Iain Cameron's Diary
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2005-06-02 - 9:40 p.m.
I looked at the bookshelf in the living room in Gfd and turned over various items in my mind - a Barnett Newman catalogue and one on Rausch - the Cage/Merce/Johns catalogue - the catalogue to a 1993 retro of art in the US in the 20th century. A couple of books by Appel, on NYC modernism a couple about J Cale , short intro to Cindy Sherman etc.
I have reached the bit in the RKCS where they do Barnett Newman and Kant. BN had a thing about the sublime. Apparently BN experienced the sublime in 1949 in front of an Indian mound in Ohio. He described it as a work of art that could not be seen so it had to be experienced right there on the spot.. For BN the sublime gave you awareness of some essence of being - at that place at that time. So the emphasis on unity in BN’s work has a lot to do with specific experience of the sublime. BN thought you should read Spinoza but not Hegel. But strangely - they say he misunderstood Mondrian .
This example works with the simple Kant model. BN encountered an intensity and he was able to link that experience to certain structural features of human ’being-in-the-world’ These features gave him a reason for constructing works of art as he did - in the belief that by working through these core structural ideas in his work he could reproduce that experience for others. Such was his view of what the aesthetic amounted to. You don’t have to agree but if you reason against him you are also doing aesthetics.
A similar thing might also be true of Rothko - and then at the end of his life he seems to lose the faith that his structural metaphor delivered the goods. It could even be true of Pollock - as a teenager going on archeological digs in the Grand Canyon and getting totally pissed. Some people will think this is over simplistic. Lamonte Young thinks the transformer hum got him going on drones. All of these artists are in pursuit of the sublime - that can hardly be a controversial thing to say. Johns is different - well in some ways he is the same - in that his work comes after the classic sublime absex. While Rothko and BN count as absex its obvious that their work reaches forward to conceptualism and minimalism. Jjohns is widely seen as the artist who really made that bridge - who trumped the absex at their own game.
I have trouble with the idea that Picasso and Braque might (for example) start putting bits of newspaper on their canvases and say to each other - wow this is really going to turn 20C capitalism on its head. (Its much more plausible that Jim Marshall might have built the first 100 watt stack turned it up to 11and played an E chord and said something similar.) Its more plausible that Johns might have started doing targets and flags and thought - yeh this is really going to mess with a few peoples’ heads - where did I put that copy of the Investigations?
Yesterday I drove down to Harbury and parked my car at Steve’ house . Then we drove across country to Northampton - very pretty countryside - which is mostly ignored - south west of where the M6 and M1 meet up. Then in the evening I drove through the rain up to Loughborough University for a bit of socializing with the advanced manufacturing group working on the future of European manufacturing . We went out for a Thai meal and I drove home after midnight on empty roads listening to a programme about the sound of the siren.