It is improbable that more nonsense has been written about aesthetics than about anything else: the literature of the subject is not large enough for that (Clive Bell)


The Index is found here

Sunday, May 15, 2011

John White Pictorial Space: Introduction

John Edward Clement Twarowski White : The Birth and Rebirth of Pictorial Space


The main purpose of this book is to clarify the story of the introduction of pictorial space into Italian art during the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. An understanding of this historical process is essential to any full appreciation of the innumerable masterpieces of the Renaissance.

Isn't there some kind of pictorial space in every painting? Isn't there always some line or area that seems to be in front of another?

As the chronological sequence of development has been preserved as far as possible, so as to simplify the relation of each work of art to the full historical setting in which alone its beauty and significance can be completely grasped.

This is an article of faith which I do not share.

I'm not sure how or if beauty ever can be completely grasped, and I doubt whether the "full historical setting" has anything to do with it, even if it could be comprehended.

The adoption of a strictly historical approach, based on careful analysis of the individual works, seems to be the soundest way of revealing the living pattern of development formed by the interaction of the artist's growing desire to portray the world of space about him and of his feeling for the individuality and essential flatness of the surface upon which he works

Must we assume that artists had "a growing desire to portray the world of space about him"?

It is only by close attention to historical detail, and the careful testing of each link in a chain of reasoning strictly based upon the visual and literary documents, that any advance seems to be possible. There is already a sufficiency of attractive but conflicting general theory. Until its foundations have been examined in detail there is little prospect of escaping from a Wimbledon of assertion and counter assertion in which no game is ever won, and all the balls remain unchanged.

This is another article of faith that's quite foreign to me.

But I appreciate the analogy to Wimbleton, as it implies that it's important whether the game is played with vigor, experience, and expertise, or not.

The discussion of compositional problems is always liable to lead to the over exercise of personal bias. The tendency to impose subjective rationalizations upon the works, rather than to reveal the purposes of their creators, is exceptionally strong. The dividing line between what is measurable and what is not is apt to be uncertain. What seems easily demonstrable to some appears to be impossible of rational proof to others. As a result, the area over which it is possible to make universally meaningful statements about artistic processes and their effects is still surprisingly small ...... It is this situation that prompts the decision to base all arguments as far as possible upon an analysis of the treatment of rectangular solid objects, and to accept the limitations which this implies.


White is going to limit his examination of paintings to the "treatment of rectangular solid objects".

What kind of "beauty and significance" can be "grasped" with that restriction?

How can one "clarify the story of the introduction of pictorial space" by only considering rectangles?

Any sensible reader would put the book down right now and sell it back to Amazon.

Filippino Lippi "Coronation of the Virgin"

But any excuse to look and think about a good painting is a good one.

So, recklessly, I will turn the page.

(BTW - Smith was 76, at the end of his career, when he wrote "Here I stand", while White, at 34, was at the beginning when he wrote this one. He only has 7 entries in Worldcat, and 3 of those are for editions of this book)

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