pp. 10-13; Marcia B. Siegel, “Virtual Criticism and the Dance of Death,” The Drama Review, Vol., No. 2 (T 150 (Summer 1996), pp. 60-70. See also “Tempest in a Melting Pot,” Dance Connection website, created 28 September 1995, available at http:



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Esalon/dance/Response.html>, accessed on February 1, 2004. For a consideration of how Croce’s controversial essay was emblematic of a crisis in contemporary criticism, see Maurice Berger, “Introduction: The Crisis of Criticism,” In The Crisis of Criticism, ed. Maurice Berger (New York: The New Press, 1998). pp. 1-14. Lynn Garafola, in an essay published in The Nation (“Black Dance Revelations,” The Nation, 17 April 1995, pp. 536-539), analyzed the essay in terms of Croce’s publication record in “conservative” journals. For a biographic profile of Jones, written at the time of his imbroglio with Croce, refer to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Body Politic,” The New Yorker, 28 November 1994, pp. 112-124. For a consideration of Jones’s collaboration with Zane, refer to Ann Daly, “Body Against Body,” High Performance, No. 51 (Fall 1990), p. 76. See also Elizabeth Zimmer and Susan Quasha, eds., Body Against Body: The Dance and Other Collaborations of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane (Barrytown, New York: Station Hill Press, 1990). Eric Bogosian, “The Pair Who Turned Up the Heat in the Kitchen,” The New York Times, 24 August 2003, p. 25. For an interview with Jones about the survival workshops and transforming the raw material of life into art, see Nicole J. Cunningham and Thomas Piontek,. “Still/Here An Interview with Bill T. Jones,” Discourse, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Spring 1994), pp. 78-85. Laura Shapiro, “The Art of Victimization,” Newsweek, 6 January, 1995, pp. 64-64; Martha Duffy, “Push to Shove,” Time, 6 February 1995, pp. 68-70. The videos for Still/Here were, created by the video artist Gretchen Bender; they were shown on five large screens that move on and off stage, and which created a backdrop for the dancers. Among the visual images displayed were portraits of the survivors, medical treatments, and abstract designs, which amplified the theme of the piece and enriched the music and dance. Anna Kisselgoff, “Anger Meets Elegy in Bill T. Jones’s Lyrical Look at Survivors,” The NewYork Times, 2 December 1994, p. B-1. This article is, essentially, a very positive review of the production. For an opposing point of view, see Laura Jacobs, “Still/Here,” The New Criterion, Vol. 16, No. 6 (February 1995), p. 54. Terry Trucco, “A Bold Work that Honors Survival,” The New York Times, 17 November 1994, p. 30. Still/Here was really a collaborative endeavor, which consisted of contributions from the composers Kenneth Frazel and Vernon Reid, the folk singer Odetta and videographers. See Terry Trucco, “A Bold Work That Honors Survival,” The New York Times, 22 November 1994, p. 30; Laura Shapiro, “The Art of Victimization,” Newsweek, 6 February 1996, pp. 63; Laura Shapiro, “Dancing in Death’s House,” Newsweek, 7 November 1994, p. 66-67; Marcia B. Siegel, “Virtual Criticism and the Dance of Death,” The Drama Review, vol. 40, No. 2 (T150) (Summer 1996), pp. 60 — 70; Deborah Jowitt,, “Critic as Victim,” The Village Voice, 10 January 1995, p. 67; Richard Goldstein, “The Croce Criterion,” The Village Voice, 3 January 1995, p. 8; “Who’s the Victim: Dissenting Voices answer Arlene Croce’s critique of victim art,” The New Yorker, 30 January 1995, pp. 10-12. Laura Shapiro, “Dancing in Death’s House,” Newsweek, 7 November 1994, pp. 66. Jeff Spurrier, “Blood of a Poet,” Details, February 1995, pp. 107-11, and 140. Stephen Holden, “Kinkiness and Piercing, Branding and Flogging,” The New York Times, December 11, 1998, p. B-24. Pat Califia, “In Praise of Assholes,” Out, May 1999, p. 42-45. Amelia Jones, Body Art: Performing the Subject, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), p. 326. Refer to Frank Rich, “The Gay Card,” The New York Times, 26 June 1994; Ben Grantley, “A Touch of Infamy is Enough,” The New York Times, 29 October 1994; C. Carr, “Washing in the Blood: Congress Has a New Scapegoat,” The Village Voice, 5 July 1994, p. 16; William Harris, “Demonized and Struggling With His Demons,” The New York Times, 23 October 23, H-31; William Grimes, “For Endowment, One Performer Means Trouble,” The New York Times, 7 July 1994, p. C-13. See also Hilton Kramer, “The Times’ Curious Omission,” The New York Post, 19 July 1994, p. 17.




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For reviews of the production, generally referring to when it was performed in New York City, see William Harris, “Demonized and Struggling with His Demons,” The New York Times, 23 October 1994,, p. 31; c. Carr, “The Rite Stuff,” On Edge: Ron Athey’s Artful Crown of Thorns,” The Village Voice, 15 December 1998, p. 81; Guy Trebay, “Ron Athey’s Slive of Life,” The Village Voice, 1 November 1994, p. 38; Lisa Kennedy, “Blood Simple,” The Village Voice, 8 November 1994, p. 98; Stephanie Cash, “Review of Exhibitions: Ron Athey,” Art in America, Vol. 83, No. 2 (February 1995), p. 99. For a description of the modifications he made and a response to the controversy the Minneapolis production of Four Scenes from a Harsh Life generated, refer to Ron Athey, “Blood, Boots, White Weddings,” (1995), ed. Judith Lewis, LA Weekly, 8-14 July 1994, pp. 22-27. See also Ron Athey, “Casebook: Four Scenes in a Harsh Life,” Theater Forum 6 (Winter/Spring 1995), pp. 5868. See C. Carr, “Washed in the Blood: Congress Has a New Scapegoat,” The Village Voice, July 5, 1994, p. 16. Athey’s 4 Scenes from a Harsh Life can be contextualized within the context of aids and reflects the ongoing use of this modern scourge by artists whose work reflect the problems of imaging death and salvation that has become response to the AIDS crisis. See, for example, John Edward McGrath, “Trusting in Rubber: Performing Boundaries During the AIDS Epidemic,” The Drama Review, Vol. 39, No. 2 (T146) (Summer 1995), pp. 21-328; David Roman, “Performing All Our Lives: Aids, Performance, Community,” in Critical Theory and Performance, ed. Janelle Reinelt and Joseph Roach (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992), pp. 208-221; and James Dawes, “Narrating Disease,” Social Text, 43 (Fall 1995), pp. 27-44. Jeff Spurrier, “Blood of a Poet,” Details, February 1995, p. 11. C. Carr, “Washed in the Blood: Congress Has a New Scapegoat,” The Village Voice, July 5, 1994, p. 16. Mary Abbe, “Bloody Performance Draws Criticism,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, 24 March 1994, p. 1. For Athey’s description of the scene and the handling of the blood, refer to Ron Athey,. “Blood, Boots, White Weddings,” (1995), Judith Lewis, ed., LA Weekly, 8-14 July 1994, pp. 22-27. See also Robin Cembalest, “Ritual Physical Mortification,” Art News, V. 93 (Summer 1994, p. 96. Pat Califia, “In Praise of Assholes,” Out, May 1999, p. 42. For an account of the controversy and the debated in Congress concerning the refinancing of the NEA, see Walter Robinson, “NEA in Trouble,” Art in America, Vol. 82, No. 9 (September 1994), p. 29; Ann Landi, “The Unkindest Cut,” Art News, Vol. 93, No. 7 (September 1994), p. 46,; and R. Bolton, “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt,” High Performance, Vol. 17 (Fall 94), pp. 12-13. Additionally a series of articles published from March through July by the columnist Jacqueline Trescott shed informed and unbiased light on the hullabaloo caused by Athey’s performance. Refer to Jacqueline Trescott, “ Art on the Cutting Edge: Bloody Performance Renews Funding Debate, The Washington Post, 31 March 1994, p. C-1; Jacqueline Trescott, “Honeymoon’s Over; Legislators Threaten the Arts Agency Again,” The Washington Post, 22 June 1994, p. D-1; Jacqueline Trescott, :NEA’s Survival Assured; House Defeats Measure to Eliminate Agency,” The Washington Post, 23 June 1994, p. C-02; and Jacqueline Trescott, “NEA Budget Sliced Over Bloodletting: Senate Reacts to Performance Artist’s Act,” The Washington Post, 26 July 1994, p. E-1. See also James A. Finefrock, “Save the NEA,” The San Francisco Examiner, 12 July 1994, A-14; and David Donetti, “NEA Bashing; Blood Sport,” The San Francisco Examiner, 10 July 1994, p. C-15. For a Christian Right take on radical artistic practices such as Athey’s refer to Douglas R. Groothuis’s Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Post Modernism (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), pp. 247-248 . Refer to Rosalee Goldberg, Performance: Live Art Since 1960 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998), p. 99. If there had been any question prior to the essay’s publications of Croce’s political leanings, the essay “Discussing the Undiscussable,” confirmed for many her conservative tendencies. One


28 29

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analyst even used the publication of the essay as an excuse to review Croce’s entire record as a critic and to underscore her conservative affiliations; see Lynn Garafola, “Black Dance Revelations,” The Nation, 17 April 1995, pp. 536-539. Deborah Jowitt, “Critic as Victim,” The Village Voice, January 10, 1995, p.67) See Homi K. Bhaba, “Dance This Diss Around,” Artforum, April 1995, pp. 19-20. For a consideration of the connection of Croce’s dance criticism to the modernist theory of art espoused by Clement Greenberg, refer to Alan Murdock, “Criticism’s Deficit: The Misapplication of Modernism and Post-Modernism in Modern Dance,” created 2000, unpublished paper available at: < html>, accessed on February 1, 2004. For supportive responses to Croce’s refusal to criticize, see “Victims & Critics,” in The New Criterion, February 1995, p. 1-3. For an interesting analysis of how the work of performance artists like Ron Athey and Bob Flanagan subverts a “perception theory that is still based on detachment,” and a consideration of the dynamics of pain and the affect of masochistic performance art on perception, refer to Markus Wessendorf, “Bodies in Pain: Towards a Masochistic Perception of Performance–The Work of Ron Athey and Bob Flanagan,” (1995), originally presented at the International Federation of Theater Research conference in Montreal in 1995 and posted by the author at the website , accessed on 30 January 2004. A shortened version of the text has been published in German under the title “Szenen aus einem rauhen Leben: Die masochistische Performance-Aesthetik des Ron Athey,” Theater der Zeit (Berlin), January/February, 1996, pp. 22-25. My thanks to Markus Wessendorf for providing me with this information. Refer to Joyce Carol Oates, “Confronting: Head-on the Face of the Afflicted,” in The Crisis of Criticism, ed. Maurice Berger (New york: The New Press, 1998), p. 31. For reviews and/or descriptions of Flanagan’s Visiting Hours, refer to “The Artist’s Sickbed,” The New Yorker, 26 December 1994 — 2 January 1995, p. 24; C. Carr, “On Edge: The Pain Artist,” The Village Voice, November 18, 1997, p. 27; Guy Trebay, “Taking Pains: Bob Flanagan’s S/M Cures,” The Village Voice, 4 October 1994, pp. 22; Tom Hellstrom, “Bob Flanagan,” Art Papers, Vol. 19, No. 1 (January & February 1995), pp. 59-60; Kathy O’Dell, Contract with the Skin: Masochism and Performance Art and the 1970s (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), p. 77; and Lauri Trippi, “Visiting Hours,” [brochure] New York: The New Museum, September 23 — December 31, 1994, n.p. For a consideration of Flanagan’s condition and life choices, refer to Dennis Cooper, “Flanagan’s Wake, Artforum, Vol. 34, No. 8 (April 1996), p. 75; see also Deborah Drier, “Rack Talk: Deborah Drier Interviews Bob Flanagan and Sherree Rose,” Artforum, 34, No. 8 (April 1996), pp.78-81, 126. Refer also to Bob Flanagan, Bob Flanagan: Super Masochist, ed. Andrea Juno and V. Vale (San Francisco: Re/Search Press, 1993), p. 13. For a consideration of Flanagan’s masochism refer to Amelia Jones, “Dis/Playing the Phallus: Male Artists Perform Their Masculinities,” Art History, Vol. 17, No. 4 (December 1994), pp. 546-84. Tracey Warr, ed., The Artist’s Body (London: Phaidon Press, 2000) p. 109. The creation of Visiting Hours was a collaborative endeavor, which Flanagan undertook with his partner, companion and “mistress,” Sheree Rose. Maria Troy and Tom Owen, “Artists, Disease, and Marginality,” P-Form, No. 36 (Summer 1995), p. 27. Refer to Michael Rush, “Once Underground, Ant Farm Burrows Out,” The New York Times, 25 January 2004, Section 2, p. 25. Kristine Stiles, “Quicksilver and Revelations,” in Performance Artists Talking in the Eighties, Linda M. Montano, ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 476.


THE ROLE OF STORY IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A SENSE OF SELF Kathleen Lentz Egner Transylvania University

We humans approach the mystery of existence by telling stories. We make sense of personal joys and sufferings by placing them in the context of larger and more inclusive stories. Through stories, we continually discover how to redeem our mistakes and to celebrate our unique gifts. We have fashioned common cultural stories that, in turn, have informed our own, unique stories. We knit thousands of stories together to form our individual and communal memories, and out of these narratives, we construct ourselves. This remarkable ability to narrate, as well as to listen to and profit from the stories of others, begins early in childhood and has ramifications for the development of self and moral identity. I will present the theoretical bases for a narrative theory of development and will argue that literature, particularly fantasy literature, has a unique power to inform and transform the development of personal identity in general and moral identity in particular. THEORETICAL BASES A number of philosophers have examined the notion that story, or narrative, is important in human development. For example, aesthetic philosopher, Maxine Greene (1995) argued that people find coherence in the world and move toward empathy through the imagination, which develops, at least in part, by active participation in stories. Similarly, Wiland (2003) and MacIntyre (2003) proposed that stories, including novels and autobiographies, allow readers to experience vicariously many different situations, thereby enabling them to learn about people and to strengthen both their sense of personal identity and their moral imaginations. A number of psychologists have asserted that story is a vital component in the development of self and of self-understanding. However, the self does not develop in isolation, but, rather, it develops within a particular community and culture. Story is instrumental in building relationships, shaping cultures and integrating life events. Furthermore, representations of reality and our autobiographical memories are dynamic precisely because they are socially and culturally constructed rather than static and mimetic (Eakin, 1999). At each stage of life, people use the stories of their culture to compose their own life stories. Furthermore, power and love are the two major themes of stories because they are the major themes of life. STORY AND MORAL DEVELOPMENT IN EDUCATION Moral identity, an important aspect of personal identity, is constructed through language developed in social situations (Tappan, 1999). As people build moral narratives of their lives, they also construct scripts delineating how to interact with others. At this point, ethical questions come into play. What is courage? How does one respond to the suffering of others? What is the relationship between compassion and action? How do we love others and ourselves? How can a person wisely live a good life?


Concerning questions such as these, Greene (2001) stressed that aesthetic narrative helps people use their imaginations to connect to the stories of others, to experience empathy, to formulate new possibilities regarding moral issues, to change how one is present in the world, and to create new patterns. Interestingly, Kristen Monroe's (2003) analysis of the narratives of rescuers of Jews during World War II shows that a person's sense of his or her identity had more power in influencing an individual rescuer's choice to act morally than did rules or ethical prescriptions. Monroe emphasized the complex and intricate nature of the moral life and its relationship to identity. Furthermore, she underlined the importance of the communal influence in identity development. In contemporary society, with its uncertainty, violence, and disconnection from sources of spirituality, it is crucial that we look at what is required to help young people develop strong identities that can predispose them to act ethically in difficult situations. The recent emphasis on character and moral education in schools attests to this need. However, many of the current character education programs, as well as the ideologies behind them, are flawed because they fail to consider the deeper issues of community and story. They often require children to learn about isolated virtues through abstract lessons that have little or nothing to do with their actual lives. They strive to build individualized “character” and emphasize personal liberties with little or no concern for acts of justice and mercy. After examining various approaches to moral education, Bender (2001) concluded that, in a pluralistic culture, children must develop an ability to weigh competing claims in order to fulfill their responsibilities to society in a mature way. Therefore we should begin moral education by teaching children simple virtues such as honesty and kindness–virtues that reflect the ethical convictions of a pluralistic culture. However, rather than attempting to teach these virtues as isolated concepts, teachers should look for people who can serve as moral examples and should bring children into contact with them, either in person or through literature. Likewise, Noddings (1992) claimed that we cannot accomplish moral education with formulaic approaches. Rather, the goal should be to create caring, moral people using moral methods, not didactic, simplified lessons about virtues. In addition, teachers should provide children with experiences that question their habitual ways of seeing and help them to understand that different people may perceive the same phenomenon in different ways. They can do this by offering students different lenses, including the visual arts and literature, through which they can view the world. Finally, teachers can offer students a paradigm where positive, constructive action is a real possibility. Hearing about how others have acted, sometimes against what seemed to be insurmountable odds, may encourage students to see that they also can take a stand on moral issues. Clearly, narrative plays a predominant role in all of these approaches. Furthermore, narrative can contribute to moral education because it enables children and young people to experience situations vicariously and to begin to determine how to live ethically. Again, it is important that we recognize the communal nature of any personal


narrative. Young people must be encouraged to examine their own narratives in the light of those of other people, those from their own culture and those from other cultures. They must learn to question injustices, to search for alternative solutions, and to identify courses of action. Stories, our own, as well as those of others, can help develop an appreciation for the complexities, ironies and ambiguities of life (Coles, 1989). Practically all commercially available character education programs make some use of story. Perhaps the most well known of these is Bennet’s Book of Virtues approach (1993). Bennet has collected many stories that primarily reinforce a sociopolitical and moral status quo and that emphasize personal moral excellence and liberty over equality and justice (Nash, 1997). He has organized the stories by the virtue that each one supposedly “teaches.” He assumes that, since the moral lessons of the stories are clear to adults, children will automatically learn them. However, research has clearly shown that we cannot make this assumption; children very often get completely different messages than adults from a text (Narvaez, 2001). Certainly more is involved in moral education than presenting children with didactic stories and expecting them to automatically internalize the morals. THE ROLE OF MYTHIC UNDERSTANDING IN MORAL DEVELOPMENT Rather than didactic and “canned” approaches to story, I propose that we offer children rich literature that encourages them to think deeply about the nature of life itself and their moral participation in it. To do so, we need to understand the kinds of intellectual tools children have at their disposal at any particular point in their development, tools that determine the way they will approach stories. Kieran Egan's (1997) developmental concepts provide a framework for this task. Egan stated that, for young children between the ages of two and eight, the predominant intellectual tool is that of mythic understanding, which enables them to structure the world in a binary way, focusing on dualisms and oppositions, such as honest/dishonest; good/bad; cruel/kind. The point is not that we should teach children that the world actually is constructed in a binary way, but rather to recognize that they do, in fact, perceive the world this way. Educators can build on these elementary, binary structures to teach moral concepts by helping children to be more conscious of the ways that they use dualisms, to understand and elaborate on them, and ultimately to realize the limitations of a “black and white” approach to life. Fairy tales are particularly well suited to this purpose because they exemplify binary characteristics and can lead to engaging discussions of moral issues. Another characteristic of mythic understanding is that it enables children to appreciate and respond to stories. The rhythm, narrative, and images embedded in good stories help children incorporate knowledge. Therefore, teachers should view the whole curriculum less as a series of concepts and more as a story. In relation to moral education, stories that embody moral concepts in all of their complexity are more likely to be real to children than stories with obvious, simplistic morals or disembodied discussions of moral principles.


Children naturally transform their ordinary worlds into fantasy stories that are often inspired by other stories that they have heard. These fantasy stories can then become the basis for moral discussions. Vivian Paley provided an excellent example of how this process can work in her book, The Girl with the Brown Crayon (1997). Paley’s kindergarten class embarked on a yearlong, child-initiated study of the works of Leo Lionni. The children’s experiences with Lionni's characters, particularly Frederick the mouse, transformed their thinking and led to many discussions of moral topics such as work, fairness, and the importance of community. The children in Paley’s classroom were skilled in their ability to think abstractly, even though some developmentalists tell us that young children can only reason concretely. It is important to realize that not all of children’s thinking develops in the logical, concrete way that Piaget described in his study of the development of numerical and spatial understanding in children. The ability to think abstractly is crucial for the development of language, since language is itself an abstraction. The development of language is, in turn, important for children’s development of mythic understanding. Just because young children are capable of abstract thought, though, does not mean that they are able to articulate abstractions. However, they readily use and understand metaphoric, imaginative, and abstract concepts. One of the reasons that the children were so attracted to Lionni’s stories was that they are structured on such abstract binary concepts as security/danger; wildness/cultivation; life/death; obedience/disobedience, creativity/dullness, as well as on abstract motives, intentions, fears and hopes. The children eagerly delved into Lionni’s abstract and intangible ideas and struggled to apply them to their own lives, making Lionni a living presence in that classroom and enhancing their moral understanding. THE ROLE OF ROMANTIC UNDERSTANDING IN MORAL DEVELOPMENT As children grow and mature in their intellectual ability, another set of tools, which Egan called romantic understanding, develops. Between the ages of 8 and 15, children begin looking at the world more objectively. Learning to write changes the way they think because now they can now shape their own stories as well as responses to the stories of others in a concrete form (Egan, 1997). Romantic understanding involves a preoccupation with otherness, including the extremes of the human condition–that which is different, remote, mysterious, inaccessible, exotic, or even bizarre. Romantic understanding does not displace mythic understanding but superimposes itself upon it, so that elements of mythic understanding remain in much of the thought of older children. Therefore, teachers can now enable children to discover the real limits of the world and of human experience, as far as that is possible. This will help them to establish boundaries that lead to a sense of being secure in the world. They can also observe how people exhibit compassion and moral behavior even in the most extreme situations and can become inspired to make connections to their own experiences. Another characteristic of romantic understanding is that children are attracted to heroes who embody transcendent human qualities. Teachers can capitalize on these interests by introducing children to heroes who are real human beings, with all the complexities of real


people. By examining a hero’s weaknesses as well as strengths, students can see how triumph grows by transcending suffering and weakness (Gibbon, 2002). STORY, MORALITY, AND MYSTERY One way to further children's development as moral beings is to offer literature that helps them confront the mystery of existence and to observe and discuss with them the ways that characters in literature respond to this mystery. A mystery, according to Greene (2001), is different from a problem, which has a solution. A mystery is something one gets caught up in and cannot fathom in its entirety. In the face of mystery, there is always more to discover. One example of an author who poignantly addresses the deep mysteries at the heart of reality is David Almond (1998, 1999). Almond calls his stories realistic, even though he clearly weaves elements of the extraordinary throughout them. For him, the presence of the extraordinary does not automatically mean that a story is fantasy because the real universe simply is, by nature, mysterious. By confronting mystery and integrating it into their lives, Almond’s characters are positive models for young readers. One of his novels, Kit's Wilderness, addresses the power of story to help people make sense of struggles and suffering. In this book, Almond intertwines themes of evil, death, darkness and ice with images of light and joy. Kit’s Grandpa articulated this contrast well: “This is our world…Aye, there's more than enough of darkness in it. But over everything there's all this joy, Kit. There's all this lovely lovely light” (Almond, 1999, p. 19). As the children in the story play the game of Death in an abandoned pit mine, Kit tells Askew, a deeply troubled boy, a story he has written about Lak, an ice age boy. Lak's story is curiously and inextricably bound together with Kit and Askew's stories. In the darkness of the mine, through the hearing of Kit’s story, Askew is empowered to tell his own story about his abusive father. In the process, healing occurs: We stumbled together out of the ancient darkness into the shining valley. The sun glared down on us. The whole world glistened with ice and snow. We held our arms against the light and stared in wonder at each other. We were scorched and blackened from the flames. There was dried blood on our lips, cuts and bruises on our skin. Our eyes began to burn with joy and we laughed, and touched each other and started to walk down together toward Stoneygate (Almond, 1999, p. 3). What wonderful imagery to encase a profoundly human and moral story! As children grapple with these kinds of stories within stories, they can begin to make connections between Kit’s story and their own stories. They will internalize the story so that it becomes part of their own stories, just as the story of Lak became part of Askew's story, leading to an exciting, personal examination of moral issues and behavior. Another of Almond's novels, Skellig, also draws the young reader deep into the mysteries of life, death, and suffering, and eloquently depicts the extraordinary nature of reality. The creature, Skellig, is a strange combination of human being, monster, angel and owl! He is a


remarkable John the Baptist figure who stinks, has wings, and eats bugs. Although he is definitely not human, he experiences human emotions, both joys and sorrows. He portrays the healing power of love as he breathes strength into Michael’s baby sister and enables her to survive a serious heart operation. For Michael and Mina, Skellig is an angel; however, Skellig calls the children angels because they rescued him and gave him back his life. Thus, the reciprocity of the healing process is apparent. As Mina and Michael ponder the mystery of who Skellig is, they realize that “Sometimes we think we should be able to know everything. But we can’t. We have to allow ourselves to see what there is to see, and we have to imagine” (Almond, 1998, p 140). What did they see in and through Skellig? They saw friendship, love, unity, harmony and goodness. In short, they saw Skellig. Again, children can intertwine Skellig’s story with their own by asking questions such as: When have I experienced healing? Have I ever been an agent of healing? How have I loved others, even those that I perceive to be different? Discussions that follow from such questions are profoundly moral and have the potential to lead to moral action. There are many books like Almond and Lionni’s that can accomplish the goal of helping children forge their own stories and moral perspectives out of the stories of others. Realistic fiction, historical fiction, autobiography, biography, science fiction, and particularly fantasy–all good quality literature ends up asking ultimate questions in ways that stimulate children to think and make connections between their stories and those of others. The teacher’s role is not to didactically proclaim the moral of the story. Rather, it is to help children make connections to their own ultimate questions and to encourage thoughtful dialogue and extension of concepts through meaningful activities. CONCLUSION The ability to tell stories makes us human. It also forms the basis for the development of morality. It is our challenge to avoid dry, authoritarian, and lifeless approaches to “character” education. Instead, we should endeavor to present children and young people with stories that will lead them to an examination of their own personal narratives. The stories that we choose should be complex and rich in meaning and build on children’s mythic and romantic tools of understanding. They should also prompt serious and imaginative thinking about real moral issues and actions. Confronting the mystery of all that is and of all the stories that surround us, we will knit together complex narratives that address deep moral questions. We, children and adults alike, will grow in our moral understanding and in our just and fair actions in our communities and in the world. BIBLIOGRAPHY Almond, D. (1999) Kit’s wilderness (New York, Random House). Almond, D. 1998) Skellig (New York, Random House). Bender, K. J. (2001) “Moral Education in the Multi-polis: a Modest Proposal for a Necessary Practice,” Soundings, 84, 79-103.


Bennett, W. J. (1993) The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (New York, Simon and Schuster). Coles, R. (1989) The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination (Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin). Eakin, P. J. (1999) How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves (Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press). Egan, K (1997) The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding (Chicago, University of Chicago Press). Gibbon, P. H. (2002) “Making the case for heroes,” Harvard Education Letter, 18, 8, 6. Greene, M. (2001) Variations on a Blue Guitar: the Lincoln Center Institute Lectures on Aesthetic Education. (New York, Teachers College Press). Greene, M. (1995) Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers). MacIntyre, A. (1984) After Virtue (2nd edn) (Notre Dame, IN, University of Notre Dame Press). Monroe, K. (2003). “How Identity and Perspective Constrain Moral Choice.” International Political Science Review, 24, 405-425. Narvaez, D. “Moral Text Comprehension: Implications for Education and Research,” Journal of Moral Education, 30, 43-54. Noddings, N. (1992) The Challenge to Care in Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education (New York, Teachers College Press). Paley, V. (1997) The Girl with the Brown Crayon: How Children Use Stories to Shape Their Lives (Cambridge, Harvard University Press). Tappan, M. B. (1999) “Authoring a Moral Self: A Dialogical Perspective” Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 12, 117-131. Wiland, E. G. (2003) “Stories, Autobiographies, and Moral Inquiry,” Journal of Social Philosophy 34, 188-198.



Barbara Rose Haum New York University
In this presentation I will discuss a current body of work entitled: Archeology of a Narrative. Archeology of a Narrative is both an organizing concept that emerges in my writing as well as the name of my performance group. As a concept, it examines collective acts of remembering and forgetting. As a group it’s text based performances explore the impermanence of meaning by interrupting established patterns of knowledge. Archeology of a Narrative in sum explores the performativity of text by giving voice to non-sentences, addressing a variety of myths and how human exchanges are constructed in language. The performances explore a wide variety of textual and visual records through which we remember, territorialize the past and become caretakers of the present. By challenging and de-coding the performativity of contemporary and historical representations, Archeology of a Narrative points to the imposition of old and new identities in Western culture. In its attempt to de-stabilize signifiers—by interrupting the sign—the group experiments with socio-symbolic frameworks around issues of difference. This allows for multiple narratives, or several memories, to co-exist pointing inevitably of the inclusion/exclusion of the historical other. By encouraging cross-cultural, diverse and multiply authored narrative paths, new forms of cultural recognition and resistance become visible. All the group’s performances demand strong audience participation, in which the viewer inscribes him/herself into a theater of becoming: a memory in progress. Re-performance and the Discursive Art movements, that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, developed the use of language as an art form. However, it was not until the 60s, due to the increasing focus on conceptualism, that language became viewed as an art object in its own right. Dematerialization as a response to the fetishization of the art-object, and the market that provided for this commodification, emerged in tandem with a general concern about the limits of representation. Starting with early experimentation in performance art, women artists inscribed their untold experiences into the public sphere and its places, rituals and sites of memory. Exploring a re-appropriation of language, became a way of exposing old signifying codes. One’s own life narrative, as well as cultural memories, are bound by language. As we know, language itself is a classification system. Artists have explored what has been silenced through such systems and their mirroring of agencies and the social structures within which they unfold. Language is part of a structure that imposes hierarchical patterns of meaning, an extension of already existing rules and techniques for conserving memories. By challenging and de-coding the performativity of historical and contemporary representations, Performance Artists have pointed to the imposition of old and new identities in Western culture. Through exploring negative language in the de-constructive sense—the space of difference between oppositions—artists have created new forms of counter-memories. Through critique, language can now claim a basis for reconstructing the present. In my discussion I look


at how the critique of text and the creation of counter-narratives are central to preserving and performing new memories. My position is that language exists beyond the discursive. It’s resonance takes place at the site of the visual and its objects. Performance and New Memories “Narrated memory is an interpretation of the past that can never be fully recovered”. We learn techniques for remembering which allow us to perform and reenact our collective pasts. Remembering has its politics—what is remembered and what is forgotten—who is authorized to remember. Our identities are positioned within the borders of culturally marked sameness and differences as well as the in-between grey areas. Identities, in this sense, are in constant flux and at the same time pre-inscribed as cultural subjects. Identities are constructed through the discursive and inevitably linked to the way we learn to remember as well as forget. This fluid cultural production is subject to change pending historical time, location, gender, age and class. Michel Foucault analyzed this performative re-enactment as controlled by “discursive regimes.” bureaucracies, archives, etc.. As a Performance artist I am interested in subverting these myths, utilizing what Michel de Certeau has called “transverse tactics.” By this he means the ability to establish a new place where the plurality of texts can superimpose upon an existing pre-inscribed system of self. This is similarly captured by Helen Cixous in her reference to “the adventure of the plural”. By this Cixous means, the possibility of overcoming limits imposed on real life, on freedom, on individual possibilities through the limitations of various discursive sites. The work of the artist is therefore a work of un-forgetting, of unsilencing an un-deafening of oneself. Performativity and Transversive Acts By violating codes of familiarity—the artist, in the Brechtian sense, has the ability to “deform,” and make strange that which appears to be “natural”. Within this process of deformation— intentions behind myths are exposed — ideologies are made transparent and transverse tactics are explored. These forms of exposure are addressed in the actual performances through the following considerations. 1. Language According to Donna Haraway: “certain dualisms have been persistent in Western traditions; they have all been systemic to the logics and practices of domination of all constituted others.” Archeology of a Narrative, brings seemingly oppositional texts together, threading new possibilities of the plural by giving visibility to the forgotten, connecting thousand year old memories with temporal markings. In this, performance “seizes the tools to mark the world that marked them as others.” These tools are created through speech. Identities are reiterated through discursive cultural norms. According to Judith Butler, performativity “must be understood not as a singular deliberate ‘act,’ but, rather, as the reiteractive and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects that it names.” The myths and intentions supporting this citational act, I argue, are repeated and canonized within collective and cultural memories through objects, images and collective rituals. Archeology of a Narrative aims to recode, re-perform their mythical and therefore limiting systems of signification. Within the archeological site, language becomes an embodied landscape that is uncovered, excavated and re-named. 2. Images and Collective Sites of Memories


Images are discursive archives invested with myth. Central to the interactivity of all performances are the collection, presentation and distribution of images as discursive sites— pending on the location and intention of the performance. The images bridge a remembering process which speak to the collective experience of the audience. Within the actual performances of Archeology of a Narrative, images are distributed or attached and often directly threaded onto audience members. The labels are used as tools to inscribe a personal memory. They are presented very much like a stage-set, bringing the past to the present. 3. Household Items and the Absence of Home In the performances, melancholic meanings of home point to an inevitably lost location. It is an absence expressed through found and re-considered objects, such as old silver spoons and broken white plates. Using women’s household items, for example family silver, and fictitious objects of inheritance, the promise of home is critically addressed through new iterations, a performed actualization. Fiction in this sense becomes a way of creating new meaning. In an essay entitled “The Thing” Heidegger describes how thought has laid claim to things with the result that “the thing as thing remains prescribed, nil, and in that sense annihilated.” The audience here has the opportunity to create a “site’ of his/her own naming and therefore belonging: a home. Again, in the performances, the archeological site takes the form of an open book in which the audience claims “authority” over their unmarked, untold or forgotten experiences. Through creating new memories: a theater of becoming, the audience is given “authority” over their own life-narrative and therefore the authority of re-inscribing memories. This performative practice mirrors Augusto Bal’s “poetics of the oppressed’, where theater becomes a rehearsal for revolution. 4. Ritual In Archeology of a Narrative a performer threads the torn, tossed and crumbled pages of a book together, at times actually sewing the audience together. These performatives are overlapped by voices that are constantly reading and re-telling myths. A plate is broken as the language that is iterated emerges in broken fragments. The broken pieces are named. It is this broken “thing”, emptied of its former meaning that provides a glimpse at a possible new world—beyond the domination of imposed narratives. Archeology of a Narrative therefore attempts to create movable sites for uncovering myths, and thereby claiming a place for new inscriptions of self.



Our interdisciplinary project, which connected the work of students in Maureen Dunphy’s upper level fiction-writing workshop with that of Andrea Eis’s beginning level video art class, developed student awareness of the creative possibilities of linking the short story and shortform video art. The project allowed students to explore the transformations and distillations that can occur when narrative moves from verbal to visual. On our third class meeting last September, students in Dunphy’s fiction workshop considered the question: “What is story?” Students brainstormed a list of attributes that literary short stories have. Dunphy then highlighted two statements that would help them succeed at their first short story assignment: • • A story presents conflict, a crisis or climax, and a resolution. A story has a setting, a plot, and at least one character. In other words: somewhere something happens to someone.

On three slips of paper, each writer briefly described three specific settings; on three more slips, a character; and on the final three, a plot complication–something that might happen in a story to move the conflict closer to crisis. The slips were placed, by category, into three separate brown paper lunch bags. The writers were then instructed to “bag an image” on their class break, to look around for something that struck one of their senses to be included in their story. Upon their return, each writer drew three slips out from each of the three bags, trading in their slips for others only if they had drawn one or more of their own inventions. Finally from the nine slips they’d drawn, they chose one setting, one character, and one plot complication to use in writing a short story. After transferring their choices to a “Grab-Bag Fiction” worksheet, they were prompted to also write down three things that they thought they “already knew about their story” and three things they “wondered about their story.” Next the students did a 10 minute free-write using the material they’d recorded on the worksheet, writing as fast as they could, without stopping or editing what they wrote. The following week they returned to class with a full first draft of their story and peer work shopped it in groups. They left class that night with feedback on the first draft from three other writers and some solid ideas for revision, and submitted a second draft, incorporating their revisions, the next week.


These second drafts of the “grab-bag” stories from Maureen Dunphy’s class were given to Eis’s video art students. Each student in the video class chose one, began brainstorming a video interpretation, and then met with Eis in an individual storyboarding session. Student frustration was immediate. It was directly related to the problems of translating one medium to another: • The short stories used extensive and often complex dialogue, which was difficult to carry off successfully in video, considering the constraints of the very amateur talents of most of the available actors as well the time limitations inherent in a short-form video. Also, some stories used interior monologue, for which the only direct equivalent is voice-over, a form that often transmits a different message than intended, given its history of use in B-grade detective movies. The short-story writers had been able to employ free rein in creating settings, limited only by imagination, not by practical considerations such as accessibility, lighting, and weather. While the radical shifts in time and space found in some of the stories could be easily incorporated into video through editing strategies, specific actions of the characters were not as effortlessly translatable.

Eis’s advice to students became a litany: “Use your story as a prompt, not a template. Find the emotional core of the story. Use the specific qualities and abilities of video.” Ultimately, the video students ended up re-visioning the fictional journeys in basically three different ways: • • Several of the videos used direct narrative, following the original story closely, replicating images and actions and keeping some of the dialogue. Other videos condensed the narrative arc, showing key points, and often incorporating music in place of dialogue. These videos used realistic action, but added meaning through significant composition, lighting, and editing. A few videos minimized story line, creating mood/tone pieces where the narrative almost disappeared.

The student videos that were the least successful were those that followed the first of these paths and created relatively direct narrative renditions of the short story’s dialogue, settings, and action. The self-imposed constraints of replicating another medium so directly appeared to inhibit the students’ own creativity and to reduce their emotional connection with the story, and as a result, the emotional impact on the viewer was lessened.


