The Art of Janet Malcolm and Emily Dickinson
Fragments, jottings, sketches, and transits of venus; “Common Sense” reproduced in the article, N Y Review of Books by Christopher Benfey
Fragment as art; raw or cooked? Too much of our media and other input is “cooked,” which means preprocessed, and in art or presentation a desired outcome or plan has been determined.
Words are not words, but are sticks, sticks thrown out into a forest of sticks.
Fragments can be a rich source for imagination. We as a society of creators active in culture must acknowledge the importance of imagination. An ambiguity faces us regarding whether or not we provide for progress in education and infrastructure, two huge dots in a line that could lead to improved commerce. Maybe I’m being too liberal with my romanticism; art is a product of imagination; art stimulates imagination. We need to do more than give the impression that our economy is working. Sometimes art, conceptual art, is not about representing something obvious but about making a suggestion, implying by way of a reference that there is, for example, a disconnect in society that repeats itself and it goes unnoticed or ignored because of rhetoric or by way of persuasive figures of speech. There is an elephant in the room. There is a giant apple in the room. The wool has been pulled over our eyes.
Opus sectile is an art technique popularized in ancient and medieval Rome. Materials broken and cut are inlaid or on-laid to a surface to create a picture or pattern unlike mosaic since the pieces are large.
Combining fragments, in most cases, is what collage is. This technique, as a recognizable picture of pasted cut outs or torn papers, transfer art, decoupage, print making media, or photos, lends itself, indeed instills in us a myriad of ideas and interpretations.
News about the Ukraine and Syria are so importunate that I have the feeling media rarely indulge in intellectual areas such as art or literature. Sizeable amounts of money are spent to have reporters stand in the midst but at some points in my life, news regarding anything but the most relevant to the self seems almost a distraction. Dare I say this, while the importance of issues in Syria and Crimea in the hands of statesmen and legislators contradict, we are left in a predicament with our indulgent liberality versus our reined conservatism. We get our news in sensational fragments. I prefer to read. Do we have to ask ourselves about news? News for the sake of news and all its urgency, especially when we are confronted with the leader of a country warring on his own people and creating the affront that he is combating terrorism, or otherwise acting justifiably, and the world doesn’t know what to do about it? Fragmented by the powers that be conjures up another notion of Common Sense.
It may become apparent that our view of existence, in an age of technological splendor, comes to us in fragments. Today is made of yesterday and tomorrow. In depth studies, investigative journalism, scholarly approaches, occasionally can be found in the “mainstream” but for the most part it’s rather water under the bridge, sound bites and sensation. So much is running by us we must develop discernment against ambiguity. Our work is to bring meaning to our own life.
In some areas of expression mystery can be deemed a welcomed approach to theory, abstraction, or the conceptual in art. There is often more meaning in what is left un-said. In that sense, if we think of what Lugones said, that all words are dead metaphors, then language is an aggregate of metaphors. The beginnings of the voicing of meanings is wonderful to consider but I am trying to grasp something of the current field of communication in culture and society, as it seems to be increasingly ambiguous, and this is due in part regardless of the advancement of technology.
Of Janet Malcolm’s work Benfey says, “The twenty-six collages that make up Janet Malcolm’s arresting and faintly melancholy “Emily Dickinson Series,” the artist’s fifth solo exhibition at Lori Bookstein Fine Art in Chelsea, look on first view like leaves from some late Victorian archive, though the field of science or art to which they belong remains unclear.”
In any exhibit of collage the mysterious juxtaposition of fragments from history, veils of tissue, faded and folded and imposed on what either are or soon will be an assortment of archival materials, provoke a number of responses about graphics, mood, metaphysics, creativity, human psyche, and curatorial prowess. Collage may be the more “accessible” form of conceptual art. Even after so many years of exposés on “abstract” and conceptual art, it can take some time of viewing, a friendly guide, art education, or a good book, to bring us a better understanding of what an artists ideas might be. Even great works are mocked at first impressions.
So what would the curator be doing presenting us with these collages, these fragments from history? We know the artist must have some idea in placing items together under a title. The gallery and the curator also have a motivation that must be beyond income. Or is that the invisible foundation we are asked to step around? Do such pieces carry conceptual merit or is the public infatuated with the names of famous people and strange events in history? A celebrity hangs on my wall if only by suggestion. A signature in a book adds approximately 1500 dollars in value.
