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Impressionism was the Day before Yesterday

Originally posted on February, 18, 2008

I believe that most people who read are aware of the anti-intellectual bias. That was written about periodically throughout the twentieth century. Recently, it was written about one more time by an American author, Susan Jacoby. Her decision to write this book was based on a real life experience that took place, I believe, in a New York bar on the day of 11 September 2001. She overheard a conversation between two young men. One of them said to the other that it was like Pearl Harbor. The other asked: “what is Pearl Harbor?? The response was that it was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs on a harbor and started the Vietnam War. Overhearing this conversation was the jolt that prompted her to write yet another book about the intellectual health of our culture. A major book on this subject had already been written. Richard Hostadter covered this theme with his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1963 book, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life?. We are today being informed that in the US two out of three students in their last year of high school cannot read beyond a remedial level. While Europe is in much better shape, the trend is not good.

What does this have to do with art and painting? To adequately address this question would require a much longer article than I have the time to write. Nonetheless, I will continue.

The gifted individual discovers at a young age that most of his peers are not up to speed. The really intelligent amongst us guard against this knowledge. As Herman Hesse said, it leads to a lovelessness. Many of us endeavour to understand how it has come to pass that so many of us came to be so stupid.

If, by some twist of chance, one of us has the good fortune to be intellectually well equipped, have plenty of time, live a long life, etc., at long last he may acquire some deeper insights into the complex riddle of man’s ascent. So, at long last he or she has some insight. What is the person to do with it? If the person is by chance a writer then another question follows: is it possible to convey these insights through the written word? The conventional wisdom of today would say yes. Some of the painters and intellectuals of the 19th Century would have strongly questioned this assertion.

I, as an artist painter, am at a strong disadvantage when it comes to discourse with the pundits. Some of our concerns may be similar but they quickly diverge. Our largest difference is, however, the vast gulf between the abilities to convince. We are not even in the same league.

First of all, if, as noted above many of us become curious about the evolution of thought and man. Many are quite preoccupied with these concerns. Not to say that the writer does not have interests in these areas. But his orientation is obviously quite different. He does not have the intimate concern with questions of the eye: the questions about vision and the gaze. (See Jacques Lacan, “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis?).

Please accept my apologies for not spelling this line of thought out more clearly. I will, in subsequent articles expand on it and hopefully find more clarity. This is an understanding I am just in the process of realizing so I will feel my way into it so to speak. It appears that the real argument is between two different ways of seeing. Or, it could also be said, the argument is between two different ways of being in the world. This sounds awfully dualistic, and of course it is in large part the structure of linguistic thought that produces this dualism. Be that as it may, it is here that we arrive at the crux of the matter. This was, in fact, the impetus for modernism and post modern thought and writing is not addressing it. Contemporary writing assumes that the problem is between vision and the word. And they are doing a good job of presenting this as gospel. Whether they realize it or not these writers and pundits are scared. They are frantically looking for a way out of the box they have created for themselves. You see, impressionism was just the day before yesterday. A different way of seeing the world could yet rule the day.

Published in french as L’impressionnisme, c’était avant-hier

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