QUESTIONS, NOT ASKED, NOT DARED

by Paul Henrickson, Ph.D.
© 2005

I am inserting this section so that it might function, hopefully, as a kind of guide, and encouraging helpmate, to those individuals who offer their insights into the process of the aesthetic response so that the reader might vicariously “make the same trip” as the writer. This process requires a certain degree of courage and humility on the part of the writer and an open and magnanimous gentleness on the part of the reader.

The Question Artists truly dare not ask and the answer they really fear to hear is so critically pertinent that for inherent meaning to exist in further creative effort courage must be located somewhere to ask and the self-forgiving tolerance found (usually only in extremis), to listen to the answer. This combination of efforts ends up being the balm for the humiliated soul. It is not often that the subject of art criticism is approached with the same mystic perceptions as Bernini may have approached his “Ecstasy of St. Theresa”. But, believe it or not, there is an element of mysticism in the process of art criticism. At least, we might express this way: the mystery that informs the creator may be related to the mystery confronts the observer.

Bernini: Saint Teresa in Ecstasy

From my point of view, however, it is of such vital importance that if it is not approached with as much concern for the legitimate expression of aesthetic responses but remains content with the sophisticated protective shawl of rhetoric our chance for the survival of the civil experience of empathic union with another being is lost. It is that which makes the art experience unique…the empathic union, over space and time and through inanimate material, between one person and another. It is empathy which is the catalyst for significant political movements such as

that which, in the expression of Abraham Lincoln, allowed the American Civil War to take place with the publication of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and a lying in state of the 92 year-old body of Rosa Parks who had courageously given expression to the need to widen the parameters of human dignity by not giving up her seat in a bus to a white man. Art criticism has for nearly two centuries, together with its cancerous association with the commercially motivated gallery system’s manipulation of aesthetic perception, warped, twisted and shredded those very tender qualities that lend exquisite value to human responses. One might suspect a high correlation between the decline in the quality of art criticism and the rise in the acceptance of the most commonly vulgar art forms. I am thinking of Koons, Kats and Warhol. Therefore, we recognize the importance of cultivated and developed criticism. At the outset one might acknowledge the ability of language to exceed that of vision in getting people to behave…in moving them in the direction one wants them to move. In the book “The Art Crowd” by Sophy Burnham, I sensed some dissatisfaction with the somewhat overblown distortions tainted, it seemed, with some preconception, which, at the time I was reading it, I had been unable to identify. Years later I learned that she seems to have been a favorite with what some social scientists describe as the conservative right. I believe it must have been that which I sensed was an unfortunate and misleading focus. Although she and Leonid Breznjev would agree with the observation that one should not underestimate the power of an image, that statement itself points up the misguided use of the plastic arts as political tools. My resentment of its use in attempting to get people

to do what they normally might not do has little to do with political agenda , but everything to do with the aesthetic thrill to be experienced through a politically unattached vision. It is the act of depriving others of the possible aesthetic nourishment available in a work of art that I find reprehensible. Now, at this point I should probably admit that when Jose Ortega y Gassett wrote something called the “Dehumanization of Art” I was quite distressed. I very much enjoyed his style of writing and agreed with very much of what he had to say, except when it seemed he was condemning much, if not all, of nonfigurative work. For I have found it was the nonfigurative in figurative work that elevated the work to the level of art as opposed to artifact. I felt very much abandoned after I had read that by Ortega Y Gassett, rather much the way I felt after reading the Confessions of Saint Augustine which was much too rich a fare for a fourteen year-old. It has taken me several decades to begin, I think, to see light at the end of the tunnel. More recently after having read some of the comments of Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund Adorno on the subject of Jazz I once again became perplexed as to what the psychological filters were through which Adorno had experienced this musical form which was basically American in its origins. Although he indicated it was jazz he was writing about I was unable to recognize the jazz I thought I knew through his description. The impression I had had of Jazz was that it was, and was intended to be, an extended and developed form of improvisation requiring of its participants an ongoing, on the spot, invention. While there were numerous technical requirements demanded of the

instrumentalist imposed upon him by the nature of the instrument he played what he played was available to the immediacy of his abilities to invent, related and in response, it seemed, to what had already preceded. So there were rules but these rules were not predetermined ones, laid out conventionally by some unknown determinant and seen as rigid formulations, untransgressed by the obedient and accurate performer. They, the sounds we hear, were, if not exactly there by rules, they were, rather, the immediate sensual responses the player cum composer had to what he had heard, thus recognizing the sensual aspects of the art involved. In the instance of jazz the performer was always and at the same time also the composer.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meR5nk8WaLE

