Monday, January 15, 2007

Art in a Coffin, "to go please"

Another quote that I like. I came across it the other night in a book. “Museums confront the emptiness of space…the voidness of space. Museums are the sacred coffins of art. I can hardly imagine being in any museum alone.” – John Hejduk, Mask of Medusa, p. 32. I like it because it illuminates in one grand and simple sweep both what art is and my experiences both in museums and my attempted interpretations of the architecture of certain famous museums to which that I’ve been. In one sense I love art museums and rejoice at any opportunity to go to a good one. In another sense I deeply dread the thought of ever going to any museum ever again. What is art once it belongs in a museum? It’s a tragedy of our times. Imagine Michelangelo’s David lying horizontal rather than vertical in a coffin.

And if you are wondering why Hejduk said that he can hardly imagine being in a museum alone, on the heels of a comment on art and its death, think of God's covenant with Abraham. A major promise in it is that "you will be gathered up with your people." The Jews thought of death as alienation. With death we are confronted with our aloneness...and with the facing of death we are confronted with the value and truth of community. This I also like about the quote. There isn't much conversation in a museum; ;merely hushed whispers among intimate friends. So as to keep the silence, like at a visitation.

Jason, as always your writing stirs me and brings me in. The more I follow the more I appreciate your intellect and willingness to use it to help us along the way.

Thanks for your investment in my life.
Thanks for the compliment. That actually means a lot. And I like your passion.
We visited LACMA yesterday. Think I need to go back and actually enjoy my time instead of hearing 'are we there yet' meaning the exit.

'There isn't much conversation in a museum; ;merely hushed whispers among intimate friends.'

Unless you are lucky and grab a docent.
A strangely organized disorder opens up before me in silence. I am smitten with a sacred horror. My pace grows reverent. My voice alters, to a pitch slightly higher than in church, to a tone rather less strong than that of every day. Presently I lose all sense of why I have intruded into this wax-floored solitude, savoring of temple and drawing room, of cemetery and school...

Only an irrational civilization, and one devoid of the taste for pleasure, could have devised such a domain of incoherence. This juxtaposition of dead visions has something insane about it, with each thing jealously competing for the glance that will give it life. They call from all directions for my undivided attention, maddening the live magnet which draws the whole machine of the body toward what attracts it...They are rarities who wanted each one to be unique. That picture, people sometimes say, KILLS all the others around it...

The product of thousands of hours' consumed in painting and drawing by so many masters, each hour charged with years of research, experiment, concentration, genius, acts upon our senses and minds in a few minutes!...We cannot stand up to it. So what do we do? We grow superficial. Or we grow erudite. And erudition, in art, is a kind of dead end...Aphrodite is transformed into a dossier...We live and move today in the same state of dizzying conglomeration that we inflict as a torture on the arts of the past.

Suddenly I glimpse a vague ray of light. An answer begins to form itself, separating out from my feelings, insisting on expression. Painting and Sculpture, says my Demon of Analysis, are both foundlings. Their mother, Architecture, is dead. So long as she lived, she gave them their place, their function and discipline...While architecture was alive, they knew their function...Good bye, says my idea, this is as far as I go.

-- Paul Valery, "The Problem of Museums," 1925

Wow. What a quote! Well, thanks. Well, I have every so clearly now the Demon of Analysis on one shoulder telling me to leave architecture and the Angel of hopeful Poesis on the other telling me not of some featureless future but of a wonderous, qualitatively beautiful past. Wow, you picked up on the most extereme consequences of this quote, that I did not share in my post.

Museums tend to be very conservative places, prohibiting change and freezing creativity.

I love musea. All creativity it unchains in my head. To meet the expression of artists of other realms, as if we were living at the same time and the same place. I would love to be alone in a museum. Meaning all around me, for inspiration.

Ktismatic, it seems you developped both as a painter with words and an erudite.
Jason, you have absolute talent for topics and titles. LOL
Thanks, Odile :))
I have to disagree with Odile s concerning the stimulation of creativity and change from museums.
The moment I enter a museum whether art, or historical based. I find myself lost among the artifacts and collections. My creativity is stimulated profoundly. I wonder off from my group of friends so that I can take in every stroke of the painting, or every word of the historical story that lies behind the artifact. There is less distraction by myself then with others.
I suggest to anyone who finds their creativity lacking in a museum to bring a sketch book, and sketch not only the paintings and scultpure, but the people around.
Yet, I could just be a little biased, since I have a passion for Museum work.

Something about Odile's comment rubs me a bit the wrong way as well...the part about living in another realm. My professor practiced architecture in Charleston, S.C. - and if he ever wanted to live in THIS realm when building something in "historic downtown", he faced stiff resistance from the historic preservationists.

But I when I read Odile's comment, I felt like what was bubbling up inside of me there was from my own issue, and not in relation or reaction to what SHE was actually saying. In other words, I don't think she's necessarily a historic preservationist, so to speak, basedon what she said.

At the same time, though...museums have been one way that I have learned quite a bit about other worlds, realms, times and places. I sort of have accepted into my soul that small bit of the "historic preservationist" urge as the whole purpose of a museum.

But then that's EXACTLY what is in QUESTION in my blog post! Its exactly why I both love and hate museums. Its interesting, because you seem to be proposing a whole different purpose, feel and life for a museum. You seem to be thinking of a museum as more of a house. Like the Medici house before it was ever a museum.

This is interesting to me; because in a sense that's exactly what a museum IS. Its a way of living - now; both a reflection of how we now live and a container for living beings. But its a way of living in the past, as well, which also in itself reflects how we live in the now.

Example - modern knowledge and epistemology - which most of us take for granted. We've inherited certain things from modern forms of knowing and from modern science. An example is that we take it for granted that we are alive (interestingly related to the above discussion). But to be certain of our existence is to be certain that we WERE alive just the previous moment. Its to be certain about our having existed rather than of our existing - in the Now - a kind of knowing which is ultimately impossible for humans.

So my post is also a bit of a reflection on what it means to be human :)

Hi Jason,
I just watched 'the little prince' and then reread your post, because I bookmarked it. The queen mother tried to preserve the artifacts in her house walking around with labels.
I bought this film in the supermarket.
My father was an antique restaurator. And I was interested in Psychology. There was a tension between caring for the furniture and having room to play and develop.
You read my comment with your mindset, and you read more than there is, projecting your impressions on what I write. Museums are intrajection screens that put impressions into us.
They are a way to facilitate the communication of meaning.
To fully appreciate this some form of education is needed.
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