Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Foucault, Discipline and Punish
The extension of the disciplinary methods is inscribed in a broad historical process: the development at about the same time of many other technologies – agronomical, industrial, economic. But it must be recognized that, compared with the mining industries, the emerging chemical industries or methods of national accountancy, compared with the blast furnaces or the steam engine, panopticism has received little attention. It is regarded as not much more than a bizarre little utopia, a perverse dream – rather as though Bentham had been the Fourier of a police society, and the Phalanstery had taken on the form of the Panopticon. And yet this represented the abstract formula of a very real technology, that of individuals. There were many reasons why it received little praise; the most obvious is that the discourses to which it gave rise rarely acquired, exception the academic classifications, the status of sciences; but the real reason is no doubt that the power that it operates and which it augments is a direct, physical power that men exercise upon one another. An inglorious culmination had an origin that could be only grudgingly acknowledged. But it would be unjust to compare the disciplinary techniques with such inventions as the steam engine or Amici's microscope. They are much less; and yet, in a way, they are much more. If a historical equivalent or at least a point of comparison had to be found for them, it would be rather in the 'inquisitorial' technique.

The eighteenth century invented the techniques of discipline and the examination, rather as the Middle Ages invented the judicial investigation. But it did so by quite different means.The investigation procedure, an old fiscal and administrative technique, had developed above all with the reorganization of the Church and the increase of the princely states in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. At this time it permeated to a very large degree the jurisprudence first of the ecclesiastical courts, then of the lay courts. The investigation as an authoritarian search for a truth observed or attested was thus opposed to the old procedures of the oath, the ordeal, the judicial duel, the judgement of God or even of the transaction between private individuals.
Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws
On the principle of democracy  
There need not be much integrity for a monarchical or despotic  government to maintain or sustain itself. The force of the laws in the  one and the prince's ever-raised arm in the Other can rule or contain  the whole. But in a popular state there must be an additional spring, which is VIRTUE.  
What I say is confirmed by the entire body of history and is quite in  conformity With the nature of things. For it is clear that less virtue is  needed in a monarchy, where the one who sees to the execution of the  laws judges himself above the laws, than in a popular government, where the one who sees to the execution of the laws feels that he is  subject to them himself and that he will bear their weight.   
It is also clear that the monarch who ceases to see to the execution of  the laws, through bad counsel or negligence, may easily repair the  damage; he has only to change his counsel or correct his own  negligence. But in a popular government when the laws have ceased to  be executed, as this can come only from the corruption of the republic,  the state is already lost. 
It was a fine spectacle in the last century to see the impotent attempts  of the English to establish democracy among themselves. As those who  took part in public affairs had no virtue at all, as their ambition was  excited by the success of the most audacious one [2] and the spirit of one  faction was repressed only by the spirit of another, the government was  constantly changing; the people, stunned, sought democracy and found  it nowhere. Finally, after much motion and many shocks and jolts, they  had to come to rest on the very government that had been proscribed. 
When Sulla wanted to return liberty to Rome, it could no longer be  accepted; Rome had but a weak remnant ofvirtue, and as it had ever  less, instead of reawakening after Caeser, Tiberius, Caius,* Claudius,  Nero, and Domitian, it became ever more enslaved; all the blows were  struck against tyrants, none against tyranny.  
2 Cromwell.  *Caligula.  
Foucault gets silly pretty quickly, but what's not's silly should have been for decades before, and yet it wasn't.  I'd never  heard of Bentham's panopticon before 1980. A few paragraphs and an illustration and was enough to make me want to puke.

And Montesquieu is so much better than the fucking Brits.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

"Nelle mie opere caco sangue."

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Old and new
Panofsky, "What is Baroque?"
The twisted and constrained mentality of the Counter Reformation period shows in innumerable phenomena: for instance, in the frightful conflicts between religious dogma and scientific thought (a problem that had not existed for a man like Leonardo da Vinci), but the most illuminating fact is perhaps the reaction of the period upon the beautiful nude in general and the classical nude in particular. Invectives were hurled against Michelangelo's Last Judgement, which escaped destruction only by a thorough chastening, The church stated that classical marbles could be tolerated only if they were not exposed to public view; the sculptor Ammannati (at the age of seventy-one, it is true) repented in sackcloth and ashes for having made figures so scantily dressed, and the bronze fig leaf affixed to classical statues is a very characteristic invention of this period. On the other hand, both artist and art lovers were in reality no less susceptible to the beauty of classical nudes than were the Renaissance people, only their enthusiasm was marred—and sharpened—by a guilty conscience. What in the days of Raphael had been a matter of course now become a matter of either cool archaeological interest or sinful excitement, and often a mixture of both.  
In Bronzino's Descent into Limbo, the Eve is a literal adaptation of the Venus of Knidos, much more archaeological than any work of Raphael; but just this combination of classic beauty with a bashful posture and a seeming intangibility makes the figure almost ambiguous. The beholder feels that beauty is looked upon as something dangerous or even prohibited, and for this very reason is struck by these frozen crystalline nudes as by something more voluptuous and intoxicating than the straightforwardness of High Renaissance art or the sensual brio of the Baroque.

Panofsky Studies in Iconology
In the main group, Cupid is shown embracing Venus who holds an arrow and an
apple. The apple is tendered to the eager boy and the arrow concealed, perhaps
implying the idea 'sweet but dangerous.' Furthermore the adolescent age and more
than tender gesture of Cupid give quite an ambiguous turn to this presumably
harmless embrace of mother and Child. This impression is sharpened rather than
tempered by the fact that Cupid is shown as a quasi-sexless being, although the
myrtle plant appearing behind him is the classical symbol of love, and the two billing
doves at his feet signify 'amorous caresses'. To conclude: the picture shows an
image of Luxury rather than an ordinary group of Venus embracing Cupid, and this
is corroborated by the fact that Cupid kneels on a pillow, a common symbol of
idleness and lechery. 


