Found: A Letter for the Art of Love and Colors by Paul Michael Whitfield

Dear,

In Safe and Sound,

 

I write as the crow flies—ashore, on the hard. Something’s happened, my friend. I’m aground, at liberty, and I think you must know. You’re on a run, of course, and a leg from the vanishing angle. There’s nothing so much to say, after all. A sliding pond across the pond, to think of it! And so, I write to you, the manifest all theirs.

I was leadsman and three sheets to the wind after a jump. The shifting tides felt like wild gleams, and yelling, “La mal du siècle est le fin de siècle!”

The quiet quite still and, the ocean conceiving itself a pond, so said staid:

“At times, there arrives a silence of such definitive conviction, only breathlessness awaits in reply. Before a heavy void, abrupt in infinitesimal place, broad-bosomed earth spawns light, deities, and creatures. And yet void stands, eerily genial in a forbidding concealedness it abides, exact—heavy-handed with the awesome settling of null. There are, of course, those remnants of Iapetus’ progeny: a thoughtful, doomed unconcealedness of the world.”

There were dripping sounds at this, I remember, and the wet of tell-tale and the atmosphere. Some of us had silently smoked, like xylological fumes. We were trees, my friend, and the pond was… always water and wet. The drink. Something was happening.

“The world is everything that is the case.”

And, said so, that pond in the middle of the forest talked with the batch of banked reeds about how little our Sol’s rays were involved in its ecosystem. The whole forest listened quietly, and over the following seasons many limbs slowly spread above the pond, until it sighed its happy content of a cool summer to the reeds. As autumn set, the brisk air began ossifying all these ponderous bodies, crisping icy plates on its blooming surface which melted each morning, inviting fauna and flora to sink themselves with stark refreshment.

Appreciating such communal spirit, the pond rippled a quiet return to the forest and limbs.

Later, in a womb of the icing winter, the pond lazily sludged along its floor shipping nutrient muds and clays below its breeding, frozen husk. Snuggled with the earth beneath, it glowed its reverent anticipation of the coming spring thaw. Then, it glimmered, it would banter its banks and banked reeds with freshwater biota and loudly call in laughter to the limbs just above, swinging:

“A no-sided, 4-sided figure is unfathomable—even confusingly so—to our so natural bodies, but what about that rule entails that there, in fact, is or is not a round square object, somewhere? All objects are possible objects?”

Like at some Jack a Jonah rippling the state, we’d listened poised—frozen by such cold.

“In such a proposition—and eo ipso statement, etc., etc.—is it not that its subject noun’s adjective is epistemically dissimilar, categorically, from the predicate noun’s adjective, such that render the proposition’s truth ambiguous without some formality of warrant?”

The arc of visibility the dead wake of a question. It was a wonder indeed, my friend. You would’ve imagined it admirable, as it were.

“Indeed, O Limbs, when contemplating this, prodigious, I think to remember ‘All’ as adjective, and the phrase ‘objects are possible objects’ metaphysical triviality—for, as we all well know, the convention of beginning such cosmic inferences with ‘All’ is merely convention only, useful in determining the universal from the particular formally, carrying no ontological information to the semantic table that isn’t there with the noun—and, in point of fact, serving, in this most serious of cases, that of our sea trial, to build common cloud over the way of inference. An ox-eye, O Limbs. Removing the adjective—using, instead, ‘Objects are possible objects’—might help the clear: to suggest the proposition ‘true’ is to want of warrant for why possibility is universality here. Would not there only then be unity?”

The doldrums becalmed, my friend! The forest spelled. I was forgotten, for the moment, I think.

“That we can’t conceive the experience of a round, square object has, at best, obscure bearing on the existence of such objects in such sense as said.”

Silence, some thought, hearing—already ready to stove in. Scud and iron wind. Sailors, you know.

“Though, such talk is, yes, suspect. As it should be, experience being what it is as the origin of this digression.”

The pond let lit by losing the forest among these trees, and the scat of conversants. All the talk of those aboard, that time, I remember, that cat and the devil to pay.

I won’t ask about the weather of being still at sea, my friend. There’s enough play to run with such paws.

“The map is make-able but never at all necessarily made,” rustled the limbs, “there’s just the effort of trying, ever unable to deduce whether what’s got is right, all, or some. Knowledge doesn’t exist outside knowing minds but its content is everything.”

I think here the pilot coughed, if memory serves. I mean, I’m not sure if any else of us heard, it is.

