Anton Ehrenzweig

I’m just reading Anton Ehrenzweig‘s The Hidden Order of Art, though I’m ashamed to admit that it took so long to get to it. Years ago I was a close student of Robert Smithson, and this was his main reference. What perversity led me to ignore this book, I don’t remember—probably because I didn’t believe Smithson could be understood by picking over his library. Smithson liked the idea of “low level perception,” which means a kind of scanning of an undifferentiated field that picks up a complex order not immediately apparent to the normal analytic mind. It’s a way to look at Pollock, for example:

Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist 1950

Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist 1950

“The chaos of the unconscious is as deceptive as the chaos of outer reality. In either case we need the less differentiated techniques of unconscious vision to become aware of their hidden order….My point will be that unconscious scanning makes use of undifferentiated modes of vision that to normal awareness would seem chaotic….On the contrary, the primary process is a precision instrument for creative scanning that is far superior to discursive reason and logic.”

In a world that trusts computer algorithms these words are more than ever necessary. Important to recognize that it is a theory of how we look at art, not how we make it. Meanwhile the basic and crucial  human capacity he describes is very little in evidence in the current art world, and work like that of Gerhard Richter, for one example, does not call it up, because it doesn’t have a hidden order, it’s just an all over concept. To get the complexly ordered whole requires some intervention, it’s not automatic.

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