The most successful videos–two of which were shown at the Conference–were those created by the video students who went in one of the other two directions. In both of these directions, translation was pushed to the extreme of transformation. Some students, like Christopher Wood in his video “Gretchen’s Love,” found narrative and visual synecdoche to be valuable techniques. Wood sliced through the elaborate plot of Nikita Thomas’s short story “Gretchen’s Love,” focusing the narrative arc through condensed dramatic encounters that represent the emotional core of the story. He took a reductive approach to the story’s fully-described settings, carving set locations down to fragments, which still suggested the site-specific qualities of personal or public spaces. Mood and tone were established through lighting and significant composition, privileging expressive visual form over verbal description. Music was chosen to create a specific atmosphere and was used as a complete soundtrack, eliminating any dialogue. Wood used three inter-titles–consisting of a total of only nine words–as directional signs for viewer interpretation of the story’s plot. Wood used visual shorthand to intensify the impact of the conflict developed in the story. He also gave a vulnerable humanity to his character in his moment of crisis, forcing us to imagine his verbal response at the same time as we realize his entrapment in the visual organization of the frame. After a quick flash of violence, the resolution is drained of dramatic posturing, and we are left watching and waiting for the unusually restrained end. In the second type of successful video, narrative structure was entirely replaced by abstracted metaphorical images, which were edited into evocative montages. One of these non-narrative videos used as its source Annette Friedrich’s short story “Dancing Shadows,” which incorporated the grab-bag elements of: • • • the character of a teacher who loves children, but does not want her own, the setting of a deep woods or forest, and the action of a power outage.

The three things Friedrich jotted down on her worksheet that she knew about the story were that it involved “a field trip,” “a young student who gets lost,” and “a power outage that causes the group on the trip to argue.” In Kelly Fitzsimmons’ video version of “Dancing Shadows,” she radically re-visioned the specificity of the story’s setting, character, and action, disintegrating narrative as she deepened the impressions of pain, fear and guilt. Fitzsimmons recognized that the nature center setting in the short story did not convey the level of fear connected to the plot complication of a lost child. Instead, she employed a defaced urban landscape to evoke anxiety, tension, and a sense of abandonment. While she held on to some other elements of the original story, these elements were radically transformed as well. Phrases were culled from longer sentences and combined in new ways, appearing as a prose


poem spread across the screen. Specific actions described in the story became suggestive fragments in the superimposed text. Plot pieces such as the field trip warranted only brief mention, though this was also referenced in oddly disjunctive images in found footage of black-and-white home movies of a family trip. The audio track used “The Wind,” an evocative art-rock ballad by PJ Harvey, to add an eerie ambience. Fitzsimmons also intensified the emotional impact of the work by creating montages from another home movie, brightly colored images of a young girl and her family. She cut the once-precious home movie down to a few repeated gestures, and a final, startled and memorable response to the camera. Despite eliminating a story line–or perhaps as a result of eliminating it–Fitzsimmons’s video becomes a poignant meditation on innocence and loss. Completing this kind of cross-disciplinary project results in a number of valuable experiences for art students and also for the short story writers viewing their stories’ transformations (and they did attend a joint end-of-the-semester screening). They learn that both media have their own particular essences, as well as different strengths and weaknesses. They learn that some elements of form inherent in the success of a short story–such as plot–can be jettisoned in successful works of video art, while others, such as setting, can be usefully altered when the elaborations of descriptive language are transformed into metaphorical visual images. Students become viscerally aware of the divide between the unique characteristics of the written word and the visual image, between the freedom of the imagined world and the imaginative possibilities of using the real world. The video artists learn that the creative prompts of a short story can be a wonderful starting point and a valuable resource. But more importantly, they learn that a successful video artist translates the resonance of the narrative in creating images, instead of attempting to adopt the complete narrative trappings of the short story; it is through a process of “narrative resonance imaging” that the emotional kernel of a work of art is successfully translated from short story to short-form video. If students are able to let go of imitating the form of the short story and instead let the story’s narrative resonate through images, they are more likely to create rich, layered, and complex works that successfully engage their audience and that continue to “dance in the shadows” of the viewer’s memory.



The real war will not get into the books. -Walt Whitman, Specimen Days Anyone craving knowledge counts on history to be factual. History however, has been recorded history by opinionated individuals. Whether the documenter is a writer, artist, or photographer, history is captured from that one person’s perspective. The view of history that this paper examines is Alexander Gardner’s photography of the Civil War. He captures horrific scenes in his relentless photographic portrayal of death. These pictures, which imprint themselves so vividly on our memories, are not simple depictions of the war. Instead, they are Gardner’s interpretations of history. Gardner created a collection of images in 1865-66, entitling it Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War.1 In the book, captions are included next to the photographs to enhance the power of the images. One photograph in particular, The Home of the Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg, PA, shows Gardner’s loyalty to the North through both the image and the words (fig. 1).2 Through an analysis of the manipulated photograph of the Rebel Sharpshooter, this paper argues that Gardner’s bias in favor of the North, relentless portrayal of war, and his use of primitive equipment constitute an interpretation of the Civil War, not a mirror of the scene. The photograph, taken in 1863, shows a collapsed soldier leaned up against a stonewall in the rifle pit. A small cartridge box is beside his left hand. The abundant rocks dominate most of the photograph, metaphorically suggesting the barrier between the North and the South. One wonders how a bullet could penetrate the sturdy rock wall. The solider, however, lies dead in a peaceful position, not in a crumpled awkward pile. Dried blood can be seen on his chin as his face looks toward the camera. The gun points upward towards the sky, making a visual V with the dead solider. The image is powerful, even standing alone without the accompanying text. Gardner’s photograph shows the causalities of war, the inglorious side that the public rarely sees.3 Gardner uses the text that follows the photograph to evoke meaning from his images. The artist, in passing over the scene of the previous day’s engagements, found in a lonely place the covert of a rebel sharpshooter, and photographed the scene presented here. The Confederate soldier had built up between two huge rocks, a stone wall, from the crevices of which he had directed his shots, and, in comparative security, picked off our officers. The sharpshooter had evidently been wounded in the head by a fragment of shell, which had exploded over him, and had lain down upon his blanket to await death. There was no means


of judging how long he had lived after receiving his wound, but the disordered clothing shows that his sufferings must have been intense. Was he delirious with agony, or did death come slowly to his relief, while memories of home grew dearer as the field of carnage faded before him? What visions, of loved ones far away may he not have heard, like whispers beneath the roar of battle, as his eyes grew heavy in their long, last sleep! On the Nineteenth of November, the artist attended the consecration of the Gettysburg Cemetery, and again visited the “Sharpshooter’s Home.” The musket, rusted by many storms, still leaned against the rock, and the skeleton of the soldier lay undisturbed within the moldering uniform, as did the cold form of the dead four months before. None had found him. “Missing,” was all that could have been known of him at home, and some mother may yet be patiently watching for the return of her boy, whose bones lie bleaching, unrecognized and alone, between the rocks at Gettysburg.4 Words allow Gardner to command our interest and to gain our confidence by encouraging us to view the photograph as truthful. We look at the picture, read the text, and are led to believe that this was what happened. However, we now know that Gardner fabricated the scene. He moved the solder, probably an ordinary infantryman and not a sharpshooter, up a hill 40 yards.5 Gardner added a Springfield musket, not a sharpshooter’s rifle, as a prop.6 He also physically positioned the body to face the camera, so that the viewer is forced to look directly into death’s face.7 Perhaps Gardner invented the story after coming upon a rifleman’s pit and seeing a nearby corpse, thinking the two together would create a powerful visual image. The photograph perhaps would have remained as a strong historical document if another photograph of the same soldier in a different location had not been found. This second photograph shows a closer view of the same man lying on his back, but facing away from the camera.8 “Historical” is defined by the dictionary as “factual,” though Gardner’s pictures do not exactly describe the war in a “factual” way.9 Fabricated photographed scenes are highly discouraged in journalism. Thus, modern historians frown upon such practices. Gardner’s creation, however, does not fail as an historical document as a result of his fingerprints left on the scene. Despite Gardner’s approaches to his photographs, they are “subjective documents” of the Civil War. By being subjective, the photographs show Gardner’s artistic touch while documenting the battles. As the late Professor Taft noted, the photographs of the Sketch Book are among the few sources showing the identification of the artist behind the camera.10 Gardner used his own interpretation in documenting the Southern “rebels.” His approach to history does not discount the facts of the war. Instead, Gardner’s photographs allow the events to be seen through his own eyes. His photographs intensify the viewer’s sense of past battles by focusing upon the posed corpse.


Through his images and text, Gardner constructs a moral scenario.11 The photo and words capture the gruesome reality of war. This particular photograph could show a fallen soldier in any past battle. The power of the image and text does not come from the fact that this was a prefabricated scene. The impact is from the face of the soldier, which is young and ordinary. The subject symbolizes the familiar face that functions to universalize the fallen soldiers. The photo and text combination show a heedless devotion to an unjust cause, as well as premature death and the suffering of the innocent. Despite generalizing the moral effects of the war, Gardner uses text in his Sketch Book to reflect his bias towards the North. He primarily describes the North in a positive light. For example, Gardner elaborates on how “many distinguished [Northern] officers lost their lives,” as he credits the lost blood of his men.12 The connotation of the phrase shows the favoritism for the Union. Mere sentences later, Gardner adds his negative connotation to the Confederacy. Gardner describes a Federal soldier as he “picked off officers without the Confederate riflemen being able to return the fire.”13 This paints the picture that the Confederate bloodshed was worth less than the Union’s causalities. Gardner’s words show that the Civil War history, as with any photographic documentation, is the construction of the photographer’s favoritism.14 It is obvious that Gardner is offering this history to the North.15 Regardless of Gardner’s manipulation of words, his work still portrays his interpretation of war. This depiction of battle could have favored either side, however it is the North that Gardner focuses upon. Despite his bias towards the North in some respects, he shows the common effects of war from both sides. Because he is from the North, Gardner’s bias is apparent. However, the picture would have portrayed the same message against war if Gardner had been from the Southern states. Gardner’s does this by depicting the lacking morality in both the North and the South by showing the unburied dead in his Sketch Book.16 For the public, this illusion is “so nearly like visiting the battlefield…that all the emotions excited us by the actual sight of the stained and sordid scene … came back to us, and we buried them in the recesses of our cabinet.”17 The pictures were brought to kitchen tables in private homes, allowing all to glance at war.18 The gory pictures that Gardner purposely chose to focus upon left the public stunned with the relentless portrayal of death.19 No longer was war was shown as glorious, for Gardner showed death to the public, as they had never seen it before. Gardner’s depiction of the war is different than other photographers, reminding us that war photography contains an interpretation.20 For example, Roger Fenton, a photographer of the Crimean War, left out unpleasant details in his photographs and narrative. He wrote letters to his wife explaining the horrors of war that he was witnessing, yet he kept them from his images.21 His 300 images from the war are often only records of the place. He photographed vast open land, significantly omitting the dead.22 One example is Fenton’s Valley of the Shadow of Death, which shows a bleak hillside strewn with cannonballs (fig. 2). The road seems to be leading off to nowhere, for the land is barren of trees, vegetation, and any glimpse of life. Although no life is shown in the photograph, no death is shown either. The photograph greatly implies the horrific acts of war, but lacking from Fenton’s images are the bodies


Gardner focuses upon. In stark contrast to Fenton’s empty photographs, the Rebel Sharpshooter highlights the corpse facing the camera. Whereas Fenton shows the bleakness of the battlefield, Gardner depicts the favored North in a bloody war. Without a text accompanying the photograph or graphic corpses strewn along fields, Fenton’s photo merely shows horrors of war from both sides of fighting. Though Fenton’s image is still a powerful photograph, Gardner takes it one step further in adding a created scene for the viewer to take and interpret exactly what he wants them to see. There is no censoring or sugar coating of the causalities; he wants the reality of war to be blatantly obvious. In comparison to Fenton, who photographed fields without manipulation, Gardner’s photograph does indeed depict historical truth. Regardless of whether a body was moved, the dead remain dead. The casualties caught by Gardner’s camera are real, despite the soldiers’ loyalty to the North or South. There is no denying the history of the dead, although the scene itself may be an artistic interpretation. While staged pictures are often discredited today, news photography of Gardner’s era was based upon illustration. Because of the camera and equipment used during the Civil War, a camera that used a hundredth of a second to capture an image on film today took 5-10 seconds in the 1860s. The subjects needed to be static in order for them to be recorded in focus. The only way possible to capture the mood of a battle was for photographers to pose their dead or alive models. When looking at Gardner’s Rebel Sharpshooter, other historians see the truth of the war behind the picture. “The photograph is not true, but it tells a story which is accurate,” says Marion Fulton, a scholar from the George Eastman House.23 Undeniably, a soldier died in a gruesome battle. The posed photographs of Gardner’s era prove to be documentation that is valid as possible for the time. The primitive equipment used by Gardner aided in his interpretation of the Civil War by capturing the posed pictures of the battles. Since their equipment was a hindrance, the Civil War photographers did not show actual battle scenes, close up views, or even one soldier helping another.24 Action shots were nearly impossible because of the heavy and bulky equipment. The large cameras with tripods, lack of lens for landscapes, and the hassle of preparing a glass plate negative in a portable dark room were all barriers to spontaneity.25 The creation of a single static photograph had much responsibility, for one image would often portray hours or days of battle. Therefore, Gardner used his posing of dead soldiers and wounded officers to make his statement about the war. In arranging the scene, history was recorded as accurately as possible because the scene could not have been captured when moving.26 Due to the equipment, the Rebel Sharpshooter could only have been captured after the solider had died. The action could never have been shown in clear focus. In photographing the solider, Gardner “posed” the corpse just as he posed living men to create an aesthetically pleasing picture. Another photograph taken by Gardner, entitled President Lincoln on Battlefield of Antietam, October 1862, shows two dozen men posed around and behind Lincoln (fig.


3). The officers and generals are positioned around the president, obviously paying tribute to him. This picture would not have been as powerful if it had shown men in motion with Lincoln in the midst. The slow film would have created a blurry streak for anyone in motion, and would have captured no detail. Gardner’s manipulations of the dead corpse and the posed soldiers are similar in theory. The photographs show Gardner’s artistic touch to get the image he wanted while using the primitive camera in the only way it allowed photos to be shot. With the present day camera allowing more accessibility, photographers can easily capture the interpretation of what their eyes see. Today’s equipment gives them a large advantage when compared to Gardner and other photographers of the Civil War. Robert Capa, for example, used equipment that allowed him to be involved in the action. Capa, in WWII, took the photograph of a soldier crawling through the water on the beaches of Normandy (fig. 4). Capa had modern cameras to focus on an individual soldier and on the action.27 Because Capa could get the action as it happened, there was no need to manipulate the scene or have a long, extravagant narration to accompany it. As opposed to Gardner, Capa is unquestionably a historical documenter. He was a war journalist who captured the scene as is. His equipment allowed him to do so. Gardner, photographing the war a century prior, could only photograph after the action had stopped. There were no telephoto lenses or stop action film available. To make his photos as powerful as possible, Gardner used manipulation to make a powerful photograph. By moving the Rebel Sharpshooter and adding a conjured narration, a very powerful documentary photograph was produced without the use of modern day equipment or being right in the middle of the action.28 Gardner could not capture the battle in mid-shot like Capa could. Instead, Gardner used what was available, his corpse “props” and heavy camera equipment, to document the war in a way that would stand the test of time. Manipulating photographs, however, does pose a threat to journalism. Credibility is the underlying goal of journalists. If the public finds reason to mistrust the documentation, the photographer looses all credibility. Some critics distrust Gardner as an ethical journalist for his manipulation to the scene of the sharpshooter. Frederick Ray, art director for the Civil War Times magazine, described Gardner as “guilty of at least a misdemeanor as a photographic historian.”29 Although Ray also described Gardner’s actions as “nothing serious,” this still shows the ethical nature behind manipulation.30 Other pictorial manipulation of the Civil War documentation has been known to be “neglected or abused.”31 Many pictures drawn for the weekly pictorial press showed exaggerations and errors. The newspapers of the day printed pictures that were believed to be true, though testimonies later claimed them to be fictitious.32 This goes against the credibility of a journalist. However, because Gardner is depicting an interpretation of the war, his manipulations upon the scene are ignored by most people.


*** Congress proposed to purchase Gardner’s Civil War photographs in 1869.33 The petition, written by Mathew Brady, states: “These war views and portraits are illustrative of the most interesting and important periods of our national history and are a reliable authority for art.”34 Interestingly, Brady submitted his petition to the Joint Committee Library which had nearly unlimited funds in the 1860s to purchase art. Labeling work art has a different connotation than describing work as documentation. Art is expected to be pushed or prodded, and twisted or turned. Documentation, however, is expected to be straight, truthful, and real. Therefore, is Gardner’s photograph of the Rebel Sharpshooter considered art as opposed to a historical document? Through the facts behind Gardner’s picture, I would be inclined to say the photo is an artful interpretation of history. The scene of a dead solider on a battlefield was posed by a photographer’s keen eye. The corpse is positioned in a way to make the photograph easily remembered. Perhaps Gardner and Brady saw Gardner’s work as historical interpretation, therefore they did not label their photographs as documentary fact. Gardner’s manipulation of the Rebel Sharpshooter constitutes an interpretation of the Civil War. His Northern bias shows an interpretation of the history Gardner purposefully wanted to depict. This interpretation, in turn, shows that Gardner and other photographers use their medium to make sense of their society. Manipulated or not, Gardner’s photograph shows America’s dark past of the horrors of war. Gardner used his strong talent, artful eye, and primitive equipment to produce a history, which is important to reflect upon and respect. NOTES
1. Gardner’s Sketch Book was created with deliberate content, and organized to create an emotional response. The Sketch Book was comprised of 100 photos that were selected out of 3,000 taken by Gardner and his colleagues: Timothy O’Sullivan, James Gibson, and others. The photos stretch from Virginia, to Maryland, and Pennsylvania. With the central focus of the book being Gettysburg, the text vividly portrays the pictures that speak for the silent dead. Ten sequential photos were from Gettysburg, with the Rebel Sharpshooter amongst them. Two hundred copies of the Sketch Book were published and sold for $150 each. With the high price tag on the book, not many could afford Gardner’s collection of photos in a post-war economy. Given that Gardner had a limited edition and a hefty price, he was probably well aware that his book would not be a commercial success. Instead, his photographs have remained historically alive throughout years of time. The photograph is an albumen silver print, with the dimensions being 6 7/8 x 8 7/8 inches. The American Civil War was the first war to be photographed. The war was commercialized by Mathew Brady who was a photographer with a national reputation. In 1861 when the war began, Brady increased his fame by producing war images that were shown in New York City galleries. One year before the war, Gardner entered into the scene and was hired and worked for Brady. More on their interactions, see Joel Snyder, “Photographers and Photographs of the Civil War,” in The Documentary Photograph as a work of Art, edited by Joel Snyder and Doug Munson (Chicago: The David and Alfred Smart Gallery, 1976), 20. Alexander Gardner, Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War (New York: Dover Publications, 1859), n.p. Brooks Johnson, An Enduring Interest: The Photographs of Alexander Gardner (Norfolk, VA: Chrysler Museum, 1991, 32. Mathew Brady also occasionally manipulated his scenes before photographing them. Civil War researcher, William Frassanito, found two steriocards attributed to

2. 3.

4. 5.



7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15.

16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22 23. 24. 25. 26.

27. 28.

29. 30. 31. 32.

Brady taken in 1861 after the first Battle of Bull Run. One shows a group of men kneeling and firing while the other shows the same soldiers lying around, presumably dead. Frassanito believes these images to be false, for Brady left with the Union Army shortly after the battle. Also, Frassanito notes that one man is dressed in a winter overcoat, which is questionable since Brady claims the photo was taken in July. Frassanito believes Brady instructed the soldiers to pretend they were fighting in one view and dead in the other. This, however, is just one scholar’s interpretation. For more information, see William Frassanito, Grant and Lee: The Virginia Campaigns 1864-65 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1983), 31-33. William Frassanito, Antietam (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978), 186-192. A Springfield musket was also used in Gardner’s photograph of War, Effect of a Shell on a Confederate Soldier, showing a bayonet fitted on the end of the musket. The musket was thought to have been picked up from the Gettysburg battlefield, where many abandoned weapons were lying around. Robert Hirsch, Seizing the Light: A History of Photography (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000), 105. Paul Martin Lester, Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach (Hillsdale: L. Earlbaum, 1999), 2. Webster’s Ninth New World Collegiate Dictionary, s.v. “Historical.” E.F. Bieiler, introduction to Gardner, unp. Johnson, 33. Gardner, unp. (pl. 40). Ibid. Hirsch, 107. Andrew Walker, “American Art and the Civil War,” American Art Review 11 (September-October 1999): 128. Gardner also published a photograph entitled What Do I Want, John Henry? Warrenton, VA, November 1862. Showing his Northern favoritism, Gardner took a picture of the rarely photographed African-American, such as John Henry in this instance. This picture shows Henry as a contraband, a term used to describe slaves who escaped to the North to join the army and lend their hand as guides, cooks, or laborers. Gardner, unp. (pl. 94). Jan Zita Grover, “Philosophical Maneuvers in a Photogenic War,” Afterimage 9 (April 1983): 4. Beaumont Newhall, ed. “Photography: Essays and Images,” in Illustrated Readings in the History of Photography (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1980), 73. Susan D. Moeller, Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat (New York: Basic Books, Inc.,1989), 25. Gardner, however, is similar in style and interpretation when compared to Mathew Brady, Timothy O’Sullivan, and Gibson of the same era. All show the harsh realities of war. John Hannavy, Roger Fenton of Crimble Hall (London: The Gordon Fraser Gallery Ltd., 1975), 60. Ibid., 61. Linda Kulman, “Dodging Bullets- and Editors,” A Special Issue in Photography Grover, 6. Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, Mathew Brady, or James Gibson are just a few of the Civil War photographers who created classic pictures despite their early equipment. Alan Trachtenberg, Reading American photographs: Images as History: Mathew Brady to Walker Evans (New York: Hill and Wang, 1989), 73. A photograph showing movement is Provost Marshal’s Office, Aquia Creek, VA, February 1863, taken by Timothy O’Sullivan. The photo shows a gathering of people, some still and some in motion. The moving people are seen as ghostlike, with a blurry haze around them. Because of the slow shutter speed of the cameras, the subjects must remain still, thus candid photographs are difficult to produce successfully in the 1860s. Gardner, unp. (Plate 46). Moeller, 239. The narration that Gardner conjures is yet another facet of his manipulation. Although there is much detail about the text I left out, focusing on the text alone is another paper in itself that could be developed. For more on the text, see Mark D. Katz, Witness to an Era: The Life and Photography of Alexander Gardner (New York: Viking, 1991), 72. Lester, 19. Ibid. William H. Hoppin, U.S. Army and Navy Journal 1 (1863-64): 350. Ibid. 350




Josephine Cobb, “Alexander Gardner,” Image 8 (September 1959): 124. Mathew Brady employed Gardner as a manager of the National Photographic Art Gallery during the first year of the Civil War. In May of 1863, they split ways. For more information, see Cobb, 127. Cobb, 126. The petition, written by Brady, was entitled Memorial to the Senate and House of Representatives. The petition now resides in the unpublished records of the senate in the National Archives.


Cobb, Josephine. “Alexander Gardner.” Image 8 (September 1959): 124-136. Frassanito, William. Antietam. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978. Gardner, Alexander. Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. New York: Dover Publications, 1859. Grover, Jan Zita. “Philosophical Maneuvers in a Photogenic War.” Afterimage 9 (April 1983): 4-6. Hannavy, John. Roger Fenton of Crimble Hall. London: The Gordon Fraser Gallery Ltd., 1975. Hirsch, Robert. Seizing the Light: A History of Photography. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. Hoppin, William H. U.S. Army and Navy Journal 1 (1863-64): 350. Johnson, Brooks. An Enduring Interest: The Photographs of Alexander Gardner. Norfolk, VA: Chrysler Museum, 1991. Katz, Mark D. Witness to an Era: The Life and Photographs of Alexander Gardner. New York: Viking, 1991. Kulman, Linda. “Dodging Bullets- and Editors.” A Special Issue in Photography Lester, Paul Martin. Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach. Hillsdale: L. Earlbaum, 1999. Moeller, Susan D. Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat. New York: Basic Books, Inc.,1989. Newhall, Beaumont, ed. “Photography: Essays and Images.” In Illustrated Readings in the History of Photography, 73-77 . New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1980. Trachtenberg, Alan. Reading American photographs: Images as History: Mathew Brady to Walker Evans. New York: Hill and Wang, 1989. Snyder, Joel. “Photographers and Photographs of the Civil War.” In The Documentary Photograph as a Work of Art, edited by Joel Snyder and Doug Munson, 17-22. Chicago: The David and Alfred Smart Gallery, 1976. Walker, Andrew. “American Art and the Civil War.” American Art Review 11 (SeptemberOctober 1999): 128.


INVISIBLE THREADS OR LEARNING TO LOOK Elissa Tatigikis Iberti Dowling College

Mine, is a story of the line, and its many forms, and how it can be used to tell a multitude of stories, aiming to promote visual acuity and the discovery of self. My audience, if you’ll imagine, are traditional, college-age, freshman students entering their first semester of a liberal arts college. Unlike other classroom audiences this freshman group is structured in a cohort and is responsible for active learning or participation in a seminar environment; encouraged to listen, look, process and respond through expression, to the ideas or the story presented weekly. Over time, a more critical approach is the goal when students begin to see, think and contextualize. Students must use their imaginations and be open to the process of discovery, which they record via simple drawn notations or mapping. Assignments are open-ended and the drawn responses help facilitate writing about ideas. The formal use of the word drawing is avoided as not to hamper, hinder, nor discourage those students who feel they may lack the skill and courage to make a drawing, thereby limiting their response. One does not have to be a visual artist to succeed using this method of exploration. There is a continuum of drawing or pictorial writing which quickly demystifies the notion that only artists employ the line. This method also allows for a deeper understanding of self and place. One could argue that this understanding is needed to successfully contribute to society and the expanding boundaries of communication that link us all, locally and globally. Our anchor is history and our personal relationship to it. By expanding a visual, linear, vocabulary through mapping (drawing) and narrative framing (drawing and written narrative) a basic foundation of communication is established. Nested in these concepts is also the necessity of having a tactile experience by learning the language of line through simple linear notations. Keyboarding limits our range of motion to our wrists and produces one type of line. By re-claiming mark making an alternative to keyboarding emerges. Tactile experiences also produce discipline, account-ability and confidence enabling alternative and supplemental methods of communication for the presentation of ideas. When we draw if we extend our arms to utilize a full range of motion we may produce a stray line or look in a direction at something we may not have had time to gaze at, because our focus was fixed in front of us. Through the use of drawn notation we can explore an alternative to linear sequencing or traditional note taking and quickly develop a map or plan that is a pre-visualization for a finished product or thought. One other use for these notations is to be able to quickly capture a thought and then add details to the creation or pre-visualizing of an idea as in a working drawing or sketches which also provide alternative methods for ordering information. In another form a drawn narrative can pertain to mind-maps that present an alternative to traditional note taking. Here a leap can bring forth a link to other forms of visual narratives such as we find in silent film and the comic strip idiom along with any historical references and context.


Since these students are enrolled in this class, which is entitled, Learning to Look, as part of their college-wide requirements and are not necessarily committed to pursue a major in art, and who may have had limited exposure to art classes in high school, the more formal structure and promotion of visual literacy accounts for only the portion of the time we talk about the line as one formal element of the language and vocabulary of the visual arts and how this element can be seen in their lives as well as in their core, Art in Western Civilization class. A broader, implied emphasis is on the importance of the liberal arts in education and its liberating effect in preparing students to discover interrelationships as they discover a bit about themselves. Since the focus of study is on suggested methods of teaching students to develop keen senses of observation, they are offered a glimpse at how the artist’s vision has a duplicitous role to provide cues and foster personal journeys. The visual cues that art presents are unique and episodic, reflecting a journey of discovery, accessible by all who are receptive. It is a venue where keen observers have an ability to see connections using a vocabulary that is based on a formal language of elements that replace words. The structural rubric for this class centers on the basic premise that the concept of a line is viewed as a path between points, that also has the ability to change identity and become the thread that can weave together the broad topics that are presented weekly for detailed examination. Through a fantasy that is based on elements of reality and conversely can take the form of invisible threads that encourage connections or links to a conceptual hierarchy of linear forms, symbols or tropes we begin by examining: 1. The composition of the line as a series of dots in space along with using a contour line to define the outer surface of a face focusing on the physical self. Students are asked to examine what they see in the mirror without preconceived notions of what something is supposed to look like. It takes a courageous individual to allow the line to wander, trusting what the hand documents as the students observe themselves in a mirror. The line becomes a circle and is used to illustrate how the individual becomes part of the cycle of life, a larger body or a community; focusing on smaller parts that make up a whole. Via simple linear diagrams students are asked to map their proximity to the center of their hometown or community. Although the more desirable response has the student becoming more aware of their geographical surroundings in the physical world references by some individuals who have a tendency for more asocial behavior make references to on - line communities with more familiarity than their physical world. Other examples of the line transforming into a circle or spiral are reflected in the mathematical sequences of the Archimedian spiral with the distance of the single unit remaining constant and Fibonacci’s sequence also known as the golden spiral in nature. The double helix model highlights dots as individual cells that become strands of coded genetic material. The next segment poses the question of how the visual display of information through language, code or art can contain amazing cultural and systematic relationships. Students are asked to consider various forms of language. In particular they are asked to




review an 2003 New York Times article by John Noble Wilford which presents conflicting scholarly opinions about a possible theory of Inca writing, known as Khipu, knotted devices that took the form of long fringe or a series of strings with knots. The Khipu perhaps represented a seven bit-coded sequence, similar to the computer, which is a binary coded language made up of 1’s and O’s. A diagram of a computer buffer arranged to represent a single character proves helpful when illustrating how information is translated from one code to our familiar alphabetical symbols. Another useful visual display of information is for the student to become familiar with the mind map as a way of organizing and visualizing information. This method offers an alternative to traditional linear note-taking techniques allowing for a more holistic picture of the subject studied, to appear. 4. Through the concept of weaving we can learn about dimensionality. By creating a simple weaving made from any linear material and then introducing an abstract concept, which can be thought of as something you desire, into their sample students can create and perform a simple method of investigation and expression. When cloth becomes drapery we further our study of dimensionality and can include costume and culture. A typical assignment focuses on methods of investigation when two distinct art historical time periods are presented that illustrate varying modes of expression, via the fabric or drapery found on the sculpted human form. Cloth can also be considered as a series of lines woven on an X and Y-axis. Drapery is also discussed as a two-dimensional cloth surface that transforms when draped over a three-dimensional form. Drapery can also be considered as a series of lines structured on an X, Y, and Z-axes. From drapery we can expand our view to include the panorama provided by architecture in its basic form, along with the concept of interior and exterior space. Architecture reflects the culture and time it is created in. Some basic linear architectural elements that are examined are simple tent supports and the post and lintel system. Concepts of interior, exterior and virtual space are also related to the line between inside and outside and being on-line. Boundaries present being on one side of a line or issue or another, or limits that are real or imagined. If we are to examine imagery the work of Jacob Lawrence and the geometric progressions of fractals provide varied examples. The bridge as a linear progression telescopes; continues even further, if we consider the use of the cable bridge to physically traverse a boundary if it is of a physical nature, or allows the cable to become a metaphor for communication if the boundary is based on ideology. A simple story grows complex.







In the end, it is the concept of a line that has structured this journey, for in reality it is difficult to isolate the literal line in nature. In physics the string theory investigates the invisible threads that seemingly interconnect matter, concepts of nature and a push beyond our familiar three dimensions of space and our dimension of time. A line’s direction presents expanding dimensions that if nothing else, we can relate to by expanding our vision and our minds.


PATH TO CONTENT AND IDENTITY Ann Giddings Herron School of Art, IUPUI

As with many other creative endeavors visual art students initially spend most of their time developing their ability and acquiring expertise. They concentrate on technical knowledge and observational skills, and pay little attention to content. At some point, content can become a struggle for talented students as they are asked increasingly to put something of themselves in their artwork. This issue is addressed as a part of our bachelor of fine arts curriculum at Herron School of Art. In the second year of study students present a portfolio of artwork and a written statement for review in order to continue in their chosen degree program. One question they are asked to answer addresses the issue of technique vs. content. Today I will tell you about how I incorporated writing as a means of expressing content into a studio course. To outline briefly: we alternated writing and drawing exercises throughout the semester to help the students identify and refine their own personal views and to incorporate those ideas into their creative work. The semester began with a traditional focus on observational drawing and an assignment to write a short draft of an artists’ statement answering the question “At this point in your art education, are you more concerned with technique or content?” I will read from a response by student Jamie Greskamp. “I’ve always been told to draw using a certain technique. So I would draw using that technique whether I liked it or not. Last semester I had to experiment with different techniques, and try to make my own unique style. However, I felt I was at a loss because everyone around me had a very unique style and I still wasn’t sure what mine was. I was lost in technique land!! So now I am starting to find my own unique style but I’m still a little unsure of myself” Shortly after that, during a critique, the students identified that they had two bodies of work, their schoolwork and their own work. The schoolwork focused on technical skills, attention to composition and traditional subject matter, while their own work that dealt with their personal experiences, the point of view of their generation and did not take technical proficiency into account. They did not see how traditional drawing skills would apply to their ‘real’ work. They also identified that their professors would not like or approve of their ‘real’ work, mainly because of the ideas expressed. To address this situation I decide that the rest of that day, the students would do their ‘own’ work. The class worked furiously, and they expressed regret when the class ended–the time had flown. I decided to change the focus of the course. We would continue to work on the artists’ statement and their studio drawing work as I had planned, but they would concentrate on bringing the two bodies of work, their own work and their school work, together.


Their second writing assignment was to elaborate on the initial classroom discussion in their sketchbook by writing about ‘their own’ work. This is an example of that assignment. “My issue at this point is mainly dealing with truth. The truth can be beautiful or frightening or oppressive but never ignored … it’s not just on a personal level but in the media, marketing, relationships, international relations (including war) are all crucial for our survival.” Ginger Young I asked them to revise their initial stmt draft, referring back to their sketchbook writing if necessary. These are some of the responses; I quote Jamie Greskamp again. Since the last written stmt, I wrote I have changed my focus. I am more concerned with technique instead of content. I don’t feel like I’m lost in technique land! I have learned that the content for me is not as important as technique . . . and that content comes naturally. I was a little confused about what content was but now I know that the content is what I make it to be. “Technical issues and content are of equal concern in my artwork. I feel that if I am drwg something from life I want it to be realistic and natural. On the other hand, when I do things from imagination or ideas, I want content to be the strongest.” Jenn Day Many students were hesitant to express an opinion one-way or the other and addressed the question only in general terms. “I feel I am concerned with both technique and content. For the work to be successful, it has to have interesting content, something to draw the viewer in. That is where technique comes into play…” Eric Phagan “I am more concerned with issues of content; though, one must keep technique in mind…” Lindsey Martin. Taking a stand one way or the other seemed too risky to them, they were anxious to allow for other opinions to the point of not making a decision themselves. I showed examples of how other artists addressed their own particular views in their work, such as Sue Coe’s drawings about the meat industry. Then we looked at Hollis Siglers’ playing card project; this is a deck of playing cards designed by artists in Chicago, all focused on the issue of breast cancer. Then I gave each student a playing card to redesign in the manner of his or her own artwork. We also grappled with the issue of whether drawing skills were important in ones ‘own’ work or not. The semester progressed; they drew with more purpose and rewrote their artists’ statement–being specific this time–about the role of technique vs. content in their work. They used the previous stmt as a draft and edited it to their changing views. I also asked them to begin to identify ideas that were important to them that they could work on for a series of drwgs. “My work is rarely concerned with conventional beauty nor is it focused on the celebration of life. It is more a celebration of the physicality and the impermanence of it; decay


rather than death, the idea of living with disease such as aids rather than dying from it.” Courtney Jacobs “I am more concerned with content and getting at the heart of what it is I want to say. I know I want to incorporate into my work spiritual aspects of my faith and I intend to continue exploring exactly what that means to me and what it will look like in my art. I am not there yet. Expressing this very personal part of me also comes with a risk of putting it our there for the viewer.” (Shannon Simmermon) “With my art, I hope to open eyes and drop jaws. I want people to leave with a new idea in their head. I hope that when people see my art they learn something about the world around themselves. I want to reveal things about individuals and our country and the world, good and bad. I want people to take something conceptual away with them instead of looking at my art and saying, ‘oh that’s a pretty picture’.” (Ben Langebartles) After that, the students worked on their own series of at least seven drawing along with a more formal stmt about their work and ideas. I will read from their last statements and show you some of their work from the final series of drawings. “I have built this house inside myself that holds and infinite number of memories and feelings and opinions, all of which until the last few years, have had nothing to do with The Big Picture. It is so easy to dismiss what is right in front of you if it is not a part of your routine. But if you make life a part of your routine, meaning your attention to life and all its workings, you will find that this house is everyone’s home, a place where all can be welcome.” (Ginger Young) “The content created in my work deals a lot with shock factor. The images deal with controversial subject matter that most people try to avoid’; for the viewer to articulate in their own mind what otherwise would be avoided in everyday life.” (Josh Hall) And this next is a poem written by Cathy Groszek. She was very concerned about the pace of contemporary life and what it was doing to us and our perceptions of reality. The subject of her artwork was a sycamore ball. She documented its disintegration and she used it as a personal metaphor. Sycamore Ball I give life I was created to give birth To a gigantic beauty My insides are soft I am a delicate egg With feathery organs I am stepped over


I lay on the grass carpet With no one to discuss my purpose I hear yearning The cracks in the sidewalk The yellow paint on the curbs The leaves that make rustling screams The winds aching for a kiss back You gave time You stopped for a second Of one day for simplicity Cathy Groszek “In the dawn of the new millennium mankind has achieved a global consciousness. Bringing with it the standardization of pretty much everything. As a result of multinational corporations and “better” technology, citizens can get the exact same housing, processed food and commodities of all kinds anywhere in the world. In middle America, people live for what they think of as progress, residential and commercial development is raging on. Through cold and calculated methods, structures can be erected in a matter of days, and if you watch you can see the cold hardness of the city overtaking the countryside.” (Aaron Thornburg) “I have been known for having a dark content in my artwork relating to flesh, impermanence and reproduction. There is something I have learned about, not only in my artwork but also about being an artist. Nothing should be taken too seriously… anytime I have taken myself too seriously as an artist is has been because something was lacking, direction, inspiration, etc. At the same time, if I take the artwork itself too seriously I am in danger of stifling the natural progression of the piece. I have gone through many emotional stages in my artistic career but I must say this is one I wouldn’t mind keeping a piece of in the year to come.” (Courtney Jacobs) “I have improved creatively. I wasn’t sure about doing my own art before this. However, now I have the confidence to brainstorm my own ideas and be satisfied with my work. I don’t feel like I have to be told what to do with my art. I don’t need the guidance that I needed the past two years. If you were to ask me if skill was in my series, I would say no . . . I wasn’t really concerned about the technical aspect . . . I think the concept showed in this series instead of the technique. I have made the process more intense.” (Jamie Greskamp) “I started to capture what I felt the need to say with my work, expressive lines and soft atmosphere. The materials gave me a certain freedom I felt was missing before, and interesting combination of realism and abstraction at the same time, almost a push and pull between the materials. I could express more of my own feelings within the environment, whether it is loose with some control or unleashed with chaos.” (Eric Phagan)


TEACHING VISUAL NARRATIVE IN TEN (EASY) STEPS Mary Stewart Northern Illinois University

I have been teaching visual narrative to college freshmen and in summer workshops for the past fifteen years. Results have included visual books, installations, videos, computer graphics projects, board games and murals. In this paper I will present a single assignment, then discuss the ten-step process by which students build their understanding of narrative. During this assignment, classtime is largely devoted to a series of one-hour meetings with groups of four or five students. This increases the intensity of the discussion and provides more time for independent work during class meeting times. ASSIGNMENT DESCRIPTION: TRUE LIES: DESIGNING FICTION Problem: Use a minimum of twelve photographs to tell a story Objectives: • • • To research a complex visual idea To express this idea effectively using visual narrative To strengthen time management skills

Materials: Photocopies or computer prints and other materials of your own choice WEEK 1: Using library resources, find twelve or more great photographs. Then, using a copier or Photoshop, enlarge, reduce, superimpose and collage images as necessary to make your first version of the story. DISCUSSION FOCUS: SOURCES • • Conceptual Sources. Anything you have ever seen, read, or felt can provide the beginning point for this project Visual Sources: Anything in the library is fair game. The twelve basic source images must be derived from books or magazines, not from the Internet. This will improve image quality and give you a chance to learn something about the history of photography. Verbal Sources. Do you need background information on your topic? Oral histories and documentary videos can be especially useful.