“It’s that, we understand or misunderstand the world, and the world is. For us, what the world is, what it will be, what it was, and what it can and can’t be, are common features of metaphysics, sought-for but unreached in the concepts of minds trying—some nihilism perhaps excluded. For the world, what it is, what it will be, what it was, and what it can and can’t be are logical categories which denote everything, from the geology of obsidian to this.”

It became a glacial wood soon to be warmed by the heat of summer, and all the many rays of bright shine that’s growth and substance. The master at arms with no room to swing a cat, I guess.

Taiga.

And so, at this, like some carpenter the pond replied in allegory, “The clear of an annulled sky.”

“‘I’ll participate in what you believe if you give me the attention’, came tumbling over the pearls and the bloodied beaver, Limbs.”

The limbs listened as a brush is swept, the forest petrified—fossilized fuels bearing the point, as it were. I remember it said it looked like a mirror. Something about… some hellenic and theophanic rope and yarn, I think. The pond had begun to speak of being a body of water.

“Jackal surveys the land,” the pond had sounded, “edifying Paintings’ touched and embalming the ideal. ‘Say that again?’ With concussion, Lettuce extrapolates. Those binary cartographers imbibe hilarity—albeit, Jackal’s cross and preempts her own ostensible fury by way of a barking cough.”

“Lettuce in chagrin—perplexed.”

Groves, it was by then. I could’ve heard such story, myself—stories like storied buildings.

I think of the fact that, it’s here I find myself found writing letters to you, my friend. Nothing short for lamplight, however much I should have to say, in the end. I’ve even written poems, but that of late and dire.

The pond kept up swinging the lamp like lead.

“All her pink, translucent schemata want of reality—of ossification. Painting mediates: what better than to supplant a foe by fouling foliage? The land fallow, Jackal honors the entreatment—one’s employer reigns this solar day. ‘Painting,’ Jackal claims, ‘we’re apt to mark off the upper ridge for agriculture, the mountain for The Captain’s roost, and the shoals for a defense buttress, leaving the basin for folks.’ Parched, the ink dries and the anxiety of the panorama sets with the star entombing the now elucidated police in time.”

At this, some of the limbs laughed and, in the way, taunted: “Jackal sighs at Lettuce’s prone attack, and revives facility?”

The pond waved isomorphic.

“Jackal spoke: ‘Lettuce… my beliefs are of liquid. I attend objects only, and them with a definite distance.’ Lettuce would gasp. ‘And, Lettuce, I’m a cartographer. Too narrow for your width.’ A fountain, Lettuce pontificates medium, naturalizing chaos. That the Jackal stares, cessation swiftly returning to Painting’s palette the bounty of a nearly aerial view of what—if for Painting only—is ideally incommensurable with identity. So much tranquil settling, as obviating Lettuce’s receding futility and path traversing below.”

“To Painting Jackal inscribes, ‘I am bulimic.’ A laugh, then jest in rebuke, ‘You are?’ They leave the sight.”

The limbs were silent still, having chanted the reflection that: “The beginning of the end is the end of the beginning. To begin the reason is the reason to begin the reason to have begun. The end of the beginning is the beginning of the end. The reason to begin is to begin the reason to have begun.”

I would’ve said something, then, my friend. I write you now, because that wasn’t what happened. The pond took what was a spell to mull and sludge, and was soon quite on, again, about it all.

“It’s that there’s a difference between. An oil portrait by Villers comes to mind.”


OTA-Villers-Young-1801

Marie-Denise Villers
Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes
, 1801


“An artist is painted by the painter drawing the painter—looking out at us, studying studying while they work. They paint the artist as drawing within a room, face away from a large window to their left. Through that window, we see the view out into painted open air, and, in the near distance, a painted couple walks close together alongside a painted building separated from that within which we see the artists sit, each working at their craft.”

At this submerged and aesthetic mise en abyme, even I was knocked down, my friend. It was as if liminality were sublimity.

“Villers depicts the artist as turned away from the couple without, from that life-style and choice to be one in a relationship, one outside, there walking and heavily clothed, as having chosen to remain within, at methodic vocation and a sole focus on us—the viewer, the painted. The subject.”

The pond pondered paint in prodigious profundity—paying, by and large by the board. Pelagic, at last it remarked:

“Kierkegaard was polite as ever to the King when at court, yet his journals characterize Christian VIII in language beneath a private subject of an enlightened sovereign! Logic leads, and I heckle and foray riotous! Nobody ever understands him, anyway, you know! The works!”