On the left of this exquisitely lascivious group appears the head of an elderly
woman madly tearing her hair. For her Vasari's label 'Jealousy' is very acceptable;
for, just as Jealousy combines the terrifying aspects of Envy and Despair, so this
figure combines the pathos of ancient tragic masks With the gesture of frenzied hair-
tearing seen in a Dürer etching known as 'The Desperate Man.' On the right is a
putto throwing roses who on his left foot wears an anklet adorned with little bells, an
ornament or charm frequently found in classical, particularly Hellenistic art. To him
Vasari's terms 'Pleasure' and 'Jest' may be applied with almost equal correctness,
and he is certainly intended to establish a contrast With the sinister figure of
Jealousy. However, his promised pleasures are signalled as futile and treacherous by
the ominous presence of two masks, one of a young woman, the other of an elderly
and malevolent man.  
That masks symbolize worldliness, insincerity and falsehood is too well-known to require further discussion. But the fact that two masks are shown instead of one and that their features indicate a contrast between youth and age, beauty and ugliness, conveys a more specific meaning which links them With the figure  emerging from behind the playful Putto. This figure, sometimes described as a Harpy, sometimes, rather inadequately, as a 'girl in a green dress, is unquestionably identical with what Vasari terms La Fraude, or Deceit. Through it Bronzino manages to give a summary of and almost visual commentary upon the qualities of hypocritical falsehood which are described by sixteenth-century iconologists under such headings as Inganno, Hippocrisia, and most particularly Fraude. According to the dean of these iconologists, Cesare Ripa, Hippocrisia has feet like a wolf, half-concealed by her clothes. Inganno can be represented as a woman hiding an ugly face beneath a beautiful mask and offering water and fire 'in alternation.' Fraude, finally, is endowed with two heads, one young, one old; she holds two hearts in her right hand and a mask in her left, and she has a dragon's tail, as well as griffons talons instead of human feet.  
In Bronzino's figure these features merge into a unity which is, and is meant to be, both attractive and repulsive. His little 'Fraude,' obviously the owner of the two contrasting masks, really looks at first like a charming little 'girl in a green dress. But the dress cannot fully conceal a scaled, fishlike body, lion's or panther's claws, and the tail of a dragon or serpent. She offers a honeycomb With one hand while she hides a poisonous little animal in the other, and moreover the hand attached to her right arm, that is the hand With the honeycomb, is in reality a left hand, while the hand attached to her left arm is in reality a right one, so that the figure offers sweetness with what seems to be her 'good' hand but is really her 'evil' one, and hides poison in what seems to be her 'evil' hand but is really her 'good' one. We are presented here With the most sophisticated symbol of perverted duplicity ever devised by an artist, yet curiously enough it is a symbol not rapidly seized upon by the modern observer. 
Thus the entire group consists of Luxury, surrounded by personifications and
symbols of treacherous pleasures and manifest evils; this group, now, is unveiled by
Time and Truth. The figure of Time has already been mentioned and it is almost
unnecessary to say that the female figure on the left who helps to draw the curtain
from the whole spectacle is again none other than Truth, 'Veritas filia Temporis.'  In
the Innocence tapestry where the figure of Truth appeared in exactly the same place
she revelled in the justification of virtue; here, with a feminine disgust which
parallels the masculine wrath of Old Chronos, she participates in the exposure of vice.
That alluring sexual voluptuousness rather than other forms of evil should be
selected at this particular date to symbolize vice, is perfectly in harmony with the
spirit of the Counter-Reformation, 
Freedberg, Painting in Italy 1500-1600
As early as 1541,  perhaps even during 1540, Bronzino began the work in which he would mature a high Maniera in narrative and devotional art as he already had in portraiture: the fresco decoration in the Palazzo Vecchio of the chapel of  the Duchess Eleonora of Toledo. In the ceiling  fresco of the Chapel, with four Saints in a partial sotto-in-su, ['seen from below'] Bronzino seems not yet to be  quite clear about the direction of style that this  (relatively) large-scale and public work should take. It is highly polished, but in general lays  an unexpected stress upon effects of naturalism,  as if Bronzino might be deliberately making a conservative counter-proposition to the extreme style of the recent Medicean decorations by Pontormo. This minimizing of the earlier  Mannerist's distance between the image and  the normative appearances of nature is carried  into the style of the first wall fresco in the  Chapel, the Passage of the Red Sea (1541-2). The proportions of figures and descriptions of  anatomy and drapery appear as 'correct' as they  might be in a naturalistic and classicizing canon. But on this basis that relates to nature and to  classical precedent Bronzino imposes a repertory of devices for its stylization as aesthetically arbitrary as Pontormo's and (perhaps because they work as sharper contradictions of the  'naturalness' beneath) more extreme in their  effect of artificiality. Bronzino's stylizations  here are not, as Pontormo's tend to be, emotionally infused distortions of the forms, but  cool, excessive purifyings of them, making unreal smoothness and regularities and a temper  of precisely moderated, but obtrusive, grace.  The figures turn into equivocations between  nature and a neo-classic statuary of improbable  perfection, posturing in attitudes that are meant  to tell us primarily about their beauty and only incidentally or not at all about their meaning in the scene. In this scene, potentially dramatic, drama is relegated to the distance and there expressed only by objectively illustrated incident or a conventional vocabulary of response. The prime sense of the picture is in its accumulation of aesthetically remade beings, as untroubled by imperfections of emotion as of  form. The higher realm in which they must  exist is emphasized by a pure, pale tonality of light and by colour that makes the subtlest  distinctions in degree of glaciality. In the  second wall fresco of this time, the Brazen  Serpent (begun in mid 1542), there is a possible  reference to Michelangelo's design, but it is  difference, not similarity, that is notable. Along with episodes of naturalism more explicit than in the Red Sea, there are passages of statuary abstraction of still more transcendent and  poetical effect, and a calligrapher's enlacements of design. It is the altarpiece of the Pietà (now Besançon Museum) that crowns Bronzino's progress into high Maniera. Bronzino imposes on the inescapable tragedy of the subject the discreet suppressions required by the  high Maniera's code, muting grief until its  tenor is diminished and acceptable and endowing its bearers With such beauty of countenance,  attitude, and ornament that it irradiates their paled residue of feeling, and then stands before  it in our contemplation like a mask. An absolute  technique asserts at the same time the intense plastic presence of the scene and the aesthetic factors that transform it. Colour, cold and  luminous as ice, symbolizes What has been made of passion. Both this form and colour, in  the intensity of sheer aesthetic sensation they produce, transcend illustrative meaning and in part displace it. Art does not narrate the tragedy but replaces it. 
But where content jibes With the kind of  feeling that is acceptable to the high Maniera, Bronzino exploits perfectly the sophistication  of form that he had created to express it. The so-called Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (London, National Gallery), which must  be almost coincident in time of execution with the Pietà, demonstrates this to a consummate  degree, Based upon a complex verbal allegory of the Passions of Love, it pretends a moral  demonstration of which its actual content is the reverse: the exposition of a sexuality so knowing as to be perverse, and so refined as to be at  once explicit and oblique. Inverting Pygmalion's role, Bronzino has altered human  presences into an improbably pure statuary; but he has retained, in transmuted form, a vibrance that those presences contained, distilling what conveyed their sexuality and quick-freezing their subtlest sensations. Glacé surfaces of flesh emanate a contrary excitation; the  postures of the protagonists are frank and yet evade; cold grace is manipulated into attitudes  that convey, by the effect of pattern, the fine-drawn tension of the actors' states of mind. The  whole pictorial patterning, a crystalline, eccentrically kinetic skein, is an elaboration upon  this last effect. The colour, basically that of the enmarbled flesh and the ice-blue background,...   
Paul Barolsky and Andrew Ladis
"The 'Pleasurable Deceits' Of Bronzino's So-Called London 'Allegory'"
Yes, the painting alludes to lust, to love  and time, to strife and love, to love and jealousy, to love and fraud. But to say that the  painting refers predominantly to just one of these possible allegories or that it does so in a spirit of earnest seriousness is to oversimplify Bronzino's accomplishment and transform the painter into a pedant. ... 
Bronzino's painting is highly contrived—artificioso, as they said in the sixteenth century: flesh like polished marble,  ringlets of hair like shavings of gold, the  whole brilliant tableau transformed into  pietre dure. The painter's artifice is exquisitely self-conscious and playful. Upon Venus's  crown sits a golden figurine, whose bent legs and upraised arm parody the goddess's own  posture, thereby making light of the fact that Venus is as artificial in appearance as the very jewelry she wears. Such artifice of form  is matched by artifice of meaning. Scholars  have sometimes noted in Bronzino's figure of Venus an allusion to Michelangelo's Doni  Tondo. But is the painter merely paying homage to the divine Michelangelo? Is the  reference to Michelangelo's Madonna not a  form of parody—a sly disrobing of the holy Virgin, who is metamorphosed into a wanton Venus? And does not the figures resemblance to Eve in the Sistine Temptation present her in yet a third aspect and make of  Venus not only a Virgin, but also a fallen  woman? Michelangelo, as Vasari says, was  himself "ambiguous' (ambiguo) and ironic in  his utterances, speaking in due sensi. Would  he not have appreciated the other senses of Bronzino's droll and subtle allusions to his work?...
Were Bronzino, Michelangelo, della Casa, and Vasari not to speak of  Berni, Molza, Folengo, and Aretino—to rise  from the grave and read the solemn, moralizing, and allegorizing iconographical interpretations of Bronzino's coy, ludic London  Picture now current, they would no doubt  smile, if not laugh, at such goffezza—finding  it, in the root sense of goffo, slightly goofy.   
The last, and most recent, unable or unwilling to describe decadence as what it is. Afraid of moralizing, Barolsky and Ladis are unwilling to simply look, to observe with enough acuity and human sympathy to understand that it's Bronzino who's the moralist, condemning corruption as he indulges it. Barolsky's a fucking idiot. He's got a lousy eye and he's not even interested in art; he just likes linguistic jokes. The obvious parallel is the academic Warhol fanboys, who see the glam without the self-hatred and the stench of death. It's makes sense "His favorite painter is Matisse", without the mud and the flies.