WEEK 2: Present your images and ideas in a small group meeting. Bring three questions and one great example of a visual narrative to this meeting. Then, continue work, expanding and


refining your idea. DISCUSSION FOCUS: STRUCTURE • • • • Narrative structure. What sequential organization will best convey your idea? Should the story be told from a particular point of view? To what degree need characters be developed? Format. What is the best structure? A codex book? A family album? A file folder? A triptych of three hinged panels? Consider what you want to show, how to show it, and when to show it. Editing. How many images are needed, and how complex need they be? Openings and Closings: where does the story begin and end? Why?

WEEK 3: In the small group meeting, present your final draft as a rough cut--all images and ideas developed and format determined. Final refinements and construction should be the only remaining tasks. DISCUSSION FOCUS: DRAMA • • • • Image manipulation. How can the source images be transformed and integrated into the final piece? To what degree should images be enlarged, blurred, or combined? Repetition. Photocopies are inherently repetitive. Can this be used to increase visual or emotional impact? Pivot points and focal points. If you are working with a single large mural, is there a specific focal point? If you are working with a book or video, is there a pivot point, a moment in which the direction of the story is altered? Beyond clichés. What does the viewer learn? What is the point of your story? Encourage the reader to think or feel; don’t put him/her to sleep with clichés.

WEEK 4: Critique. The results will be quite varied, and everyone will want substantial feedback on his or her project. Use this time to hone your critiquing skills! Consider: • • • • What stories most intrigue you? Why? How compelling are the images presented? Was the re-structure chosen appropriate for the idea or emotion presented? If you were to re-do the project, how would you strengthen the results?

Required Reading: Chapters 5 and 11, Launching the Imagination, by Stewart Recommended Reading: Understanding Comics, by McCloud To address the many questions raised by this assignment, students need to build a variety of skills, the “ten easy steps” that are the subject of this paper. 1. Understanding of elements and principles of design.Students need to understand design


essentials before they begin work on True Lies. Knowledge of line, shape, texture, value, balance, and emphasis are especially important. 2. Understanding ideation. True Lies evolves through a series of drafts. Students must be willing and able to construct and re-construct the project repeatedly. Exploring problem-solving strategies. This project provides an opportunity to introduce two problem-solving processes: convergent thinking, divergent thinking. Convergent thinking tends to be linear: an objective is identified, then actions are taken to insure that the objective is met. Divergent thinking tends to be non-linear and associative. Either can work well for this assignment. Using research. Two forms of research are essential. First, students engage in a visual and verbal scavenger hunt, as they seek to find images and ideas in the library. Indeed, most students spend at least 10 hours in the library, either during class or on their own. Second, I require them to bring in an example of a great visual narrative. It may be a series of Duane Michaels photographs, an illustrated book or a video. We can then discuss narrative structure, based on the students’ own interests. Corralling content. True Lies is very open-ended, and once they get started, students can quickly get overwhelmed by the possibilities. Expressing the essential idea is often the greatest challenge. Understanding narrative forms. What are the advantages of fiction versus non-fiction, poetry or prose, narrative or associative imagery? Understanding of time design. To strengthen communication students work with six essentials of time design: duration, tempo, intensity, scope, setting and sequence. Time Management. This project is very labor-intensive, and good time management is essential. Honing Critical Thinking. The results from this project are extremely varied, and students must refine their critique skills. We consider: what needs to be added, subtracted, repeated, or emphasized? What is the story behind the story? Self-assessment is an essential part of this assignment. As the grand finale, students write a brief paper, commenting on what they learned and how they might teach a similar assignment of their own.









As a distilled list, then, the Ten (Easy) Steps are: understanding of basic elements and principles of design, understanding ideation, exploring problem-solving strategies, use of research, corralling content, understanding narrative forms, consideration of the essentials of time design, use of time management, honing critical thinking, use of self assessment.


CREATING FICTIONAL LIVES Alison Watkins Ringling School of Art and Design

Who are you?” said the caterpillar. Alice replied rather shyly, “I—I hardly know. Sir, just at present–at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then. —Lewis Carroll This exchange between Alice and the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland is not only charmingly reminiscent of how students probably feel as they stretch themselves daily into their everchanging identities, but also of how all of us seem to live much of our lives. We do indeed invent and live our lives through our stories. If truth be told, not a day goes by that we don’t find some way to fictionalize our lives. Some even argue that the act of perception itself is the creation of a fiction. And certainly many of us recognize that we live our lives in universes of our own making. In fact, we have but to observe the chronic spin that we are bombarded with daily from the media to come to the realization that the world is but a field of ever-changing possibilities, in which, as Annie Dillard says in Living By Fiction, “Anything may happen.” To the artist, to the writer, this “anything” is real subject of fiction. (58) And while some stories may be true, others are not. In either case, our storytelling, just as much as our perception, is a way of achieving personal affirmation of our identities and our individual experiences. But beyond the ordinary notion of interpreting the world according to our own thought processes, many of us recognize that we want fiction overlaid on our lives, and we invite fiction into our lives. We not only seek to dramatize our landscapes, our relationships, and our experiences, we often embellish them. We may tell our stories to let the wild side of us out, or conversely, the stories that we tell are full of moments and images from our pasts that consciously or unconsciously still hold sway, and motivate us in ways we hardly understand. In fact, so fundamental is storytelling to us as human beings that we barely are aware of the depth or breadth or speed of the individual stories we hear and/or tell (Carrigan 14-16). So while we bundle images and connect the bundles one to another by means of narrative and metaphor, and while we network our images and cross-reference our experiences, we define ourselves. What has changed drastically in current times, however, is the speed and manner in which we do these things. Recently, the electronic universe, the world of the telephone, the telegraph, the radio, and the television have superseded writing as a means of conveying our stories, at least writing as we used to know it. The computer, of course, has brought its own dimension to the writing process, changing it in ways that match the instantaneous nature of the Internet, and that foster an even greater measure of messages and stories exchanged among us. Our messages, however, will always define who we are as humans, regardless of the medium. And regardless of medium also, the dissemination of message nearly always takes the


same shape, and that shape is as a form of storytelling. At least so it is in art, in advertising, in mythology, in religion, in much of politics, in news and entertainment and in everyday speech. So there can be no doubt that the electronic universe, the computer with its spawn, the Internet, and all of the flashy gadgets that now allow us to track our daily lives and our stories (such as the hand-helds that double as video players and the advanced camera phones, and the video instant messaging, and Web video cams), have all catapulted us into new and imaginative ways of living and of telling our stories. Along with the latest technologies, the modernization of storytelling in our time encourages us to experiment with collaboration, with multi-layered associations, with interactive storytelling, with storytelling through nonlinear means, and with shifting points of view, so that it can be said that fiction is becoming an art without center. All these processes and tools help to shape the way we think, the way we engage the world, and the way we utilize, enjoy and create our universes through our storytelling. But even with our collective stories, with our myths and legends, and also with those day-today worlds that we mutually create and mutually agree exist, we have had to admit a level of complexity, engagement and speed never before been seen, explored or measured in our memory of the world. And even as we sort and order images continuously to make sense of our day-to-day world, we still use sense, our senses, to make meaning of it. To the artist, to the writer, it hardly matters whether the bits of sense gathered are factual or fancy, whether they derive from newspaper accounts or dreams or television, the world becomes a warehouse from which to draw out our stories. In fact, it might be said we arrange our lives in order to tell our stories, for like the Ancient Mariner, we always must tell them. And as both ancient and mariner that I am, what I want to share with you now are a few of the ways that students in a collaborative arts class at Ringling School told their stories last spring, creating for themselves a multi-layered fictional world that they drew from their “real” world, and that became for them a way of enhancing and deepening their sense of personal identity. In this course, students worked together to produce a set of interdisciplinary electronic art projects based on storytelling and image-making. The task allowed them to experiment with combining self-generated text (either in the form of stories or poems) with found, created and collected elements of moving and manipulated images to produce their own fictional works. They made use of a variety of Adobe products, such as After Effects and iMovie to recombine the text, sound, and digital images in fresh ways. We’ll look at few of the story/projects they produced, plus talk about some of the successes and challenges of their collaborations. What struck me immediately about the product of the students’ collaborations was how they used the real world as a jumping off point for the creation of their fictional pieces. In such a collaborative and mixed media environment, it is not surprising that choice and chance both played an equally vital role. Though they began with one or several ideas in mind to work with, their end product was often vastly different than their original intentions. Their work as a whole can be characterized as driven by the effects of the multi-layering of their content. The


effect of the layering was to construct what comes across to the viewer as a non-linear narrative, so that there became several paths to hear and/or read the text through. Plus, in the collaborative environment, the students began to notice how each of the choices they made influenced the way their themes branched off from their original intentions and began to unfold in ways they hadn’t yet imagined. In this context, the students began to realize that the recent advances in technology not only allowed them to sequentially layer moving manipulated images, and to mix and match visual layers of information with layers of sound, text, music, and with performance, but it also created a product no longer dependent on just the two dimensions of the linear page, or the space of the narrative stage. Thus, for them, the storytelling process moved into a multidimensional space with layers of information that began to create different levels of meaning, and to become blended together into a collective identity, one which was at once decentered, and at the same time forged into a single path, one story, unique in its own telling. I will share with you two of the students’ pieces though this choice is difficult, because I found many of the pieces worthy of show. The students’ use of narrative collage in this context feels particularly adapted to their treatments of time and space. Here there are narrative leaps and fast cuttings to which their MTV minds have become so accustomed, unusual juxtapositions and interpenetrations such that I am reminded of something I once read, “No degree of rapid splicing could startle an audience raised on thirty-second television commercials.” In the first piece, a fine arts senior and an illustration junior joined together to create a piece called “Manifesto.” Like the modernists before them who thrived on asserting their artistic identities through defiant proclamations, these two students were intent on discarding all previous known modes of existence to them, and being slightly outrageous in the manner of their presentation. One of the things interesting for me about this piece is that the students manage to create their “fictional self” through a series of exclusions, naming the things they are not/listing the ideas they have given over to the rubbish bin. Plus the fact that the predominant voice in this piece is silent, that is, only to be read internally, intensifies the passion with which they stake out their claim to an identity. And what I particularly admire about the piece is that in the end, after discarding the romantic, the realist, and the cynic living in them, they come finally to the recognition of language as the source of their being. The second piece is called Number One Fish Bazaar. Two junior Graphic and Interactive Communication students, who couldn’t have been more different from one another, created it. One of the students, the female, is from India, and is what I would characterize as an obsessively serious and detail-oriented excellent student; the other, the male, from the heartland of America, and seemed to spend much of his time in a daydreaming mode, and rarely was I able to conduct a reasoned conversation with him. We had serious exchanges over whether it was necessary to insist on making rational sense when telling a story. The product of their collaboration, in spite of my anxiety, turned out both extraordinary and wonderfully unique to their particular sensibilities. The dominant story (there are actually two tales being told) is one of a young Indian girl being taken to the market, to the No. 1 Fish Bazaar, by her


mother when she was maybe two or three years old. The piece is read as an interpretation of her impressions, the sights and sounds and experiences she had at the fish market, and this is overlaid with a poem, in which the closest proximity to rationale content is the notion of zoning in and out of mental spaces. The visuals for the piece, created with After Effects, reflect an exquisitely British Victorian style setting that adds to the allure and authenticity of the multi-layered experience of a child in a whirlwind of sensual detail. SUCCESSES The collages generally work pretty well. They are visually, and aurally engaging. The already have had a public showing in a gallery and on public TV That the serendipitous is beautiful, both full and empty That Pound was right, you may lay images next to one another, and you don’t necessarily need connectives That there is strength in collaboration DIFFICULTIES Letting go of ownership Time coordination Amount of time required Some wanted the work to be done for them Some wanted control of the whole process, but were unable to commit the time That random is okay if you have enough cross associations to make memory possible, to make order. If not, what you have is just bits and pieces. What the students and I all came to understand with some more clarity in the making of these projects is the recognition that telling a story today, or creating a work of art in the future, creating a fictional life, will depend more and more on the ability of the storyteller to surf, sample and manipulate the bits of raw data at his or her disposal, then conceive and create structures that allow participation in a collective storytelling network. And that writing our stories will always be a way to savor and share our lives, to create our identities. To maybe even make them taller. Inventively so. (Carrigan 14-16) BIBLIOGRAPHY Carrigan, Lara Webb, “Writing Our Stories,” Agnes Scott The Magazine, Spring 2004 (14 — 16) Dillard, Annie. .Living By Fiction, Harper & Row, NY, 1982.



I teach first year art students at Herron School of Art, IUPUI (Indianapolis). Our school is unique in that we have a private art school history and approach to teaching art, but are part of a state university. As a result, we get students from every background you can imagine, from the very well prepared, coming from excellent high school art programs, to others who come from schools with poor art departments. Many were the top art students in their schools. I expect my students to act like adults, but I often have to remind myself that they are only 2 1/2 months out of high school. While many of them come to me full of romantic notions of what art school is about, they also arrive with certain attitudes, influences, and characteristics that affect how they view art, artists, and making art. Youth is one factor, but others include regionalism and lack of exposure to art and artists. Among these attitudes, you would find: 1. 2. They believe art is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. They believe every opinion has merit. Peer opinion is nearly as important as it was in high school. They are strongly influenced by the media, popular culture, and peer values, even though the peer values may be counter-cultural rather than mainstream. Their aesthetic tastes may still reflect an adolescent fascination with cartoons and fantasy art rather than more sophisticated or esoteric imagery and ideas.



Many have not been sufficiently exposed to contemporary art or have seen well-known works in person. Too many may not have traveled and have a limited view of the world. Their exposure to art comes primarily from secondary sources such as magazines, slides, books, and the internet. The artists commonly admired by this age group strongly reflect their attitudes and interests. Ask a given set of first year students to list their favorite artists and you will find a “Who’s Who” list of Surrealists led by Dali and Magritte, followed by Escher and a succession of fantasy and comic book artists. If you push them to explain their choices past the “He’s cool,” “He’s bad,” etc. comments, you will find that they appreciate the artists’ technical expertise, but it is also likely to be about subversion of reality dovetailing with this age group’s interest in


dreams, myths, legends, mysticism, occult, horoscopes, or other subconscious or paranormal areas of interest. Their tastes in art are strongly influenced by the characteristics of narrative and its role in popular culture. They are fascinated by comics and fantasy art, but are particularly influenced by Japanese imports, Japanimation (anime) and Manga. They play video or computer games such as Sims, Dungeons and Dragons, or Tomb Raider for hours on end. They are seduced by computer-generated special effects in fantasy and sci-fi movies such as The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix. If you go to your local bookstore, you will find a constant stream of teenagers passing through the Manga section of the graphic novels aisle. Far be it for me to complain, because many artists, including myself, got interested in art by reading comics. The more artistically inclined start drawing manga characters and make their own manga novels. Not surprisingly, our Saturday School high school outreach program courses in comic illustration are more popular than courses in life drawing and general illustration. When we show the first year students modern or contemporary works of art, their developmental level, experiences, and attitudes, including their preference for narrative, dictate their responses to it. For example, they are much more responsive to art that has a narrative component or link to popular culture than more esoteric, theoretical art. Pop Art, Neo Expressionism, or PostModernism captures their imagination much more than Minimalism, Conceptual Art, or Process Art. The personal stories of a rock star bigger than life personality like Andy Warhol dazzles many of them. Although I don’t believe most of them like abstraction, I do think they admire the rebellious, sort of James Dean bravado of the Abstract Expressionists—especially Jackson Pollock. On the other hand, they really have problems with the so-called “box” artists: Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Sol LeWit and all the other Minimalist, Process, or Conceptual artists who used variations on the box form to demonstrate art theories. It takes a pretty sophisticated 18-year-

old to look at a box and see art. And many of them don’t. Whatever the reason, it can be too alien, too esoteric, too dull to fire up their imaginations until they have been exposed to a broader range of approaches to art.
Which leads to the question of their conceptual development: First year students often arrive highly prepared technically, but are intellectually and conceptually naïve. According to the academic standards for visual arts in high school set forth by the National Art Education Association, interpretation is a minor advanced skill, which means that most high school art departments devote little time is to it.


As a result, when confronted with a work, whether a painting in the museum or a fellow student’s work, most tend to interpret it in a manner limited by their interests, experiences, and developmental level. Their interest in narrative is reflected in the way they interpret art. Show them Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl in Her Hair, and they’re now influenced by the recent movie. Interestingly, few of them cared for it because the storyline was thin, but nevertheless, it affects how they look at the painting. To interpret is to find meaning within a work of art. Terry Barrett, in Interpreting Art, analyzes the process and makes a number of relevant points, among them particularly is that to do it well, something should be known about the artist, the artist’s intent, and the context in which the work is created. Although a work may have as many interpretations as it has viewers, it has a range, dictated by the particulars of the artwork. Although a work may have meaning outside the intentions of the artist, it may not mean just anything a person decides to ascribe to it. In other words, we all respond to a work of art in our own way, bringing to it our own attitudes, context, and prejudices, but to find the true meaning of a work, we must bring a much broader view to the table. Imagine the range of interpretations students might give Vermeer’s Maid Holding Out a Letter. So, why does it even matter how a young artist interprets a piece of art? Students who think art means anything they think it should mean without considering the historical context and intent of the artist are the same students who have a superficial understanding of the process of making art, which directly affects creativity. Beginning art students who can copy a specific style very proficiently, or are highly skilled in the formal aspects of making art, but have little exposure to the real thing or the reasons for making it, are in danger of suffering from an uneven development that can impact their learning process. Their ability, in some cases, can actually stand in the way of their trying new things and being open minded to new ideas. Fear of looking bad or moving away from something that has been a source of positive reinforcement—fear of flying, if you will—can impede their development as artists. They can get so wrapped up in what I call “their own greatness” that they can’t see other possibilities. Rewards influence behavior. Take the example of a student who has won a contest run by a Yu-gi-oh magazine. There are many more rewards for students who participate in this sort of genre than there are for students who follow more classical paths in art. This is an off-beat analogy, but it reminds me of a scene in Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter gives Clarise Starling this clue toward finding a serial killer: “They covet what they know.” If low art is all they know, how can they aspire to create greater works? Interpretation without understanding the underlying concepts and context can lead to hollow mimicry and a superficial formal understanding of an artist’s work, and in the worst cases, a


dysfunctional physical misinterpretation of the work. None of this will cause the ceiling to come crashing down on us. It could even be argued that it’s not much of a concern anyway since many art schools focus on formal issues for the first year or two, but I contend that learning to interpret the work of others is critical to finding one’s own voice as an artist, and the earlier one begins to learn this skill the better. So, how can students broaden their vision and move from a fascination with Manga to a fascination with Vermeer or even LeWit? To begin, there are a couple of things our K — 12 schools can do to prepare young artists for art school as well as create a more educated public. They can integrate art historical references into literature, history, social studies, and science from kindergarten through college. For art to be an integral part of the everyday lives of an educated public and the lives of our young future artists, they should be familiar with art history and have some idea of contemporary thought in art long before they get to art school. For example, DaVinci’s model for a paddleboat could be the focus for lessons in science and the history of transportation as well as art. Sol LeWit’s conceptual work could provide a forum for applying geometric concepts. There are endless possibilities. Students should also be exposed to art theory more consistently in high school art programs. One question might be whether many high school art teachers have an interest in, an appreciation of, or are prepared for teaching art theory or more conceptual forms of art. Art school art education programs should be committed to producing artist-teachers who have a more global understanding of art beyond technical expertise. Of course, once the students arrive at an art school, there is plenty we can do as faculty. We can expose them to esoteric ideas earlier by regularly integrating the work of artists relevant to our syllabi into our courses. We can use images as examples, of course, but we can also give assignments based on the concepts various artists have wrapped their careers around. I teach drawing and other 2-D courses. I like to use Richard Diebenkorn’s work as a basis for assignments because it introduces them to the idea of abstraction while still working from observation. Thiebaud, Dine, and many others are great examples for introducing content while dealing with formal issues. As we encourage students to broaden their horizons, how can we strike a balance between creative interpretation and staying true to an artist’s intentions? We can let the students be themselves. Narrative can play an important role in their appreciation and understanding of art and can lead to a more global vision. Letting them appreciate the work of respected artists they naturally gravitate toward is a good step in


building bridges toward creating more challenging theoretical work. The key is to allow them to bring their own experiences to the work. Encourage them to keep looking, to keep talking, and to keep writing, but insist that they work in an informed manner. We can devise ways to expose the students to as much “real” art and artists as possible. It’s not a problem in New York, but access to great art is limited in many areas of the country. Students must visit the great museums and galleries. Visiting artists can also play an important role. For example, Sue Coe came to Herron as a visiting artist recently. Most of the freshmen were unaware of her work, but it interested them because it has a strong narrative element. She showered them with anecdotes—some amusing, some distressing—and showed them work ranging from her Star Trek and X-Files illustrations to her more politically charged animal rights images. Those who weren’t put off by her anti-Bush rhetoric learned strong lessons about developing their voices as artists. We must also require that they have a good grounding in art history so that they can understand the forces and personalities that influence art and how these forces can affect them and their own development as an artist. Sue Coe made many references to Kollowitz as an influence. That was important for the students to hear.

We can encourage them to develop a broad base of knowledge. It’s hard to make art if you don’t have anything to say. The idea of creativity is not limited to creating something out of nothing, but to change context of something that already exists so that it is seen in a new way. We must require that they read and write about art, which is the heart of interpretation. I wanted to end with this image by Gerhardt Richter. This is a book jacket that someone taped to the wall of our slide library. It’s one of my favorite Richter’s, so I looked at it often while I pulled slides for this lecture. It suddenly occurred to me that it symbolizes the stance that I believe students should take as they study art: faced forward as they develop as artists, but glancing back at art history.



I am a biologist and a quilter, and I am passionate about both endeavors, though I must admit that I make my living as a biologist, and spend my money as a quilter. While they seem very different enterprises, they actually have a number of things in common. In this paper, I will discuss the work of several quilt artists and the relationship of their artworks to biological and ecological themes. I will also examine how art, craft, biology, environmentalism, and feminist issues can all be viewed through the quilting lens. Elsewhere I have described a metaphor I’ve developed comparing biological inquiry to quilting (Flannery, 2001a). Both activities involve putting things–ideas and data or fabric and thread– together to form an ordered pattern. They are both communal activities and they both entail trial and error, experimentation, and correcting mistakes. I like this comparison because I see it as a feminist metaphor, while most metaphors used to describe science are much more masculine in connotation, for example, science as conquest or discovery. In addition, I’ve written on how quilters seem drawn to the use of organisms as inspiration for their quilts (Flannery, 2001b). Patricia Cox Crews (2001) describes the use of botanical images in 19th-century American quilts. The representations found in these textiles vary from the simple and stylized to precise copies complete with proper flower color and detailed structure. Animals also abound on quilts, again from simple silhouettes to carefully embellished beasts that can be identified as to species. There are even quilt artists today who take the cellular level for their inspiration, and create impressive works that may not always be biologically exact but accurately give a sense of the texture of the subcellular world, something that is difficult to get across in two dimensional renditions on paper because they are so flat. As with most subjects, I find that the more I explore examples of how quilters draw on the living world in their work, the greater variety and richness I discover. In fact, I’ve found so much material that I can’t go into it all here, therefore I’ve decided to limit myself to discussing quilts, mostly relatively recent works, that reveal the environmental concerns of many quilters. Quilting has obviously had a long history in the United States. In the 19th century, quilting was a major source of home textiles and also a major outlet for women’s creativity. But interest in the needle arts, including quilting, waned in the 1940s with women so involved in war work that they had little time for sewing. After the war, many women remained in the workforce and many more entered it in the 1960s and 1070s. Sewing was something for which there was little time. However a resurgence of interest in quilting began in the 1970s and coincided both with a burgeoning concern about environmental issues and with an increased consciousness of feminist issues. While I am not arguing that there was a single cause for all these phenomena, I do contend that they are not totally unrelated.


Interest in quilting revived in part because of the excitement created by a major art exhibit of traditional quilts held at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art in 1971 (Holstein, 1991). The quilts were presented as a kind of abstract art and startled the art community. This was also the time that the women’s movement was gaining momentum, and while some women saw needlework as representative of the quintessential type of women’s work that women should now be moving beyond, others saw it as a valid expression of women’s creativity. Finally, the 1970s included the years of planning for the nation’s bicentennial. This brought a renewed interest in documenting American history, and coupled with the women’s movement, this led to the creation of a number of state-wide quilt documentation projects, some continuing into the 1980s and even 1990s. These projects often resulted in exhibits and books, all of which brought increased awareness of the quilting arts. Interest in quilting, in part, grew out of a desire to preserve the past, as environmentalism grew out of a desire to at least preserve present natural environments, and in some cases to reconstruct those of the past. And since the politics of many in the women’s movement and many in the environmental movement were liberal, to say the least, it is not surprising that there were links between the two. There were also links to quilting, the third leg of this triangle of movements that burgeoned in the 1970s. Quilting was a low-tech activity that did not require large-scale technology, you could even do it all by hand and not use a sewing machine, that left you then just needing needles and a scissors. Quilting definitely tied in well with the back-to-nature movement, because it usually called for cloth and batting made of cotton, an all-natural fiber. And though it was a form of needlework, quilting led to the production of very useful items, particularly for those who were heating their homes with wood-burning stoves. It’s not a coincidence that many of the stars of the quilting world today came to maturity in the 1960s and 1970s and were at some point in their careers wedded to alternative lifestyles. Many quilters used the patterns of the past, while others developed the art quilt, which can be defined as a quilt designed to hang on a wall rather than be laid on a bed. The art quilt is to be appreciated more for its aesthetic qualities than for its warmth. It is essentially a new phenomenon that originated in the 1970s and became a significant movement in the 1980s and 1990s. But in another sense, the art quilt had been around a lot longer than that. As I have mentioned, the quilts in the 1971 Whitney show were all antique, or semi-antique quilts, yet they were displayed as works of art–they were all hung on walls. So the same object could be considered as a work of art and as a domestic item as well. But today many quilt artworks would not be at home on a bed. Many are much larger or smaller than bed-sized, and many are so constructed that the thought of washing them is unheard of. I want to focus on a number of art quilts that have biological themes. Many of the quilts I will mention were created quite recently and were made specifically as art quilts, but some of the older examples I will use definitely are in both the domestic and artistic camps. I will begin with a quilt by Jane Sassaman, one of the most noted quilt artists active today. Willow is spectacular, and a reproduction does not do it justice. Most of her work has a botanical theme,


but her flowers are hardly realistic. She exaggerates elements of flowers and plants and creates many images that are reminiscent of something that you’d see in Little Shop of Horrors. These plants are often menacing, with exaggerated thorns and flowers that seem ready to devour innocent babies. In 2001, Jane Sassaman received the Green Quilts Award, given by the Green Quilts Project. This environmental effort had been started in 1989 by Susan Shie and James Acord, husbandand-wife quilt artists. The project keeps a registry of quilts that the organizers see as having an environmental message, and there are exhibits of these quilts from time to time. Shie and Acord definitely fit into the category of aging hippies, and their project is a small effort, but one they continue to work on. Quilts have also been used in a number of other environmental projects, sometimes with political significance. Making political statements is hardly a new role for quilts. They were used in the 19th century to further the temperance movement and women’s suffrage as well. This makes very good sense. Quilts were something women could make on their own and which had real value. They could be raffled to raise money for these movements and they were also visual symbols of these causes. Two traditional patterns were taken over by the temperance movement, renamed, and used as emblems of the movement. One was a block–you always talk about quilts in terms of pattern blocks–made up of a quarter circle done in one color in one corner of the block and the rest of the block done in a second color. These blocks were often made in just two colors, let’s say white and red; for some blocks the quarter circle was in red and in others it was in white. The blocks can be arranged to make a striking pattern that looks like a series of crooked paths across the quilt, and hence it got the name “drunkard’s path,” though earlier the same block had been called “rob Peter to pay Paul.” The other pattern, again often in just two colors, has what looks like a large T made out of squares and triangles, and this, of course, stood for temperance. There is no quilting movement quite as organized associated with the environmental movement of the late 20th century, but some striking quilts have been made specifically in support of the movement. One of the most notable is the Hudson River Quilt designed by Irene Preston and made by 29 quilters over a period of three years (Atkins, 1994). It is a bedsized quilt made up of 30 blocks, each depicting some aspect of the river. It took three years to finish and was then exhibited across the country for 18 years, at various events to raise money for environmental causes. In 1990 it was finally auctioned for $23,000 and the money was donated to three environmental groups working to save the Hudson. The quilt has also served as the inspiration for a number of similar projects over the years. Many individual quilters have also created works that have environmental themes. Jane Burch Cochran made A Fragile Balance “about the balance of nature and the importance of keeping that balance” (Norton, 2000, p. 94). It is a beautiful quilt, enriched with a great deal of embellishment: beads, buttons, sequins, paint, silk leaves, metallic roses, and even gloves. Such encrustation is a hallmark of one school of art quilts and when used well it adds to the quilt, though in some cases it is overwhelming. Another quilter, Marta Amundson, has done a


series of over 70 quilts, called Menagerie, that focus on endangered animals. In one, Tea for Trout = Trout for Tea, she makes a statement about heavily polluted water. Appliquéd to the quilt are images of trout that seem to be healthy and swimming around while others are obviously in trouble: floating to the top, and even in a state of decay, as they fade into a chaotic background. The fish forms at the center of the quilt are done in what is called reverse appliqué, the upper layer is cut away to reveal the fabric underneath. So Amundson is using negative space both figuratively and literally, to convey the idea that there will be no fish left if we continue to damage their habitats. She sees such work as her contribution to the environmental movement: “My quilts are a soapbox from which I express my opinions” (Guerrier, 2000). Other quilters have taken a more realistic approach to producing images of natural environments in cloth. Ginny Eckley used painted fabric to create a picture of the Arizona desert complete with cacti and richly colored mountains in the background. And the abundant marine life of Florida has inspired a number of quilters in very different ways, which mirror the different ways people view the preservation of natural environments (Williams, 1992). Agnes Adkison’s Blue Domain focuses on the landscape, and the animals are secondary. While an egret is clearly visible on the quilt, it takes a minute to find all the marine live, which is much more plentiful. This matches the fact that the species humans tend to want to save the most are those that are most visually obvious, and often visually appealing to us, such as birds. In the underwater part of the quilt, there are only a couple of crabs, the lone invertebrates pictured. Finally there are absolutely no plants. While this quilt is not very ecologically sound, it is a work of art, not of science, and perhaps that beautiful egret is enough to stimulate some to want to save an entire ecosystem, like the Everglades. In Marine Life, Dorothy Higbie takes a very different approach, and one that biologists can relate to. She separates species from each other, and there is one organism in each panel, except for the conch which has to share a panel with several scallops. She is also more eclectic in her choice of species: she has two forms of seaweed, and more invertebrates than vertebrates. However she has two mammals to only one fish–definitely a skewed view of marine life. But if you look in books of zoological illustrations, you will see an approach similar to the one Higbie has taken. Species are discussed separately, and they are represented separately, often one specimen to a page or a panel. This is done so that the specimen is clearly visible, and I suspect that is why Higbie chose this approach as well. Also, in her case having different panels meant she could choose different background colors using ones that were most appropriate for the organism at hand. The only place where this was unsuccessful was with the conch where mixing species seems to have thrown the color off–it’s great for the scallops but not so good for the conch. In still another Florida quilt, Audrey Troutman has taken an approach in between that of Adkison and Higbie. She has separate panels, but some of the animals are shown against a landscape, or some suggestion of a landscape. Still there is a suggestion of separation, of saving manatees or whales, but not necessarily both. This is also a very vertebrate-heavy world, even though 95% of all animals are invertebrates (Hubbell, 1999).


In using biological criteria to evaluate these quilts I am in one sense being unfair. These quilts are beautiful and technically sophisticated, Troutman’s work is a masterpiece of hand appliqué, embroidery, and quilting; and I am sure that to see the original is an even richer experience. This is true of all art forms, but I think it may be especially true of quilts because they are so textured, and the texture does not often come across in photographs, nor does the fineness of the stitchery. But I do think that the emphasis put on individual species in all these quilts is an interesting reflection of the attitudes of the general public to environmental conservation. People think in terms of species rather than habitats and all the rich variety of species that may be found there. They fail to see that in order to save the species they are interested in, they have to save the whole habitat because the nonliving environment as well all those invertebrates and plants and amphibians and reptiles that they may not care about are nonetheless essential to the well-being of the more visible species. I would like to end with two examples of quilts by Australians. Tidemark, Cape Tribulation could perhaps be a scene at almost any shoreline, but it represents a beach in Northern Queensland visited by Wendy Lugg. The rainforest overhangs the beach and this is indicated by the leaves represented in among the shells and seaweed. In Focus on Fungi, Cynthia Morgan has also portrayed a specific locale, a forest in the Bunya Mountains of Queensland. This is an amazing work because in order to realistically portray the fungi, Morgan has used a number of three-dimensional fiber techniques. Her work is wonderful, and is in a sense reminiscent of a natural history diorama, where small organisms, the fungi, are presented as magnified to make them visible to the naked eye. It is not a coincidence that both these quilts, which are so species-rich, are done by Australians. I regularly get quilting magazines from Australia and New Zealand, and I find that one of the big differences between these magazines and those published in the United States is that the quilts from Down Under are much more focused on native species. The work of one of the most creative, Annemieke Mein (1992) is astounding, with a focus on finely wrought insects, birds, and small mammals. Quilters in Australia and New Zealand seem much more aware of the natural world and much more dedicated to presenting it in their work. Perhaps it is a matter of a different lifestyle. Or the explanation may have to do with the different history of quilting in Australia. As in the United States, quilting was originally brought there by British settlers, but the tradition was much less pronounced in Australia. Then in the 1970s, the Australians became more interested in quilting, just as it became more popular in the United States. It may be that because the traditional quilt was not as much of an icon in the Southern Hemisphere, there is more impetus to branch out and try new styles. It may have seemed quite natural to incorporate living things into the quilts because they are such a part of the Australian psyche. I hope I have gotten across the idea that looking at quilts from the viewpoint of biology can lead to a richer view of this art form and also give an appreciation for the rich history of quilts with links to the living world. Everyone descries the fragmentation of education but most of us are guilty of doing little to repair the situation. Examining all the connections that bring two


such seemingly separate fields as biology and quilting together is a useful exercise in developing an awareness of how knowledge areas are linked. BIBLIOGRAPHY Atkins, J.M. (1994). Shared Threads. New York: Museum of American Folk Art. Crews, P.C. (2001). A Flowering of Quilts. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. Flannery, M. (2001a). “Quilting: A Feminist Metaphor for Scientific Inquiry.” Quantitative Inquiry, 7(5), 628-645. Flannery, M. (2001b). “Biology and Quilting?” The American Biology Teacher, 63, 688-693. Guerrier, K. (2000). Quilting Masterclass. Bothell, WA: Martingale. Holstein, J. (1991). Abstract Design in American Quilts: A Biography of an Exhibition. Louisville, KY: Kentucky Quilt Project. Hubbell, S. (1999). Waiting for Aphrodite: Journeys into the Time before Bones. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Mein, A. (1992). The Art of Annemieke Mein: Wildlife Artist in Textiles. Tunbridge Wells, United Kingdom: Search Press. Norton, A. (Ed.). (2000). One Quilt, One Moment. Golden, CO: Premedia. Williams, C.A. (1992). Florida Quilts. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.