The limbs, like the Dormouse at tea and, perhaps, Aristotle, were quite asleep. As slumbering arms, indeed, there among the wood and water—the brightwork and deadwood of boatwrights. I’d said nothing—snagged and foul.

I write this all, my friend, because Heraclitus once said aloud that, that war and strife are the facts of life—that to think even of something like a Pax Romana is still yet that lit lamp of the sea state.

We’re at war, my friend. Extremis. This world of war. Sailing wind-over-tide, line astern without letter of marque. A rogue wave.

Be vigilant. Sail.

 

Your prize, In all regard,
And for the art of love and colors,

Fair winds and following seas,
Anon, Anon,

Away

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Braving the Days: Stand Back by Jordannah Elizabeth

The question is: is there a separation between life and the liver? Lately, life has been happening to me. Every day has brought an acute opportunity for me to take a path of action or caution. Caution would allow me to withdraw from opportunities to interact with invitations, opportunities to travel and moments to bond and break bread. I have the choice to write or to sleep. I have the choice to touch or to sit alone, I have the choice to relate with my family or to never call.

Specifically, in the arts there are two phases of one’s career:

The season where you pursue and the season where you are pursued.

These seasons after the first inception become interchangeable. Many times a new or emerging artists much must pursue opportunities to create their art before they are offered opportunities to create, simply because the initial pursuit affords an artist the ability to be seen, thus attracting the result unsolicited offers.

Maybe I am in a phase where I have chosen a formidable aloofness out of a fierce attempt to maintain privacy in a culture and governmental structure that find public behavior and interaction to be a new, usable and profitable way of interacting.

This is all okay. I don’t mind receiving opportunities. In fact, I quite appreciate them, but there is this light amount of flailing I experience. A quiet flailing. A flailing I find to be natural as a human being who took much of her life to pursue and now finds it appropriate to stand back.

If I do not stand back, and take stock of my position in the balance of the experience of “pursuing or being pursued,” I can never truly understand who I am as an artist. One who drives forward without reflection will not likely find themselves in a position to be pursued.

____________________________________

It’s been 12 days and I am returning to this piece to complete it.
I feel the same way I did two weeks ago.

There have been times when I’d take a break and return to my writing for the column and I’d feel differently. Today, I just feel like moving steadily and privately, and maybe I’ll live my life that way, forever.

 

 

The Looker: John Berger by James Carraghan

I was making my way through Ways of Seeing when I stopped at the end of the third essay and sent a text message to my friend. Within a few minutes he had responded, telling me that he was reading the same essay, at the same time, for a class; he had the same thoughts and was going to get in touch with me. This was not to be the last time this would happen. I worked my way through the rest of the book, finding germs of the theoretical lenses I would be studying in theory-heavy courses outlined with concrete examples. It still guides many things I write about—many of the conversations I have had in the last year were sparked by reading John Berger.

berger-mohr
John Berger by Jean Mohr

Berger was a multidisciplinary thinker before we used words like “multidisciplinary.” The seventy years of his critical explorations reflected the radical changes in the way we think about art, politics and the act of thinking itself. Berger was, in many ways, responsible for starting the process of consciousness raising many of us needed and still need. His work made us question the preconceptions we brought to analysis in a way that was both serious and playful. I can sum it all up in a single painting by Magritte: The Treachery of Images (Ceci n’est pas un pipe).

magrittepipe

The image appears as if it is a pipe; yet as many have said, the viewer cannot take the pipe down and fill it, light it, or smoke it. In the end, it is not a pipeit is the representation of a pipe. It is in this area of differencebetween the thing and its representationthat we find the best of Berger’s work.

The way that of Berger holds most of his influence is bizarre. He is best known for (essentially) a novelization of a television program he presented in the 1970s: Ways of Seeing. The actual program hasn’t been released on video because of copyright issues, so to admit to having seen it is to admit to walking in the grey area of copyright law. The book is broken up between essays and visual (wordless) essays. The two connect together and reinforce one another to the point that they cannot be separated. Seeing image after image reproduced side by side, themes that previously would have required travel around the world to different galleries, close observation, and the persistence of memory in order to connect between point A and Point B, become apparent. Ways of Seeing compresses the journey while preserving a small part of the overall experience. Once these changes are seen, they linger in our consciousness. We can place them in our own world.