My first introduction to that concept of visual art production came through Arthur Deshaies when he taught at The Rhode

Arthur Deshaies: untitled. This work is the only one available to me for inclusion here that approached what I remember having seen the artist do and respond to when attempting to allow his nervous system to transpose what he heard in a Mozart piece to a space-contained two-dimensional plane surface enriched by the addition of a color spectrum and graphic configurations. The leap from the auditory to the visual is what was attempted by the artist in the late 1940’s.

Island School of Design nearly six decades ago. At the time I could not truly and effectively follow what he told and what he showed me for it diverted too much from my expectations. I was a conventionally cautious adventurer. However, it was at about the same time that I also had been introduced to aspects of music through the

efforts of Barbara Sessions, the first wife of the American composer Roger Sessions. She, at that time, was also a source at the Rhode Island School of Design functioning there as the librarian. But it was in her apartment on Beacon Hill in Boston that she tried to outline for me some aspects of the structure of music. Apparently, what these individuals did was sufficient to have me eventually deepen and broaden my apperceptive appreciation for the organization of sense data. What both Arthur Deshaies and Barbara Sessions were trying to do was to help me become aware, to begin with, of organization as such, that is to say, that things heard and things seen as marks, can be organized and that the important thing about the activity of art creation was how one went about organizing that material. The reasons that some find it necessary to organize that material in the first place is quite another, but equally fascinating, question. The point at which these Deshaies-Sessions lessons come together is in the singular work of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. I had, of course, from time to time, heard exulting comments about this work and glowing statements about how great a composer Beethoven was and I imagine that I took these exultations as a matter of course some what the way one understands the meaning of other social, quasireligious ceremonies…not too seriously, but meaningful formalities. But these descriptive statements were not my experiences with the work and my experiences with the work were very meaningful indeed. I do not intend to trivialize or minimize the experience of listening to the Ninth Symphony when I compare it to breaking open a warm breakfast

popover and watching the butter flow its way into the exploded crevices of pastry or the experience of watching toffee being pulled this way and that in ever expanding and deepening vistas of space, or the prayerful helplessness one feels in riding a complex roller coaster up and down and around to the left and to the right. These sorts of experiences in contrast to those with which one is confronted when faced with most of Andy Warhol and a host of other providers are aesthetically rich experiences. I should add, at this time, that it was a video tape of the performance of Beethoven’s Ninth directed by Kurt Masur of the orchestra of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipsig that was the catalytic source for this understanding of the nature of aesthetic comprehension. I was ecstatic when I became aware of what my sensors were experiencing about the way Masur enunciated, accented and revealed the interwoven structure of that sound. It is through such an array of aesthetic filters that we, as analysts, view any aesthetic experience. Understanding that this is what we do should lead us to expect that a system of criticism that does not nearly constantly recheck the validity of its responses does disservice to itself and the community it serves. I have found the process of developing a comprehensive criticism, or better described as analysis, of an individual’s creative efforts, even that of a period or epoch, both so challenging and fascinating that it might most accurately be described as a process through which one gets reintroduced to oneself…or, we might say, it is a process of exercising empathy. I shall also elaborate that statement by adding the observation that the process seems little understood by those whose academic approach to

understanding experience depends on the learned classroom lessons and not on the evaluation of one’s own experience. It seems an unlikely place for one to have learned something about vocal production but at one time being at loose ends and impoverished and staying for a week-end in a strange city, I believe it was New York City and the place was the Y.M.C.A. I attended an improvised lecture given by a social and creative nonentity. In its way the experience was a miracle. This fellow in his late fifties had brought to the “Y” a sampling of his collection of early recordings of Caruso, Gigli, Melchior and Bjorling and in the period of little more than 45 minutes of sounds coming from scratchy somewhat wobbly early disk recordings taught me, I cannot speak for the eight or nine others who also happened to be there, what it meant to listen in order to hear and to do so beyond the interference of the mechanics of reproduction.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJeWUV-LIyE I don’t think this is the one I had originally heard, but it should do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJL1LqX9Uao I had tried to locate a video by Gigli but was unsuccessful, but wanted, at least, to secure a vocal tone that approached what I have in mind