JEWISH NARRATIVE: WORD A NON-IMAGE Randall Rhodes, Ph.D. Frostburg State University

To be a Jew is to exist between the aesthetic and the existential, to privilege ethical perfection over sensory perception, and to pray for Israel to survive this world of immanence. Living in the era of the Diaspora, until the time of cultural reparation and redemption, the Jew suffers the anguish of dispossession and the fate of spatial and visual alienation. Always on the verge of cultural and personal erasure, he risks becoming a living Yahrzeit, an invisible present. Along with this loss of subjectivity, the I/eye is devalued. All that is materially concrete and visually perceived, all that ties the Jew to the earth and is susceptible to fetishization potentially leads to idolatry, the cleaving unto matter. According to Freud, the Second Commandment signified subordinating sense perception to an abstract idea: it was a triumph of an instinctual renunciation.1 Sensate matter obstructs from the goal of Devekut, the personal communion or constant beingwith-god in anticipation of the world-to-come.2 Symbols are progressively dematerialized and alienated from the symbolized till all intervening inert matter between man and God is desacralized and banished. For example, Abraham was required to sever himself from familiar sights and scenes in an enforced alienation, which alone qualified him to hear the voice of God.3 Without visual reference even the absolute Will and Word of God is proven not by sight but solely by His effects. For it is “The voice of the Lord that is with power; the voice of the Lord that is with majesty; . . . While all in His temple bespeaks glory.”4 The Kabbalah, the Tradition of Things Divine, The Zohar, the Book of Splendor, and The Torah, the Explication of the Name(s) of God mystically reveal His potencies as well as His innermost mode of Being. They constitute a history of narrative appropriate to the recounting of past events without the speaker’s intervention—a rhetoric that renounces knowledge, conceptual determination and analysis, and is consequently deprived of present and future, written metaphorically in a past imperfect. Parallel to Jacques Derrida’s grammatology, Judaism focuses on “Truth” in discourse when objectivity is not possible. The rarefaction of signs, figures, and symbols constitutes a disappropriation and reappropriation of utterances uncertain of a narrative consciousness. As Jews will not experience closure till the Messiah comes, the narrative forever remains unfinished. Like Pierre Guyotat’s sentence, [it] never ends, whose beauty derives not from its “report” … but from its respiration, interrupted, repeated, as if it were the author’s business to represent for us not imagined scenes but the scene of language, so that the model of this


new mimesis is no longer the adventure of a hero but the adventure of the signifier itself: what becomes of it.5 Exulted, confused, heavily crossed-out, and hardly decipherable, Jewish discourse neither speaks of the author, nor his subject, nor his style. It is holy, bodiless; it is He who no semblance or image can portray. However while liberating the sign from its earthly referent, the author/artist must expose such discourse to spectatorship. As Judaism posits the ultimacy of writing as a basis for generating an ethos, the author/artist must nonetheless commit to the ‘attempt-to-write’. His art functions as a threshold, a place of passage, giving access to what is no longer a place, described as Derrida’s topolitology of the secret.6 While retaining its break with the domain of empiricism, what finds itself reduced to the condition of a threshold is Being itself, Being as place.7 Barnett Newman proposed the ideograph—a character, symbol or figure which suggests the idea of an object without expressing its name.8 Marcus Rothkowitz (Mark Rothko) professed that art is an adventure into an unknown world; art being situated at the near shore and the Absolute beyond. While obviously only a weak evocation or trace of the speculative intellect, art objects are prayers bending to a physical process and subject to contemporary aesthetic practice. In light of the above and a review of twentieth century Jewish art production, I have identified ten principles of design reflective of the possibility and impetus to broaden, deepen, and bring to fruition the distinctiveness of Jewish plastic expression: (1) mark making, (2) color, of revelation not observation, (3) an ‘unbearable lightness of Being’, (4) time, of the metaphoric past, (5) tension, (6) experiential apprehension, (7) the anti-classical, (8) the fading authorial presence, (9) the sublime, and (10) art as prayer. Examples by twelve twentieth century artists shall further illustrate these elements of Jewish narrative. 1. TYPOGRAPHIC OR CALLIGRAPHIC MARK MAKING IS EMBEDDED WITHIN THE JEWISH TEXTUAL TRADITION. The Zohar, written in the 13th century by Moses de Leon recounts that twenty-six generations before the creation of the world, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet descended from the crown of God whereon they were engraved with a pen of flaming fire. Mystics have historically reminded readers to be mindful of letters’ movements and how various combinations can reveal new things “which by human tradition or by themselves thou wouldst not be able to know.”9 The graphic illustrations by Ben Shahn and Eliezar Lissitzky invite readers to search for the elements, nuances, and visual rhythms of the folk soul. Yet their spiritual constructivism is overlaid by fractured planes and a primacy with design which reinforces a polysemous aesthetic and cancels legibility. Shahn’s Alphabet of Creation (1963) echoes broken and staccato jazz rhythms while also reflecting the Zohar’s characterization of letters’ animation and fallibility. Lissitzky’s illustration for Ilya Ehrenburg’s Shifs Karta (1922) superimposes a collage of a portion of the Mishnah, handprint, and boat ticket to America upon two triangles comprising a fractured Mogen David. Upon the palm is written “here lies” referencing the


fluidity of nationality and discourse while asserting the ever presence of Jewish Being. The textual mark making is reconfigured as the discursive tool of the narrative as well as the aesthetic object-in-itself. 2. JEWISH COLOR USAGE IS OF REVELATION NOT OBSERVATION. Luminosity is equated with the glimpse of the creative power. Before matter and space became differentiated, “with a gleam of His ray, He encompassed the sky, And His splendor radiated from the heights.” The titles of compositions by Morris Louis Bernstein, Charred Journal, Veils, and Unfolding Light recall the time of ferment and irresolution when color was disembodied. In Saraband (1959), a stained background, pours, drained off puddles, and vigorous brushstrokes result in a flow of chromatic rivulets where the tangible white space constitutes the raw assertion of the intangible, akin to Lissitzky’s vision of “color masses swimming like planets in white space.”10 In regard to Louis, The more closely color could be identified with its ground, the freer would it be from the interference of tactile associations; the way to achieve this closer identification was by adapting water-color technique to oil and using thin paint on an absorbent surface…. The effect conveys a sense not only of color as somehow disembodied, and therefore more purely optical, but also of color as a thing that opens and expands the picture plane….11 Barnett Newman translated the notion of one’s relationship to God, as outlined in the Kabbalah, into his zips. In Two Edges (1948), Newman’s singular, solitary marks evoke the gesture of separation, as God separated light from darkness with a line drawn in the void. It is a visualization of the moment immediately before light multiplied, before the perception of spatial relations. 3. THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING REFERS TO A NOMADIC ROUTLESSNESS Moyshe Shagal (Marc Chagall) depicted the luftmenchin (air-people) who ‘perform Diaspora’ across the sky above village and world. The composition denies any relation to the chronologically linear or physically probable as the figure is committed to a metaphysical, eternal wandering. Whether read as above the mundane and temporal or as beyond gravitational space, significance lies outside of the immediate context, in a cosmic frame of reference. Compositions by Yitzroch Loiza Grossberg (Larry Rivers) are similarly fraught with polysemous disappropriations of legend, historical and commercial. His denial of prepackaged middle-class American values results in a schizophrenic skepticism where aesthetically disparate and weightless elements are crudely grounded by a web of crosshatched brushstrokes. Pentimenti function as traces of cultural consciousness.12 River’s History of the Matzoh: The Story of the


Jews (1984) depicts a panorama of immigrants who float across the American scene without spatial integration or cultural assimilation. The absence of perspective and the pockets of voids further evidence the lack of a physical or narrative grounding. 4. JEWISH ART EXISTS IN THE IMMEDIATE PAST, A PAST IMPERFECT. “There is no earlier or later in the Bible.” According to the Talmud, “All stories are parallel to each other.” Ken Aptekar’s history paintings are willfully anachronistic. Gaps between the visual and literary are filled with texts, which speak across time and address voids in cultural and private histories. In Where’d you get the red hair, they ask (1996), Caravaggio’s submissive youths bear witness to the social interrogation on Aptekar’s ethnic/physical identity.13 The narrative reads: “Where’d you get the red hair?” they ask. I know they’re thinking, “You’re not really Jewish. Jews don’t have red hair.” So am I somebody else’s, some Gentile’s kid? I’m amazed they even notice the wonderful color, the hair’s so short. At the barbershop Dad says “Give him a Princeton, Charlie.” Crestfallen, I watch my red hair on the floor, get swept up, thrown out. “Came with the head,” I reply. The then-and-there is uncomfortably overlaid by an angst ridden here-and-now which in of itself fades to a trace. The autobiographical and cultural temporal planes float upon each other, yet only tangentially intersect. 5. IN THE WORKS PREVIOUSLY DISCUSSED, THE OBJECT IS A FADING REFERENT LEAVING BEHIND TRAGIC UNRESOLVED TRACES. “Because Jews embody the negativity of the world spirit” writes Donald Kuspit, “the Jew is distorted by depression and depressed by the world’s distortion of his/her existence.”14 Theodor Adorno named this psychic tension the ‘shudder’, a premonition of subjectivity in recognition of the Jew’s isolated, involuntary, signal anxiety. The ‘shudder’ is manifested as a defiant naiveté, an acceptance of the cultural negation of Jewish subjectivity. The subject is perched on the verge of destruction and invisibility evidencing his crisis in/of Being. This faint affirmation is the subject’s last defense against extinction. Chaim Soutine sought to document the obscure ruminations of an anguished mind. As in his portrait of Charlot, the despairing, painful, droll, and ridiculous merge. Soutine’s psychic landscapes scream of helpless autonomy and the trace of desperate quietism. The unapologetic smears of pigment are a response to the spell/control by the other. Ferment and irresolution are similarly portrayed in Richard Serra’s Running Arcs (1992). As recited in his ‘verb list’, forces of tension, gravity, and entropy are evident in the rolling, creasing, folding, bending, knotting, torquing, complicating, transfiguring, opening, and displacing of matter. In this way, the sculpture functions as a living Yahrzeit, uncertain of its belonging, unanchored to the cultural space/social ground. Serra’s sculpture neither realizes


harmony nor rest. It exists at the edge of its own destruction, defiant in the face of the spell. As Gershom Scholem described, The nihilistic mystic descends into the abyss in which the freedom of living things is born; he passes through all the embodiments and forms that come his way, committing himself to none; and not content with rejecting and abrogating all values and laws, he tramples them underfoot and desecrates them, in order to attain the elixir of Life.15 6. TEMPORALITY FOLDS INTO SPATIALITY The spectator’s gaze is slowed so the experience of time surfaces into consciousness, defining his being-in-time. The perceptual experience expands beyond the regime of the eye and its gaze to the entire body. For Serra, the topology of the space is demarcated through locomotion, the spectator’s dialectic of walking and looking into the landscape. The Drowned and Saved (1992) lies in wait. Upon entering the old, unused synagogue, the spectator must spatially and intellectually reconcile the traditional with the minimalist, the context with the sculptural interloper, and the expectations of a liturgical experience with the abrasiveness of the aesthetic encounter. As the transaction of art has become situational, the apprehension is irreducibly temporal, always in a state of becoming/revelation. In the realm of the two-dimensional, monumental color field canvases are similarly metasensuous, enfolding the eye and holding it extra long. The painting comes out of the frame into the behavioral space of the spectator engulfing the latter in its open color. Emphasizing the role of the spectator in the transaction of art, Rothko wrote: A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky act to send it out into the world.16 Large canvases such as Untitled (1951) force a sense of intimacy magnetically drawing the spectator into its environment, its Being. 7. Jewish narrative is anti-classical. Clement Greenberg wrote: There is a Jewish bias towards the abstract, the tendency to conceptualize as much as possible, and there is a certain Schwarmerei, a state of … disgust … at the sensuous and sentimental data which others take for granted.17 Defeating pictoriality, materiality, and corporeality, and abhorring the sentimentality of gentile cuteness, “true” art, according to Newman, reflects man’s natural desire to express his relation to the Absolute without becoming identified and confused with the fetish of quality, almost a Dadaist condemnation of all formal art. Emmanuel Radnitzky (Man Ray) charged: Isn’t it this perpetual mania of imitation that prevents man from being a God?18 Ray aimed to fashion a beauty of indifference, a discursive breaking-off with the world. For example in his Rayograph


(1927), he sought to express the life of objects, their independence, and their capacity to mean something more than their use value. He wrote: Like the undisturbed ashes of an object consumed by flames these images are oxidized residues fixed by light and chemical elements of an experience, an adventure, not an experiment. They are the result of curiosity, inspiration, and these words do not pretend to convey any information.19 Amadeo Modigliani’s mannered interpretations constitute a corpus in which the classical, academic context is completely occluded. “What I am searching for is neither the real nor the unreal, but the Subconscious, the mystery of the Instinctivity of Race.”20 Playing the role of the artiste maudit, he used drugs to plunge like a voyant into his quest for the true nature of the individual and the primal, primitivist symbols of the mask. Yet the artist’s sightless “portraits” evidence a lack of external awareness, cultural integration, or ego. As the opposite of Soutine’s representation of psychic tension, Modigliani’s sculptures and paintings rely on compositional control akin to Newman’s play with plasticity and the vertical caesuras within the portraits to Newman’s zips. 8. ECHOING ISSUES OF CULTURAL AND PERSONAL ERASURE, JEWISH DISCOURSE REFLECTS THE FADING OF THE AUTHORIAL PRESENCE The “I” is devalued as the artist is subsumed in an oceanic phase of ego. Louis created his works in response to Jewish genetic time, to past and potential holocausts. Rather than his controlled surfaces answering to the ecstasies of sublime feelings triggered by natural sights and events or by one’s inner sense of transcendence, they reflect the grim contemplation of total annihilation.21 As the first letter of the alphabet, the ‘Aleph’ is the source of all articulate sound. However, To hear the aleph is to hear next to nothing; it is the preparation for all audible language, but in itself conveys no determinate, specific meanings.22 Louis’ painting Aleph (1960) is a narrative without coherence. The central layering of pigments cancels their luminous potential while the white space beyond is violated by fingers indexically pointing into its void. The fading authorial presence also refers to the personhood of the artist. Rivers’ Self-Portrait (1953) is similar to Louis’ composition in its contemplation of physical erasure and the dematerialization of plastic form. Rivers’ selfhood is layered by communal experiences which obstruct rather than articulate the personal narrative of the I/eye. More extreme though is the case of Rothko who when the struggle to attain his goal ultimately destroyed his confidence, committed suicide, an accomplice in his own final act of self-extinction.


9 Parallel to the earlier discussion of the anti-classical, Jewish art must climb the Socratic ladder till it spiritually communes with the Absolute Newman referenced eighteenth century treatises on the heroic sublime which defined the aesthetic as an experiential apprehension, an exaltation or consciousness of one’s mind’s vastness which fills and dilates the soul without being able to penetrate into its nature or define its essence. Newman proposed a taste for the infinite without resorting to inherited signs or codes. Disgusted with the trivial and accidental characteristics of living forms, Newman divided his canvases as if mapping the zones of the divine cosmos. Compositions such as Concord (1949) or Onement are intended as a complex symbol, in the purest sense, of Genesis itself. It is an act of division, a gesture of separation, as God separated light from darkness with a line drawn in the void. The artist … must start like God, with chaos, the void.23 Zips are the rays of light in which God revealed Himself. Lofty and exalted, the paintings are broken open revealing the immaterial void, that which cannot be named. Rothko described his compositions as landscapes of the spirit where the planes of heaven and earth are continually subject to revision. The spectator beholds the sublime as the art work serves as the vehicle for expressing tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and the poignancy of the empty spirit. Only pure absence can inspire for it “is” not and does not say what “is.”24 Rothko’s most potent carrier of emotion and sublime power was the color red. Perhaps Rothko was so drawn to red because of its powerful and basic association: it is identified with the elements and ritual–with fire and with blood–and thus with life, death, and the spirit.25 And so, are the elemental and primordial written in oils on his canvas? In respect to compositions such as Three Reds (1955), how/where does one behold the sublime? Perched on the threshold between here and there, the canvas indexically infers the equal existence of the world engendered in the mind of the artist and the world engendered by God outside of it. 10. LASTLY, JEWISH ART IS THE PRAYER FOR THE HEALING OF THE JEWS AND THE COMPLETION OF THE PROCESS OF CREATION, TSIMTSUM, BY RESTORING THE HARMONY THAT EXISTED BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE. Every Jew shares the responsibility to prepare the way for the final restoration of all the scattered and exiled lights and sparks. The Jew who is in close contact with the divine life through the Torah, the fulfillment of the commandments, through prayer, has it in his power to accelerate or to hinder this process …26


Rothko was commissioned to design an ecumenical chapel for the University of St. Thomas, Houston, dedicated in 1971. The octagonal room is a place for private meditation as well as common worship. Low light compliments and reveals the subtle vibrations within the plum colored canvases, each over fourteen by eleven feet. As contemporary Jewish altarpieces, they poignantly evoke harmony and an aesthetic timelessness via the most basic of vocabularies. However, can aesthetic/worldly harmony or restitution ever be realized or visually portrayed? Outside the chapel by the reflecting pool stands Newman’s Broken Obelisk (1967). Conceived and executed separately from the interior, this steel form embodies the perpetuation of the Jewish rarefaction of signs, figures, and symbols in a nihilistic self-effacement. And so, does Jewish art function as that threshold to Being itself? Does Newman’s statue suggest the idea without expressing its name? As asked by classical theorists, is artistic creation parallel to divine creation? In regard to the latter, the creation and origin of history were inscribed in the space vacated by divine withdrawal thereby leaving humanity to devise its own strategies for expression. God separated himself from himself in order to let us speak, in order to astonish and to interrogate us. He did so not by speaking, but by keeping still, by letting silence interrupt his voice and his signs … Our writing, certainly, but already His … starts with the stifling of his voice and the dissimulation of his Face.27 Therefore without a Divine model, without the restitution of the universe, without the coming of the Messiah gaps shall persist in the cultural discourse. Delivering meaning does not equate to authorial affirmation. Symbolic narrative does not equate to communication. There will be a constant referral of the moment when one will have something to say, or say something, for rhetoric will remain without referents. The zips, chromatics, spills, puddles, and shuddering brushstrokes shall float within the void of immateriality and the inaccessible as holy things can never be spoken of in human terms. The ideal will only exist in the boundless expansion of the contemplative element—the Jewish (non)narrative. NOTES
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. See Freud, Moses and Monotheism, trans. K. Jones (NY: Vintage, 1939), 144-152; also see Kalman Bland, The Artless Jew, (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 2000) 24. Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism, (NY: Schocken, 1971) 204. Kochan Lionel, Beyond the Graven Image, (NY: NY U Press, 1997) 45. “A Psalm of David,” Psalm 29. Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language, trans: R. Howard, (NY: Hill & Wang, 1986) 236. Jacques Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials,” Languages of the Unsayable, eds: S. Budick & W. Iser, (NY: Columbia U Press, 1989) 23. Ibid., 52. Barnett Newman, “The Ideographic Picture,” Selected Writings and Interviews, ed: J.P. O’Neill, (NY: Knopf, 1990) 107. Ben Shan, About Letters and Lettering, (NY: Grossman, 1963) 52. Tradition and Revolution: The Jewish Renaissance in Russian Avant-Garde Art, 1912-1928, ed: R. Apter-Gabriel, (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 1987) 232. Morris Louis: The Complete Paintings, (NY: Abrams, 1985) 54. Larry Rivers: Art and the Artist, (Boston: Little Brown, 2002) 26.


13. 14. 15 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

See Mieke Bal, Quoting Caravaggio, (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1999) chapter 3. Donald Kuspit “Jewish Naivete,” Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art, eds: M. Baigell & M. Heyd, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers U Press, 2001) 87-99. Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, trans: A. Arkush, (Princeton: Princeton, U Press, 1987) 28-9. Susan Barnes, The Rothko Chapel, (Austin: U of Texas Press, 1989) 24-5. Norman Kleeblatt & Kenneth Silver, The Paintings of Chaim Soutine, (Munich: Prestel, 1998) 59. Man Ray, ed. M. Heiting, (Cologne: Taschen, 2000) 148. Ibid., 208. Modigliani: The Melancholy Angel, (Milan: Skira, 2002) 30. Matthew Baigell, Artist and Identity in Twentieth Century America, (Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2001) 181. Scholem, Kabbalah, 30. Baigell, 234. Derrida, 4. Diane Waldman, Mark Rothko, (NY: Abrams, 1978) 58. Baigell, 239. Shira Wolosky, “Derrida, Jabes, Levinas: Sign-Theory as Ethical Discourse,” Prooftexts, Vol. 2:3, 1982, 294.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Castaing, Marcellin & Jean Leymarie, Soutine, NY: Abrams, nd. Derrida, Jacques, Writing and Difference. Trans.: A. Bass, Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1978. Harshav, Benjamin, Marc Chagall and his Times. Stanford: Stanford U. Press, 2004. Kanpf, Avram, Jewish Experience in 20th Century, NY: Praeger, 1990. Ken Aptekar: Talking to Pictures. Washington, D.C., Corcoran, 1997. Richard Serra: Torqued Ellipses: NY: Enterprise, 1997.



The introduction and conclusion of this paper are excerpts taken from “Relics: The Art of Remembrance,” a chapter authored by Glen and Peg Speirs in Altar Art (in press) edited by Christine Ballengee Morris and published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Collaborating as artists working with the concept of relics, my husband and I have come to recognize a continuum in which relics function on a variety of levels. First I will offer a broad or multi-level definition of relics and then show how we have approached relics in our own artwork. A dictionary defines relics as: 1. Something that has survived the passage of time; especially an object or custom whose original cultural environment has disappeared. 2. Something cherished for its age or associations with a person, place or event; a keepsake. 3. An object of religious veneration; especially, an article reputed to be associated with a saint or a martyr (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1981). In this definition, we can see a continuum of relic-ness that begins with any object that is old, especially if it no longer functions in a living context; it is a relic simply because it is old. This becomes defined a bit more narrowly as something cherished for its age, or more notably, cherished for the associations that the object stirs in the beholder. Being cherished and/or triggering associations involve, indeed require, an act of recognition and level of personal interaction which distinguishes this level of relic object from mere artifacts, and through this ongoing interaction holds these objects in a living context. Finally we come to the narrowest definition which is religious relics. In the Euro-centric heritage of Catholic tradition, the objects and sources of objects that qualify as a relic are institutionally controlled and enforced through official decree. While this definition may be viewed as a continuum ranging from inclusive to exclusive, it also functions as an implied hierarchy of relics. We feel that this multilevel definition of relics serves as a good beginning reference point, but our creative work with relics, more often than not, tends to blur these distinctions as well as raise interesting questions of distinctions that this simple definition cannot adequately address. As we have worked with the concept of relics in art projects, we have developed our own distinctions for personal relics: actual body material–like hair, teeth, fingernails, or blood–we refer to as primary relics; a person’s personal items —which could be watches, pocket knives, toys, tools, keys, clothing, or anything a person may have worn, carried or used regularly–we think of as a secondary relic. Corresponding with the broadest category of old objects are what could be considered non-personal relics.


Now I will show you a small sampling of our most current work in which we’ve worked with the idea of relics. But first I would like to tell you a story. During the summer of 2003, I was still rushing around with academic duties that extended into what should have been a well-earned period of rest. In early July, the night before my summer grad course started, I burned my arm from reaching over a steaming pot. I bandaged it up and went to class the next day without thinking much about it except that I would show it to my doctor later in the week. After a few weeks it looked like it healed but I still kept it bandaged for fear of infection. One day as I peeled off the bandages my skin peeled off in the areas where the adhesive touched my skin. I remember thinking I must have some kind of vitamin deficiency for this to have happened. In the mean time I started grading finals from the summer course I taught. When I lifted the notebooks from my lap, I discovered bruise marks on my legs where the notebooks had rested. I set up another appointment with the doctor and was in his office by the end of that week. He asked me if I had ever had any blood tests taken and I replied no, and that I have rarely ever been sick. He sent me to the lab next door and said he’ll call me with the results in about a week. That afternoon the doctor called and expressed his concern because my blood counts were dangerously low. He wanted me to see a hematologist at the local hospital. I replied that I have a leadership academy to attend the following week and he responded that he didn’t think I should go because I would not be able to fight infection and could easily get sick being with a group of people. I agreed and went to the hematologist the following Wednesday. This doctor gave me another blood test and said that my counts were even worse than the last test. He wanted me to come back at noon for a bone marrow biopsy. When I returned all of the nurses were at lunch. The doctor worked his best to do the procedure alone but had to ask my husband Glen to help because he needed an extra set of hands. The doctor said he would call in about week with the results. The next day he called and said, “I am sorry to tell you Mrs. Speirs that you have acute promyelocytic leukemia and you need to get to a hospital right away.” This type of leukemia is a very fast acting cancer. Recovering from my initial shock after the impact of his words registered in my head he went on to suggest hospitals where I might go. Not able to make a decision, I asked numbly, where do you recommend? He said, “I studied under a well-known doctor at Johns Hopkins whose specializes in leukemia. I am willing to call her to see if she will take you as a patient.” I agreed and waited for his return call. I walked in slow motion to the nearest open window and looked out to see my husband standing in the driveway talking to one of my colleagues who just stopped by. I called out to my husband calmly and said stuttering over my words, “Glen, I have acute promyelocytic leukemia and need to get to a hospital now.” I remember our eyes locking at that moment and hearing my colleague say, “oh shit” in a way that expresses the true gravity of the moment. My doctor called back within minutes and said “Dr. Karp will take you as a patient but there is a two week waiting period for a bed at the hospital. But you cannot wait two weeks, you need to get into the hospital now.” He then offered to call his friend Julia who works at the hospital to see what she could do. Within a half hour Johns


Hopkins called to ask about my insurance. A few minutes later the hospital called again and this time a woman’s voice said, “This is Julia. I have a bed for you. Can you get here in three hours? I remember thinking her voice sounded like an angel. She continued, “if you are not here in three hours we have to give the bed to someone else.” I said, “we are on our way.” We live about 2 1/2 hours from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. On the way to the hospital young police officer pulled us over because I forgot to renew my inspection sticker, but let us go with a warning when Glen explained our emergency situation. An hour into the drive my body ached from the biopsy and I felt light-headed thinking it was because I had not eaten all day. We pulled into a restaurant parking lot and after taking a few steps I dropped to the ground on my knees because I could not hold myself up. Glen managed to get me back into the car and raced to the hospital. We pulled in to the cancer center within minutes of our three-hour time limit. Glen found a wheelchair to transport me up to my room. The next morning on August 15 I began a rigorous treatment regime for my cancer of the blood that included more bone marrow biopsies, six kinds of chemo, several blood transfusions, ultrasounds, antibiotics, steroids, drugs to fight a blood infection, 48 days in the hospital, as well as trips to the hospital every other day until December 23. On December 23 I received the results of my fourth bone marrow biopsy that would determine that status of my cancer and the future direction of my life. When my oncologist told me that my bone marrow was clean and I was officially in remission, Glen and I danced in celebration while the doctor gave us hugs and kisses. All during my treatment we collected artifacts from the experience to use in potential artworks as a part of my healing process. The doctors and nurses were intrigued and supportive of our art-making ideas. They helped us build a collection of artifacts from the experience. My first assembled primary relic documented my hair loss resulting from one of the chemo treatments. Over a period of three days I collected hair from my pillow and placed it in Ziploc bags until I had only a few sprigs left on my head. I had my head shaved at the hospital on September 3 and put the remaining hair in a fourth bag. The piece begins and ends with two photos of me–one with hair and one without with four bags of hair in between. I titled the work Hairlines. Here are slides of other pieces from our Leukemia Series. Bloodlines is a piece that includes one bag from every type of blood product transfused into my body plus the tubing that connected to me to the bags. The Raggedy Ann doll from my childhood wears a hospital gown cut from a gown recycled from the hospital. The doll serves as my surrogate and suggests the limp condition of my body when I arrived at the hospital. Her wide-eyed expression and I LOVE YOU written on her chest also adds more layers of meaning to the work.


The next two pieces are titled Inserts: Things They Stuck in My Arm and Inserts: Things They Stuck in My Chest. The first is an assortment of IVs and a PICC Line that went into my arm to withdraw blood and give me chemo. The second piece contains Hickman Catheters that were surgically inserted into my chest through which to administer chemo and withdraw blood. Having the catheters was such a relief from having my arms poked by needles several times a day. Both works contain traces of my blood and are primary relics. Toxic Chandelier is an assemblage of IV bottles left over from a drug called Abelcet administered to me daily over a period of 31 days for a blood infection. This drug causes rigors, which is violent shivering and chills brought on by the medication. I had to take four different drugs before each dose of Abelcet to help my body tolerate this drug. It took several hours for each bottle to drain into my body. I still have uncomfortable body memories every time I look at this piece. IV tubes connect the bottles to another surrogate me–a wooden ball that hangs below the bottles. While in the outpatient treatment center receiving my last dose of Abelcet, I used a calligraphy pen and my blood to create a piece entitled Blood Contract: Don’t Worry, Just Sign It and I Will Fill in the Rest Later. I am also working on a piece entitled Blood Counts another calligraphy piece that will graphically illustrate my blood counts from the time of my diagnosis to date. This piece is still in-progress. Blood Relic is a vial of my blood encased under glass. I display this box with a small selfportrait painted with my blood a few days before my official remission. Our art is not just about the relic but also the creative manipulation of the concept, the process and formalities of presentation, and the stories around them; as such, conceptual, formal, and life issues begin to play a part in understanding or appreciating the work. Two conventions of the art world that push our relics beyond mere artifacts are title and gallery space. The title of a work of art (aside from the argument that a title makes something a work of art) can function as a means of approaching a work from certain preconceptions (Danto, 1981, p.3). For intricacies of this train of thought we refer you to the work of Arthur Danto. As we attempt to define relics in terms of our artwork, we are using our art to explore the questions our work raises–in a sense, using the work as a way into the information. For a more fully developed theory behind our concept of relics please read the chapter, “Relics: The Art of Remembrance” by Glen and Peg Speirs, in Altar Art (in press) edited by Christine Ballengee Morris and published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Postscript: I was able to thank Julia in person at the hospital and told her she was my angel. When I met with my hematologist months later he said that I was his only patient admitted into JH. He had not been able to get anyone else in for treatment. I feel very fortunate to be alive and here with you today.


While making this art we conceived the idea of an exhibition dealing with the art of healing. Here is a prospectus describing the exhibition we titled, In Response to Healing. We are in the process of updating the information and if you are interested, contact us and we will send you more information. My email address is Thank you very much. BIBLIOGRAPHY Danto, A. (1981). The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.



In 1979, Italian philosopher Umberto Eco published The Role of the Reader, an anthology of articles focused on theoretical issues in the interpretation of texts. In these articles, Eco develops a theory involving the relationships among the author, the text created by the author, and the reader of the text. In this paper I propose to use elements of Eco’s theory to elucidate a complex of interpretive relationships surrounding biblical texts, artists who interpret them in their artworks, and later interpreters who “read” both the biblical texts and the artworks about them. In Eco’s view, once an author composes a text and releases it into the public, the text floats free from the author’s ability to control its meaning. Each reader encounters the text from her own unique perspective. Each reader’s engagement with the text involves a procreation of meaning which did not exist before the encounter. When I pick up the text of Genesis and read the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, my encounter with the text results in a derivation of meaning—I interpret the text. Epistemologically, this interpreting process involves my imagination. As I read the text, I imagine the scene in the Garden: God’s voice, Adam and Eve’s bodies, the flora and fauna. This imagining of the scene happens for every reader of the text. Some “readers” of the Genesis text were and are artists. I place “readers” in quotes since I consider a “reader” anyone encountering a text, be it by actually reading it, hearing it read aloud, hearing a paraphrase of the text (for example, a mother telling her children a bedtime story from the Bible), or even seeing a painting of it. When an artist encounters a text and chooses to portray the content of the text in a painting, the work of art is the result of the artist’s imaginative recreation of the scene. While most reader-interpreters do not give visual manifestation to their imagined recreations of the biblical scene, an artist does. The painted canvas expresses the artist’s imagination of the scene. However, just as we needed to broaden our understanding of “reader” to go beyond the simple situation of a person sitting down and literally reading a text, we must also broaden our understanding of the meaning of the “text.” Once composed, a text begins a life that we might better term a “tradition.” A text’s tradition incorporates all of the interpretations that have been ascribed to it over its lifetime. Many of the interpretations do not “stick” to the text. However, a few do adhere to the text and, like barnacles on a ship’s hull, become part of the ship as it continues its cruise through the sea. These accretions to the text are the focus of our attention. When an artist paints a scene from a biblical text, the painting becomes part of the text’s tradition. The painting defines the text. This definition can result in one of two general effects: either the painting will confirm


previous interpretations of the text and thereby have a narrowing effect, or the painting will offer a new interpretation of the text resulting in a broadening effect. Eco uses the language of “closing” and “opening” to refer to these two effects. To illustrate these initial theoretical considerations, I have chosen three examples of biblical texts whose interpretations have been significantly influenced by artists’ renderings of them. The first example concerns Genesis 3:6b, which reads: “So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (NAB) Notice that the text refers to “fruit.” The Hebrew word used here is “peri, a generic word that does not specify any particular kind of fruit. In the purely hypothetical situation of a person who has never read this text, nor ever been influenced by any image or hearing of this text, one can imagine that such a reader would need to imagine some particular kind of fruit that Eve and Adam ate. Without any previous influence, a reader might imagine any type of fruit that could be picked from a tree. The biblical text does not specify the type of fruit. Enter the interpreters, including the artists. At some point in the life-tradition of this text, storytellers and artists began to concretize the abstract noun “fruit.” In telling this story to their children, Israelite mothers and fathers may have referred to Eve eating a fig or pomegranate — types of fruit which grow on trees common in Israel that are referred to many times in other texts of the Hebrew Scriptures. At some point in history, artists began to represent this scene in their work. A painter cannot paint “fruit.” Only a particular kind of fruit can be painted. And so some artist, probably unknown to us, painted the fruit as an apple. What is also unknown and unknowable is whether the artist who first painted an apple creatively imagined the fruit as an apple, or whether the artist was simply expressing a previously established oral tradition that the fruit was an apple. What we do know is that subsequent artists followed in this tradition of portraying the fruit as an apple. This artistic tradition of portraying the fruit as an apple has produced several effects. One effect has been the narrowing or closing of the interpretation of the fruit. Once the apple became the fruit-of-choice of the artistic community, the paintings visually portraying the apple had an enormous influence on subsequent readings and interpretations of the Genesis text. Today one need only ask someone what kind of fruit Eve and Adam ate and the almost universal response is a quick and confident: “an apple.” Even though the text of Genesis does not speak of an apple, the living text-tradition has acquired this accretion, due in no small measure to the artists who depicted the fruit as an apple. A second effect of the artistic interpretation of the fruit as an apple involves the very act of reading the Genesis text today. Rather than encountering the text in a neutral way, today’s reader brings with her the tradition of the apple. In fact, some readers, when reading this text aloud will actually say “apple” when the printed word is “fruit.” This effect of the appleinterpretation is powerful indeed.


My second and third examples come from the Christian Scriptures. Matthew 2:14 states: “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” The text makes no mention of the method of transportation. Yet, by the twelfth century we find this scene of the so-called “Flight into Egypt” depicted in church architectural decorations with Mary carrying the baby Jesus while riding on a donkey. A column capital at S. Benoit-surLoire, dating from roughly 1100, is an early example of an artistic interpretation of this scene. Similar to the way in which the artistic rendering of the fruit-as-apple became fixed in the text-tradition, the donkey appears almost always in artistic portrayals of this scene. Interestingly, the artist Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) offers a striking sketch of the “Flight into Egypt” in which Mary, carrying the baby Jesus, walks alongside Joseph in the dark of night. It would seem naïve to assume that Millet had never seen any paintings depicting Mary riding a donkey on her journey. Why does Millet depart from the tradition? Perhaps as a reader of Matthew’s Gospel he recognized that the text makes no reference to a donkey. He imagines this scene differently, and sketches it accordingly. In this case Millet’s sketch defines the text differently from the way the apple defined Genesis 3:6. Millet’s work has a broadening or opening effect on the tradition. Someone of Millet’s own time (or today) who had been formed by the numerous artworks portraying Mary riding on a donkey will be challenged by Millet’s sketch to imagine the biblical text in a manner different from the traditional way. Millet’s sketch functions as a “minority report” within the text-tradition of the “Flight into Egypt.” My third example comes from the Acts of the Apostles. In three different places within the text of Acts we read the story of what tradition has called “the conversion of St. Paul.” Acts 9:3-4 reads: “On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” When asked to describe this scene, most people speak of Saul (soon to be renamed “Paul”) being knocked off of his horse. Neither this text of Acts nor any other mentions a horse. As you have already expected, the horse has come into the text-tradition from artistic portrayals of this scene. As a young man, I had the opportunity to view Caravaggio’s Conversion on the Way to Damascus in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Caravaggio’s painting depicts Saul already on the ground with his horse looking on. I initially assumed that Caravaggio’s work (1601-02) was original in portraying the scene in this manner. Subsequently, I have discovered that Caravaggio was himself already influenced by a tradition that predated him by at least a century. A German book, dated 1477, contains a sketch of Paul riding, ironically, a donkey. The depiction captures the moment of the light shining on Paul. His head is tilted to look up at the sky, but he is still mounted. By 1525, we have a painting attributed to Francesco Xanto Avelli showing Paul on the ground with his horse in a rearing posture. Avelli’s interpretation is followed by Michelangelo’s fresco in the Cappella Paolina at the Vatican Palace, dated 1542-45. Jacopo Tintoretto (c.1545) and Niccolo dell’Abbate (c.1552) also portray Paul having been thrown from his horse.


