The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Majesty vs. Myopia

I begin this column by offering a measure
of what I choose to uphold what ought to be a standard of esthetics, at least
in portraiture. It is by no means my only measure, but it does reflect a person
I once knew, and who is still close to my conception of a romantic ideal. If
she is reading this, she will recognize herself.

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw
is a luxuriant
representation of the kind of woman a man ought to want: In the frank,
steadfast glance at her auditor is the knowledge of how she is being regarded,
that knowledge shamelessly obvious in the set of her eyes and face, in the
quiet confidence of her bearing, in her total expression. It is, from my own
perspective, at least, a seductive, come-hither look. The hues of her satin
gown, the purple sash, and the relaxed set of her arms, the surrounding colors
of the armchair, the neutral background, in terms of composition, together all
highlight and are all calculated to guide one’s glance to the focal point, that
unforgettable, alluring face….

I have other such conceptions. Some are
photographic, others cinematic. But Lady
has been anchored in my gallery most of my adult life. A framed
reproduction of it hangs on one of my walls. Two of my fictional characters are
also painters and portraitists, literary versions of my projection of a
romantic ideal: Stella Dawn in Run From
, and Dilys Jones-Skeen in the Cyrus Skeen detective novels.
Well, enough of that. My point here is that
this caliber of art has virtually vanished. There are some capable, unsung
artists able to produce that quality of portraiture, but they are invisible to
the cultural establishment, and if recognized, then shunned, banished, and
deprecated. I happen to know at least two such artists, but only one has a website.
To create Lady Agnew required an enormous context and a measure of beauty. Sargent produced other exquisite
paintings, some of which I like, others I do not. But, regardless of the quality
of his work, it demanded a nominally rational epistemology and metaphysics.
Otherwise, his paintings would be incomprehensible as selective recreations of
reality, just as contemporary art is largely incomprehensible and
incommunicable in meaning.
A canvas of dots and slashes is just a
canvas of dots and slashes, regardless of the artist says it is. A pile of I-beams
welded to hubcaps and fenders is just a collection of junk, regardless of what
the “sculptor” says it is. He could give it some metaphorical name that may
mean something to him, but that is just an arbitrary label.
even have a name. One knows what she is. She has an identity apart from
Sargent’s title. She is an abstraction reduced to a concrete.
Novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand offered a
philosophy of art that could’ve been understood by Sargent, had he been able to
read it, but is basically hieroglyphics to modern artists. In her essay, “Art and Cognition” in The
Romantic Manifesto
, she wrote:
Art is a selective
re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.
Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is
conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and
needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his
immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a
selective re-creation, it concretizes man’s fundamental view of himself and of
existence. It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be
regarded as essential, significant, important. In this sense, art teaches man
how to use his consciousness. It conditions or stylizes man’s consciousness by
conveying to him a certain way of looking at existence.
In her companion essay in the same volume, “The Psycho-Epistemology of
,” she noted:
By a selective
re-creation, art isolates and integrates those aspects of reality which
represent man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. Out of the
countless number of concretes—of single, disorganized and (seemingly)
contradictory attributes, actions and entities—an artist isolates the things
which he regards as metaphysically essential and integrates them into a single
new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction.
For instance,
consider two statues of man: one as a Greek god, the other as a deformed
medieval monstrosity. Both are metaphysical estimates of man; both are
projections of the artist’s view of man’s nature; both are concretized
representations of the philosophy of their respective cultures.
Art is a
concretization of metaphysics. Art brings man’s concepts to the perceptual
level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they
were percepts.
This is the
psycho-epistemological function of art and the reason of its importance in
man’s life….
Every color, hue, and line in Lady Agnew constitutes a concrete
integrated with countless other concretes to recreate an identifiable entity
which has been reduced to a single, concretized entity.  Those colors, hues, and lines were determined
by Sargent to be essential to the image. They reflect his epistemology and
metaphysics in his sense of life and in an estimate of himself.
But, what makes modern artists tick? Why do
they continue to present artworks that seem to confess a madness or insanity