Ruskin, Modern Painters, vol. 2
Receiving, therefore, variety only as that which accomplishes unity, or makes it perceived, its operation is found to be very precious, both in that which I have called unity of subjection, and unity of sequence, as well as in unity of membership; for although things in all respects the same may, indeed, be subjected to one influence, yet the power of the influence, and their obedience to it, is best seen by varied operation of it on their individual differences, as in clouds and waves there is a glorious unity of rolling, wrought out by the wild and wonderful differences of their absolute forms, which, if taken away, would leave in them only multitudinous and petty repetition, instead of the majestic oneness of shared passion. And so in the waves and clouds of human multitude when they are filled with one thought, as we find frequently in the works of the early Italian men of earnest purpose, who despising, or happily ignorant of, the sophistications of theories, and the proprieties of composition, indicated by perfect similarity of action and gesture on the one hand, and by the infinite and truthful variation of expression on the other, the most sublime strength because the most absorbing unity, of multitudinous passion that ever human heart conceived. Hence, in the cloister of St. Mark's, the intense, fixed, statue-like silence of ineffable adoration upon the spirits in prison at the feet of Christ, side by side, the hands lifted, and the knees bowed, and the lips trembling together; and in St. Domenico of Fiesole, that whirlwind rush of the Angels and the redeemed souls round about him at his resurrection, so that we hear the blast of the horizontal trumpets mixed with the dying clangor of their ingathered wings. The same great feeling occurs throughout the works of the serious men, though most intensely in Angelico, and it is well to compare with it the vileness and falseness of all that succeeded, when men had begun to bring to the cross foot their systems instead of their sorrow. Take as the most marked and degraded instance, perhaps, to be anywhere found, Bronzino's treatment of the same subject (Christ visiting the spirits in prison,) in the picture now in the Tuscan room of the Uffizii, which, vile as it is in color, vacant in invention, void in light and shade, a heap of cumbrous nothingnesses, and sickening offensivenesses, is of all its voids most void in this, that the academy models therein huddled together at the bottom, show not so much unity or community of attention to the academy model with the flag in its hand above, as a street crowd would be to a fresh-staged charlatan. Some point to the God who has burst the gates of death, as if the rest were incapable of distinguishing him for themselves, and others turn their backs upon him, to show their unagitated faces to the spectator.
Moralists are horrified by what tempts them. Ruskin and Bronzino have a lot in common.
In the five lectures on psychoanalysis Freud says that as the result of a successful treatment repression is replaced by "a condemning judgement". He doesn't explain the difference between the two.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The last few posts are updated a bit. I'm back at the megillah
---
Baroque art is the art of perception, the space between what is,in an ideal sense, and what we experience. Velázquez is a the first painter to paint the world and as it appears to the eye; the other way to put it is to say he was the first painter of illusions.  Jonathan Brown on the portrait of the bufón, jester and actor,  Pablo de Valladolid 
The figure, clad in a black velvet suit an wrapped in a cloak, stands with both feet planted firmly on the ground, his right arm dramatically thrust into space. The marvelous economy of the pose is intensified by the handling of the surrounding space. Pablo is set against a light-colored ground, which is almost completely undefined except in the upper right corner, where the color turns darker, and the shadow at his feet, trails inconsequentially off to the right. The juncture between floor and wall, the key to imparting a sense of space, has simply been omitted. And the figure does not float or appear to be unduly flat. Indeed, the absence distracting elements of any kind brings the jester to life with startling directness. Implicit in this painting is a remarkable challenge to the rules and procedures of Renaissance painting. Through the exercise of his powerful creative mind, Velázquez appears to arrived at a conclusion which, to us, seems obvious – conventional rules of painting produce conventional pictures of the world. Put another way, Velázquez had come to understand that paintings executed by following the classical produced a view different from what the eye sees.  Works of art governed by rules were almost by definition a mental fiction, and Velázquez was interested in perceptible fact. Pablo de Valladolidis based on a simple optical phenomenon—it is impossible for the eye to focus simultaneously on different planes of depth. Thus, the background of a portrait can be treated almost as a blur without any loss of verisimilitude, if one or two cognitive accents are given the viewer. In fact, the illusion of reality gains immeasurably from but far-reaching change of approach. In Pablo de Valladolid, as in the Portrait of Philip IV in Brown and Silver, Velazquez begins to experiment with a novel approach to the art of representation which would eventually redefine the relationship between art and nature.[i]
What’s ignored is that Velázquez is a loyal and committed servant of the most reactionary, absolutist monarchy in Europe,  and has given his king a life sized image (the painting itself is 209 x123 cm) of another, lower, servant represented in a fully realized psychologically astute portrait of another human being, a picture that at the same time has a hieratic classicism, almost the distancing of a still life. Manet called to it “possibly the most extraordinary piece of painting that has ever been done.”[ii] To us it’s almost Brechtian. 
There’s no inherent contradiction between political absolutism and the materiality in Titian’s paintings, in the literary classicism of Poussin and Claude or the physical grace of Baroque sculpture. Tensions are resolved one way or another, or awkward subjects are avoided. Velázquez’ paintings are defined by paradox. To sense this fully you need to look at -and ideally of course to stand in front of- the portraits of the people he served, his superiors, not his equals or below. Here's  Brown's description of  Philip IV in Brown and Silver.
[I]t is here the first time that see the remarkable and original technique which sets Velazquez apart from almost every other artist of his day. In this portrait, Philip wears a costume comprised of a tunic and breeches decorated with silver brocade, under which is an ornate blouse of silvery white and black. On his shoulders there is a black cape also embroidered with silver thread. The challenge of depicting an ornate costume of this kind lies in reproducing the dazzling play of light on the surface without sacrificing the intricacy of the design. The artist who concentrates on the pattern is inevitably forced to imitate the dull geometry of needlework, as dozens of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century court portraits show. But Velazquez’ approach, which aims at capturing the fleeting effects of light as it glances off the silver threads, is not only difficult, but runs the risk of minimizing the intricate workmanship of the garment and thus displeasing the wearer [a note shows that a portrait had been rejected for this reason]. His solution to the dilemma is a brushstroke of genius. Realizing that a high degree of finish was fatal to rendering  spontaneous effects, he resorted to using a sketch-like technique in a formal, official work of art. 
From our perspective, this seems like a logical and not especially innovative idea. But in the context of the seventeenth century, it was virtually unprecedented. A sketchy technique is of course not unknown in the work of other great seventeenth-century painters, but there is a difference of degree which is crucial. In the Portrait of Philip in Brown and Silver, Velazquez abandons the fluid technique of sketching in oil used, for example, by Rubens, and instead utilizes short, succinct, impastoed strokes of infinite shape and size which are applied so that they appear to hover above the brown ground. Seen at close range*this busy tangle of brushwork appears almost random and formless, But at a distance, it reproduces the glittering surface of a richly brocaded costume with remarkable fidelity.[iii]
The passage is confused. There’s no reason to think that Velazquez, once the issue became clear, was ever not interested in the duality that’s visible in the painting here. After all he had begun with solidity, not the reverse. The question more likely is how much practice it took get the result he wanted: light implying structure. And Brown is confused again writing about Las Meninas, or rather he refuses to accept the contradictions that lay behind in.
 Las Meninas is the culmination of  a lifelong examination of the relationship between art and  nature. Velázquez seems to have tried to create art without apparent artifice and thus to reduce the gap between what the eye sees in nature and what the eye sees in art. The desire to attain greater naturalism in painting was widely felt in the seventeenth century,  but no one went further in achieving it than Velázquez. The proof of his success is Las Meninas, a painting in which his new type of artistry is used to produce an intense encounter with reality. 
In planning the calculated approximation of art to nature, Velazquez had to redefine the traditional relationship between painting and reality. 64 Renaissance theory placed the intellect at the center of artistic activity; the painter's mind was required to mediate between the haphazard world of appearances and the ordered, harmonious world of art. If the idea of beauty changed according to time and circumstances, the value of an accepted canon of beauty was never challenged. Works of painting which merely recorded natural appearances, such as still life and portraiture, were assigned a lower place in the hierarchy of art than were those which aspired to express universal truths about man, nature, and the divine in an ideal style. In Las Meninas, however, the illusion, not the improvement, of everyday reality is given primacy. For whatever the picture may be, it is a brilliant tour de force of illusionistic painting.
“…to create art without apparent artifice” . “…the illusion, not the improvement, of everyday reality is given primacy. “…a brilliant tour de force of illusionistic painting”  But the artifice is apparent; illusion has replaced the ideal, and all this is in an art made to celebrate Catholic absolutism. You can see why Brown’s head is spinning.
Velazquez’ job was to project to the world the authority of the Spanish throne, to proclaim the divine right of kings, but as he matured he became a master of  tricks and illusion. Physical solidity gives way to flickers of light and the mere perception of solidity.  He painted people of every rank with emotional directness and honesty, so we see weak and melancholy kings and proud dwarfs. He was a loyal both to the king and to his own perceptions, and for the first time in Christian art we’re presented not with an embodiment of ideal truth but images suffused with the need to believe.  Velazquez was the first artist to depict the monarchy, and maybe even god, as a noble lie. 
In the inventory of his fine library one finds very few books of devotion in comparison to what was usual among people of good breeding and social position. There were, however, numerous books on mathematics, architecture, history, and Spanish and Italian poetry. If one excepts the years of Velázquez's youth in Seville, when as merely one more of the artists of his generation, he had to work for ecclesiastical patrons, religious themes occupy an insignificant position in his works and are always the response (Christ on the Cross, The Coronation o the Virgin, Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Paul the Hermit) to specific royal assignments. Of course we cannot think of Velázquez as a religious skeptic (an attitude inconceivable and obviously unconfessable in the Spain of the time). In contrast to his contemporaries, however, he distanced himself from conventional religiosity; this absence of the religious is nevertheless accompanied by a dignified and serious tone of mercy toward all creatures, by a "modern" and lay humanism, that makes him unique. [iv]
Panofsky dismisses the story of  The Holy Roman Emperor picking a paintbrush off the floor, but the same story is told about Philip IV. Velazquez’ royal portraits are tragic; they show the weaknesses of an insecure man, yet they show him great respect.  Stripped of the obligatory pomp, it’s the same respect Velazquez showed Pablo de Valladolid.  Brown ends his book writing that  Velazquez “…discovered a new way to transmute images of kings and queens and princes and princesses into a new form of art which continues to grow in power long after the memory of his protectors has faded nearly into oblivion.”  Brown, the defender of progress and art for art’s sake, stripped of its full depth of meaning, can’t see the obvious. Velazquez’s “new way” and “new form of art” describe the end of monarchy. The maturation of his technique, the curiosity that drove it, and the obligations of his calling diverged, but the form of his obligation changed as well. The glorification of a master became the sympathy for a friend, in ways that neither king nor servant could ever admit. We’re back to Baudelaire, and Renoir, von Rauffenstein, and de Boeldieu, the originating tragedy, later played as kitsch, (as farce).