Caravaggio is not original in his work. In fact, his rendition of the scene exists within a wellestablished interpretive tradition. Yet, even though his work is not original in its interpretation, the beauty of his depiction has exerted an enormous influence on the text-tradition. Most people will not have the opportunity to view the original painting. Yet, there have been numerous reproductions of this work in encyclopedias and other texts about art and the Bible. Many people have seen a reproduction of this painting. As such, Caravaggio’s work has done much to define Acts 9:3-4 in a narrowing, closing way. Most people read this text and imagine Paul falling from a horse, despite the fact that the biblical text makes no mention of one. Our study of these three examples invites further inquiry. Each example provokes a parallel question: Why an apple? Why a donkey? Why a horse? Though parallel in form, each question will have a distinctive answer. Here, however, responses to these questions can only be suggested. Perhaps the apple is a symbol of fertility, but did it become a symbol of fertility because of its presence in the paintings? The reference to fig leaves in Genesis 3:7 has been used to argue that Eve and Adam ate a fig. A fig, however, is small and its color does not contrast sharply with the leaves surrounding it. Perhaps a fig was not visually distinctive enough to be a good artistic choice to paint. The Christian tradition shows evidence that already in its initial decades there was a reverentializing tendency at work. Later gospel texts such as Matthew and Luke portray both Jesus and the apostles in a more elevated fashion than does the early gospel of Mark. While Mark describes several of Jesus’ emotions, Matthew and Luke tend to omit these references in their gospels. Similarly, Matthew and Luke soften the often harsh depiction of the apostles in Mark. For example, Mark 9 speaks of James and John asking Jesus a question that indicates their ignorance of Jesus’ teaching. Matthew’s parallel text ( ) has the mother of James and John ask the question. Scholars suggest that these are examples of the early church’s efforts to portray its heroes in a clearly positive light. That is, the church reverentializes Jesus, James and John. The tradition of having Mary riding a donkey on the flight into Egypt may well be another example of this reverentializing tendency. In the early centuries of the Christian tradition, respect for the role of Mary as Jesus’ mother steadily grew.It is reasonable to assume that this increasing respect for Mary took visible form in artistic portrayals of her. It would be less burdensome for her to make the flight into Egypt riding rather than walking. In addition, one can also see in the architectural representations at S. Benoit-sur-Loire and Autun that Mary is seated on the donkey almost as on a throne. Jesus is on her lap holding a scepter. At S. Benoit, Mary not only is seated on the donkey, but has a footstool beneath her feet. This is certainly odd for a journey on a donkey, but reasonable for sitting on a throne. We may see the reverentializing tendency at work in the imagining of Paul as riding a horse on his way to Damascus. There may also be some measure of truth in the suggestion that Saul held some type of position of authority even before his conversion and that persons in authority would have ridden rather than walked.


Whatever the reasons for the apple, the donkey, and the horse, it is clear that these interpretive choices—whenever and wherever they began—have exerted a powerful influence on the way in which each of these three texts has been, and continues to be, read and understood. There is one final question I wish to pose. As we have seen, artists have contributed to the defining of biblical texts through their artworks. Does this contribution entitle them to be considered, to some degree, as authors of the texts that they have helped to define? Should the artists who have so shaped our understanding of biblical texts share in the attribution of authorship? If one responds affirmatively, then the theological question of inspiration arises. Christianity argues that the authors of the Bible wrote under divine inspiration. The traditional narrow view limited inspiration to the author actually writing the text. A broader view, based on twentieth-century research, suggests that an author is always the product of her community. This perspective argues that inspiration is better located in the community that produced the author of the text. Perhaps this broader notion of community-inspiration can be extended to include the contributions of artists whose works have certainly had a visually, if not verbally, formative influence on our understanding of biblical texts.



Few college students in the United States knew about a field called Art History early in the 20th century, but Art History rapidly grew in importance and significant numbers of students in were enrolling in standard art history survey courses by 1980,. Two textbooks--Janson’s History of Art and Gardner’s Art through the Ages–had by that time dominated the market. Janson and Gardner, along with British Art Historian Ernst Gombrich’s Story of Art, played a major role in establishing what became the accepted art historical canon both within the United States and abroad. This canon, however, had many failings and the succeeding generation of scholars has noted that these texts imposed a narrow, Euro-centric cosmology on art that suppressed a badly needed broader, global perspective. That canon failed to account for the role of women in art and culture, and it inadequately explored the creative contributions of people of color even within European and American traditions. Most scholars and students today assume that these texts simply affirmed views long espoused by art history surveys, but an analysis of the evolution of Helen Gardner’s Art through the Ages tells a different story. Gardner’s original text and the editions that she oversaw provided a much broader and richer perspective on art than Ernst Gombrich’s Story of Art, which was first published in 1950, the 1962 Janson History of Art, or Gardner’s original project as radically rewritten by Horst de la Croix and Richard F. Tansey in the 5th edition. Helen Gardner wrote the first edition of Art through the Ages in 1929 and her 1936 revised edition produced a textbook that would look surprisingly familiar to today’s student. She included chapters about the art of every inhabited continent except for Australia and she covered each culture in greater proportion, relative to European and American art of European descent, than today’s textbooks. She also took conscious steps to treat world cultures in integrated terms. To counter the propensity to marginalize cultures outside of Europe, she wrote at length about different cultures’ art, and foregrounded connections among cultures. She strove for the paradoxical goal of treating some cultures as distinctive entities while also setting forth relationships among various “so-called” non-Western and Western cultures. Her treatment of Islamic and Persian art shows this treatment, as does her problematic but still impressive handling of Amerindian art. She recognizes Amerindian art as having been produced by diverse cultures and dedicates considerable space to them and their art in a section of the book unfortunately titled “Primitive Art.” This section regrettably also includes chapters on African and Oceanic Art though Gardner does not propose commonalities among these cultures to anywhere near the extent that later writers will. She then analyzes American Indian creativity once more at some length toward the end of the book in the chapter “The Art of Today” where she speaks of specific Hopi potters and paintings by Quah Ah and others. Gardner uses this material to help construct a provocative and useful transition from modernism as it began in Europe to developments on the American continent by discussing


Mexican muralists, Georgia O’Keeffe and a painting she did in New Mexico and then on to other modernists working in the United States. Compare that approach to the 1970 Gardner text and the Janson first, 1962 edition of History of Art. Janson’s only discussion of AmerIndian art is diminutive relative to Helen Gardner’s and ends up putting North and than South American accomplishments literally at the margins of the book. The commentary on North American Indian art, including one 20th-century example, begins without notations introducing to a new culture. The remarks appear in a generic “Primitive Art” section in the first chapter of the book titled, Magic and Ritual—The Art of Prehistoric Man. Commentary on South American Indian art appears as an even briefer, one-page commentary on Pre-Columbian art and cultures at the end of the last chapter of the book titled Postscript: The Meeting of East and West. This last chapter covers within five, heavily illustrated pages all of Asian art, and it leaps, without any narrative warning, to the Janson, one-page overview of Pre-Columbian material. North American Indians (along with Africans and Pacific Islanders) are deemed “Modern survivors of the Neolithic [Age]” (24), while older Peruvian art is tacked on to the very end of the book among a set of cultures such as India and Japan whose “indigenous artistic traditions,” the author wrongly asserts, “are no longer alive today, and…[whose] styles did not…have a significant influence on the West” (546). This claim is directly contradicted in the prior chapter when readers are asked to learn about pre-Columbian art to understand the efforts of the “Mexican Revolution…to search for a native heritage.” But rather than viewing that search as a criterion of excellence, the Janson texts views it as a flaw and singles out for coverage José Clemente Orozco among the Mexican muralists because of his alleged “refus[al] to get embroiled in factional politics” (520). His work is championed as an interlude in the development of European expressionism rather than a potential new beginning for modernism. Sadly, the achievement of Helen Gardner’s own work is also obscured in later editions. The 1970, 5th edition of Gardner’s Art through the Ages, revised for the first time by Horst de la Croix and Richard Tansey, drops all coverage of non-European art except for a standard chapter on the Ancient Near East. Only very brief remarks about European borrowings of Asian and African imagery appear when a few modern European works are discussed. No other cultures are mentioned so that when the authors speak about art produced on this continent, including brief coverage of David Alfredo Siquerios’s paintings, they ignore completely the Mexican muralists’ interest in their continental heritage. This radical, 1970 rewrite of Art through the Ages was a conscious decision on the part of De La Croix and Tansey, though probably partially in response to the success of the Janson and Gombrich texts and certainly in accordance with changing times. Helen Gardner died in 1948. The first, 1959, posthumous edition of her book significantly updated it, providing new information along with coverage of a new medium, photography, and reduced its coverage of world cultures and female creators to a small extent. Sumner McK. Crosby, chair of the Yale University History of Art department, oversaw the rewrite using the Yale faculty and individuals with links to that department to revise the text. The book’s coverage remained broad and fairly deep, even as a few relatively small changes hint at where larger changes had


taken place in Gombrich’s survey and loomed for the Janson book and later editions of Gardner. A new layout of major sections and chapters divides the world more graphically than before into East and West. Still, the overall coverage of world art remains roughly the same as in Helen Gardner’s 1936 edition and the newer authors take advantage of the explosion of scholarship that allowed much richer analysis of art in Asia, the Americas and Africa than Helen Gardner’s time. In its structure and the quality of the scholarship, the 1959 edition makes an even more compelling case than the previous edition had that American college students in the 20th century could and should learn about art and people around the world and become aware of differences, shared imagery, values and ideas transmitted across cultural borders that had sometimes been falsely constructed by imperialistic and social Darwinian thinking. Decisions the authors and editor made about how to contend with intellectual problems that Helen Gardner may have overlooked inched the text more in the direction of what would become the dominant canon, but they did not validate that canon in the way that the Janson survey or the 1970 Gardner edition would. We get a rare glimpse into the internal debates about whom to include a survey text when Beaumont Newhall evidently forced Sumner McK. Crosby to write a footnote apologizing for dropping commentary on 7 photographers because of the “demands of limited space.” I doubt that the 2 of them understood how important it might be that 3 of the photographers were women and that the authors in other ways had begun to reduce the coverage of female artists, let alone that subsequent survey texts would do so dramatically. Not discussed in any footnotes, but of even graver consequence to the longterm coverage of world art and art produced by women, were the changes made in coverage of “minor arts,” “crafts,” “applied arts,” and use of these terms. Earlier in the century, Helen Gardner had been purposively inclusive of what she, herself, called for lack of a better term “minor” arts. Janson, and later De La Croix and Tansey, would seek to avoid this category almost totally with H.W. Janson offering a convoluted rationalization for this in the “Introduction” to History of Art. His “Introduction” explains in a wonderfully freewheeling way what an art historian does and how one decides what is significant for the study of art. He keeps the possibility about what might be art forever open, yet argues that the art historian must test potential claims and constantly narrow the scope. As he maintains in his “Preface and Acknowledgements” “There is always a large body of ‘facts’ in any field of study; they are the sleeping dogs whose very inertness makes them landmarks on the scholarly terrain. Fortunately, only a minority of them can be aroused at the same time, otherwise we should lose our bearings; yet all are kept under surveillance to see which one might be stirred into wakefulness and locomotion. …In a survey such as this, the sleeping dogs are indispensable, but I have tried…to give the reader a fairly close look at some of the wakeful ones” (7). One category that he puts to sleep is the category of craft. Janson justifies this decision in the “Introduction” as follows: “Every budding artist starts out on the level of craft…But only the truly gifted ever leave that stage…and become creators in their own right …if [a creator’s] gifts are too modest for painting, sculpture, or architecture, he is likely to turn to one of the countless special fields known collectively as ‘applied art’“ (16). Janson’s


dismissal of craft is not merely an issue of quality—it has everything to do with how art should be taught and with gender. Rozsika Parker in Old Mistresses: Women, Art, and Ideology notes: “The sex of the art matters. It conditions the way art is seen and discussed. …Art history views the art of the past from certain perspectives and organizes art into categories and classifications based on a stratified system of values, which leads to a hierarchy of art forms. …The clear division of art forms into fine arts and decorative arts, or more simply the arts and crafts, emerged in the Renaissance and is reflected in the changes of art education from craft-based workshops to academies and in the theories of art produced by those academies” (52). She extends Linda Nochlin’s important analysis in her essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” to demonstrate how extensively these categories became fixed in the education and practice of art and how damaging the hierarchies proved to the sense of worth a creator working in a craftrelated category. As Parker notes, these hierarchies exclude a given set of endeavors unless efforts were made to lift that cloud, as she notes happened in the nineteenth century with the arts and crafts movement, which coincided with the first wave of modern feminism. Helen Gardner grew up in the late phase of this era of feminism and experienced first-hand the ongoing revival of the arts and craft movement. While the structure of the two editions of Art through the Ages that she authored shows components of the Renaissance-based prejudice against the applied arts, which demoted them to the lowest status, Gardner found it important to include this category for consideration in the discussion of every culture and almost every period of Western art that she covers. The “minor arts,” as she hesitantly calls them in the first edition (adding a footnote with a string of synonyms in her search for a fuller and less demeaning category) are for Gardner “wakeful dogs” (or ‘facts’) and her text reveals that those who made these creations were often women and artists of color from around the world. Helen Gardner divides almost every chapter into sections labeled: “Historical Background,” “Architecture,” “Sculpture,” “Painting,” “Minor Arts,” and “Summary”. On occasion she shuffles the order. The terms and order tend to show the prejudice against crafts but always give “minor arts” attention. The 1959 Yale team, by contrast, is far less rigid in repeating subheadings. But while the 1959 edition retains periodic use of the subheadings “Architecture,” “Sculpture,” and “Painting” (and explicitly covers those art forms in almost each chapter), it contains no subheading “Minor Arts”. The frequent substitution of the words “Textile,” “Pottery,” etc. should be viewed in part as an effort to avoid the demeaning connotations of “Minor Arts”. But unlike Gardner, herself, this team drops coverage of the “minor arts” in its extensive post-Medieval European art section of the book and drops it in the “Modern Art” section along with the discussion of industrial arts that Helen Gardner coupled with “minor arts” in her chapter on “Modern Art.” When Helen Gardner wrote her first “Preface” and explained the structure of the book, she pointed out: “Until recent times the differentiation so frequently heard of ‘major’ and ‘minor’ did not exist. …[Minor art includes] all that world of smaller objects, minor only in size, through which creative ability has found abundant expression and for which there seems to be no adequately inclusive term” (iii-iv). She had a deep appreciation for the importance of minor


arts that grew out of her experience as a relatively independent, professional woman maturing in Chicago in the glow of the arts and crafts movement and as an art educator at the Art Institute of Chicago concerned with contemporary debates about good design and the importance of it being applied to industrial production and the betterment of society. This ethos, in turn, also made her more receptive than the next generation of art historians to discoveries in anthropology. Her 1936 edition of Art through the Ages contains coverage of not only a wide array of cultures but names and discusses a surprising number of female creators. She writes about such female creators as Hopi potter Marie Martinez and textile designer Ruth Reeves and illustrates their work. Some of her examples and her bibliography show the attention paid to new work being done in anthropology by Franz Boas and a significant group of female scholars around him, such s Ruth Bunzel, who took seriously the lives and activities of women. Gardner developed a greater openness to the fullness of human creativity on both a cultural and gender basis than she had pursued in the first edition of her text or than any of the next generation of authors would come close to considering. She discusses the work of unknown female, Peruvian textile artisans, Hopi potters, some of whom she names, and speaks about women creating art in this context. She also writes about the work of Berthe Morisot, Georgia O’Keeffe, JapaneseAmerican artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi, African-American sculptor Malvian Hoffman and other female artists and artists of color whose names, careers, gender and race will only very rarely appear in texts for decades to come—even in the 1959 edition. And when making broader cultural references, she will matter-of-factly speak about poets Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein the way that later authors will mention Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot but no female poets. Gardner’s awareness of the value of the arts and crafts movement and her interest in the way anthropological discoveries informed its aesthetics made her more wakeful to the accomplishments of women and artists in a wide variety of cultural traditions and concerned about informing students about these accomplishments even though no self-conscious commentary about gender or ethnicity surfaces in her text in the way that it does in postmodern surveys. The 1959 authors who revised the Gardner text maintained much of her coverage of the work of women artists in so-called non-Western cultures (sometimes only slightly altering what she wrote) but no longer named any creators and thus stripped this set of creators individuality and personhood. The authors dropped mention of the artists of color in the Modern section (which covers nineteenth- and twentieth-century art) while Gardner discussed at least 5 in the 1936 edition. The 1959 edition also has many fewer women artists or works by them and no mention of modern female cultural figures. These numbers drop precipitously and the consequences of the change become magnified in the first several editions of the Gombrich and Janson survey and the 1970 edition of Gardner. The Janson text, published in 1962, could conceivably have at least maintained the breadth of the 1959 Gardner edition and might have even pointed thinking back toward the 1936 vision that Helen Gardner proposed because of Dora Jane Janson’s involvement in writing it and her interest in the minor arts. She was a trained art historian and collected Victorian jewelry. In 1971, Dora Jane Janson curated an exhibition on this subject and authored a major catalog on


the topic that Abrams published in conjunction with the Duke University Musuem of Art. The two Jansons had collaborated on 3 books prior to History of Art and are listed as joint authors or editors in each. But with History of Art, Dora Jane assumes a subservient role that she appears to have been content to maintain and that later editions would even magnify. The early editions list the authorship as “H. W. Janson “ in large type and then in smaller type “Professor of Fine Arts, New York University with Dora Jane Janson”. The first “Preface and Acknowledgements,” reprinted almost verbatim in each subsequent edition, introduced a single, first person authorial voice identified at the end as H.W. J. The authorship continues to be listed as H. W. Janson with Dora Jane Janson until 1986, 4 years after H. W.’s death, when, in this third edition, the book is “by H. W. Janson revised and expanded” by the Jansons’ son Anthony F Janson. At that point, Dora Jane Janson’s name disappears completely from the book and remains absent until Anthony undertakes a major reworking of the text in the 1997, revised version of the fifth edition. He is now listed jointly with his father as author and acknowledges for the first time that “feminist theory is applicable to the full scope of art history [and that] it has…forced everyone to reconsider what is ‘good’ art…[and] may be seen as part of the larger shift to multiculturalism, which itself addresses a very real gap in our understanding of art” (14). And, it is with this admission that he brings Dora Jane Janson back into the book: “Fortunately, my mother is still alive, and since she played such an integral role in [the History or Art’s] inception (not to mention mine), this edition is happily dedicated to her as well [as my father]” (13). As a student and then young professor during the 1970’s and ‘80’s, I wish that the Jansons had attended more closely to Dora Jane Janson’s interests. Put bluntly, suppression of those interests was accompanied by universalizing claims. Writing about the limits of the canon, Anthony falsely says in the “Prelude” to the 1997 revised 5th edition that, “when this book first appeared, not a single woman artist was included–nor, I hasten to add, was one to be found in any other art history survey”. And yet, the Gardner text had included women and Dora Jane Janson had interests and knowledge that could have opened the canon more. Throughout his career H. W. Janson pursued progressive thinking that today leaves us wondering how he remained so blind to the narrowness of the canon that he and others promoted. When he was president of the College Art Association, he was the lead signatory of a letter from the organization protesting the war in Vietnam that he sent to the White House. The 1981 Festschrift in honor of him, The Ape of Nature, contains a rich collection of essays contributed by activists and feminist art historians, including Linda Nochlin and Josephine Withers who wished to honor him. The Jansons’ and others’ long resistance to the implications of feminism remains one of the serious failings of the mainstream, liberal imagination in the third quarter of the 20th century. In an interview conducted by Eleanor Dickinson in 1978, 7 years after Linda Nochlin published her article “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” H. W. perversely uses it to justify his exclusion and misses the full implications of the article. “I feel guided by [her] statement,” he asserts (151). And when the interviewer asks about the book’s exclusion of female artists trained in the period after Nochlin saw practices as having been a serious impediment their progress (“But Mary Cassatt, or Frida Kahlo, or Käthe Kollwitz,” Dickinson asks), Janson stubbornly responds that “they are all important artists, but they not


quite important enough to go into a one-volume history of art” (151). Meanwhile, the last 2 editions had included the lesser artist Paul Jenkins over the more accomplished and historically much more important practitioner of the same style, Helen Frankenthaler, among other questionable choices of male over female artists. The radical reductions implemented by Horst de la Croix and Richard Tansey in the 1970, 5th edition of Gardner’s Art through the Ages are even more troubling than Janson’s shortcomings given the text’s history. De la Croix and Tansey announce at the outset: “This edition departs from the previous ones in its concentration on the art of Europe and its ancient antecedents, to the exclusion of the arts of Asia, primitive art, and the art of the Americas” (v). They rationalize this with the contention that “these areas have long deserved and are now being treated in one-year survey courses in their own right” (v). Not only was this a dubious claim for any area but Asian art (and that at only a very few institutions in 1970), but it fails to acknowledge the ghettoization that their attitude encouraged and the false lineage that it substantiated. Artists of color from anywhere on the globe all but vanish from what they still call “Art through the Ages” and Käthe Kollwitz and Bridget Riley are the only 2 female artists who surface following the authors’ reconfiguration of the earlier Gardner text. In the Introduction the authors define “The art to which art history addresses itself [as taking] primarily three forms” which they name and define in brief paragraphs, to the exclusion of other art forms as: “painting,” “sculpture,” and “architecture”. This guides the structure of each culture and period of art covered in the book; the authors only very rarely write about “crafts” and only when analyzing material in a few periods pre-dating the Renaissance. While some of these changes reflect the myopic perspective one era directed toward art and culture, there also appears a fearfulness that makes this text very different from the one that Helen Gardner authored. The authors express a tragic sense of being overwhelmed by the flux and change that they had experiencing in their lives and toward the end of the 1960’s. “The shock of [World War II] and its ‘cold’ aftermath, the persisting threat of atomic annihilation, the widening recognition of human suffering in a large part of the world, and a haunting fear among many that life has no meaning or value…[in] a mechanized culture… As EuropeanAmerican civilization broadens into world civilization a crisis of values is taking place…Traditional values and the values of organized modern life are criticized mercilessly and declared to be largely false” (726). The text shows them responding to this crisis by narrowing the parameters of culture and heritage to a smaller and more controlled and controlling vision than the one Helen Gardner helped students explore. When Helen Gardner first wrote her textbook in 1929, she also spoke about the modern world, technology and globalization as a challenge to the modern mind and possibly a worrisome one. “In an age thus characterized by experimentation, emancipation, transition, and revolution, it is but natural that there should be many manifestations of restlessness” (467). But in this first edition and even more impressively in the 2nd, 1936 edition, written in the midst of the Great Depression, she sees the development of interest in world-art and art engaged in the conduct of life as important in producing major reforms, which she articulates in her “Summary” to the chapter on “The Art of Today” that follows her discussion of “The Minor and Industrial Arts”.


“The modern wing of contemporary art is in direct line of descent from the great art of the past. …it felt, perhaps subconsciously, that the plant of its own [Eurocentric] traditions needed pruning almost to the roots to insure life and growth. …we see a tendency to abolish everything irrelevant to structural and esthetic need….[The new age has led to] A cultural internationalism. Travel, foreign residence, and change in citizenship are disclosing the universality of art, however much the nations differ in idiom. …To be sure, there are many weaknesses in this world-adventure…But through the confusion shines a vitality, a driving force as of a youthful age, awkward and not entirely coherent, undisciplined and wayward; exciting, daring, living strenuously and intensely; making mistakes, going to extremes. In its large outlines the pattern of modern art but repeats the pattern of contemporary life” (744746). Helen Gardner’s excitement about the pluralism produced by modernity translated into attitudes about art and art history current today. How sad that the authors of the major art history texts (including her own project) in the 1960’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s, when art history mushroomed in popularity, failed to build upon Helen Gardner’s lead or even the one offered by the 1959, 5th edition of her text. We continue today to be challenged by how we can account for the fullness of human creativity. Indeed, the early editions of Art through the Ages provided a paradigm that would have served art historians and artists better than the reknown 1970 edition or that edition’s rivals, Gombrich’s Story of Art and the Jansons’ History of Art.


PICTORIAL VERBIAGE Gary Keown Southeastern Louisiana University

Throughout history, relationships can be found between the making of pictures and later the “image” of letterforms and ultimately words. For example, the cave paintings at Lascaux around 10,000 B.C., represented animals which were vital to the culture’s survival. The interest in this imagery continued based on its necessity for population perpetuation and ultimately the origin of the first two letterforms of the alphabet we use today. Two very early pictographs represented ox and shelter. Through the evolutionary process of these symbols, the Phoenician culture was responsible for this iconographic refinement. This culture named these signs “Aleph” and “Beth.” and developed twenty additional characters motivated on commerce. The Greeks further developed these letterforms naming them, “Alpha” and “Beta,” thus the term, “Alphabet.” The Romans adopted what the Greeks had used, ultimately calling these simply “A” and “B. This bit of history illustrates how “. . . art creates and compresses meaning by preceding words. Later the influence of word and image in art can be traced to the barrage of images introduced in movies, newspapers and magazines starting at the beginning of the twentieth century. This became a huge confrontation among “High Art” and this new use. It was due in part to this movements’ close connection to advertising which was generally shunned by the art community as being “commercial. John Baldessari is credited as being one of the first artists to explore this approach by placing the “word” inside of his photographs during the 1960’s. With such movements as the “writers” of the late 60’s, these artists made their “mark” on subway cars here in New York City. This subsequently inspired artists such as Keith Herring and John Fekner both of New York creating a “raw” application of visual information having its reference to the icon and into the heart of the public with the word respectably. In John Fekner’s work he states, “Another harbinger of Armageddon? Will the forces rage and clash and leave nothing in their wake? We believe that man’s will is still intact; if his art says nothing else, it affirms his power of aesthetic choice. He can remove the toxic wastes and industrial carcasses that strangle his environment, just as he can wipe away the surviving myths and hypocrisies that lay like a fringe of silt on the window to the future. “America”, “The Remains of Industry” (3), “Fluorocarbons, Preservative, Asbestos” (2), “Decay,” and “Warning Signs Northeastern Cities” The billboard has and will continue to be a vital part of bringing “the word” into a visual context. Eastern Connecticut artist, June Bisantz Evans takes her billboards and transit signage into a pseudo commercial art whimsy with actual ventage imagery with that of her own into a


retro fit. As she states, “my work deals with issues of feminine identity and self-image. She collages photographs of herself into various scenarios depicting psychological struggle, genderrelated pitfalls, and personal triumph.” She is interested in making her work part of the local landscape. As many of you may know, Barbara Kruger creates similar work. In 1997 her project “Bus,” with her utilization of urban advertising strategies became increasingly intellectual and inescapable. This was new vinyl bus wrapping which Kruger embraced with vigor. With her characteristic red and black color palette, she would wrap an urban commuter bus from bumper to bumper using assorted sources such as literary passages and lyrics from songs interpreted through a variety of typographic font families and sizes to express various periods in the twentieth century. These quotes ranged from the Malcolm X sound bite, “ . . . give your brain as much attention as you give your hair to Courtney Love’s “I want to be the girl with the most cake,” and Krugar’s own “I shop therefore I am. Using politically incorrect issues in his billboards, West Coast artist Ron English pursues the commercial, religious and political arena such as “Phat Food,” and “Shop While They Drop. “Welcome to America’s Finest Tourist Plantation” consisted of a bus poster created by David Avalos, Louis Hock, and Elizabeth Sisco. Placed on San Diego city buses during Super Bowl week, these works created a public combustion controversy on immigration, freedom of expression, and government support of the arts. Canadian artist, Adrian Gollner truly blurs the perception as to whether his work is art or actual commercial application. Pictured is, “Police, Part of the People’s Plan I too am currently producing a series of works for possible public signage exhibition. Using a oxymoron structure, this issue of double take perception as to whether it is art or a commercial application is intriguing. “Reality Delusion, and “Frugal Vanity Digital technology developments during the later part of the 80’s became an unimaginable shift of methodology for the graphic designer. This same technology, language, conceptual framework and medium base has been adopted by visual artists as a new and vital means of exploration. Although Internet Art is still in its infancy, it has the promise to be one of most public accessible art forms compared to alternatives. There is a great deal of internet art out there, but very little that truly utilizes the potential of this new medium. Here are a few that possibly do. The first of these is from the Museum of Web Art ( You enter this as you would an art museum. Thomas James Allen: “Drive” 1998 Aaron Calhoun: “Undergrowth” 1998


“To simulate the illusion of forest growth, the artist created a panel of six, visually overlapping images that alter when the user passes over them with a mouse. 42 small images are utilized in this piece. Amy Stone “Strips,” 1999 These kinetic patterns are affected by the roll-over of your mouse, therefore becoming interactive. Aaron Calhoun Zero K, Number 2 1998 “Exploring he idea of user changeable art, the artist has created a series of visual layers that can be activated and deactivated with mouseovers and clicks. This is an Interactive mouse affected use of shape and image. Matthijs de Bruijne A Similar Place In December 2001, Matthijs de Bruijne traveled for the second time to Buenos Aires, Argentina. He brought with him 14 photographs of images from Amsterdam. The purpose was to look for similar sites in Buenos Aires of generic places—such as restaurants, trains, roads, fences, houses—that can be found anywhere in the world. However, when he arrived in Buenos Aires the country was going through a serious period of economic and political turmoil. It is in this particular context that de Bruijne developed ‘A Similar Place’. The project explores notions of migration, despair and defeat. In 14 tableaux Matthijs portrays aspects of life in Buenos Aires as he experimented it during his stay. The work adopts a cinematic perspective. The sound material recorded on-site displays a very effective use of ambient sounds, amplifying the paradox between the images from Amsterdam and the situation in Buenos Aires. From using images, pictographs, then words, the combination of words and images, to contemporary media forms for art generally associated with advertising including the billboard, signage and the internet, these media of expression have at times become hard to discern from their pragmatic commercial counterparts. Is it advertising or art? Both reflect upon socially derived references to critical issues, humor, satire through verbiage complemented at times with visual imagery. It should be interesting to observe where these directions will go in the future.



There is no question that artists, Leon Golub and Sue Coe, have a point of view. Golub’s series of paintings, “Mercenaries, White Squad” and “Vietman” the focus of this paper, feature oversized soldiers, singly or in small groups, taunting each other or torturing victims who are helpless and in suppliant positions. The resemblance between one of Golub’s best known paintings, “Mercenaries V” completed in 1984, and one of the most widely circulated photos of the torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq makes Golub’s much earlier work not only prescient, but even more deeply disturbing. Sue Coe’s much smaller prints, particularly those in the book Dead Meat, (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1995), depict the inner workings and horrendous cruelty of slaughterhouses. The pictures are accompanied by text which recounts the ways Coe gained access to various slaughterhouses normally barred from public view. The question is: What do Golub’s and Coe’s points of view do to our point of view as we view their work? It is impossible not to be taken in, not to be engaged by Golub and Coe, but what are those giant mercenaries, those hunched workers and twisted animals asking of us? This is a paper about point of view and ethics. In this paper, I maintain that it is narrative that gives visual work the capacity to hold in intricate balance compositional point of view, narrative point of view, and ethical point of view. It is through narrative that these various points of view intermingle and engage each other. Do Paintings Bite? Golub asks in the title of his book of collected essays. Indeed, he speaks for Coe as well as for himself: Yes. Of course. They do indeed bite. And this is a paper about how that happens. But first, to talk a moment about methodology. Point of view in narrative has been a central concern of literary theory since the time of Henry James and one of his major theorists, Percy Lubbock. While Lubbock studied the way irony distances a narrator from the story he or she is telling, later critics, particularly Wayne Booth, made distinctions in narrative point of view more precise by identifying the narrator in the story, the narrator of the story–sometimes called the implied narrator–and the moving and changing points of view readers bring to a story as they read it. (This is to greatly oversimplify, though not contradict, the recent work of Gerard Genette and Monika Fludernick on narrative voice and point of view and Richard Aczel’s work on the hermeneutics of reading.) It is a schema described by James Phelan in “Sethe’s Choice: Beloved and the Ethics of Reading,” (appearing in Mapping the Ethical Turn, Todd F. David and Kenneth Womack, Eds. Charlottesville: University Pr. Of Virginia, 2001), that I would like to apply to Golub and Coe’s work. Phelan roughly follows the categories I have already mentioned, but applies them to the audience’s relationship to the narrative and to the ethical concerns of the work. I have extended Phelan’s categories to include visual as well as literary art. Thus, there are the points of view held by the figures within the work. Second, there is the point of view maintained by the artist/narrator as he or she lays out the story and


manipulates the visual composition of the work, and thirdly, there is the audience’s ongoing engagement with both as we are drawn in by story and by visual techniques. While these divisions might not suggest anything particularly new in the critical response to Golub and Coe’s works, it is in the way these various types of point of view play off of each other, confront the audience, draw us into the actions of the story itself, make us characters within the story, that the full moral import of visual and narrative art is realized. Let us start with the point of view established within the works. Golub’s war paintings and Coe’s “Dead Meat” are similar in that their point of view is self-enclosed and suggests that public systems of violence, that is, systems of war and systems that produce meat, are selfsufficient, self-generating and resist an outside point of view. For Golub, war is not a mass movement of armies and technology, but rather consists of many single conflicts, the taunting encounters between small independent groups of people. (See “Mercenaries VI,” “Vietnam III”.) There is no sense of military hierarchies, strategic organization, mappings, Hitler’s mass geometries. Rather, there is a desultory, physical closeness between individual men. They eye each other warily. Their arms and hands and eyes are engaged in an intricate and delicate play of glances and gestures. There is an intimate language of street gangs here, of insult and response, of an immense, withheld explosive will to violence. But the gestures close us out. We are overhearing a language we do not know well, a conversation we certainly are not part of. We do not know street language, and we certainly could not enter into the casual but intense one-on-one these soldiers are engaged in. The narrative point of view within Sue Coe’s work also does not acknowledge intruders, and also reveals a world of self-enclosed violence. As with Golub’s mercenaries, the eyes of Coe’s characters are intensely focused on the task at hand, which is intimate and cruel. There is also the same strange interplay of casual dominance and suppliant vulnerability. Coe’s characters are muscled, yet stooped into a submission, which nonetheless does not prevent them from performing the tasks of herding, killing, eviscerating, skinning, beheading, large numbers of animals in assembly line numbers and swiftness. Although Golub’s intricate dance of gestures and glances is not evident, there is the same sense of intimate connection between aggressor and victim, the same delicate hands, the same physical closeness, which can’t be intruded on by someone else. It is almost the intimacy, the privacy as well as the large self-looping, selfgenerating systems that shut us out. While in both Coe’s and Golub’s work, the point of view in the paintings and prints shut us out, the point of view OF the works draws us in, so that we become part of the scene even as we are excluded from its story. The large size of Golub’s figures, (“Mercenaries IV,” 10' x 19'; “Vietnam III,” 10' x 28' and “Mercenaries V,” 10' x 14 1/2'), and the lateral movement of these figures across a very shallow space tip the action out of the picture plane into our own viewing space, spreading the figures out, over and around our heads. In fact, the figures are cut off at the legs, suggesting the lower limits of our own eyesight when we are standing very close to someone. So, in effect, the point of view of the work turns the ground on which we stand as we view the work into a stage space which we share with the figures in the painting. Golub includes architectural details within the work as well, that is, pedestals and posts and broken


public monuments, which create a common civic space, so that we and the mercenaries are part of the same public moment even though that moment is intimately violent and paradoxically private and exclusionary. Coe plays a similar game of exclusion and inclusion with her audience. The rounded, bending figures of the workers and the geometric factory machinery where assembly lines and workers loop back into themselves exclude us from the operation. Yet, the compositional perspective places us very high, looking down or very low, looking up, in a frontal or near frontal position. We are very much part of the scene. Frequently, the picture plane opens and swallows us up in a kind of Danta-esque Inferno. Hell is a huge cavernous room enclosed by wall, floor and ceiling with absolutely no escape route. Individual figures melt into abstract designs, indicating large numbers, but also suggesting an unending dimension of mythic proportion that includes us. Some of Coe’s prints even resemble a biological cross-section which seems to mirror the cross-section of space we occupy in front of the picture. So, the point of view in the works exclude us, the point of view of the works include us, and then there are clever ways that Golub and Coe cross the line between the two points of view. In Golub’s work, these are the characters that look out directly at us with both seeing and unseeing eyes. In Coe, there is a written narrative that helps us walk right into the scene, in and around people, sometimes tripping on escaped animals as they die. In Golub’s “Mercenary V,” three captives are lined up in push-up formation before the squatting mercenary who holds a gun to the forehead of one in the middle. He is looking directly out of the picture plane and smirking at us, the audience. In “White Squad XI,” the squad member is standing, dragging a victim by the wrist with a rope, almost looking at us, but not quite. These two men are assured, arrogant; their gestures are not extraordinarily flamboyant since they are offered no resistance. They do not seem particularly startled or interrupted as they acknowledge our gaze. It is almost as if we are just another member of their gang. What is most apparent is the a-morality of their glance. They have no qualms about what they are doing. Golub has written that a painting is different from video or motion picture because it stops the forward motion of a narrative (Do Paintings Bite? Selected Texts 1948-1996). New York: Distributed Art Pub., Inc., 1997, p. 75) which otherwise just keeps moving on and on, event after event , what E.M. Forester describes as the “and then, and then, and then” of story, its diachronous movement. But in this stopped moment, the synchronous moment, morality happens. It is interesting to consider what would occur if Golub’s mercenaries were not stopped, for instance, and the story moved on to its inevitable end. In “Mercenaries V,” given a few more minutes, there would only be the bodies of dead victims, arms and legs akimbo, or, given a few more months, the skulls and bones exposed through tattered jeans and shirts. At best, our capacity to judge this event would be finalized by the irreversible completion of the deed, or at worst it would be over-ridden by disgust or repulsion. By stopping the narrative at this, its most pregnant and suspenseful moment, and then making a character in the story look out of the picture plane at us and assume that we, the audience, are part of the story, Golub pulls us into the painting as narrative, but also as a visual


composition and ethical conundrum. As characters drawn into the story, we add a moral sensibility, a moral point of view missing in the gaze of the mercenary and impossible in the bowed heads or dragged bodies of the victims. But our sensibility is aesthetic as well as moral. We are in the hands of Golub, the implied narrator, who is also Golub, the painter. By rendering the prisoners in front of the soldier’s gun in “Mercenaries V” or at the end of the soldier’s rope in “White Squad XI” in vague detail, as abstract forms occupying 2/3rd of the paintings, but forms that still suggest living human beings with an internal but subdued vitality, Golub allows abstract composition to gain moral resonance. We enter into the push and pull of lines within the work, the balance of vertical and horizontal motion, one plane extending out to us, the other held within the frame, both planes touching each other at the delicate point of a gun or at the points of a soldier’s fingers. Beneath the soldiers’ glance, we are seduced with the pleasure of this moment, the moment between submission and annihilation, when opposing forces are held in taut but no longer competing tension. It’s that moment in a tug-of-war game when one side holds the rope and knows its won but hasn’t pulled the other side over, or the pull of a dog leash, for instance, when the dog just starts to move away, or the moment before we push over a tower of blocks. We may be incapable of pistol whipping or murdering someone, but who hasn’t felt the visceral pleasure of these lines which are momentarily held between what is upright and what is falling over, what is vertical and horizontal, what hovers between abstraction and verisimiltude, between immoral action and visceral pleasure. And so, the soldiers who stare out at us with a-moral eyes, include us in an aesthetic pleasure which complicates our moral identification with victim and aggressor. Coe also has to stop her narrative at a suspenseful and morally charged moment. She also invests aesthetic satisfaction with moral resonance. In this case, it is the power of her writing that draws us into her illustrations and complicates what is otherwise fairly unuanced moral judgment. Unlike Golub where death is about to happen, in Coe, death happens so continuously, in infinitely repeated cycles, that the implied author must break through the cycles and draw death back into time, to a moment where death is not yet accomplished, where there still is suspense, where there is space for human intention and judgment. Since neither machine nor hunched factory worker nor herded animal is capable of this point of view, Coe uses herself as investigative journalist to provide us a moral entry into this world. And so, in “Dead Meat,” the prints are accompanied by a non-fiction narrative that recounts the way Coe entered into various slaughterhouses at great risk, documented what she saw there and then escaped. There is a narrative arc of suspense that counters the cyclic inevitability of death, and the details of these adventures allow us to walk around the characters, observe more closely what they are wearing, what they say to each other, how they interact. As narrator of these pieces, Coe resembles the intensely observant narrator of dystopian novels–the narrator in l984, or Animal Farm or the thinking, self-aware heroine of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. Such narrators must carve out for themselves a small, free space where they can carry the full burden of history, memory, culture and judgment. Just as it is the nuance of line and shape that draw us into the moral drama of Golub’s paintings, it is the nuance of text that draws us into Coe’s prints and creates a moral reference point that otherwise is missing.


