Today Years Ago

Fragments from western art history, 1906 to 1991

1906>  The counter-pole to the need for empathy is the urge to abstraction —
1906>  Returning the individual thing to its arbitrariness and seeming fortuitousness.
1908>  The telegraph hammers all over Europe, but tells hardly a word of the glory of Messina —
1910>  Movement and light.

1913>  The world, a monstrous, fantastic, perpetually moving machine.
1914>  Painting sets before us that which a person could and should see —
1915>  The movement of red, green and blue,
1915>  Constructed on the basis of weight, speed, and the direction of movement.

1912>  Not the situation of objects, but the situation of a spectator —
1912>  An internal strength whose radiance shines all around.
1913>  Superfluous development of sentimental and popular subject matter —
1913>  This is that.

1913>  The fascination of the visible, the charm of the spectacle —
1917>  The charm and force of limited means.
1918>  Industrious cobblers and noisy fools
1919>  Disrupted by ecstatic rotations of colour.

1920>  The genital apparatus
1917>  Performing the action for the ten thousandth time —
1917>  Habituation devours the fear of war.
1917>  Make objects unfamiliar.

1917>  A special device for prolonging attention —
1917>  Attenuated, tortuous speech,
1920>  A theory of velocity...
1920>  The structure of an instant’s velocity.

1925>  Give the poem an orbit.
1932>  The picture swings.
1924>  Leave your lathe.
1928>  Things that I have already seen.

1937>  Seductive shop windows —
1937>  Poetry's last great refuge.
1935>  Destroy the thing, do it over several times.
1935>  Our interest is Cezanne’s anxiety.

1935>  Temporary and accidental qualities,
1936>  Colours and shapes are disengaged from objects.
1936>  Pictures' planes are shuffled and disarrayed —
1936>  A thoroughly animated, yet rigorous whole.

1936>  Numerous complicated things are brought together in apparent meaningful connection —
1936>  An orchid in the land of technology.
1936>  The surgeon is the polar opposite of the magician;
1936>  Multiple fragments are assembled under a new law.

1936>  Effects which the public today seeks in the film —
1936>  Changes of place and focus assail the spectator.
1936>  My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.
1939>  If the masses were to ask for avant-garde art?

1940>  Always imprisoned by the gravitation of the community,
1940>  Sheets of time and space picked from history like cards.
1940>  Art's instinct of what is good and bad for art —
1940>  Attempt to escape from literature.

1952>  Rather than a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze or express an object,
1952>  A vocabulary of action — inception, duration, direction.
1952>  Exercise a constant "No"
1946>  Instead of being a moss, or a fungus or a cauliflower.

1946>  To choose between this or that,
1946>  Facing away from the end result,
1946>  Exploitation of these favourable accidents —
1947>  Angles of vision upsetting spectral conformity.

1947>  Even external nature cannot maintain the same gravitation,
1947>  Surrounded by formidable suction —
1948>  Too much coexistence of parts in juxtaposition.
1948>  He shows us men and women already seen.

1949>  Going a little further along a dreary road
1950>  In which imagination and nature participate equally,
1951>  The shoemaker without Shakespeare is absorbed —
1951>  The procedure of beauty is the procedure of rebellion.

1961>  Our lips kiss the canvas as we carry our colour ordeal.
1963>  Keep the vitality of the accident and yet preserve a continuity;
1963>  The story talks louder than the paint —
1957>  The concrete potentiality of a particular individual.

1957>  There is no law that forbids talking about things:
1958>  A technique of transient passage through varied ambiances,
1960>  Absolutely colourless or neutral —
1961>  Forms of human energy.

1961>  Patterns,
1961>  Structure of feeling,
1961>  Listening even when I am looking —
1961>  No tendency toward gesture or arrangement.

1961>  I am for art that is flipped on and off with a switch.
1961>  I am for the blinking arts, lighting up the night.
1964>  "The War of 1870 need never have been fought had people read my Sentimental Education, said Gustave Flaubert.
1967>  Apart from one’s experience of it, there is nothing to be known about art.

1967>  The center of the center of gravity—
1967>  We recognize ourselves at the center of our own sensations;
1970>  The juxtaposition of disparate or borrowed elements
1970>  Talk of the surface being used.

1967>  An object in a situation includes the beholder.
1967>  Certain modes of seriousness are closed.
1967>  The constant on-rush of the road …
1967>  The endlessness of the on-rush.

1967>  Endlessness deeply excites.
1967>  Presentness is grace.
1969>  Because he painted on loose canvas horizontally to the floor —
1969>  The state of things beyond physics.

1970>  Repetition is the ineluctable means of legibility —
1969>  The work of gravity.
1979>  "What difference does it make who is speaking"
1971>  On the side of a valley?

1971>  Untraceable, and yet already read,
1971>  But I cannot rewrite them.
1972>  The lower edge of the picture plan gravitates to where we place our feet—
1972>  The same gravitational force to which we are subject.

1974>  Under what conditions does it remain a blind alley?
1973>  In what ways does the unconscious structure ways of seeing?
1973>  Film scale, space, and stories are anthropomorphic —
1973>  I forgot who I am and where I was.

1979>  Clouds of narrative language elements,
1979>  Clouds of sociality,
1979>  A certain level of terror,
1979>  Refines our sensitivity to differences.

1981>  Clear contours in the work of Baudelaire,
1982>  Let us be witnesses to the unpresentable —
1980>  Raymond Roussel's parrot —
1980>  For wars to come.

1976>  The pure gaze.
1976>  Always already.
1980>  The instantaneous state of rest and the extra-rapid exposure,
1981>  Always already divided and multiple.

1982>  Simple ineffectiveness, ineptitude, or incompetence,
1982>  Unintended consequences of speed, of work, of wandering.
1983>  Is the world of surfaces more seductive than the spaces of regimentation?
1984>  Most glorious materialization of pure colour …

1984>  A strange compensatory decorative exhilaration —
1984>  The waning of affect.
1984>  Pain vibrates.
1984>  Buried alive.

1981>  The authenticity of the artist's experience of his own body —
1983>  We cannot stop moving.
1985>  The problem of seeing, the failures of vision, already taken place …
1985>  The joy of the text!

1986>  The innocent eye is blind —
1991>  Interested in the results of paint tossing.

John Shipman

Excerpted and adapted in 2009-2010 from Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas,
Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, editors, Blackwell, 1996

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