When I questioned a later Cultural Affairs Officer, James Rutherford, as to the process of making decisions as to who does get exhibited in The Governor’s Gallery, he told me that he made the decision. I asked James what background he had in art and he replied that he had had an undergraduate course in art appreciation. The secretary to the wife of the Governor also helped in he selection of exhibitors and she had a Masters In Business Administration. The Governor’s wife also helped decide whose work was to be exhibited. “And what are her qualifications?” I asked. James whispered: “She’s the Governor’s wife.”

Santa Fe, New Mexico provided several other interestingly amusing, but tragic instances of organized deception. On one, rather acceptable, occasion Forrest Fenn, the then director of the Fen Gallery together with John Connelly, the former Governor of Texas who had been with John Kennedy when he was assassinated brought together an exhibit of fakes by the French faker Elmyr de Hory. Forrest had been upset by one of my published comments referring to one of his artists (Eric Sloane)as an “illustrator”. Firstly, Forrest would never have been upset had he known the difference, for he would have seen it. Secondly, he would never have moments later, had he known anything about art, asked me to step into his private living room, hand me a postcard with the reproduction of one of Gauguin’s Tahitian works and, forbidding me to approach the mantelpiece, ask me to tell him which of the two, the post card or the painting over the mantle was genuine. I was stunned by the question because it was one totally impossible to answer intelligently because it was one not asked intelligently. Well, after all, Forrest was a retired Air Force Major and I had no right to expect an intelligent question from him in the arena of art, despite the fact that, through his social charm, he had become immensely successful. It was the charm, not knowledge, that accounted for his success and what difference did it make to the bottom line whether something was genuine or not. Forrest did make the statement that he would be just as happy selling plumbing as art. However, the association of a charming salesman and a politician allegedly involved in the assassination of President Kennedy in presenting for exhibition the works of a

known fraud seems to spell out a rather cavalier attitude toward a legitimate aesthetic experience. It works, of course, because much of the buying public is also ignorant.

“Dear Mr. Sloane, I was glad to receive as a gift, your painting of sickles, which symbolize the labor of people. I fully share you opinion on the great importance that their ideological content of a painting has in real art. That’s why the art which reflects mutual expectations of the peoples, their expectations for peace and for peaceful labor, fore friendship and cooperation, deserves the greatest recognition and respect. I was glad to learn that the exhibit (sic) was highly appreciated by art lovers of our country. Wishing you further success. (Signed) L. Brezhnev” It might well be that Mr. Brezhnev is knowledgeable as an art critic, but these comments are NOT art critical comments they are clearly political and Mr. Sloane is at least mislead, if not also, at fault, for having confused the two. On the other hand operhaps the only thing he really wants is a buying public of Communists. But isn’t that something of an oxymoron, an art buying public of communists?

More recently, this time in Europe, we have the example of a French artist securing the support of the French Ambassador. One can not be certain what views the Ambassador might hold about this man’s work for it is his job the give support to citizens of France, BUT, in the minds of the general public, a public generally ignorant of what makes for good art, the association means that “if the government supports his art it must be good.” I cannot help but ask, at least myself, if M. L ’Ambassadeur isn’t just a little embarrassed at having to be so duplicitous. Well, he doesn’t seem to be and it, the exhibition, isn’t. It is one of the most offensive exhibitions ever held anywhere. Personally, I am amazed and more than bewildered that respectable people with, presumably, a liberal education, could lend themselves to such a pernicious fraud. As an educator I must protest. As an artist I have been made ill.