[i]  Brown, p.101
[ii]  Svetlana Alpers The Vexations of Art: Velázquez and Others,Yale 2007 p. 232
[iii] Brown, p.85
[iv]Perez Sanchez, p.22

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Aristotle and Montesquieu on virtue ethics. 
Aristotle:
The distribution of offices according to merit is a special characteristic of aristocracy, for the principle of an aristocracy is virtue, as wealth is of an oligarchy, and freedom of a democracy.[i] 
Montesquieu:
We have just seen that the laws of education should have a relation to the principle of each government. It is the same for the laws the legislator gives to the society as a whole. This relation between the laws and the principle tightens all the springs of the government, and the principle in turn receives a new force from the laws. Thus, in physical motion, an action is always followed by a reaction. We shall examine this relation in each government, and we shall begin with the republican state, which has virtue for its principle.[ii]
The Baroque period was seen for a long time as decadent, and Mannerism justifiably still is. The Baroque is stylish without fear of condemnation, sensuous but no longer prurient.  In the most common art historical definition, this refers to the Rome of Borromini and Bernini, but also Rubens, and the Flemish Baroque. In the broader sense that Panofsky uses it refers also to Cervantes and Shakespeare. In both the central theme is the experience of time. For Bernini as for Leibniz,  time is abstract and material. As Vesely says “Leibniz's understanding of the senses is still based on the integrity of the scholastic world in which the sensible or visible is a manifestation of the universal order. This manifestation is also our main encounter with beauty, in which the perfection of the order is revealed.”The unity is stretched, twisted, folded; our experience changes as we move around it but the unity does not.  This is the birth of what became the secularized idea of aesthetics,  je ne sais quoi,  and also of what we now call glamour, a mode of aristocratic individual performance, judged not just by how closely it hews to custom, but how well, how gracefully, with how much charm or style. But who judges the performance? That’s the unresolved question at the heart of the Baroque in its standard definition, as a renewed but vibrant Catholic conservatism. Beauty as such, a new ideal no longer in a direct relation to justice or truth, is a byproduct of the rise of science, as Vesely puts it in a new age of divided representation.The Baroque is a flowering, and flowers mark an end, not a beginning.  The wider age of the Baroque is the age of theater and literature, the age of the comedians and ironists who mock scholastics and philosophers, as Aristophanes had. It’s the rise, or return, to democracy, the idea of virtue ethics according to Montesquieu, and only briefly of  virtue ethics as defined by Aristotle. 
There’s another Baroque, another form of the final flowering of aristocratic art, not as dynamic, but visceral and more purely visual in its realism and use of illusion, that’s more conflicted. The Spanish Baroque comes down to us as the source for Warhol, through Manet and Degas, through the photography of Nadar, to the French discovery only after Napoleon’s looting of Spain, of Velázquez and the Spanish Golden Age. The Italian Baroque of Caravaggio and Bernini was the product of a new understanding of time and individual experience, focusing on idealized figures as actors in motion. The emotionalism is the controlled emotionalism of performance. Spanish painting by comparison, was static or florid.  El Greco rendered that floridity substantial, with a toughness that made it more than eccentric, more than mannerist. But the new ambiguities largely lay elsewhere. The central figure of course is Velázquez.
Velázquez’s early life made him an anomaly in Spain. He grew up in a literate household; his family claimed descent from minor nobility, but his father wasn’t put out by the thought of apprenticing his son to a tradesman.
Unlike in Italy, where by 1600 the connection between the arts and letters had become well established, in Spain the two had never been joined. The consequences of this failure were profound, because it was through the identification of painting with poetry that the former gained the status of a liberal art, as opposed to a craft. In practical terms, this meant that painters were regarded by the ruling class of Spanish society as the social equals of blacksmiths, coopers, and carpenters. The reasons for the existence of this attitude are complex, but there can be no doubt that the most important was the deeply-ingrained aristocratic prejudice against commerce and manual labor. Painting in Spain was considered to be a handicraft and painters were therefore artisans whose work was essentially characterized by physical rather than mental activity. [iii]
His master Francisco Pacheco was an anomaly as well; orphaned and put in the care of an uncle, he’d grown up in a community of humanists and had joined his uncle in  an informal academy founded by Juan de Mal Lara,a playwright and poet and follower, and cribber, of Erasmus. Other than being Velázquez’ teacher and father-in-law, Pacheco is remembered now mostly as the author of  a treatise and defense of painting, Arte de la pintura,, including biographies of Spanish artists. He spent more than 40 years on it and it was only published posthumously. It’s the first major source we have on Velázquez. 
Pacheco was the supreme embodiment of a type common during the Spanish Counter-Reformation: a faithful servant of a Church defending itself against Protestant reform with closed and intransigent dogmatism, but also a person who, with a bow to moral allegory, demonstrated an evident familiarity with classical tradition and the gods and goddesses of pagan Olympus.[iv]
Pacheco was the official censor for Seville’s Inquisition. Mal Lara had been arrested and detained in 1561 on rumours he’d written anti-clerical poetry, but later anti-clerical elements in his Filosofia vulgar(Common Philosophy) were ignored, or maybe the examiners didn’t even bother to read them.[v]In 1566 he moved to Madrid to join the court of Philip II. This is the confusion where Velázquez begins in Spain and even more, in provincial Seville. 
The professional horizons that lay before the twenty-year-old Velázquez, the possibilities for work that awaited him, were no different from those his father-in-law had known or from those open to Zurbaran, his contemporary: religious painting, devotional canvases, monastic cycles and portraits, and an occasional ruggedly intense portrait or rigidly arranged still life.[vi]
Panofsky describes Titian’s relation with Charles V “extending to his whole family and entourage… [as] almost unique in the annals of art”.  He dismisses the story that Charles, “to the pained surprise of his courtiers” once stooped down to pick up Titian’s dropped brush, but says he treated Titian as “an equal in spirit if not in rank… their correspondence occasionally reads like that of two great and equal powers.”[vii]He also writes about Titian’s “best friend”, Pietro Aretino “the scourge of princes”, blackmailer, and pornographer.  With Aretino and Jacopo Sansovino “Titian contracted, almost immediately, a life-long friendship. A formidable alliance of the "Three Arts of Design" with literature, this "Triumvirate" wielded an enormous influence and its members were united by genuine affection as well as self-interest.”  Sansovino immortalized the three of them on the doors of the Sacristy of St. Mark's. Aretino died in 1556
…allegedly at a dinner party in his own house: when one of the guests had told a particularly funny and indecent story, it was said, Aretino roared with laughter and threw himself back in his chair with such violence that the chair tipped over and he broke his head. There is no shred of evidence for this story… but it throws light on Aretino's reputation — a reputation summarized in a famous "epitaph"… 
"Questo è Pietro Aretino, poeta Tosco, 
Che d'ogni un disse male, eccetto the di Dio;
Scusandosi con dir 'non lo conosco’ "
 ("Here Aretino lies, a Tuscan poet; Evil he spoke of all, except of God; When questioned why, he said 'Him I don't know' “)…

Aretino was perhaps the first publicist to make a living by misrepresentation and extortion; and — in return for praise or, no less often, for silence — he received honors, presents and huge sums of money from nearly all the princes of his time — including the two eternal adversaries, Charles V and Francis I of France. He led a loose life. He wrote indecent sonnets and equally indecent, often extremely amusing comedies while posing as a fervent believer and even aspiring to a Cardinal's hat….

It was indeed only in Venice, governed with an extraordinary combination of discipline and permissiveness… where life was strictly regulated in theory but very free in practice, and where political action was rigorously controlled while the liberty of thought, the liberty of speech and the liberty of the press were protected even against the Inquisition, that a man like Aretino could flourish. [viii]

Jonathan Brown writes that “the itinerant style of kingship practiced by Charles V gave his court an international scope and allowed him to choose his artists from an exceptional range of talent in Italy and Flanders.”[ix]It also means he dealt willingly with a wide range of characters. Panofsky notes his “wry sense of humor”.  When he renounced his crown in 1555, retiring to a monastery he took nine of Titian’s paintings with him, including the monumental ‘Triumph of Faith”, La Gloria”, “and he is said to have looked at it in his dying days with such persistence and intensity of feeling that his doctors took fright.” [x]
Charles V was a polyglot and European ruler. Philip II had been raised and thought of himself as a Spaniard. Titian worked for the son as he had for the father, but though Philip requested that he come to Madrid he never did. Veronese and Tintoretto turned him down as well.[xi] Philip created massive projects, and brought new and major works and more and minor artists, but even they brought new ideas. This was the beginning of the process that produced the great art in the Spanish 17thcentury.  But after all this I’m still only interested in one artist, and not because he’s the best of them, but why; because his work is the perfect illustration  (and that’s the word for my purposes) as Bernini’s is, of a moment and a place, in the wider culture and politics of its time. I can’t separate my love of art from my interest in culture. I can’t separate sadness from the blues, or art from politics. If philosophy doesn’t interest me as anything more than a kind of literature, a kind of art, then art has to match it. Leibniz outside of mathematics is no more important than Bernini, no more or less of a product of his time, no more or less a brilliant mind. So what’s Velázquez? 

[i]Aristotle, Politics, Book IV. trans. Jowett
[ii]Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, eds. Cohler,MillerStone, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, Cambridge , 1989,Book 5, Chapter 1
[iii]Jonathan Brown, Velázquez: Painter and Courtier, Yale University Press, 1988) p.2
[iv]  Alfonso E. Perez Sanchez“Velázquez and his Art”,  in Velázquez,  Antonio Dominguez Ortiz, Alfonso E. Perez Sanchez, Julian Gallego , Metropolitan Museum, 1989,  p 24
[v]  Patricia Manning, Voicing Dissent in Seventeenth-Century Spain. Brill 2009, p. 34 
[vi]  Perez Sanchez p. 26
[vii]Panofsky, Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic. NYU 1969, p.7
[viii]ibid. p.11
[ix]Brown, p.4
[x]Panofsky, Titian, p 64
[xi]  Robert Goodwin,  Spain: The Centre of the World 1519-1682Bloomsbury, 2015,  p. 140