I will never forget reading Berger’s essay on the female nude included in Ways of Seeing, particularly the last paragraph, which so many seem to have missed completely:

But the essential way of seeing women, the essential use to which their images are put, has not changed. Women are depicted in a quite different way from mennot because the feminine is different from the masculinebut because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him. If you have any doubt that this is so, make the following experiment. Choose from this book an image of a traditional nude. Transform the woman into a man. Either in your mind’s eye or by drawing on the reproduction. Then notice the violence which that transformation does. Not to the images, but to the assumptions of a likely viewer. (64)

Reading this set all the lights in my mind ablaze. In terms of feminist consciousness, this was the moment in which the pose and figure of women across the history of art shifted for me. Going to an art gallery soon after, I came upon a picture and imagined that it was now a naked man looking at himself in a mirror, with a woman viewing from the bed, or two men: a study in homoerotic narcissism. I turned the youth and a wolf (playing with the wolf? being chased by the wolf? actively attacked by the wolf?) from female to male, and the ambiguity of the image was removedthey were playing, roughhousingbecause, my consciousness told me, that is how boys and animals interact. I thought too of my transgender friends and lovers, and the way that we assign meaning based on sexual characteristics that may not always be present in the equation. Eventually, I did not even have to go that far. I could look at faces and paint them androgynously, letting them become bodies that were neither female nor male. I could read a painting leaving these assumptions for later, after the pose was discovered.

Outside of his writing, Berger lived the radical practice he wrote about. Almost every obituary recounted how he had donated half of his winnings from the Booker Prize for his picaresque novel, G., to the London branch of the Black Panther Party and used the remainder to finance a book on migrant workers. This was also the man who translated the poetry of Cesaire and Mahmoud Darwish into English and supported revolutionary struggles for independence throughout the world with the same ease he would describe a work by Picasso. At the time that the world was becoming more industrial, Berger moved to France and lived the life of a farmer (who also happened to be one of the most influential critics in the world). This shift in his life was responsible for a new branch of his writing: Berger wrote about the connection with humans and animals in the same tender way he wrote about depictions of lovers in paintings. He removed the distances between a life of the mind and a life of activity, becoming more aware of the difficulties facing those whose work feeds us in the literal sense.

What I miss most about Berger is the constant appeal to looking, for discovering the unseen connection between images, of parts of a single image. In art history and art criticism, we were taught how to read paintings. Unlike the majority of printed books, there seemed no way to instantly grasp the way a painting should be read. One can start with the whole, or the upper left, or move from the right counter-clockwise. The advice to “show, not tell,” seems to run amok here, and art felt like a puzzle with missing pieces. What was it, I wondered, out loud in a gallery by accident, that these critics had done to understands this meaning behind the artwork? (In other words, what sort of drugs had they taken?) Berger made the process of looking, thinking, discovering, a program I could follow through on because he took the mystery out of looking while retaining the beauty of the discovery.

Berger is best in miniature. The strongest works were the most concentrated, as if they had been boiled down and mixed together on a stove top. He revisits the importance we ascribe to objects, either as artworks, historical markers, or personal reminders of past encounters with other people, other places. An essay about a wooden bird given to him by a friend invites a discussion, not about the bird, but about exile, craftsmanship, and a disappearing mode of life. Berger returned to vision again in his short work, Cataract, exploring the way the anatomy of the ocular device impacts the process of vision and thought. Recovering from cataract operations in both eyes, he wrote about the radical shift in clarityfirst in one eye, then in the otherthat made colors intense again. As he aged, he had become a critic operating in a diminished capacity for some time as things began to come in clearly. Now it seemed as though he was entering a second wind in his late 80s. And so it seemed for the rest of the man and his reputation: Verso had just put out two large collections of his art criticism, a documentary, The Seasons in Quincy, had just been released at film festivals, and it seemed as though the world was turning its vision back to John Berger. Even with this productivity, it was clear that he was slowing down. His death was not unexpected. Still, no one I knew was ready for it.

I think of the way in which so much about Berger is contained in the physical world still. He seems like a man of the 19th century, still working on crisp paper in a digital age. I wonder how he would investigate the new trend of the 360 degree film footage, meant to be viewed on a mobile device, based around the idea of being there without being there. So many of the questions he raised about our critical engagement with images remain unanswered: How do we see the world around us? How do we process what we see? How do we distinguish between the representation and the real? In response, the gentleness of John Berger’s voice keeps asking us: Look.

1926-2017.