Cornelia Seckel, Publisher • Raymond J. Steiner, Editor co-founders
(845) 246-6944 ·

Peeks and Piques Index

Art Times HomePage

Peeks and Piques!

What I did on my Summer Vacation

ART TIMES September 2008

ALTHOUGH WE USUALLY spend our downtime in traveling, this time I decided to let Cornelia hit the skyways while I stayed secluded in my studio for some much-needed R&R. As soon as her car left the driveway, I went to my ‘sanctum sanctorum’, pulled down my shade with its large-lettered ‘GO AWAY’ written on it to unsubtly warn stray visitors from intruding — much to Cornelia’s displeasure, an oft-repeated line that I often use is, “If you’re ever in the area and passing by, I’d appreciate it.” — and settled back to do some serious reading. As an artwriter, I’m never really confident that I always know what I’m talking (or writing) about. After all, the making of art goes back to the time when we were barely breaking into the ‘sapient’ stage of being ‘homo’, while art criticism does not come onto the scene until sometime during the Renaissance….some 50,000 years, or so, coming between those who create (and still create) and those who write about those who create (and still create). Consequently, I continue to feel that artists — serious artists — have a bit of an edge over my monthly pontifications. I tend to agree, therefore, with Walter Pater, whose book The Renaissance was on my summer (re-)reading list when he argues that the purpose of the critic is not to define, but to respond. In his preface, he points out that “To see the object as in itself it really is…is the aim of all true criticism whatever…” Then, according to Pater, the would-be critic is to respond: “What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me? What effect does it really produce on me? Does it give me pleasure? and if so, what sort or degree of pleasure? How is my nature modified by its presence, and under its influence?” He concludes by stating, “…one must realize such primary data for one’s self, or not at all.” You go, Mr. Pater! How often do we have to read rehashes of other’s thoughts when we read about art? Admittedly, critics have been a bit gun-shy since history proved them so wrong when they attacked the French Impressionists, but some stand has to be taken when you choose to pass yourself off as an artwriter. Next on my reading list were The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt along with Renaissance Thought: Papers on Humanism and the Arts and Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic, and Humanist Strains by Paul Oskar Kristeller. These, and the books to follow, incidentally, were texts I’d studied in college, with periodic re-visits over the years. I keep them around so that I don’t get too cocky when I get feedback on my essays. Both Burckhardt’s and Kristeller’s studies — in spite of their criticism (and support) by later writers — still have the power to stir the intellect, still the power to make us take a step back to see just how majestic mankind can be when it unleashes its creativity. When I turned the last pages of these books, I experienced a profound sense of loss in seeing just how far we’ve fallen from grace. Spend a few moments with almost any college graduate of today and judge for yourself just how much we’ve jettisoned in our cultural lives when colleges and universities bowed to the masses to eschew “dead white males” and ditch the classics. The “Dumbing Down of America” marches on! (Pace! Mr. Bloom). And, speaking of ‘the masses’, I also re-read José Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses as well as his The Dehumanization of Art and Other Writings on Art and Culture — both of which still so eloquently define American culture and its rampant mass psychology. We assuredly do deserve the artworld we get…’nuff said on that topic. Another writer I continue to struggle with is Johann Gottfried Herder. I’ve been browsing and re-browsing his words since I received a new translation of his “Critical Forests” for review. Writing at the very dawn of a concept of aesthetics — Herder lived from 1744 to 1803 — we see in his writings the beginnings of a philosophical struggle on the subject, which in fact continues to this day. As a member of The American Society of Aesthetics, I follow — or try to follow — the arguments of my peers as they still grapple with defining “art” or “beauty” or the “sublime” — perhaps they ought to heed Pater’s advice to just respond, and let it go at that. On just how shaky a ground we would-be artwriters stand, one need only ponder Herder’s admonitions, especially in Section II, 2 of his Critical Forests: Fourth Grove, in which he questions the validity of our reliance on what can only be called “second-hand” knowledge. Lastly, I turned to my well-thumbed and dog-eared copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I often retreat into that old Roman’s thoughts whenever I feel particularly browbeaten, particularly “put in my place” — if only because he bucks me up and admonishes me to “be a man”. Half-hearted stoic that I am, I do sometimes rally a bit. So, that’s what I did on my summer vacation. And you?

Art Times HomePage