Raphael Labro: “Maltese Goddess”

LICATA, Sicily, ITALY 2 September 2007 from 6 pm at Zodiaco Gallery
ITALY-MALTA BIENNALE Satellite Show RAPHAEL LABRO receiving the MALTA BIENNALE Special Award from Dame Francoise Tempra (Founder-President) & the City of LICATA Award from Dott.ssa Enza Prestino(Vice-President Southern Italy), with (from left) Penelope Labro. Dr Piero Mancuso (Vice-President Southern Italy) & Dott.ssa Rosy Ballachino

Raphael Labro with Jean-Marc Rives, French Ambassador to Malta

Here we have Labro, with Jean-Marc Rives the French Ambassador to Malta flanked by the Madame and Monsieur former Maltese Ambassador to France.

There were several other photographs of this nature which, to my mind, seriously raises the question as to what this exhibition was all about.

RAPHAEL LABRO conquered the art loving public with his Maltese goddesses when he received a SPECIAL AWARD by the President of the 2007 MALTA International (105 Nations) ART BIENNALE (inaugurated on 19th May 2007 in Malta by the President Emeritus of the Republic of Malta and former President of the General Assembly at the UNITED NATIONS, Prof.Guido de Marco), at the opening of the satellite show in ITALY (last of the 2007 Malta Biennale satellite shows after CANADA, USA, IVORY COAST, PORTUGAL, FRANCE and GERMANY) on 2nd September 2007 in Licata, Sicily.

Malta Biennale Award Wining Yogi Goddess by Labro >>>

Where, I ask, is the critical attitude. I do not mean by this an attitude of disapproval, I mean simply an intelligent and knowledgeable way of looking at something.

I might credit that early experience at the “Y” with having developed, in part, an understanding of the personal approaches to vocal production inherent in the work of Kirsten Flagstad, Maria Callas, Judy Garland and Beverly Sills to which one might add the adjoining adjectives, precision, emotion experienced, emotion invited and ego-rooted frivolousness…and all of these qualities, it is my belief, stem from the personalities involved and not from the music. The following excerpts of Garland and Callas, both dramatic presenters may demonstrate the breadth of expression allowed, varyingly allowed, despite the restrictions imposed by musical notation.
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=u3gi51ZJ0lI http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=rY6z7Au19Qo

It is my belief that the critic of the plastic arts must attempt the same goal. The final product cannot be separated from the personality producing it without affecting some serious injury to both the process of creation and its power to communicate.

Certainly one of the most plastic of plastic arts is the cinema. I do envy, sometimes, its power to communicate and it highly impressive successes have without any doubt whatever caused me to wonder why anyone would chose to be a painter, a sculptor or a printmaker when one could spend one’s time more effectively making films, the rewards are generally greater in film making, but then, so are the losses, but both of these are shared with others for the cinema is an art form that requires cooperation and one of the characteristics of the practitioners of the other plastics arts is they prefer to be alone. It would be difficult, for example, to imagine a Paul Cézanne, Francis Bacon, Toulouse lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, or a Michelangelo walking down the equivalent of the red carpet in Cannes to receive an award from a peer committee of appraisers. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine a committee of competent judges willing to function in the required capacity being formed from among the population of concerned persons although such attempts are made regularly. It is, in fact, very, very difficult for me to imagine Vincent Van Gogh in a tux. Basically the difference between the film and the other plastic arts is that film is an art medium designed for a large audience and painting, sculpture, prints and the like are more likely to be enjoyed by one person at a time, or, at the most, by less than a half dozen. Even if it is an item in constant public view only a very few in attendance ever offer more than a casual glance in its direction and then they frequently fail to stay in rapt concentration for the 90+ minutes which is the usual length of a feature film. Even a three-hour theatrical performance

frequently fails to have the impact of a well-organized film. I think this is true of the very famous work “Prometheus” seen everyday by hundreds of people at Rockefeller Center as well as thousands of other works of public art.

Paul Manship: Prometheus in Rockefeller Center, 1934

They and those in museums and private collections require, if they are to be looked at intelligently, several minutes and often several repetitions of minutes to be fully comprehended. Time, as human beings measure it, and a certain kind of mental concentration are required if works of art, no matter what the genre, are to be understood and legitimately and appropriately appreciated. It is this factor of time and that of the special concentration that brings about a change in the observer, as Bernard Berenson might have phrased it “a life-enhancing experience”. It is relatively easier for the film to bring about a rapt attention from the observer, in part because the images are moving and the sound is captivating by its

own merits, than it is for a sculpture by Henry Moore or a painting by Claude Monet to engage the observer’s attention.