“Faintly melancholy” as Benfey says, can be a quality of collage. Which often renders something new from its parts, a realm I’d call visual metaphor or poetic imagery. In his metaphysical period, de Chirico was a master of this kind of imagery. Others as well, but he is one of my favorites.
The composition as process crosses boundaries in painting, graphics, and sculpture, even literature can claim to instill new images and meanings from unrelated combinations. Consider Magritte and his cloth-covered faces, such as Les Amants. Clear Ideas combines seemingly unrelated ocean, boulder and cloud.
Magritte’s mother committed suicide in the River Sambre and was found with her dress over her face. Whether he witnessed this or not, it would be conjecture to suggest it as a source for Les Amants while many of his images have this power of mystery.
Usually the walls of a gallery display pieces in some linear fashion, which could be called the predecessor of the slide show, the flash banner, and the montage. Sidestep to a spur called philosophical undertones. As humans, visual content in series is accepted, whether or not we are visual thinkers, the visual experience creates a cognitive exchange, and whether we adapt, modify, or stimulate our imagination may depend on the size of our imaginative life.
To delve into what this means is an individual pursuit. Consider what all this means to your self. Begin with imagination—is imagination represented realistically, is it flat or 3D? Can you imagine the piece of a machine, a structure made of wood framing, a turbine, or is your imagination not represented by realistic forms but by emotions or colors? Like dreams of people who first appear familiar but whose faces change?
Sometimes I feel reticent to venture discussion of a book review for sounding like a review of a review; the review within a review? Consider the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna, a story of a man who has a dream within a dream. The book is interesting for various reasons, one of which is its place in printing history as being the first book to have illustrations printed the same time as the type but I needed to interject the idea of its imagination.
Attempting recently to write about a review because of the literary points the reviewer made about a popular book whose comparative merits they questioned, seemed to sway between the marketing of the book as Dickensian, and where it seemed to fall short of such an analogy for this particular reviewer. The power of the market to allow for its being compared to Dickens seems in part due to the romance with and not the knowledge of the writing of Dickens.
I am grasping for a correlation, if there is one, between a reader and an observer of art and, or literature, that clearly takes on something of the “conceptual” or less conventional form. I realize these questions venture into the theoretical sophistication of “design” and any idea related to the reading of literature and the observing of visual art in a cognitive way. If we are comfortable with the mysteries of an art exhibit, why would we not be comfortable with a mysterious form of literature? If we can acknowledge survey data that shows our society is not as comfortable with poetry, if less linear forms of writing are a challenge for editors and publishers to “curate” if you will, the other question follows; do the editors and critics create the market or do the readers?
If the best we can expect from an event or marketing plan is to reach 20% of an audience, how do we best reach our group if we do not have a brand or budget, a book store / outlet to champion a title, the technology or staff to implement the proclaimed SEO / content in the world of marketing, especially when it appears to be driven by the quest for the best? Or as noted in another review, success can be driven by the romantic image of an author’s life, which can be so easily thwarted by statements incongruous to that image. (see http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/20/triumph-fay-weldon/?insrc=toc) Readers seem to fancy an author that is anguished or in some way miserable, and not the author who is happy at their work.
Take the internet promise of capitalization with all the Social Networks, SEO marketing strategies, the constant blog-roll, feed, or timeline streaming —there is little or no true archive, there would probably be no posthumous fragments of your jolly good blurts and photos, let alone jottings on envelopes, or napkins —not in less a curatorial relative or friend decided that what you were up to was worthy of attention to preserve your digital history could be any way your work might find a real world corner in an archive. The correlation we may find is in the words of Batman’s Rachel saying, “it’s not who we are inside but what we do that defines us.” This is a promoter’s dream of materialism. Is it the “doing” and not the “being” in the world, that carry any weight or hope for actual success? As relatively sophisticated viewers of art we only need a suggestion of an object to receive an idea, even if it is not the one an artist intends for us.
If you find yourself questioning postulates on fragments from an archive, consider the Emily Dickinson writings on used envelopes, or the irony of Mabel Todd editing Emily’s work after she passed away; the very person that seems such a complete opposite in character to the author, one whose erotic escapades with the authors brother had to have driven Emily to another room to do her writing. This is one possible reason for jotting verse on a scrap of envelope, her letter paper probably being in the room where the sexual commotion was taking place. She was adapting to a situation.