Let us briefly examine a brief moment of Coe’s prose to show how this works. Although her prints give the slaughterhouse a kind of mythic grandeur, her prose gives it the immediacy and random textures of lived life. Coe writes in a terse, declarative, present tense style. She observes small random details–hooves, beaks, the eye of a pig, hair-nets, scraps of conversation. She also has an eye for culturally significant details, the racial make-up of a Canadian slaughterhouse, for instance–Greek, French-Canadian, African-Canadian–and the resultant work hierarchy. Revelation is accidental occurring when observations stack together in odd ways. All of her observations are sandwiched between continual, understated, but tenacious meditation on the contradictory meanings of what she is seeing and the extent to which we are all caught in the cultural dilemmas that find their touchstone in the make-up and workings of the slaughterhouse. All this provides an ongoing point for moral reflection that neither the characters in the piece nor the panoramic view of the piece can provide. Ultimately, however, Coe frames the moral conundrums of the slaughterhouse as larger than a slaughterhouse issue. Just as the implied narrator/artist in Golub’s work draws us into the visceral pleasures of the piece, Coe’s implied narrator/artist draws the visceral horrors out of the piece into that space, that theater stage, that public space in front of the work which both we and the work’s characters share. It is a profoundly moral space: “What is the alternative (for the slaughterhouse workers)?” Coe asks. “To be unemployed? To have kids on welfare, or maybe homeless?” She answers her own question: “None of us can handle too many contradictions. Every dollar I get drips with blood too. I look at the men again, ‘the guys,’ and see they are frightened. Lorri and I are making trouble for them. They will be the sacrificial goats, the bosses can always diversify.” (75) Suddenly, we don’t have an orderly self-enclosed system of violence, but a system that now contains Sue Coe, the prose narrator inside the slaughterhouse and by extension ourselves, the audience, who have entered through her narration. What have we done? We have posed a threat to the workers as severe as the threat realized on the animals. And so, the small story within a story that closes this particular chapter on the Lancaster, Pennsylvania Stockyard becomes a metaphor for the damage we ourselves can inflict. “I ask the boss, ‘Are the workers upset by all the killing?’” Coe continues. “The boss says, ‘These workers see so much animal blood, they don’t care, but if one man cuts his little finger, they all go crazy.’” This final mini-narrative in effect encapsulates our own experience of Coe’s text, The illustrations provide us so much animal blood we might not care, but Coe’s text allows us to see the cut of the little finger that makes us go crazy. So, what are we to do with this knowledge? The points of view within the story, the point of view of the story and the implied narrator’s point of view behind both allow several responses: Mercifully, we can enjoy our exclusion from Golub’s and Coe’s worlds. Less mercifully, we can also squirm at our inclusion through a familiar glance by mercenary, by a compelling story by a journalist. We can also recognize the aesthetic pleasure these works give us with its corresponding moral implications. But because both works, each in their own ways, attempt to stop the moment of death and hold it up for examination, perhaps it is the experience of death


itself that is the deepest center of moral engagement here, that to take death seriously, refusing to evade it or trivialize it or mystify it, undercuts the very conditions that make mercenaries and slaughterhouses possible. If death for a mercenary is trivial, forgettable, all in a days work, for Golub it is monumental.Golub repeatedly stresses in his essays that his work is not only about specific wars and specific atrocities, but about the existential predicament we find ourselves in as human beings. Life is chaotic, bound by the meaningless cruelty and the unbearable transiency of existence. Nonetheless, we are charged moment by moment to make meaning within this chaos, meaning in the largest scale. Golub speaks of tragedy, fatality, pathos in the largest Shakespearean sense. We can meet the thug’s glances and not be defined by them because we see more than thugs ever will. While Golub recognizes the nobility of death, Coe questions the too easy assignment of this nobility to the deaths that we witness in the slaughterhouses: “The Holocaust keeps coming into my mind, which annoys the hell out of me,” she says. “I see this reference in so many animal rights magazines. Is this the comforting measuring rod by which all horrors are evaluated. . . . The Holocaust image provides a shape, a reason, an end, a survivability . . . . [but] Twenty million murdered humans deserve to be more than a reference point. . . . . [The previous sentence quoted out of order.] My quest–to be a witness to understanding collusion— has become like a mirror facing a mirror. I require witnesses. Reality has to be shared for it to be understood. Yet it is a contradiction: to witness what is concealed forces one into more isolation and solitude.” (72) The very fact that we read through “Dead Meat” means that we are relieving Coe of the burden of her knowledge. We are standing alongside her now watching and noting and taking down all that is happening, relieving her of the uniqueness of her point of view, breaking the secrecy of the place although the knowledge begins to mark us as well, forcing us back into our own isolation and solitude. Yet, for the moments of our viewing, for the moment of our willingness to be morally and literally taken in, we break the mirror facing a mirror, we break through the amoral circle of cruelty and despair. The stories in Golub’s and Coe’s work are left unfinished. There is no narrative closure in the event that is about to occur in Golub paintings and in the events that never stop occurring in Coe’s prints. If we consider the works as a space in which we contemplate death and that we ennoble death through that contemplation, then perhaps we have begun to break the chains of violence that death requires.



Whether one likes or dislikes a literary work depends on his or her experiences, knowledge base, and the sense of satisfaction had after reading the text. Literature, then, might be considered a vehicle designed by an author to affect human emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Genre is a categorical term that describes different strategies for how authors organize material to delight and teach readers. It can refer to large forms–like the novel, short story, and poem– or forms within these forms–such as an epic or romance styled plot within a novel. Knowledge about genres prior to ones reading of a text is important, then, because it allows readers to anticipate and respond in informed ways to their respectively unique reading adventures. This observation also applies to makers and viewers of visual art since skilled artists should be informed story makers. In the following discussion, the generic terms Epic and Romance are considered and applied to two Canadian novels that I read with design, fine art, and photography students at the Alberta College of Art and Design in a first-year English course entitled “Introduction to Narrative.” Close reading of Robertson Davies’ 5th Business and Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion allow us to highlight differences between epic and romance genres and consider how they might be related. I might also suggest some affiliations between Epic and Romance and Modernist and Postmodernist aesthetics should time permit. The discussion’s ultimate goal, to be noted, is to assist the greater good of this year’s conference’s theme, making connections between Art and Story, and advance discussion and research collaboration between studio and liberal arts instructors. The difference between Epic and Romance can be summarized as follows: Whereas epic organizes itself around principles of unity and wholeness, romance turns on diversity and fragmentation. It is a difference understood as that between the one and the many. In visual terms it might be perceived as the difference between a closed fist and an open hand. Raphael provides us with the image in “School of Athens” where Plato raises his fist, single finger extended, and Aristotle stretches his hand toward the ground, four digits and thumb extended. Characteristics unique to Epic and Romance have been noted by literary historian David Quint. He claims Epic’s embodiment of coherence relies on cause and effect sequences logically arranged to serve a teleological purpose, where all events lead to an end that is their cause. In classical forms, like Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aneid, epic “celebrates a parade” (31), and it champions images and concepts central to Western rationality, such as National unity, male control, cosmic order and destiny, Olympian Gods, specifically Apollo, Permanence, Imperial unity out of many, conquered nations, and Empire without end, to name a few (25).


Romance, on the other hand, embodies fragmentation and celebrates the carnival following the parade. Aspects of Romance are found in Homer’s Odyssey and Lucan’s Pharsalia. Contrary to Epic, Romance challenges the singular Western mind with images and concepts such as, Eastern overpopulation, female passion and the body’s senses, loss of somatic control, chaos and fortune, Monster Gods and grotesqueries, flux, Nature, loss of identity, and the end of Empire (Quint 25). The wandering ship of Odysseus, or Cleopatra at the helm of a rudderless wind-tossed ship, are “virtual emblems of romance for writers like Borges and Frye” (34). Concerning a codependency between one and many understood in narrative terms, Quint notices Romance maintains “a subversive relationship to the epic plot line from which it diverges” because “it indicates the possibility of other perspectives” that threaten “the epic victor’s single-minded story of history” (34). Differences between Epic and Romance can be applied to Davies’ Fifth Business (pub. 1970) and Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion (pub. 1987). Both novels account for a boy’s transformation into a man, from private to public life, but arguably Davies offers us an epic narrative and Ondaatje a romantic one. The argument as such is based on close readings of the first paragraph of each novel and their respective epigraphs. Davies’ novel begins: My lifelong involvement with Mrs. Dempster began at 5:58 o’clock p.m.on 27 December 1908, at which time I was ten years and seven months old. (1) When I ask students on the first day of class, prior to any discussion about genre, to do a “free fall” word association with their immediate impressions upon hearing the paragraph read out loud, they respond with words such as, “logical,” “neighbors,” “married,” and “surgical glove.” Students generally agree, without prompting, that Davies’ opener appeals to their reason and sets them up to “think” rather than “feel.” The cause for consensus may be due to the paragraph’s attention to details of time, brevity, and use of a confident sounding first-person narrator established with the opening word “My” and buttressed by the following “I was.” Davies’ first paragraph establishes an illusion, at least, of unity and wholeness where subjectivity is defined by rationalized consciousness. The illusion of reason as the novel’s guiding force is projected by the single epigraph which, rather than evoke moody or intertextual intrusions, simply defines “Fifth Business”: Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were none the less essential to bring about the Recognition or the dénouement were called the Fifth Business. Readers of the novel find these early premonitions of coherence indicative of an epic narrative reflected in the plot’s linear sequence that, despite possible complications inherent to its presentation as a flashback, clearly follow the Bildungsroman’s typical development of a hero moving from cradle to grave.


Ondaatje’s novel, on the other hand, opens with an ambiguous word, “If,” uses a third person narrative point of view, refers to collections of things, and turns on poetic rather than prosaic language: If he is awake early enough the boy sees the men walk past the farmhouse down First Lake Road. Then he stands at the bedroom window and watches: he can see two or three lanterns between the soft maple and the walnut tree. He hears their boots on gravel. Thirty loggers, wrapped up dark, carrying axes and small packages of food which hang from their belts. The boy walks downstairs and moves to a window in the kitchen where he can look down the driveway. They move from right to left. Already they seem exhausted, before the energy of the sun. (7) Students freely associate their impressions of this paragraph with words such as “Curious George,” “crunchy,” “awe,” “wonder,” and “magic,” and they find its mood makes them feel rather than think. One student claims it makes her feel “yummy” rather than “yucky,” and another says, “Comparing Davies to Ondaatje is like choosing between going to math or art class.” Supported by students’ observations and in line with noted characteristics of Romance, Ondaatje’s opening paragraph draws attention to corporeality’s importance for defining subjectivity and challenges the Cartesian view of mind superior to body. Further support for considering Ondaatje’s novel as a Romance and celebration of multiplicity is provided by its two epigraphs. The first is from the Epic of Gilgamesh, which despite its claim to epic by title is known to us today only as a collection of fragments: The joyful will stoop with sorrow, and when you have gone to the earth I will let my hair grow long for your sake, I will wander through the wilderness in the skin of a lion. The second is from John Berger who announces the death of big “H” history and its premise of truth in unity: Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one. Fragmentation and corporeal references are carried through Ondaatje’s novel by interruptions of logical cause and effect sequences in forms of dreams, letters, descriptions of photographs, different characters’ points of view, newspaper clippings, and fleeting but always sensorially intense notices of body parts and marks: “What remained in the dyers’ skin was the odor that no woman in bed would ever lean towards” (132). Despite these interruptions, however, one realizes by the novel’s end a story has been told but from the outside in, so to speak, where several stories about the concept of story telling congeal, but the story of story telling deconstructs itself and the epic mandate is confounded by an appeal to compassion. Character Alice Gull encourages readers to understand the novel this way when she says, “Trust me, this will take time,” “there is order here” but “very faint, very human” (146).


The connection between Epic and Romance and Modernism and Postmodernism is simply this: Whereas Modernism shares with Epic a desire for completion in unity determined by rationalized consciousness, what I heard described yesterday as Modernism’s faith to consolidate subjectivity in an essential “I,” Postmodernism shares with Romance a positive view of disunity and the possibility that developing subjectivities also require engaged awareness of embodiment and commitment to diverse practices experienced in larger multifaceted communities. BIBLIOGRAPHY Cranny-Francis, Anne. The Body in the Text. Victoria, Australia: Melbourne UP, 1995. Davies, Robertson. Fifth Business. Toronto: Penguin, 1996. McKinney, Ronald H. “The Origins of Postmodernism: The Ariosto-Tasso Debate.” Philosophy Today (Fall 1989): 232-44. Ondaatje, Michael. In the Skin of a Lion. Toronto: Vintage, 1996. Quint, David. Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form from Virgil to Milton. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1993.



I came to the idea of China’s first female poet through the last chapter of Maxine Hong Kingston’s 1976 five-chapter novel The Woman Warrior: Memoir of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. She refers to the woman as “Ts’ai Yen,” but she is best known as Cai Wenji. Born around 178, the daughter of Cai Yong, a prominent statesman from the Eastern Han dynasty, Cai Wenji was abducted during a civil rebellion in 192 when mercenaries from the Xiongnu, a nomadic tribe living north of China, came to China’s capital, Chang’an, and took Wenji off to the frontier. She was already a widow, but most sources say that she married the Crown Prince, Ce Xian, of the Xiongnu, some saying that she lived as his concubine. She bore him two children. After 12 or 14 years, a powerful minister named Cao Cao (155 CE-220 CE) came to bring her back to China. She had to make the painful choice of returning to China and leaving her children behind or staying with her children and not returning to her homeland. Wenji’s is a universal story of motherhood, homeland, love, loss and the solace of art. It has been used for centuries to bolster political agendas, to legitimize dislocated Chinese and to celebrate artistic transformation. According to editors Kang-i-Sun Chang and Haun Saussy, Wenji known for three poems; two are narrative poems describing her life with the nomads and appear “in her Hou Han Shu biography, dating from 424-45”(22). The third and most influential is the one that is known as “Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute,” and even its authorship is debated because its earliest documented text is in the late 11th century anthology Yuefu shiji by Guo Maoqian (22). The poem is unusual for early poetry because of its “direct, passionately expressed identity of the woman’s voice” (23). We know that in 773 poet Liu Shang rewrote the poem in the form from which most poetic permutations have come down to us today. According to Robert A. Rorex and Wen Fong, another version of the Wenji poem was written by Northern Sung statesman Wang An-Shih (1021-86). Lin Yutang claims that Wang Anshih was known for opposing freedom of expression, a deep irony, given that Wenji’s narrative has maintained its powerful hold on its audience for that very expressiveness! His is a version I never found. This first person narrative–a song of grief about Wenji’s separation from country, family and children–has had the power to influence and inspire artists from Liu Shang’s time and place to our own contemporary, western time and place. Tracing these re-presentations of Cai Wenji’s first person narration in paintings, theater, opera and even television will move us closer to an understanding of Lady Wenji’s role in shaping our views of Chinese culture, history and politics. Susan Sontag states in her essay “On Interpretation” that “the modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys.” Do I destroy Wenji’s artistry in my effort to interpret


these depictions of it? I began with the idea that these representations usurped and assimilated Wenji’s narrative, presenting it for purposes other than her original intentions and distorting it to fit the agenda of the artist depicting it. I no longer believe that is the case and defer to Jeanette Winterson’s approach to historical representations. Jeanette Winterson’s 1996 essay “Art Objects” claims that artists are called upon to make things new, not by repudiating the past but by reclaiming it. She explains that art that reclaims the past and makes it new “is not lost to authority, it is not absorbed at a level of familiarity. It is re-stated and re-instated in its original vigour.” True artists demonstrate their connectedness, “to the past, to one another, to the physical world . . . ” It is, indeed, this connection to its “original vigour” that the Chinese seek when they re-present Cai Wenji’s narrative or any earlier piece of art. As Chris Berry and Mary Ann Farquhar in their essay “Post-Socialist Strategies: An Analysis of Yellow Earth and Black Cannon Incident,” claim, “In classical Chinese aesthetics, however, the highest art is not to invent but to reinterpret” (95). Berry and Farquhar cite Simon Leys 1983 who claims that “The supreme art is to position, adjust and fit together . . . well-worn images in such a way that from this unexpected encounter a new life may spark” (The Burning Forest, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 23). I experienced this “unexpected encounter” when I found Lady Wenji’s image in the museum at the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China, when I found her image on the internet, when I heard her story in contemporary opera, and when I read her story in historical drama. All of these re-presentations are consistent with the Chinese idea of “highest art.” Wenji’s narrative is compelling because it addresses issues of identity, family, loss, home and loyalty. It has been transcribed from her initial plaintive poetic lament into the Chinese literati’s music of the qin, the paintings of the 12th , 14th, and 20th and 21st centuries, the 20th century assimilations into a novel, Chinese theater, a Macaoan/American opera depiction, and finally what seems to be a glib but sensationalized 21st century Chinese television production. The voice of Lady Wenji has become that of men and women, dynasties and democracies, Chinese, Europeans and Americans who have used her as a means of connecting our present with our past, ourselves with our barbaric “other.” This first person voice, once female and Chinese, has been absorbed and redistributed into and by a much richer, more vibrant world of cultural and artistic diversity. As English readers, our first interest is translation. Rorex and Fong’s translation of the 18 stanzas, published in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s text Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute: The Story of Lady Wen-Chi, is based on a 14th century handscroll in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This text was published in 1974, right after the Met obtained the handscroll in 1973 as a gift of the Douglas Dillon Collection.” Sauling Cynthia Wong from the University of California calls Robert Rorex and Wen Fong’s 1974 translation of Liu Shang’s poem “the closest approximation [to the original] available” (33). Rorex and Fong claim that Wenji’s decision to return to China embodies several “cherished ideas: the superiority of Chinese civilization over the cultures beyond her borders, the irreconcilability of the different ways of life; the necessity for the individual to bear the


burdens thrust upon one by fate; and, above all, the Confucian concept of loyalty to one’s ancestral family and state.” Maxine Hong Kingston’s 1977 novel The Woman Warrior mentions the poem as “Eighteen Stanzas for a Barbarian Reed Pipe,” but she never gives us a translation or version of the poem, even though she emphasizes the significance of it as “a song that Chinese sing to their own instruments” because “It translated well” (209). She provides descriptive images in her text, but they are inconsistent with the painted scroll depictions of Wenji’s narrative. Hers is a purely imagined construct, one that suits the purposes of her novel but also calls upon the those well-worn images to create an “unexpected encounter” at the end of her novel–an encounter that intersects the ancient Chinese past with the current American present. Another literary approach to Cai Wenji is Guo Moruo’s 1959 play Cai Wenji, now translated into English by Bonnie McDougal. The action takes place between 208 and 216 CE. Like Lady Wenji, Guo had been an exile from his motherland, studying medicine in Japan from 1914 to 1923, leaving his wife and children behind. Certainly Guo could identify with Wenji as exile, but as a politician who helped found the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Guo used “historical plays [to] reflect his concern for contemporary events in Chinese history. He was doing what Mao Zedong had urged, ‘making the past serve the present.’ (ii). Moving from beliefs in pantheism to Marxism to Communist, Guo was a savvy political official, holding offices on various government councils, academies, institutes, federations and congresses. In his play he reconstructs the story to serve the purposes of New China’s policy towards non-Han people by making “unity and friendship between all the people of China” his focus (viii). One other revision in Guo’s Wenji is the return of her children 8 years after her return home (photo). She writes a new poem that claims, “now today I can rejoice/Near and far are of one family.” Furthermore, in the end of the play Wenji’s son claims, “From now on, the Han and the Xiongnu will really be like members of one family” (402), but even from the outset of the play, Wenji expresses her wish to her husband, the Zuoxian Prince, “that the Xiongnu and the Han will always be friends” (330), a theme that Guo hammers throughout the play. He goes so far as to give one of the fictitious characters in the play a line that suggests an even closer connection between the Han and the “barbarians.” He claims that the Xiongnu are descendants of the King of the Xia Dynasty, “So the Xiongnu and the Han are actually brothers . . . ” (348). Despite his politically motivated reconstruction of Wenji’s tale, Guo Moruo’s historical integrity and accuracy are often staggeringly well-documented, including a stage direction in Act IV, Scene I where he reminds the reader that on Cao Cao’s desk there should be an “enameled pottery container” to hold his calligraphy scrolls, but he reminds us that “A porcelain container may not be used, since porcelain had not then been invented.”(363). There are musical versions of Wenji’s tale as well. According to John Thompson’s informative and lively website, eighth century musician Dong Tinglan (ca, 695765) was a guqin master from whence all versions of qin musical depictions of Wenji’s song


come. From Longxi in Gansu province not far from current capital of Lanzhou, Dong became “well known in literary circles and was highly praised in several poems” (Thompson, Xiao Hujia, p.1). Thompson claims that Dong used the qin for expressing sounds of nomad reed pipe. These qin versions developed into compositions that included lyrics, and according to Thompson, one dated 1597 “is set to lyrics attributed to Cai Wenji herself” (Thompson, Da Hujia, p 1). The 1689 version developed into the version played today: Da Hujia. Hiring Chinese artist Bai Yunli from Hangzhou to copy many of the images from the Met’s 14th century scrolls, Thompson has depicted the eighteen stanzas of Wenji’s narrative as a Power Point presentation “so one can perform a fully illustrated Da Hujia.” Thompson has performed the music on his guqin while projecting these images on his powerpoint, but he says he has never done the full presentation with someone reading the lyrics of Liu Shang’s version of the poem. In 2002, Macaoan born composer Bun-Ching Lam’s opera Wenji: Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute premiered on January 31at Asia Society in New York. According to John Thompson “the libretto is adapted from Cai Wenji's poem but not the 1597 version, with the lyrics attributed to Wenji herself. Instead she composed some of her music by adapting material from sections 1, 6-7, 13-14 and 16-18 of a transcription of a performance of the 1722 version of Hujia Shibapai played by Wu Jinglue as published in Guqin Quji, Vol.1 (Beijing, 1962), pp.135-151. The rhythms are somewhat different from those in the performance by Wu on The Qin Repertoire of Wu Jing-lue, ROI RB-981014-2C, Hong Kong, 1998, so the transcription was presumably made from a different recording. The transcription, by Xu Jian, uses polyrhythmic meter to try to capture the nuances of Wu's free rhythms. Lam interprets these changing rhythms quite strictly. In her version some of these excerpts are played in a recognizable manner; others are quite altered, e.g., by playing them at about 1/4th the speed.” The libretto was written by Chinese born Xu Ying, who trained in script writing and Chinese opera theory. The opera was directed by Rinde Eckert. According to an interview by Michelle Caswell for Asia Source, Bun-Ching, who studied piano at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and received her Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California at San Diego, claims to be “in self imposed exile,” Eckert claims to be “a nomad,” and Xu remembers living in New York and yearning for China, reading entire Chinese newspapers just to be connected to the “Chinese words” ( He claims that “what a person desires most is communication and connection.” He compares his linguistic experience away from China in the same way “Chinese language and culture are really imprinted in Wenji’s being.” Like Guo Moruo, these three artists have found in Wenji’s narrative/story a connection to their own voices as exiles or nomads. Bun-Ching’s music reflects her notions of assimilation and connectedness. The opera begins with Wenji singing in Chinese, but shifts to a more “western” style as the opera progresses, and by the end the language is English and the music is closer to Western. Eckert claims that in his staging, he tries to expose everything on stage to reflect nomadic culture. He tries to tear down the wall between “the modern world and the ancient story,” suggesting that “the concerns of the past are also the concerns of the present” (Caswell


interview). He believes that “People in Hong Kong will see it as a very modern piece, while people here will see it as an ancient story telling” In Hong Kong it will be viewed “as a radical departure and in New York as connecting with a tradition” (Caswell). The exciting part about Wenji’s first person narrative is that her story allows an audience in China and an audience in the U.S. to make cultural connections about and to ourselves and the “other,” while raising questions about our demonizing that other into a “barbarian.” Xu Ying, the librettist, feels that the part of the story where Wenji “returns to China is a very sensitive issue for other Chinese writers, and they try to avoid addressing her return. His understanding of Wenji’s return to China is different. He says that “other writers think that she returns to China because of something very political: ‘I’m Chinese, so I have to return to China.’ They make it seem very noble. But in my own understanding, it’s because of culture. She is returning because she loves that culture and it is her identity” (Caswell). Do culture and identity necessarily reflect that which is “home”? In the libretto, Xu uses the notion of home rather than culture; King Zuoxian urges Wenji to stay, saying, “Isn’t this home? I’m here, your children are here, your new life is here” (scene 10). Later in scene 12 she sings, “Where is my home?” in English and then again in Chinese. By the end of the opera, Wenji has decided to stay and live with her husband and children in Mongolia, but when the ambassador who has come to bring her back to China prepares to leave, Wenji begs for just one more day. He sits down and plays one of her father’s favorite songs on the guqin. She then takes over, playing the qin to the lyrics of the last stanza of her 18 stanzas where she says, “Abandoning my children homeward I go” (Liao). Xu sees the fate of Wenji as the fate of anyone at any time. We can see how universal the Wenji story is when we trace the paintings that her narrative has inspired from Zhang Cuiying’s six online paintings of 2003 all the way back to the 12th century handscrolls, fragments of which can be found in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and a painting left by the Jin Dynasty, now located in the Museum of Jilin Province, according to Sun Lijun and Ji Li. The painting is on silk, and the title was added by someone in a later period, presumably during the Jin Dynasty because the colophon at the left of the scroll says, “by Zhang Yu of the Crafts Office,” an office which did not exist before the Song Dynasty. According to Sun and Ji, “Zhang Yu is believed to have lived during the Jin Dynasty,” a dynasty that fell under joint attack from the Song and Mongols in 1234. The style of the painting and the author’s family name suggest the artist may have been of Han descent and that his ancestors could have been captured by the Jin troops from the Southern Song Dynasty. This painting “apparently conveyed his [the artist’s] reflections.” This is the same painting that is on exhibit at the China Great Wall Museum at Badaling, outside of Beijing. The title given to the Great Wall Museum painting is “Cai Wenji Returning to Han Dynasty,” and the inscription beneath the painting reads,” Cai Wenji lived in the South Hun for twelve years and contributed much to the friendship of the Hun and the Han people. She brought back songs and dances of the Hun nationality when she returned to Han dynasty, which made the people of the central plains get a deeper understanding of the northern nomadic life.” It would be interesting to know when


this English caption was added, but it certainly indicates a pride in the Han’s valuing a “deeper understanding” of their neighbors. The image contains 12 people, behind whom is Wenji, followed by a convoy of Han and Xiongnu officials on horseback. The most “deliberately described” character in the painting is the Xiongnu official, “curbing his horse” and wearing a fur hat, a tight sleeved gown, leather boots and a belt. His bridle and reins are more beautifully ornate than the others, and he is believed to have been a prince of the southern Xiongnu. This painter abandoned “serial illustration manner” of the handscrolls, selecting instead the scene of Wenji’s home-bound journey condensed into a single picture (Sun and Ji, page 2). The painting shows a good understanding of history, “especially the ethnic groups’ customs, costumes, hair styles, utensils, horses and saddles” (3). The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has, according to Rorex and Fong, “four badly damaged album leaves” that are fragments of 12th century handscroll paintings, done by an unknown Song artist. They once included 18 illustrations of Liu Shang’s poem. The four leaves have copies of the third, fifth, 13th and 18th stanzas. I found only one image available online:, and it is “Lady Wenji’s Return to China: Parting from Nomad Husband and Children.” It looks like part of the actual image from Rorex and Fong’s stanza 13, “The Farewell.” This unknown Song painter used imagery of his own time to show that knowledge and experience can lead to understanding. He paints the barbarians not as Xiongnu but as 11th century Liao Khitan –a pre-Mongol people in Manchuria in the 10th and 11th centuries. Almost exact copies of these 12th century paintings are the Met’s 14th century handscrolls. According to Rorex and Fong, the 12th century originals have the poems written in the hand of Kao-tsung, who re-established the Sung state in southern China after its overthrow by Chin Tartars in the north in 1126. Kao-tsung developed a “program of narrative handscrolls illustrating subjects from either the classics or ancient or contemporary history as part of his governmental policy of ‘dynastic revival.’” Again, the author’s personal experiences parallel Wenji’s: Kao-tsung had been sent to China as hostage, his wives, father and brother all died unransomed. His mother, empress dowager Wei, was returned from the Chin in 1142. These Met copies were done by an unidentified artist of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), according to Wilt Idema, professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard. Rorex and Fong state that we can note the “contrast between the comforts and embellishments of Chinese city life and the bleak existence in the steppes; the emphasis on what were, for the Chinese, the nomads’ revolting personal habits; the desperate loneliness of a captive nearly cut off from human communication by the language barrier; and finally, the deep hatred for an enemy turning unexpectedly into an even deeper love for a spouse and children.” The Rorex and Fong text, The Story of Lady Wen-Chi: A Fourteenth-Century Handscroll in the Metropolitcan Museum of Art has pictures of each of the 18 images, but John Thompson has created an excellent power point presentation using Bai Yunli’s copies of the Met’s images. Thompson claims that each of the 18 scenes corresponds to a verse of the 18 written by Liu Shang. He uses the titles of the


qin melody Da Hujia so that each title is also a line from the corresponding verse of the poem. The melody, poem and painting match perfectly. A closer look at these paintings and Rorex and Fong’s comments reveal more clearly the discrepancy between the poem of the 8th century Liu Shang’s poem and the unknown Sung artist’s illustrations three and a half centuries later. According to Rorex and Fong, “the architecture and costumes of the Chinese portions of the scroll accurately reflect early twelfthcentury Chinese life,” and the details about the nomads are not those of the Hsiung-nu, the Turkic tribe that historically actually kidnapped Lady Wen-chi in the second century. They are from the Liao Khitan, a tribe that flourished in Manchuria during the tenth and eleventh centuries. For example, in the first painting, the nomad soldiers have shaved heads with queues hanging at the sides. The horses are in armor of leather and iron, chained together in threes like Chin Tartars in 1130’s. The spacious courtyards and open loggias, however, are good examples of early Southern Sung residence in Chiang-nan area of 12th century. John Thompson’s title for the first scene is “The pretty woman must follow the nomads into captivity.” The second scene’s sparse vegetation tells us we are far north; here the painted foliage dots follow patterns of Northern Sung landscapists of the 11th century. Wen-chi’s hat is like that of late 10th century paintings. Thompson’s title for this scene is “Darkened skies extend for 10,000 Li.” The third painting is called by Thompson “At a dessert encamptment helplessly respecting her weakness.” Here the stoneware jars are of Liao Khitan type. According to History of Liao (1345) Liao emperors wore Chinese style clothing while their empresses wore Khitan style. The chief in this scene is wearing Chinese garb, and Wen-Chi is dressed like a Khitan, wearing a high brimless black gauze hat with two long flaps hanging down. The fourth scene depicts the girl attendant carrying Wen-chi’s chi’in, the Chinese stringed instrument played by the literati. Thompson’s title is “Dreams of returning home come and go.” In the firth painting we see stacked drums and furled banners, emblems of Khitan ruler. Thompson’s title is “Sitting on the grass and sleeping by the water.” The sixth scene shows the prince pointing rather than speaking to Wen-Chi, indicating his efforts to communicate despite their language barriers. The instruments in the seventh painting include a Pi-li and a p’ip’a, a lute-like instrument in favor during the Tang, long after Wen-Chi’s time. Thompson calls this scene “Nomad music on a cloudless night.” We skip to the 14th painting and see the return journey with the Chinese envoy and the prince riding together. The blue fabric covering the camel cart is described in the History of Liao as proper for Khitan princesses. Thompson calls this scene “Drifting around separated from her family not knowing if they are alive or dead.” Scene fifteen is a mirror image of the second scene, and the sixteen scene shows Wen-chi on a bullock cart, a familiar Sung vehicle. The


artist here gives one Han detail: the cap with two peaks in back and an ornament, frequently of jade, in front. Thompson calls this scene “The flat desert is everywhere one looks.” The 18th painting shows Wen-chi’s return. The teashop is open and the street is bustling. Lady Wen-chi is dressed once more as a Chinese lady. Thompson’s focus, however, is on the desolation of her return and the solace of her music; his title is “The firleds and gardens of home were half neglected but now she can play her qin again, expressing in music her sad story.” According to Irene S. Leung in her essay “Between Stories and Their Tellings: The Legend of Wenji’s Captivity and Their Historical Significance,” the handscroll now at the Met created a “new story,” one that made “a direct comparison with current events and politics of the Northern Song”(2) This “painter persuades his audience against ethnic chauvinism by portraying Wenji’s captors as part of her family rather than primitive and uncouth barbarians.” In the farewell scene, Wenji, her husband and her children are all weeping. Leung sees the painting as a“bold statement that advocated peace with the Liao empire” (2 Leung believes that the “major historical revivals of the Wenji story” happen when “the cohesion of the Chinese state, and by extension, Chinese cultural and ethnic identities, were in flux” (3). When are cultural and ethnic identities not in flux? It is more probable that the story is so rich in identifiable human issues that it can be applied to the full range of political and psychological situations of any century or culture. Many contemporary Chinese artists have also depicted the Wenji narrative in painted images. Wong Zi He’s “Cai Wenji Returning to the Han Territory” is a romantic depiction of a woman on horseback, a large cape billowing around her, geese flying evocatively over her head, darker figures on horseback in the lower right part of the picture, and Chinese characters written in the upper right corner of the painting. This painting can be seen at the following: Artist Zhang Cuiying was born in Shanghai 40 years ago but became an Australian citizen after the Tiananmen Square massacre; in 2000 she was imprisoned for 8 months by Jian Zemin’s regime and beaten as a Falun Gong practitioner. She has filed a Petition to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights against Jian. According to Richard Cairney at the University of Albert, Zhang says that painting the events of an ancient Chinese history helps keep memories of the past alive. Zhang’s six Wenji paintings are described in translation and can be seen at the following site: . The first image is described as Wenji bringing nothing but her father’s articles and a Chinese zither, not a qin. The third is 12 years later when Caocao sends messengers to escort Wenji back to China, but her children beg her to stay. The fourth painting shows Wenji back in China but thinking of her children. She eases her pain with music. In the fifth painting, Zhang has Wenji focusing on compiling her father’s articles and The History of the Western Han Dynasty. In the final scene, she shows the King of Xiognu coming to China with their children to reunite with Wenji.