Monday, December 17, 2018

One of Brassai’s most famous photographs of 1930s Paris is of Violette Morris, later a Nazi collaborator and torturer for the Gestapo. Sometimes the demimonde understands, like Liebling’s wounded pimp, sometimes not. But Americans like to live their dreams. Edward Mendelson in 1981, reviewing After the Wake: An Essay on the Contemporary Avant-Garde, by Christopher Butler.
The basic claim made by every avant-garde movement – that its artists offer real innovations, that they surpass the limits accepted by their predecessors – is central to Butler’s advocacy. ‘My plan,’ he writes, ‘has been to argue that in the 1950s radically new conventions for the language of art were developed by writers, musicians and painters who wished to break away from modernism.’ This argument faces difficulties at the start, since the avant-garde has been proclaiming its radical newness longer than anyone can remember. The most time-honoured convention of the manifesto-writers is innovation: the formula for newness is handed down unchanged from generation to generation. Butler quotes an artist who wants nothing to do with ‘all the structures, values, feelings, of the whole European tradition. It suits me fine if that’s all down the drain.’ This happens to be Frank Judd speaking in the late 1960s, but all that distinguishes it from Futurist manifestos of fifty years before is its tone of lumpen disgruntlement. Allen Ginsberg, quoted in one of Butler’s epigraphs, says: ‘there is nothing to be learned from history any more. We’re in science fiction now.’ This remark, differing only in vocabulary from claims made early in this century for the new machine age, is proof in itself that Ginsberg’s ignorance of history does not exempt him from repeating it.
A more vivid proof, not mentioned by Butler, may be found in Ginsberg’s recent echoes of the totalitarian apologetics offered by some of the Modernists of the 1920s and 1930s. Ginsberg has placed his spiritual life in the care of a Tibetan guru (one consciously avoided by the Dalai Lama), the autocrat of a spiritual retreat and poetry workshop near Boulder, Colorado. Among the guru’s activities are punching recalcitrant visiting faculty in the face and having them stripped naked by his goon squad. Ginsberg defends the guru’s methods as an “experiment in monarchy”, and insists that he must not be judged by the standards of lesser mortals.[i]
“Frank” Judd is Donald, and the quote is from, “Questions to Stella and Judd”, an interview from 1966.[ii] Read in full it’s as dated as the fragment Mendelson includes. But in 2015 it was reposted on the webpage of the magazine where it first appeared, and called prescient, because the same debates are repeating, in an even smaller subculture.[iii] Mendelson is wrong though to say that  Ginsberg, Judd and Stella didn’t know history, at least as fact. They were still trying to escape it; they each saw ideologies and made their own in response, another schism in the church, another splinter group. But art succeeds if it transcends intent, if it’s more interesting than the chatter that surrounds it, and if the chatter and the art aren’t in conflict, generally speaking it’s the art that makes the chatter interesting, unless the chatter is interesting on its own. The interview is worth reading to understand how much has changed, from the 20s to the 60s and to now.
GLASER: Why do you want to avoid compositional effects? 
JUDD: Well, those effects tend to carry with them all the structures, values, feelings of the whole European tradition. It suits me fine if that’s all down the drain. When Vasarely has optical effects within the squares, they’re never enough, and he has to have at least three or four squares, slanted, tilted inside each other, and all arranged. That is about five times more composition and juggling than he needs. 
GLASER: It s too busy? 
JUDD: It is in terms of somebody like Larry Poons. Vasarely’s composition has the effect of order and quality that traditional European painting had, which I find pretty objectionable.... The objection is not that Vasarely’s busy, but that in his multiplicity there’s a certain structure that has qualities I don’t like. 
GLASER: What qualities?

JUDD: The qualities of European art so far. They’re innumerable and complex, but the main way of saying it is that they’re linked up with a philosophy—rationalism, rationalistic philosophy.

GLASER: Descartes?

JUDD: Yes. 
GLASER: And you mean to say that your work is apart from rationalism?

JUDD: Yes. All that art is based on systems built beforehand, a priori systems; they express a certain type of thinking and logic that is pretty much discredited now as a way of finding out what the world’s like. 
GLASER: Discredited by whom? By empiricists?

JUDD: Scientists, both philosophers and scientists.

GLASER: What is the alternative to a rationalistic system in your method? It’s often said that your work is preconceived, that you plan it out before you do it. Isn’t that a rationalistic method?

JUDD: Not necessarily. That’s much smaller. When you think it out as you work on it, or you think it out beforehand, it’s a much smaller problem than the nature of the work. What you want to express is a much bigger thing than how you may go at it. Larry Poons works out the dots somewhat as he goes along; he figures out a scheme beforehand and also makes changes as he goes along. Obviously I can’t make many changes, though I do what I can when I get stuck.

GLASER: In other words, you might be referring to an antirationalist position before you actually start making the work of art.

JUDD: I’m making it for a quality that I think is interesting and more or less true. And the quality involved in Vasarely’s kind of composition isn’t true to me.

GLASER: Could you be specific about how your own work reflects an antirationalistic point of view?

JUDD: The parts are unrelational.

GLASER: If there’s nothing to relate, then you can’t be rational about it because it’s just there?
JUDD: Yes.

GLASER: Then it’s almost an abdication of logical thinking. 
JUDD: I don’t have anything against using some sort of logic. That’s simple. But when you start relating parts, in the first place, you’re assuming you have a vague whole—the rectangle of the canvas— and definite parts, which is all screwed up, because you should have a definite whole and maybe no parts, or very few. The parts are always more important than the whole. 
GLASER: And you want the whole to be more important than the parts?

JUDD: Yes. The whole’s it. The big problem is to maintain the sense of the whole thing. 
GLASER: Isn’t it that there’s no gestation, that there’s just an idea?

JUDD: I do think about it, I’ll change it if I can. I just want it to exist as a whole thing. And that’s not especially unusual. Painting’s been going toward that for a long time. A lot of people, like Oldenburg for instance, have a “whole” effect to their work. 

