Nice Diary - 22 Dec 2011

Clancy went to work, I to the Léger museum. Seeing his big crude pictures whilst I am reading nobel psychology laureate Daniel Kahnemann's book 'Thinking fast, thinking slow' put what I wrote yesterday into perspective. Kahnemann talks about our two ways of seeing: the first glance and the considered reflection, which he calls (irritatingly) ‘system 1 and system 2’, but I would prefer to call 'prima facie' & 'second thought'.

What falls into place for me is that Léger and most subsequent 'art lite' is all prima facie stuff. Hunt as you will in Léger's work that isn't anything else: it's all WYSIWYG – and that has been the baseline for everything afterwards: this is art in the age of moving images, if it doesn't hit you at once, forget explanations– the artist has already lost you.

(In auditions you can tell the moment someone walks in the door if they are right for a part: if so the gig is theirs, tho they don’t yet know that, and all they have to do is be an idiot or so incompetent as to talk themselves out of it: contrariwise, you know just as surely if someone is not right and even the most brilliant auditon won't help them get the part. If only someone would explain this to actors how much grief could be avoided!)

In Léger I see the ideas and shapes as being about a clever manipulation of the semiotics of modernism. In his early work you see him trying for a style, but once he has found it the work becomes both more assured but also lazier and cruder, as if he no longer really needed to bother about meanings, because everyone ‘gets’ him – he has become a brand, as we would say today.

By a misfortune returning from Biot to pick up Clancy at the Diacosmie I got funneled onto the Voie Rapide and so was swept away from the banks of the Var where I'd been due to meet her and deposited on the other side of Nice. Luckily one of the Opéra drivers was available to take her home, so I decided to head onto Cimiez for my third attempt at finding the Musée Matisse. There I found what confirmed the thesis I've been evolving here – which is that Matisse was a key figure in what might be called ‘high concept’ art (to borrow a phrase from the film industry when a movie pitch can be summarised within a single breath). The reduction of high art to a single gesture, by stripping away ornament just as the International Style had stript ornament from architecture. From Matisse one can trace the progressive reduction of moral content, ie ‘intentional meaning’ in art. It’s interesting that dealers played off Picasso against Matise between the wars, to the extent that one of Matisse’s earliest collectors sold all his works to ‘get into’ Picasso ahead of the market.

Of course Picasso /Matisse /Léger had a full range of craft skills: but in subsequent generations these have become progressively attenuated until we reached the present position where Tracey Emin is appointed professor of drawing at the RA, no less – & it's far from certain she even knows how to hold a pencil, let alone use it!

Where this comes back to is the issue that if there is no otherness in art, no duende, nothing intangible that the artist is seeking to transmit, then WYSIWYG. There is only prima facie consciousness and no oppositio compensandum as Jung might have said: nothing with the roots that descend beneath the niveau mental, and correspondingly nothing that rises above it.

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