Irene Leung sees artists’ reconstructions, re-enactments, re-imaginings as serving political, cultural and personal purposes. She closes her essay by wondering “how many other Cai Wenji’s are amongst us, wandering far from home, fine-tuning their voices to retell the story of the nomad flute”(3). I would take her wonder a step further and suggest that through this mask of first person narrative all of these artists have assimilated Wenji’s experiences. The “text”–in whatever artistic form–has become a vehicle for the kind of connectedness for which we all yearn, wrenching us all out of our own cultural, political, and historical contextual identity and integrating it with that of the other. It is not only the artistic endeavor of re-imagining this narrative, but also our own act of reading, seeing and experiencing each of these artistic renderings that makes us whole, fully connected with the inside and outside parts of identity, the barbaric and the cultured, the familiar and the strange, the friend and the foe. Finally, we take Wenji right up into the global chaos that we call contemporary culture. In 2002 Chinese television showed “Cao Cao and Cai Wenji,” a 32-part costume TV drama “approved by censors of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.” According to website, this big budget production (approximately 1.8 million dollars) was jointly produced by China International TV Corporation and Xi’an Tailun Film and Television Co. Here Cao Cao is “a love maniac,” and the actor, Pu Cunxin, who plays him is “shinai shashou,” loosely translated “Lady-killer.” For this artistic venture crews traveled hundreds of kilometers around North China’s Hebei Province, Inner Mongolia and Central China’s Henan Province to find perfect places for each scene. Even so, librettist Xu Ying claims the show was worthless, and historian Sui Yan suggests that the thrust of television to entertain viewers has “obscured the profundity of Chinese history.” We have to ask ourselves whether maintaining the “profundity of history” doesn’t restrict our understanding of it; if we make it too profound, too precious, don’t we risk ignorance? We need to understand the historical past in order to experience the precarious present. Incorporating history, culture and politics into art making enhances and expands our experience, making it easier to identify with other perspectives and other selves. Looking past the present and beyond our borders, we achieve a deeper, more profound understanding of both. There will always be scholars to point out the inaccuracies and nuances of historical, cultural and political re-presentations, but Cai Wenji transcends all scholarship for now; she is emblematic of a staggering Chinese nationalism. Her picture is even on a 5 yuan silver coin! Right now 60% of the money invested in China comes from Chinese living outside the country, living with the Barbarians, if you will. Lady Wenji’s story of yearning for a homeland has always been a compelling tale for the Chinese who have had to leave their country for education and jobs, but it seems to me that it is more powerful an icon than ever. In our “global” existence, borders are crossed, blurred or eliminated, but the yearning for place is deeply rooted. Lady Wenji offer us a gentle way of looking at our own 2004 experiences as exiles and nomads. She in some way allows us to be more open to the “other,” the “barbarian” that we encounter in our global wanderings.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Berry, Chris and FarQuhar, Mary Ann. “Post-Socialist Strategies: An Analysis of Yellow Earth and Black Cannon Incident.” Observations on the Visual Arts and Cinema of China and Japan. Ed. Ehrlich, Linda C. and Desser, David. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Cahill, James. “The Case Against Riverbank: An Indictment in Fourteen Counts. Issues of Authenticity in Chinese Painting. Eds. Smith, Judith G. and Fong,Wen C. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999. Caswell, Michelle. Idema, Wilt and Grant, Beata. Writing Women in Imperial China. Available at Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. New York: Vintage International Edition, 1989. Leys, Simon. The Burning Forest. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983. Leung, Irene S. “Between Stories and Their Tellings: The Legend of Wenji’s Captivity and Their Historical Significance.” Moruo, Guo. Five Historical Plays. Beijing: Foreign Press, 1984. Rorex, Robert A. and Fong, Wen, translators. Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute: The Story of Lady Wen-Chi. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1974. Sun Lijun and Ji Li. “Zhang Yu’s ‘Cai Wenji Returns to Her Homeland,’” trans. Wen Jingen. Chinese Literature magazine, No. 4, 1998. Sontag, Susan. “On Interpretation.” Thompson, John. Wang Anshih Biography. Winterson, Jeanette. “Art Objects.” Wong, Sau-ling Cynthia. “Kingston’s Handling of Traditional Chinese Sources.” Approaches to Teaching Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. Ed. Lim, Shirley Geok-lin. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1991. Xing, Yu. Wenji: Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute. Trans. Liao, Diana. Asia Society, New York, 2002. Yutang, Lin. The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo. New York, 1947.



INTRODUCTION The now famous first televised Presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 heralded what has become a major shift in political campaigning, the importance of the television narrative. The description by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and David S. Birdsell, a Professor of Speech from Baruch College in their book, Presidential Debates, captures the essence of that narrative as they describe: Nixon–pale from a hospital stay and perspiring under the hot studio lights– evinced cues that can, but do not necessarily, signal stress. By giving him a sinister look, the beard apparent under his poorly made-up translucent skin complicated matters further. Nixon glanced repeatedly at a clock just off stage. In a bearded, pale perspiring candidate, this invited the inappropriate inference that Nixon was shifty-eyed [….] an injury to his knee as he alighted his limousine caused him pain. By shifting weight from that knee to the podium he minimized the pain, but at high cost. During his hospital stay, he had lost weight. His suit, as a result, was a bit large for him. As he leaned on the podium for support, the suit shifted forward on one shoulder, suggesting that he had, perhaps, purchased it second hand or borrowed it from a friend. In a fitted blue suit, his face sun-tanned, Kennedy looked more decisive than his pale, illsuited, eye-shifting opponent. (1988: 183-184) Jamieson and Birdsell go on to note that even though some have criticized the small sample size, a major survey revealed that “those who heard the first debate on radio thought Nixon the winner, where those who saw it on television gave the debate to Kennedy” (1988:184). What was happening at this 1960 watershed? Isn’t the focus of attention in a debate on policy, or at worst, on debating skill? The Kennedy/Nixon meeting would seem to suggest something else is at play. The something else is what I will call the subtextual narrative. In this narrative, impression trumps reason and policy. In this narrative, judging who can best be president is reduced to a mix of image management, a ready wit, one’s telegenic quality and often good fortune. It is a narrative predicated upon the way in which television places the epic in the lounge room and on the medium’s ability to project a false sense of the personal by appearing to place the candidates in the room with you. In this all too brief paper, I will attempt to explore the subtextual narrative by first examining a scene from a film version of a character driven play, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee


Williams. This examination of an aesthetic rooted in fiction, in which the audience accepts it is watching a production shaped by creative artists intent on conveying their interpretation of the play, will provide an analytic paradigm. The paradigm will then be applied to a televised presidential debate from the 2000 campaign between Governor George W. Bush and VicePresident Al Gore. THEATRE The film version of The Glass Menagerie was directed by Paul Newman and released in 1987. The film remains faithful to the play set in a 1930’s St. Louis tenement which tells the story of the Winfield family as remembered by the son Tom (played by John Malkovich) who struggles against his need to escape the claustrophobic world of his faded southern belle mother, Amanda (Joanne Woodward) and his shy, spinster sister, Laura (Karen Allen). The film, as any stage version of the play, is based on a script written prior to the production, it is a rehearsed fiction created by a production team consisting of a director, designer, camera person, editor etc., in which actors play roles. And most significant for my purposes, it is rooted in a necessary duality between the fictional world of characters and the real world in which the actors portrayed the roles. As an audience we are primarily, if not exclusively, interested in the fictional universe. We care about the characters and their stories. If the actor and his or her experience of portraying the role overshadows these stories, the production does not work. Due to time constraints, I will only show a portion of Scene 2 from the film. In this scene Laura, the daughter, is at home, supposedly practicing her typing for the secretarial course she is taking. Amanda, the mother, comes home angry because she has discovered that her daughter has been deceiving her. THE CLIP To the accompaniment of light, soothing background music coming from the Victrola across the room Laura lazes on the sofa in her dressing gown staring at a small piece of glass she holds up to the light. The cut glass, part of her collection that provides the play’s title, refracts the soft glow of the light filtering through the curtains behind her. Hearing footsteps coming up the stairs she jumps up from the sofa and begins practicing her typing at a desk in front of her. Her mother Amanda enters; she is clearly angry and mutters the words “Deception, deception,” as much to Laura as herself as she crosses the room. It becomes clear from the ensuing conversation that Amanda did not go the Daughters of the American Revolution meeting she set out to attend but rather came home unexpectedly. Laura is wary as Amanda directs her anger and what William’s describes as “bewilderment” at her daughter without explanation. Something has clearly happened and it is obvious that Amanda regards Laura to be at fault. Laura understands this and is fearful of her mother’s impending explosion. It is only later in the scene, beyond what was shown, that we learn the reason for Amanda’s anger. She paid an unannounced visit to the typing school Laura is supposed to be attending to enquire how her daughter is progressing, only to discover Laura has not been going to class


despite telling her mother that she has been. Amanda is furious because Laura lied to her and because she sees her wasting the only opportunity she has to learn a skill that will enable her to support herself. A PARADIGM The tension in the clip provides the basis for an understanding of subtextual narrative most especially because the reasons for the tension between Amanda and Laura are only explained later in the scene. We, the viewers, are left to interpret what is going on with limited information. We do this through a reading of the subtextual narrative. We construct an understanding of the situation from a number of sources in a film. These sources include, but are not limited to, the technical languages such as lighting, camera angles, shot selection, editing, design, props as well as costumes, and most important of all in The Glass Menagerie clip, body language, that is, facial expressions, paralinguistic components such vocal inflection, pauses etc., body as well as hand gestures, and the use of space. The contrast between the two women is important in the clip, for instance. Laura’s diaphanous nightgown that blends in with the soft, warmly lit surroundings insinuate the safe, relaxed atmosphere of home and comfort while Amanda’s heavy black coat, worn throughout, speaks of an outside world, a reality which is both dark and very different to the escapist world Laura inhabits. This disparity of worlds is introduced when Laura suddenly leaps to action as she hears someone coming up the stairs at the beginning of the scene. The guilt hinted at in the move suggests her indolence is suspect. Her feeble, clumsy attempts at practicing typing confirm this. The suppressed anger in Amanda’s voice after she enters the room are a warning to Laura who remains seated, almost cringing in anticipation of the storm to come. Amanda, meanwhile, turns off the Victrola abruptly, rushes towards Laura and rips the paper from the typewriter that Laura is pretending to type on. She screws the paper into a ball and throws it to the floor. Without cutting, the camera follows Amanda, quickly shifting from recording her move to becoming her point of view as she lunges at the typewriter. Laura’s voice betrays her defensiveness while she reaches down to the floor and picks up the paper. She spends the rest of the clip trying to flatten out the paper as Amanda strides to the window on the opposite side of the room and continues to speak in a combination of contained anger and bewilderment with her back to Laura. Laura, aware that an explosion is inevitable, asks he mother what has happened. When Amanda fails to reply and instead remains silent with her back to her staring out the window she repeats the question. Her tone of voice and the way in which she cowers behind the typewriter and her attempts to reconstitute the crumpled paper implies she would rather not hear the answer. We suspect from our reading of what has happened so far that she will. THE DEBATES The 1960 meeting between Kennedy and Nixon referred to earlier was followed by three others during the same campaign. There were no further televised presidential debates until


1976 between Jimmy Carter and President Ford. Since then they have become a staple of every presidential election season. In the 2000 campaign there were 3 ninety-minute debates between Vice-President Gore and Governor George W. Bush, all sponsored by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates and moderated by Public Television’s Jim Lehrer. The first, a podium style affair on October 3rd at the University of Massachusetts in Boston; the second on October 11th at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem North Carolina in which the candidates sat around a table for the encounter; and the final town hall style meeting at Washington University in St. Louis on October 17th. Momentarily I will compare a clip from the third of these debates with the piece from The Glass Menagerie, but before I do, I want to like to talk briefly about some of the general aspects of televised presidential debates by way of an introduction to the discussion. The impact of the debates on voters and elections is ambiguous. There is no firm evidence they play a major role in deciding a future president. Nevertheless, the huge audiences they draw, the importance of what is at stake, and the potential to influence voters (both positively and negatively) ensures that debates are taken very seriously by all involved. The debates rival the Super Bowl as the most watched programs on television. The average debate audience is between 50-80 million. The single 1980 debate between President Carter and Ronald Reagan drew an audience of 100 million while 90 million tuned into the final 1996 Clinton, Bush Snr., Perot debate. The first Al Gore/George W. Bush debate in 2000 had an estimated audience of 75 million. A major reason why the debates draw such large audiences is that they provide one of the few opportunities to see the candidates in an unscripted setting for an extended period of time. Otherwise, the only direct exposure most of the electorate has to the candidates is through brief clips of speeches on the nightly news or slick partisan advertisements rarely longer than sixty seconds which are rarely aired anywhere other than in battleground states. The debates provide a potential forum in which voters can get to know the candidates. This intimacy factor, if I may call it that, is further exacerbated by the perception that television is primarily an entertainment medium predicated upon the personal. The medium transforms the epic into the intimate by placing the candidates for the highest office in the land in each of our homes. Not content with that, it frequently chooses to show us them in medium shots and close ups, simulating the confidentiality one has with another in private conversation. As Alan Schroeder in his book Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV puts it, “presidential debates are best apprehended as television shows, governed not by the rules of rhetoric or politics but by the demands of their host medium. The values of the debates are the values of television: celebrity, visuals, conflict, and hype” (2000:9). I would add simulated intimacy to this list. Even though a great deal of effort is made to control the debates through limitations placed on debate formats, formulated debate procedures, as well as mock debates with senior advisors and media consultants prior to the events themselves, the candidates are in a liminal mode


during the debates. They are somewhere between their speechwriters and the extemporaneous, between the prepared and the spontaneous. While these interstices are the bain of every candidate and his advisors, they are the root source of the subtextual narrative that audiences are drawn to because they give the impression at least of allowing them to examine the relationship between policies and personality (i.e., addressing questions such as honesty, sincerity, believed capabilities etc). Little wonder sitting presidents are often reluctant to be drawn into debates. They know how crucial they are for non-incumbents who lack the advantage of exposure in office over an extended period where the public have had ample opportunity to get to know them. THE DEBATE PROCESS The Presidential debates are probably best understood as a five-part process consisting of nondiscrete segments that frequently overlap. The parts of this process include: pre-debate negotiations; preparation, or what others might term, rehearsals; finalizing technical details immediately prior to the debate (i.e., technical rehearsals in theatre terms); the debate event, or as some might prefer, the performance; and the aftermath of spin and commentary. Excluding the latter, this process only serves to confirm the relationship between the entertainment/ aesthetics models of television and theatre, with their dynamic predicated upon realizing a performance (televised or otherwise), and the presidential debates. PRE-DEBATE NEGOTIATIONS Invariably teams of negotiators are employed by candidates to finalize the terms of the debates some considerable time prior to the encounters themselves. In the 2004 presidential campaign, for example, the negotiating teams for George W. Bush and John Kerry consisted of seven members each, the latter headed by no less a figure than the former secretary of state James A. Baker III and the latter by the prominent Democratic insider Vernon E. Jordan Jr. These teams decide major issues such as the number and location of debates, the topics to be covered in each, which of these meetings will be conducted at a podium, which as town hall style encounters etc., as well as a plethora of minutia designed to control the debate to the advantage of their candidate while ensuring limited opportunities for unscripted gaffs. In the 1988 campaign these negotiations produced a 16-page agreement. By 1992 it had grown to 37 pages. The current (2004) cycle had a 32-page memorandum of understanding. In addition to organizational issues, topics covered by these documents have included the placement of staff members after the debate has begun (1992), camera angles (2000), the height of podiums (1976, 1984, 2004), the position of the podiums (1984), the angle of lights (1984), the types of microphones to be used (always), when microphones were to be turned on and off (2000), and the color of the backdrop (1976). PREPARATIONS/REHEARSALS The entire campaign could be viewed as a preparation for the debates insofar as the candidates have spent months fine-tuning their policies and honing stump speeches by the time they meet


in front of the cameras. Despite this, most candidates have media consultants helping them prepare for meetings, do mock debates which are videotaped with senior aids as opponents, audience as well as critics, and rote learn details about policy and issues from briefing books prepared by advisers. As Schroeder reports, in the 1980 debate cycle Ronald Reagan set up a mock television studio in the garage of a rented Virginia home and had the Michigan congressman David Stockman play John Anderson and later Jimmy Carter; as many as “twenty advisors watched these practice sessions, not counting the stand-in questioners” (2000:59). For the town hall style debate in 1992, Bill Clinton, worked with the Hollywood producer Harry Thomason who “laid out the rehearsal stage in a grid so the candidate could learn to manipulate the space to maximum strategic advantage. Cameras were positioned just as they would be for the telecast, and doubles for Bush, Perot, and the audience took their places on the set” and “with his elite group of debate strategists, Clinton ran drills on everything from [movement in relation to camera angles], [to] physical postures [and] facial expressions” (Schroeder, 2000:63). Clinton was arguable the most meticulous of debaters in rehearsal but George W. Bush conducted mock debates with senior advisors in the 2000 campaign which included senior staffers such as Paul D. Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice, and Robert B. Zoellick (Berke and Sack, 2004:A28), and Al Gore’s aides went so far as to include the episode of Saturday Night Live parodying his efforts in the first debate in their preparations for the second meeting with Bush to make the point that he needed to be less like an “overbearing know-it-all who tried to deliver two closing statements” (Berke and Sack, 2004:A1). Even apparently spontaneous retorts are often rehearsed and prepared. Ronald Reagan’s famous response to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 debate of “There you go again….” was, according to Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, a pre-arranged line to be used if the opportunity presented itself (in Schroeder, 2000:40); and his similarly famous repost about not making age an issue in the 1984 debate with Walter Mondale: “I want you to know that I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponents youth and inexperience” was, Reagan aide Richard Wirthlin tells, considered prior to the meeting (in Schroeder, 2000:41). FINALIZING TECHNICAL DETAILS/TECHNICAL REHEARSALS Several hours prior to a presidential debate a final technical check is made of the site by the candidate and his advisors. The set, debate space, audience site-lines, lighting, camera positions, cueing devices and microphones are examined. Makeup and clothing are checked under lights and against the colors of the set. Finally, the ground rules of the debate are gone over with producers. This is a time for candidates to familiarize themselves with the location and for aides to ensure the environment is as kind to their leader as possible. Needless to say that despite the late hour, some technical rehearsals have led camps to calls for adjustments in order to address what they see as the potential to either favor the opponent or undermine their candidate. Following the technical rehearsal in the first 1960 debate, Kennedy changed into a blue shirt because it offered better contrast with the gray tones of the set and aides insisted he change into longer socks in case those he was wearing appeared too short when he sat down, and in at least one other instance (the second debate in 1960 between Kennedy and Nixon)


changes were made in studio temperatures at the instance of one camp or another (Schroeder, 2000:160) THE DEBATE EVENT/PERFORMANCE As the New York Times suggested in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article just prior to the most recent debates, the competitive, most often one-on-one duel-like nature of the meetings resemble a boxing match (Williams, 2004:1,6). The latter is only the most obvious of comparisons. The debates are, in fact, similar to most all sports contests in which individuals or teams compete against each other with the aim of defeating their opponent, even if in the case of the debates the winner is unclear until some weeks after the encounter. As in boxing, there are strict rules in each debate, the participants can improvise within those rules and test their limits, there is a repetitive structure in which points are scored and accumulated and the specter of a knock out blow threatens both participants. But, just as Mohammed Ali demonstrated many years ago, performance plays no small part in the event and in shaping its outcome. In the presidential debates, the private citizen takes on the role of candidate, displaying a public self designed to convince viewers that he is a worthy president. As in the theatre model discussed earlier, there is a duality at work in this negotiation, albeit a more subtle one that Irving Goffman in books such as The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and Interaction Ritual has gone a long way towards explaining. The duality is between the public and private selves of the candidates. In the debates each candidate displays what Goffman terms a front (1959:22), an image consisting of a rhetorical content and strategies, mode of speech, manner and costuming designed to offer an idealized view of himself as potential president. This political self is predicated upon the personal self but, unlike the theatre model, in which the performed world is foregrounded and the audience is little interested in the actor, in the debates it is the relationship between performed policy and personal identity that viewers often seek. It is the relationship between the constructed, political identity and the person inside the construction that influences many voters. The debates provide the public an opportunity to gauge this relationship through the subtextual narrative. The subtextual narrative is subject to the interpretation of the viewer. This is because it is an open rather than a closed text. In a closed text, such as a mathematical formula, an encyclopedia entry, or an article in a medical journal, indisputable facts invariably supercede consideration. Not so in reading behavior, regardless of whether it is calculated, rehearsed, or spontaneous. Interpretation eclipses certainty in the realm of behavior because there are so many variables involved for both the protagonist as well as the reader and because the latter rarely has direct access to the intentions underlying the protagonist’s actions. This is why those who favor one candidate or another in presidential debates frequently see their champion in a positive light while being critical of the opponent. Both groups frame their interpretations based on ideological considerations.


It is a political cliché in a campaign to target the undecided voter because wisdom and experience suggest that he or she will decide the election. This wisdom is predicated upon the assumption that the Republican and Democratic bases will remain faithful to the cause; their minds are made up and they will vote accordingly. In this context, it is not an unreasonable assumption on the part of competing political camps to assume that those committed to their candidate will read what they want to into a presidential debate, provided there are no major surprises or gaffs during it. Accordingly, both candidates primarily direct their attention during the debates at the undecided voters while at the same time doing all they can to avoid alienating their already committed supporters. THE CLIP The clip consisted of a three and a half minute segment from the town hall style debate of the 2000 campaign. In this segment Governor George W. Bush and Vice-President Al Gore discussed tax cuts, the former advocating an across the board cut, the latter arguing that this policy favors the wealthy and suggesting instead a sliding scale tax cut based on income in which the lower your income the less percentage tax paid. During the exchange, both candidates addressed their immediate audience at times, at others the audience on television. They both walked around the space as they spoke, with Gore being somewhat more expansive than Bush. Similarly, Gore frequently used sweeping gestures for emphasis, which his counterpart did rarely. Both were at pains to make their points and neither backed away from criticizing their opponent, though invariably when they did they looked at the camera or the studio audience rather than the person they were attacking. Both were forceful, Bush at one point going so far as to demand he be allowed to complete a sentence when Lehrer tried to cut him off while Gore frequently ignored attempts by Lehrer to move the discussion along. THE SUBTEXTUAL NARRATIVE As one would expect, every attempt was made to provide a level playing field in which no candidate appeared favored over another. The set was essentially circular with the audience in tiered seating surrounding the candidates and the moderator in the center. Questions were chosen by the moderator from those written down by members of the studio audience earlier and asked by those who submitted them without either candidate seeing any of the questions prior to their meeting. Bush and Gore sat on identical stools with small stands beside them where they could jot down notes on pads provided. Both candidates wore dark suits and red ties with the only noticeable costume difference between them being that Gore wore a white shirt while Bush’s was pale blue. The set all but wrapped the candidates in the colors conventionally associated with their parties with a deep red (Republican) carpet on the floor and a rich blue (Democratic) cyclorama backdrop surrounding the space. The set was brightly lit throughout the debate. Medium and mid-shots dominated the meeting with the focus almost exclusively on the speaker. There were occasional wide-shots of the entire setting and during some lengthy pieces by either candidate a small close-up of the other was superimposed in one corner of the screen, presumable to show their reaction to what was being said.1 Since


the exchange in this instance was prompted by a follow-up question from the moderator rather than a member of the audience, there were also several medium shot cutaways to Jim Lehrer. With the technical components of the theatre/film paradigm all but neutralized, the competitive focus fell almost exclusively on the performative, on how the candidates presented their cases and how they interacted with each other as well as the two audiences, the one in the studio and the viewers at home. As noted by Caroline F. Keating, a Colgate University psychology professor who studies status cues transmitted by facial features, the roundness of Bush’s face combined with his short cropped hair “signals warmth and approachability.” This is, however, undercut, as she goes on to point out, by the “boyishness” it insinuates (in Williams, 2004:1). The immaturity hinted at in the latter observation was accentuated in the debate by Bush’s rounded shoulders and tendency to hunch forward, which can be read as his lack of willingness to engage his opponent. Gore, on the other hand, has a strong, square jaw that mirrors his solid physique combined with a strong military-like stance, a straight back, and a look you directly in the eye manner. The contrast between Gore’s and Bush’s general demeanors was underlined by the latter’s tendency to squint, furrow his brow, and use short stabbing gestures to make his point when annoyed, as he was at the beginning of the exchange when Lehrer attempted to cut him off. To some this is a sign of his tough, clear stance on matters of principle and policy, to others it reads like the spoiled schoolboy who is angry and unable to articulate his feelings or ideas. The latter reading was suggested several times during the clip when Bush retired to his stool as Gore criticized him. During these critiques, Bush sat on his stool, hunched slightly forward, staring out at the audience, biting his lip, and giving the impression of the spoiled child who brooks no criticism. Both Bush and Gore moved about the stage rather than remaining at their stools during the sequence, but Gore covered more territory than his opponent, frequently walking towards the audience and addressing its members directly. Bush, by comparison, seemed reticent, preferring to remain closer to his stool to which he generally returned after he spoke. Oddly, what could have been understood as being at ease with people and the setting on the part of Gore seemed rather a somewhat too fervent desire to connect. This was primarily because he strode around the set aggressively rather than moving casually, as might be expected of someone in command of his situation. Gore’s seeming lack of ease was accentuated when during one of his lengthy explanations of his tax plan he asked the audience a rhetorical question regarding how much they earned; Lehrer interrupted him with a joke about how asking questions of the audience was against the rules the Gore and Bush teams agreed to after lengthy pre-debate discussions. The audience laughed, as did Gore, albeit briefly. He all too quickly brushed the joke aside and went back to his point, giving the impression, as he did in much of the clip and throughout the debate, of being over-zealous, rehearsed rather than relaxed, and of preferring policy to bonhomie. Gore’s gestures were in keeping with his somewhat aggressive use of the space. Unlike Bush who, as Kevin Hogan, a corporate public speaking consultant, notes, “gestures freely when he


is most at ease” which “seems to underscore his sincerity” (in Williams, 2004:6), Gore’s arms and hands are a potent weapon in his debating arsenal. In the clip he used them for dramatic emphasis, to drive home his points, and at one stage even employed them to visualize the inclusion of the audience in his discussion with a grand sweeping gesture that visually incorporated the entire space. Unfortunately, much like his movements around the set, most of his gestures seemed rehearsed rather than flowing naturally from the tenor of the debate. Gore projected the sense of a man keen to please and not quite comfortable in his own skin. Bush can be vocally aggressive, as in the exchange described earlier when he cut Lehrer off and demanded he be allowed to finish what he was talking about. His voice tends to the metallic, even shrill when he is angry, and he is renowned for mispronouncing words and scrambling grammar; all were on display in the debate if not in the clip. What is viewed by some as evidence of his inability to articulate is read by others as his sincere ordinariness, his being just like them, a reflection of the average person who struggles with normal human limitations rather than projecting slick, fabricated perfection. Gore, meanwhile, with his ability to rattle off facts, his senatorial voice, and his need to always provide one more piece of information or further explain his policies alienates many because as one viewer described Gore following the first debate, “He’s like the kid in school you wanted to beat up because he knows all the answers” (in Egan, 2000:A29).

Goffman may well have had the presidential debates in mind when he wrote, “All the world is not….a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to specify” (1959:72). Ideas, policies and ideology play a major role in the debates. But how they are articulated, that is, the way in which they are performed is also crucially important. The readings of the interplay of political narrative and personal presentation supercede policy and issues for many voters. In most every debate, impressions are privileged over substance. Responses to a random survey of voters conducted by the New York Times during the first debate of 2000, are typical of this privileging: “From the first question to Mr Gore about Mr Bush’s fitness to be president,” Kevin Wiland, a registered independent from Illinois said, “he liked the way the vice president passed up an opportunity to ‘slash his opponent,’ adding, ‘He was more positive.’ By contrast [he] did not like what he called ‘those little jabs,’ that Mr. Bush was making, his repeated accusation that Mr. Gore was using ‘fuzzy numbers’ and his comment that Mr. Gore had not only invented the internet, but he had also invented the calculator. ‘He’s playing bully,’ Mr. Wiland said, ‘It’s just not working with me. It’s funny and I’ll laugh at it, but it doesn’t make you say, ‘Oh, I want to vote for him’” (in Egan, 2000:A29). After watching thirty minutes of the debate another couple, Robert Montemayor and Virginia Lujano, and a friend, Jim Salvato, who watched over dinner in Bloomfield, New Jersey thought that, “Mr. Bush seemed more tense than his opponent. When the governor said, ‘it seems like the vice president is not right too many times tonight,’ the three looked at one another.” Ms Lujano felt he was “too nervous” and that the governor was “snappy.” By the end of the debate all three were “relieved” it was over. Ms Lujano feeling that “Bush gave a bland delivery” that “wasn’t from the heart,” while her guest, Mr. Salvato, thought “Mr. Gore was a better speaker, his delivery


was better,” and cautioned something too often ignored “I just wouldn’t want people to base it on that, because to hear them, you don’t know who to believe” (in Egan, 2000:A29). These concerns were evident from the very first televised presidential debate when, despite the focus on the substance of the encounter in the following day’s newspapers, David Halberstam wrote in his Esquire description of the meeting, “Within hours, no one could recall anything that was said, only what they [Nixon and Kennedy] looked like, what they felt like” (in Schroeder, 2000:5). The debates may well be, as they have been characterized by the veteran Washington journalist Elizabeth Drew “a false test for the presidency,” and, as noted earlier, political scientists maintain that there is no firm evidence to suggest they influence the outcome of elections (Schroeder, 2000:212-213). Yet the political consultant Bill Carrick who ran Richard A. Gephardt’s Democratic Party primary campaign this year (2004) maintains that “The subtle cues of gesture, posture, syntax and tone of voice account for as much as 75 percent of a viewer’s judgment about the electability of a candidate” (in Williams, 2004:1). These contradictions may well say more about the differences between researchers who rely on hard evidence and the instincts of political insiders honed over years of campaign experience. Whatever the prevailing wisdom, since becoming a fixture of the presidential season the debates have attracted huge audiences and loomed large over every campaign. This is in no small way due to the subtextual narrative they convey of the interplay between constructed image and private citizen. NOTE
1. In keeping with the way in which presidential debates have been covered in recent times, one network is selected to cover the debate. The material is then fed to all of the other networks and cable channels who in turn edit their version as the debate is in progress. This means that the coverage on one channel maybe slightly different from another. In truth most are essentially the same. The version of the debate I am describing was broadcast on the ABC Network.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Berke, Richard L. and Kevin Sack, (2004), “In Debate 2, Microscope Focuses on Gore,” New York Times (October 11): A1, A28. Egan, Timothy, (2000), “Across the Country, the Audiences Settle In, Waiting to Be Swayed,” New York Times (October 4): A29. Goffman, Erving, (1967), Interaction Ritual, (New York: Pantheon Books). ---------, (1959), The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, (New York: Doubleday) Jamieson, Kathleen Hall and David S. Birdsell, (1988), Presidential Debates: The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate, (Oxford and NewYork: Oxford University Press). Schroeder, Alan, (2000), Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV, (New York: Columbia University Press). Williams, Alex, (2004), “Live From Miami! George ‘The Squinter’ Bush vs John ‘The


Grinner’ Kerry: A Showdown of Style!” New York Times (September 26): Section 9: 1, 6.



Introduction What does it mean to be literate in the 21st Century? Using the idea of narrative, our project explores the application of multimedia in the classroom, incorporating oral traditions, semiotics, story writing and visual narratives as a means for students to discover the connections between words, images and sounds. Students today are growing up in a media centric world with movies and music serving as dominant aspects of youth culture. Developing literacy skills in the 21st Century is considerably more complex than it was at the start of the Industrial Age, which is the period that defined the goals of public education in this country. By inspiring interest in story telling (narrative) it is possible to create a technology rich curriculum with an arts focus; word, image and sound. In the current climate of high stakes testing, little attention is being focused on the arts. For many administrators, the arts are often perceived as a frill or an extra, if budget and time permit. Yet as the focus shifts to an emphasis on literacy development, the arts when properly integrated into the curriculum, can serve as a bridge to developing understanding. In effect helping students make crucial connections into core subject areas. As recommended by Zimmerman (2002), the focus in humanities courses should “shift towards coursework designed to foster self-expression of all students as opposed to a curriculum designed only for the benefit of a few performers (p.155).” Movies and music are central to the lives of children in 21st century America. How might we as teachers capitalize on that interest to help students make the emotional connections necessary for learning to take place? At the heart of many of the world’s cultures is the oral/aural narrative. As Bruner (1996) suggests, one of the means for developing understanding, for organizing, contextualizing, and interpreting, is through storytelling. He further states there is not just one way of interpreting a story since different interpretations and meanings may be a result of differing perspectives. In teaming up to develop interdisciplinary projects for our students we enable them to work with students from other disciplines to explore the potential of narrative from other points of view. In so doing they can discover what happens when art, music/sound, technology, and literacy development, intersect. One can view a film without any sound and develop a narrative about what is taking place. Depending on what type of music is chosen, one’s perception of what is taking place can be altered immeasurably just by the addition of the music. A class in Technology in Music Education, joined with a class in Advertising Design to create two interdisciplinary projects over two semesters. These projects explored the relationships


between technology, music, the visual arts and literacy to serve as a learning model with multiple outcomes. For the music education majors they would learn about and learn how to apply technology in the classroom through an interdisciplinary curriculum. For the art majors they would learn the dynamics of collaborating with musicians, and how the musical outcomes might affect their vision. Visual artists and music students worked together to complete short films. One class project aimed at enticing young children and adolescents in one of five areas: learning to read, engaging in the arts, eating healthy, getting exercise and being good citizens. Another class project was to explore the narrative potential of art and music when applied to a familiar vehicle such as a fairy tale. Written, aural and visual narrative skills were employed in the process. From a social perspective we believed that our students would benefit from establishing contacts outside their major. Through the group work it was hoped that students would learn from each other and learn what it takes to work with students from different disciplines. The educational goals of the project were the following: 1. Students would experience a real-world context for learning. 2. The development of an appreciation for the narrative potential of their respective art forms. 3. To encourage students to recognize the inter-dependencies between sound and image 4. The opportunity to work in groups with students who may not share the same skill sets and levels of expertise. 5. Learning to problem-solve the myriad issues that arise when using technology. With the proliferation of personal computers and interactive digital devices, the field for multimedia applications is expanding, creating new needs for artists as well as more sophisticated consumers. As the file formats shrink and new uses for multimedia applications are developed, it is quite likely that a visual artist will be involved in some form of project or work environment that incorporates music and/or sound design. From my perspective as an educator, these projects would allow the music education students to gain first hand experiences in understanding the benefits and pitfalls of implementing a technology project in the classroom, with students who are growing up under the influence of media. MUSIC/SOUND AS NARRATIVE Whether one is visually oriented, musically oriented, kinesthetically oriented or linguistically oriented, it is quite possible that one might overlook music’s narrative potential. In exploring the narrative potential of music/sound there are a variety of approaches one can take with students. We can explore a film with the soundtrack stripped off and see how our perceptions of the story would change with different pieces of music. As a High School student in a


seminar I gave several years ago on Classical Music in Film noted, “After the instructor demonstrated the different combinations of music and films, I came to know how audiences’ emotion and their understandings of the plot could be manipulated” (Greher, 2002). Another student wrote, “I never thought that music could have such powerful function when it played in the different films. It can dramatically change audience’s moods into a state of being peaceful, joyful or fearful” (Greher, 2002). A female student stated that, “ . . . I realized that movies would not have as much power to evoke emotion if there was no music.” Another student in this presentation wrote, “At first I hardly believed that the music in a certain scene or movie as a whole really made a difference in the way a move sequence or any sequence for that matter, was perceived. . . . The difference between the two same exact scenes was astounding. We found that the music that was played could actually divert one’s mind to believe that a totally different thing was going on then really was” (Greher, 2002). For example, in the film Jaws, the music not only fills in for some element that is absent from the visuals, but through the use of a musical motif created for the shark, the music heightens the anxiety level of the audience. In a sense the music is used in this instance to complete the narrative. We can also take the approach of old time radio theater where voices, music and sound effects not only tell the story but create visual imagery as well. In developing an aural narrative our students are asked to think about how they might depict a story first without dialogue. Music and sound effects would be used to convey the actions and characters. Much as a composer would when composing an opera, the students may wish to create a series of leitmotif’s, which are short musical phrases to depict particular characters. As suggested by Kalinak, (1989), film composers would often incorporate the use of leitmotif as a structural element of their film score as well as compose music to specifically underscore an action in the film. In the early years of film scoring it was a common practice for composers to illustrate every action rather than create an overall mood or emotion through the music. Asking students to think like a film composer exposes students to the many thought processes that are involved. Students need to think about the form the piece will take in terms of how the music will be organized. One has to deal with the action, the mood, the pacing as well as how the various musical elements will impact these decisions. One needs to satisfy one’s own creative impulses yet realize that in many cases the music will be in service to the film and therefore one need also please the filmmaker. It is a complex set of tasks that requires a great deal of critical thinking and problem-solving. By approaching musical composition in this manner, as a narrative, students at any level of musical skill and knowledge develop their intuitive sense of how sounds can be organized to produce the effects they desire. They are using their imaginations and language to articulate their thoughts without yet having to fully grasp the complex language and symbol system of music. It is through working with the musical materials, in this case sounds and silence that they begin to develop the appropriate musical vocabulary in a way that will ultimately have meaning for them. For the visual art students who are learning to create art that is time based,


such as film, video or interactive web applications, they will gain an understanding of how music might affect the pacing, mood, and impact of their visual images. A PROJECT APPROACH For one project we asked our students to develop a series of Public Service Announcements (PSA) geared to either young children or adolescents to promote interest in either reading, the arts, eating healthy, staying physically fit or good citizenship. By the time the two groups met, the advertising design students had developed their ideas in print which they presented to the music students. The very professional visual presentation immediately set the tone in terms of raising the level of expectation among the music students. Though many of them were still learning the technology and had few experiences composing music, they did not want to be perceived as not being up to the challenge by their peers. The combined classes watched a series of commercials to see the variety of ways music can be used to support and enhance the message. Though we scheduled several dates where the two classes would come together as a group, they mostly had to arrange time outside of class to meet. We arranged a date for a preliminary presentation where the work would be critiqued by the entire group before the spots were finalized. In another class we asked the students to explore several common fairy tales. We chose three that had a small cast of characters which were familiar to everyone and asked the students to approach the telling of the story from a fresh perspective. We viewed the cartoon by Chuck Jones about the dot and the line, paying careful attention to how much emotion could be portrayed in such a simple idea and the role music played in helping to tell the story. The students met to brainstorm ideas for characters and how the storyline would develop. While the art students were creating either drawings or animation sequences, the music students were developing musical motifs for the characters. The technology that we chose to work with, were basic programs that would be available to the average user and/or school. These were not complicated high end expensive graphic or sound programs. We used Garage Band and iMovie from Apple’s iLife suite, which is a very inexpensive program as well as Macromedia’s Flash. In some cases the musicians also used Finale, a music sequencing program. MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES Over the course of several semesters, by involving our students in collaborative projects, we have been employing a ‘real world’ context for learning. They are learning the importance of being able to communicate their ideas to people who may not necessarily understand their way of thinking, or even their way of communicating their thoughts to others. As a student in the class remarked, “…we had to envision our final project, which required finding a common language to talk about it. This was not easy because our partners did not have a music vocabulary…I am sure they found that we musicians lacked a vocabulary to discuss visual and


technical elements of video making.” In this context the students needed to set meetings, timelines and be able to meet deadlines. In many instances students were able to learn new art forms and technologies from their partners. Working in a multimedia format, for both the art and music students also meant they would be dealing with issues of timing. In one project they were required to tell their story in 30 seconds. As one student so aptly put it, “Fitting music to a video is also about time, real time as measured by a clock.. . . . You become super aware of time passing because you have to account for every microsecond of a timetable made up by someone else.” Rather than ‘rip’ a piece of music from a CD, the visual art students get the benefit of having an original soundtrack created. Working with the music students, they experience first-hand the collaborative process involved in this type of work. There may now be multiple perspectives as to how the action should proceed and how it should be interpreted in sound. They also are learning the language of music and sound recording. The art students and music students were at very different levels of competencies regarding their knowledge of the technologies they were working with. The visual arts students had a much higher level of expertise with their chosen media. The music students on the other hand, who are majoring in music education, are not necessarily composers, and up until taking this class, may have had little to no experience composing music and working with music and sound technology. From an educational perspective, these projects not only immerse the music education students in how to use the technology, providing them with a ‘need to know,’ they are also gaining experience in how to apply technology in a classroom setting. As one student wrote in her journal last semester, “This project exposed me to new ways of thinking and new ways of learning.” Another student commented that, “I have also learned that for some students, learning how to use technology form their peers works better because they can interact on the same level.” One student, who tends to take control in group situations, conceded that she was out of her element on this project and observed that “It was good for me to step into someone else’s shoes for once. It was kind of like how Neil Postman proposes that teachers try to teach an unfamiliar subject so that they can approach it more like a student would.” IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATION While there were instances of students learning new technologies from each other, scheduling turned out to be a major conflict for most of the students involved in these projects. In certain instances there was not as much collaboration within the groups as was hoped for. As teachers we learned that we need to have more meeting dates during class time, as well as having interim deadlines. Based on these experiences there were several lessons learned. While the majority of the projects in the Technology in Music Education class are group projects, many of the college students involved in the above mentioned projects had little to no previous experience working in collaborative environments. This would suggest that educators might want to consider implementing collaborative projects early on in a child’s education so students have experience in sharing their ideas and building on the ideas of others. Another


lesson learned is that due to scheduling differences it might make sense to create a semester long collaboration where the classes can meet together on a regular basis so everyone is working with similar schedules and deadlines. In spite of some of the pitfalls the various group members encountered, motivation was never an issue. They were challenged to work on something that was of extreme interest to them and they wanted it to have a successful outcome in the eyes of their peers. Through the development of contextual teaching strategies that support literacy development, meaning making, and cross-curricular connections, students can learn how to engage in critical thinking and problem-solving activities at whatever level they are at. These projects serve to nurture the creative potential. Students formulate their own ideas, reflect on their own work, create a platform for self-expression, have the confidence in their own creative potential, and develop positive attitudes towards learning. It is through involvement in arts-based projects such as these, that teachers can provide students with exposure and opportunities to uncover information through multiple perspectives, while using their creativity and imagination to figure out how the world works and where they fit into it. These ways of knowing stem from meaning making, which according to Bruner (1996) “involves situating encounters with the world in their appropriate cultural contexts in order to know ‘what they are about’” (p. 3). Working within an interdisciplinary context such as occurred with these literacy based arts and technology projects, one can break down the artificial boundaries of compartmentalized instruction that sometimes get in the way of meaningful and holistic learning. As Csikszentmihalyi states (1996), ‘most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the results of creativity” (p.1). The students took tremendous pride in their work and in most cases the outcome far exceeded their expectations. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bruner, J. (1996). The Culture of Education. Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England: Harvard University Press. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Collins. Fowler, C. (1996). Strong Arts, Strong Schools: the Promising Potential and Shortsighted Disregard of the Arts in American Schooling. New York: Oxford University Press. Greher, G. R. (2002). Picture This! © 1997: An Interactive listening Environment for Middle School General Music. Unpublished Dissertation, Teachers College Columbia University, New York. Kalinak, K. (1989). "Max Steiner and the Classical Hollywood Film Score: An Analysis of the informer." In C. McCarty (Ed.), Film Music I (pp. 123-142). New York & London: Garland. Zimmerman, M. P. (2002). "The Arts in an Affluent Society." In M. R. Campbell (Ed.), On Musicality and Milestones: Selected Writings of Marilyn Pfledere Zimmerman with Contributions from the Profession. Champaigne: University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaigne.