Judd is talking about moral imperatives, founded in theological argument. He wants to see things, not arrangements, facts, not chatter. A woman I knew, who’d gone to grad school at Yale, and imbibed all the theory and whose own work was “transgressive’ had always associated Judd with the “Enlightenment values” and art for bank lobbies. And then she met him, and realized that nominally an atheist he was a still a self-punishing Calvinist. She’d seen kink behind the Puritan morality and now she loved the work. 
Michael Fried was right to say that the focus on objects, qua objects, as things which displace air or water and which change in our perceptions as we move around them brings us to the point of theater. 
…I want to make a claim that I cannot hope to prove or substantiate but that I believe nevertheless to be true: viz., that theatre and theatricality are at war today, not simply with modernist painting (or modernist painting and sculpture), but with art as such - and to the extent that the different arts can be described as modernist, with modernist sensibility as such. This claim can be broken down into three propositions or theses: 
1. The success, even the survival, of the arts has come increasingly to depend on their ability to defeat theatre. …
2. Art degenerates as it approaches the condition of theatre. …
3. The concepts of quality and value-and to the extent that these are central to art, the concept of art itself-are meaningful, or wholly meaningful, only within the individual artsWhat lies between the arts is theatre
Remember Panofsky’s description of the Florentine intermedio… “where the conclusion of Plato’s Republic appeared on the stage”, and the nobleman who wrote “that it was very beautiful but nobody could understand what it was all about.” “Performance art” in the 16th century and the 20thdeveloped for the same reasons: the need to reconcile mandated idealism, eternal, deathless, with growing worldliness, economic and intellectual, and engagement with life as experienced in time.  Performance art was a way for artists raised on idealism to come to terms with relativism, using what they knew to make formalist abstract forms of narrative. Fried was right to say that it was “the negation of art“ as he defined it. Theater is the death of art only for those who associate art and philosophy, with “truth” and not fiction. Minimalism maintained Modernist idealism about itself, as materialism, but not about experience. Fried quotes Greenberg on its beginnings.
Objecthood has also become an issue for modernist sculpture. This is true despite the fact that sculpture, being three-dimensional, resembles both ordinary objects and literalist work in a way that painting does not. Almost ten years ago Clement Greenberg summed up what he saw as the emergence of a new sculptural 'style,' whose master is undoubtedly David Smith, in the following terms: 
To render substance entirely optical, and form, whether pictorial, sculptural, or architectural, as an integral part of ambient space - this brings anti-illusionism full circle. Instead of the illusion of things, we are not offered the illusion of modalities: namely, that matter is incorporeal, weightless, and exists only optically like a mirage. 
Fried tries to pull back from the implications, resisting the change that Smith’s work described. Smith’s sculptures aren’t modernist, they’re Baroque. The Minimalists were faced with the dilemma of  object-makers in a world where interrelations are more important than things; to be loyal to their calling and limit it to what it could do best they became puritans. 
Panofsky called the Baroque a return to the openness of the Renaissance, but transposed. The Counter-Reformation had faded. Late Mannerism had been seen in the forms and facial expressions of sitters for Bronzino. “It is as though the life of these people had gone frozen, or hides itself behind a motionless mask, melancholy and cool, shy and supercilious at the same time.”[iv]That imagery of curdled utopianism is ubiquitous; nihilism is everywhere.  But all these things are mixed, especially now: openness and authoritarian dystopia, humanism and anti-humanism. The Reagan years were floods of human warmth compared to now; the decadence of the 70s is looked back on with nostalgia as an age of innocence. 
In the 80s Stella managed to turn what had devolved into formalist kitsch into something American and grand: the grandeur of the American landscape meeting the formalism of the pedantic American imagination. He rationalized his way over decades and made the result into a baroque amalgam of Walt Disney and Herman Melville, and he made it work. 
Moby Dick, or the White Whale.
A hunt. The last great hunt.
For what ?
For Moby Dick, the huge white sperm whale: who is old, hoary, monstrous, and swims alone; who is unspeakably terrible in his wrath, having so often been attacked; and snow- white.
Of course he is a symbol.
Of what ?
I doubt if even Melville knew exactly. That's the best of it.[v]