Henry Moore: Knife

Eduard Monet: Rouen Cathedral

We might pose the question, however, as to whether there are changes that take place in the observer and if there are what are they and how might they differ, if they differ, from those brought about as a result of a film which lasts 90 or 120 minutes. I recall having listened to the radio program called I believe “The Shadow” which has as its theme statement.. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men…the Shadow knows”. Thirty minutes, actually somewhat less, exposure to some of those programs and I have had memories and responses to subliminal clues that

have lasted a lifetime. Also, the experiences of fright were shareable with one’s friends and a mocking repetition of the “who knows what evil…” would be enough to bind two boys together as friends or pals for a significant period of their lives. I have witnessed two strangers shedding much of their reserve when it became clear that they both were enthusiastic appreciators of the works of Paul Cézanne…an unusual but actual event illustrative, I think, of the importance of art works in the creation of a civilizing bond of shared emotional experiences. On the other hand I have, regrettably, more often witnessed a division characterized by mutual hostility develop between two people when it became clear their resources for shared emotional responses were very limited. I remember as a child on the 17th of March, St. Patrick’s Day that should someone dare wear orange they would be summarily beaten up. This provides us with a very rudimentary illustration of how information received visually can excite passions and provide instruction. On a somewhat higher level there have been occasions when the visual experience alone dissolved the body’s ability to support itself or to keep its emotional responses in check. A retrospective exhibition of Vincent van Gogh’s work accomplished this at one time as did the interior of San Vitali in Ravenna.

Vincent Van Gogh: “Starry Night”

San Vitali, Ravenna: 6th century Byzantine

In the area of film it was Federico Felini’s “Satyricon” “Prospero’s Books” by Peter Greenaway and “Our Hitler” by Hans-Jurgen Syvberberg which I have found among the most effective filmic experiences.

Greenaway: “Prospero’s Books”

Sybergberg: “Our Hitler”

In short, the aesthetic response which this website {www.tcp.com.mt} is supposed to be about, is a highly complex, interrelated field of study which, unlike many others, very nearly insists on selfexamination. One must add that, with the self being so inseparably involved, one cannot help but to develop in some direction or another. The process is an adventure of considerable fascination. I hope all who happen upon this website get out of it all that they can and as much as they need. Have at it!

Recently, I clicked with my mouse, on a video of a crowd in Seattle demonstrating against the war in Iraq and the generally expected one in Iran and as a companion and I agreed, the music accompanying it was actually interpreting the event for us. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOkn2Fg7R8w>ht tp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOkn2Fg7R8w This observation reminds me of Brezhnev’s response to Jaime Wyeth in response to the Soviets’ antagonism to non-figurative art. It was “Do not underestimate the power of an image”. I consider it good advice and admit to being somewhat surprised that a hard-nosed politician could have been reflective enough to have arrived at the conclusion. But that is a two way street and quite likely explains why Eric Sloane….the American painter created an image of a syckel and sent it as a gift to…. Who, of course, sent a letter of appreciation back to Mr.Sloane who, of course, and, in turn, made it public all, presumably in an effort to boost his sales with the impression that if world leaders understand my art you common folk had better start buying it…somehow a nore capitalistic approach to negotiating worldly events than idealistic communism espouses…and the Communist leader was, no doubt, fully aware of in what he was a conspirator. All this, in the base interest of deceiving the rest of man kind. Satan is the father of lies we have been told.

When I questioned a later Cultural Affairs Officer, James Rutherford, as to the process of making decisions as to who does get exhibited in The Governor’s Gallery, he told me that he made the decision. I asked James what background he had in art and he replied that he had had an undergraduate course in art appreciation. The secretary to the wife of the Governor also helped in his selection of exhibitors and she had a Masters In Business

Administration. The Governor’s wife also helped decide whose work was to be exhibited. “And what are her qualifications?” I asked. James whispered: “She’s the Governor’s wife.”

Georgia O’Keeffe, the American artist observing Clara Apodaca, the wife of the then Governor of New Mexico.

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