Of Susan, Jackson, Lou, Mark and Roy(To Doyle Saviour)

Carlos Eduardo Rebello crebello at SPAMantares.com.br
Sat Aug 14 17:19:34 MDT 1999

Doyle and Comrdes., greetings.

I do think that the main tenet of Modernism would be denying the whole
idea of *Representation*, ie, that painting can represent something
other bit the concrete stuff of what it's made - that is colour paint,
sawdust, cement, semen, blood - taken in themselves, assembled by the
agency of a painter that becomes, in the act of painting, *Nature
itself* - as put by Jackson Pollock itself. I believe also that this
idea of painting as "just" stuff assembled is nothing more as a rection
of Modernism to Social Realism, prompted by the fact that Greenberg and
his school, during the 30s and 40s, saw fit to react against what they
saw as the lies of Socialist Realism - which pretended to represent the
realities of Soviet life, yet lied by portraying the suprahuman
qualities of the General Chairman, his entourage, and Soviet life in
general. I believe that, by defining themselves as, above all,
*anti*stalinists (Greenberg and other *Partisan Review* people were very
typical trotslysts renegades of the 30s, in that they decided to quit
the Trotskyst movement in order not to recognize Stalin as part of the
workers' movement and the USSR as a workers'state, however deformed, yet
had no positive agenda of their own to oppose Stalinism or Orthodox
Trotskysm), the *Partisan Review* people finished by embracing a kind of
mythical pantheism that saw Truth in Nature taken as a thing in itself,
therefore reverting to the most anti-intellectual tradition of the worst
XIXth century Romanticism, ie a modern version of the strolling around
the woods in floaty dresses about which Gary told us when writing about
Sontag's book.

But let's regard things from a different perspective. I've just spent
the beggining of a rainy Saturday afternoon in Rio reading from the
*literary* Brazilian modernist Monteiro Lobato (1882-1948) who, during
the 20s, proposed that painting in Brazil should forget the moth-eaten
Neoclassicist cliches that made much of the painting here - in response,
naturally, to the fact that the only market avaliable was made by
government ordering of paintings of battles, biblical and mythological
scenes. Then, in 1922, a group of *literati* organized a *Modern Art
Week* in São Paulo, and, amidst poetry-readings, etc., organize an
exhibit of the paintings of one young lady, Anita Malfatti - a daughter
of a well-to-do family that had paid her a stay in Paris and some
painting studies. Malfatti's painting, in themselves, were only
2nd.-hand Expressionism, which didn't prevent Lobato from fulminating
against them in the name of *representation*- I translate on the fly:

"As long as sensorial perception happens in man in a normal way, through
the common doorstep of the five senses, an artist before a cannot cannot
do other but to 'feel' a cat; therefore, an interpretation that makes
from the said kitten a doggie, a bug or a heap of transparent cubes" -
Therefore, Lobato rejects interpretation as much as Sontag, by
establishing that Art has to do with the sensorial impressions from
nature-viz. his examples of artistic subject-matter, of course taken
randonly, but exactly for that very telling, in that they see non-human
nature as the subject par excellence.

-"In the Malfatti exhibit there is a copy of the work of an American
'master', the Cubist Boylinson[?-something to do with the Armory show
'Nude descending a staircase'?]. It is a charcoal drawing of a figure in
motion, set there as a standard [...] But this scribbling is not a
figure in motion; they are a piece of charcoal in motion"

 - and therefore Lobato chooses a different path from Sontag in that he
rejects the *personal* element in art, since all things personal are
open to interpretation. So, he establishes that a genuine Brazilian art
should have to busy itself with- landscape painting:

"that enormous canvas unfolded across more than 8 million square
quilometers, of such amplitude as to allow nature all possible modes-
native fields, rainforest, bushes, deserts, swanps, mountain ranges,
rivers and pampas"

- ie, subject matter made of typical elements taken from *nature itself*
- a mode of thinking that melded with artistic modernism and Pop Front
Left politics to create the idea that a 'national' art should busy
itself with "typically national" things, ultimately cretaing the
precondition to the "aesthetization of poverty" that marrs the best
Braz. paintings of the period, with mural after mural painting, canvas
after canvas, filled with gorgeous and colourful paitings of people
starving in "typical" attire(Portinari), or of the "typical" eroticism
of the Di Cavalcanti paintings, that has ultimately given birth, in the
fileld of pop culture, to the quasi-obscene posters issued by the Braz.
Tourism Authority, filled with "typical" female butts...

We must then admit that good paiting, is a certain measure, cannot be
but introspective, interpretative, intellectual - and, above all,
*personal*. Trotsky once said that Rivera was profoundly "Mexican" in
his paintings exactly because he was, above all,learned, cosmopolitan
and personal. Isn't here an idea to be explored?

Carlos Rebello

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