I quoted Lawrence earlier not just as someone critical of America but as a great critic of American art. His essay on Moby Dick is brilliant
At first you are put off by the style. It reads like journalism. It seems spurious. You feel Melville is trying to put something over you. It won't do.
And Melville really is a bit sententious: aware of himself, self-conscious, putting something over even himself. But then it's not easy to get into the swing of a piece of deep mysticism when you just set out with a story.
Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville, even in a great book like Moby Dick. He preaches and holds forth because he's not sure of himself And he holds forth, often, so amateurishly.
The artist was so much greater than the man. The man is rather a tiresome New Englander of the ethical mystical- transcendentalist sort: Emerson, Longfellow, Hawthorne, etc. So unrelieved, the solemn ass even in humour. So hopelessly au grand serieux, you feel like saying: Good God, what does it matter? If life is a tragedy, or a farce, or a disaster, or any- thing else, what do I care! Let life be what it likes. Give me a drink, that's what I want just now.
For my part, life is so many things I don't care what it is. It's not my affair to sum it up. Just now it's a cup of tea. This morning it was wormwood and gall. Hand me the sugar.
One wearies of the grand serieux. There's something false about it. And that's Melville. Oh dear, when the solemn ass brays! brays! brays!
But he was a deep, great artist, even if he was rather a sententious man. He was a real American in that he always felt his audience in front of him. But when he ceases to be American, when he forgets all audience, and gives us his sheer apprehension of the world, then he is wonderful, his book commands a stillness in the soul, an awe.
The one mistake is to say that Melville ceases to be an American when he lets go, but without the repression you can’t have the escape. But I’m not going to go off on an excursus on Stella. He’s succeeded in making complex things, bright and dark, pop and sophisticated; with an optimism suited for the era of Reagan and Thatcher. I’m not going to quibble about politics. The baroque is conservative; it’s big money without guilt; it ignores things. 
The 80’s was the beginnings of art’s move into commercial culture, not the use of its imagery, but the desire to be part of it. 80’s art is full of people who wanted to make movies, who were trying to escape the contempt for film, and for pictorialism, that they were raised with. It’s hard to explain the hold of Greenberg’s moralizing puritanism on the imaginations of people in that world, of Greenberg’s formalism but also the moralizing and intellectual snobbery of conceptualism. I’ll deal in a later section with the artists from what’s now called “The Pictures Generation”, artists torn between jealousy and snobbish contempt for film, a few of whom later after they were successful as artists tried and bombed in Hollywood. Stella found a way out. In 1983 he was asked to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard. His subject was Caravaggio and the future of painting. Working Space[vi]is a testament to the results of years of rationalization and slow transformation. Stella the fundamentalist worked through all the logical arguments he’d grown up with and while still claiming the same faith, he ended up a liberal. If Stella were a brilliant writer it would be a brilliant book. But Stella is one of the most important artists of the post war era; the book is ancillary, doing awkwardly what the work describes brilliantly.  
Deleuze claimed that philosophers create concepts. They don't. To repeat what I wrote above: “By the time anything becomes known as an idea, it’s been around for awhile. Concepts come late to the game. Sensibilities predate their clear articulation.” Nihilism came with Modernism, De Sade is a creature of the Enlightenment, negative idealism that scoffed at but couldn’t escape mirroring utopian claptrap. To rationalists the first answer to rationalism is irrationalism. But then slowly they begin to adapt.  From Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production, by the architectural historian Dalibor Vesely. 
The critical turning point in the formation of modern aesthetics was the contribution of Leibniz, who opposed the Cartesian autonomy of clear and distinct ideas that deprived human senses of any claim to understanding and truth. He firmly believed that our senses do, in their own way, reveal the nature and truth of the world. Unlike ideas, however, the senses are not clear and distinct but only clear and confused, and for that reason inferior. Somewhat poetically he compares them to the murmur of the sea: 
"Although our senses relate to everything, it is not possible for our soul to attend to all individually, and that is why our confused sensations are the result of a variety, altogether infinite, of perceptions. It is almost like the confused murmur heard by those approaching the shores of the sea that arises from the accumulation of the reverberations of the innumerable waves." Leibniz's understanding of the senses is still based on the integrity of the scholastic world in which the sensible or visible is a manifestation of the universal order. This manifestation is also our main encounter with beauty, in which the perfection of the order is revealed. What is new in Leibniz is the shift toward individualizing such experiences, which coincides with his notion of the individual soul as monad. As he sees it, 
the beauty of the universe could be learned in each soul, could one unravel all its folds which develop perceptibly only with time. But as each distinct perception of the soul includes an infinity of confused perceptions which embrace all the universe, the soul itself does not know the things which it perceives, except in so far as it has perceptions of them which are distinct and heightened and it has perceptions in proportion to its distinct form. Each soul knows the infinite, knows everything, but confusedly.
Such confusion arose, Leibniz and his contemporaries thought, because perceptions could not account for their own reason, because their origins and meaning remained hidden. For Leibniz himself and others who believed in providence, this obscurity was not a significant problem, because the unknown, inexplicable, and mysterious was seen as part of the divine plan of things. However, for those who believed in the transparency of the world, in reason, the inexplicable was very troubling. It was difficult to accept that whole areas of reality, such as works of art or the landscape, stirred strong feelings and a sense of beauty that could not be ignored yet could not be explained. This experience was described already in the seventeenth century as the "je ne sais quoi—I know not what."
Dominique Bouhours, who devoted a whole treatise to the issue, declares: "One can say with certainty that 'je ne sais quoi' is one of the greatest wonders and one of the greatest mysteries of nature." Montesquieu, some eighty years later, writes: "There is something in people and in things, an invisible charm, a natural grace, which cannot be defined and which one is forced to name je ne sais quoi.' It seems to me that this is an effect based primarily on surprise." The self-sufficiency of the Leibnizian monad was what brought the inexplicable into the domain of subjectivity, "each mind being as it were a little divinity in its own department."
With Leibniz, we stand on the threshold of a new epoch, in which the harmony and beauty of the world, revealed gradually in a dialectical process, became a field of aesthetic experience dependent on the cultivation of taste and on the role of the genius. The new experience created a distance from things and events, thereby contributing to the formation of modern aestheticism and historicism. Aestheticization itself is closely linked with the relativity of taste and the formalization of experience. [vii]
