Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Painter as a representative of avant-garde views. Discuss.

Ashbery is the most creative of all avant-gardes. His poems justify what he advocates in his prose or theoretical criticism. His theories about language are those most popularly practiced in not his own but the poems of his younger generation. In fact Ashbery’s efforts were to unite the techniques of poetry and painting. While doing so he has to explain the similarities in these arts to their procedural out puts. In his view the practice of a painter is quite akin to a poet’s. The movements in painting therefore had their special link to the movements in poetry.

The Painter is written in the light of his theories for surrealist art.
Sitting between the sea and the buildings
He enjoyed painting the sea’s portrait.
The touch of abstractism is seen in the painting of sea but in a poetic abstract way. What the painter wants to paint about sea is attempted by poets like Shelley in poetry. But the difference lies in the fact that the painting concerns our sense of seeing whereas poetry hearing and feeling.
But just as children imagine a prayer
Is merely silence, he expected his subject
To rush up the sand, and, seizing a brush,
Plaster its own portrait on the canvas.
It was surrealism the painter was trying to adopt as a theory. The most controversial of all surrealist aspects is it aspect of automatism. Ashbery in these lines gives a view of painter’s conception of this aspect. He wants the sea to rush up the sand and plaster its own portrait on the canvas. What comes next is in fact Ashbery’s rejection of this view.
So there was never any paint on his canvas
For him the possibility of automatism lies in its adopting some means. The canvas and brush are the means a painter adopts in painting. The means for a poet are the emotional overflow and conscious indulgence. What the people living in buildings advise him to do is the same Ashbery himself suppots. He seems, in this way, on the side of the people living in buildings.
Until the people who lived in the buildings
Put him to work: “Try using the brush
As a means to an end. Select, for a portrait,
Something less angry and large, and more subject
To a painter’s mood, or, perhaps, to prayer.”
All poems are subject to automatism. But the automatism Ashbery defines is totally different from one the poets of generations have been practising. In his view the selection of subject at least should not fall prey to automatism. The poet and the painter both should try to choose something intimate to their feelings and bents. The inability to choose such a subject is expressed in painter’s inability to explain his choice to the people.
How could he explain to them his prayer
That nature, not art, might usurp the canvas?
But to show the approach of the critics as genuine and practical, Ashbery presents his painter acting upon their suggestion.
He chose his wife for a new subject,
Making her vast, like ruined buildings.
The success this time though unexpected comes to the painter and the portrait gets appreciated by the critics.
As if forgetting itself, the portrait
            Had expressed itself without a brush.
It is in fact the practicability of theory that Ashbery wants to express. Surrealism in itself is not the genuine thing. If the painter or poet has mixed it with the artistic conscience it becomes genuine or practicable. The artistic conscience from art therefore should not be absent. All arts should be artistic in nature, and all artists should be artistical.
Ashbery’s avantgarde approach is in this way quite clear. All experimental and innovational work should not cease to artistic, at least. Surrealist conceptions are in fact the initial stages of all conceptions. It is the genius of an artist that makes them different from the conceptions of a common person. The artistic efforts in all works of art should always be there. It is the artistic effort that gives some idea or vision an artistic genre. All conception before being adopted in form or medium may look same. But it is the artistic effort that gives them form or medium. Further, the form or medium should not be considered enough to give some conception its artistic identity. Colours and canvas should not be considered enough to make some idea a portrait or sketch. It should be the approach of painter that should help make it painterly.
The painter in The Painter forgot to understand this point and tried to paint the portrait of sea again.
Slightly encouraged, he dipped his brush
In the sea, murmuring a heartfelt prayer:
In fact he forgot to understand that the portrait praised by the critics was painted up to the requirements of the medium. It was not the subject but the medium they had stressed upon. The sea is not less angry and large a subject. The sea is a subject, but to be less and large deals with the particularities of medium. So it was the medium they in fact talked about. The painter took it for subject and theory and started painted the portrait of sea again. The mode and attitude he adopted was again surrealist.
“My soul, when I paint this portrait
let it be you who wrecks the canvas.”
Ashbery in fact wants to convey to us the real sense of surrealism. Medium and attitude are the soul of theories. No art is possible without medium. It is not the theory but the medium and attitude of the artist that makes one different from the other. All conceptions at the initial level are the same. It is always the medium that divides them in painting, music, dance, poetry etc.
The news spread like wildfire through the building,
He had gone back to the sea for his subject.
If the news of his painting an old subject spreads like a wildfire, it is because of painter’s inability to understand the true spirit of a theory or technique. When he came to his old angry and large subject, he had to be disappointed again. The disappointment had become his ultimate fate.
Imagine a painter crucified by his subject.
It simply means that the subject should not dominate and overcome the true spirit of an art. The medium and attitudes should always be accepted as true spirit of some art. Ashbery’s avantgarde views therefore are not totally strange for art. What Eliot says about the importance of individual talent in the supremacy of tradition is proved completely true. Tradition does not mean in the sense of modes and attitudes. It should also be meant in the sense of medium. Canvas, brush and paint are the media of painting. An artist should not transcend his media. It shall simply mean that he is misled in his conceptions. If the painter had not been too exhausted to lift his brush, he might have painted something up to the requirements of theory and criticism. But alas!
Too exhausted even to lift his brush,
He provoked some artists leaning from the buildings
To malicious mirth: “We haven’t a prayer
Now, of putting ourselves on canvas,
Or getting the sea to sit for a portrait!”
The theorists and critics refused to accept his efforts. They simply thought it non-professional and non-artistic. To remain and survive in the limits of art is the first requirement of art. If the artist breaks these limits and gets out of art he will never, never be accepted. The recognition and time does not mean any sense here. The acceptance and rejection of critics are also subordinates here. He will simply be thought as a fool and mad.
Of course, we do not understand the most intelligent and the most foolish. But we can understand the most intelligent somewhere or sometime in our life. The most foolish will never be understood. He is simply to be discarded and forgotten. To be out of art is too be foolish and to be mad.
Others declared it a self-portrait.
Finally all indications of a subject
Began to fade, leaving the canvas
Perfectly white.
The fate of to be out of art is to be dead in art. Our mind has some communicating waves. When an artist gets out of art he is electrocuted by these waves. He is simply dead.
He put down the brush.
At once a howl, that was also a prayer,
Arose from the over-crowded buildings.
They tossed him, the portrait, from the tallest of the buildings; And the sea devoured the canvas and the brush
As though his subject had decided to remain a prayer.
The sea devoured the canvas and the brush means the subject needs some medium. When the artist refuses to adopt any medium the subject remains unidentified. The unidentifiedness of subject is in fact the hidden condition of means to perform that subject.

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