A recent article by T.J.Clark in the LRB is quite good. It’s mostly about the inadequacy of British art, a topic worth returning to. Discussing the amazing Three Dancers in the Tate he notices Picasso’s “power of mind.” This is not a quality often cited in modernist criticism but it is completely to the point. What I earlier called Picasso’s decisiveness could be described as clarity that comes with a focused mind, but the presence of a mind doesn’t mean that any artist knows exactly what they are thinking about.
For Stevens the mind is everything and he says “…the greater the mind the greater the poet, because the evil of thinking as poetry is not the same thing as the good of thinking in poetry. The point is that the poet does his job by virtue of an effort of the mind.” We could substitute art for poetry and observe that artworks have ideas but they shouldn’t be made from them. The idea should not precede the work.
Clark also said some very good things about Ben Nicholson and Picasso, for another day.