The translator of Deleuze’ book on Leibniz and the Baroque is a philologist. A history of rationalism is an act of empiricism. Philosophers don’t create concepts any than the first man, or woman, to say "je ne sais quoi” was the first to smile in appreciation. Aesthetics begins when things in the world no longer give a direct relation to universals, when objects as thingsbecome the experience of  things. Experience is individual, a danger to authority. It’s a danger to eternal truths, and thus to the King, as history is a danger to philosophy. Leibniz and Deleuze, as philosophers and conservatives, struggle to reconcile the multiform with the ideal. They’re creatures of their time, no more or less than Caravaggio and Stella. 
Stella defends a spatial formalism, including illusion, in effect defending what is now a cinematic eye, cinematic rather than photographic because the eye is moving. The lectures and book caused a ruckus at the time, but what struck me was less the discovery of Caravaggio than the denial of the worldliness that came with it. This was the 80’s of Schnabel and Salle, the rise of big money in big art, the time when the darkness of Warhol became the common theme. It was a time of crisis, a crisis that only faded because the fights in any real sense were given up. But Stella cruised along unfazed, now like a Hollywood filmmaker who’d never bucked the system to make the work he wanted to make. He was successful young; he’d never had to. He never claimed to be a leftist, a maker of “radical art”. He was only a painter who’d rationalized himself into a corner when he was young and rationalized himself out of it as he grew older. There’s honesty to that.  
Heinrich Wölfflin’s Principles of Art History is one of the founding texts of the field. It’s a brilliant book. When I read it, a bit late, I thought of Stella and it made me laugh. It was all there, even the evasion of the political in favor of the formal. And then more recently I found the paper quoted below and it made me laugh again. Irving Lavin was a friend of Panofsky, the editor of the  book of Panofsky’s essays that I’ve quoted, and his successor at the Institute of Advanced Study. This was presented at a symposium at the University of Jena to coincide with an Stella exhibition.  
Wölfflin defined five categories of human perception between the extreme poles of which all artistic development must inevitably oscillate. He illustrated his principles by the contrast between the historical periods of the Renaissance and Baroque, but the categories have been also been applied to French painting of the nineteenth century and to the development from Classical to Hellenistic in ancient Greece. And, mirabile dictu, Wölfflin’s categories fit Frank Stella’s development like a finely tailored Italian suit of clothes: linear to painterly, planarity to spatiality, closed to open form, multiplicity to unity, clarity to unclarity  …Consider even the subcategories Wölfflin includes under Closed versus Open Form: Geometric versus Organic structure, Symmetry versus Asymmetry; frame controls composition versus “accidental” relationship between composition and frame. The “flat,” rectilinear, parallel lines of the early stripe paintings reappear in the recent “smoke ring” motifs, transformed into looping skeins that remain parallel but now define intricate, looping, transparent planes. The graphic system uncannily recalls that of Mellan, except that Mellan models form by varying the thickness of the line, whereas Stella’s computer-generated filaments are uniform and modulate space by expansions and contractions of the intervening distances. You would think that Stella had read Wölfflin; I never asked him, and I don’t want to know. 
The only problem with this is that it reduces Stella’s work to formalism. Later in the essay Lavin falls back into the hyperbole of the artist as a god-like creator of worlds, boilerplate that works only if you add that it means good artists are great liars, and that great artists tell lies so well they affect you against your will. Lies are formal constructions; their forms are the manifestation of an ethos, a “value system”, and we read and interpret them in relation to each other. Donald Judd’s “unrelational” objects
 exist in relation to their environments and also, obviously, since he says so specifically, to art and ideas that he thought were wrong or “messed up”.  Stella’s best works are bright and poppy, graceful and blunt, dark and violent. It’s worth thinking about, and with, and through.  You can use them to think about the late 20th century, about America, about “art”, about the individual and society, about capitalism, about Caravaggio and Disney World, Clement Greenberg, Herman Melville and Steven Spielberg.  Like all philosophy, his is best read for context
Stella interviewed in 1969 
I wrote my thesis on Celtic, Carolingian and Ottoman manuscript illumination. And it was ostensibly involved with historical problems, about problems in kingship and political issues, and how the ideas of the political leaders of the time were represented by the representations of the God or king figures in the manuscript illumination. But more than a third of it is devoted to a kind of pseudo-aesthetic appreciation of the problems of sort of[sic] interweave and interlace mainly in Celtic work, with a long aside which  should have been a footnote. But since I had to pad the thesis to make
it acceptable I actually included it in the thing on Pollock and the basic problem of decoration and what actually constitutes decoration and how decoration becomes art and when it ceases to be just decoration. And my argument essentially was that both Pollock and Celtic illumination were both art. One happened to be painting and one was manuscript illumination, but they both reached the category of art and left the lower category of simple repetitive design or pedestrian decoration far behind. It doesn't sound very radical in a way. [viii]
1983
The question we must ask ourselves is: Can we find a mode of pictorial expression that will do for abstraction now what Caravaggio's pictorial genius did for sixteenth-century naturalism and its magnificent successors? The expectation is that the answer is yes, but first we have to try to understand what Caravaggio actually did in order to see if his accomplishment can help us. …

But, after all, the aim of art is to create space — space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space in which the subjects of painting can live. This is what painting has always been about. Sadly, however, the current prospects for abstraction seem terribly narrowed; its sense of space appears shallow and constricted. This seems ironic when we remember that painting had to work so hard to create its own space, or perhaps more accurately, had to work so hard to free itself from architecture. [ix]

Neither Stella nor Judd began with the Enlightenment; neither began with humanism. Stella changed. Judd stayed loyal to his original preoccupations. He collaborated with dancers; he let choreographers supply an organic element; Stella does it all himself.  You see how the ambiguities build. But both are in the space between philosophical absolutes and relativism,  relativism which can also mean no more than the description of subjective experience, as in theater, literature, film.  For Judd and Stella, that’s still not enough.  


[i]  Edward Mendelson. “Post-Modern Vanguard”, London Review of Books,  September 3 1981
https://www.lrb.co.uk/v03/n16/edward-mendelson/post-modern-vanguard
[ii]Bruce Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd”, interview edited by Lucy R. Lippard, Art News, September 1966, in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock, University of California Press, 1995
[iii]http://www.artnews.com/2015/07/10/what-you-see-is-what-you-see-donald-judd-and-frank-stella-on-the-end-of-painting-in-1966/
[iv]  Panofsky, “What  is Baroque”
[v] Lawrence, “Herman Melville’s Moby Dick”  
[vi]  Frank Stella, Working Space, Harvard University Press, 1986
[vii]Dalibor Vesely, Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production, MIT, 2006
[viii]Sidney Tillim, “Oral history interview with Frank Stella”, 1969. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
[ix]Stella, Working Space