Large Forms

Following from the previous post, some thoughts from Ehrenzweig suggest what might be interesting about an abstract book:

“…integration [of the artwork] can only be controlled by the empty stare of unconscious scanning which alone is capable of overcoming the fragmentation in art’s surface structure. The relative smallness of micro-elements defies conscious articulation; so do the macro-elements of art owing to their excessive breadth. This applies for instance to the macro-structure of a symphony as distinct from its single movements. The much-vaunted grasp of a symphony’s total structure is well beyond the capacities even of many well-known conductors. Most are content to shape their phrases only in their immediate context and this procedure emphasizes the fragmentation of the whole. On the surface the overall structure of a sonata or symphony seems to go out of its way to evade a total grasp. The single movements are tightly organized and form good gestalts in themselves. These are then sharply contrasted in rhythm, harmony and form. More than ever an undifferentiated empty stare is needed to transcend such sharp divisions and forge the total work into a single indivisible whole. It seems that art, almost perversely, creates tasks that cannot be mastered by our normal faculties. Chaos is precariously near.”

I think every abstract painter knows about the micro elements, but larger forms don’t get much attention. Readers of this blog may recall the “chapters” of RHQuaytman, my own Geomorphic Fantasy, or Stella’s Moby Dick series as examples of multi-part works that form a whole difficult to grasp. Most important is the distinction between a book and a gallery installation—in the latter unconscious scanning is possible because all the parts are simultaneously visible. The abstract “book” can overcome the limitations of the actual book, in particular its temporal or serial nature. But installations in which one part covers or conceals another are also interesting, as are other allusions to the form of the book.


RHQuaytman, installation Venice 2011

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