that is in violent conflict with the norm of “common sense” or which clashes
with everyone else’s sensory experience?
Briefly, their epistemologies and
metaphysics are arrested at the concrete level. Whether that is a matter of
choice or is self-induced or is congenital, is irrelevant. To them, reality is
a chaos and no sense can be made of it. Themes are impossible and comprehension
of anything is subjective.
Modern art is a child of Immanuel Kant, the 18th
century Prussian philosopher who never ventured from his hometown of
Königsberg. His philosophy was that “true” reality was unknowable to man, that
the contents of his mind are subjective according to layers of filters that
sift thru sensory data and produce a false knowledge of existence. Existence
was dichotomized into the noumenal world, which man could never know
“directly,” and the phenomenal world as conveyed by our senses, which distort
or mistranslate the noumenal.
Which, in turn, presents to modern artists
a maelstrom of disconnected concretes, an unintelligible universe, with no
unifying law or system, in which identities or labels are arbitrary and subjective.
In most cases it is very unlikely modern
artists have ever even heard of Kant (or of any of his reality-contesting successors
of the 19th century). But by either conscious, calculated inclination to put
over a fraud (as Picasso
did), or because an artist is an obsessive schizophrenic, chronically nauseous,
and who is burdened with a mental cyclic vomiting syndrome and can only “express”
himself in episodes of expectoration .
For example, Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude
Descending a Staircase
” is not how anyone will see a nude woman descending
a staircase, not even Duchamp. Remove one of the elements in the image, and it
wouldn’t make a difference. Add one or more, and it wouldn’t make a difference.
It could have the same title or any other title, such as a “Rasher of Bacon” or
“Portrait of My Garbage Man.”
Subtracting or adding a drop of paint or
slash of color to or from one of Jackson Pollack’s canvases would not make a
difference to the overall, alleged “composition,” regardless of the name given
it by Pollack. It
could be “Splashes No. 46,” Or “I was drunk as a laird, No. 2,” or have no
The focus of modern artists is not on
universal themes – which require some level of abstraction – but mere concretes.
It is some species of mental myopia that would limit an alleged artist to pick
some concretes that attracts him in the swirling dust devil of existence that
comprises such a person’s metaphysics.
In your mind’s eye picture a modern artist frantically
in search of some one entity his myopia can focus on and recreate (or not) to
the exclusion of context. Ah, there’s Andy Warhol’s eight hour “movie” of the Empire State
. Who can forget his Campbell
Soup Cans
? And then there’s another fellow who photographs a collection of
light bulbs. An American creates a sort-of blowup Christmas tree,
but it actually looks like a sex toy. It sits in the Place Vendome, Paris.  Then there’s a very-well done, “realistic”
sculpture of copulating
, with commendable attention paid to anatomical detail. The art
that sits inside this Silicon Valley exhibit hall is on a par with the “erotic”
insects. “Composer” John
focused on sounds
without melody or a shred of continuity.  Or no sounds at all. (He studied under Arnold Schonberg, so
what else could you expect but noise?)
Want to distort the human face (“…a boot
planted on the human face forever….” Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four), then try and compete with Chuck Close’s
gallery of horrible, Halloween-caliber faces. except they aren’t for Halloween,
they’re “high art.” Collectors pay fortunes for these…”portraits.” After all,
ugly or nondescript visages are concretes, too.
See also my column on government-subsidized
art, “The
CIA: Funder of Trash and Terrorists
I could go on indefinitely about the number
of utilitarian objects that have been the subjects of modern artists. It was
not my intention to subject the reader to a menu of modern art, but I couldn’t
think of a better way to dramatize the difference between the minds that could
produce Lady Agnew and the myopic,
very disturbed minds that could produce rubbish.
Please see a gallery of Sargent’s works as an


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  1. Edward Cline

    John of Great Britain for technical reasons couldn't post his comments here, so I have:

    That is my favourite portrait too – it once featured in a modern art show quiz with George Melly and Maggi Hambling back in the 80's but even they had to admit – it is superb.

    By coincidence, there is a thread on Modern Art here – I have commented:

  2. Edward Cline

    Those readers who think I lay too much blame on Immanuel Kant for encouraging modern "art," should read one of many contemporary and scholarly essays on the subject, such as Stephen Hicks's piece here:

  3. Dogmael Jones

    Hi Ed,
    Another great article.

    I am sure you are familiar with and their admirable gallery of beautiful art.

    But, have you read Fred Ross' excellent speech "Why Realism"?


  4. Edward Cline

    Len: I'm not familiar with the links you provided, but will look into them.

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