Before his life was cut short abruptly by an automobile crash in December of 2001, W. G. Sebald, a German-born professor of German literature at the University of East Anglia, had written, in addition to numerous critical works on German and Austrian literature, four literary works of his own that he characterized as “prose works of an indefinite form.” Written in German and translated into English, they are Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz. These books have received nearly unprecedented critical acclaim among works of contemporary literature in the form of book awards and exceptionally strong reviews, and Sebald has received tributes from Paul Auster, Michael Ondaatje, Susan Sontag, and many others, for inventing a beautiful and uncanny and unclassifiable narrative genre: a postmodern blend of autobiography, essay, travelogue, photo album, and memoir, all in the guise of fiction. All four of these books are remarkably similar in form: they are first person travelogues, set in Europe and written by the same narrator at some distance from his apparently aimless wanderings; they are recounted in a monotone voice and unvarying melancholy tone; they are discursive and indeed labyrinthine in structure, with narratives embedded within narratives without even paragraph breaks to mark our way, with stories of other speakers, both real and imaginary, appropriated and related by the narrator without quotation marks; they explore the history of post-enlightenment Europe in general and the suffering caused by the holocaust in particular; they bear testimony to both the healing and destabilizing effects of memory; and, perhaps most strikingly, they include a host of personal photographs and other visual mementos, including reproductions of paintings of personal interest to the narrator. The latter will be the topic of my paper. My title and central idea derives from a line from Nietzsche’s commentary on his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, a book written, or so Nietzsche claimed, for the benefit of artists. That commentary, “A Critical Backward Glance,” contains and introduces in its title its central metaphor: the glance, the visual and mental activity of “looking” informed by “perspective.” Nietzsche argues that “both art and life depend wholly on the laws of optics, on perspective and illusion,” and, consequently, on the “necessity of error.” Just as the technique of representing on a flat surface the spatial relations of objects as they appear to the eye that we refer to commonly as “vanishing point perspective” creates only an illusion of depth and distance, the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance which we also refer to commonly as “putting matters in perspective,” is no less an illusion, as relations change and importance varies over time even for any single observer. The laws of optics, so defined, are central to Sebald’s writing, and account for its defining linguistic features. Each narrative is constructed as a kind of maze or puzzle which neither the reader nor the narrator can ever solve. Nothing much is ever concluded or resolved. Each book appears to end where it began, with the same undefined malaise. The apparent randomness and disorder of


experience is primary. The authenticity purchased by the first person speaking, by the documentary work of photographs, by references to actual people, places, and events, and by the apparent randomness of a discursive narrative structure, is an illusion, an aesthetic contrivance, that nevertheless grounds the reader in the actual rather than abandoning him or her to the imaginary. Like paintings that purport to show us something “real” through the illusion of perspective, these “prose works of an indefinite form” have something “real” to tell us because they import into the narrative the reader’s assumptions about the nature of historical truth. They are not solipsistic but revisionist at their core, inviting and proposing through multi-layered perspectives, the wanderlust of travel, and the compelling urge to make sense of life, fresh ways of approaching and reading post-enlightenment European history. The narrator in each of Sebald’s travelogues, if we may call them that, is subject to undertaking medieval-like pilgrimages, not to religious or otherwise sacred shrines that reassure or confirm in him a spiritual or transcendent identity, but rather to sites that confirm for him the illusory nature of transcendence: the “past” that never was, the “home” that never existed, the death camps that mock faith in a higher power, or, the subject of my talk, works of art that remind the narrator of the constructed nature of the worlds we inhabit. In The Rings of Saturn the narrator recalls and recounts from some distance in time a walking tour he had taken along the Suffolk coastline which left him so affected by the traces of destruction “reaching far back into the past,” even in such a remote place, that he suffered a breakdown and was taken to a hospital in Norwich “in a state of almost total immobility.” It was there he began to put his journey into words, finding in the monuments to and reminders of European Colonialism along the Suffolk coast and across the English Channel a key to his paralyzing sense of alienation and exile from the landscape of modern industrial Europe. Although the speaker shies away from developing a single perspective from the direction his thoughts take in response to ruins of the great country houses, ghost towns of once thriving seaports, and other monuments to England’s past as an Imperial power, his search for some understanding of the landscape he travels through leads him to speculate not only on the role that colonialism played in shaping the modern industrial landscape of Western Europe, but upon certain works of art that, like colonialism itself, depend and indeed thrive upon some false “perspective” that evades or reduces what we know to be human. Such art offers comforting or even empowering myths in place of what we may not wish to look at directly, such as our common fragility, ignorance, and mortality. The narrator during his travels disparages such works of art for the false perspectives they present, and undertakes pilgrimages to works of art that by contrast challenge and complicate myths of invincible power and heroic national identity. He finds an example of the latter in Rembrandt’s famous “The Anatomy Lesson”. The speaker recalls his visit to the Mauritshuis at The Hague expressly to see this large commemorative group portrait of 17th Century Dutch surgeons observing a distinguished colleague’s dissection of a cadaver. Sebald’s narrator makes note of the fact that the surgeons in attendance do not appear to be looking at the cadaver at all, but studying intently instead their colleague’s illustrated treatise on Anatomy, a schematic plan of the human person abstracted and reduced to its parts and functions, placed at the foot of the


cadaver. Only the viewer’s gaze is arrested by “the shadow in the half-open mouth and over the dead man’s eyes.” The poor man hanged for theft and dissected in the bargain for the instruction of surgeons and the entertainment of the curious is barely acknowledged in this painting commissioned by well-to-do professional men, except by the painter who subversively introduces a note of grief and horror into what had been commissioned as a celebration of science and emerging enlightenment values. The Enlightenment had its darker side, and the speaker eventually recalls how his visit to view the painting a second time was proceeded by a dream in which he was terrified by the fear of being knifed by a complete stranger. The narrator recalls that he had remembered these visits to Holland as he sat on the village common in Gunhill, looking out over the English Channel. Memories within memories unfold in seamless fashion until it becomes increasingly difficult, even impossible, for the reader to fix in time and thereby distinguish between the speaker’s experience, his memory of it, his thoughts about it, or his writing of it. And since there is no experience recorded that is not filtered in this way through the memory of the speaker, perspective, in the form of viewing events in their temporal relation or relative importance, is in noticeably short supply. Looking out over the channel, the narrator recalls an earlier visit to the maritime museum at Greenwich, where he had seen paintings of celebrated naval victories. He contemplates the false perspectives of such paintings which, while glorifying England’s vaunted naval superiority, do not reveal the significant role that chance played in such victories, such as a fortuitous shift in wind direction, and which, no matter how well drawn and executed, cannot begin to capture what it felt like to be on board a vessel under attack. Such paintings offer only myths that feed national pride. The speaker then contemplates as well the false perspectives of celebrated landscapes, such as Jacob van Ruisdael’s “View of Haarlem with Bleaching Fields” which he had seen at the Mauritshuis a year earlier, and which had provided soothing relief from the unsettling emotions stirred by Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson” until he realized that the perspective in van Ruisdale’s View of Haarlem was a false one: we see the landscape from “an imaginary position some distance from the earth.” Art, we are shown, no less than story, the kind that Sebald doesn’t write, can falsify by offering completeness, closure, or transcendence in place of momentary, fragmentary, partial experiences. The speaker recalls a visit he had made a year earlier to the Waterloo Memorial in Belgium, and how the panorama there representing the battle, a mural one hundred and ten meters long painted by Louis Dumontin, offered for all its size and panoramic views only another false perspective. The battle could not have been anything like what the mural shows, the narrator reflects, because the painting offers the viewer the illusion of seeing everything at once and from above–a privileged and illusory perspective denied the soldiers fighting and dying on the field. The speaker is therefore skeptical of the much-vaunted historical perspective in historical narratives analogous to the privileged view of seeing everything at once and from above. Although such a perspective is optically satisfying, it too is reductive and false. Perhaps for that very reason, instead of offering finished or completed perspectives, the speaker prefers simply to record his own movements and sensations, his wandering thought processes, his tangle of memories. The narrator can’t envision the battle of Waterloo at all until he closes his eyes and


suddenly sees it through the eyes of an imaginary participant–Fabrizio in Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma–who experienced the battle himself as a chaotic tangle of sensation, thought, and memory. Why, one may well ask, in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction that even Walter Benjamin could not envision, do we still, like the narrator of Sebald’s books, travel great distances at great expense to see original works of art? There are many ways of answering that question, but certainly one of them would include the “authenticity” that clings to anything original, including not only works of art in their original form but our own original and personal and unrepeatable encounters with them. In a recent book entitled Art and Engagement, Arnold Berleant has written that “art does not consist of objects but of situations in which experiences occur”(49). And so it is for the melancholy narrator of The Rings of Saturn who passes through landscapes and museums that remind him of what has passed out of existence, and of all the suffering caused by institutionalized power and the false perspectives in art that authorize it. Works of art reveal to him the constructed nature of the world he travels through as he himself constructs a narrative stitched together from experience, thought, and memory, the subject of which is in part its own stitching. At the conclusion of The Rings of Saturn the narrator contemplates the forgotten lives of nineteenth century working class English silk weavers serving the mercantile interests of the British Empire. He wonders if “we are able to maintain ourselves on this earth only by being harnessed to the machines we have invented”(Rings, 283). The narrator in a sense has created his own machine to which he too is harnessed–the narrative over which he labors. Like writers and scholars, loom operators too, we are told, were a melancholy bunch, forced as it were “to sit bent over, day after day, straining to keep their eyes on the complex patterns they created”(Rings, 283). In Vertigo the narrator recounts his journey from England to Austria and Italy in the Fall of 1980. As in The Rings of Saturn, the purpose of the journey appears to be an effort to overcome ennui, despair, an undefined personal malaise. All he tells us is that he had hoped a change of place would “help me get over a particularly difficult period in my life”(33). The “vertigo” of the title is described by the narrator as a “vague apprehension” produced by a “dissolved focus” and disintegrating thoughts accompanied by a fear of “mental paralysis.” His mind is cluttered with memories of places, people, paintings, and events that bubble to the surface to affect his life in the present in ways that he struggles to understand. Haunted by a fear of his own insignificance, the speaker, without appearing to realize it, is drawn to inanimate things that survive the destruction of time–physical records, receipts, photographs, old stone churches, and finally, the city of Venice. At one point in his journey he succumbs to the fear or fantasy that he is being followed, as if subconsciously seeking to appropriate the significance of the pursued rather than the pursuer, the sought rather than the seeker, the significance of someone not wandering aimlessly but caught in a web of surveillance-someone, in other words, involved in a plot which his own narrative and indeed his own life cannot supply. It is at such a time and in such a mood that the narrator confesses to a long fascination with the early modern Italian painter Pisanello, who “instilled in me a desire to forfeit everything


except my [own] sense of vision”(V, 72). He travels from Venice to Verona to revisit the fresco Pisanello had painted of Saint George and the Princess of Trebizond over the entrance to the Pellagrini Chapel. He describes in detail the circumstances under which he views the decaying mural. He is led by a silent verger through the empty church of Sant’ Anastasia to the transept of the chapel. Due to the lack of sunlight, the “profoundest gloom” prevailed. Only by dropping a thousand lire coin into a metal box could the painting be seen at all, illuminated, like a flash of memory, for an indefinite period of time. “Then one sees St. George setting off to fight the dragon, taking his leave of the princepessa . . . the wide open eyes of the knight already wandering sideways to the hard and bloody battle ahead “(74-76). It may not be coincidental that the narrator in making a pilgrimage to Pisanello’s fresco at the Pellegrini Chapel seeks out a vision of a world constructed without the illusion of perspective. As a viewer of the Pisanello fresco neither we nor the narrator know what to look at or in what order. The absence of information hierarchy is unsettling, as unsettling as Sebald’s narratives without clear beginnings or endings, without a central subject, without a plot, without quotation marks or paragraph breaks. In the fresco, the viewer’s eye is not directed toward any part of the mural at the expense of another, but wanders instead among iconographic signs: a ship in full sail, a knight in full armor, a self-possessed princess, men hanging from the gallows, a castle, and a dragon. The mural alludes to a story, but is incapable of telling it. Sebald may be asking here if the world depicted in this fashion, before the invention of vanishing point perspective, is more or less like the world as we know and experience it than the world that art would eventually come to show us, observed from a single vantage point, with spatial and temporal relations fixed and ordered in an orderly world by perspective. For the speaker, the cynosure of all meaning in the Pisanello fresco resides in the flat wandering eye of the depicted knight which mirrors back to him his own wandering viewpoint. Some years later the narrator visits the Arena chapel in Padua purposely to see the Giotto frescos, also of the Early Modern period, of which he had read an account (quite likely in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time) that described the “undiminished intensity of the colours” and “the certainty which governs every stride and feature of the figures represented.” (V, 83). Such certainty of purpose, expression, and identity stands in marked contrast to the narrator’s acutely diminished and compromised sense of self, caught in the grip of nostalgia for a more authentic experience than he can some how manage. Upon visiting the Chapel the narrator is “overwhelmed by the silent lament of the angels” painted overhead, “who have kept their station above our endless calamities for nigh on seven centuries”(84). “Are not their white wings, I thought, with those few bright green touches of Veronese earth, the most wondrous of all the things we have ever conceived of?” Angels’ wings, born of human desire, and tinted by the colors of the earth which gave birth to their imagining. The yearning for transcendence grounded in paint and place and human arts. “Gli angeli visitano la scena della disgrazie” the narrator murmurs, as if to borrow, if only for a moment, from Giotto’s imagination a transcendent Dantean point of view from which to judge himself and the modern world. “With these words on my lips, I returned through the roaring traffic to the station, not so far from the Chapel, to take the next train to Verona.”


Although the reader may assume that the roaring traffic and all that it implies belongs to the scene of our disgrace, our secular obsessions, our modern defacement of the earth, the speaker offers no commentary, no perspective. The narrative characteristically flattens out like a painting without perspective, without the illusion of depth in the form of connections made or conclusions drawn, without any attempt at putting very much of anything into perspective, including his own thoughts or the direction his own life is headed. The narrator simply records his movements. Has he succumbed to historical vertigo, to the “mental paralysis” he feared would overtake him, or has he, following Pisanello’s lead, “forfeited everything except [his] own sense of vision” in his quest for understanding what he sees? Such questions go unanswered. When he returns to London, his first destination is the National Gallery to visit that museum’s Pisanello. The narrator tells us very little of what he finds so compelling about Pisanello’s “The Virgin and Child with Saints George and Anthony Abbott” except for St. George’s enormous, and indeed enormously absurd, straw hat. Perhaps the painting highlights and confirms, for the speaker, the wonderfully whimsical and overtly invented nature of Pisanello’s vision. Vertigo ends with the melancholy and apocalyptic image of death and destruction from the Great Fire of London as recorded in a diary by Samuel Pepys as recalled by the narrator in a dream while traveling on an outbound train from London to an unknown destination. Like the photographs throughout the text that make the past both present and absent for the speaker, works of art and literature referenced in Vertigo function for the narrator as memento mori and as props or markers in his exploration of the territory where self and history intersect. History is everywhere–in landscapes, in ruins, in letters, in texts, in photographs, in mementos, paintings, museums, churches, monuments, train stations, country houses, and shifting shorelines. Sebald writes as if to say that we live as we travel–in search of wholeness and completeness with nothing but partial signifiers to guide us. We delight in the motion of travel even as we understand that each step offers only an illusion of progress or understanding. Finally, the illustrations and descriptions of paintings and frescoes by Rembrandt, Pisanello, Giotto, and other artists, placed and encountered in the context of the speaker’s remembered journeys or pilgrimages to view them, complicate and revise Wolfgang Iser’s famous distinction (in The Act of Reading) between looking at art and reading a text as the difference between “a subject-object relationship,” and a “moving viewpoint which travels inside that which it has to apprehend.” We are deceived by the notion that the so-called plastic arts exist as freestanding objects rather than as “situations in which experiences occur” (a deception reinforced by the manner in which art is often depicted and written about in monographs). The “moving viewpoint which travels inside that which it has to apprehend,” Sebald demonstrates again and again, is no less a feature of viewing art than it is a characteristic of reading a text, because art is always experienced–and remembered–in a narrative context by a subject living in time. And given Sebald’s convictions about the constructed nature of the world and our experience of it, art and story that do not disguise or conceal the constructed nature of their “perspectives” may represent the world and our experience of it best of all if for no reason other than the fact that the laws of optics decree that our “perspective” is forever in motion.


DIDACTIC BY DESIGN Jacqueline Belfort-Chalat LeMoyne College, NY

The urge to communicate seems very deep-seated in all living things. Even Flora through color and odor and shape signal to Fauna when they are ready for aid in procreation, or protect themselves from being devoured prematurely by the same means. Whether brightly colored poisonous fungi or unripe hard green fruits, until the ideal moment for reproduction and thus survival of the species is reached, each group in nature has a proven means for protection, preservation, and procreation.
If we move up the ladder to the top rung of possible development to view homo sapiens who has all the possibilities of action available to the creature with the largest proportionate brain/body ratio, we should not be surprised at the range of communication media. In this essay I have chosen to examine non-verbal means which humans have employed through the millenia. After all, it is only within recent times that it is possible to preserve, send, and hear a human voice at a remove of time and place from a face to face real-time encounter.

The beginnings of art are really fun to speculate on. We really know very little about who made those first little clay or stone figures. Was it a man or a woman who first fashioned a bulbous belly and breasts with small head and limbs? Because the overwhelming drive in nature seems to be the preservation of the species, it does make sense that image of a pregnant female would be a good form to honor. I don’t know exactly at what historical moment the role of the male in procreation became apparent. One scenario could link this burst of knowledge with the beginning of the downfall of power for the female element in both the pantheon of unseen gods as well as the holder of political and economic power in early societies. In any event, the rounded forms of the pregnant female seems to be one of the very earliest expressions of a primitive need to express interest and concern about this most basic human experience. At this point my mind jumps to various two-dimensional scratches on stone walls located from the southwest United States to caves in France and Spain to marks made on stones in Australia. For the most part these are linear and frequently have sharp angles. Clearly made by men because of the subject matter…the hunt and war. It appears that killing was in the beginning somehow sex linked. Linear forms such as spears or throwing sticks or bludgeons were the favored forms. Tribal dances I have seen in Africa and the United States seem to carry this same sex-linked difference of form and intent. Gravid women rarely desire to leap about, whereas speed and sudden sharp movement are required in aggressive actions. Sometimes I wonder if there is any signifigance in the fact that drums are round vessel forms which are hit by hands or sticks. Certainly just about every human group creates a steady noise by drumming, emphasizing the


heart-beat and quickening it to arouse feeling and movement and cohesion within the group. Think of the expression “Our hearts beat as one”. Because the artifacts are scarce and certainly do not include any linguistic symbols which could be solved by some early form of a Rosetta stone, we really are in the realm of speculation. But it strikes me that the most primitive human-made forms seem to have to do with attempting to communicate with and influence unseen forces beyond individual control. Will we have young, will we have food, will we be safe to deal with our needs, are questions addressed through non-verbal formats which we now refer to as Art. As humans gradually settled into permanent locations and gave up the roaming life of huntergatherers, new concerns required attention. Rain, climate in general, the jealousy of other human groups with the possibility of incursions leading to seizure of property and people, and the needs for solutions to simply living in larger groups than kindred-related extended families led to the formation of complex solutions. In the beginning a shaman or wise-woman could serve as the bridge between the group and the spirits. But little by little the society started to dedicate lives to more narrowly defined activities. Priests and record keepers became a visibly separate group. The order-keepers grew into politicians, police and military groups.
As more knowledge was accumulated, a special group began to deal with passing on this required lore. As excess production was piled up, groups started to trade this excess, so that the physical

surroundings became more varied. All this activity led to greater variation in the areas of knowledge, belief, and activity which groups needed not only to record to help create an ethos, but also there grew increasingly the need to awe, to control, and generally manipulate the populace who were not engaged in elite activities such as religious rites, war, ruling and arbitration. In my essay “Awe to Art” I spoke about these events as leading to the creation of Art because of the drive to create order out of Chaos or disorder. But once one actually has works of art created, I think it is only reasonable to touch on what is anything is being communicated. It seems even more important now. Why now, when more and more people are literate, and the art of the written word in essays, novels, plays, and poetry is accepted, practiced, and distributed globally? As a studio professor, it has struck me that students are having increasing difficulty in following verbal instruction. Short bursts of demonstrable information seem best remembered. The number of repititions required to move an entire class to action has grown shockingly over the years. And it has started to worry me that my students are telling me that they love my classes because they are “fun”. Believe me that has never been my primary purpose for teaching. But seriously, more and more of the visual imput is not sustained reading or words, but short bytes of information delivered through logos and slogans, a new short-hand of symbols which are universally understood. Even more serious is that these symbols are not created to move people to think or be proactive or original, but primarily to buy the product or the activity or the politician. If


thought and the ability to make informed choices is the hallmark of the educated person, it seems to me that constant exposure to flashy visual and audible bursts will produce characteristics most likely found in animals which can be herded easily. Although much information is transmitted through giant flashing billboards several stories high or in large screen movie formats, even more time is spent in front of computers with usually 17 to 19 inch screens or televisions with 27 to 42 inch screens. This in time is encouraging the formation of tunnel vision with little or no peripheral vision acuity. People are not aware of what is around them. Frequently students enter the studio and fail to greet me. Their response is scary. “Oh, I didn’t see you.” If one is slightly off their path of movement, they really do not see one. Let us turn our attention back in time again. I wonder if the fabled temples and monuments of ancient Greece or Egypt really were very different in affect from the signs or popular visual stimuli of our day. Remember that these decorations were not gleaming white, but were every garish color available to the artists of the day. True, color under a bright sun-lit sky does get toned down. I certainly found this true when I lived in Nigeria. But au fond, I think the Elgin marbles for example were a very non-subtle pat on the back for all concerned in warfare. The Forum and the Colloseum in Rome were supposed to not only give pride to the populace, but were a reminder of power and potential punishment to outsiders. When James Harithas was Director of the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington, D.C. back in the 1960’s he stated that scale was a major contributor to the definition of an object as art. In other words, anything, if big enough, becomes art by virtue of sheer size. Christo would agree with this when his idea of art is to wrap larger and larger segments of our earth and call the result art. It’s as if the naming communicates the intention, and the intention defines the desire to communicate as art. In casting my mind over the past century of artistic expression, I think the thing which strikes me as most unique was the taking of what had been either a sampler or a series of studies about specific skills or techniques and raising this effort to high art. Color as reality or tool has existed since the beginning of artistic effort. But color as utilized by the color field artists became an end and not simply a means. In the churches and basilicas and cathedrals of the Middle Ages Christianity built not only to praise God but also to inform the people of the entire message of God including a not very hidden message of what would happen to those who did not embrace what was offered. Despite the much-touted humanism of the Renaissance, the Judgement Day panel of the Sistine Chapel made crystal clear the rewards for sin. In some ways one could argue that the softly rounded forms of Michelangelo’s idealized humans made Hell’s punishment far more frightening than the obvious, more cartoon-like nightmare figures and scenes of Hieronymous Bosch’s views of the Netherworld. Propaganda comes from the Latin word meaning to spread a particular doctrine. This same root also gives us the word propogate, which not only is used for the spread of ideas, but also to breed more of the same. One propogates plants and oneself, one’s ideas or one’s person.


With this definition in mind virtually all of the art of religion falls into this category of dissemination of the core beliefs of various religions. It is not characteristic of only western art enshrined in churches but also is present in the Hindu art depicting not only a static Pantheon but also the activities of the Gods and heir human followers. Buddhism created the majestic and somehow peaceful gigantic images of the Buddha. Interesting when one considers the Buddha’s desire for simplicity and loss of the individual self in the flowing ocean of all existence. Tribal art of groups all around the world also use both mask, costume, carvings, and the dance to tell the story of beliefs as well as historic events in the life of the tribe. But as far as I can find most if not all do not seem to give physical form to the creator. And all the stories of how the world came about have a concept of an intelligence arranging things or causing the world to start. Of the world’s great religions…Hinduis, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam…it is the two most tribal, the two that arose in the shifting hot desert sands, that have a firm and strong taboo against depicting God. Although Christianity most certainly is rooted in Judaism and embraces the Bible of Judaism in addition to its own writings, in matters dealing with the propagation of the faith, it employed the styles and methods of the Greeks and Romans in order to best influence the people of that culture. As a method of crystallizing and distilling historical events into memorable images which can inform and move a people, certainly the image, whether statue or painting or photograph, is more effective than a written history of many volumes. If I try to think about the concerted effort which won World War II what comes to mind is the concerted thrust of the marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima, sculpted by Joseph Petrovics from the Joe Rosenthal photograph. And this is despite having gone to the movies during the war and seeing the RKO Pathe newsreels of the battles both in Europe and the Pacific. And who here has not had burned into the brain the image of the planes hitting the World Trade Towers on 9/11. Even on a very small and very personal level we are moved to record and recount and remember. What else is the passion for snapshots? We want to capture the moment. And in that moment is distilled much of the essence of the subject. But those images we can bring up on the walls of the mind’s personal museum of memories are influenced by everything we have read or seen. We are the most informed of any generation that has walked this earth. I hope that these riches of imagery will enlarge our hearts and souls. Many of us are working artists. Regardless of our media, I also hope that we never forget that art from the beginning was meant to communicate. Art is not for Art’s Sake. That was a conceit of 19th century romantic poets. No, Art is for reaching out to others, embracing and moving them.


RILKE’S STORYTELLING OF OBJECTS, MYTH AND WORDS Silya Kiese The Art Students League of new York, Union Institute and Univesity of Vermon College

All we have gained the machine threatens, so long as it makes bold to exist In the spirit instead of obeying. It nowhere stays behind so that we might just once escape it So that its machine–noise and rhythms belong to itself It is life,–thinks it knows best, that with equal resolve produces, destroys. But to us existence is still enchanted; At a hundred points it is origin still. A playing of powers that no one touches who does not wonder and marvelWords still gently fade before the unsayable And music ever new, out of molst tremulous stones builds in magnitude space her deified house. —Rainer Maria Rilke1 “How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races?” Moving closer to the 21 century, we’ve lost the mythical level known to the ancients, and we no longer experience our world we live in as instinctively mythical, like our ancestors did. Thus, there is the well-known universal myth about spirit—dragons that at last moments are transformed into mythical beings. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are metaphors who are waiting to be transcended into the extended mythology of our Zeitgeist through the magic power of human imagination. Artists, who have graduated from distinguished art schools worldwide in the Eighties and Nineties have rekindled the myth through satirization of the machine-age, originally envisioned by Marcel Duchamp2, and making re-freshing Assemblage works now, by using found objects from industrious scrap materials, or no-longer used utilitarian objects, also called the ‘object trouve’ which Duchamp transcended into the well-known “Ready Made.” These contemporary sculptors, including myself, contributing a fresh breeze to our aesthetics and visual culture of Fine Art and cast a new window how mythical material and satire can be gathered and transformed into meaning and reflect the pulse of our time. Now let’s have a brief visit to the biographical life of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke was strongly influenced by the sculptor Rodin3 whom he met in Paris in his studio, as a young poet..and a friendship was born in an instant.


Rilke’s volume of his significant visual poems. The Book of Images4 evolved from meeting the French sculptor and having been exposed to Rodin’s prolific magnitude of sculptural creation. Rodin’s mounumental sculptures inspired the poet to craft his writings to achieve sculptural “thingness.” Here I quote from The Book of Images: The word can designate a picture, a portrait, or any other form of pictorial presentation (sculptural, architectural), and thus suggests a strong “belonging” to the visual world. My recent research on Rilkes’ writings, especially from his rich poetic summary from his book entitled The Sonnets of Orpheus and The Book of Images provide a prolific and enlightened window of Rainer Maria Rilke’s ability to shape poetic literature and legendary storytelling into distinct “constructs” of words, similar to a sculptor’s hand, sculpting medium into form. Now I’ll present a brief synopsis of my of my own sculptural assemblage objects Relating to literary images, sound and vocalization. We’ll venture the story captured Within these assembled forms, including my interest for lyrical essence that relates to Rilkean storytelling. This visual demonstration will crosspollinate a complementary Stgage where notions of hidden myth can be found, in both, the objects and words.

The themes to my sculptural projects typically start with a word, a poem, or something I read during travel, or taking the subway on my way to the Art Students League in New York City, where I teach studio art programs in sculpture. My sculptures and Installation are rarely inspired by mere’ly pictorial perception. Now we’ll view current assembled sculptures and installations I made, including sculptural Assemblage works from the Eighties and Nineties. The first work shown In this image here is a recent wall-Assemblage5 combining copper, a photgraph and musical notes. This assembled work conveys the message of a rewarding place where myth-making, musical notes and the “first steps of a child” take part in enfolding visual ceremonies. The next two works are large scale Installations.6 (1) This image here presents found objects combining two seven feet antennas and human vocalization. This “Sound Installation” (Objektkunst) correlates the object-trouve, recorded human voices and urban sounds from around the world. I later electronically synthezised the recorded voices and urban sounds in the sound studio. Assembling found objects (object trouves: 7 feet antennas) voices and sound, this installation provides an audible & visual window to the hidden mythological icons.


Now let’s re-visit the profound Rilkean imagery of words which capture a similar mysterious signifier conveyed in the previously viewed “Sound Installation.” Yet words still g ently fade before the unsayable…. And music ever new out of most tremulous stone-builds within a magnitude space her devine house —R M Rilke Rilke tells us here, that man has to remain the cultural gatekeeper, by harboring and reinventing our heritage of myth and ritual. The next installation is assembled with translucent industrious plastics and aluminum painted metal parts. The plastic panels provide the backdrop for the found urban materals and appear closer to painting. Yet this work is purely sculptural. The panels and combined object parts here engage the environmental space in nature, or the gallery space. This work invites the viewer to a sculptural illuminous allegory, evoking a visual message of color, form, light and shade in apparent motion, and suggesting a visual journey how a plant, or a flower made from industrious materials could grow into a sculptural myth. The next work is a sculpture7 assembled from a conceptual theme using marble and newspaper text. Instead of engraving the text I utilized newspaper text onto stone. In this sculptural Assemblage I combined a marble piece found in nature and a machine-made published text. My aim here is, to synthesize natural and machine-made materials into the “Art of Assemblage” myth in sculpture. The sculpture also conveys a ceremonial meeting of “Art and Literature” and could easily relate to the Rilkean voice expressed in his poetic storytelling, and invites the reader to be a part of exploring our Zeitgeist myth. Now let’s continue our venture with Rilke’s Sonnets of Orpheus Orpheus sing new melodies in the earAnd all was silentYet even in the silenceNew beginning, beckoning, change went on —R. M. Rilke Orpheus8 appears throughout Rilke’s Sonnets and conveys the poets literary ernvolvement with the Orpheus spirit as creator of mythical songs and prophet of humanities dreams. The next image introduces a sculptural object by the sculptor Brancusi.9 His sculpture “The Sleeping Muse”presents a human head carved in marble, and evokes Rilke’s storytelling of Orpheus, conveying mysterious “Beginnings


of the World.” Brancusi’s dream-like sculpture also inhabits the kernel of the “primal” as potential value for myth-making, and unites the sculptural head with a remarkable quest of the Rilkean mysterious announcement of beckoning. The Assemblage-sculpture entitled “Miyajima” (Opening Door)10 shown in the following image, is a sculpture I made in 1997. “Miyajima” aims for Brancusi’s mythological meaning, visually articulated in the sculptor’s work entitled “The Sleeping Muse.” Here both sculptures mirror the Rilkean words of Orpheus. The final sculptural objects discussed in this paper relate to Rilkean poetry and demonstrate Visual juxtaposition of the object trouve (found object), musical instruments, copper, wax, wood and assembled human mask-like portraits. Presenting the next image: “The Mirage Fluge”11 is a sculptural lamp made of copper, wood and theatre-performance lights. The assembled object trouve is a flute, and signifies a place where the reading of a story ignites a promising melody for illuminous cultural myth-making. The final Assemblage-sculpture12 shown in this image symbolizes a ritual mask made from Was, and is correlated with photo-images that are complementary to the following Rilkean poetic storytelling: Presenting the image and reading a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke13: Perhaps something soon will happenThat we now grasp in dreamGreetings to you allMy soul now seesAn opening doorYou, my song’s and words most cherished earCelebrate your thousand and one dream-imagesEvolving as new myth into the Zeitgeist Of the 21century. NOTES
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Rainer Maria Rilke, German poet, 1875-1926, The Sonnets of Orpheus, Norton & Company, New York, London. Marcel Duchamp, French conceptual artist, 1887-1968. Rodin, French sculptor 1814-1917. Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Images, introduction, pg. xiii, translation 1991, Edward Snow. Silya Kiese, wall-Assemblage 2001, private collection. Kiese, Sound Installation 1987. The Art Institute of Chicago. Kiese, conceptual sculpture, Edward Hopper gallery, NY 1998.


8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

M Rilke, “The Sonnets of Orpheus,” pg. 17. Constantin Brancusi, 1876-1957, Romanian sculptor, ‘The Sleeping Muse,” marble sculpture. Kiese, sculptures: “Miyajima”, Edward Hopper gallery 1998, The Art Students League, NY. 2000-2001. sculpture “Mirage-Flute” lamp, 2003, private collection. Kiese, Assemblage-sculpture, “Ritual Mask,” Fromex Photo, NY 2000. R M Rilke, The Book of Images, poem: “Amnunciation.”


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